Title: Christmas Spirit
Summary: After Mulder's abduction a pregnant Scully finds herself desperately missing him just before Christmas, and then she is sucked into a mystery of her own.
A clock on the wall ticked on and on while Scully tried to entertain her mother one dreary Saturday in December. There was something on her mother's mind, but she wouldn't spit it out. Instead she kept making irritable remarks over the coffee cake the two were eating at the kitchen table. Eventually Scully stopped paying attention to her mother's fussy remarks, no longer believing that her mother expected replies to what were statements rather than questions.
Suddenly, there was a new conversational volley fired her way. "Dana, why don't you get a tree?"
Scully slowly lifted her face and blinked at her mother. The older woman looked half-concerned, and half annoyed.
She shrugged. "I don't really feel much like Christmas this year, Mom."
"Because he's missing," Maggie said darkly.
It was all Scully could do not to vent her frustration with a sigh. When Mulder had first gone missing in August, Maggie had done her best to be supportive. But as time wore on and Scully's waistline swelled, her mother seemed to take it as a personal affront that he was still missing. Maggie wouldn't come right out and say it, but Scully knew that she thought he was shirking his responsibility to her and the baby she carried.
"You sound like you've been talking to Bill," Scully settled for complaining. Her brother was not shy about declaring Mulder scum for disappearing, no matter how many times she told him that Mulder hadn't even known that she was pregnant before he vanished.
"What do you plan to do if he never comes back?" Maggie asked, and Scully was startled because the question had never come up before.
"You ask that like he's run off with another woman," Scully accused. "It's not as though he left of his own volition, Mom."
"I know that," Maggie said unconvincingly. "But that just makes the odds of him never coming back all the greater. You need to plan for-"
"-the inevitable?" Scully finished sourly. "You sound like you've already got funeral plans in mind."
"I'm trying to have a serious conversation with you, Dana!" her mother snapped back. "God forbid he's lost to you, what do you plan to do? I know you said you just asked him to be your donor, but I know that you can't have meant him to be nothing to your baby. The FBI is a dangerous career in the best of circumstances... if Fox was here now, he could remind you of what it was like for us when we thought we were going to lose you years ago. As a single mother, are you going to continue to put yourself at risk like you have done up until now?"
A bitter retort that she was hardly as reckless as her mother painted her died on Scully's tongue when the memory of John Doggett cutting a parasite out of her back swam to the forefront of her mind. The sharp pain of the blade and the sensation of the creature being pulled out of her flesh... the memory made her shudder even as she tried to think of a way to defend herself to her mother. "Maybe I'll teach at the academy," she said at last.
"That would be safer, at least." Some of the tension drained from her mother's posture. "But would you keep in touch with your new partner?"
"If you're going to suggest that John might make a good substitute Daddy, please don't," Scully said tiredly. "There's nothing between him and me."
"I wasn't suggesting that there was," Maggie's protest was too quick and too forced to be believable.
"It might be hard for you and Bill to understand our relationship, but in my own way I love Mulder," Scully said, savoring the surprised look on her mother's face. Love and Mulder were never words that she'd paired in a sentence addressing her mother before. "It's not like replacing a lost umbrella. I thought that you, of all people, would understand that after the pain you've been through since losing Daddy."
"It's not the same thing, Dana."
"Because I haven't married him, you mean?"
Maggie shook her head. "Your father and I were together for decades. You're young. Too young to wall yourself off from the possibility of love."
"I'll take that under advisement," Scully said tightly.
The phone rang, and she dove for it, welcoming the respite from the increasingly uncomfortable conversation. "Hello?"
"Is this Dana Scully?" a voice on the other end of the line asked, and she thought the man sounded anxious.
"Wonderful." This word sounded far more cheerful. "You're not an easy person to track down."
"I'm not?" she asked, thinking that her phone number was in the book.
"Perhaps to identify is more accurate," the man continued. "Am I correct to assume that you were acquainted with Teena Mulder?"
Scully's heart gave a sudden lurch. "Yes. Why?"
"After her death, her son asked me to sell his childhood home. We've finally found someone interested in purchasing the home, but we've been unable to reach him about emptying the house."
"He's...he's missing," Scully said quietly.
"Yes. I finally found a reference to his abduction in Times. I was hoping that, as his partner, you might be able to settle things for him."
"The Times?" Mulder's abduction had made the paper? It had been months since she'd had time for something as mundane as reading a newspaper, so she'd not seen the article with her own eyes.
"Yes. There was a statement from a director at the FBI saying that he'd been abducted while on a case. I hope that he's returned soon." The man's voice lacked even a perfunctorily attempt at sincerity.
"As do I," she said pointedly. "What exactly is it that you think I can do for you?"
"He pre-signed the bill of sales, leaving it to me to finalize things with the best buyer. We don't normally do it that way, but he was anxious to have it done with, and knew he traveled a lot on business..." There was an embarrassed pause as the man apparently considered the lack of tact in what he'd just said. "Anyway, the legal aspects are nothing you need to worry about. But I was hoping that you might take responsibility for arranging that the personal items still in the house are put in storage. So he can reclaim them when he returns," the realtor added clumsily.
"You can't do that yourself?"
"I'm afraid that's not something a realtor is allowed to do," he said, sounding halfway apologetic. "It's seen as potential coercion when we overstep our bounds that way."
"All right. When do you need me to do this?"
"As soon as possible. The buyer is anxious to proceed."
Scully glanced at her mother before saying, "I guess I could get to it sometime this week."
"Fantastic!" the realtor chirped. "Just give me a call when you get there, and I'll come with the key to let you in." He hung up after giving her his phone number and the address to the house Mulder wanted to sell.
When she looked up her mother was staring at her expectantly. "Well, who was that?"
A small irrational part of her wanted to snap that it wasn't any of Maggie's business, but she'd gotten past that sort of rudeness as a teenager. "It was a realtor. He's selling one of the houses Mulder inherited."
"And he needs me to get the house emptied out."
"Dana, you're pregnant!" her mother protested. "You can't be doing any heavy lifting like that!"
"I'm going there to arrange for movers to put his things into storage," Scully said coolly. "At most I'll be supervising other people who are lifting boxes."
"What about packing?"
"There are companies that'll do that for you too."
"Oh. I suppose you'll be stuck footing the bill for storing his mother's things."
She hadn't thought about that. "Well, he paid the rent on his apartment ahead for something like two years, so I can have them bring the stuff up here."
There was a question on the other woman's face 'and what happens after that?' but Scully looked away rather than acknowledge it.
Scully shivered as she parked in Teena Mulder's driveway. The house didn't have a for sale sign in front of it, though a hole in the ground suggested one had been there recently, but there was something about the property that made it clear that no one had lived in the house for a while. As she got out of the car and looked around, she tried to put her finger on what made the house feel unlived in, rather than just not occupied for the moment. What it was never became clear to her, but there was no way that anyone would think that the former owner was just off at work or running some errands.
Another car pulled into the driveway before she even had the chance to step away from her own vehicle. The door was thrown open and a short man climbed out. Height-wise he reminded her of Frohike, but otherwise not at all. He was well-groomed and about forty. Walking over to her he rubbed his hands together, and she knew it was because he was cold, not eager.
"Cold enough for you?" he asked predictably. Before she could even reply he added, "I hope you weren't out here waiting long."
"No. I just got here myself."
She waited for him to say something about being glad he hadn't kept a pregnant woman waiting, but he didn't. Glancing down at her puffy navy blue parka she reminded herself that no one but her mother seemed to think she was showing much yet and was glad for it. The realtor was probably a nice enough man, but she could do without a host of uncomfortable questions and unspoken assumptions. Of course, it was possible that he'd be the one person who didn't immediately assume that she and Mulder were more than partners, but she didn't think she'd be so lucky.
"Have you been here before?" he asked, pausing to pull a ring of keys out of the pocket of his pea coat. A few gray hairs sticking to the black fabric suggested that the man lived with a cat at the very least.
His question felt loaded, so she decided to avoid a direct answer. "I only knew Mrs. Mulder a little."
For just a moment she found herself wondering what her baby's other grandmother might have had to say about the whole situation. Teena had never been particularly warm when they'd encountered each other, but she'd never given Scully the feeling that she was not liked, either. Unfortunately, Scully felt like Teena had kept her son at the same polite distance a lot of the time as well. The thought made her sad, because she and her mother were quite close even if they didn't always see eye to eye, like lately.
When Scully stepped inside the house after him, she was surprised to see the place flooded with light after the realtor groped at the wall. Apparently noticing her confusion, he grinned at her. "I arranged to have the power turned back on, temporarily. The utilities will be put into the buyers' names as soon as they sign the bill of sales. You can't show a dark house, that's my motto."
"I suppose not," Scully said, suddenly feeling awkward when he didn't seem in a hurry to leave. She'd been under the impression that he would only hang around long enough to unlock the house for her, then be off on his merry way. He looked comfortable standing there, though.
"So," he asked, apparently having noticed that she was giving him an expectant look. "Do you need me to show you where Mrs. Mulder's belongings are, or-"
"I think I can manage on my own," Scully interrupted. "I arranged for the moving company to send someone out in a couple of hours, so that ought to give me enough time to make up a list of what needs to be put together."
"Sure." The realtor looked slightly taken aback, but he was trying not to let it seep into his words. "Just so you know, there's nothing in the attic, but there are a few things out in the potting shed and down in the basement still."
Scully flinched a little and tried to imagine Teena doing anything like gardening. Mulder had once told her that his mother had taken ill in the garden, but there was so little she knew about the woman that allowed her to imagine Teena getting her hands dirty on purpose.
"Is that okay?" the man asked, giving her an uncertain look. Clearly he hadn't expected a violent reaction like that.
On some level she sulkily thought that there was no reason that she should care what he thought of her, but social conditioning didn't let her embrace the idea completely. "Sorry. A few years back...my partner told me that she'd once been brought to the hospital after collapsing while gardening. I hadn't thought of that until you mentioned the shed."
"Oh. I'm sorry to hear that," he said, looking as awkward as she felt herself. "Um. If you don't need me..."
"No, please feel free to go. I'll be fine."
His final glance at her before fleeing suggested that he doubted that, but there was no way that she was going to allow herself to babble on and do more damage.
Sighing, she pulled out a notepad and began to open cabinet doors in the kitchen, since that's where they'd entered the house. Most of them were blessedly empty, but she made note of which ones weren't. The refrigerator was both empty and spotless. It made her miss Mulder acutely because he could have been the only person who would have taken the time to clean it out or even thought of the necessity to do so.
For a moment she allowed herself to imagine him there in the room, tossing food into a garbage can, and running a sponge over the shelves once they were cleared off. She then imagined herself coming up behind him and kissing his neck as he bent to his task...but the pleasant fantasy rang hollow. It hadn't happened that way, and no amount of longing could change that.
She bit her lip and stuffed the notepad under her arm, determined to tackle inventorying the living room next.
Making a list of Teena's belongings took longer than Scully anticipated. She began to worry that the movers might arrive before she was finished, but she heard nothing in the driveway as she kept an ear out for their arrival.
Eventually she found that the only place left to go was the basement. The realtor had said that 'a few' things were left down there, but that seemed almost an exaggeration. There were a handful of Rubbermaid containers stacked by the stairs, and an old exercise machine that looked like it'd never been used for anything more than a coat rack, but other than a set of built-in shelves at the far end of the room, it was empty.
Curious, Scully wandered over to the shelves because even from the stairs she could see that it wasn't entirely empty, though almost. Other than a layer of dust, the only thing still on the shelf was a thin faded blue hard covered book. Curious, Scully reached out and picked it up. It lacked a title or author on the front, so she suspected them to have been printed on the missing dust jacket. Inside of the front cover a peeling sticker declared the volume to be "property of Samantha Mulder."
She recoiled mentally, stunned to be holding something that had once belonged to the missing child. In retrospect, she decided that shouldn't have surprised her, considering this is than the last house the girl's mother had lived in. Flipping to the title page, she discovered that its title was "Elementary Spells." Scully expected that the story to be one of those silly teen romances just a little too old for Samantha, but it wasn't. Instead it was literally a book of magic spells, apparently meant for children.
This probably explained the lack of a dust jacket; Bill and Teena hardly struck her as the sort of parents who would have indulged an interest in witchcraft. From what Mulder had told her, they had done little to encourage an interest in Christianity or Judaism, so an alternative religion would have been even more poorly received. Not that Scully considered it likely that a girl of eight would have realized that the spells were part of a now obscure religion.
Scully turned the pages idly, only stopping when she found a page that said "restoring the irrevocably lost." At first she almost dropped the book, because being plunged into sorrow about her own irrevocably lost one made her fingers nerveless, but she caught it at the last moment.
Setting it down carefully, she found herself compelled to say the charm aloud. It was simplistic, the same sort of hokey rhyming couplets that once had Mulder making fun of the show Charmed when he came by one night and discovered her watching it. Before she lost her nerve, she quickly said all the words printed on the dusty old page.
"Maybe I need to click my heels together," Scully muttered, looking around at the dimly lit basement. No one, especially not Mulder, had joined her in the cavernous space. She glanced back at the book and sighed. Then she realized that the words continued on to the other side. Flipping the page over, she said the rest.
And suddenly found the wind knocked out of her as she landed on the ground with a thud.
Scully felt dizzy as she pulled herself to her feet and took stock of her surroundings. It was hard to decide which was more alarming; that she was outside or that it was already dark out. How had she gotten outside? Her only conclusion was that she'd stumbled out of the stuffy basement in a daze, may be seeking fresh air to clear her head.
In any case, she hadn't gone very far. She was standing with her back to a shed she hadn't noticed when she pulled into the driveway, but the house was still within sight. And it couldn't have been all that much later because movers still hadn't arrived yet, that was clear by the lack of a truck in the driveway yet.
Someone, however, was around judging by the sound of a screen door carelessly allowed to slam nearby. When she heard voices she instinctively ducked behind the shed, clearly the one that the realtor had mentioned, but immediately felt foolish. She had every right to be there, so why was she hiding? Even knowing this, she was reluctant to step forward and reveal herself. She'd probably startle the speakers, and there would be awkward questions...
"Keep your voice down!" The voice tried to be authoritative, but it sounded very young.
The child who replied sounded even younger still. "Sorry. But I hate him, Fox!"
Fox? Scully froze. If Mulder had a cousin close enough to have named a child after him, what was she doing there? And why hadn't the realtor asked him or her to come and take care of Teena's things if there were family members still around, she wondered irritably. She hadn't minded accepting the task, but it would have been more appropriate for a relative to take it on.
The pair of speakers stumbled into view and Scully felt her heart wrench at the sight of them. These children were Mulder's cherished photograph come to life; the one he'd kept in his apartment, but was now on her dresser next her portrait of Missy.
"You know I don't like him either, Samantha." She could see that the boy had his arm slung around his sister's shoulders. "But Mom said we have to be polite to him."
"Why?" the girl demanded to know. She stomped one sneaker clad foot, and Scully noticed that the snow was missing. How had that escaped her attention earlier, she wondered. It was slightly less of a concern than having been propelled decades back in time, she thought wildly. The edge of panic seemed near.
"He's Dad's boss or something. Mom said the economy is gone to the dogs, so it would be real bad if Dad lost his job."
"Oh. But that's not fair." Even in the dim light, Scully could see that the girl pouting.
"No one said life would be fair, sport," Fox advised his sister. "Hey, what do you want for your birthday?"
Her birthday? If Samantha hadn't had her birthday yet, this wasn't the night the girl was abducted. :: What am I thinking?:: Scully shook her head. :: Of course it isn't. This is just an involved dream.::
Since it was just a dream, Scully followed them when they moved on a couple of minutes later. The boy sent his sister back to the house after picking up something that belonged in the shed. When he strayed near where she stood, Scully shot on her arm and grabbed the boy's.
"What the hell?!" the boy squeaked as she dragged him to her.
If he'd been just a year or two older, she wouldn't have been stronger than him, but she still was just then. "Fox, be quiet!" she hissed.
His eyes were wide and fearful as he stared up at her. "How do you know my name?"
"It doesn't matter," she said flatly. "What's the date?"
"Of course 1973. What sort of question is that?" A new flash of fear crossed his young face. "You didn't escape from a mental hospital or something, did you?"
She almost smiled to see that familiar keen, suspicious look on his face. "Fox, do you love your sister?"
"Of course I love my sister!" the boy said indignantly.
"Shh! If you love her, you had better listen to what I'm about to tell you," she said sharply, and paused to make sure that he was paying attention. His eyes were glued to her face. "On the 23rd, your parents are going to leave you to baby-sit when they go to a friend's house. Men will come while they're gone, they're going to take your sister. You'll never see her again."
"No!" the boy protested, eyes stricken.
"It doesn't have to happen that way. As soon as your folks leave that night, take your sister and run. It doesn't matter where, just get away from your house as fast as you can."
"When can we come back?" he asked in a whisper, and she knew she had him.
"I don't know. A day or two."
"That long?" The boy looked worried. "Maybe I can get us a ride to grandma's."
"Good. Do that."
"How do you know?" he wanted to know. "Do you work for the same man as my father?"
"I work against him," she told the boy. "Go on back before your folks wonder why Samantha went in without you."
He ran towards the house, pausing just once to look over shoulder. Scully gave him a weak smile, more concerned about how she would get back to the present than what the child must think of her. Even that worry exited her head when a new wave of dizziness pulled her knees out from under her, and blackness swarmed her.
When her vision started to clear and the grayness faded out, Scully found herself standing over Samantha's book in Teena's basement. That seemed right, but glancing around and seeing that the formerly nearly empty space now half-filled was the first clue that something had really happened. Something that couldn't be dismissed as a dream...if it was a dream, how had everything ended up there? She thought she would have noticed if the movers had not only arrived but carted everything down to the basement as some sort of sorting area.
"Scully?" She blinked, startled by the voice. Not that it was the voice where none should be, but that it was his voice.
He soon came into view, smiling easily as he threaded his way through the stacks of boxes. "Are you still down here? I thought you said you were almost ready for that thrift shop to take these things away."
Teena must still be dead, she though, trying desperately not to let hysteria and confusion overwhelm her. "I...got distracted, Mulder. I found a book that must of been your sister's," she said, confused as to how he could be standing there, like he hadn't been missing for months. As if she wasn't terrified that he would never find his way home? How could he stride into the room as if he never really left?
"Samantha's." His face darkened. "My mother never did forgive me for happened to my sister."
"I know. It's not fair that she blamed you for happened," she said, hoping to soothe him. Poor Samantha. Warning him must have been a dream after all, even if she couldn't explain his abrupt reappearance.
Mulder gave her a strange look. "If I'm not to blame, who is?"
"Well, those men," she stammered, suddenly even more confused. Why did he look like he felt guilty? No one could reasonably expect a twelve-year-old boy to have overpowered the men who'd taken his sister.
To her surprise, he shook his head. "It's not their fault that they couldn't stop in time."
Stop in time? She almost asked what he meant but thought better of it.
He shook his head and sighed. "I should have been paying closer attention when we got to the side of the road and pulled her back before the car got there..."
"Oh, Mulder..." she murmured even as she felt like she was losing her mind. His sister been taken and eventually murdered, so where did the story about a car accident come from?
He roughly scrubbed his cheek with a fist, and only then that she realized that he'd been leaking tears. "The woman had been so sure that we were in danger that I had to believe her," he said roughly and her eyes widened in dismay. "I tried to explain that to my parents after Samantha got hit by the car, but they only berated me for being stupid enough to listen to a stranger-" he broke off and looked up at her. "I'm sorry to make you listen to this all over again."
"No, that's okay," she said desperately wanting him to continue his story. "If you need to talk about it, I'm all ears."
"We don't really have time for rehashing all of that," he said. "Samantha is expecting us in about-" He looked down at his watch. "Half an hour."
"Oh, okay," Scully stammered. From his angst she had naturally assumed that Samantha had not survived her encounter with this mysterious car, but apparently that assumption was incorrect.
Feeling dazed, Scully followed him out of his mother's house, and got into an unfamiliar car. If he noticed that she took an extremely long time to figure out where the seatbelt snap in, he didn't say anything about it.
Glancing over at her, he asked, "Morning sickness any better today?"
That question startled her almost as much as everything else had. She was ashamed to admit it even to her self, but amidst the confusion she had forgotten all about her condition. She let her fingers skim over her belly, reassuring herself that the hard little bump that she was still getting used to was there.
"So far so good," she murmured.
"Good. I was afraid that I was going to have to drive you to the ER for an antiemetic on Friday."
"It's okay," Mulder told her. He took one hand off the steering wheel and covered hers. It was only as she looked down at their hands did she realize they were both wearing rings.
A fierce headache began to threaten to claw its way out of Scully's temple. The only time in her life that she'd ever worn a ring on that finger was when she and Mulder had gone undercover as a couple to find out why so many people in that gated community were disappearing without a trace. She glanced at Mulder, trying not to be obvious about it. If they were undercover now, it would have come up, wouldn't it?
Why would anything be obvious, her mind demanded to know. She had no idea how Mulder had gotten back and why he didn't seem to notice that he'd been gone, why Samantha was apparently alive, or how they even knew each other if the past had been changed. And had it? Or was it all just a long dream spawned by a broken heart longing for a loved one's return?
It would probably be best for her sanity if she let herself believe that it was a dream, she decided abruptly. If it was real, it was impossible, so it couldn't be real. Since it wasn't real, there was nothing to do but go with the flow and see where it led. A wistful part of her felt as though she should try to enjoy being with Mulder, because it was the closet thing to getting him back that she was likely to experience - despite protests to the contrary, she was as worried as her mother was that he'd never come back.
"What are you thinking about?" Mulder asked, startling her.
"Nothing important," she demurred.
"You're thinking awfully hard about nothing important." He looked faintly amused.
Scully shrugged. "Don't you ever think hard about the inconsequential?"
"Leave basketball out of this, Scully," he said piously, making her smile.
She leaned back, feeling even more confused than ever. It felt good to joke with him, but there was such a nagging sense that everything was subtly wrong that it was hard to simply live in the moment and enjoy it.
Mulder drove them down unfamiliar roads, and Scully was surprised that they drove past residential neighborhoods without pause, finally coming to a stop before a large cinderblock building. It was only as her eyes slide towards the sign out front that she began to understand - Tanglewood Home.
"I hate this place," Mulder muttered. He undid his seatbelt. "My mother assured me that this is the best place in DC, but..." He trailed off, giving the bare ground in front of the building a hard stare. "I never could understand why Samantha just couldn't have continued to live with her after Dad died."
Instead of risking saying the wrong thing again, Scully just put a sympathetic hand on his forearm. Mulder sighed. "The last time I was here I spoke to Samantha about what we discussed, but she doesn't want to come live with us still. I hate the false sense of independence this place has given her."
To hide the fact that she was startled, Scully turned and opened her car door. She had no idea why Samantha was living in a group home, or why Mulder would rather she'd live with them. Of course, she also had no idea where she and Mulder might live themselves...
"Ready?" Mulder asked, glancing over at her as he got out.
She almost answered before realizing that the question had been rhetorical. As soon as she reached him, Mulder slide an arm around her waist. Bending his neck towards her, he muttered into her ear, "Thanks for putting up with this."
In response she squeezed his arm. There was no way for her to explain that whatever they were about to encounter seemed to be her fault. It's just a dream, Dana, she reminded herself silently as Mulder pushed open the door to Tanglewood.
As they walked in, a receptionist looked over at them and smiled. "Fox, Dana, Samantha's been looking forward to your visit all day."
A young woman, clearly a resident, glanced over at them. "Sam's waitin' for you."
"Thanks, Lisa," Mulder told her.
It shouldn't have surprised Scully that she'd been there often enough for the receptionist to know her by name, or that Mulder had taken enough interest in other residents to know them by name, but it did. The dream, or whatever it was, had dropped her into a life already in progress.
She trailed after him, trying to pretend that she knew where she was going as they made their way down a long hallway. Unfortunately, she was paying too much attention to how ugly the place was to notice when Mulder stopped short, and nearly walked into him. He didn't seem to notice.
Mulder glanced at his watch and sighed. "Seven minutes late. We'll hear about it."
Scully almost opened her mouth to ask why, but she bit her tongue. The Scully in this dream, this reality, would know why being a few minutes late was an issue. "Sorry."
Before the door even opened all of the way, a slurring voice complained, "You're late."
Involuntarily, Scully stiffened behind Mulder. Even without seeing Samantha, she suddenly knew why the younger woman was living in a group home. As they'd walked in she'd decided that perhaps Samantha's injuries had put her in a wheelchair, but none of the curious residents had displayed that sort of disability. When the car struck Samantha, the girl must have sustained a head injury.
"Sorry, Sam, we hit traffic."
"But you were at Mom's house. Mom's house is twenty-seven minutes away. It took you thirty-four minutes," Samantha complained.
"It's only twenty-seven minutes away when there aren't old ladies driving under the speed limit and school buses dropping kids off. Sometimes it takes longer," Mulder replied patiently.
Instead of replying, Mulder's sister just gave him a long look. It made Scully wonder what she was thinking about. She herself was thinking that she'd been wrong, the car that struck Samantha hadn't just robbed her cognitively after all - she was using the sort of crutches people use long term, rather than with a broken bone.
"So, what did you do this week?" Mulder asked, obviously trying to change the subject.
Samantha grinned at him. "I had a job interview."
"Wow, that's exciting," Scully murmured because she felt like she had to say something. "What for?"
Samantha gave her a puzzled look. "So I can have more money."
"You don't really need money," Mulder objected. "You have a trust from Mom and Dad." Scully put her hand on his forearm, but he didn't seem to notice. "There's no reason you need to work if you don't want to."
"I want to," his sister insisted.
"All right." The look on his face said that it was anything but, not that Samantha seemed aware of that.
Turning to Scully, Samantha said, "I took the bus, all by myself." She looked pleased, at least until Mulder spoke up.
"By yourself? Why am I paying them to look after you hear if they send you off alone?"
Scully felt a pang of sorrow when Mulder kept talking heedless of Samantha's downcast eyes. She wanted to ask him if he had a reasonable reason for trying to discourage his sister's independence, but she didn't know if that was the sort of thing the two of them discussed. Instead she just watched as Samantha shut down and Mulder continued his lecture.
It came as a relief when Mulder hugged his sister half an hour later and made a move to leave. Scully gave Samantha an awkward hug too, and was hardly surprised when she barely returned it. She'd clearly been happy about doing something on her own, but Mulder had crushed her pride without even seeming to realize it. The girl, it was hard for Scully not to think of her that way despite her age, looked on woebegone as they walked out the door.
Mulder was silent until they shut the car doors, then began to complain. "I don't like how they let her believe that she can do more than she can. To send her off to a job interview alone? How irresponsible can they be? They must know as well as I do that the intellectually disabled are preyed upon at greater rates than typical people. What if something had happened to her?"
"In broad daylight, Mulder?" Scully asked as mildly as she could. He took it as an attack anyway.
"You say that like she wouldn't trustingly follow someone off the bus if he nicely asked her to. She needs someone to keep an eye on her, to keep her safe."
Scully cocked her head. "How were you planning to handle that if she came to live with us?"
"Hire her a nurse. Scully, we talked about all of this-"
She decided to press on, figuring that she didn't really have anything to lose. "Do you think she would be happy with an arrangement like that? Didn't you see how proud of herself she was to have been able to go on an interview all by herself? A babysitter wouldn't make her happy, Mulder."
He sighed. "I want her to be happy, I do. But I can't sacrifice her safety for something as unimportant as happiness."
Any thoughts she had stuttered to a stop as she stared at him in shock. The Mulder she knew was hardly an open optimist, but this fatalism stunned her.
Shifting the car into gear, Mulder continued. "I know that you want her to be able to lead as full a life as possible, Scully, but when are you going to accept that good intentions and wishing aren't going to make my sister any more than she already is? God knows that I'm glad that her accident wasn't fatal, but by this point the possibility of her recovering to any greater degree is long past. Years past. She is who she is. We just have to accept that."
When she didn't say anything, he glanced over at her. "I hate that look."
"The one that chides me for giving up on her. I'm not. You have to know I'm not. I just don't think it's fair to burden her with unrealistic expectations, and that means not actively encouraging her to do things that she's destined to fail at. I just want what's best for my sister."
"I know," Scully replied, turning her head towards the window. It wasn't fair to judge him harshly, not when he'd been dealing with the aftermath of the accident for decades and she'd just appeared on the scene herself.
It was only by the car stopping and Mulder taking off his seatbelt that she knew that they'd arrived at their final destination for the day. Glancing at Mulder she suddenly found herself wishing that she had his poker face because she was finding it very hard not to openly study the building. It was a single family home, not an apartment building, and Mulder had the keys to the place.
As they walked up to the front door she noted that neither of them had thought to put a wreath on the door, unlike most of the neighbors. She found that she approved, but wondered if it was because she was thinking about her mother's insistence that she ought to have decorated for no one.
"Home at last," Mulder intoned as he hung up his coat.
Scully had to bite her tongue to keep from thanking him for the reassurance that her suspicions were right. "Now what?" she asked instead, hoping that he wouldn't realize how pointed a question that was. Her dream theory was beginning to wear thin considering that she'd of thought she would have woken up or have veered off into something else rather than continue to dream along the same timeline.
"Dinner?" Mulder suggested as if he at least thought that what was going on was completely normal.
"Okay," she agreed warily. There was no telling what might be in the house to cook; his apartment had seldom contained anything that couldn't have been stored in case of nuclear war. Still, she never would have expected the old Mulder to have bought a house, so maybe things were different here. Now. Whatever it was.
"I was thinking steak," Mulder continued as he led the way to a kitchen that had granite counters and a surprising amount of steel in it. "I picked up a couple of nice ones earlier this week while you were at the doctor's office."
Involuntarily her hand went to her still nearly flat belly. Was there something wrong with the baby in this dream, and that's why she'd gone to the doctor? Before she could blurt out what she was thinking in a panic she reminded herself that women with textbook perfect pregnancies saw their OBs regularly throughout their pregnancies, so there was nothing to be alarmed about. Probably.
"That sounds good," she told him when she realized that she hadn't replied to his question. Her only concern was wondering if he had the proper cookware somewhere in the house. It seemed like a possibility because there were the usual accoutrements to a home in sight, even a small tastefully decorated tree despite the lack of a wreath, not that she could imagine him ever going to the store and purchasing any of these items. Perhaps she had. The thought made her want to laugh in a manic sort of way, so she tried desperately to keep it in.
"Great. Why don't you go and sit down while I cook them, then?" he asked. Scully stared at him, and his own expression morphed into a frown. "Please don't yell at me again for treating you like an invalid. I'm well aware that you're still a capable woman even pregnant. I just happen to be a better cook than you are."
"That's a matter of opinion," she shot back in a way that nearly felt natural. In this situation in real life, she probably would have said something very similar to him.
"Culinary crimes are hardly an opinion, Scully. Now scoot. I can't cook if you're underfoot."
"Fine." To her satisfaction she found her way back to the living room without an escort.
There was no real reason she had to stay there, though, so she allowed herself to wander down the hall. The first room turned out to be a guest bathroom, and the next the master bedroom. A quick peek in the closet revealed that it was full of his and hers suits, and she was filled with the urge to check the night stands for guns and badges. Until that moment she hadn't entertained the idea that they were still FBI agents even without Samantha's alleged abduction by aliens. Her fingers fell away from the night stand drawer, though, when she decided that it would appear decidedly odd for her to be rummaging though their bedroom if Mulder should come and look for her. Forcing herself away, she left the bedroom entirely.
To distract herself she found herself opening the next door. It only took a moment to find the light switch and flick it on, and when she did she nearly collapsed to her knees. The room was a tastefully decorated nursery, appointed with everything a couple could possible need for their new baby.
And every single thing in the room was white or pink.
Scully backed up to the wall so she could keep her feet. Although she hadn't been to a doctor the day before like Mulder said she had, she had been to her OB within the past week. And when she had, the ultrasound had revealed that the baby she was carrying was a healthy little boy.
But this version of Mulder, and her apparently, had gotten other news about their baby. Clearly they thought that they'd be having a girl.
Footsteps outside the door alerted her a moment before Mulder pushed the door to the nursery the rest of the way open and joined her. He looked at her for a moment before frowning again. "I thought you liked the butterflies," he said, following her gaze to where a flock of butterflies hung over the crib. "If you've changed your mind I think I still have the receipt..."
"No, they're lovely," she found herself blurting out. "It's just..."
Mulder's arms went around her and she automatically ducked her chin against his chest. He wasn't her Mulder, but he looked like him, sounded like him, felt like him...and she wanted nothing more to pretend for a moment that he was hers.
He deposited a kiss on the top of her head. "I know, it's all overwhelming. But we're good at almost everything we try, Scully, so why assume that parenting would be so different?"
"Parenting is an awfully important task," she murmured. "And a lot of people suck at it."
His grin melted away. "You're thinking of your parents," he said grimly. "I thought we agreed that they did the best that they could under the circumstances."
Wondering what he was talking about, she nearly tripped over her tongue. "I know but..."
"It was pretty unusual to get a divorce back then, but not everyone is cut out to be part of a military family," Mulder went on, and she was glad that he was looking at a teddy bear on the baby's dresser rather than at her. "And I don't really blame your mother for getting upset when your father decided to leave the navy to work with my father."
Was that it? she wondered. Had they met because their families had a long association?
"Come on," Mulder said, steering her by the elbow. "The steaks need my attention, and I don't want you breathing in these paint fumes."
It was only as they left the room did she realize that she could smell a faint trace of latex paint. Had Mulder rushed to paint the room the moment that they learned the baby's sex?
Would her Mulder have done so given half a chance?
As she chewed her first bite of steak, Scully immediately conceded that he was a better cook than she was. "This is fantastic," she told him as she reached for the piece of French bread slattered with butter that had been placed on its own tiny plate.
"I know," he replied, eyes twinkling with good humor.
It was almost nice to be sitting there with him, enjoying a meal that she hadn't had to cook herself or tip for. He seemed to feel likewise at first, but then his expression sobered. "What?" she demanded to know, even though she realized that it was quite possible that his explanation wouldn't mean anything to her.
Mulder allowed his shoulders to rise and fall in a graceless shrug. "Seeing Samantha today... it has me dwelling on the past."
"Oh. I can see that," Scully told him, and it was the truth. Seeing a sibling was often good for allowing the ghosts of the past to access the halls of your mind.
"The funny thing is that I haven't really been thinking about that day," he confided, catching her off guard. It had been her natural assumption that he was reliving the day that someone - her - told him to run away from home, and she'd been feeling guilty about that since seeing Samantha too.
"No?" she asked cautiously.
"No. Instead I was thinking about deciding to go into the FBI."
"Ah." Scully tried very hard not to react to this bit of information. Now she knew for sure that at least one of them was still a Fed, even though so much had apparently changed. Not knowing what Mulder had meant about her parents was killing her, but there was no good way to broach the subject without sounding like an impostor or someone suffering from retrograde amnesia. Neither of those things would have engendered an easy conversation, that much she was sure of.
"Is it wrong that I don't regret it?" he asked suddenly, putting her on the spot.
Scully studied his expression for a moment, trying to decide if he wanted to be agreed with or not. Eventually she decided that he did. "I don't think so, Mulder."
He sighed. "Even though I never really found out who that woman was working for?"
"You tried," she ventured.
"Not hard enough, though."
"Why are you always so hard on yourself?" This seemed like the right thing to say.
"Someone has to be."
"No." He shook his head. "I mean it. Maybe if I hadn't resisted cooperating with my father for so long I could have picked up more, could have found something before her trail went completely cold. But I had to resist and try to prove that I didn't need my father's connections to get me places in the FBI..." he trailed off, listless poking his steak with a fork.
It was only because his head was down that he had missed her reflexively giving him a sharp look. Inside her thoughts swirled unpleasantly. Mulder wasn't really implying that he'd entered the FBI at his father's behest, was he? Had Bill managed to leave the consortium before Mulder and Samantha grew up? That had to be the case, Scully reassured herself. There was no way that the man had stayed with the enemy after he nearly lost his little girl.
Eventually Mulder sat up straighter in his chair. "There's no sense rehashing the past when there's nothing we can do to change it. Right?"
"Right," she agreed, feeling like a coward for not wanting to know what else he might be thinking about. There had been entirely too many strange revelations already as far as she was concerned. The day couldn't end fast enough to suit her.
"At least you were smart enough to know that they had our best interest at heart," Mulder told her with a fond smile. "Do you remember the weekend you told me that you were going to be a general practitioner instead of going into the FBI like your father wanted you to? Imagine the fireworks that would have caused if you had ever been serious enough about the idea to bring it to him. I can just picture him thundering that he hadn't put you through med school so you could help people with the sniffles."
Like realizing that everything in the nursery was pink, this too had Scully wanting to click her heels together and declare that there was no place like home. Mulder got up to reheat his steak, leaving her sitting there wondering how she was ever going to leave Oz and return to the real world.
The two of them settled on the couch after dinner, watching TV shows that she'd never seen before: insipid comedies about characters with lifestyles that there improbable considering their occupations. Thinking about this just made her feel wistful. And a remembered comment about something being unaffordable on a g-woman's salary left her heartsick with longing to be with the man who'd made it.
The Mulder to her right was oblivious to her internal storm and laughed along with the recorded audience. It made her miss the stupid movies that they'd watched over the summer, and how she had retaliated for being made to sit through yet another Ed Wood "classic" by inflicting Beaches on him...and how surprised she'd been when he admitted that he'd liked the musical numbers in the film.
At ten he used the remote to turn off the TV and turned his face to look at her. "You're awfully quiet tonight. Ready for bed?"
If the gunmen hadn't forced her to perfect her poker playing after the Vegas incident, she would have looked as panicked as she felt. The day had kept her mind so abuzz that she hadn't even considered how awkward it would be if she was there long enough to have to sleep in this man's bed. Silence stretched between them as she thought of absolutely nothing to say.
Apparently tired of waiting for an answer, he gently took her arm, getting her to stand. "Come on, before I need to carry you."
"I'm too heavy," she protested, horrified at the thought of literally being swept off her feet without her consent, not that he'd know he was acting inappropriately if he followed through with the threat.
"It's not like I haven't carried you before," he said with a small laugh. Her thoughts automatically flew to their misadventure in Antarctica, but he dashed them away by going on to say, "Remember how I nearly bruised us both trying to maneuver through the doorway when I carried you over the threshold?"
She lacked the heart to wound him by confessing that she didn't remember his wedding night as fondly, or at all, so she just nodded tiredly.
That was the right thing to do because he smiled. "Let's go. I won't even race you tonight."
"Charming," she replied with a smile of her own that she almost didn't have to fake.
"My mother raised me to be a gentleman," he said stiffly, but his eyes were merry.
"I should have thanked her," she remarked, only alerted that this was the wrong thing to say by his silence. She'd known that Teena was dead in this reality too, but somehow the words got out anyway. "Sorry."
"No, it's okay," he told her but the joy in his eyes had faded away to nothing. "Come on."
Trying not to make anything worse, she just stumbled after him, no longer having to pretend that she was exhausted.
She'd followed him to the bedroom calmly enough but watching him sit on the side of the bed so he could take off his shoes nearly had her fleeing the room in a panic. Fortunately he was too intent on his task to notice. Pretend it's just Mulder, she told herself sternly. Insisting that she go sleep on the couch wouldn't go over well, and it was too late to pick a fight with him so he'd be inclined to himself. Baby, she chided herself, watching his second shoe fall to the floor.
Shoes off, he finally looked up at her. "Did Skinner get back to you about scheduling your maternity leave yet?"
Her relief about learning that they were still working for Skinner was tempered by not knowing the answer to his question. So, she settled for shrugging.
He looked annoyed. "You're nineteen weeks along. Just how much time does he think he has to dicker around? I don't want to be stuck partnering with some incompetent fool because he waited too long to find someone decent...."
Although he'd probably said more she'd largely stopped listening after he said nineteen weeks. It was another little detail that was not quite right - she'd only just passed the sixteen week mark when her O. B. had revealed the baby's sex earlier during the last visit.
Something must have shown on her face, because he sounded concerned when he said, "sit down before you fall down." Scully was too preoccupied to do anything else, so she did as bade. He continued to speak, sounding aggrieved. "You have to tell me when things get to be too much for you. Was it seeing my sister? God knows that I can find that draining myself, and I'm not pregnant."
Scully summoned up the ghost of a smile. "It'd make for a damned interesting case if you were,"
"I'm trying to have a serious conversation," he surprised her by snapping. Her Mulder would have found the comment funny and probably would have thrown back a rejoinder of his own.
"Sorry," she said quietly. "And seeing your sister was fine. I'm just more tired and achy some days than others."
"'My back," she said honestly. Apparently time travel was hard on the body.
"Do you want a massage?"
"No!" She cringed when she realized that her reply had been both too quick and too dismissive - it was therefore unsurprising that he looked slightly hurt. "I-I just want to get to sleep."
"Okay." His eyes were slightly wary. "I was going to read for a while, so I can do that in the living room."
Even though she sensed that he wanted her to tell him that it was unnecessary, she just said "thanks."
He leaned over and kissed her cheek. "Get some rest. I'll be up in about an hour."
It was all she could do not to blurt out that some things never changed; her Mulder slept so little that it was a wonder that he didn't hook himself up to a caffeine IV in the morning. Biting her tongue, she nodded.
She watched until he left, gently closing the door behind himself. Once he was gone, Scully got up and pulled open the drawers that she'd peeked into before. It still felt like snooping in some stranger's stuff, and it left a bad taste in her mouth...Still, she hadn't packed a bag before taking the trip through time and space, so it wasn't like she had much choice.
Grimacing over her double's dubious taste and deplorable fondness for floral prints, she found some pajamas that at least felt nice even if they were hideous. She shrugged them on, glad that the waistband of the bottoms could accommodate her swollen belly, and reached for the light switch. Praying that he'd sat on "his" side of the bed earlier, she pulled back the covers on the other and crawled under them.
The blankets hadn't even finished settling around her when she began to pray: Please let me wake up in my own bed. Please.
A peace overcame her when she allowed herself to believe that she was going to wake up in her own bed. Auntie Em and the farmhands wouldn't be standing around her bed when she came to, but she'd be back where she belonged. As she drifted off she sleepily wondered if there was another confused redhead in her bed, just as eager to go home as she was. The thought made her smile - that could only be true if there really was another woman to swap places with.
She didn't stir when Mulder got into bed with her, settling to sleep with his back to hers.
Reality crash down on her all over again when a hand gently nudging her shoulder made her open her eyes to find Mulder looking down at her. "Ready to get up? We don't want to be late for work."
She tried to hide her disappointment with a yawn. "sure," she said eventually. She hadn't failed to notice that he was already dressed. It had been considerate of him to be so quiet.
"I'll start breakfast," he told her, heading for the door.
Once he was gone it was all she could do not to throw herself on the floor and have a kicking and screaming temper tantrum. It was so unfair. How could a dream keep going and going? As soon as a tiny voice spoke up to say that dreams were not usually so coherent, she dropped her face into her hands. The last thing she wanted to think about was the possibility that what she was going through was reality instead of a dream.
If this was reality, could she cope with it? She found herself wondering briefly. As realities went, it wasn't such a bad one. It was confusing, but at least Mulder was alive and healthy. In her own world, her own reality, she wasn't even sure of the former...
By the time she managed to dress herself, Mulder must have been annoyed, because he barely looked at her when she came into the kitchen. Instead, he merely pushed a plate of pancakes at her, and went back to eating his own. For a second she hesitated, fork held limply in one hand, while she wondered what she could say to make things better. Then, she realized that she probably couldn't. So, she just ate.
It almost felt nice to follow Mulder around in the Hoover building, especially when she realized that they were still headed down to the basement. At least that hadn't changed, no matter what else had. Apparently they were still the FBI's most unwanted. That was comforting in a way. Still, she wondered what they had done to tick off people. Whatever it was, it probably was amusing. Maybe she could convince Mulder to tell her about it at lunch, under the guise of reminiscing. Giving him a sidelong glance, she wondered how amusing it would be. This Mulder was more staid than she was used to.
Existence lurched anew when Mulder pushed the door open. If they had ticked people off and had been sentenced to the basement as a result, this time it couldn't have been as badly. The walls were a gleaming white, suggesting that they were regularly painted. In all of the time that she and Mulder had worked in the X-Files office, the only time the office had ever been repainted was when someone had set it on fire, and it was deemed too dirty to simply leave as is after the smoke and fire damage was repaired. The fact that there were two desks also suggested that things were different down in the basement office, because one of them had a nameplate with her name engraved on it. A memory of a fight with Mulder over desks floated into her brain, and she pushed it away. There was no reason to dwell on that now, not when she had so much to think about in the present.
He dropped his briefcase on his desk with a sigh and looked around the room - from his expression it was clear that he was a lot less impressed with what he saw than she was. "I think it's the locale."
"What?" she asked blankly. She'd been trying to pay attention whenever he spoke, but still she found herself missing things at moments like this.
He waved a hand in an encompassing gesture. "This office. I think the lack of amenities is what makes it so likely that I'm going to have some rookie or screw up down here with me when you leave."
"Sorry," she replied tightly. He sounded like he expected her to feel guilty for planning on leaving while the baby was small. What did he expect her to do, give birth in their office and come back the next day after a good night's sleep?
"Why?" He genuinely sounded surprised. "It's not like you haven't been lobbying for a more desirable location for years." Giving her a crooked smile, he added, "And I'm probably making too big a deal out of it. It's only a couple of months, right?"
"Right," she agreed, feeling slightly better.
"Do you remember the kid they had following us around during the selkie case? It'd be hard to top someone that dumb."
She'd never encountered a selkie outside of a novel, but it didn't seem wise to admit that she had no idea what he was talking about. "What was his name again?" Even as she asked she breathing a sigh of relief internally: clearly they still had the same sort of cases, even if she didn't remember the same ones that he did.
Mulder smirked at the memory. "Wentworth Douglas. I still think that sounds like a law firm rather than something parents holding their brand new baby would decide to hang on a kid."
If he'd been her Mulder, the other Mulder, she would have used this opening to segue into a conversation about what they'd name their baby, and make him laugh by insisting that Kit and Vickie were both out, but... "Temporary insanity?" she suggested instead.
"Hereditary insanity is more like it," he grumbled, lost in a memory of the case. "Too bad the fool didn't realize that his primary role was to take the fall in the case - you'd of thought he would have realized it when no one offered to pay him for his 'help' with it. I still can't believe that people bought it when we claimed that he'd stolen the seal skin from a small private museum. Remember how many irate calls we fielded about what sort of monster in DC had gone seal hunting? It looked like the skin of a full grown harbor seal, not a harp seal pup, but people are so touchy about that sort of thing..."
"They are," she replied, hoping that the uncertainty she detected in her own tone wasn't something he'd pick up on. Why had they told anyone a story about a museum if one hadn't really been involved?
Sighing, he said, "At least the papers bought it, which is the important thing. This job would be a lot easier if we didn't have reporters hungry for 'the truth' to deal with. I hate to say it, but I'd love it if journalism programs spit out students just a little bit dumber than they really do." Giving her a look, he asked, "Speaking of reporters, do you still hear from Ethan?"
Her insides turned to water when the question sunk in and she realized that she had no idea what to say. She hadn't talked to Ethan since shortly after breaking things off with him just after she started on the X-Files, but what about the Dana whose life she'd stepped into? "I don't want to talk about Ethan," she settled for mumbling, hoping that he'd let her drop the subject.
"Sorry. I don't like to talk about Bambi, so I should have realized..." He trailed off, looking away with a chagrined look on his face.
Which was fortunate because she couldn't help but stare at him. He'd dated the bug girl? They'd discussed her once upon a time, and he'd declared her pretty but cold, which had struck her as a strange dismissal since Diana had fit that description too and that hadn't kept him from dating her. Maybe it had just been a way of saving face after Bambi had clearly been more smitten by the doctor who had helped at the very end of their case. Her look became speculative as she wondered if there had been another man involved in the case here. Maybe there hadn't been.
When he coughed, she looked up. "So, how do you want to spin this poltergeist case?" Mulder asked her. Apparently she appeared as confused by the odd question as she felt because he went on, "I was thinking we could claim that it's something electrical."
"Electrical?" she practically stammered.
"Sure, you remember that video I showed you, don't you? When they faked a ghost by using an electrical field to more stuff around? I love that video, it caused legions of people to suddenly become skeptical. Anything to make our jobs a little easier, huh?"
The pieces were slowly sliding into place, and she was afraid of the picture that was beginning to form. "What did we do about that other case?" she asked, praying that her hunch that there had been another case like that was not a dead end that would have him asking 'what case' with undisguised suspicion.
"The Paulson case?" he asked instantly, making her feel a little better.
"That's the one," she said, trying not to let her relief show.
"Underground aquifer causing echoes that sounded like ghostly voices, I think." As he spoke he got to his feet and crossed the room. A moment later he rifled through a filing cabinet and pulled out a folder. She instinctively held out her hand for it, and he obligingly handed the folder over.
It only took a cursory glance to realize that her fears were entirely grounded in reality. From the wording in the report it was clear that their task had been less to investigate the event than it was to whitewash it with a veneer of soothing plausibility. Looking up at him, she make sure not to meet his eyes. "You know, they claim that pregnancy affects the brain...do you mind if I read through a few more files? Just to make sure that the wording in the current report doesn't sound too much like any of the old reports."
"That's probably a good idea," Mulder remarked. "No one likes reruns. I think that's what gives so many politicians trouble: they don't bother to write new speeches but expect people to be enchanted by retreads."
Forcing herself to smile, she asked, "Do you have political ambitions I should know about?"
As if you wouldn't be the very first person to know. But you know, senator Matheson has been pushing me to consider running for mayor. Can you picture anyone voting for me though?"
"I don't know, I think you can be pretty persuasive," she said on automatic pilot. Their mild banter was all that was keeping her from thinking too deeply and she latched onto it like a life preserver. It was all too clear why their fathers had wanted them to be part of the FBI now: they wanted someone on the inside who could explain away all the weirdness connected to the work the men did, and all the rest too. The thought that they were just there to provide cover ups made her sick in a way that was entirely unrelated to her unrelenting morning sickness. They were being used by their fathers, and if Mulder's cheerfulness was any indictor, they didn't mind it either.
"I do resemble that remark, don't I?" he asked with a broad grin. "Mayor Mulder. That sounds too pat to me."
"That's it. Maybe I should set my sights elsewhere, then. State Representative Mulder, maybe."
"Oh lord," she murmured, knowing that his musing had been calculated to get a rise out of her.
"You don't think I'd do a good job representing the good people of...I guess DC wouldn't make me a state rep. I really need to look that up before starting a stump speech."
"Somehow I don't believe you don't know what sort of representation DC has," she said, hoping to sound amused.
"You're accusing me of being some sort of political animal, Scully? The sort of person who'd know that information off the top of his head?"
"If the shoe fits..." she suggested.
Scully desperately hoped to keep him amused. Anything to keep from dwelling on what was obviously their role in sanitizing the consortium's messes, and everything else that might give people pause long enough to consider the unknown. Anything to keep from having to admit to herself that they were working for the wrong side.
Although she was loath to do it, she found that coming up with plausible explanations for the paranormal was something she was rather good at. It must be related to her willingness to play the skeptic and try to figure out if there were mundane reasons for things before being willing to commit herself to the utterly fantastic. Mulder, of course, had never had any problems whatsoever embracing the strange and buying it drinks.
She looked up from the report she was lying her butt off writing to glance across the office to where Mulder sat looking contemplative. At least not her Mulder, she amended the thought. This Mulder was far more at ease coming up with a rational cover story for irrational events. Back where she belonged, she could picture him struggling hard as he tried to entertain any cause that wasn't what he considered the absolute truth. He had become a great profiler before she met him, but being a bureaucratic liar was never having going to have been his strong suit.
This man, though, the one sharing her office - and her bed, she reminded herself - was as consummate a liar as the consortium could ever hope for. When he first alluded to what their real job was, she kept hoping that he'd give some sort of indication that he hated the role and was trying to undermine it, but as the day wore on, it became clear to her that this simply wasn't the case. He had no problems keeping the truth from the world at large.
Sighing quietly, she finally asked herself a question that she'd been pushing away all day: what made her think that the world was a better place for knowing the truth? She knew a lot of truths that most others hadn't the faintest inking were even questions that they could be asking, and what did she have to show for it? The ridicule of her colleagues, a career that had hit a brick wall, a lack of credibility. And that was just on the professional front. There were costs that had been much more personal, like a daughter who'd been created only to be experimented on and allowed to die, a sister who had been murdered in her stead, and Mulder had been abducted...and she knew that her mother hadn't been wrong to wonder what would happen if he didn't come back.
Beyond a sense of duty and righteousness, what had the pursuit of the truth ever gained her other than his love? And odds were good that even if she woke up in her own bed in the morning, he'd still be lost to her, maybe forever.
Maybe the best thing to do, the kindest to herself, was to accept that where she currently was might be real after all. Insisting that it was all a dream was really only denying that the implausible happened, and to her more often than to most. It was hard to believe that a child's spell book could have transported her back in time before flinging her into the future she'd wreaked havoc on with her actions in the past, but was it really so much more difficult to accept than any of the other things that had happened to her since the first day she'd stepped foot into the basement office? Was it more difficult to accept than Skinner's heartbroken tale of Mulder disappearing into a beam of light?
Across from her, Mulder put down the pages he'd been reading. "You okay? I thought I heard you sigh."
He'd noticed? Giving him a wan smile, she said, "I'm just annoyed that I need to go to the restroom yet again."
He nodded sympathetically. "It's going to be a long four months. Sorry."
"Why are you sorry?"
When he smiled at her, she thought she could pretend for a moment that he was the right man. "Well, the cause of your excessive need to pee is half my fault."
"I suppose that's true?"
"You 'suppose'?" he repeated, his tone mock-suspicious. "Is there something you've been meaning to tell me? I thought these rings mean we were exclusive!" He punctuated the statement by pointing at his wedding band.
She stuck her tongue out at him and left the room. When she slipped into the bathroom down the hall she found that she really did need to pee after all, so she decided to take advantage of the excuse she'd used. Sitting there, with her pants around her ankles, she thought about the exchange they'd just had. If it could always be like that, maybe being wherever she was wouldn't be so bad, even if it was forever.
As if trying to give her something else to think about, the baby gave a weak kick. The fact that it wasn't a fierce jab to her inside didn't bother her because it was still early yet. She'd only been able to feel the baby at all starting a couple of weeks ago. Of course, that hadn't been the same baby, she reminded herself. This baby was slightly older and a girl.
What would it be like to have a girl, she wondered then. If she'd had more than a few days of knowing that she'd been expecting a boy, maybe she would have been more upset over the loss of a chance to have a son...
Blinking, she realized that there was no real reason to assume that she couldn't have a son someday too. It would have to be fairly soon after this baby's birth given her age, but there was nothing in Mulder's attitude to suggest that they'd had any difficulty conceiving. Over the past several months it had crossed her mind repeatedly that if Mulder hadn't been abducted before he'd learned that they were having a baby, he would have spent her entire pregnancy being fiercely protective of the little life they'd had so much trouble sparking. For all the differences between him and the man he'd become instead, there was nothing about him that made her think that would have been a difference.
She was still thinking about that after she washed her hands and began to wander back to the office. He'd gone back to frowning at paperwork, but his face smoothed out when he noticed her. "Hey."
"While I was gone I started thinking about what it'd be like to have a little boy," she said casually, trying to feel him out.
"But we're having a girl," he said blankly.
"I know," she said, putting a hand on her belly. "Right now we're having a girl."
She didn't know what she expected his reaction to be, but a huge sunny grin wasn't on the short list of predictions. "Are you trying to tell me that you've changed your mind?" he asked eagerly.
"Maybe," she demurred, frantically wondering what her mind was being changed about.
"I knew you'd come around!" he crowed, looking oddly triumphant. "Now that you've seen the errors of your insistence that we only have one, how long were you thinking of waiting before we have another baby?"
She'd insisted that they only have one baby? That seemed so unlike her that she couldn't even wrap her head around it. One of the things that made her the saddest while pregnant was knowing that she'd never be able to give her son a brother or a sister. Despite dreams that Emily's missing body meant that the girl was still alive out there somewhere, she didn't dare even hope that there was even a hint of reality to the idea. And no one could even explain how she'd conceived one baby, let alone given her hope for another, even if Mulder did come back...and the her in this when and where had only wanted one baby, ever, when having more didn't seem to be an issue? It was all very strange.
"Scully?" He sounded concerned, like he was worried that her silence meant a reversal in her thoughts.
"Oh, um, I don't know, a year or less, I think. They'd be close in age, but we can't really afford to wait," she said at last.
He cocked his head. "A year between conceptions or a year between births?"
"Conceptions. Close together in age is okay, but I don't really want to do this for almost two whole years."
"No problem. They'd still be less than two years apart in age," he said so placatingly that she realized that he'd assumed she'd wanted to get pregnant again as soon as the OB/GYN gave them the green light to resume relations once the baby was born. Not that her own mother had waited herself - Maggie had confessed that she'd been severely scolded by her doctor when she'd turned up at a checkup already pregnant again less than two months after Bill jr's birth.
"That they will be." She realized that she had already begun to think of where she was during their conversation. Well, good, she told herself. That's what she'd already decided to do, right?
"Do you think we're up to the challenge of having two in diapers at once?" he asked, but he didn't look like the thought of that many dirty diapers really bothered him.
"Considering everything we've faced down over the years, yes, I think we can handle a few poopy diapers," she said, smirking. She didn't even have to know what their exact cases had been to know that there had been a fair amount of danger and excitement involved. There had to have been.
He gave her a sidelong glance. "What about three kids in diapers at once?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well, we could end up with two girls. And even if we didn't need to try for a boy again after that, women over thirty-five have much better odds of having twins than women younger than that do."
"Better?" she sputtered, her disbelief only half-feigned. "Can we go with 'higher' instead, Mulder?"
"You know what I mean," he complained.
"We'd be able to get through a mountain of soiled diapers," she told him, not bothering to hide her amused smile. "I have faith in us."
And at that moment she really did. Women had been advising each other for centuries that you shouldn't commit to a man you thought you needed to change, but maybe she could mold this man into being the sort she really wanted. He wasn't so far off from the original model that the idea was inconceivable. Encouragement here, slight manipulation there, and there could be real change in the man.
Or maybe he'd change her into the sort of person who was content to stay with the status quo. Influence worked both in both directions.
Either way, she was becoming okay with seeing what might come.
Over the next few days Scully felt herself getting into the swing of things. The first day in the Hoover building was spent entirely in the basement office, and was apparently a self-designated "paperwork day" to catch up on write ups. The fact that Mulder submitted to that without being threatened by their AD was a marvel in and of itself, but her mind was completely blown when she realized that it had apparently been his idea in the first place.
Her bemusement must have looked like dismay because he sighed minutely and said, "I know you hate spending the whole day in the office, but I thought you agreed with me that it's best to have a couple days a month set aside so we can get our write ups done without having the powers that be come down hard on us for getting behind."
Not knowing what else to do, she just shrugged in a half-hearted way. "You're right. I just hate being cooped up inside on what's a pretty nice day. For December."
He gave her a sympathetic smile that had her feeling mildly guilty. "I hear you, sweetheart. But we'll be out and about tomorrow and the weather isn't supposed to go south until the weekend."
This declaration amused her so much that she couldn't help but grin at him.
"What?" he asked, looking both suspicious and mildly pleased to have entertained her even if he wasn't sure how.
"When did 'trust no one' become 'trust no one...except for weathermen'?" she asked before thinking better of it.
Her heart sank a little when he gave her a quizzical look. "Trust no one? I like the sound of that, but it's awfully jaded, isn't it? How did you come up with that, anyway?"
Shrugging, she mumbled, "I think I read it somewhere."
"Oh ho, she's reading subversive literature now," he crowed. "Should I pick you up a copy of The Anarchist's Cookbook for Christmas, then?"
Scully reached over and gently patted his arm. "Maybe you should save it for Valentine's day," she suggested.
This was rewarded with a whoop of laughter that had an agent walking by staring in at them. She blushed and shrugged, which made the agent nod and move on.
Just as he promised, she found the following day in the field with Mulder was lot more interesting than the day before. A lot of what made the day fascinating was observing and categorizing the differences between this incarnation of Mulder and the one she still couldn't let go of thinking of as hers. She'd had to swallow down an unexpected bubble of laughter when she found herself being reminded of a book her mother had insisted she read, one about an anthropologist who solved murders.
The thought of her mother made her slightly anxious, but she fought to keep that off her face too. Maggie and the Scully whose life she'd stepped into clearly hadn't been as close as she and her own mother. This Maggie Scully didn't live in the DC area, that much she'd been able to piece together already. She'd been on the verge of making an excuse to go driving, just to drive by her mom's house, when she found a photo album that showed her mother with Charlie and her nephew. From the pictures it seemed pretty clear that Maggie wasn't just there for a visit. It stung a little but in her heart she knew it made sense for Maggie to have moved out there after her brother's divorce. This former Heather Scully, now Heather Mackenzie once more, had taken a darker path than the sister-in-law Scully had known before. Heather had a troubled past no matter what, but this one apparently hadn't straightened up once Tristan was born. Instead she'd found relief from her demons in the form of prescription drug abuse - or so Mulder had left slip when reminded of it by a movie the night before. Since he'd thought they were on the same page he'd offered maddeningly little detail and she hadn't be able to ask him to fill in the vast holes.
Still, it worried her a little that Maggie had yet to call or e-mail. She'd found Maggie's e-mail address in the computer she was using, but the last e-mail was from nearly two years earlier. It had been bland enough, but it felt like there must have been a falling out after that, either in person or over the phone, so it didn't feel right to simply e-mail her mother without knowing how the message would be relieved.
"Scully?" Mulder's voice pierced her thoughts, and she gave him a sheepish smile. The quick glance he gave her midsection showed his mistaken impression of what she'd been distracted by, but she made no move to disabuse him of the idea. There was no part of her that was willing to admit that she was concerned about a fight she couldn't even remember, and asking about it as if she'd "forgotten" the details would worry him unduly.
"Have you ever seen Lichtenberg figures before?" he asked patiently. They were headed down the highway, on the way to interview a woman suspected of an unthinkable crime.
"On a person? No."
"But you have seen them?" he prompted, sounding mildly surprised.
"As a form of art, actually. They can create the effect in acrylic blocks. They call them 'electric trees'," she explained.
"That sounds like one hell of a paperweight."
"They are strangely beautiful." Each did look for all the world like a lightning bolt that had been frozen in time.
As they spoke, she found herself wondering why he hadn't brought up their case from long ago that had involved another person who had developed powers after being struck by lightning. That boy had been able to harness the power of lightning itself, which was different than what Lillian Giles was accessed of, but not so different that a similarity between the cases shouldn't have crossed his mind. His silence on the matter had her not daring to bring it up herself: she was beginning to suspect that he'd just give her a blank look and ask what she was talking about. If she was lucky she could pass such a slip up off as an unusually vivid dream, but he read her too well for her to risk making the error in the first place.
Deep in her heart she feared that it was only a matter of time before he found her out as a fraud, but she hasn't eager to hasten that. Maybe if she could delay it long enough for him to love her as thoroughly as he had his own Scully, the fallout would be less devastating...The alterative was unthinkable. What would she do in a reality that was borrowed if he cast her aside? No doubt he'd sue her for custody of the baby, which if she was honest with herself was more his than hers. Then she'd be alone, utterly alone, impossibly far from home. She couldn't let that happen.
Be her, she willed herself fiercely, like your life depends on it. Because it might. Not in a literal life or death sense, but in the sense of having even the tatters of an existence she recognized to cling to. Beside her Mulder chattered about the case, and didn't seem to notice that she'd sunk into monosyllabic responses. That was a relief.
One of the first things Mulder asked their suspect was "Can we see it?"
Lillian must have been used to such requests because she simply nodded and yanked her sweater over her head. Just before Scully could be too scandalized by the other woman's lack of modesty, she noticed that she was wearing a navy blue cami under the sweater. After that her attention was drawn to what Mulder had requested to see: across the woman's left shoulder, and trailing down her arm and presumably her back, was a delicate pattern traced into her fair skin.
It instantly reminded Scully of a book of fantasy art Missy owned when they were girls: particularly of a tree spirit on one page, a dryad, that had a pattern of trailing vines on her skin. She realized, of course think the markings on Lillian Giles' body weren't vines or something she'd been born with like the wood nymph had been, but a result of the lightning bolt that had struck and nearly killed her months earlier.
"Satisfied?" Lillian asked eventually, giving Mulder a bored look.
"Um, yes," Mulder muttered, though she could tell he longed to photograph the woman's strange temporary disfigurement. It was beautiful in a way, the way birthmarks seldom were.
"Good, I'm cold," she said, and only then did Scully notice that goose bumps dotted Lillian's skin too.
"Sorry," Mulder replied with the grace Scully was suddenly ashamed she lacked: she'd been entirely too distractible to consider the discomfort their request could cause. She herself was cozy in her maternity sweater, so she ought to have considered how chilly it was in the room while the stared at the pattern on Lillian's skin.
"I'm used to being stared at like a sideshow freak by now," their suspect said with a bitter note to her words.
Scully imagined that the other woman did draw a lot of stares; the marks were extensive and Lillian seemed to have had them an unfortunately long time. They could mark a victim for hours or months, Scully knew, and for Lillian it had been months. This had Scully wondering how she'd coped when the weather was warm and long sleeves to cover it up had been impractical. Maybe she'd preferred to suffer with being overheated to bald curiosity.
"So," Mulder began. "You were struck by lightning in mid-August?"
"The 18th, yes."
"And the accusations began...?"
Lillian sighed. "In October. I suppose that's fitting given the insistence that I'm bewitching people."
That was the claim in a nutshell: people around Lillian insisted that she'd begun to curse those who did her wrong. The boyfriend who abandoned her while she was still recovering in the hospital found his farm as dry as a desert despite there being lash vegetation at the abutting farms. A boss who had tried to get too familiar had a freak accident that left him with broken bones from fingertips to shoulders. A high school rival had a single engine plane crash into her home, doing irreparable damage...
Mulder nodded, business-like. "We've spoken to some of those who made accusations. To a person they claimed to have exchanged harsh words with you less than 24 hours before their...misfortunes."
Lillian waved dismissively. "Coincidence." When his response was a skeptical stare, she sighed. "I'm not a saint. Not even in the same zip code. I've never been the meek sort who is easy to get along with. All my life I've been the sort of woman who doesn't back down as soon as she should. But being unpleasant doesn't give me the ability to put a curse on someone. Curse at them, sure. But actually put a curse on them? I thought people stopped believing in that sort of crap after the Salem witch trials."
That there were still people actively being accused of and punished for what were thought of as acts of witchcraft in other parts of the world did occur to Scully, but there didn't seem to be anything to gain from bringing that up so she held her tongue.
They spent another forty-five minutes interviewing Ms. Giles Before heading out into a snowstorm that had blown up while they were inside. Scully shivered as they got into the car.
Mulder looked at his phone with a frown when it beeped at him to let him know that he'd missed a call. Sighing, he flipped the phone open and said, "There must not have been any reception in there."
"Guess not," she murmured. Lord knew that they had visited a great many places with inadequate cell phone coverage over the years.
By this point he was listening to the message, and the expression on his face as much as said he was not happy about what he was hearing. He made an irritated noise and snapped the phone closed before turning to her. "Tonight's dinner with Samantha is off. Someone from Tanglewood called to let me know she's not feeling well today. She looks forward to seeing us all week, so she really must be sick."
Weekly dinners? Scully thought with a start; it killed her not to be able to ask how long they'd been going on, because it was impossible to wrap her head around the logistical nightmare it would be to work that out with the amount of travel he done since joining the FBI. "Next week, then," she said with forced cheer.
Would they still be going out with his sister every week once the baby came? And if not, how would Samantha react to having that particular rug ripped out from under her? She might have been an adult, but her mind wasn't equal to most grown-ups', so Scully could picture her responding with the same sort of resentment and betrayed feelings a 10 to 12-year-old might naturally feel in the same situation.
Glancing a Mulder, she wondered how much thought he'd put into that looming issue. Any?
"I don't really feel like going out to dinner without her. You mind if we stop at the grocery store on the way home? I'll cook."
"That's fine," she muttered. What else could she say?
Weak sunshine filtered into the basement windows the next morning. The weather forecasters had been wrong - once it began to snow the day before, it didn't stop. The intensity varied, but snow fell steadily. It had been snowing when Scully had gotten to her OB appointment, and still was snowing when she finally drove herself to the Hoover building to join her partner last.
Mulder scarcely seemed to notice: he was balling up paper and tossing it into a recycling bin. When he noticed her watching, he grinned. "I know this annoys the recycling company but they denied my request for a round paper shredder, so...
"Do they even make a basketball hoop shaped paper shredder?"
To her surprise he slapped the top of his desk. "That's it! If one doesn't already exist, I'm going to market one. All the millions of bored men working in offices, I'll make millions."
Scully made an encompassing gesture. "And take me away from all of this?"
"You bet." His smile faded into seriousness. "So, Lillian Giles."
"I was thinking prejudice against the disfigured. There is a historical precedence for that, of course."
"True," she replied, hoping to stem off a history lecture.
Mulder nodded thoughtfully. "Good. This one will be easier to present than many." Standing, he picked up a folder from off his desk and brought it to her. "This was delivered from on high this morning. Why don't you give it a look while I get the explanation for the Giles case started?"
Scully looked up at him, desperately hopeful that her shock didn't show too much on her face. That was it? He didn't want to know the real reason why the strange things had happened to Lillian Giles' enemies? Mulder, even this one, was one of the most curious men she had ever met, so she couldn't believe that he was willing to simply let the case go once they had a plausible enough explanation to offer the public. Where was the relentless drive to ferret out the truth that had exasperated her and ultimately made her fall in love with him?
"Okay?" he asked expectantly.
"Um, yes," she said, taking the folder from him.
His features rearrange themselves into an expression of concern. "Did your OB say something? You seem distracted."
"Yes... she admitted slowly. The appointment hadn't exactly been routine.
"What?" It was clear that she had his full attention.
Sighing, Scully spread her hands. She didn't want to panic him unduly, nor make light of what she had been told, either. "Doctor Kemp is somewhat concerned about the position of the placenta. She's not happy that it means I have an elevated risk of a placental abruption."
"The placenta could tear away from the uterine wall."
"Which means you'd lose the baby," he said darkly.
"If it was a complete abruption, yes. Most are partial."
"But that doesn't sound good, either."
She couldn't lie to him. "Well..."
"So what we do about it?"
"We? Nothing. I need to reduce my stress, take it easy physically."
"Are we talking desk duty or bed rest?"
"Desk duty at most, if it even comes to that," she said firmly. "We're talking about a slightly higher risk, not a certainty."
"Still..." He said doubtfully.
Scully reached out a hand for his. "I promise to take it easy. I know the medical stuff, and I know my body." And, she thought, since are not actually solving cases, it's not like I'm going to be chasing down suspects on foot anyway.
Giving her a crooked smile, he said, "just promise you'll take your maternity leave early if necessary. I'll be fine with whoever they assigned me, even though I've been whining about it."
She glanced out the door to make sure there was no one in the hallway before giving him a quick, reassuring kiss, like her counterpart surely would have. "Of course. I promise."
He relaxed a little. "Okay. Let me know what you think about the new case. I think you'll like it."
She summoned up an interested look as she opened the folder, but it slipped as soon as he stopped looking directly at her.
She was in the middle of reading the report when she became dimly aware that Mulder had answered the phone but she didn't looks up until he said "no!" in a savage tone and dropped the phone before putting his head down on his arms.
"Mulder?" she asked, uncertain. After staring at him for a moment, she got to her feet, feeling awkward, and crossed the room to him. "Mulder, what's wrong?"
When he finally lifted his head, his eyes were filled with tears. "My sister," he said in a strangled tone.
"What about Samantha?" she asked, feeling the first tendrils of alarm taking hold.
"She's dead," he said hollowly. "My sister is dead."
"Oh no." Her hand went to her mouth but she forced herself to drop it back to her side. "What...do you know what, how it happened?" Samantha hadn't seemed on the verge of death when they'd visited her, and he'd never mentioned her prognosis including a shortened lifespan, so she could only surmise that there had been some sort of accident at the home or at her new job. She'd been so proud of that job, simple as it was...there was no point in thinking about that, she scolded herself. Samantha certainly wasn't in a position to mourn the loss of her new accomplishment, or even her own life.
"Neuroleptic malignant syndrome," he said bitterly, like it was something he'd half expected. Maybe he had.
Scully had to take a moment to retrieve the term from her memories of med school. "They were giving her antipsychotics?" she asked, surprised. She knew that people with intellectual disabilities suffered from mental illnesses at a higher rate than the general population, but she seemed to recall that this was often due to genetic conditions being associated with vulnerabilities to some forms of mental illness too. Samantha's condition hadn't been genetic.
"For 'behavioral issues'," Mulder said with a sigh. "Id been against it, but Mom thought that Samantha might lose her placement if she didn't give consent. I'd been meaning to withdraw consent now that I'm-" His eyes looked pained. "-became her guardian. I just didn't have time to."
With a start Scully remembered that this Mulder had only just lost his mother too. It was hard not to lose sight of that when so many other things were vastly different between them. "You're still grieving from your mother's death...you couldn't have suspected that your sister's medication issue was going to become a crisis so soon after you assumed her care."
Eyeing him, she did wonder if that was true, though, for the people who saw Samantha every day. Behavioral issues as a reason to give someone a class of drugs widely associated with serious side effects left a bad taste in her mouth, and the thought that they were given without adequate monitoring mad her angry. She almost asked how the staff had failed to realize that his sister was in a medical crisis, but realized that blame wasn't going to make him feel any better.
"I'm so sorry," she said instead as she put her hand on his shoulder. "She didn't deserve this," she added feeling awash with guilt herself. When she had told the boy to flee that night, years ago or earlier in her dream, she had thought she was doing the right thing. There was no way that she could have anticipated that her encouragement would lead to such a tragic outcome. Yet...glancing down at Mulder, she decided that it didn't matter if he was real or not. He was in pain, and at the moment that was real enough. "I, I can help you make arrangements."
For a moment he opened his mouth before shutting it just as quickly. She got the sense that he'd been about to ask her what sort of arrangements, but it had apparently become clear to him before the words slipped out. "Thanks," he said thickly before clearing his throat. "My mother had her own funeral services prearranged because she thought inconveniencing others with the task was gauche. But neither of us anticipated Samantha dying so young..." When he trailed off looking heartbroken, she gave his shoulder a gentle pat. "At least you've done this before, so we won't be completely clueless."
This statement stilled her hand. When her father died her mother had asked her to go to the funeral home for moral support, but Maggie had made all of the decisions. "Hmm..." she murmured noncommittally, knowing that some response, even one that vague, was expected of her.
"Your sister was never any help," he continued, sounding bitter again.
Never? she wondered uneasily. "Well-"
"No, Scully, don't defend her," he snapped, cutting her off. "She let you bury both of your parents and one of your brothers without so much as asking you if you wanted her to go with you to the funeral home. I guess you were supposed to be impressed that she managed to sober up enough to attend the services."
All Scully could do was stare at him in utter shock. Fortunately he was too upset to question her surprise.
Over the next two days it would have been difficult for an outsider to determine who was more depressed, Mulder or her. Someone might have surmised that Scully was taking the loss of her sister-in-law hard, but the truth was she was grieving her mother and Charlie's deaths even more. To everyone else it had been twenty-two months since the collision with a drunk driver had taken their lives, but to her the loss was a fresh wound. The only silver lining was that Tristan hadn't been in the car, and was now being raised by Bill Junior alongside his own son, Matthew. A frantic Internet search the night Samantha died had produced Maggie and Charlie's obituaries and e-mails from Bill Junior that reference their nephew, which was the only way she knew as much a she did.
The hours leading up to Samantha's funeral passed and anxious blur for both of them: he was quite naturally keenly missing his sister, and she did too but guilt for not feeling Samantha's lost more was threaded through her motions as well. Yet somehow they did manage to keep it together well enough to go through the motions of planning a funeral. As they sat and listened to the pseudo-soothing words the funeral home director offered, she detachedly decided that it was no wonder funerals were associated with exorbitant costs - the raw and grieving would probably agree to anything to get the conversation over with so they could sink back into their numbness.
Grey clouds hung over them as Scully stood with Mulder in front of Samantha's casket and listen to the preachers monotonous words about what a bright light the girl had given everyone who knew her. Mulder held her hand a little too tightly, and a backache she'd gone to bed with showed no intention of letting up. Scully tried hard to pay attention, to give the experience the respect it deserved, but she kept being distracted by her body and emotions. Fortunately Mulder was too consumed by his own burdens to notice her absence of full participation.
Eventually the service came to a merciful end, and the other mourners drifted off while she and Mulder watch the casket winched into the ground. The open hole it left behind bothered her, even though she knew cemeteries wouldn't fill them in while anyone was there.
Though she hadn't expected glib comments from Mulder, not the day of his sister's funeral, she hadn't expected silent either. His lack of words unnerved her, and this didn't change when she approached him in the living room where he sat staring into space. Saying nothing, he wrapped his arms around her waist when she was close enough and pressed his cheek to her belly.
It worried, but didn't surprise, her when she felt tears wetting her shirt. Not knowing what else to do for him, she absent-mindly stroked his hair. This seemed to calm him a little - at least he wasn't clinging quite so tightly to her.
Eventually he sniffled and looked up at her, face still awash with tears. "Promise me that this is the last bad thing to happen to me."
"Mulder," she started to say gently, but he shook his head.
"My grandmother told me that bad things happen in threes, and I can't handle any more. My mom, Samantha..." She thought he was through, but he cleared his throat and started talking again. "If anything happened to you or the baby, I couldn't cope."
Stunned, her hand dropped to her side. He didn't really mean what she thought he did, did he? There had been times when she had worried that her Mulder had been stressed to the breaking point, and for a few seconds she'd believed that he'd been capable of ending his own life when that body had been discovered in his apartment. Her belief that it wasn't him had almost immediately asserted itself, but for the first few seconds it seemed possible.
And her Mulder hadn't just been devastated by the loss of both other women who'd been of paramount importance to him.
"You don't mean-" she started to say, forcing her voice to take on as gentle a tone as possible.
"Yes, I do," he said with a flat firmness. "I couldn't go on without you."
"Oh, Mulder...Nothing bad's going to me or the baby."
"Do you promise?"
She felt herself responding to the desperate need for assurance that filled his hazel eyes. "I promise."
When Scully woke up a few mornings later, it was to abdominal pain. It was hard not to groan as she got out of bed, but she managed not to wake Mulder as she headed into the bathroom. Flicking on the light above the mirror revealed an unexpectedly pronounced pallor to her skin considering she was fairly certain she wasn't going to throw up.
Thinking back to what she'd learned while on an OB rotation, she decided that her belly pain wasn't related to contractions. That was one thing to be grateful for considering that the baby was weeks too early to be viable. The possibilities about what was causing the pain worried her, though.
Peeking back in at the sleeping man, she decided that she couldn't share her worried with him. He hadn't taken back all but declaring he'd commit suicide if something happened to her or their baby, so it didn't seem wise to tell him anything until she knew what there was to tell.
Mulder woke up less than an hour later, and the first thing he said to her was, "Are you feeling all right? You're awfully pale."
Frowning slightly, she shook her head. "I think I'm coming down with something."
As she feared, the next words out of his mouth were, "Obviously you're not going to work today. Do you need me to stay home with you?"
"I'll be fine. I'm just going to take it easy."
He gave her an uncertain look. "If you're sure..."
"Am I sure I don't need you to stay home and watch me watch bad daytime TV?" she asked, hoping that her voice sounded natural. "Positive." Not that she actually intended to stay home on the couch. She was fairly hopeful that she'd be able to get an emercency appointment with her OB - with luck the doctor would simply tell her she was worried for no reason.
For a moment she thought he was going to argue with her, but he just gave her a wan smile. "Okay. You're not a child, and I know you'll call me if you need me."
"Thank you," she replied, trying not to let her relief show overly much, trying to resist the urge to tell him that being in the office was probably the best thing for him because it would keep his mind off of his sister.
He leaned down and kissed her on the forehead. This sent a wistful pang through her - some things hadn't changed even though so much else had. "Love you."
"Love you too." And for a moment she did, for him, not for who he reminded her so much of.
Twenty minutes after he left, she got on the phone and called the OB's office. She didn't know if she should be relieved or worried when the nurse the receptionist consulted told her to come in immediately. Scully promised that she would, and headed to the bathroom so she could get ready to leave.
The moment she saw the blood, she realized that her condition was a lot more serious than she thought some back and abdominal pain indicated. "This can't be happening," she muttered to herself as she stood and pulled her pants back up. "I can't have come all this way and have nothing to show for it." A voice in the back of her mind asked if Mulder was nothing, but she told it to be quiet. He'd made it clear enough that losing the baby would mean losing him too.
Throwing open the vanity doors, she began pawing through things, hoping that her counterpart hadn't thrown everything out the moment she had a positive pregnancy test in hand. Fortunately it only took a minute to locate a forlorn looking half empty bag of pads and put one on her panties.
It's not hopeless, she reminded herself as she frantically pulled on clothes and her coat. Most abruptions, if that was what was happening, were partial. A baby could survive that with prompt medical care.
Scully hesitated for a moment, staring at the notepad on the fridge, and ultimately decided not to leave Mulder a note. If things didn't work out like she hoped she'd explain everything to him. If things worked out, there would be no need to explain anything because it wouldn't matter. And if they didn't, well, she'd call him from the hospital. A twenty week baby had no chance at all, but she'd still need medical attention herself.
Keys jingling in hand, she slammed the door behind her and practically ran to her car, hoping desperately that the OB could fix what was wrong.
But later on, a few miles from the house, contractions wracked her, and she felt the pad soak through. There shouldn't have been that much blood. And when was the last time she felt the baby move, she found herself wondering. Driving with one hand for a moment she prodded at her belly, hoping to feel a protesting kick in return. There was none.
Thinking back as clearly as panic would let her, she realized that she hadn't felt any moment since the night before. What if the baby was already gone? The stark image of coming home and discovering Mulder in a pool of blood with his weapon next to his limp hand chilled her. If she lost the baby, she'd lose everything that made being where ever she was remotely bearable.
Unrelenting contractions made sweat break out on her forehead and driving difficult. Even if the abruption was partial, she was probably going to have the baby, and soon. Then, even if she was alive at birth, she'd die within moments because her lungs weren't functional yet. It'd be like watching her drown on dry land and nothing anyone could do would save her. Not when the earliest viable babies were a couple of weeks further along in development than this little girl they hadn't even discussed names for yet.
Taking a deep breath, Scully made a U-turn and began driving in another direction. There was only one chance to keep everything from falling apart. She just hoped she could get there before it was entirely too late, and if she couldn't, that she wouldn't end up in a wreck that would hurt anyone but herself.
By the time she pulled into Teena Mulder's driveway, her pants were saturated with blood and she was in such pain she could barely manage to stumble to the house. If things didn't work out the way she thought she was insane to hope they would, there was a very good chance she'd be alone when she had the baby. A fresh burst of agony made her wonder if she'd end up on the six o'clock news, a sad story about a woman giving birth to a stillborn too-early baby alone in her dead mother-in-law's home because there hadn't been time to call anyone for help.
This has to work. It has to. She forced herself not to give into the instinct to double over in pain. She didn't have time for that, in the most literal sense. Instead she took out the keys she could barely maneuver and opened the front door.
She almost panicked when she flicked the light switch and nothing happened. In the back of her mind she'd known that the power was going to be turned off, but she hadn't realized that it would be so soon. What if Mulder had someone clean out the basement without mentioning it too?
Using the tiny flashlight attached to her key ring, she cautiously made her way to the kitchen because the doors to the stairs were there. A sudden knifing cramp in her back made her double over with a groan just before she reached the door. Sweat broke out on her forehead, and she wiped it away before reaching for the doorknob. Please please work.
The stairs felt steeper than they usually did, and she felt her balance wobble twice on her way down, so she tried to force herself to go slower, but the frantic feelings crowding other thoughts out in her brain fought back, insisting that haste was necessary.
"Either the book is here or it's not," she muttered to herself in the dimly lit hush. "Am I worried that someone is going to dash in and steal it before I reach the bottom of the stairs?" This calmed her and she made it to the bottom without falling.
For one horrible moment she didn't see the book where she'd left it and nearly cried. But she finally spied it on top of a Rubbermaid container that presumably contained some of Teena's no longer needed possessions. She nearly slapped her forehead when she realized that the book had been displaced because the basement was a lot less empty than the other one.
Her fingers shook and she was almost overcome with nausea, but she managed to flip the book's pages until she landed on the spell for retrieving the irrevocably lost. For a moment she paused, wondering what would happen when she said the words. Would she return to the lonely existence she'd been living in the wake of Mulder's disappearance? Or would she return to that night back in the seventies?
She slowly shook her head. It didn't matter. Either way, it was better to be somewhere else. Here she had nothing. Trying to steady her hands, she began to read the words in a voice that somehow didn't shake too.
When the wave of dizziness that signaled that the spell was in motion overtook her, she welcomed it.
The air left Scully's lungs with a squeak when her body slammed into the frosty ground. Sitting up, she ran her hands along her ribs and down her limbs, but found nothing worse than bruises. A muffled groan escaped her as she clamored to her feet. The lack of insidious labor pangs or a distended belly confirmed that she hadn't returned to her original present, but when in the past had she gone?
She scanned the area, wishing that it wasn't so dark out. It had been dark the last time she'd said the spell too, but that time she'd ended up closer to the house. The fact that she hadn't ended up in the same place disturbed her a little in a way she had difficulty quantifying. After a couple of minutes she got brave enough to walk closer to the house so she could get a better look at it.
It was only as her eyes lighted on a newspaper on the stoop that she realized that her location wasn't the only thing that had changed this time - the date on the paper was the day of Samantha's abduction.
As soon as she realized this, she began to feel panicky. The house was still and dark. What if she was too late? What if the reason the house was so quiet because Samantha had already been taken away? There was no reason to assume that a paper would have been looked after if one of the children had been abducted; for all she knew it could have been sitting there for days.
And if Samantha had already been spirited away, what of Fox? Mulder had never really told her what he'd done in the immediate wake of his sister's disappearance: had he gone screaming into the night, or had he curled up into himself, shaking until his parents came home and discovered that their daughter was gone?
The thought of a twelve-year-old being all alone on the worst night of his life got her moving. She had nearly made up her mind to break a window after discovering that the door was locked, when the sound of voices had her diving away from the yellow pool of light under the porch light.
She almost melted in relief when she spotted two familiar figures deep in conversation as they headed towards the house. Fox held a paper bag in one hand and a pizza box in the other. Pizza and soda," Fox was saying, "They must feel super guilty for going out without us."
"You mean they feel bad for sticking me with you as my babysitter," Samantha told the boy.
"Just for that I'm going to watch what I want on TV tonight," her brother retorted.
"Fox! That's not fair! "Samantha whined.
His response was to stick his tongue out at her.
As Scully watched them, she wondered detachedly if she should interfere again, or if she should just let events unfold the way they had the first time. If she did nothing, it seemed like she'd be able to reclaim the life she'd left behind. But would she be able to live with herself if she simply allowed the dark-haired little girl being teased by her brother to be victimized all over again?
No. Her heart answered for her, and the answer was no. Even if she suffered for it again, there was no way she could just watch and not try again to make things right. She thought she'd learned something from the last time, and could only hope that this time things went better, at least for Samantha and Fox.
Decision made, she chose that moment to step out of the shadows. Samantha just looked surprised, but Fox looked both worried and scared. Still, his voice was steady when he asked "Who are you? What do you want?"
"Fox, you are so rude," Samantha scolded before giving Scully a questioning look. Clearly she expected Scully to answer even if she considered the question inappropriate.
How she should was the question. Almost without thinking, she said, "I'm a friend of your father's. He sent me because it would be dangerous for you to stay here tonight."
"Fox isn't that bad a babysitter," Samantha started to say, but her expression changed when she seemed to realize that Scully wasn't joking.
"You don't know our father," Fox said, voice dripping with suspicion.
"Yes, I do," Scully insisted, all the while thinking that it was both the truth and a lie. "And more importantly I know the man your father works with. The one that smokes all of the time."
"Him," Samantha said darkly. "We don't like him."
"Me neither," Scully admitted. "He's a dangerous person, and it's because of him that the two of you are in danger."
"Dangerous how?" Fox asked suspiciously.
It almost broke her heart to see traces of the man she knew the child's face. If anyone had asked her to guess what had molded him into the man he'd become, she would've instinctively attributed it all to losing his sister so young. But now she could see that losing Samantha had only been part of it - he'd already been trained to be wary before then.
Damn him, she thought fiercely, an image of the smoking man coming to the forefront of her mind. Damn them all. It might've been the smoking man's fault that the girl before her had been so brutally treated, but Bill and Teena weren't blameless victims. They'd let it happen. They'd been too weak to stand up for their children and both suffered immensely for their parents' cowardice.
Resolve hardening, she looked the boy in the eye. "He's sent men to come and take your sister away."
"I don't want to go away!" the girl protested in alarm. Tears began to spill down her cheeks.
Her brother hushed her. "And then?"
Seeing how upset Samantha was made her feel guilty, but there was too much at stake to be put off by frightened tears. "And then she'll be given to those that he's working with-" She couldn't bring herself to say aliens. "-along with some other people who will be kidnapped. And they'll be experimented on. For years. Until it kills some of them."
Fox's arms were wrapped around his sister, and the girl was openly sobbing. "Our parents wouldn't let that happen," he said, but his voice lacked conviction.
They did, she wanted to say, but she couldn't bring herself to be that cruel. "Where are they, Fox? They were given a deadline: each family gives up a hostage willingly, or they come and take one. The deadline is tonight. And they're not here. They left you alone for what? A game with friends? That invitation must've felt like a godsend - a good reason not to be home when they come for Samantha. No need to be here when it happens. No need to explain why they didn't lift a finger to in their daughter's defense when she's hauled off. Instead they leave her with just a half-grown boy to protect her. Sure that he'll fail, heedless of the guilt that his natural inability to save her from multiple strong men will scar him for life."
"No!" Samantha said weakly.
Fox's face had gone still and blank. He said nothing in reply to her.
Forcing herself to go on, no matter how bad it made her feel about herself to be so truthfully unkind, she continued to needle the boy. "If you're confident that I'm wrong, I'll leave. Is that what you want? Should I go?"
"Go! Go!" Samantha gasped, her body still shaking as she continued to be wracked by sobs.
Bluffing, Scully turned to leave.
She'd only gone three steps when a quiet, emotionless voice said "wait."
Turning back, she gave him an expectant look. He heaved a sigh and stepped away from his sister, who whimpered in protest before wrapping her arms around herself. "If we believe you, then what?"
"Fox, Mom and Dad wouldn't-"
"Be quiet." The girl instantly shut her mouth, making Scully wonder if Samantha had doubts about their parents' fidelity too. "Then what?" Fox repeated.
"What time is it?" Fox looked puzzled but consulted his watch and told her. Scully quickly did the math. They had time, barely, to get some things done before fleeing. "Go to your rooms and grab some clothes, your toothbrushes, and be quick. We don't have time to screw around."
"You heard her, scoot," he said, giving his little sister a gentle push towards the house. Samantha disappeared inside in an instant, but Fox hung back. He gave her a long look. Scully expected him to ask what they were packing for but he didn't. Instead he just asked, "Are we coming back?"
"Yes," she replied without hesitation. Bill and Teena were weak, but they weren't bad people. This near miss would shake some sense into them, she was sure of it. Being wrong wasn't an option, not when she knew that she would eventually be expelled from the past like a bothersome splinter worked out of flesh.
Fox nodded slightly before following sister into the house.
While she waited for them, Scully tested the lock on the shed store. Her unborn baby wasn't the only thing left behind when she'd been propelled into the past - her gun had failed to make the trip too. Even if he had been the sort of man to own guns, Bill wouldn't have kept them in the shed, but sheds usually contained a treasure trove of makeshift weapons. Hopefully she wouldn't actually need to literally defend the kids, but a lot was riding on the hope that Fox's adult recall of when his sister had been taken was accurate. It only took a moment of pawing through implements on Bill's workbench before she found a foldable jackknife that she shoved into the pocket of her pants.
The kids flung the door open with a bang just before waiting for them made her anxious enough to go in after them. Samantha was still sniffling, but she followed Fox when he walked over to her. Fox began looking around, but Scully didn't know what for until he asked, "don't you have a car?"
"No!" She said a little too forcefully. There was no way that she could explain that she didn't dare drive, not when an invisible hand might shoved her out of the past at any moment, leaving the two helpless kids in a driverless car going thirty to sixty-five miles per hour.
"We're walking to the bus station," she said firmly. She could only pray that the driver would coolly maintain control of the bus even if something really alarming, like having a passenger disappear before people startled eyes, happened on his or her watch. "It's safer that way, trust me."
"No plates?" Samantha asked.
Fox gave his sister a blank look. "What?"
"If she had a car the bad guys could find out who she was and her address from the plates, couldn't they?" Samantha asked an exclamation.
Not unless they have an in with the police or the DMV, Scully thought but didn't say. And who knew, maybe they did. "Exactly. Smart girl."
"We'll be safer on a bus," Fox said slowly. "As long as no one sees us."
Crap, she thought. I can't bring them into the station to buy tickets. The bus driver seeing them was one thing, given he or she would be on the road, but the person behind the counter, spending the whole night just sitting there where the cops or someone more nefarious could talk to them at any time? No way.
"Right. Which is why I'm going to buy our tickets while the two of you wait outside. I don't want the ticket person to be able to describe you kids."
Samantha looked aghast. "You're going to leave us alone?"
"Just for a few minutes," Scully promised hastily.
"We'll be fine," Fox said stoutly. "It's only a few minutes. We can wait in the park next to the bus station."
"Can we wait by the trees?" Samantha's voice quivered slightly. "So we're less likely to be seen by the bad guys."
Scully looked at them. Clearly both kids knew where the bus station was, and she just realized that she didn't, and actually was fortunate that her assumption that there was one had been correct in the first place. "Why don't you lead the way?"
"You don't know where were going?" Fox sounded surprised.
"I'm not from around here." To her annoyance she sounded defensive.
Suspicion clouded the boy's hazel eyes once more. "If you don't have a car and didn't take the bus, how did you get here?"
Magic, she thought giddily. "I hitched a ride."
"Oh." He considered this. "That's dangerous."
You have no idea. She shrugged.
"Especially for a woman as small as you," he added. It was only then that she noticed that he was already a couple of inches taller than her, young as he was.
"I can take care of myself."
His expression was skeptical, but he didn't say anything else on the subject. Instead he pointed west. "We're going that way."
Fox led them down several side streets, but never paused as if unsure where to go next. Perversely, she found herself thinking of all the times she had faith in his sense of direction as he piloted a rental car down unfamiliar streets in small towns that she'd never heard of.
Fifteen minutes after they left the house, their destination came into sight. Without saying a word, Fox led his sister into the tree-lined park abutting the bus station. In daylight it was probably an inviting spot, but Scully found the heavy playground equipment slightly ominous in the dark. The Shining was probably responsible for that, not that she'd ever admit to reading the book or watching the miniseries on ABC to anyone. While she watched the kids disappeared into the trees and that did nothing to ratchet down her anxiety.
Money, she thought was the start as she walked towards the bus station. Why hadn't she thought about how she was going to pay for their tickets? Scanning the trees to spot the kids, she wondered if Fox had any money on him but dismissed the idea. Even if he did, it was unlikely he had enough to pay for tickets. His parents expected him to babysit for free, and she'd never heard him mention cutting lawns or delivering papers as a kid for pocket money.
The thought of pockets had her patting down hers, and to her surprise she found a wallet she'd never seen before. Opening it revealed a credit card she thought would be terribly unwise to use, and a small stack of $20 bills. Her pockets didn't reveal either of the gifts cards Maggie had passed on to her from relatives wanting to buy baby gifts, so she suspected that they would had somehow been transformed into this cash. The baby, she thought with a devastated pang that had her putting her hand on her unnaturally flat belly. Don't, she told herself. That wasn't your baby. There's no reason to believe he won't be fine when we get back to our time.
As hard as she tried to think cheerful thoughts about her baby's odds, some of her worry must've shown because the clerk gave her a sympathetic smile. "What can I do for you, honey?"
"I need to buy three tickets for the next bus." She didn't even know where the next bus was headed. Eventually she found a sign that suggested Newburyport, but she didn't dare ask for the town by name in case that wasn't the destination.
"The other two, children's fares or adults?" the clerk asked expectantly.
"Oh, three adult fares, please," Scully replied instantly. From the list of prices printed on the wall the extra cost of adult tickets over children's wasn't something she really needed to be concerned about, and the police would probably hone in on sales of children's tickets.
The clerk's expression immediately became suspicious and Scully found herself battling back a rising tide of panic. She was so convinced that they been made somehow that when the woman asked "they been drinking?" she could only stare at her.
"No," Scully told her once she regained her wits.
"They better not have been. We don't go for that sort of shenanigans on our buses."
"No one's been drinking," Scully said coolly. "They just wanted to get some air."
"Uh-huh." The clerk's expression still spoke of distrust, but she pushed the tickets over the counter.
It was all Scully could do not to snap them up like she was afraid the woman would change her mind.
Her steps were careful and measured as she did her best to appear nonchalant while leaving. If she'd looked back would the clerk of been staring after her? She hoped not.
It was a relief to get outside and she made a beeline for the edge of the parking lot. Fox and Samantha slid out of the shadows that had wrapped around the trees and headed for her. Each accepted a ticket without comment and followed her to the small knot of people who had gathered to wait for the bus while she had been inside. None of them seemed to notice that the kids had been hanging in the park, which she considered fortunate. Letting them stay over there now seem less like a good idea than potentially suspicious.
"Mom, look!" Fox exclaimed, pointing to something on the side of the bus that had just pulled up.
Scully turned her face in case instant revulsion she felt when he said "mom" showed in her expression. She knew why he said it, and agreed that seeming like a family on the outing would make them less memorable, but it didn't stop her from feeling sleazy. He wasn't really her child and she had never done anything remotely untoward with this incarnation of him, but still.
Samantha caught on to her brother's game and decided well on to. "Can we go there, mommy?" Fortunately, the girl's words evoked less horror in her.
It was only then that she actually read the ad plastered to the bus's broad side. It was an ad for what looked like a really underwhelming place to play miniature golf. "I don't know..." She dickered as if going was really a possibility. "That place looks sub par."
"Pun intended?" Fox asked with a smirk. Samantha looked confused, so he explained. "Par is a golf term."
"Oh, I get it."
If Samantha was bothered by his teasing, she didn't let on. Glancing at Scully she asked, "Mommy, can I sit by the window?"
Looking down at her, Scully wondered if the girl was hamming it up, or if she really called Teena mommy still. She hadn't called Maggie that by Samantha's age, but some girls did. "Maybe you and your brother should play rock-paper-scissors for the window seat," she suggested.
"Nah, she can have it," Fox said.
"That's nice of you," Scully praised, unsurprised.
As she boarded the bus, Scully caught sight of her reflection with a violent start: her gift cards hadn't been the only thing to undergo metamorphosis. Her hair style, her clothes, her makeup, all were so changed that she barely recognize herself. Now the adult Mulder's failure to associate her with "that woman" who'd scared Samantha into traffic made a lot more sense to her.
"Are you all right?" Fox hissed.
"Just took a step wrong," she muttered back and quickly continued forward.
"Okay..." Fox shepherded his sister on the bus, and Scully led them to the last seat, the one that stretched the full width of the bus. She worried that someone would beat them to it; it was the only seat that would allow the three of them to sit together comfortably, and she wanted them as close as possible, just in case she needed to use the borrowed jack knife to defend them.
Settling the kids into their seats was a relief, but it bothered her that the bus left the station and immediately headed back in the direction that they'd just come from. Fox sat beside her, and once they reached his road he put a hand on her forearm, gripping it tightly while using the other hand to make a subtle gesture towards his house. By some devine providence Samantha wasn't looking out the window too, or she surely would have caused a scene by voicing her alarm.
A non-descript black sedan sat in the Mulders' driveway, and from the pressure on her arm, Scully knew even before the doors swung open as the bus wizzed by that it wasn't Bill and Teena coming home from their outing. Instead four grim men poured out of the vehicle and began to stalk towards the house as the bus dragged Scully and Fox out of sight.
As soon as they reached the next street, Fox let go of her arm and slumped back in his seat. It didn't surprise her that he'd gone pale, but it did Samantha. "Fox, are you sick?" she asked, sounding concerned. The kids might have been teasing each other when Scully stepped out of the shadows and upended their world, but it was easy to see that the siblings were fiercely loyal to each other, and loved each other a lot. Scully and her siblings loved one another a lot too, but the deep loyality that Samantha and Fox obviously shared had been absent.
She thought she knew why, too: in comparision the childhoods in her family had been relatively calm, and there hadn't been the need to unite against a common enemy. Glancing at Fox, she knew that it would shatter both children if they knew that he, at the very least, was the biological son of the very boogeyman they hated for disrupting their family life so often. Back in her real life, she'd never gotten up the courage to ask Mulder whose daughter he thought his sister was: Bill's or the smoking man's. The question would have been too depressing, so she just shoved it to the back of her mind and tried not to think about it.
"Fox?" the girl repeated when he didn't answer her. It made Scully wonder what he'd just been thinking about himself.
He wiped one hand across his brow before giving his younger sister a crooked smile. "I've got a belly ache, that's all."
"But we didn't even eat," Samantha protested.
Until that moment Scully hadn't given a second's thought to what might have happened to the pizza and soda that the kids had come home with. She imagined it on the counter, slowly growing cold, and tried not to think about what would be going through Bill and Teena's minds when they discovered it abandoned and neither of their children anywhere to be found. The more she thought about that, the more uncomfortable she grew: what would their first thoughts be? She was willing to bet her life on her certainity that Bill at the very least had known that they'd come home to find one of their children gone, so would he be devestated to learn that both of his children had been taken? Because that had to be what he would assume: he hadn't been able to bring himself to pick one of his children, so they'd taken them both.
Part of her didn't feel badly about that. Thought he deserved it, even.
Glancing down at the girl who sat next to Fox, Scully smiled wanly and said, "I think your brother's belly aches because he's worried."
"Yeah," Fox agreed.
Up until then Samantha had seemed fairly cheerful on the bus, almost as if she'd gotten past her intial anxiety and was now expecting that they were on an adventure. But as soon as her brother got that one word out, her expression clouded and she huddled back against the seat. She didn't say anything for several long seconds, then finally looked at Fox. "We're not going home tonight, are we."
"You didn't see, but Samantha..." Fox dropped his voice into a whisper. "There were men at our house. I think they were coming for us."
Tears began to roll down Samantha's cheeks, but her voice remained oddly calmed. "We can't just go with, with...we don't even know her name, Fox." With a pang Scully decided that she'd already been conditioned out of noisy displays of emotion. Mulder might have had idealized memories of the time before his sister was taken, but it was becoming rapidly clear that both of the Mulder children had already been tramatized before anyone came to take the younger away.
"Kate," Scully supplied, hoping that having a name, any name, might make it easier on Samantha. There was no way she could tell them that her name was Dana, not when it had never been popular. She was probably the only Dana Mulder had ever met, and he'd be clever enough someday to put two and two together, even if at the moment Scully didn't look exactly like her own self image. A variation on her middle name was less obvious: she could live with being called Kate for a while.
"We have to go with Kate," Fox said, his tone suggesting there was no room for argument. "She was right. It's not safe to go home right now." Scully just nodded supportively, but she realized that Fox was looking at her. "But where are we going?"
"We'll get a motel room," Scully said firmly. For a moment her mind summoned up the image of cheap winter apartment rentals in areas like Hampton Beach, but she dismissed the thoughts as soon as she had them. No matter what, she wasn't planning on keeping the kids long-term. For one, she figured that she'd be snapped back into some sort of present sooner than later, and for another she didn't want to punish the Mulders that much. They deserved to worry, not be in agony.
"For how long?" Samantha demanded to know.
It was a fair question, Scully thought. "Just a couple of days."
In two days hopefully everyone who had been handed over would be gone. For a moment she thought of poor Casandra Spender and wondered if she too would soon be without the baby she'd been expecting. There was no reason to believe that this is when she lost the fetus she told them about, but it could be. Fetus, she thought. That was a strange way of describing a baby you wanted. Unbidden, her thoughts drifted farther, to the alien fetus that Deep Throat had lost his life over. Had Jeffery Spender's lost sibling not been human? The thought of that fetus being Casandra's made her feel like throwing up for the first time since her morning sickness had finally passed.
Her flat belly really made her wish it hadn't passed. Being pregnant in the past probably would have complicated things, and a near hysterically gleeful part of her brain told her that the FDA hadn't approved time travel for pregnant women, but she would still have had her baby. The one from the past she first altered was gone, but she didn't know what her current actions meant for her baby. It was hard to put the thought into words, but she'd already admitted to herself that she knew the moment she chose to step out of the shadows and interfere with the past rather than simply watching them play out as they did the first time meant she was risking her baby's life for the lives of the two children huddled next to her on the bench seat of the bus. In fact she may have literally traded her baby's life for Samantha's...
She'd only know once she was thrust back into the year 2000, which wasn't something she held any doubts about happening any longer. She would go back, it would happen soon, and that was that.
The bus station in Newburyport was a solitary building in the middle of a vast parking lot, and it was all but deserted, with suited Scully just fine. She herded the kids off the bus and tried to be subtle as she looked around to make sure there weren't any non-descript sedans there. It had seemed unlikely that the Consortium would have figured out where they'd gone, but she had to keep her eyes open, just in case. If there had been someone waiting for them, it wouldn't be the first time that they'd displayed an almost preternaturally evil foresight. For half a second she almost expected to see Alex Krycek smirking at her in the dark, but there truly was no one there.
They only were in the station long enough for her to buy three tickets to one of the northern most stops on the bus's route, Portsmouth, NH. Scully knew that it was quite small a city by most metrics, but there would be a place for them to rent a room at least.
It bothered her more than a little that Fox and Samantha asked no questions, and just meekly followed her onto the second bus. The expression on Fox's face was that of someone who realized that he was no longer remotely in charge of his destiny, and that he'd accepted that was an uncomfortable resignation. With all her heart Scully wished she could reassure him that things would work out, but she had no idea if that was true, so she said nothing.
As the bus glided down the highway, both kids began to nod off. Scully let them rest, knowing that no matter how strange the day felt to her, it can't compare to what it would be like to have someone show up and tell them what she did, and having to overcome all their training about the danger of strangers to go with her. It had to be exhausting, so no wonder they were tired. And it a way their sleepiness pleased her too: it provided evidence that they trusted her to a degree, or they never would have been able to allow themselves to relax to that extent.
Glancing at their faces, both of which looked far less strained in sleep, she could only hope that their faith that she knew what she was doing wasn't misplaced. At least she was thinking logically enough to try to keep them out of dangerous situations, instead of fleeing in the most convenient fashion.
Eventually the bus pulled into a station on the New Hampshire seacoast. The station was just as out of the way and desolate as the one a state south, and it left Scully wondering what the college students who were the biggest users of the busline thought about it. If New Hampshire wasn't a very low crime state, she wouldn't be surprised if young women, at least, would worry about being dragged off by a serial killer.
Trying to shake off the unease the isolated setting left her with, she reached down and touched Fox's shoulder. His hazel eyes opened and he blinked in obvious confusion. After a moment that left his face and was replaced by disappointment. "We're here?" he asked, voice slightly hoarse. It reminded her that in addition to getting a room, she needed to feed them too.
"Not exactly," she told him, bending down to rouse Samantha too. "We'll get something to eat and then rent a room."
"Eat where?" he wanted to know. A fist over his mouth stifled a yawn.
"Over there," she replied, pointing at the burger place she'd spotted as the bus pulled into the depot.
"Oh." He yawned again, then prodded his sister to her feet. "Come on, you heard Mom."
Samantha's mouth dropped open, and for a heart stopping second, Scully worried that she was going to draw attention to them by sleepily protesting that Scully, or "Kate," wasn't their mother.
But all Samantha said was, "How can we already be here? I only fell asleep five minutes ago!"
"You were snoring longer than that," he brother commented dryly.
Listening to them having a normal sibling argument, Scully was grateful that there was no reason for anyone to pay them any attention while they filed off the bus with the rest of the passengers.
She watched the other people disappear into cars and down streets, then walked over to the restaurant like going there was the most natural thing in the world. Or so she very much hoped that it would seem to anyone who might be gazing at her and the two brunette children who trailed along after her. Bill Mulder's knife weighed down her purse, and she could only hope that it was enough if it came to that.
Watching them wolf down their food a few minutes later left Scully feeling vaguely guilty. She'd gotten them away from what was certain doom for one and years of despair for the other, but she hadn't given any thought to their immediate basic needs. That wasn't very maternal of her, she chided herself. Then she promised herself that she'd do better, for however long the universe left Fox and his sister in her inexpert care.
Before long Samantha was yawning over the french fries that were still left on her burger's wrapper. Scully watched her listlessly bite another fry before announcing, "I think it's about time to leave."
"'Why?" Samantha asked petulantly.
'"You're falling asleep, butt munch," Fox told her.
Samantha frowned at the insult but didn't correct him. Instead she balled up the burger's wrapper.
As they bused their table and left the restaurant Scully found herself worried that there were people who were spending too much time looking at them. What if one of the people sitting there worked with Bill Mulder? It was all she could do not to grab the kids by the hands and run out the door.
Scully's paranoia waned long enough for her to approach the small motel's desk clerk without her eyes starting out of her head. In fact, she thought she appeared pretty calm when the suicide blonde at the desk gave her a plastic smile and said, "What can I do for ya?"
"I'd like to get a room for myself and my two children," Scully told her. She didn't dare look back at Fox and Samantha and could only pray that nothing in the kids' expressions would give them away.
"Okay, sure." It was hard not to bristle when the woman peered at the kids. "So, two beds and a cot, then?"
"Um, yes," Scully replied, blinking. She hadn't really thought about the logistics of renting a single room. Neither of the kids would want to share one of the beds with her, and they were too old to share the other.
When the blonde's look softened into unpracticed sympathy, Scully realized that her calm facade had crumbled at the clerk's question. "I guess this trip was unexpected," the woman told her. "Don't worry, we're discrete here. If he asks for you, no one will know anything about it. Okay?"
"Th-thanks," Scully stammered. It was clear that the other woman had already written a story to fit them into, one that involved a woman on the run from a husband, dragging their children with her.
"No problem. It's not like it doesn't happen, what with the bus depot being so close." She reached behind her and plucked a key off a pegboard. "Here's your key. I'll bring the cot by in a few minutes, so don't worry when someone knocks on the door."
Scully nodded and practically pushed the kids out the door before her.
Both kids remained silent until they entered the room. It was about what she expected for that price in the 70s, artlessly decorated in the four colors of the apocalypse, and slightly worn looking. She dropped her purse on the bed with the avocado colored spread, and looked at Fox and Samantha. They climbed onto the bed with the harvest gold spread, and he stared at her.
"What?" she prompted when the boy made not move to speak his mind. "Out with it."
Samantha toppled over, but didn't actually close her eyes. This didn't seem to surprise her brother because he didn't react at all. Instead he just glanced down at how she was flopped out on the bed before looking back at Scully. "Who is 'he'?"
"The desk clerk. She said she wouldn't tell 'him' that we were here. Who does she mean? Does she know the men who work with my father?" his voice cracked at he spoke, betraying his worry.
"Oh no," Scully said softly, shaking her head. "That's not it at all."
"Then what?" he demanded to know.
"She thinks that I ran away from your father, and took you with me," Scully explained, but he still looked confused. "She thinks I'm escaping an abusive marriage," she clarified. "Apparently there have been a bunch of women like that who have ended up here. She was trying to let me know that they refused to let the husbands bully them into telling them anything."
"Oh." Fox was silent for a moment, obviously thinking. "Like the underground railroad?"
Samantha struggled to sit back up. "Fox, we're not slaves. My class learned about Harriet Tubman just last-"
"No, he's right," Scully told her. "Some places are safe havens for abused women and their children, and it seems like we might have stumbled into one."
"Is that a good or bad thing?" he asked carefully.
Scully thought about it. "Good, I think. Obviously I'm not really your mother, and I'm not really taking you away from an abusive father... but if one of those men in the suits show up and starts asking questions, I don't think they'll get the answers they want." In fact, she'd hardly be surprised if those men did pretend to be a husband looking for a runaway wife if they did canvas hotels. It wasn't as though they could explain that they were actually looking for a child they planned to barter to aliens.
Even though they knew that the clerk would be bringing by a cot, and even though they were fairly sure she'd protect what she believed their secret to be, all three of them still jumped when the knock on the door came. Scully gave the kids a sheepish look before popping to her feet before one of them could. She also grabbed her bag, with Bill's weapon inside it, before she opened the door.
It was just the clerk with a folded in half cot, and an armful of bedding. "Here you go, honey."
"Thanks so much."
"Welcome. And try to get a good night's sleep."
In a moment the clerk was gone, leaving the three of them looking at the cot. Scully dropped the bedding for it on her bed, and began to study it. Samantha studied it too, but for an entirely different reason as it turned out. "I get to sleep on it, right?" she sounded excited about the prospect.
Fox fiddled with it for a moment before looking back up at her. "Sure, if you want to."
"Uh huh." He swiped at something Scully couldn't see, and all at once it began to unfold. Fortunately it did so slowly, so they all had time to jump out of the way.
"That is sooo cool," Samantha said happily.
"Here you go," Scully said, handing her the bedding.
Samantha hummed happily as she began to make up her bed. Scully stared openly at her, but the little girl didn't seem to notice. It must be very strange to be eight, she decided, to be able to find things to be pleased about even on a nightmarish adventure like this one. The thought had her glancing far more discreetly at Fox - he looked as tense as she felt. Maybe there was some blessing to not being able to think abstractly, Scully mused. Fox was barely old enough to if the child development class she'd taken in college were to be believed, and Samantha wasn't yet at all.
To Scully's relief, Samantha fell asleep quickly...At least after being persuaded that it was okay to change in the bathroom. She couldn't fathom why Teena had a no changing in the bathroom rule, and it was mildly frustrating that she and Fox had to convince the girl an exception had to be made.
"Mom's not going to know it!" Fox exclaimed, finally getting fed up. "I won't tell her."
"Okay," Samantha had reluctantly agreed after moment.
"Come on," he coaxed her. "Having Kate and me wait in the bathroom instead would be silly. Right?"
After thinking about this, she'd given him a small smile. "Pretty silly."
Scully hadn't said anything when Samantha had made the suggestion the first place: had the kids been modern ones, "silly" wouldn't have been their worry-being alone with a strange adult would've been. In a lot of ways the 70s was a less anxious time to be a kid, Scully reflected. Or at least the worrisome things were different, more Cold War and Vietnam than the dangers of strangers who might pounce on you any second.
Samantha's eyes grew heavy as soon as she got under the covers, but Fox was a different story. At first he'd dawdled in the bathroom, then he got into his bed but stared at the ceiling instead of rolling over or closing his eyes. At first Scully wasn't bothered by his behavior since he was quiet, but niggling feeling made her turn and look towards him one several minutes had passed. He was still looking up ceiling.
"Fox," she asked, hoping not to wake his sister. "Are you okay?"
He heaved a sigh too world-weary for twelve-year-old. "Bathing suits."
Scully blinked in the dark. "What?"
"We left our bathing suits in the bathroom, on the floor, wet, two years ago. Mom screamed at us for ten minutes and then made the new rule. That's why Samantha was worried about changing the bathroom."
"Kate? Can I ask you a question?"
"Why?" She waited for him to ask what he and his sister had done to put themselves in the path of such a terrible fate, but he didn't mean that. "Why help us? You must have better things to do than drop off the grid for a couple of brats you don't even know. People are probably worried about you."
Not now, she thought wildly. The only Dana Scully anyone was worried about in this when was safely tucked into bed for the night. Presumably. She worried that showing up at her childhood home or calling to check would be to court madness.
Of course she couldn't tell Fox any of that. What he was going through was scary enough without her spouting off about time travel. "No one's worried about me," she said firmly. Even the men she'd stolen them from had no idea who she was, so it felt like the truth.
"Un huh." So much for convincing him. "But really, why-"
"If I use the word atonement, would you know what that meant?"
The boy propped himself up on an elbow. "To make up for doing something wrong."
"More or less," she agreed. "I feel like there are things I've done that amends need to made for."
Fox gave her a long look. "You're not going to tell me what."
Hell no, she thought. "I couldn't begin to put into words," she said. That much was true.
"Hmm." He flopped back down. "Guess everybody deserves to keep some secrets."
"Do you work for him?" he interrupted. "Or did you ever?"
"The smoking man?" Scully asked warily.
"That's a good name for him." The boy sounded amused. "Yeah, him."
"No, never. I couldn't work for a man like that."
"I didn't think so. I had to ask."
Scully looked over at him, and noticed that moonlight through the blinds was painting stripes on his skin. She forced herself to get out of bed and shut them properly, unlike the last anonymous soul who had spent the night there.
"Go to sleep, Fox." Even as the words left her mouth, she found herself wondering why she'd never asked Mulder when his struggle with insomnia began.
As it had every other time over the last several months that she thought of something she'd never found out about Mulder and now might never have the chance to, a pang went through her. This will bring him back, she told herself fiercely. Though it frightened her to think too hard about how what she had done over the past several hours might have done to the time she was so desperately hoping to return to, she had to believe that at the very least Mulder would no longer be lost. To dwell on anything more than that made her sick to think about... She had done so much more than step on a butterfly this time.
Weak sunlight was already trying to illuminate the morning sky by the time Scully opened her eyes the next morning. This surprised her when she realized it: November sunrises are late and it has been years since she'd slept past one on a weekday that wasn't during a vacation. This is certainly a vacation, her mind spit out before she clamp down on the thought.
She sat up in the moderately uncomfortable bed, and assessed the situation. Any hope she might have harbored about having returned to her time while she slept were dashed the second she saw Fox and his sister. They were sleeping peacefully in the way that only children can.
A sigh escaped her, but not loud enough to disturb them. The last time she'd return to a present within fifteen minutes, but now half the day had passed. There had to be a reason her length of stay in the past was different this time, and she found it unpleasant to speculate on what. Chiding herself for being a coward, she began to try to puzzle it out.
If she believed that she had traveled through time, she must also believe that the spell book was responsible for that. And spells have goals. Okay, Scully told herself, the goal was to recover the lost. Last time I made the change within a few minutes, right? Samantha didn't die and that Mulder didn't get tangled up in UFO business looking for her...
Scully glanced at the sleeping children and sighed again. I haven't changed that, she realized with a spike of dismay. He's still going to grow up looking for her. But what else can I do to prevent that? And what if I don't? She couldn't very well spend years in the past to look out for Fox and his sister. No one could sanely endure that.
No. There had to be something else the spell was waiting for. She just had to figure out what it was.
She only realized she was no longer alone with her thoughts when a curious voice asked "what are you doing?"
Scully had to bite her tongue to keep from blurting out 'trying to figure out how to save you from an unfair and terrible fate.' She stood and stretched instead, eventually saying, "thinking."
"Well I know that-"
"How late does your brother usually sleep?" Scully asked, hoping that her attempt to change the subject wasn't as blindly obvious as it felt. Fox had the thin blanket and spread from the other bed pulled up over his head and it left her wondering if the kids had been colder than she had during the night.
Samantha looked at the clock on one of the cheap dressers. "Not this late usually."
Any intention Scully had to suggest that they let him sleep since he seemed to need it went out the window when Samantha bound off the cot and shook Fox awake. He looked around blearily for moment before closing his eyes and sighing deeply. Scully knew exactly how he felt.
Samantha, on the other hand, already showed signs of becoming an obnoxious morning person. They might not all be irritating, but Scully had yet to meet one who wasn't.
"Are we going to call Mom and Dad now?" Samantha asked. She poked at her brother she spoke, and he swatted ineffectively at her.
"No." It came out much more sharply than Scully intended.
"No?" Samantha stop pestering Fox, giving her an uncertain look.
"I'm not done thinking."
"Everyone should get dressed," Scully suggested firmly, trying to ignore the look Fox had given her when she had told Samantha she was still thinking.
And it shouldn't have surprised her that her words alarmed the youngest Mulder, but it did.
Looking scared, Samantha asked, "do we have to go somewhere else because the bad men know where we are? How are Mom and Dad ever going to find us if we-"
Scully held up a hand, hoping to stem the tide of worried questions. "It's okay. But no one is going to serve us breakfast in pajamas." Not that she was wearing them herself; she'd slept in her clothes. She'd have to find something to buy to change into.
As they made their way outside, Scully found herself warily eyeing the other people already out and about. The four men who had gotten out of that sedan in the Mulder's yard had been big men, the sort of person you called in when you expected to solve a problem with brute force. The thought of this made her heartsick given Mulder's description of what he'd learned about Samantha's last days. Clearly the girl had been abused by the time the walk-ins (not that she was willing to concede that they existed) had decided that she'd been through enough. But when had the abuse begun? Had she spirited the kids away from a night that might have left the girl bruised and beaten? Those men had looked capable of it...
Most of the people passing them by paid no attention, and there weren't any that she didn't feel confident she couldn't best in a confrontation given most were of frail advanced age. The thought of getting into a physical fight with an octogenarian made her feel the inappropriate urge to smile.
She only realized that she hadn't successfully banished the urge when Samantha gave her a curious look. "Why are you smiling?"
"Um, I just thought of something silly."
"Sorry, it's a secret."
The suspicious look the child gave her left her feeling a little depressed. The kids clearly were scared enough to trust her with their safety, but they obviously didn't know what to make of her. It was hard to blame them, she wouldn't know how to take someone nearly thirty years out of synch either.
Scully gave them a bright smile. "So what do you want to do today?"
"Besides call our folks?" Fox asked. He sounded like he knew that wasn't what she meant.
"Right, besides that," Scully said firmly. All I have to do is figure out how to keep your sister from being given from aliens, and you from growing up running after little gray men, then we can call your folks. Easy peasy. It took all her willpower not to groan aloud after that thought.
"I don't know."
"I do," Samantha announced. They both looked at her.
"What?" Scully asked carefully. She was about ninety percent sure that the little girl would immediately suggest they drive back home.
Samantha suddenly looked shy. "Is there a mall?"
"You want to go to the mall?" Scully asked blankly. She couldn't recall being drawn to malls herself at that age, and had usually only gone with Missy under protest.
"Dad was going to bring us to the mall so I can tell Santa what I want for Christmas," she explained, then quickly added, "I know that the Santas at the mall aren't the real Santa, but they're his helpers, right?"
"Um, sure. They're his envoys." When the girl gave her a blank look she clarified. "They can pass messages along to him."
"Sure, like an elfin AT&T," Fox muttered.
"I think there's a mall," Scully told her. "I can ask the desk clerk."
"The only who thinks you took us away from our daddy," Samantha said quietly.
"That's the one." And it was true, except she'd taken them from both parents. But she did intend to give them back. Just as soon as their fates were fixed. Hopefully soon.
An hour and a half later, they found themselves at the still under development Newington Mall, waiting in line to see the Montgomery Ward Santa Claus. It struck Scully as a little surreal to be at the mall when it was just few months post-ground breaking, all awhile knowing that had been replaced by another bigger mall long before her own present day.
In the time it had taken them to eat breakfast and catch a bus, about forty kids and their parents had gotten in line ahead of them; about half the kids were dressed up in ugly Christmas sweaters, making Scully think wistfully about a party Missy had tried to talk her into going with her to. She hadn't.
Neither Samantha nor Fox really seemed to mind the long line they were currently centered in. The little girl was entertaining herself by looking around at all the decorations, and Fox was reeling off random trivia to pass the time.
"Hey, Sam, did you know that Montgomery Ward was the first place to publish the story of Rudolph?"
His sister looked slightly alarmed. "But they didn't make him up, though, because he's real, right?"
Fox looked flustered. He'd probably been told not to ruin it for his sister, like she'd been told about Charlie after she stopped believing herself. "Sure, but no one wrote a book about him until they did."
Standing next to them, Scully hoped he wouldn't next tell her that their image of Santa was largely due to Coca-Cola's influence.
In a shorter time than seemed possible, they were at the head of the line. A woman dressed in a green outfit with striped stockings motioned Samantha forward. Fox and Scully naturally hung back. Samantha practically skipped forward, eager to see Santa's messenger.
The "elf" tilted her head then gave Fox a look when he made no move to step forward himself. "What about you, big guy?"
Fox waved her off. "I'm good."
"Aren't you afraid you won't get what you want if you don't tell Santa?"
"Um, no." His cheeks pinked a little, apparently because he'd been mistaken for a believer. "It's fine that my sister wants to, but..." he trailed off, apparently thinking better than declaring that Santa wasn't real in a crowd of smaller children. "I'm all set."
"Well, okay." The elf gave him a doubtful look, leaving Scully to wonder how many kids that big the elves actually talked into sitting on Santa's lap. "Here's a candy cane."
"Yeah, thanks." Fox immediately stuck it in his pocket.
As soon as the irritating woman left, Scully looked at Fox. He gave her a sheepish look. "I don't even know what I want anyway, besides not wanting to sit on Santa's lap like a baby."
Her heart painfully missed a beat: if nothing changed, she knew what he'd soon want for Christmas. One day he'd matter-of-factly told her about the first Christmas after his sister disappeared, and how having Samantha back had been all he wanted that Christmas. And the one after that. And the one...
Hoping not to let that show on her face, at least not to him, she very deliberately turned to look at Samantha instead. What was she telling the bearded impostor anyway? She'd never gotten the chance to tell him what she wanted before, so at least there'd been no old man who worked part-time at a mall haunted by a child's never to be fulfilled wishes.
That was a small mercy, enough to bring a genuine smile to her mouth. Looking back at the boy, she impulsively asked, "What about you? This is obviously making your sister happy. What could we do tonight that would make you happy too?"
At the word 'tonight' he opened his mouth as if to protest, but shut it again. After a moment's reflection, he shyly said, "Could we take a walk and look at Christmas lights?"
"I'm not sure what you mean," she told him. Did he mean in a store, for sale? The people at the motel were pretty tolerant of her flighty behavior so far, but she thought even they would balk at letting guests string lights in the rented rooms.
"You know, on people's houses. It's kind of nice to see that sometimes."
"Sure, okay," Scully found herself agreeing as soon as she understood the request. It should have dawned on her sooner: when she was very young, and her father was away, Maggie would sometimes bundle all the kids into the car and drive around town to look at the lights.
That very Christmas season was probably one of them, she realized with a small start. At least they weren't where the family had been stationed in 73' so she wouldn't have to worry about seeing herself in the back of Maggie's old wagon.
Samantha must have finished up with her list because before Scully knew it, she was back saying "oh, you got a candy cane too. I was gonna save mine for you."
"Thanks," Fox told her, sounding pleased.
"You guys want to look around the mall a while before we go?" Scully asked them.
Worries about seeing their parents momentarily forgotten, Samantha enthusiastically agreed.
It was nice popping in and out of stores, seeing what she considered relics of days gone by still shiny and new in their boxes. But as an exasperated woman ran by after an escaping four-year-old, a chill took her.
Having a nice time at the mall was all well and good, but what if she managed to change the past while they were still there? Or maybe later on their walk?
"Hey," she said, making the kids stop short. "Do you know the address to the motel?"
"Uh uh, why?" Samantha asked, shaking her head. Fox shrugged. He didn't know it either.
"If, um, something happened to me and you had to tell your parents where to come for you, I don't want you not to know the address..." Scully relieved a flyer from a woman passing them out and scribbled down the address.
Samantha didn't seem to think that there was anything odd about this, but Fox was immediately wary. When she tried to hand the slip of paper to him, he backed away. "What do you mean if something happened to you?"
You know, if I disappeared right before your wondering eyes. She tried for a nonchalant tone. "Anything. People have accidents all the time, walk out in front of buses accidentally, things like that. It'd be completely irresponsible of me not to make sure you knew where you were."
"Dad doesn't worry about things like that," the boy muttered.
"I don't think I'm very much like your dad," Scully couldn't keep from snapping.
He cast his eyes down and held out his hand for the paper. "No, I guess you're not."
"There," Samantha said impatiently. "All done. Can we go over there now?" she asked, pointing to a Christmas display.
They let Samantha drag them across a breezeway, and Scully at least tried to allow some of the girl's enthusiasm infect her too. Fox was quiet, but he didn't challenge her again.
Later on, as they ventured out into the neighborhood the motel was part of, Scully was glad that they'd followed through on Fox's suggestion. The lights might not have been as high tech as in her day, but it didn't make the displays any less beautiful. It was hard for her to believe how varied the yards were, when there were mostly just those big old C9 bulbs fit for putting outside. She'd started to wrack her brain to remember if the concept of the mini bulb sets being indoor/outdoor had come around yet by then. If they were such a thing, no one in that part of Portsmouth had sprung for them quite yet.
It wasn't the richest neighborhood, that much was clear just from looking at the houses, but more houses were decorated than not. For no good reason this had her thinking about how disappointed her mother had been by her lack of Christmas decor...but she couldn't begin to figure out quantify how many days ago that conversation had been.
A small tug on her coat made her look down: Samantha was peering up at her, obviously concerned. "Kate, are you okay?"
"Sure, why?" Scully tried to keep her tone light.
"You had a funny look on your face."
"Oh. I was just thinking about how my family used to drive around to see lights like this, and how I've missed it."
"Why don't you do it anymore?" Samantha innocently asked.
Scully shrugged. "My brothers live far away now," she explained. Thinking about Bill made her think of Mattie... and if she'd end up giving him a cousin or not.
"How come you don't do it on your own?" Fox asked, apparently having been listening as he'd been giving a lighted reindeer team an intent look.
"You don't see as much of things on the side of the road from the driver's seat," she explained. This was actually something that had only really become apparent to her after Mulder disappeared: until then, he'd driven a lot more often than she had. She'd done so much driving since then that it'd left with more freckles on her left hand than her right; during an autopsy she'd found herself musing that uneven freckling like that could clue an ME into whether or not a woman was likely to be single.
"Bummer," Fox muttered.
Scully started when a screen door unexpected scratched when it opened. To her embarrassment an elderly woman came out of the house they'd paused in front of.
She was desperately trying to think of how to explain what they were doing when the woman reached them, surprisingly spry despite needing to lean on a cane. Giving them an uncertain smile, she asked, "Are you with the carolers?"
Scully blinked. "Um, no."
The homeowner nodded like that was the expected answer. "No, I suppose not. Not unless you'd committed all the song lyrics to memory."
"Huh?" Samantha looked confused.
"No songbooks," she explained.
Samantha gave her a sheepish look. "Oh."
"Now I'm a bit disappointed. I was going to invite the carolers in for hot chocolate."
"Sorry." Fox shrugged.
"It's all right," the woman told him. "I don't know why the carolers are out so early anyway. Not even December yet. It'd be a lot more disappointing if they passed me by on Christmas Eve."
"Yeah." She reached over and patted him on the arm. "Come inside and have hot chocolate anyway."
"Oh, we couldn't impose," Scully protested.
"Now, none of that." Without looking back to see if they were following, she began to limp back to the house.
Both kids looked to her and she shrugged. Fox frowned and asked "You don't think she works for those men, do you?"
Scully had to bite her cheek to keep from laughing. A woman on the far side of seventy working for the consortium? Well, Some of them, like the smoking man himself were a little long in the tooth... still, she considered herself a decent judge of character and no mental klaxons went off when they'd met the woman. "I seriously doubt it," she told him at last.
"Then can we have coco?" Samantha asked eagerly.
Scully was about to say yes, but a half forgotten memory of Snow White eagerly reaching for the witch's poison apple sprang to mind, so she shook her head instead.
"Aww." The girl pouted too but Scully did her level best to ignore it.
"Better safe than sorry?" Fox asked, having no idea how much that reminded her of the FBI's 'trust but verify' unofficial motto. One that even he would come to more or less embrace... assuming he still became an agent.
Scully wondered how much the old woman had heard because she eventually hobbled back to them. "Don't eat or drink anything you're offered in a fairy mound, eh?"
Fox looked baffled by the statement but Samantha took a few fearful steps back so she ended up huddling against Scully. Leaning down, Scully said, "She's not serious."
"Yes," Scully told her, but her eyes were on the old woman.
"It was meant as a joke, child," she sighed. '"Does Bettie Smith sound like the name of a fairy queen to you?" When Samantha didn't answer, Bettie sighed again. "I'll tell you, I wouldn't spend winters here if I had magic."
"If it's all the same ma'am, we'll pass on the hot chocolate," Fox told her, and his voice cracked a little as he did. It was hard to tell if it was his vocal cords betraying him as so often happened to boys that age, or just fear.
"Fine, fine," Bettie told him with a dismissive gesture. "Why don't you and your sister go get a better look at the lights you've been gawking at? I want to have a word with your momma."
Fox cast a glance at Scully, then took Samantha by the hand when she nodded okay.
As soon as the kids made their way towards the lights, Scully turned to Bettie. "Well?"
"I just wanted to give you the opportunity to tell me about it. If you want to."
"It?" Scully asked warily. Fox had already glanced back to see if she was okay.
Bettie waved the hand not gapping her cane "whatever it is that's got you and them kids wandering around after dark."
"They wanted to see the Christmas lights, so of course we had to be out after dark." Even as she made that protest, Scully could hear how thin an excuse it sounded.
Bettie gave her a sharp look. "You got somewhere to go tonight? To stay?"
"Yes, "she said firmly.
Bettie nodded slowly. "Okay. But you'll have to forgive me, I don't believe you're just out looking at pretty lights tonight."
Without quite meaning to, Scully blurted out, "I'm looking for a sign."
"What kind of a sign?" Bettie promptly asked.
Scully shrugged. "What to do next. What's best for them." This she could say with conviction because it was true, and all she'd been doing the past twenty-four hours.
Bettie gave her a sad, knowing smile. "Well, I hope you find that sign then."
Giving her a weak smile, she started to say thanks, but the sound of several people singing "... Myrrh is mine: its bitter perfume breaths a life of gathering gloom. Sorrow, sighing, bleeding dying, sealed in the stone-cold tomb. O star of wonder..." made her shiver as the group of carolers, some in comically long stocking caps, approached. That verse had always been her least favorite, and it was hard not to wonder if it had anything to do with the sign she was seeking.
Scully took the opportunity to wave the kids over, then said "goodbye" hastily as they left the old woman to the serenade.
As they walked away, Fox glanced at her. "What did she want to talk to you about?"
"Not much," she said dismissively. He didn't press the issue, to her relief.
"Miss!" a voice called, ringing out over the sound of the carolers' slightly off-key warbling. Scully looked over her shoulder, and Bettie smiled. "Maybe you're looking in the wrong place."
Scully nodded, but hurried off before Fox or Samantha could ask what Bettie had meant.
They all got dressed the next morning, but before Scully could make any excuses about why it wasn't yet time to call their parents, Fox finally looked fed up.
"Kate, we have to call my parents," he insisted. "You're nice and all, but we can't just stay with you. We're missing school and stuff, you know?"
With all her heart she wanted to protest that they had to stay with her because they wouldn't be safe otherwise, but she realized that she had no idea if that was true. If staying with her was the magic key that was going to change their destinies, why was she still there? What if the old woman was right, and she'd been looking for her sign in all the wrong places? Where else she could look was the issue, though.
After a moment she nearly jumped when she had a startling thought: what if the spell was waiting for her to talk to Bill and Teena? It was possible that it wasn't what she was capable of changing that would wrench them off the sad path that they'd gone down the first time but that something one or both of their parents had to do. And when she thought about it, it made her more comfortable to believe that this was possible: she hadn't exactly enacted positive change the one time her actions distorted their timeline. Maybe it would be less of a disaster if it was the Mulders who chose to act.
Or maybe more of one.
But did she really have the right to make that call?
Trying very hard not to let her inner distress show, she talked herself through it. If, God forbid, things were made even worse if she let the elder Mulders know where their children were, it was possible that she might be able to try yet again with the spellbook, as demoralizing as the thought of starting all over again would be. At some point, though, things had to be good enough. If the changes that happened next were for the better, even if they weren't perfect, she'd have to stop. Nothing good could come of trying over and over again, so if it was better than the last time around, she'd have to accept that reality was how it was and stop meddling. Even if it meant that Mulder was still missing? she asked herself. She couldn't come up with an acceptable answer to that one.
"Well?" Fox asked, sounding very much like a typical twelve-year-old.
Scully looked over at him, and prayed that the next words out of her mouth would put them on the trajectory that would allow him to stay a typical adolescent, not the haunted boy she knew he'd become. Twice. "You're right. I think it's time to call them."
"Finally!" Samantha crowed. Without realizing how terrible it sounded, the girl added, "I was getting scared you were really kidnapping us, Kate."
"Thanks a lot," she replied sourly.
"Oh." Samantha looked stricken. "You're super nice, but-"
Scully shook her head. "It's all right."
"No it's not," Fox snapped. "She's only been trying to help us, buttmunch."
"I know," Samantha said miserably.
"Don't worry about it," she told them. Whether or not Samantha had given any thought to kidnapping was the least of her concerns. Instead she had to focus on what she was going to say to Teena and Bill to convince them that they couldn't give one of their children away.
"Sorry." Samantha still looked ashamed.
"Look, we need to talk about calling your parents," Scully announced. "I'll let you talk to them, but before you tell them where we are, I need to talk to them in private. No eavesdropping."
"We never do that!" Samantha exclaimed. Scully gave her a long look, and Samantha dropped her eyes. "Well, hardly ever."
"This is important. To help reduce temptation, I want you to go outside while I talk to them." She'd almost said she'd talk to the Mulders outside but recalled that she couldn't exactly pick up a cell phone in 1973. "Hopefully it'll only take a few minutes so you won't freeze."
Fox definitely looked like he wanted to protest being banished, but after a moment he gave her a small smile, apparently deciding that if she hadn't done anything to harm them so far, she probably did have their best interest at heart. "We'll be okay. Our coats are pretty warm."
If he was disappointed that she didn't relent after his claim of stoicism, he didn't let it show.
Samantha looked at the phone, then at Scully. "Can we call them now?"
"Yes," Scully said slowly. "Samantha, do you know the number?"
The little girl scowled at her. "Of course I do. I'm not a baby."
This made her raise her eyebrows, but she didn't remark on the complaint. "I think it would be better if Samantha is the one to call, Fox."
She waited for him to protest, but he just nodded.
"Thanks!" Samantha chirped before picking up the phone. "What do I say?" she asked, suddenly sounding uncertain, and Scully could hear the dial tone.
"Tell them it's you, and I think they'll ask questions."
"Hmm." Samantha dialed the number and after a moment the monotonous sound of the dial tone cut off when someone answered. "Dad, it's me, Samantha." There was a squawk at the other end, then a flurry of questions. "Fox is with me. We're okay. No, we're fine." Samantha listened for a moment longer before glancing at Scully. "Dad wants to know where we are, Kate. Can I tell him?"
"Portsmouth. Yeah, in New Hampshire. Because. I don't know." Samantha looked at her brother, her expression pained. "Dad wants to talk to you."
It was fairly apparent that Bill wasn't getting the answers that he wanted from his daughter, and Fox seemed reluctant to take the phone, probably sensing that he was about to get grilled too.
"Hi, Dad," the boy said, sounding like he was having a hard time getting a word in edgewise. "Um, because it seemed like the right thing to do. No. No!.. I'm not sorry, we needed to...yeah, well, you can ground me when we get home, then."
Trying to get his attention, Scully mimed the phone to her ear. Fox waved her off. "If you were me, you would have...Yes, obviously....No...No...Not at all, or else I wouldn't have stayed...of course not...Very nice to us...Yes..."
When it seemed like he was just getting more upset by what his father was asking, Scully eventually nudged Fox. He turned a little red before saying, "Dad, Kate wants to talk to you" and handing her the phone.
Before she put the phone to her ear she could hear Bill asking Fox a question, but the boy had already opened the door and was ushering his little sister outside. "Mister Mulder?" she asked, cutting off his demand to know what Fox was talking about.
"Who is this?" Bill demanded to know.
"Fox told you, I'm Kate."
"You're the one who took my kids," he said flatly.
"I am. And you should be glad I did," she retorted.
"Oh yeah, why's that?"
"Because I know what would have happened to one of them if I didn't."
"I don't know-"
"Yes you do," Scully said evenly. "You know exactly what would have happened if I hadn't convinced them to come away with me before that car full of men showed up at your house. Fox and I saw them, you know, when the bus drove back by your house."
Up until that moment Bill had been belligerent in tone, but most of the fire faded out of him as soon as she said that. "Fox saw...?"
"He did. That's when he believed me, I think."
"You don't understand-" Bill began desperately, but she cut him off.
"But I do. I do know what would have happened, because for me it already did."
"What the hell are you talking about?"
"Don't pretend that you aren't aligned with men who have done extraordinary things, Mr. Mulder. Me being able to see the future is hardly as far fetched as making a deadly alliance with beings from another world. Me, I've just seen another when," Scully told him coolly. There was no reason to mentioning that she wasn't from that time, at least not the adult her. "Is it?"
"What do you think you've seen?" Bill demanded to know rather than accuse her of being crazy or a charlatan. She knew she had his attention then.
"When you got home from your convenient night out, only one of your children was still there. The other had been kidnapped-"
"Which is completely different from you kidnapping both of them," Bill barked, unconsciously echoing his daughter's musing about kidnapping.
"They came willingly enough," Scully told him. "I've never done anything to keep them with me. And you know that wouldn't have been the case when they came for your daughter-"
This time Bill was the one to interrupt. "My daughter!" he exclaimed, then went silent.
Once upon a time she'd wondered which of the children he'd intended to give away, if Mulder's belief that it was once meant to be him had any basis in reality. Now she knew. She didn't know why he'd wanted to give Them Fox, but from the utter shock in his tone, it was clear that he had. Had Teena spoken to someone behind his back and brokered a different deal? Or had the smoking man had his thugs take the girl instead out of spite?
It wasn't the time to take pity on him, she realized. "Your daughter. And it all but destroyed your relationship with your son, the way you blamed him for losing her."
"Why would I blame him?" Bill protested.
"Ask yourself that," Scully told him flatly. "I only know that if she went missing, that's what happened next."
"I need to think," Bill muttered. The line went silent for so long she thought the call had been dropped but eventually he spoke again. "All right. I know what to do."
"You do?" she asked, wondering if he'd divulge what.
"Yeah," Bill said with a sigh. "Can you give me the address? I need to take care of something before we come for the kids."
As much as she wanted to demand to know what, she decided to hold her tongue. No doubt the "what" would involve negotiating with the Consortium. All she could hope was that he could work out an arrangement that would better treat both of his children than the default. "Okay," she said slowly, then she gave him the address and had him read it back to be sure it was right.
"Can you stay with them for another few hours?" A pleading note crept into his voice, and she gave the phone a wry look. After keeping the kids a day and a half he thought she'd flee before he and Teena could get there? "Just until I get things taken care of?"
"Only if you promise not to give either of them away," she said quietly. Things might turn out quite differently if he brokered a trade of Fox for Samantha, but she couldn't see it working out any better for the kids. In that case it'd just be Samantha tortured by guilt, and Fox gone, a lateral move.
"I...They can't have either of my kids," he said heavily. "I swear it."
"All right. We'll be waiting."
"Okay. Good." The line went dead without him saying goodbye.
She looked at the phone again for a moment, more than half expecting it to ring again immediately, then sighed and gently hung it up.
Going to the window, she saw Fox and Samantha pacing aimlessly. It was time to call them in.
When they reached her, she gave them the best fake smile that she could. "Your dad needs to take care of something, then he and your mom are going to drive up here."
"Oh, good," Samantha declared, clearly unable to read between the lines.
Fox, however, got her drift, and looked a lot more grim. "Yeah. Good."
"Why don't we go get something to eat while we wait?" Scully suggested, more as a way to distract them than out of actual hunger. "It'll be hours yet."
"K," Samantha agreed. "Do you think they've got hot chocolate at the diner?"
"It can't hurt to ask," Scully told her as she followed the kids out the door.
The look on Fox's face bothered her, and she really wanted to know what he was thinking - to know what he thought his father might try if he was back up against a wall - but there was no way to without alarming his little sister. Both of them would have to silently agonize over what Bill would choose to do until he and Teena got there.
The morning passed very slowly as Scully waited for the Mulders to come and pick up their children. It was her hope that she'd end up disappearing as soon as they arrived, perhaps the second the kids ran outside to see their parents. Then the four of them would be left there in a confusion, baffled as to where she'd gone. There was something appealing about the idea, if only because it spared her any awkward conversations. But as ready as she was to go, they seemed to be taking their sweet time about getting there.
"Where are they?" she found herself muttering under her breath about an hour after she thought they should have arrived.
Another hour passed after that, leaving her in a state of agitation. What if the Mulders had decided that they weren't going to come after all? Maybe they thought that the kids were better off with her. Or worse, what if someone else reached them before Bill and Teena did? That thought gnawed at her, and she found it impossible to shake the idea of having thugs or assassins show up, and it wasn't possible for her to wonder if they'd be there due to something Bill said, or worse arranged. What if the time to think left him believing that it would be better if both kids were taken away?
When the knock at the door finally came later that afternoon Scully's first instinct was to fish through her purse for the knife. After she deflected that urge, she forced herself to look through the peephole, trying hard not to imagine being shot through the eye as she did so. It took her a moment to reconcile the memory of Teena Mulder with the appearance of the younger, anxious looking woman about to knock, but after a couple of heartbeats she managed to see how the woman she had known might've once looked like this.
"Is it them?" Samantha asked eagerly. This brought her back to the task at hand.
Instead of answering, she gestured to the peephole and stood back so Fox could but look out. Samantha seemed like she had been about to declare this unfair, but the calculating glance she'd given the height of the peephole apparently changed her mind.
"Mom!" Fox exclaimed. Scully made no move to stop him when he threw open the door.
She had expected the other woman to be wary too but Teena entered without hesitation. Holding out her arms, she cried "Samantha, Fox!" And both of her children rushed to hug her.
Momentarily ignored, Scully hung back awkwardly, trying to find the words to ask her question. It turned out that she didn't have to.
Fox eventually let his mother go and looked around. "Where's Dad?"
Teena's face blanched. "Mom?" Samantha asked worriedly. She had been all smiles to see her mother, but no longer.
"What happened to Dad?" Fox demanded to know. His tone was harsher but Scully thought he was still desperately hoping their mother would reassure them by saying "nothing."
Clearly not ready to talk about Bill, Teena turned to Scully. "Kate, is it?"
"Yes," Scully said evenly.
"Um..." Teena's expression became conflicted. "Thank you."
It was only then that Scully became certain that Teena knew what had been planned. All she could do was offer a curt nod in return. If she opened her mouth, she was afraid of what might come out. Teena's feelings didn't matter much to her, but she didn't want to traumatize the kids. Further, she mentally corrected herself. As soon as Teena told them what Scully had already began to suspect, they'd be traumatized as it was.
Ignorant of what was to come, or maybe just heedless of it, Fox interrupted with an exasperated, "Mom!"
Teena's face crumpled. "Oh, Fox, he's gone."
"Gone where?" Samantha demanded to know.
Fox held up a hand silence his sister. She gave him a stricken look, but shut her mouth. "Is he coming back?" Fox asked gruffly.
Teena shrugged. "I don't know. Cass has been back before, so maybe there's hope."
"Who's Cass?" Fox wanted to know. His mother just shook her head.
One evening not long after meeting Cassandra Spender, Scully had a glass of wine and speculated about whether the woman had loved Jeffrey more than Bill have loved his own children. It seemed to her that she must, given she'd gone away herself and left her little boy safely behind. Though Bill Mulder might have agonized over which child to give away, but no one had ever talked about the possibility of giving Them himself instead. A lot of the hostages had been adults after all.
Scully lifted from her thoughts enough to hear Teena say insistently, "Your father loves you both very much. Never doubt that."
And now Bill had chosen self-sacrifice. It made Scully respect him more.
"So, what, he walked out on us?" Fox's eyes flashed angrily as he spoke.
"It wasn't his idea to go-" It seemed like Teena was going to say more, but the TV behind them stole everyone's attention.
The noon news was on, and Samantha pointed at the screen. "That's Dad's club!"
It was only then that the reporter's words began to sink in for Scully. "-It was reported an hour ago that several people are missing from this location. At first it was hoped that the missing people had left willingly, but the police said this is not believed to be the case. As information comes in we at WMUR will make providing updates on the development of this story our top priority..."
Samantha looked puzzled. Then her eyes widened as she stared at Scully. "Kate! You were right!"
"About what?" Teena asked.
"Kate said that bad men-" the girl trailed off suddenly. She was giving Scully the oddest look.
"Kate, are you okay?" Fox asked urgently.
Until she began to feel dizzy, Scully hadn't given much thought to what she looked like when she was about get pushed. Glancing at the mirror, she saw that she looked decidedly queasy.
"No," she said faintly.
The world began to tilt and Fox screamed "Kate!" before he ceased to exist. Or she did.
When Scully's mind cleared enough to allow her to become aware of her surroundings, she blinked in confusion. As before she returned to Teena Mulder's basement, but this time it was not full of boxes or Rubbermaid containers. Instead toys were spread out across the space, and Scully could tell at a glance that they weren't relics of Samantha or Fox's childhoods. They were modern and a lack of dust said they'd been played with recently.
Her first thought was that another family lived there, and this made her so anxious about possibly having to explain her presence to strangers that she tripped over her own feet, and an inflatable alligator, in her haste to pick herself up from where time travel had landed her.
She had no sooner regain her balance then she realized something that very nearly drove her to her knees - she wasn't pregnant.
A muffled sob escaped her, and tears blurred her sight as she stumbled towards the cellar door. Once outside Scully bent to brace her hands on her knees and hung her head. The cold crisp air should have helped calm her but it didn't, not even when she sucked in great drafts of it.
It wasn't like it hadn't been a calculated risk, she chided herself even as she continued to cry. She'd known that monkeying with the past would have ripples to the present, had in fact been counting on it to. So how could she be so shocked to learn that one of the ripples had washed her baby away?
Get a grip, she mentally growled at herself. Losing the baby is tragic, but you need to figure out what else is different. "Mulder" she whispered to herself. Everything she'd been through had been to try to save him. Of course the first thing she should do is find out what happened to him.
The logical first step seemed to be finding out just how much of her attempt to change his past had altered his present. With fingers that trembled from far more than just the cold, she slipped her phone out of her pocket and dialed a familiar number. "Can I speak to agent Mulder, please?" As she asked, she marveled that her voice didn't shake too.
"One moment," an unfamiliar voice responded before pop song began to blare in her ear. He still an agent, Scully realized. She wasn't sure if she should be pleased about that or not. "I'm sorry, neither agent Mulder nor his wife are in the office today." Scully's heart leapt for a second, but a quick look at her hands didn't reveal a wedding ring this time. The voice went on. "Would you like to leave a message for him or Agent Fowley?"
"N-no," she managed to stammer before hanging up on the bewildered receptionist.
Was the receptionist implying that Mulder was married to Diana Fowley? Or were she and "his wife" two separate people? Even if they were, the lack of a wedding ring, she had no real reason to believe that Mulder even knew her now. That thought was almost as cutting a one as thinking about the baby that now no longer existed.
Still, if she could just find out if he and Samantha were all right, she could regroup. If the present was only worse for herself, she'd have to endure it.
"Dana!" a woman called, making Scully look around, startled.
The brunette's arms were filled with untidy strings of Christmas lights as she tromped her way towards her through the snow. "What are you doing here?"
She looked like the clones that she and Mulder had met early on. "Um..."
Samantha frowned a little. "Don't tell me my mom enlisted your help in finishing decorating the outside of her house too. I swear to God, I halfway expect my brother's geek friends to show up too. She's not shy about roping people into her decorating schemes."
It was only then that Scully noticed that the mailbox said Mulder. Maybe that meant the toys and in the cellar belonged to Samantha's children. As miserable and uncertain as Scully felt, the idea of Samantha growing up healthy enough to have had children almost made her smile. At least until she realized Samantha was waiting for her to answer. "Um, no. I just wanted to stop by-"
"She's at Home Depot still, unfortunately." Samantha adjusted the lights spilling out of arms. "I told her I had lights, but well, you know my mom."
Rather than attempt to answer coherently, Scully just gave a knowing shake of her head. The Teena Mulder she knew never asked anyone to help her decorate. But then, that Teena had lost one of her children a long time ago, so maybe this one felt more like celebrating.
The other woman shook her head too. "Why she couldn't have come to the conclusion that the house needed more 'sprucing up' before Christmas Eve, I couldn't tell you. I don't think making things easier on other people ever occurs to her."
Scully found herself nearly choking on her own tongue. It was Christmas Eve? She'd spent several days with a Mulder in another version of the present, but when she'd gotten rid of that timeline, she'd assumed that she'd return to the same day she'd left from before she picked up the spell book. Apparently not. She'd have to get in touch with her mother, assuming she was reachable in this version of the present and not dead like the last time.
In her panic, she must have made a strangled noise because Samantha suddenly looked concerned. "I hope you haven't been waiting here for very long. It's pretty cold out."
"Oh no. I only got here a little while ago." A traitorous giggle tried to escape her throat. Yup, til a few minutes ago I was back in the 70s.
"Well, if you don't have time to wait around for her, I'll let her know you drop by."
There were a million things that Scully would have liked to ask Samantha, but none of them would have made any sense to the poor woman just waiting to help her mother and get it over with. But maybe there was something she could ask her, if only she could find a way to do it subtly.
"Do you know where your brother is today?" she blurted out before she could stop herself. It was all she could do to keep from smacking her forehead.
Samantha gave her a curious look. "He's at home, I'd imagine."
"At home?" Scully repeated faintly.
"You know that he hates leaving the boys with a sitter if it can be avoided." Samantha shook her head. "I'm going to have the world's most spoiled nephews, but what can you do? It's like he doesn't think anyone who hasn't had a full background check and has submitted to a random drug test is fit to look after children. But why am I telling you?"
Though she realized that Samantha probably found it bizarre for her to run off in the middle of their conversation, Scully couldn't bear to hear more. Samantha was well, and so too it seemed was Mulder. Since she'd vowed not to meddle further if things had worked out better for two out of three of them...and it felt like she was now trapped, and forced to try and make the best of things.
There was only one place she could think to go to begin to get some answers about her current state. She took a key fob out of her pocket and aimed it at a car sitting in front of Teena's house. To her relief the doors unlocked and the headlights blinked. At least she knew where she was going.
Once she arrived at her destination, she sat for a moment in the parking garage and tried to gather her wits about her. If she'd had a purse, she didn't know where it was. Riffling through the glove box turned up an FBI badge, one that had seen better days, so she imagined that it had long since been replaced and this one just not tossed out. She slipped out of the car, confident that she was in the right place.
At least the Hoover building hadn't changed. It was still the same ugly utilitarian building that she remembered. And, because perhaps the universe didn't hate her entirely, no one tried to stop her when she entered the building. And no one said a word when she took the stairs and headed down to the basement. No one seemed to think that she didn't belong there, so she supposed that was good.
But once she was outside the door to their office, she hesitated. For a moment she listened hard, hoping that neither Mulder nor Fowley had returned since she had spoken to the receptionist. The last thing she could cope with was a confrontation with Diana. Of course, for all she knew, she and Diana might be best friends now. Maybe they did each other's hair on the weekends and watched Mel Gibson movies.
After what seemed like a ridiculously long time to wait, she gained some courage and pushed the door open. No one was inside. Three desks were crammed into the space. A nameplate on one of them said her name, and she wondered what sort of changes had to of happened to get her her own desk finally. Somehow, even without knowing what they were, she didn't think they had been worth it.
There was no sign of John Doggett, and Scully rather suspected that if she tried to locate them using bureau resources she'd learn that he was still in New York. If Mulder hadn't been kidnapped, there was no real reason for him to have ever come to DC.
"Later," she muttered to herself. If things didn't improve, she'd have a lot of time to look him up later on, once she began to pull together the pieces of her life.
Feeling like a thief she sifted through things on top of Mulder's desk, hoping to find some of his personal mail. After what seemed like an eternity, she came up with his cable bill. She stuffed it in her back pocket and turned towards the other two desks.
If Fowley had something personal in her desk, maybe she could compare addresses, and find out once and for all if agent Fowley and Mrs. Mulder were in fact the same person. And then, maybe she could find something on her own desk, though it didn't seem like her to bring personal mail to work, and find out her own address without having to ask someone like a lunatic.
Unfortunately, she was only halfway to Fowley's desk when she heard shoes clicking down the stairs. It was hard to breathe with her heart suddenly in her throat, but she managed to scurry out of the office without being seen.
Glancing back at the office, she realized that she couldn't risk returning because she had no idea what she'd say to whoever was heading towards the office and she was afraid that trying to make up the answers would lead to a psych hold once the other person concluded that she'd had some sort of mental break.
Since she didn't even have any idea where she lived, the only thing she seemed to be able to do with her time would be track Mulder down using the cable bill's address.
Rushing out of the building, all she could do was hope that the Mulder she was going to go see was still as open-minded as the one she'd loved. Because if he was, he might be her only hope at figuring out her place in the brave new world, not that she was feeling especially brave at the moment.
It took her almost half an hour to find the address that was printed on the cable bill. It was a residential neighborhood that she hadn't been to before, but she was fairly certain that her driving just marked her as a conventionally lost person, no one who had no idea who they were rather than just where.
She stopped on the street, hesitant to pull into the driveway. That would have drawn too much attention to herself, and she wanted to try to get the lay of the land before she got out of the car and spoke to Mulder.
Unfortunately, she couldn't make out anything going on from the street, so she found herself reluctantly exiting the car and cautiously walking towards the house. It was only as she did that she noticed that she could see not only a beautifully decorated tree inside the house, but two children too.
Seeing the kids stopped her in her tracks even though she knew that they, and their mother, were a part of Mulder's life. It was just seeing them that made reality crash over her with a sickening sense of finality.
Not that they were aware of the angst seeing then caused her. The two small boys behind the glass smiled and chattered to someone she couldn't see. Standing there, she ran a hand down her flat belly and fought back tears. Months before, Mulder had shared with her the details of a dream he'd had while with the smoking man: he'd married Diana Fowley, and she'd given him two sons. One dark-haired, and the younger towheaded. These sons.
In saving Samantha, she'd caused that reality to reassert itself, losing Mulder and their baby both. Heartbroken, she was about to walk away from the unbearably happy family scene when she heard the door to the house open.
She was still deciding if she should follow her instincts and flee anyway when an insistent voice called, "Scully!" Mulder strode towards her rapidly. "Where have you been?" he asked, sounding upset.
"What?" she asked blankly. Why would he be so concerned about where his coworker was, especially when he hadn't even gone into the office himself? Nor had Fowley, she reminded herself grimly. The only thing that would make things better would be having to see Mulder and his wife.
"The boys and I have been worried sick about you!" Mulder exclaimed, sounding exasperated.
The boys? Why would his sons be concerned about her? Before she could ask, he turned toward the house and called, "Jake! Caleb!"
Within seconds the pair arrived in a confusing blur. The kids obviously knew her. Maybe she and Mulder were still friends, and they considered her Daddy's Friend or maybe even an honorary aunt.
The younger one, Caleb, nearly knocked her over with an enthusiastic hug. "I missed you, Mommy!"
"We all did," the other boy said, and she turned just in time to see Mulder take something from him.
In Mulder's arms, that something gurgled. A baby. Small, fair, and no more than a month old. "I know you didn't want William to have a bottle, but you've been gone so long I didn't have a choice." Mulder's statement was defensive.
"Give me my baby," Scully insisted, not caring if Mulder felt like this meant that she didn't accept his reasonable action. With a show of reluctance he handed the child over.
She studied the infant in her arms, searching his small features for signs of both of his parents, and she found them. He had Mulder's ears, and his wispy hair was strawberry blond. The timeline didn't work out perfectly for this to be the baby she'd been carrying when her ordeal began, but she felt deep in her heart that it was the same boy.
Looking over the infant's head, she turned her gaze to the other children. In her initial distress she'd assumed that the boys were Diana Fowley's, but as she looked at them, she could see signs of herself in them too. The older boy was perhaps seven, and she realized with an amused start that if she and Mulder had been open about their attraction from the beginning instead of hiding it from each other, they might have had a child that old.
"Come on, it's freezing out here," Mulder said, slinging an arm around her shoulder. "Let's go in."
"You should have put a coat on," she murmured, not unhappy to have his body touching hers. It felt right in the way that it hadn't with the last Mulder she'd met.
"Yeah, probably." Mulder herded the boys inside before giving her an expectant look. "Well did you find the gift you'd gone looking for?"
She hadn't seen anything in the car that had resembled a present, so she went with "Nope," already deciding she could blame mommy brain if she was wrong and there was something in the trunk for someone. "It was mob scene."
"Bummer," Mulder said, and she had to bite her cheek when she thought about how he hadn't outgrown that word. "There must not have been much of a signal in the mall, either, because your mom called, and you know how much she loves trying to leave messages with me for you."
"What did she have to say?"
"She wanted to know if we wanted her to extend an invitation to 'poor Diana' to go to her house tomorrow afternoon considering she's not in a relationship. I assured her that Diana has plans and doesn't need the charity. Honestly, I think your mom still thinks it's possible to hook her up with Byers."
Scully stared at him.
"I know, right?" Mulder asked, taking the baby from her. "I think he needs to be changed."
"Ah, okay," she agreed, following him like she knew where they were going.
They passed two bedrooms, ones that obviously belong to their older sons, before entering a baby's room that had a decided space-related theme. Giving Mulder a covert glance, she guessed that some things never changed.
"So, how was your day?" Scully asked, watching as he made changing baby William look easy. She could hear the other kids playing with something a few rooms away.
He shrugged, which wasn't easy to do while wiping a tiny behind. "Fowley called in sick, and I didn't get too far with the yeti case before it was time to pick the kids up from school. Skinner really hates half-days, you know that? He didn't laugh when I compared him to Scrooge. Or the yeti."
Scully grinned at him. "He wouldn't."
"I know, but he didn't yell, so it felt like we had a moment." Mulder glanced down at the baby who was trying to decide if he should scream about being changed. "Diana is pretty open minded but I'd rather be investigating a possible yeti sighting with you."
"You say the sweetest things," she told him wryly.
"I know, I'm the only one looking forward to your maternity leave being over. Well, at least I don't have to fly out to Vermont to look for it until January 2nd. Hopefully it won't eat anyone until then."
"Mom!" a voice behind them exclaimed. Scully turned around to see the middle boy, Caleb looking at her expectantly. "Now that you're home, can we make cookies for Santa? Like you said?"
"Well, if I said, I guess we have to," Scully replied. The sky outside the baby's window was rapidly darkening as the sun set.
"Awesome. Jake and I get to decorate them after you cut them out, right?"
Turning to Mulder, she said, "I don't know, maybe they're big enough to be responsible for carefully getting the dough out of cookie cutters now. What do you think?"
"I think it's a good time for them to give it a shot."
"What if we screw it up?" Caleb asked anxiously.
Mulder patted him on the head. "Then you squish the dough back up, roll it out, and try it again."
"Why don't you get the stuff out that the recipe needs?" Mulder suggested. "Carefully."
Caleb scrunched his nose. "What if I can't read some of the words?"
"Ask Jake to help you. I need to talk to Mom for a minute."
"Oh, okay. Can I tell him you said to help me?"
Caleb flew out of the room. Then they heard him loudly declare "Dad said you gotta help me if I need you to."
Jake groaned and shot back something about already being in charge of hanging their stockings, but neither boy ran back to them. So Mulder closed the door.
"So, we're in agreement that they get to open two gifts tonight, right? Pajamas and a small toy?"
Mulder smiled like he'd half expected an argument too. "You know, Samantha does that with her kids too. I didn't know that until recently."
"Oh, so it's a family-wide tradition," Scully said.
For a second he looked sad. "Yup. Of course we didn't start it until my dad left, but hey not all traditions get started when you're born."
"Hmm," she murmured, so she wouldn't be tempted to ask if Bill had ever come back. She supposed not.
"Oh, your mom said not to worry about making that pie. Apparently your sister is dating a baker and he's bringing one. Knowing your sister's taste in men it'll probably be some hippy thing."
"Tasting of patchouli?" Scully shot back. Somehow it made sense to her that Missy was still alive, so she accepted that instantly. If Samantha had never gone missing, she and Mulder wouldn't have gone looking for the information that had ultimately led to her sister being shot in her place.
"Probably," Mulder laughed. The baby had fallen asleep during their conversation, so she gently transferred him to the crib. "Time to face cookie madness."
"Bring it on."
The boys were both in the kitchen, Caleb kneeling on the floor to wrestle a canister of flour off a shelf, and Jake up on a stool apparently looking for the cookie cutters Mulder reached pasted him to pluck off the fridge. "Hey!" he protested and then stuck his tongue out when his father smirked at him.
"Food coloring?" Caleb asked as he put the flour on the island.
"Only if we're frosting the cookies," Mulder declared before she could open her mouth. "Remember the mess we had last year when we dyed the dough."
"Uncle Bill said it looked like someone had 'beat the hell out of our hands,'" Jake said, imitating her brother's usual tone perfectly. "Cause of the blue and red dye going all purply on our skin."
"Jake," Mulder said warningly.
"What? That's what he said."
"I like Uncle Charlie better," Caleb declared, then shot her a guilty look. "Um..."
She just smiled and shook her head.
Caleb grinned back. "This is going to be the best Christmas ever, right?"
"Why, because Santa will like our cookies best?" Jake asked. He and Mulder were sorting through the box of cookie cutters.
Scully thought about everything that had happened. It was clear that there was no going back to the life she had been leading, but was that so bad? Everyone seemed to be happier now that she would have imagined, and though she wasn't looking forward to trying to catch up on the past few years' worth of memories, she couldn't think of better memories to have to integrate into her life. It was time to leave the spell book where it was...not that she'd noticed it in Teena's basement this time.
"Because we have your baby brother now?" Mulder prompted. Caleb sighed like he'd been talked to a lot about being happy about the baby's arrival.
"For lots of reasons," Scully declared firmly.
"Yeah, what Mom said," Caleb agreed. "Can we make these before Santa gets here now, please?"
"You've been spending too much time with grandma," Jake retorted. "She's, um, Dad what do they call it when you make a big deal over everything?"
"Wait, whose Mom are you talking about?" Scully interrupted. "You can't mean mine."
"Oh, really?" Mulder arched an eyebrow. "Because I seem to recall..."
She hummed happily to herself as she helped to mix and roll the cookie dough. Caleb was right, she already could tell.
|Neoxphile's Series fics||Neoxphile's Works-In-Progress||Neoxphile's Stand Alone fics|