Title: Courage and Sandcastles
Author: Scully82
Disclaimer: These characters do not belong to me. They are the creations, and therefore the property, of Chris Carter, Fox, Gillian Anderson, David Duchovny, et al.
Rating: PG
Classification: Post-IWTB, MSR
Spoilers: post-IWTB; "The Truth" & William mytharc; brief line or situation references to FTF, "Amor Fati" "Empedocles" and "Bad Blood."

Summary: Post-IWTB, Scully makes an important decision: If I quit now, they win.

The first operation was over. She did not know how many more there would have to be; didn't even have proof, yet, of the initial surgery's success (or lack thereof). What she did know was that Christian's vitals were good, and he was resting peacefully in his room in the children's ward, his mother and father by his side. She also knew that she was possibly the most exhausted she had ever been in her life, which, considering her nine years of chasing aliens, Mexican goat suckers, beast women, and fluke men across several continents, was saying a lot.

After she and her residents had finished cleaning up the OR, Dana Scully made her way, wearily, to the doctors' lockers, being sure, before she transformed from Dr. Scully into Just Plain Scully (an assessment with which Mulder would undoubtedly take issue), to look in on Christian once more. She smiled, a little wistfully, at the three sleeping figures in the new, private room that she had secured for her young patient.

Mr. Fearon, looking worn and much older than his twenty-nine years, was snoring softly in an armchair underneath a garish wall-mural of a red- and-yellow hot air balloon. Mrs. Fearon, too, was asleep, but the habitual, earnest look of fear mixed with love, anguish, hope, and a thousand other emotions (all of which Dana Scully knew intimately) had not been erased from her young, lined face by unconsciousness. Even in her sleep, she held her son's hand. Christian's eyes were also closed, but as Scully gazed at him, he began to stir. She turned and started to leave, not wanting to disturb what little bit of rest he could steal before the first dose of painkillers wore off, but Christian's small, sweet voice stopped her in her tracks.

"Dr. Scolly," he said in his painfully endearing, slurred way.

"Yes, Christian?" She whispered, not wanting to wake his parents.

"Sank u."

Scully's heart had broken so many times in her forty years on the planet that she hadn't thought that it would, or could, sustain another fracture, but her tiny, fragile, chestnut-haired patient had just proved her wrong.

"You are most welcome, Christian," She managed to choke out, "Get some rest, sweetie. I'll see you in the morning."

Then, she did something unprecedented in her career as a pediatric surgeon and completely unprofessional: she walked up to her patient, smoothed an errant strand of hair away from the broad line of stitches just above his brow bone, and kissed his scarred forehead quickly and with infinite gentleness. Christian smiled up at her in his wise, grateful way, and she knew it had been just the right thing to do.

"Goodnight, sweet Christian."

"Goodnight, Dr. Scolly," he said, "You need to go home and tuck your little boy into bed and give him a kiss, too."

I wish I could, she thought, I wish I could tuck my little boy in and kiss his forehead.

Tears filled her eyes. This spontaneous welling was something she was used to by now. In fact, it had sometimes seemed to her, over the years, that she never stopped crying. And how could she, with her father, Melissa, Emily, William, and even Mulder (temporarily and more times than she cared to remember), all lost to her? But this time there was something different behind the salty sting: recognition of her deepest Truth. How had he known, she wondered? How could Christian possibly have guessed about William?

Maybe deep pain led to deep connection, resulted in profound, mutual understanding. She and Christian were kindred spirits of sorts, she decided, although she winced to think how much earlier he'd had to face his battles. The first of her own tragedies: Ahab's death, her abduction, and her cancer, had all happened when she was grown up, strong, and in love (though she would never have admitted it at the time). She suddenly thought back to when she was Christian's age, and her only care in the world, besides avoiding getting picked on by her brothers, had been whether her favorite, red-haired heroine, Anne of Green Gables, would end up with her own kindred spirit, Gilbert Blythe. She was thankful that, thanks to Mulder, she had at least accomplished that part. She wondered if Christian ever would.

"You do have a little boy, don't you, Dr. Scolly?" Christian asked, again, tilting his sweet, bruised head to the side and studying her face. "I know you do, because you ah the be-est doctah I thuh wo-old, and I bet you ah the best mommy, too."

"Your mommy is the best mommy in the world," Scully said quietly, stroking Christian's hair, or what was left of it after the abrasive medical treatments and the pre-surgery shaving. She gazed once more into his impossibly large, omniscient blue eyes, and as she left the small, blue-walled room, she could feel those eyes follow her. The whole way to the locker room, she prayed silently, fiercely for this little boy to make it.

Half an hour later, when she pulled onto the dirt road where her little house stood, she noticed that the heavy, metal gate was open, and she silently thanked Mulder for anticipating her every need, something at which he'd become surprisingly skilled over the past six years. Pulling into the driveway in the beige rental car she'd recently acquired (post-vehicle-mutilating- x-file), she caught a faint whiff of garlic-laced tomato sauce. Oh, Mulder, she breathed, with a pang of guilt: how could she possibly have delivered this man, her stubborn, devoted, beautiful man, anything even approximating an ultimatum, just days earlier? She exhaled slowly, letting the tension of the day (of the week, of the past fifteen years?) drain from her body and be replaced by peace, love, and immense hunger.

I guess I haven't had anything to eat today since breakfast, she realized. And that was just a half a bagel with cream cheese. . .and it wasn't even real cream cheese; it was light cream cheese!

Mulder, wearing a ridiculous apron with a gigantic, beaming, chef's-hat-clad, spatula- wielding lobster on the front, met her at the door, smiling anxiously.

"Where did that come from?" She asked, gazing incredulously at the apron-con-lobster.

"Oh, Big Claw?" Mulder said, patting the cartoon crustacean protectively, "I found him today at Tarjay."

"Target?" Scully asked, smirking at the French pronunciation (so absurdly, gloriously Mulder), "Since when have you shopped at Target, Mulder?"

"Since I'm no longer a wanted man."

"Oh, you're plenty wanted," Scully said, wrapping her arms around his broad, cozy torso and breathing in the intoxicating scent of Mulder and Italian deliciousness. She felt him rest his chin on the crown of her head as he held her tight in his arms.

"How did things go today?" He inquired in that soft, aching voice she both adored and despised, since she was much too frequently the reason for the ache in it.

"Well," she said, removing herself, begrudgingly, from his warmth and making new contact with her eyes, "As well as it could have gone, under the circumstances."

Mulder looked visibly relieved. "So, he's...he's fine? He's going to be okay?"

"Well, we won't know anything definitive for a few days. . . until we run some more tests. And then there may need to be more surgeries. Multiple surgeries. 'Okay' may be more than we can ever hope for in this case, but. . ."

"It's not too much to hope for, Scully. I know you. I know that you'll never give up. You can't. You won't."

For the thousandth time in the past twenty-four hours, Scully fought back tears.

"That's one of the many gifts you've given me, Mulder. Courage. To believe. To not give up."

She leaned into him, again, wrapping her arms around his neck and kissing him, and their brokenness gave way, as it always did when they were in each other's arms, to an almost superhuman strength. After all, together, they had defeated, among other things, alien super soldiers, vicious clones, and cigarette-smoking villains. Their love had the power to move mountains and to re-align planets. It was even strong enough, possibly, to save the human race.

Scully grimaced at the over-confident and, frankly, narcissistic turn her thoughts had just taken: they had decided, years ago, to fight smaller battles, to accept their ultimate powerlessness.

But what if, a small voice inside her whispered insistently, that was the wrong decision?

Maybe, after all, the narcissistic thing to do was to sit back and wait for the world to end. She could fight the future on Christian's behalf, on a small, individual scale; but if he lived four years longer, only to die with the rest of the human race come alien colonization, was it worth it? Could she justify her narrower focus when she (when she and Mulder, together) could potentially do so much more? Her head was reeling: she never allowed herself to think about Cancer Man's dire prediction for the year 2012. It was one thing she refused to believe; one thing she had talked herself into dismissing as nothing more than a cruel falsehood. But what if she was wrong?

"Earth to Scully," Mulder said, breaking her trance.

"I'm sorry, Mulder," she said, her voice breathy and faraway. She reached a hand up and stroked his hair.

Chestnut brown, like Christian's, she thought: Like William's might be now, too, for all I know.

For all she knew.

"It's been a long day. I think I'll take a quick shower before we eat whatever delicious-smelling thing you're working on in there," she said, gesturing toward the kitchen, then making her way up the narrow staircase to the bathroom.

"Pizza. Homemade veggie pizza, Scully," Mulder called after her, beaming.

"Oh, Mulder!" She said, overcome with desire for the pizza and the man.

She thought: maybe the world isn't going to end; maybe it's just fine that Mulder has spent this past half-decade learning to cook; maybe we need nothing more than to be two people with a house and each other to come home to. . maybe. . .

Maybe they would have to talk about this. All of this. Really talk. Later. The cascade of the shower, thundering and glorious, temporarily drowned out the torrent of her thoughts.

After dinner, they collapsed on the couch and watched several hours of "Ghost Hunters" on the Sci-fi Channel:

"Mulder, how can you take that man with the ridiculous white mustache seriously? All he does is keep bellowing 'hellloooooo' into the darkness. If I were a ghost, I'd be too annoyed to produce a haunting; I'd just cover my ears and wait for him to get the hell out of my house."

"Scully," he had retorted, "Ghosts cannot put their hands over their ears: their hands and their ears are both immaterial."

Halfway into another round of half-hearted banter, Scully, lying in Mulder's arms, could feel herself drifting into a wine-and-exhaustion- induced sleep. She felt him lift her off the couch, carry her up the stairs, and tuck her in.

Tuck her in.

Suddenly, she was wide awake.


"Hmm?" he mumbled, groggily.

"I won't ever give up on you."

He moved closer to her, wrapping his warm body around hers, kissing her forehead, her cheek, her lips. "I know, Scullylove."

She smiled: he was always sweet and ridiculous when he was half asleep, and she loved it; his gentleness made her warm, happy, and sleepy. She rolled over to face him, though: she had something important to tell him.

"And I don't want you to give up, either."

This got his attention.

"I will never give up on you, Scully."

"No, I mean I don't want you to give up on. . . on you. On your quest."

"Scully. . ."

"And I won't give up on it, either," she said, quickly, in a voice that was very small, but disarmingly certain.

He stared at her, searched her eyes for the answers to many questions.

"Of course, I will need to finish things up with Christian and my other patients. . . I'll have to wait to see if the initial treatment is promising; perform additional surgeries, if necessary. . . I can't give up on him, either. But then. . ."


"But then I will help you. Then, I will search with you. We will find The Truth."

"But, Scully, we have already found. . . we decided to. . . you don't have to do this. This is not your life anymore. It was the right decision for you to get out of all that while you still could. And I can't. . . Scully, I can't bear to drag you through anything more. . . to take anything else away from you. . ."

"But, Mulder," she said, looking him straight in the eye, "If I quit now, they win."

"If we quit now. . ." He corrected her, and they lay still, facing each other, for a very long time.

When they finally fell asleep, they dreamed the same dream: The two of them were on a wide, sandy beach, underneath a perfectly blue sky. In between them, intently scooping and molding the billions of grains of fine, white sand, was a blue-eyed, brown-haired, seven-year-old boy: one not suffering from a brain disease; one who was perfectly healthy, perfectly normal, and theirs. Together, the three of them were building something large, but not immense: something that was not a sand spaceship, but a sandcastle.

They slept soundly that night, Mulder and Scully, knowing that, in the morning, they would begin, again, to fight the fight.

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