Title: Daddy's Gone A'Hunting
Author: MeridyM and David Stoddard-Hunt
Written: November 2001
Distribution: Just let us know where.
Disclaimer: No, none of these characters is ours.
Rating: PG.
Category: Vignette. Angst. Implied MSR.
Spoilers: Early season 9.
Feedback: Is welcomed and appreciated!

Summary: He is gone once again, and once again she is left to keep secrets, to keep going alone, unable to fully trust anyone.

She has been dreaming about him most every night now since he went away. She knows she is needy; she recognizes her own yearning. It seems to boil in her at night and coalesce in her middle, a raw ache.

When she lifts her face from her pillow and blinks into the darkness, she can almost smell him on the crisp percale, see his tousled hair on the pillow next to her, his lanky body sprawled across the bed, half-covered in flowing waves of sheet, blanket, spread.

She runs her fingers down her face, as if to make sure her flesh is substantial, that she's really there, awake, not part of her dream. And then she hears the soft sounds, the small throaty sounds made by a stirring baby.

The clock says 2:34. Lately Will has taken to sleeping through his night feeding, but her breasts are heavy, warm and taut with milk, and right now she needs to hold him anyway.

She throws the covers off and slips out of bed, grabbing her robe from the bed's foot. She wraps the robe around her, belts it tightly, and crosses to his bassinet. He's kicked off the blanket and is wriggling in anticipation.

Scully smiles as she scoops him up and holds him close, dropping a kiss on his chubby cheek. No one ever told her how passionate she would feel about this child. She probably wouldn't have believed them if they had.

"Let's change you, sweetie - food after," she whispers to him, and carries him to the changing table. She unsnaps the crotch of the warm pajamas, tickles his chubby legs and makes silly faces at him as she removes the wet diaper (giving silent but heartfelt thanks that it's only wet), cleans and dries and sprinkles his bottom with powder, and swathes it with a clean diaper. "There," she whispers. "That's got to feel better." She bends and kisses the bottom of one tiny foot and tucks his legs back into the pajamas and snaps them closed.

With Will heavy on her shoulder, gnawing at his fist, Scully carries him into the living room and sits down carefully in the old rocker Maggie gave her. She opens the robe and nightgown and settles the baby at her breast. He latches on almost immediately, and she feels the tingling draw of the milk through her breasts as it lets down.

The baby gulps and sighs and grasps her thumb with his strong little fingers, his blue eyes searching his mother's face. Scully smiles again. His love and need swell her heart.

She leans against the rocker's smooth oak back and shuts her eyes. The baby is nursing enthusiastically, barely taking a break between swallows. His hungry nursing makes her think of how sore her nipples were at first, so red and raw and tender, how Mulder looked stricken but clueless, how she finally called Maggie, almost in tears. She remembers how Maggie spoke to her reassuringly and recommended an ointment that was both soothing for her and safe for Will.

Her mother always seems to have the right answers. She wonders if she ever will.

Maggie. Why did it take so long for her to tell Maggie about Mulder's abduction, about her own pregnancy? She remembers the pain in her mother's eyes when she finally admitted everything: Mulder was gone, she was pregnant, she was being partnered with a man she didn't know or trust.

She remembers how she finally put her head on her mother's knees and sobbed, releasing it all: the impotent anger, the fear of the unknown, the almost overwhelming feeling of loss.

And her mother's gentle hand on her hair, her quiet counsel, soothed her wounded heart.

Her eyes are pricking with tears now, and she draws in a quick breath and blinks to keep them at bay. The tears are always just beneath the surface these days, and she hates that it has to be this way.

She looks up from her son at her breast, his nursing slowing a little now. Whether because of a trick of light or because her thoughts are with Mulder, she can see his suitcases sitting there in the cluttered living room, the way they did that morning.

After Will's birth, they'd had just a handful of days together, only a weekend, really. They'd talked, held each other, and experienced the simple joy of feeding their newborn son. It was such a short time to share something they'd never imagined they could: being a family.

She lifts Will away from her breast and lays him against her shoulder, patting and rubbing his back gently until she hears the little bubble come up. She settles him against her again, at her other breast, and realizes she is humming a tune to him that she can't quite place. Maybe singing to him can banish the other thoughts that keep arising, the reality of her life now.

It hadn't taken long for the reality of their situation to descend. Will had been deemed "more human than human," whatever that meant, and yet the replicants had left them in relative peace. Either William was not what they were expecting, or he was everything they were expecting and they had chosen to leave him in place for purposes as yet unknown. They both knew that the distinction was crucial, and they couldn't afford to assume one way or another.

They had been a team for so long, married in ways that even married couples weren't. And now they were reunited, with no one, no thing, no regulation or code to keep them apart. For the briefest of hours, they believed that they could protect William.

They were invincible, now.

But the last haunting words of Alex Krycek ate away at their feeling of invincibility. Why would Krycek have begged Skinner - bribed Skinner - to kill Mulder even in the face of his own imminent death? It didn't make any sense. Unless William wasn't what the replicants expected...and Mulder *was*.

The truth had always been in them. Scully's chip, the ova that had been ripped from her. Cancer. The smoking bastard's rape of Mulder's brain and the mysterious brain disease that followed, the last secret Mulder would ever keep from Scully. Branched DNA in both of them. The implantation of alien beings in both of them, meant to gestate and draw all life from each of them in the process. Rescue and resurrection...each inevitably, immutably, by each.

William, the revealed truth of their love, had been inside her. And now, perhaps, the truth of a hope for victory over the replicants was in Mulder.

The need to fight this fight together was staggering in its intensity. More than ever, they felt the need to watch each other's back, driven by that sense of trust that ruled out any other possibilities. Together. The need to be together facing the unknown was nearly overwhelming. But it became clear to them that their needs, as powerful as they could be, were subservient to one of the oldest of drives: parenthood. Before all else, they had to remove the threat to William - and Scully. A threat that dwelt in horrifying proximity.

The threat was Mulder.

Scully blinks and looks up again, around the room, so empty now. He is gone again, and again she is left to keep secrets, to keep going alone, unable to fully trust anyone. Not even when he was gone before did she feel this alone. She worries about him, wonders how he is, knowing that he has gone away not merely to keep her and Will safe, but to find answers, to find the truth. Truth-seeking is nothing new for him, but there is so much more at stake now.

She sighs, feeling another wave of regret. She always finds it hard to keep things from people she cares for. Maggie. Skinner, though he knows a little.

And John Doggett. He's become a loyal ally, but he never understood - maybe never could understand - what it was all about, what everything she'd been through with Mulder was all about.

She remembers how prickly Mulder was with her at first, how he hadn't trusted her. But he had brought her into his confidence, into his world, much more quickly than she brought Doggett into hers. For all the machinations going on when she'd first met Mulder, things were more innocent then.

*She* was more innocent then. She was so young. Has she grown old?

It was hard for Doggett to be shut out all those months. She saw it in his eyes time after time. But he didn't understand that part either: that she couldn't trust him - or anyone, really. Perhaps only Skinner, who had proven his friendship and loyalty. She couldn't take the chance that she wouldn't be allowed to search for Mulder.

And now, with Mulder gone once more, she's had to shut Doggett out again. She can't tell him, and he's frustrated, hurt. She understands that, just as she suspects his feelings for her. She's seen that in his eyes too, when he thinks she's not looking. She knows his voice is stilled by his own code of honor - she is not his, but another's - and perhaps by his own pain, his own fear of loss.

Her catenation is leading her down paths she'd rather not walk, and she flushes, uncomfortable with these thoughts.

So much has been lost. And yet...

She looks back down at her son, falling asleep around her nipple, occasionally awakening to suckle anew, with his father's determination. She brushes the wisps of reddish hair away from his forehead, humming the little tune again.

And she finally remembers what it is. It's the old lullaby her mother sang, and probably her mother's mother, and her mother before her. The words never meant much to her before, but now they strike her as meaningful in an entirely new way.

"Bye, O baby bunting, Daddy's gone a'hunting To get a little rabbit skin To wrap his baby bunting in."

Scully sings the lullaby softly to the baby, who has fallen asleep at her breast, his little pink mouth slack, his breath warm against her skin. She smiles and gathers him up carefully, gently, and carries him back to his bassinet.

She lays him down on his tummy and straightens the blanket over him. She soothes his head tenderly with her hand one last time and looks back up, to the clock that tells her it's 3:17.

She slides off her robe, laying it at the foot of the bed, and crawls back under the covers, curling onto her side. She pulls the comforter close around her. The sheets are cold, and she shivers.

Daddy's gone a'hunting.

The tears finally spill over, and she squeezes her eyes shut, praying that his hunt is fruitful, but more than anything else, that he comes back home to her again, safe.


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