Title: Exemption
Author: Samantha L. Caldwell
Rating: PG
Category: SRA, AU
Keywords: Mulder/Scully something. The rest is open for interpretation.
Spoilers: Well, if you haven't seen Existence you won't know who William is... other than that, none. This is set somewhere between Existence and the present day (mid Season 9)
Disclaimer: Their biological father was abusive, so I'm adopting them.
Archive: Sure, wherever, just please keep my name and e- mail, and it'd be nice if you'd let me know.

Summary: A connection is made... (sequel to "Routine")

Author's Notes: I'm telling you right away, this is one of those stories that will make absolutely no sense if you haven't read Part 1. You can find it at Gossamer or Ephemeral (for now), but spare yourself some confusion and don't read this one until you've covered the last. <g>

A huge thank you to Laura for taking the time to do some fabulous beta reading and offering some much needed encouragement. Also, thanks to Meghan for reading it over and helping me work out the kinks.


There are things in life we take for granted. Simple things, things so important and so vital that we cannot live without them, and yet, we never acknowledge them as being of any real value. Things like being able to feel. To appreciate this simple pleasure is to know what it is like to stand in the middle of the pouring rain and not be able to feel the water on your shoulders or it's cool wetness sliding down your face. To appreciate this wonder is to know what it is like to kiss the face of the woman you love and not be able to feel her soft skin under your lips. To appreciate this basic sense is to know what it is like to stroke the furls of strawberry-tinged hair on the crown of your infant son's head and not be able to feel it's downy softness.

I know what it is like.

What I don't know is why.

Why can't I feel them? Why can't I touch her? Why am I here if I can't get through to them... if I can't show them I haven't left them? I don't understand this. I don't understand any of this.

I spend my days following Scully around the house. I stand beside her as she prepares William's bottles. I sit with her when she has her morning coffee. I recite fairytales with her as she reads to William before his afternoon nap, my whispered words a nameless echo of her own. I am always close, never more than an arm's length away, but never, never touching. To touch them, to have my hands pass through their solid weight like I am only air, is something I can't bear.

But I watch them, always.

I am an intruder, perhaps. I watch them without their knowledge, without their consent. But I belong here. I can't leave them, of that I am certain. I couldn't leave them if I tried. I wouldn't know how. How does one escape death?

I have been here, in this place, in this suspended reality, for almost a month. I am torn between gratitude and anguish. On one hand, I want to be here and am completely grateful that I am able to be near my family, even in death. On the other hand, I hate this place. I hate the unbearable longing being here and not being able to interact with them creates in me. I hate being stuck here, being imprisoned. I hate this putrid loneliness I can't get rid of, born from being the sole inhabitant of a world that is simply a window to a place I used to live.

I cannot decide if I am in heaven or hell.

For days after I first arrived, I believed that the world I drifted through was only half real, a shaky reflection of the place I'd once lived. But as I spent more time in my new reality I discovered that it wasn't the world that had changed.

It was me.

I was different. I was only half real. I was only a shaky reflection of what I'd once been.

I don't know what I am now. It doesn't really matter. The man I was would have been fascinated with this state of limbo I seem to be in. He would have analyzed it, investigated it. He would have been captivated by the sheer proximity of the answers and the truth he'd searched for, truth about death, truth about everything.

I am not that man. My quest in life was to find the truth about a government conspiracy. I don't know what my quest is now... but I believe it has something to do with Scully. I think I'm supposed to connect with her, get through to her, let her know I'm still around. Maybe my job is to bring her some comfort. She hasn't been the same person since my death. She's been unhappy. All I want for her is to have a good life with our son, and if connecting with her, if letting her know I'm okay can give her the strength to move on, then I will do whatever it takes to make that happen.

Scully's been doing better lately, I think. She doesn't cry at the drop of a hat like she did at the very beginning- that was hard to watch. The Scully I knew never cried, and when she did, it was because the world was ending. She's different, now, and... it's my fault.

She still follows her routine, as I do mine. Every night she tells me she loves me, says it right out loud as if she knows I'm sitting next to her, except she doesn't know. Then she falls asleep and I get to kiss her, in the way I've practiced over and over that isn't really kissing because my lips just barely graze over her skin and I can't feel a thing because... because I can't feel a thing. But it's something. Sometimes I think it's the only thing keeping me sane. Other times I know it is.

Often, I watch her sleep all night, trying to remember the life we used to have. The years of chasing monsters and hunting conspiracies seem long, long ago, like a childhood forgotten in the frantic throes of age. I remember every moment with Scully, every smile she ever threw my way, every brush of her knee against my own on a crowded airplane. Everything else, every other memory is hidden behind a thick haze I can't seem to penetrate. It's out of focus and unimportant, like the backdrop to an old film. Sometimes I'm able to grasp at fleeting images and instances of my life; a bald man in a suit with glasses and a deep voice, the smell of cigarette smoke, the sound of a young girl screaming my first name over and over in terror. None of them make sense. I don't know how they fit together. Scully would know.... if only I could ask her.

The only other clear memories I have are of our son. I remember the first time I saw him- all wrinkly and newborn- pink, the first time I held him- a warm, wriggling, solid weight against my chest. I miss this nearly as much as I miss Scully. I miss my son.

Some nights I leave Scully's bed after she has fallen asleep and slip into William's nursery. He's a good baby- he's slept straight through every night since I've been gone, and I'm thankful for that. The last thing Scully needs is a colicky infant. She needs to sleep.

I never touch him. I've never tried, save for the few times I've been unable to resist reaching out towards his head of copper- colored peach fuzz. Its almost the same color as Scully's hair... maybe a little darker. Usually, I sit in the rocking chair Scully puts him to sleep in, memories of the scant handful of times I rocked in it with my newborn son in my arms resurfacing. I wish I could make it rock now... it would do a lot to soothe my anxious nighttime musings.

On nights when I'm most lonely, I simply stand beside the crib and look down on the sleeping infant within. I wish I could think of it as watching over him, protecting him while he sleeps, like a guardian angle or something cockamamie like that. It would be a ridiculous joke, though. I couldn't protect him from anything. I am helpless. I am nothing.

I will never get the chance to be a father to my son. This little boy will never know his own father... and I can't stand that. He's just a baby, he doesn't know me. He won't remember me.

I know Scully will do everything she can to make sure William knows *about* me. She'll show him pictures, she'll tell him stories. She'll make him look in the mirror and point out all the little ways he looks like me. She'll show him his nose and tell him exactly where it came from. She'll show him his lips and tell him where they came from, too. Scully will tell William all about me.

But he still won't know me.

He won't know the right way to throw a fastball because I won't be there to show him. He won't know how to roll up his shirt sleeves without wrinkling the fabric because I won't be around to teach him.

He won't know that I love him.

Tonight is one of those nights. One of those lonely nights when the apartment seems darker and the stillness seems quieter and I just cannot quell the need to be near my baby. So I stand here, leaning over the sides of the oak railings of his crib, and measure his small, even breaths while my mind- or whatever death has left of my mind, churns over my situation, my quest, my not-life. William sleeps sweetly on beneath my gaze, fluttery little coos punctuating each exhale in the baby equivalent of snoring. He is on his stomach, one tiny hand lying lazily at his side while the other lies against his soft cheek, chubby fingers furled idly.

I want to pick him up.

With this ferocious urge a particular memory passes through my consciousness, of a time when I did pick him up, when I could hold him. I want to be back there so severely I would do just about anything to turn back time. I would give my soul for one more moment like the one that exists in my memory.

It was late at night. The bedroom was dark and I was sleepy and warm with Scully curled up against my back, her hot breath fluttering gently over my shoulder and her cold toes tucked under my legs. The last thing I wanted was to move, but I could hear William whimpering softly on the baby monitor and I knew he would start to cry if I didn't get up.

Reluctantly, I abandoned the comfort of my warm bed and my warm partner. The apartment was cold, freezing, and I groped around in the dark for my robe. I pulled it on hastily when I found it, but it was tight and strange and it felt wrong- it was Scully's robe, but I kept it on anyway. I hoped I wouldn't stretch it out.

I stumbled, half-asleep through the living room, absently noting that we'd forgotten to shut off the television. It played on mute, lonely and forgotten in the ruffling, awkward newness of William's bedtime routine, shooting increments of blue light into sharp shadows and quiet corners.

Baby toys hid in secret caches- having rolled beneath the sofa, or resting just under the coffee table, escaping the wrath of saliva-drenched-maulings and chubby-finger-deaths. These toys didn't exist in the darkness of my early morning stupor, until I stepped on one in my shuffling haste to reach my sniffling son. It squeaked and I cringed, kicking the offending obstacle under the table. Squeaky toy reunions ensued, I'm sure.

I shuffled into the baby's room without further crisis, crossing my fingers and hoping that the nettling squeak didn't wake the woman I'd left sleeping in the bedroom. I leaned over the crib railing to gauge the severity of my son's whimpers. His little face had begun to twist into a scowl and his chubby fists were clenched tightly around his blanket. With the practiced skill of a mother hen I scooped the infant into my arms before he could emit any unwelcome sounds.

"Okay little guy," I cooed in a whisper, balancing William so that he was lying against my shoulder. "What's this all about?"

The tense expression left his face at the sound of my voice, his body relaxing to lie pliant and slack against me. His soft, warm head slowly nestled its way into my neck and I felt baby slobber trickle onto my skin. It was strangely endearing.

"That's it," I turned my head into my son, taking in his sweet baby-powder-and-warm-milk smell and letting his fine, soft hair tickle my nose. "You just wanted your Daddy."

A little gurgle was his only response, and the nursery fell quiet. It was almost surreal for me to be standing in a room filled with bunnies and stars, swaying gently back and forth while holding a tiny person in the middle of the night. It was also rather wonderful. William's solid warmth was comforting in the still, shadowed silence, his pajamas soft against my hand as I rubbed easy circles over his back.

"Is he awake?" A hushed and drowsy voice asked from the doorway.

"Not anymore," I whispered as Scully entered the nursery. She reached out to stroke the baby's cheek with a sleepy smile, then moved to finger the collar of the terrycloth robe I was wearing.

"I was looking for this," she chuckled softly. She looked sweet and lovely bathed in the moonlight streaming in from the window- all rumpled pajamas and flyaway bed-head and half- lidded, blinking blue eyes.

"Sorry, I grabbed it by accident. You want it back?" I smoothly lifted the sleeping baby from my shoulder and placed him back in his crib.

"It's okay," she placed a small, warm hand on my forearm and grinned at me.

"What?" I tried to raise an eyebrow and copy her patented expression of suspicion, and failed, settling for a smirk.

"Nothing," she shook her head, leaning over the crib railing as I had done earlier, to look down at our son. "It's just... you... you are..."

"An idiot?" I spread my arms so she could appreciate just how stupid I looked wearing her robe.

She shook her head again, smiling. "...wonderful with William."

I shrugged, happy, and said simply, "He's my son."

She nodded and took my hand and led me back to the bedroom, where we burrowed under the covers and slept.

A soft snuffling sound tears me from my reverie. I almost expect to find tears falling over my own cheeks until I remember that I cannot cry. I am not real.

Instead I look down at William. He is stirring in his sleep, grunting, his little fists clutching his blanket in agitation. I'm floored for a minute. He's going to wake up, I can tell. This has never happened- he's always slept through the night since I've been gone.

He must be dreaming. I wonder if he dreams of me? I wonder if... I wonder if he even remembers me?

"Please remember me..." the sudden plea falls from my lips. I feel the lonely bitterness rise up inside of me and I crouch down so that I can be face to face with my son. I stare at his tiny features through the bars. "William, I'm your father. Know me."

Without warning his eyes snap open and I am confronted with the cornflower-blue stare of my child.

Shocked, I jump back. William's bottom lip starts to tremble, he sniffles and grunts softly, threatening tears.

My shaking hands grip the railing of his crib as I am flooded with hope and fear.

"William?" I ask softly. He blinks and I watch, startled, as his eyes focus on my face. He grunts again, his little nose crinkling. Something snaps inside me and before he can cry out I begin to sing the only song that I can find drifting through my thoughts.

"Jeremiah was a bullfrog, was a good friend of mine. Never understood a single word he said, but I helped him drink his wine..."

The baby's face relaxes, just as it did that night when I held him, and his grunts of agitation cease. His eyes lock on my face as I warble the old song.

I go through the entire thing three times, and he falls back to sleep with a soft sigh. By this time I am trembling so badly I would be shaking the crib if I were really touching it. I don't understand this feeling. I haven't felt it since I was alive, but it feels like.... it feels like hope.

I smile at the beautiful sensation, and suddenly, I remember. I remember loud sirens and cold pavement and warm blood under my back. I remember Scully's tears falling onto my face. I remember her strong, determined voice ordering the paramedics to let her through. I remember what she said, how she pleaded to me as she gripped my broken body...."Mulder, c'mon. You can't leave now. William needs a father... he needs you... Mulder...."

Slowly, I step away from the crib and my sleeping son, and sink into the rocking chair in the corner.

Maybe... maybe I was wrong. Maybe I'm not here to connect with Scully at all....


On a sunny, clear April morning a mother brings her three-year-old son into a park with wooden benches and hot dog stands and picturesque green fields. She is pretty and relaxed in faded jeans, strands of red hair peeking out from beneath a baseball cap, a bat, a mitt, and a baseball clutched in one hand, the other holding onto her young boy's hand. He is bounding into a field in size 2 sneakers, dragging her along, giggling in excitement. His hair is a shade or two darker than his mother's, but his eyes are the same piercing blue.

He is very bright for his age, his mother knows. He can already read short picture books and write his entire name. He can recite countless stories she's told him over the years, about his father and the work they used to do. He also has a sense of reasoning she has never seen in a young boy. Sometimes he surprises even her with his innocent understanding. But between that intuitive intelligence and sharp common sense, there is a measure of something in the child that could only be called strangeness. Something that she had always attributed, with a smile, to his father.

She'd first noticed the child's odd habits when he was only a baby. He would wave his hands and laugh or smile at times when no one was playing with him. He also had the tendency to focus on nothing but air, which worried her as she thought he was having seizures, but after a battery of tests the doctors found nothing wrong.

When he'd begun to talk, she found he had the habit of talking to himself for hours at a time. As his language progressed the habit had also, and she shrugged it off as the boy's having an imaginary friend. When he began to call his imaginary friend "Daddy" she took him to a psychiatrist who said her son was "a creative, imaginative boy who feels the void of his father and has created an imaginary idea of him for comfort and companionship." She was told the illusion would fade over time, that it was perfectly normal for a child who'd lost a parent at a young age, that she needed only to wait it out.

She is still waiting.

"Okay Will, do you want to bat first or pitch?" The mother asks the boy.

"Pitch!" He grins and grabs the ball, throwing it up in the air and catching it.

"Hey, wow, you're already pretty good," she exclaims, taking the bat and crouching down to her son's level. "I bet you'll be one of the best players on your little league team this summer."

He takes a few steps back from his mother and nods enthusiastically, pretending to wind up and throw as he's seen the "pros" do on TV, lifting his leg and narrowing his eyes, but keeping the ball safe in his little hand. "Daddy showed me that if-,"

"Hey now, Will, you remember what we talked about last week, don't you? About your dad?" She bites her lip nervously. She doesn't want to go through it again.

The boy nods, his face falling marginally.

"Good boy," she grins, feeling bad. She decides to distract him. "You ready to make the first pitch?"

He nods again, gripping the ball a little tighter as she lifts the bat, then takes a practice swing.

"No Mommy," the child laughs at her sloppy stance, shaking his head. "Hips before hands."

She stops, the wooden bat falling from her hands and hitting the grass with a dull thud. She feels her heart begin to pound against her rib cage, and tries to stop the tears from clouding her eyes.

"Wha- what did you say?"

He realizes he has said something wrong, and she watches as the boy looks up and to the side, seeking help from something she just doesn't see.

"Sorry, Mommy." His voice is small.

"Oh, William," she closes the space between them and pulls him close, burying her nose in his soft hair. "Don't be sorry. Just tell me- where did you hear that, 'hips before hands'? Who told you that?"

He shakes his head. He doesn't want to disappoint her.

"It's okay honey, you can say it," she urges softly, her voice trembling slightly despite her careful control.

The relief shows on the boy's face as he reaches up to pat his mother's cheek and says softly: "Daddy told me."

Unable to keep the tears from spilling out onto her cheeks, she hugs her son to her chest. She looks over his shoulder at the fields of green grass, and for the first time allows herself to join her son in staring at nothing as she let's the name "Mulder..." slip from her lips in gentle supplication.

Finis


Did ya like it? Even a little? Let me know. I'd love to hear what you thought.

 

Samantha

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