Title: Fade
Author: Ann K
Written: May 2002
Rating: R (individual chapters may vary, please read carefully)
Keywords: MSR, A, S, Sc/Sk friendship, William, AU
Timeline: After Requiem, although the events of seasons eight and nine never happened. Doggett and Reyes do not exist in this story. Scully found out she was pregnant at the end of "Requiem," and then it all changed.
Distribution: Please let me know, and leave my name and headers attached. Thanks.
Disclaimer: The X-Files and the characters of Scully, Mulder and Skinner belong to Chris Carter, 1013 and Fox.

Summary: Mulder never returns after his disappearance in "Requiem," leaving Scully alone and a single-mother. Years later, fate conspires to bring Scully back to the man she has never forgotten. Can she accept the truth she finds?

Feedback: Much appreciated at annhkus@yahoo.com. Read more of my stories at http://www.yahoo.com/annhkus.

See author's notes, thanks, etc. at the end of chapter six.


Chapter One

I.

How she became the mother of a boy who loved horses, she wasn't sure. The horse obsession started simply enough. They had been on a Summer vacation with Walter near Myrtle Beach, the memories a blur of sunburns and squishy sand. But William spotted a pony ride set up on the boardwalk, and after she fished around in the bottom of her beach bag for a crumpled five dollar bill, he spent the next hour in bliss, and cried as the sun set and Scully pulled him off to go back to the hotel.

The five dollars fed an obsession that brought her to this place, sitting in the battered bleachers near a dusty riding ring, three years later. William loved to ride, and she loved to see her son happy. So, they made the trek to the stables every other day, a short ride from their suburban home. A three-bedroom house, a large mortgage, two dogs romping in a fenced in green backyard, a SUV in the garage. Life was grossly idealistic, minus the absence of a simple figure.

It was that absence that she felt everyday, in the mornings when she woke alone in her king-size bed, huddled to one side, unconsciously leaving Mulder's space empty. She felt it at lunch, when she rushed home to walk the dogs and was greeted by an empty house, when it should have been filled with his larger than life presence. It caused her to ache at night, when she and Will cuddled on the couch, laughing at some inane movie, and the space seemed too big and empty.

It wasn't supposed to be this way, of that she was sure. The plans she made for herself when she was William's age never included nights of aching loneliness, a loneliness she refused to acknowledge in a feeble effort to make it go away. They never included the paralyzing uncertainty of a single mother, wanting to do everything right, and terrified that it would all come out wrong. They never included the heartache of not knowing, of accepting a cruel hand dealt by the mistress of fate.

Dana Scully believed in fate, however, just as she believed in science and right and wrong, so she sat and watched her son and thanked God for his presence in her life.

She held her breath as he jumped over the small oxer, directing the gelding effortlessly. The distance between him and the ground seemed so large to her earthbound eyes. She exhaled sharply as the two landed, and a bright smile crossed William's face.

She resisted the urge to clap, not wanting to embarrass her son.

He seemed so much older than his eight years, with a maturity that often haunted her. It haunted her because he would look at her and, at times, she would see his father. A younger Mulder, one that she never knew. William shone with innocence, and an intense curiosity about the world. Another trait inherited from his father, she was sure.

The sun was beginning to set in the horizon, the pinkish hue a backdrop to the pine trees lining the riding ring.

She was lucky they had found this stable so close to their house. There were endless days of rushing out from work to pick William up from school. He would bounce on the car seat the entire way there, rattling on about what horse he might get to ride that day. It wasn't his words that captivated her as much as his voice, a meticulous self-assurance peppering his tone in an echo of times long gone by.

The bleachers rattled underneath her, snapping her away from her thoughts.

"I swear, Dana, that boy would be happy if you let him live at the stable." She laughed softly, and accepted his outstretched offering of coffee, the warm aroma mixing deliciously with the smells in the Summer air. "There are those days when his room reminds me of the stable," she answered grimly, but with a smile lurking behind her eyes. "But I know even those moments are precious. We both know William is a special child. I am sure he knows it, too."

Walter was quiet. Dana figured he did know how special Will was. He had been there for each of William's birthdays, even his first. His preschool graduation, his first riding lesson, his school plays. He joined them on occasional weeknights, when he could escape from work at the Hoover Building and the traffic was cooperative.

"Busy day?" she asked, already knowing the answer. Since Walter's promotion, they had seen him less and less, and she was grateful for the time he could steal away to be with them. "As always," he answered, stretching his legs on the bleachers and leaning forward onto his elbows. "I had to go down to Quantico today, and then met with some agents in Alexandria. Someone asked about you. An Agent Campbell?"

She had to think for a moment, willing her thoughts back to her tenure with the Bureau. She left after the birth of William, unable to continue with work that seemed so different without Mulder's presence. It was another lifetime, but she had vague memories of a balding ASAC in Virginia. She shrugged noncommittally, and returned her gaze to William in the riding ring.

They sat in comfortable silence for a long moment. "It's hard to believe you've been gone from the Bureau for such a long time, Dana. I miss working with you." Despite their close friendship, such a display of emotion was rare from Walter, and she was touched by his devotion. Reaching over, she grabbed his hand for a brief moment, and then let go. "I appreciate the sentiment. You know I do. But things weren't the same for me after everything that happened."

Walter knew what she was thinking, and simply nodded. "It wasn't the same for any of us, you know." But it had been hardest on Scully. As the search for Mulder waned, and Scully labored under the pressures of work, pregnancy and aching uncertainty, a fire in her was extinguished, something that terrified Walter. When William was born, she had a new purpose, a new reason for living.

He was eternally grateful that Mulder, and fate, had given her one last gift before everything changed.

The sound of a horse near the rail caused him to look up, and he saw that William's lesson was over. He stood, as did Scully, and they made their way down to the dusty riding ring. William's riding lessons were a regular occurrence. They knew the routine.

"Mom, did you see how we jumped the fence today?" William's voice was excited, as were his eyes, and Scully felt her heart clutch for a brief moment.

"I did, Will. You looked awfully good up there."

Wherever Will got his riding genes from, it certainly wasn't from the Scully side of the family. They were sea-faring stock, she thought ruefully, not cowboys, remembering her one and only attempt at riding, to make William happy, and how her thigh muscles ached for the next week. She wondered vaguely if Mulder had ever been interested in horses as a child.

"He is a good kid, Dana. You have done well."

Becoming Will's mother made her own mother's annoying adages so true. "You'll understand when you have a child, Dana." "One day, you'll have to be the responsible mother." "Life changes when you have a child." As blessed as she felt, however, it was sometimes like getting a brightly wrapped gift with nothing inside. It felt hollow without Mulder, and she had come to the realization that it likely would forever.

Will would never know his dad, although she kept pictures of Mulder scattered around the house, and Will often sleep with Mulder's old Knicks jersey as a makeshift pillowcase. She would stand in his doorway, long after he had gone to sleep, when the world had slowed from its feverish pace and she could take stock of her day. The sight of William's innocent face, his cheeks ruddy and his mouth slightly open, nestled against the worn garment she so intimately associated with Mulder, was too much at times. For all the progress she had made since the day she came home for good, the day she made her peace with Mulder and concentrated on raising William the best way she could, there were moments when she crumpled, sagging against the wall, weeping silently as the moonlight fell across Will's bed.

"Dana? I asked you if you had any dinner plans for tonight. I wanted to take you and Will out to eat." He knew where her thoughts had been, but there was no cause to speak of them.

They each carried their own heavy burden when it came to Mulder, and, while time might heal their wounds, the loneliness was a constant reminder of what had been lost.

"Sounds good," she whispered huskily, clearing her throat. Hooking her foot on the railing in the stable aisle, she watched as Will curried the horse, his strokes strong and confident. He loved this part of the lesson, being able to brush the horse and put him up for the evening. She still rolled her eyes everytime they got in the car to go home, and Will would wave his fingers under her nose, exclaiming with glee that they smelled like horse. It was a warm, rich aroma, and she found herself intoxicated by it as well.

"Will and I were talking about you last night," she finally said, breaking the comfortable silence between them.

"My ears were burning. All good, I hope?"

"We were watching one of those forensic how-to shows on the Discovery Channel. He wanted to know, when his dad and I were partners, if you were like the man who stood in the back of the autopsy lab supervising all the work."

Walter laughed, a deep laugh that brought a smile to Scully's face. "Did you tell Will that I don't think I could have supervised you and Mulder, even if I tried? The best I could do is try to keep some semblance of order. I think we all knew that I wasn't running the show."

"Well, I certainly wasn't either. I disavow all responsibility for some of the trials and tribulations we all went through. I think we all know who to blame for those."

He was quiet a long time, and she turned to look at him when he finally muttered, "Yes, we do," a small smile creasing his face.

"Fast food or fancy tonight?" he asked her, shaking the mood.

"Ah, I get a choice. Somehow I think we might not be allowed in a fancy place, with Will's dirty jeans and dusty boots."

"This is true. And it'll take him a couple of hours to stop bouncing on the chair, pretending he is still riding. Perhaps fast food might be the best bet."

"Hey, what can I say? I'm cheap."

She watched William lead the gelding into the stall, and prepared to head out to the car when Walter caught her arm. "Dana, can you do me a favor?"

She blinked. "Of course," she responded immediately, trying to figure out what this favor might be.

"Do you mind coming by my office on Monday, in the morning? I know it's a drive for you, and you'll have to take off work, but I have something I need to discuss with you."

Scully wrinkled her forehead, trying to understand the motivations behind his peculiar request. She hadn't been to the Hoover Building in a very long time. "Is it something we can discuss this weekend?"

"No," he replied quickly. "I'd rather talk in person, and in my office." At her quizzical stare, he added hurriedly, "It's nothing bad, I promise."

He ran out of words. Why would he want to see her? She ran through several different options in her mind, none of them making much sense, before she nodded. She trusted him.

"Of course, Walter. Monday morning. I bring the doughnuts, you supply the coffee."

They walked companionably out to Scully's car, Will leaping in circle around them, and she filed Walter's request away, thinking about dinner and Will's riding lessons and her life as the mother off a very special boy.


II.

She walked briskly down the sidewalk, never looking at the masses of people that surrounded her. With her purse tucked under one arm, a bag of doughnuts in the other hand, and her heels clicking in a steady staccato, she immersed herself in the rhythm of all the days she had walked this very road, taken these same steps, and entered the cool lobby of the Hoover Building.

Some things on earth would never change, she long ago decided, and the Hoover Building was one of them. Its beige concrete walls stood as sturdy and unshakable as they did when she first walked the hallways as an agent trainee, and she drew comfort from that. The comfort wasn't the same, and never would be. Not after all she had seen and done, and not after she realized that some men in power would contort the truth to fit their own needs.

But there was always the part of Dana Scully that drew comfort from right and wrong.

As she made her way to the front desk, presenting her identification to the security officer and shifting her feet as he picked up the phone, she looked at the agents walking toward the elevator, beginning their day's work. Had she ever been that youthful, that radiant, with a passionate sense of justice? A young woman with a short red hair caught her attention. She was standing by the elevator, a small box balanced in her hands, and Scully saw the Sig resting comfortably in a side holster, barely covered by the woman's black blazer. Their eyes met briefly in the crowded lobby, and the woman nodded quickly out of politeness before she stepped into the waiting elevator.

What she saw when she looked at the thinning crowd was Mulder. More than her own moral compass, her tenure at the Bureau had been guided by Mulder's passion, his quest, and his never-ending search for his own truth. While once she had been resentful of that, now she counted it among her deepest blessings, that she had known and loved a man like Mulder. And it was Mulder that she saw reflected in the earnest faces of the agents that morning.

"Miss Scully?" the officer questioned, bringing her attention back to the present and letting her drop the curtains on her vision of the cloudy past. "Deputy Director Skinner will see you now," he curtly informed her, handing her an identification badge which she clipped onto her blouse, and sliding her license towards her across the gleaming granite desk. "Take the elevator on the right up to the sixth floor. The officer there will direct you."

There was no need to tell this man that she knew the Hoover Building better than he did, that she had spent most of her career within these walls. It was her home, and her family, although, just like with any other family, it was her blessing and her curse.

She rode up the elevator in silence, jumping as the signal sounded for the sixth floor and the doors slid silently open. The officer directed her into Walter's outer office, and she was somewhat startled to see a young black man sitting behind the desk. Kimberly was long gone, she knew, but she half expected to see her surly smile when she walked into the door.

"Go on in, Miss Scully," he informed her, waving towards the open door. "Deputy Director Skinner is waiting for you."

She stood for a moment in silence at his open office door. Much had changed since Walter's promotion, and his office reflected that. The morning sunlight gleamed off the polished wooden floors, partly covered by an oriental rug, and she smiled at the few pictures that she saw on his side table.

"Dana," Walter exclaimed, looking up from his paperwork and rising quickly from his chair. "I must be slipping. I didn't hear you walk in."

She smiled at him, settling into a chair across from his expansive wooden desk and putting the doughnuts down beside her. "Must be all this cushy office work you have these days," she teased. "Your office is lovely," she added, almost as an afterthought. "I am proud of you, Walter. You deserve this."

"Thank you," he murmured, and she could by the faint blush spreading over his neck that he was embarrassed. "But the Bureau is determined to get their mileage out of me, and they certainly do." He hesitated, and she could tell he chose his next words carefully. "Was it hard for you this morning, Dana? Coming back here, I mean?"

She had only been back to the building a handful of times since William's birth. While she was flooded with reminders of her tenure as an agent, those memories also seemed like they belonged to another person, another Dana Scully who she remembered faintly, like an old high school classmate. "It was fine," she finally shrugged. "I do have some pleasant memories here."

He nodded, and they sat in silence for a minute longer before she spoke. "You know I always enjoy seeing you, Walter, but are you going to tell me why you asked me down here on a weekday morning?"

"Of course," he answered quickly. "But I'm not sure how." They had been friends for years now, and she appreciated his honesty. "Just tell me." He pushed himself out of his chair, and paced behind his desk. She felt like she was a young agent again, desperately trying to cover for Mulder and his latest indiscretion. And just as suddenly, just as if someone had turned on the lights in a darkened room, she knew. She knew why he had asked her down here, and why he was so hesitant to tell her what was going on. It was the one thing that would always bind them together.

A sharp inhale of breath punctuated her surprise. "It's Mulder, isn't it?" she asked rhetorically. She knew, by the way he looked down for a brief moment, and how his shoulders slumped when she said Mulder's name.

The silence was agonizing, so quiet that she could hear the clock on Skinner's wall ticking loudly. Or was that her heartbeat? "For god's sake, tell me, Walter."

He stuck his hands deep into his trouser pockets and finally nodded, an almost imperceptible gesture. Meeting her unwavering gaze, he began. "I know you never gave up hope for Mulder after his disappearance, Dana. Neither of us did. But you had to retain some semblance of a normal life for Will, a family, and I wanted to help you with that. I love you, and I love Will, and I only wanted you to be happy. So I did what you asked. Whatever hopes we had for Mulder we kept in our hearts."

She nodded, impatient. She knew this already. Scully spent months driving across the country, following up leads, talking to witnesses, all in a desperate effort to find Mulder. She failed. The failure haunted her, but not as much as William's face when she returned from her searches. He changed overnight, over a weekend, over the weeks and months she was gone. He was not going to grow up without her. She wouldn't allow that, and she knew Mulder would have wanted her to be with their son.

"What are you telling me, Walter?" she pressed, her voice strained.

He took off his glasses, rubbing the bridge of his nose. "I am telling you, Dana, that while I supported you and William and never mentioned Mulder in that context, I never gave up looking for him. I have been looking for him for years, unofficially, using Bureau contacts and some of my own resources. I couldn't accept the fact that he simply vanished from your life, that Will would never know his father."

Scully sat perfectly still, her rigid back the only thing that held her ragged emotions together. Why was he telling her this? Why now, after all these years, after the Mulder she knew and loved was a comforting memory in her heart? Her face pale, she stood, desperate to hear the words.

He dropped his eyes from her intense gaze, and continued. "I never told you, Dana, because I didn't want to hurt you. I didn't want to tell you that I couldn't find anything, so I never told you I was still looking. There were leads, and some sightings, but they were never substantiated, Dana. I promised myself I would never tell you unless I knew for sure."

His last words took a moment to process. "Unless I knew for sure," he had said. And now he was telling her. Her complex emotions slowed her rational thought process, but, when her brain clicked, and the words connected, she felt her heart begin to race. He was telling her because he believed he had found him.

"Mulder?" she whispered, her voice sounding pitiful and desperate. She clinched her hands against his desk, her knuckles white.

Walter walked around the desk, holding her loosely by the elbow and guiding her back into the chair. His next words were painted too broadly on the canvas for her to completely comprehend. "An associate of mine in Texas, Dana, called me two weeks ago. I had given him a picture of Mulder some time ago, and asked him to keep it for reference. He called me, and told me that he ran into a man in town that looked exactly like the photograph I had given him."

No. Mulder could not be in Texas. If he was ever returned, she knew he would somehow find his way home, to her and William. He would find someway to let her know he was okay.

"I checked up on him. I ran all his records, checked his identification, everything. He has none, Dana. Up until a few years ago, there was nothing on this guy. Absolutely nothing, a blank slate. But now he's working on a small cattle ranch in east Texas, and has been for the past several months."

She knew she should be asking questions, saying something, but her mouth refused to open. She could only stare at Walter, her eyes wide, panicked and disbelieving. Walter reached over to hold her hand, but she didn't feel the physical connection. She felt nothing, emotions and facts and sensations flooding over her. She was drowning.

"Dana, I went there. I had to see for myself. This man sounded so sure, and I trusted him. I had to know if it was Mulder."

Something finally clicked, and she spoke, her voice raspy. "You went there? You saw him?" He nodded slightly, and Scully's heart skipped a beat. The tears welled up in her eyes, but she remained oblivious to her tenuous control on her emotions. She trusted Walter like she did few people these days. He was her friend, he cared for her and William, and he was her last real connection to Mulder, outside of her son. "And?" she asked, knowing the answer, but not so sure she wanted to hear the words.

"I didn't speak to him, Dana. I heard him speaking to some other man, I saw him. I was close enough to touch him. I watched him for two days to make sure. I told the owner of the ranch that I was looking into a fertilizer theft. I needed to know, Dana. I had to know."

She was frightened to hear him say the words, and he was terrified to say them. It was as if they had never left that hospital after Walter's return from Oregon, after Mulder's disappearance and the discovery of her pregnancy. The conversation had been put on hold, indefinitely, and now, after years, she heard Walter say that he would find Mulder.

And he did. Without the words being spoken, she knew.

Walter watched as the emotions flashed across her face, but her quiet composure never faltered. Her tears did not fall. He grabbed the file from the corner of his desk, turning it around methodically in his hands for several long moments. "I know what I saw, Dana. I believe that man was Mulder. It was him."

And with that proclamation, he dropped the file into her lap, quickly getting up from the chair to walk to the window, unable to see her face when she opened the file. He knew what he had done was right, and that belief sustained him during the long years he had continued this search. But he never knew if he would really find Mulder. He didn't know what to do now that he felt he had.

But Scully knew. She traced the Bureau logo on the top of the manila file, a ghost of a smile on her pale face, the paper in her hands a comforting sensation. She and Mulder had lived their lives by these papers, the files dictating their travels, their beliefs, and their very existence. It was fitting, and ironic, that she would discover the man who still defined her inside of a beat-up Bureau file.

Time stopped. Her heart slowed, and she inhaled slowly, agonizingly, as she flipped open the file. And there, staring back at her, were a thousand visions of the past. William's quirky smile and moody eyes. Long fingers and strong hands that had sustained her for years. A lock of brown hair that hung carelessly over the wrinkled forehead, the raised brow. The expression on his face that still revealed to her everything he was thinking, and everything she was feeling.

It was Mulder.


III.

"But, Mom. Billy said he was bringing his video games. Why can't I?"

She sighed. "Will, we have discussed this five times already in the last hour. The camp rules say no video games allowed. Don't you think that you'll be too busy riding the horses and swimming in the lake to play a video game?"

Ah, that was low, Dana, but effective. She watched as Will's defiant face crumpled just a little, then he finally muttered, "All right," tossing the game onto the overstuffed chair behind him. The suitcase lay open on the floor, stocked with shorts and socks and all the essentials for a week away at Summer camp. It was her longest time away from Will since right after he was born, and it hurt. But she refused to damper Will's excitement by her matronly, bittersweet reflections.

"Thanks for your help, Mom. I'm going to take a shower before bed."

He scampered off, aiming a kiss towards her cheek, but kissing the air between them instead. She eased herself off the bed, walking slowly back into the den, picking up her by now cold mug of tea along the way. The manila file folder, highlighted under the single desk lamp illuminating the room, drew her eye like a beacon.

Actually, she had been unable to take her eyes off of it since she begged Walter to let her take it home with her after their morning meeting. It seduced her from the passenger seat during her drive home, and she found herself praying for red lights so she could flip open the cover and memorize another detail of the face she thought she would never see again.

She grabbed it on her way to the sofa, and settled down against the pillows, staring at the well-worn emblem on the cover. Federal Bureau of Investigation, it read, in bright, red lettering. That's why they put the "I" in FBI, Mulder had said. So why was she so frightened to follow her instincts on this one, to go to Texas and answer the question for herself?

She knew that she had lost some of her edge after she resigned from the Bureau, that her quick responses, while a lasting part of her reflexes, had been dulled somewhat. Responding to a milk and cereal crisis during Saturday morning cartoons was different than reacting to an inbred homicidal maniac chasing after you.

But that wasn't the point. The point, she finally admitted to herself, was that she was scared. What if it wasn't him? More than that, what if it was?

"Mom," Will exclaimed from the spot behind her. She jumped involuntarily, throwing her hand up over her chest. So much for those lasting powers of observation. "Jesus, Will. You scared me. You sure are good at sneaking up on people."

He grinned, a smile that reached his eyes. "Oh, Mom. You just weren't paying attention," he concluded, moving the blanket aside so he could sit next to her on the sofa. She knew that other eight-year-old boys were not like this. She knew that, one day, she would not be cool, that her "mother" label would automatically render her an embarrassment to Will. But, for now, she relished in his affection.

She kissed the top of his head, the hair still damp from his shower. "That was a record fast time in the shower. Are you in a hurry to leave tomorrow?" she teased. He did not answer, and, after another quick inhale of his freshly washed red hair, she looked down at his face. He was fingering the file laid in her lap, the one she had momentarily forgotten was there.

"Did Uncle Walter give you that today?"

Oh, god. Oh, god. Oh, god.

What was she going to say? After the rush of exhilaration she felt in Walter's office, looking at the picture of the man she was sure was Mulder, and even after staring at it for hours since then, she didn't know what she wanted to do. She was even less sure about what to tell William. Oh, god. Please don't let me screw this up.

"Yes, he did. It's a case he thought I might be interested in."

Will lifted an eyebrow, a move he acquired honestly, and asked, "Why would Uncle Walter ask you to look into a case? You've been gone for the FBI for a long time now." Will had never seemed able to connect the image of his mother, who baked him chocolate-chip cookies and tucked him in at night, to a gun-toting FBI agent, who tracked down bad guys. His image of Mulder was even murkier. He understood that his father had disappeared in the line of duty, and that he investigated paranormal cases, but he could never fully grasp the extent of Mulder's lifestyle.

Oh, god. Her stomach clenched into a tight knot. "It's a case he thought I might be interested in."

He stared at her inquisitively, and Scully swore at that moment, she was looking into Mulder's face. It was as if he knew her fears, he knew the Pandora's box they were possibly opening. And he thought she should press forward, for the elusive truth. Mulder may have been gone for nine years, but she had lived with his likeliness every day.

"It's about Dad, isn't it?"

She only stared at him, nodding dumbly. "It is, Will. Your Uncle Walter..." She hesitated, trying to pull the words together from thin air to explain this to Will, without getting his hopes up. He had long ago accepted that his dad was gone. If this wasn't Mulder, if she was wrong ... Oh, god.

She tried again. "Your Uncle Walter thinks he may have found someone who has some information about your dad. He thinks I should go."

"Is he going with you?" His face was solemn, and his eyes, wide and trusting.

"No, Will. I told him that if I was going to go, I wanted to do it on my own." Walter had protested, as she knew he would, but, if this indeed was Mulder, she was going to meet him alone, just the two of them, the way it had always been.

But now there were three.

"I should go with you," Will said, nodding with intense seriousness. "If it's something about Dad, I should be there."

Oh, William. Her heart broke, and she reached out to hold his hand. "Will, I'm not sure what I will find. I need to do this alone. You need to go to camp. But, whatever I find, I will tell you. If you need to be there, I will come and get you."

He blinked at her, unconvinced. "Will, trust me. You can always call me on my cell phone, always, or reach me through Grandma. I trust your Uncle Walter, and he would not have me go anywhere that would potentially be unsafe." That she was sure of, knowing that Walter only wanted to accompany her for emotional support.

The reality rushed past her a second later. The decision was made. She was going to Texas. She was going to see if this man, this Mulder in the photograph, was the same Mulder who haunted her dreams at night and peppered her memories during the day.

Will finally nodded, slowly. "Okay, Mom. But you promise you'll call me if you find out anything about Dad. You promise." The inflection in his voice as he said "Dad," the only way he knew Mulder, brought tears to her eyes, and she cursed her weakness.

Her weakness would cripple her again and again before she would cross the border into Texas the next day with the sun rising a dewy pink from the hilltops behind her. She wept as she slept that night, the file clutched tightly against her chest and the tears soaking the edge of the photograph. She wept as she rushed to get William ready to ride to camp with his best friend Billy, and instead found him with his arms crossed and the tiny suitcase at his knees in the back seat of the SUV.

She wept as they huddled together there for what seemed like hours, talking about Mulder and her memories and how much Mulder would have loved being a father, and she finally convinced William to get in the car with Billy's mother.

And she wept as she drove away from DC, driving through the day and night, and realizing with startling clarity that the careful world she had constructed for both herself and William was soon to be irrevocably changed.


Chapter Two

I.

It was noon when she finally arrived, the heat shimmering off the asphalt and creating ripples across the dusty two-lane road. She had driven for miles, the ribbon-straight highway tracing the tops of the flat hills, surrounded by pastures and farmland and large barns set off from the road. This was a country with which Scully was unfamiliar, an earthy atmosphere, and one driven by the sweat and toil of those that labored on the land. She tried, unsuccessfully, to imagine Mulder, sweat trickling down his brow, working in the fields, a hat propped haphazardly on his head. She saw his face in the men who galloped beside her as she drove, rounding up cattle from the large pastures dotting the countryside, sitting astride horses wet from exertion. She saw his body underneath the brimmed hats and plaid shirts, and she saw a Mulder very different from the one she held in her memory.

She willed herself to believe that she was not making a mistake.

Scully turned into the gas station inside the city limits, relieved to be able to walk for a moment and stretch her legs. After filling her up car, she walked aimlessly around the parking lot, unsure of what to do next. She felt feeble, her senses dulled. It had been a long time since she was out on her own, and she was unsure of herself.

She thought of all the towns she and Mulder had seen, the beige and navy and black rental cars as innocuous as the cities that colored her tenure with Mulder. It all seemed so long ago, but she clung to it with a desperate ferocity that frightened her. It was part of what she shared with Mulder, so she strove to make it real and tangible. If he could not be with her, then she would make sure their memories, the inane and significant and minute, all of them, would exist.

Brushing the dust off her slacks, she sat down on the curb, clutching a copy of Walter's file in front of her and taking stock of her surroundings. The town was small, at least from what she could see from her vantage point. She counted three stoplights on what she assumed to be the main street, lined by old brick buildings. A faded Coca-Cola sign stared back at her from what looked to be the town grocery. A few pick-up trucks rolled down the street, the midday heat making even their progress slow and lethargic.

The grass was spotty, and uneven, giving the entire town an atmosphere of exhaustion, a place that had outlived its time and purpose. She instinctively knew that this was a place of hard knocks, broken dreams, all of the descriptions of a worn fragment of Americana.

Across from her was the town bank, its single drive-thru empty and looking somewhat forlorn. The sun shone off the glass windows, but, if she squinted, she could make out the shadowy figures moving around inside. Next to the bank, a large church, its pillars and staircase sweeping backward from the sidewalk. A furniture store, a small coffee shop, the local pharmacy, a handful of dress shops. Absolutely nothing remarkable. She tried to imagine Mulder walking these streets, living his life among these people. She was hard pressed to imagine him settling down here. The Mulder she knew would only be comfortable settling down with her, and that was a bridge that they had just begun to tentatively cross right before he disappeared.

She refused to acknowledge the idea that Mulder did not remember her, or who he really was. That idea was better than the one that lurked beneath the surface, and mocked her insecurities the entire drive to Texas. That he simply did not want to be found, especially by her.

She remembered how she clung to him before he left for Oregon. She remembered how he turned to look at her as she left, the lingering glance speaking volumes when their voices could not. She remembered the first night he had come into her bed, the night she would always believe they created William. Scully refused to believe that he did not want her. If he had been returned, if he had been taken and returned somehow, she had to find him.

She wanted to believe.

Her cell phone rang, causing her to jump, and the papers in the file to shift, spilling out onto the asphalt. She grabbed them at the same time she pushed the "talk" button. The reception was fuzzy, but she saw Walter's office number reflected on the face of the phone. "Hello? Walter?" she shouted above the static, shoving the papers back into the folder, the photograph resuming its place on top.

"Dana? Are you there?"

She sighed, the sound of Walter's voice bringing a smile to her face. It reminded her of why she was here, and that he truly believed this man she sought was Mulder. Walter believed, and she found strength in that belief. She made it her own. "I am," she answered. Clearing her throat, she stood, tucking the file under her arm. "I just got here," she continued. "The drive was fine, and I slept a little at a rest area last night, enough to keep me going. That, and a couple of cups of strong coffee." She could still feel the slick caffeine pulsing in her veins.

"Have you checked into the motel yet? It's supposed to be in the middle of town."

"Not yet, Walter. But I don't think I could miss it. This place isn't exactly a sprawling metropolis." That was an understatement.

"Look, Dana. I think you should check into the motel, take a hot shower, get some rest, before you start looking for..." He couldn't bring himself to say Mulder's name for some reason. They both sat in silence for a moment, but there was nothing else to be said. She was there, in a place where they believed she would find the answers that had eluded them both for years. That was enough. Even now, after all this time, they both took comfort in the possibility of the truth.

"I will, Walter. I am going to do this right, okay? Don't worry. We both have too much at stake here for things to go wrong." But I have more than anyone, she thought. I have the possibility of losing everything that defines my life. Or regaining it. She silently admitted that she wasn't sure what would be worse.

"I know, Dana, I know. I am just worried about you. I wish you had let me go with you. It would have been better having two of us there."

But they both knew this was something she had to do on her own. Whatever question lay in this dusty town, she would have to be the one to answer it. "Did William call you from camp this morning?" she finally asked, leaving his unspoken sentiment hanging in the distance between them. "He did," Walter answered. "Said he had talked to you twice, and was off for the trail ride. He's worried about you, Dana."

"I know he is. But he can call my cell phone anytime, and he knows that. I know he is safe there, and you are close by if he needs anything." He needs a father, she thought. He needs Mulder to be there when he leaves for school in the morning, and plays with the dogs at night. He needs his parents to be in the audience for his school play, and to be applauding him from the battered bleachers at his riding lessons.

Don't screw this up, Dana. Do it right, do everything right, for William, for you, for Mulder.

"So, call me and let me know what is going on, okay?" She focused again on Walter's voice, listening to the chatter of voices and the light static in the background. "I've got to go, Dana. But call me. Let me know what is happening."

"I will," she answered, and with the electronic beep echoing in her ear, she realized she was alone again.

Tucking the file under one arm and reaching for her wallet with the other, she walked inside the gas station to pay, the cool air enveloping her as she pushed open the door. A small radio next to the cash register played twangy country music, and the smell of fried chicken blanketed the small space. An older woman sat behind the counter, her gray hair swept up on top of her head, and her glasses perched on the end of her nose, a dull silver chain hanging by her neck. "Betty," her nametag proclaimed. Betty's eyes reflected the fact that Scully was a stranger.

"That'll be eleven-fifty," Betty announced, taking the bills from Scully's hands. She pushed the receipt across the counter that was covered with a large sticker, peeling at the edges, that read, "We card," and pursed her thin lips even closer together. "Are you traveling through town?" Her heavily accented tone indicated that most strangers she met at the Stop N' Go were doing just that.

"Actually, I was looking for the motel. Is it on the main street?"

Betty's eyes widened only a fraction before she answered. "It is. About a block from here. My sister and her husband run it. They bought it from Mr. Simpson about three years ago." Scully wondered what to do with this information, and decided nothing. She smiled at Betty. "Thank you. I heard it was the best motel in the area." Actually, it was the only motel in the area, from what she gathered from Walter, but there was no harm in being friendly to Betty.

Betty's eyes warmed a fraction before she answered. "They work hard. I'm sure they'll have a room for you." Betty paused a minute, considering, and then asked, "Are you staying in town long?"

Ah, the million dollar question. Well, you see, Betty, she thought, I am in town looking for my partner and the father of my son, who I believe was abducted by aliens almost nine years ago and now is working as a cattle rancher in some small dot on a Texas map. I have no idea why he is in Texas instead of home with me and Will, and I have no idea what he'll say to me if, and when, I find him.

Instead, she answered, "A few days, at least." Cutting off Betty's inevitable next question, she smiled, thanking her and walking back into the suffocating heat, driving in the direction of the motel.

Paying for the room, her eyes began to blur, and she realized that she was exhausted. Before she could make sense of her surroundings, she opened the lime green door, the faded room number lopsided on the metal frame, and took off her shoes. She lay on the bed, not even bothering to turn back the bedspread. The air conditioner on the wall rattled, emanating a cold stream of air into the tiny space. Betty was right. The motel was clean, but sparse, and she dimly heard a few passing trucks from the street as her eyes began to close.

She dreamt, of William riding a cowpony, galloping alongside her car as she drove down a road she did not recognize. He was smiling, a wide, toothy grin, the kind that graced his face so often when he was younger, but had begun to fade with age and maturity. "I'm riding, Mom. Look at me. Let's show Dad. We have to show Dad how I can ride. Tell him to come see," he exclaimed. She opened her mouth to speak, to tell Will that she was trying, but no words escaped.

Walter sat beside her, holding tightly onto her hand as she slowed the car down and opened the door. She stood in the middle of the road, the sky clear, and the sunlight almost unbearable. And Mulder stood in front of her, his eyes dancing and a smile on his face. "Where have you been all this time, Scully? Why did you take so long?"

When she finally woke, the room was dark, and she pulled the bedspread over her body, shivering in the darkness and thinking of Mulder. Despite the lingering humidity, she felt the sweat chill on her back, and she couldn't stop her shaking. Tomorrow, she decided. Tomorrow, she would go to the ranch where Mulder worked, talk to the owner and find Mulder. She would know from the moment she saw him if he was really the Mulder she remembered, and she would bring him home, to Will. She would make everything just right.

She had to make everything right, she decided, trembling uncontrollably, because everything without Mulder had been so wrong.


II.

Dawn in Texas might be one of the most beautiful sights she had ever seen. After a restless night of sleep and vivid dreams of Mulder and Will, she woke before the sun, and took a long shower, reluctantly turning off the water only when it began to run cold. Pulling her hair up in a ponytail, she slipped on her slacks, and was surprised by her reflection in the small mirror above the sink. Even in the florescent glare, and despite the slight circle beneath her eyes that betrayed her insomnia, she looked younger than she had in years. She was reminded of the image of herself as a young woman, walking into Mulder's office for the very first time.

And now she sat on the trunk of her car, parked on the side of the motel, and watched the hues of the sun spread from a pink to an orange to a faded yellow, until the sun finally made its appearance over the horizon and the day began. The day when she was to find Mulder, to find all the answers to the questions that plagued her for the past nine years. It was a lot to ask for just one day, but she would accept nothing less.

"Miss Scully?" She looked up to see Molly, Betty's sister and the motel manager, walking up to her. Her hair was swinging in a ponytail similar to Scully's, only streaked with gray, and Scully saw the weathered lines on Molly's face. A lifetime spent in the Texas sun, she decided. "How did you sleep last night?"

"The room was just fine. Thank you. I was awfully tired last night, so I slept just fine." That wasn't exactly true, but there was no need to burden Molly with the truth. Her poor night of sleep had nothing to do with the motel room.

"That's good. Robert said you walked by the office this morning without picking up any breakfast. I brought you a doughnut and some coffee."

Scully smiled, knowing that the last thing she needed was another cup of coffee, but she accepted the steaming mug with a smile. The day would be long, and she wasn't sure when she would have time to eat. Thank goodness for Southern hospitality, she thought, taking a small bite of the sweet doughnut.

"Big plans for the day?"

Scully choked as she swallowed the doughnut. She supposed they could be called big plans. "Something like that. I have some things I need to take care of in town."

"Anything I could help you with?"

Instinctively, Scully felt wary, untrusting, but she stared into Molly's sincere gaze for a moment, and then let out her pent-up breath. She just might need the help. Ask for it, Dana. Do this the right way. "Actually, there is. I was looking for Battle Creek Ranch. I have it on the map here, but wanted to make sure I have the directions right."

Scully could tell Molly was biting her tongue, struggling with the conflicts of politeness and curiosity. The question of why Scully was going to Battle Creek Ranch never came. Instead, Molly leaned over her shoulder, tracing the route with her finger. Scully watched the short, stubby nail outline the county road leading out of town. "Take a left up the street at the first light," Molly said, mimicking her directions with her fingers. "You are going to go about twelve miles out of town, and you'll see the ranch sign on the left. The house sits back a little from the road, but I don't think you should have any trouble. Are you going to see Larry?"

Larry Wilkins, the owner of Battle Creek Ranch, Mulder's employer, and indeed the man she hoped would be able to answer some of her questions. "I am," she confirmed, folding the map back into a small rectangle and smoothing the creases. "Thank you for breakfast, Molly," she said, pulling the keys out of her pocket.

If Mulder was indeed here, if they were breathing the same air and watching the same sunrise, she couldn't wait a minute longer to find him.

Her heartbeat thudded in her ears as she pulled out of the parking lot. The town was beginning to come alive. She sat at the red light, watching a young woman fumble with her keys before opening the door of a small bakery. Two men dressed in orange vests moved methodically down the sidewalk, stopping at the randomly placed trashcans to empty the refuse. She was entranced by the color, the simplicity and the vibrancy of the life here. It was as if she was seeing everything in Technicolor, everything magnified. She was so aware of the brightness that she winced, slipping on her sunglasses.

As she drove down the two-lane road, her only companions the light breeze blowing through her open window and a few passing motorists, she struggled to make sense of her thoughts. What day was it? She furrowed her brow, and then remembered it was Thursday. Three days since she walked into Walter's office and her life changed forever. Two days since she packed her son, Mulder's son, into her neighbor's car and sent him off to Summer camp. Less than a day since she arrived in town. Mulder had been on her mind every moment of the last three days.

She allowed her mind to wander as she drove a steady fifty- five, her heartbeat a steady accompaniment to her thoughts. What would she say to Mulder? A thousand possibilities ran through her mind. Hello. I've missed you. Where in the hell have you been? As sure as she was that Mulder was the man staring back at her from the well-worn photograph, she was also sure he would never knowingly abandon her. The cold grip of fear and uncertainty tightened around her chest.

She screeched to a sudden halt, looking out to an open field to her left. The steel sign decorating the front gates told her in looping cursive that she had indeed arrived at Battle Creek Ranch. Time slowed almost to a standstill as she surveyed the open land, lined by a ring of trees and a straight, white fence. Cattle grazed to her left, and a few horses were scattered to her right. A working cattle ranch, Walter told her. Mulder was a farmhand.

She desperately tried to put the pieces together in her mind as she drove down the dirt driveway to a rambling farmhouse in the distance.

The dust had yet to settle in her wake when she turned off the car. A wind chime tinkled from the wrap-around porch. Two tabby cats lay in the grass, soaking up the morning sun. As if on cue, a group of chickens ambled up beside the car, pecking the ground.

Mulder could not be here.

The squeak of the screen door caused her to look up. A gray- haired woman walked out onto the porch, wiping her hands on her apron, looking at the unfamiliar car with curiosity. Now or never, Scully decided. It had already been too long. "Good morning," she offered as she stepped out of the car, her steady voice betraying none of her inner turmoil. If she stopped to process what was happening, she would falter. After all these years, she was so close. She could almost smell Mulder's scent in the air.

"Morning," the older woman responded, walking down the steps to greet her. "Can I help you with something?" Scully was surprised, when the woman neared, to see that she was even older than she first thought. She had a matronly, comforting air, and Scully was instantly drawn to her. "My name is Dana Scully. I was looking for Larry Wilkins. Is he around?"

"He is actually out in the fields this morning, but should be returning shortly. Is there some sort of problem?"

She was so close to Mulder, the truth, the answers that she craved for so long, that it was almost painful, and she felt the blood drain from her face. Her heart pounded mercilessly in her ears, and she took a long breath. "There's no problem, Mrs...."

"Wilkins," the woman supplied. "I'm Larry's wife."

Scully nodded. "Mrs. Wilkins, I was looking for a man who is an employee of your husband's. I believe he is someone I knew from a long time ago, someone who I have searched for many years to find."

It was strange, to sum up Mulder so succinctly, but she could offer the woman no other words. Her relationship with Mulder was unexplainable, even to her, much less to a stranger.

"Ellen? Is something wrong?"

Scully turned to see whom she presumed to be Larry Wilkins, walking towards them from the barn in the distance. He was much as Walter described him, the quintessential Texas cowboy, with his brimmed hat riding low on his tanned face. She felt sickly pale in comparison to the people she met here.

"Everything's fine, Larry. Miss Scully was here looking for someone she thought you might know."

They both gazed at her expectantly, and she stood stupidly for a long moment, unsure of what to do next. She was grasping for anything to hold onto in this long side down a treacherous slope, and she was failing. "I have a photograph," she finally said, reaching down to pull the file folder from the car seat.

Handing them Mulder's photograph, she catalogued their expressions, and stopped breathing when she saw recognition dawn on their faces. Ellen glanced up at her momentarily, and then reached her hand over to her husband's arm. Neither of them said a word. Scully was about to speak when Larry thrust the photograph towards her and took his wife by the hand. "I'm sorry, Miss Scully. I can't help you."

By the time she grabbed the photograph from the ground, the couple was halfway to the front door. She began to run, catching Larry by the shoulder and turning him around. "What do you mean, Mr. Wilkins?" she stammered. "Are you saying you don't know this man, that he doesn't work for you?"

He stared at her, his expression blank, but his eyes sorrowful. "I'm saying, Miss Scully, that I can't help you."

She could not accept that. "No," she shouted, holding the photograph up in front of the couple. "Look again. I was told that you knew this man, and that he worked for you. I traveled a long distance to find him." She was desperate. "I have to find him," she said, her panic causing her voice to rise.

"Dana." Ellen was speaking to her now. "We have many men who work on the ranch during the season. We have to respect their privacy."

"Then he's here." Her words were not a question. Neither Larry nor Ellen would look at her. "He's here, now, working on your ranch." Their silence continued, and Scully cursed the tears that began to flow down her cheeks. She saw William, sitting defiant in the backseat of her car, begging her to take him to Texas, his stubborn gaze just like his father's. She could not fail him. She wept openly, staring at the couple.

"If you know something," she managed in a painful whisper, "you have to tell me."

Larry walked inside the house, silent. But Scully looked into Ellen's face and saw a deep sympathy. "I can't tell you anything, Dana." Her words were deliberate, and Scully closed her eyes against the bright sun, wiping the wetness away with a quick swipe of her hand.

"He is the father of my son," she said, blindly, speaking in a monotone. She had failed. "He doesn't even know that he is a father. He has been gone for such a long time, and I was told he was here. I didn't want to believe, but I came anyway." She pinned Ellen with her gaze and her words. "He drew me here. Don't you understand? I have to find him. I have to find him for Will."

Whatever wall existed crumbled. Ellen gave a visible shake, and then reached out to hold her hand. "I can tell you this," Ellen said, her voice a stealthy whisper. "Usually all the men on the ranch go down to Joe's on Thursday night. It's a pool hall not far from here. You just might find what you are looking for there."

Scully watched as the older woman followed her husband into the house, her footsteps echoing on the wide planks of the porch. She wasn't sure what had just happened. She walked back to the car, exhausted, and sat behind the steering wheel for another half hour, thinking of Mulder and cattle and Joe's Pool Hall.

She was halfway back to the motel before she realized the second emotion that crossed the face of the couple as they looked at Mulder's photograph. They recognized him, she was sure. They were also terribly frightened.


III.

Will Lyon hated the pool hall. It was smoky, and dirty, and generally tended to bring out the worst in people. Guys who would ride alongside him day after day, mild-mannered men who appreciated a good cigar and a better woman, would turn into raving thugs when they entered the pool hall. They would drink, they would swagger, and they would dare a guy across the room to catch their eye. When someone invariably did, the punches would start, and Will Lyon would walk out into the parking lot, staring up into the clear evening sky.

He supposed the men considered themselves to be true cowboys, but he considered them all to be idiots, at least on Thursday nights at Joe's Pool Hall. He wouldn't even be here, except he seemed to draw even more attention to himself when he stayed away. He hated answering questions, so he avoided them by nursing a warm beer and watching the locals sway drunkenly on the wooden dance floor.

It was already round two inside, with the boys from Mr. Jim's ranch down the road shoving Paul and Shane from his crew and generally starting a ruckus. He sat on the sidewalk, stretching his long legs out in front of him and leaning back against the building. The parking lot was full, mostly of cars with license plates from neighboring counties. They all came here on a Thursday night, women to find a cowboy and men to find a good fuck. That's just the way it went at Joe's Pool Hall.

The sky was clear, so clear he swore there were a million stars dangling mere inches from his head. He was tempted to reach out, try to touch them, but a group of giggling women walking by stopped him. For some reason, he felt like he spent a lifetime trying to grab onto the stars, gazing into the heavens. It was an old habit that was hard for him to break. Some men smoked, others drank. Will Lyon would walk out under a clear evening sky and spend hours gazing into the darkness.

"Hey, Lyon. Scoot over, wouldja?"

Mark Hagler stood beside him, his eyes dilated with alcohol, and his Levis reeking of smoke. Not the companion Lyon wanted, but he moved over anyway. Mark sat down heavily beside him. "You always seem to cut out when the good stuff starts."

Lyon grunted. "I'm there when you guys need me. This stuff," he said, jerking his head back in the direction of the pool hall, "is just a waste of time. You should know better."

Lyon did indeed have a reputation among the men who worked Larry Wilkins' ranch. He was a loner, an introspective man who spoke rarely and smiled less. He had a quick wit that few were able to see. But, in a pinch, Lyon was the man you wanted on your side. He was loyal. Be it a lost calf in a driving rainstorm or a late night call from the drunk tank, Lyon was always the levelheaded thinker. Mark supposed that was why the men admired him. Liked him, no. Not really. But certainly admired him.

"Did you see that blonde by the bar? I wouldn't mind a piece of that." They sat in companionable silence before Lyon answered. "Did you ask her to dance?" Mark choked on his beer. "Hell, no. I don't ask women to dance."

Lyon couldn't help the deep chuckle. "So, you admire them from afar, and never know what they would say if you actually got up the nerve to ask them to dance."

Mark bristled and squinted his eyes at him. "I don't see you in there with all the ladies, Lyon. If you are such a goddamned Cassanova, why are you sitting outside here all by yourself in the fucking parking lot?"

By choice, he thought, looking away from Mark without answering. There had been a few women recently, a few tentative dances on the wooden floor inside Joe's. But he just wasn't interested, not right now. He was too tired to care, and he was too frayed around the edges to ever be able to give a woman the love she needed. He accepted that as a part of his character. He didn't like it, but he accepted it.

"No answer, huh?" Mark goaded, drinking the last of his beer, crushing the can with one hand and tossing it in the direction of the trashcan by the door. It missed, tumbling noisily underneath a nearby Ford. "I didn't think so. You talk big, Lyon, but I have never seen you with a woman on a Thursday night."

He wasn't interested in discussing this, especially not with Mark, but he spoke anyway. "I'm no expert, but I know you at least have to talk to them before you have a chance."

"Yeah, you're no expert," Mark answered, embarrassment egging him on. He knew his own flat face and unruly blond hair were not the same as Lyon's dark hair and darker personality. Women were attracted to that sort of thing, he thought ruefully, feeling sorry for himself. What Mark lacked in looks, he tried to make up in attitude. It rarely worked, except with women who were as desperate as he was.

He clasped Lyon on the shoulder, pulling him to his feet. "But I know neither of us will get lucky tonight staring at dirty pickup trucks. C'mon back inside. I'll buy you a beer."

Lyon allowed himself to be pulled back inside, the quiet of the evening sky broken by the band playing on the small stage and the heavy boots on the dirty floor. Only a few more hours, he thought, and then I can go home, to my small room, where things are mine. I am answerable only to myself.

The cigarette smoke hung heavy around him as he settled on an empty bar stool, accepting the beer Mark pushed toward him and watching as the younger man ambled away, heading in the general direction of a petite blonde surrounded by men Lyon did not recognize. Leave it to Mark to pick out the woman every other man in this place would want. Dumb kid.

He swiveled the stool back around, staring at his reflection in the smoky mirror behind the bar. Sometimes, when he caught a glimpse of his face passing by a mirror, he didn't recognize himself. He was startled, turning quickly to see the stranger who was walking so close to him. His own face belonged to a stranger. He would stare at himself for hours, cataloguing every wrinkle near his dark eyes, the prominent nose, the wayward dark hair.

He tried to remember that face, every detail, so he would quit scaring the shit out of himself when he walked by a mirror, but it didn't work.

Lyon took a long sip of the cold beer, wincing as it slid down his throat. Alcohol dulled his senses, and he avoided it. At the very least, there was an evening sky to look upon, and fresh air to breathe. A commotion started behind him near the stage, where Mark was standing next to the blonde. Lyon turned to look, but instead, was drawn to a woman walking in the front door.

Later, he would spend hours trying to recall the way she bit her lower lip as she stood in the doorway, the harsh lights glinting off her red hair. He would try to remember her expressive blue eyes, the way they surveyed the room, betraying nothing, yet noting everything. He would close his eyes and desperately try to picture the soft swell of her breasts and the curve of her hips.

But, for now, his first thought was that she was lost, and she certainly picked the wrong place to go to for directions. She stood awkwardly near the door, scanning the crowd. He didn't know much, but he knew from the lean cut of her slacks and her blouse that her clothes were expensive, and not from any shop around here. He watched as she tucked her red hair behind her ears, crossing her arms uncertainly.

There was something about her, a vulnerability that made Lyon follow her petite figure as she began an uncertain route around the crowded room. She was hesitant and desperately unsure. Lyon prided himself on his ability to read people, their body language and their unspoken words, and this woman was sinking in despair.

But there was something else, he realized, watching with hooded eyes as she climbed onto the stool at the end of the bar, away from him, her feet not touching the floor, and motioned to the bartender. He grinned when he decided that this woman could probably kick the asses of about half the cowboys in this room. She was strong, her sinewy figure only one indication, but her eyes the other.

They were desperate, and determined, and he admired that.

Jon, the bartender, pushed what looked to be a soda toward the red- head, and she slipped him a few crisp bills. As he turned to walk away, she called him, motioning him back to her with her hand. Lyon watched, intrigued, trying to figure out what the hell this woman was up to. Jon obviously felt the same, a quizzical look on his face as he stood in front of her.

She leaned over the bar, trying to make herself heard over the loud bass guitar. Lyon was surprised by an irrational rush of what he recognized as jealousy when Jon leaned over to speak to her, his face mere inches from hers. He wasn't even aware when his back stiffened and he unconsciously leaned closer to the two, trying to decipher their conversation.

The redhead spoke for a few moments, and then pulled something out of her bag. It was a photograph, and Lyon watched with interest as she fingered the edge of it absentmindedly as she spoke, almost as if she drew comfort from its existence. She extended her hand for emphasis, talking heatedly to Jon, and then placed the photograph on the bar between them.

Jon knew whoever was in the photograph. Lyon could tell from the way his eyes lifted the instant he saw the image, and the way he looked around the crowded bar room. His gaze never reached the shadowed end of the bar where Lyon sat huddled on the bar stool, but Jon nodded his head earnestly at the woman before turning to mix a drink.

So, whoever the woman was looking for was here, in the bar tonight. He surveyed the crowd himself, trying to decide which lucky bastard this woman could be looking for in a joint like this. She didn't belong here, and she sure didn't belong with any of the roughnecks who gathered here on Thursday nights.

"Lyon!"

He watched as Mark stumbled closer to him, his arm draped around a plump brunette that he saw here every Thursday. Looked like she needed the company tonight, and Mark sure as hell did. "Who's the fucking Cassanova now, Lyon?" Mark drawled, his words thick from alcohol. "Knock yourself out, buddy," Lyon shouted after the pair, watching as they walked towards the door, Mark's middle finger extended in his general direction.

Prick.

When he twisted back on his stool, his heart stopped when he saw the redhead staring straight at him. Her eyes widened, and a manicured hand flew to her mouth. She paled, and Lyon swore, even from twenty feet away, he saw tears suddenly glisten in her eyes. She looked like she had seen a ghost. He couldn't help but glance behind him, to see if someone was standing there, returning her gaze, but there was no one. The woman was staring at him like she knew him. But he had never seen her before tonight, and he sure as hell would have remembered.

What in god's name was going on here?

They stared at each other for what seemed like hours, when it only could have been a few seconds before she slid off the bar stool and walked towards him. She never took her eyes off him, never wavered, in spite of the crowded dance floor. She ignored the jostling, moving towards him in a steady line. The world slowed down as she stood in front of him, and he realized that this woman was absolutely beautiful.

What she said next shocked the hell out of him.

"Mulder?"

He opened his mouth, but no words came to him. He wasn't this person, this Mulder she was seeking, but this woman looked at him as if she knew him, an absolute certainty in her eyes that unnerved him. He instantly decided that Mulder must be one lucky son of a bitch. "Mulder?" she asked again, stepping so close to him he could smell her perfume. "Is it really you?"

Before he could answer, to tell her that she was mistaken, that his name was Will Lyon and he was sorry, he wasn't Mulder, whoever the hell that was, the woman closed her eyes and swayed in front of him. He barely had time to react before she fainted, falling into his arms in front of Jon the bartender and half his crew from the ranch and most of the population of Blackwood.

He was never going to live this down in the morning.


Chapter Three

I.

The rain fell steadily against the window, a comforting sound, one that brought with it so many memories. She was still, her eyes closed, listening to the steady rhythm of the rain. It was soothing, and gently melodic, and she pulled the covers closer to her chin. It was not morning yet, she could tell, even without opening her eyes. Darkness permeated the room, without a hint of dawn.

She knew she was not alone. She could hear his steady breathing, but could not summon the energy to open her eyes and seek him out in the darkness. Instead, she imagined him, just as she saw him last night, after so long apart. His hair was longer, traces of gray at the temples. He was thinner, which was remarkable given that he had always possessed a leanness about him, which she assumed came from the fact that his body devoured whatever energy he produced.

When she saw him, sitting on the bar stool, shouting at someone walking out the door, she knew it was Mulder before he even turned back around. It was the curve of his ear beneath his overgrown hair, and the way he sat on the stool, one boot hiked over the side, ready to pounce at the slightest notice. She catalogued her memories of him, trying to recall a time when he was truly relaxed, and she was not surprised to realize they were few. He was always looking over his shoulder, always waiting. For something, for someone.

She wondered if he had been waiting on that bar stool for her for the past nine years, while she had been raising their son alone, never knowing what happened to him.

Scully finally gave in, opening her eyes, and was greeted with the sight of Mulder sprawled in the chair by the window, the dim of the streetlights coating him in a soft glow, patterned by the steady rain. His long legs stretched under the desk nearby, and his head rested to the side, on the worn back of the chair. She sat up so she could see him better, pulling the pillow close to her chest.

He looked older, more tired, even when his face was slack from sleep. But he was Mulder. She knew every detail of his face better than her own, even after all their time apart.

She did not question why he was here with her in this motel room. She knew, somehow, that he figured out to bring her here after she fainted at Joe's, just as she knew he would stay with her until he was sure she was alright. But what truly frightened her was the memory of his face when she said his name. Later, it would haunt her nightmares, and dance in her daydreams.

He didn't know her.

He wasn't evasive, or ashamed, or happy, or frightened to see her. Instead, he was curious, but looked back at her blankly when she called to him. It was her worst fear, which now stared back at her in six-foot-one reality, sleeping in a dingy chair in yet another godforsaken motel room.

She moved toward him, drawn to him, as the rain continued to fall. She knelt at his feet and gazed up at him, unable to draw her eyes from his face. The room was silent, except for rain and the sound of her heartbeat. It was just she and Mulder, again, locked away from the insanity of the world outside. Despite everything, he was still the most beautiful sight she could ever have hoped to see.

"Are you okay?" His voice was gruff from sleep, but she was not startled to see him staring back at her, earnestly, his eyes clear and shining in the darkness.

"I am. Thank you for bringing me back to my room. I am sorry I fainted." She couldn't remember the last time she fainted, not counting the moments when she was pregnant with Will. She couldn't have picked a worse time, hazily remembering with chagrin Mulder's surprise as she fell into his arms. Come to think of it, maybe she couldn't have picked a better time.

He only nodded, sitting up to look at her better. "Not a problem. You seemed really tired, and I found the motel room key in your pocket. I hope it's not a problem that I stayed. I wanted to make sure you were feeling okay."

She expected nothing less from him. She nodded, "Of course it's okay, Mulder. I have so many questions to ask you."

At the sound of his name, he shook his head. "You called me that before, in the pool hall. I was trying to tell you then, but that's not my name. You must have me mistaken with someone else."

She was not mistaken. It was Mulder, but she bit her lower lip uncertainly and asked anyway. "What is your name?"

"It's Will. Will Lyon. But everyone calls me Lyon."

Oh, god. Fate laughed at her, daring her to put together the tantalizing pieces. She stared, her eyes wide, at Mulder, who said he was not Mulder, but Will, but insisted he be called by his last name. She angrily wiped away a wayward tear, refusing to lose her composure again. She nodded her head curtly, not sure of what to say.

Before she could speak, he slipped down on the floor next to her. It was so natural, his lanky frame settling next to her body. He was warm, and she instinctively closed her eyes to savor his touch. "I'm sorry. I really am. You seemed so certain I was this Mulder you were looking for. To be honest, I wouldn't mind being that man, if he was that important to you. But I'm not. My name is Lyon, not Mulder."

He reached over to touch her chin lightly, turning her face to his. His touch crumbled what was left of her resolve, the dogged tenacity she was somehow holding together since she drove away from Washington now falling apart. To their mutual horrors, she began to weep, softly at first, then loud sobs which seemed to echo around the room.

He never flinched. Instead, he gathered her into his strong arms and rocked her gently back and forth. She was reminded of how she would comfort Will when he awoke from a nightmare, and how strange it was to be in his arms again. Her memory served her well, but the reality was so much better. And, in that instant, her face pressed against the hollow of his neck, the pulse of his heartbeat steady beneath her tears, she didn't care what he said his name was. She knew who he was.

Scully drew back from him, and, without hesitation, leaned forward to kiss him, his lips wet from her tears. He sat very still, not moving, accepting her touch, as she deepened the kiss, tasting him, the familiar warmth comforting her. She had never forgotten. She traced the outline of his face with her fingertips, and ran her hands down his neck to rest of his chest. He groaned, and then pulled away from her.

"Stop it." It was his voice, but it was not spoken with anger. It was tinged with frustration, and regret.

"Mu-," she began, stopping herself. "Lyon," she said instead, simply, the strange name feeling foreign on her tongue.

"I am not who you think I am, and I am sorry for that. You are beautiful, so beautiful, and I want nothing more than to take you into my arms and make you forget this Mulder, whoever he is. But it wouldn't be fair to you, or to me."

She grasped for the words, trying to make him understand. "Lyon, you are this man. He has been gone a very long time, but I would know you, him, anywhere. Someone gave me your picture, and I knew it was you. I never forgot your face, or your voice, never-"

He jumped to his feet, abruptly, and she looked up the long distance to his shadowed face. "I don't even know your name," he said.

He could have said nothing less to break her heart, and she felt his words as a physical pain in her chest.

The rain measured the seconds before she spoke. "It's Dana, Lyon. Dana Scully." Another long moment, and then, "Following our penchant for last names here, you called me Scully." He had to remember. Mulder had spoken her name a million times, in anguish, humor, frustration and passion. He spoke it uniquely, in his own way, a soft emphasis on the first syllable. "Tell me you remember my name."

She walked over to him where he stood by the window, silent. "Tell me that you remember my name," she said again, urgently, willing him to say the words that would make this all okay, that would bring back what she was so frantically searching for. He wanted to. She could tell by the deep shadows of his eyes, and the way he paused before he answered.

"I'm sorry, Scully. I want so damn badly to say yes, to make you happy, but I can't. I never saw you before last tonight, before you walked into Joe's."

She was stonewalled, staring at an impasse that she dreaded, but never fully expected to materialize. And then he spoke again, trying to make things better, but making them that much worse. "You know, Scully, had you given me the chance, I might have asked you to dance with me last night. I don't normally ask women to dance, but there was something about you." He was sincere, the slight flush on his cheeks physical evidence of what his admission cost him. "I am attracted to you. You have to know that," he added. But she couldn't accept his words, not when there was so much more at stake here.

"Fox Mulder was my partner," she said, turning to face the wall so she would not have to look at him as she spoke. She studied the print on the wall, a landscape portrait of the Texas hills, probably mass-produced somewhere in China. "We worked at the FBI together for seven years, and then he disappeared. He was taken while investigating a case in Oregon. He's been gone for almost nine years." He walked up behind her, so close she could feel his breath on her skin.

Tell me you remember, she silently chanted. Remember me, she willed, remember our time together. Remember how much I love you. "Right after he disappeared, I found out I was pregnant." The sharp inhale of breath was his.

"His son?" he asked, although he already knew the answer. She whirled around, angry, pounding her fists against his chest. "You are Mulder. I am not wrong. I have looked for you for years, and I can't let you walk out that door. I can't lose you again."

It was a stalemate, a no-win situation for them both. His tortured eyes reflected his pity, his empathy, his desire for her, yet they showed his confusion, his genuine bewilderment at her ultimate certainty that he was Mulder. "Will Lyon," she finally said, her last defense crumbling, her desire extinguished. She felt hollow, an empty shell. "Yes," he managed, holding onto her hand as the rain slowed to a drizzle and the first hint of dawn emerged. "My name is Lyon, Scully. And I am so sorry I couldn't make it what you want. I sure as hell have never worked for the FBI. I've never even known anyone named Mulder."

She couldn't breathe, couldn't speak. She couldn't process a thought beyond the fact that she had finally found Mulder, and she was about to lose him again. He was walking out the door, and she couldn't do a thing to stop him.

"I have to go," he said, his voice heavy with regret and an emotion she couldn't identify. She nodded dumbly. She knew she should say something, anything to make him stay, but she felt lost, paralyzed with defeat. He handed her the folder and the bag sitting by the door. "You had these with you last night. They seemed important to you." He leaned over, his hands tracing the outline of her jaw, wiping away the tears she didn't even know she was crying. Hesitating, he kissed her, and it was Mulder, and something else. Something new.

As he walked away from her, out into the drizzle, she managed to speak the words that were pounding in her head. "Don't go, Mulder," she whispered. "Don't go." But he was too far away to hear her, and he did not turn around.

He sat in his truck for some time before he drove away, yet Scully remained, standing in the open door, staring as the photograph of Mulder, of Lyon, slipped from the folder in her hands and fell onto the sidewalk, into the last of the rain.


II.

Lyon didn't drive to the ranch that gray Friday morning. He didn't join the other men for their ritualistic Friday breakfast at the town restaurant, nor did he stop in at the station for a hot cup of coffee. Instead, he drove, away from town, away from the ranch, away from the redheaded woman in the motel room whose tears haunted him. She called him Mulder, and she was convinced he was that man.

His life had been simple enough. He was an only child, born late in life to older parents. While they were both dead and had been for years, they had given him a stable upbringing. They instilled in him an appreciation for the land, of hard, honest work. His father insisted the entire family was at church every Sunday. Lyon still detested wearing a tie and sitting still for long periods of time, a remnant of his childhood. But he admired his father for his principles and his beliefs, and was grateful to be his son.

Adolescence was a blur, flashes of basketball games and awkward Friday night socials and drinking beer with the guys in the cemetery on the edges of town. He spent most of his adult life traveling, working on one ranch or another, until he ended up with the Wilkins. It was a small, family ranch, but he found the stability he needed. The memories of the last few months of his life were the most clear, but he supposed that was because, for the first time since the death of his parents, he found a comfortable environment, one where he was respected. He did his job, and that was always enough for him.

But the death of his parents, while so long ago that the once sharp edges had dulled, left him teetering on a dangerous abyss. He had no family. He didn't trust himself, so he suppressed his emotions. He was withdrawn and reclusive because he was frightened of what he could become if he wasn't. He was frightened of unleashing his anger because he didn't know if he could control it. He was frightened of loving someone, anyone, because they might ultimately leave him.

So Will Lyon was a man with acquaintances, not friends. Colleagues, not family. One night stands with women whose names he soon forgot, not the accepting embrace of a woman who truly loved him.

How could this woman, who seemed to Lyon to be a perfectly rational and reasonable human being, be so convinced he was someone else? He couldn't come up with an answer for that. When he saw her at the bar, it was lust that attracted him, for she was beautiful. She was also a strange combination of strength and fragility, and he wanted nothing more than to protect her. He had sat in his truck in the motel parking lot for sometime, watching her figure silhouetted in the door, and tried to shake the feeling that leaving her was a mistake. She was exquisite, and he wanted her, but her heart obviously belonged to someone else.

He blinked, seeing the familiar pasture rise on his left, trying to figure out how he ended up at the ranch. He remembered driving away from town, and then shook his head, attempting to clear the hazy cobwebs away. Too many memories, and those only got you into trouble. He preferred to keep the past where it belonged, behind him. Lyon supposed driving to the ranch was instinct. It was home, for the time being. Then why were all his instincts calling him back to the motel on Main Street?

Larry Wilkins' figure appeared from the barn as he drove down the driveway. He flagged him over, and Lyon got out of the truck, his legs stiff from an awkward night's sleep. In all honesty, he didn't think he got much sleep at all. Most of the night he spent staring at Scully, the rain-streaked moonlight through the blinds casting delicious shadows over her face.

"Morning, Mr. Wilkins," he offered, smoothing out his shirt as he walked over to the older man. "Lyon," Wilkins responded, throwing a large bag into the back of his pickup truck. Lyon frowned, and asked, "Are you leaving for the day?" It was not an incredibly busy time on the ranch, the branding and weaning seasons in the spring and fall causing them the biggest headaches, but it was still unusual for Wilkins to leave during the week.

"I am. I am headed down to Austin for the weekend, to take care of some business. I was hoping you would be able to bring the rest of the herd in from the back field so we can ship them out on Monday." He nodded, accustomed to being in charge when Mr. Wilkins left town. While most men at the small ranch lived a transient lifestyle, one he himself had lived for years, Lyon served as a quasi-foreman, living on the ranch even during the off season. The stability was a change for him. But he was still unsure as to why the boss was leaving in the first place.

The screen door slammed shut, and Lyon looked up to see Mrs. Wilkins walking down the stairs, a small bag held in her right hand. She reminded Lyon of the grandmother he never knew, and he felt protective of her. The guys knew not to speak bad about the boss' wife when Lyon was around. There was something about her, a genuine sweetness that drew Lyon to her. He trusted her, and that was saying a lot.

"Good morning, Lyon," she said as she walked up to the truck, handing her husband her bag, her slight Southern accent charming to Lyon's ears. "I've got to get a few more things from the house, Ellen, and then we'll be ready to leave." She shooed her husband away. "Fine, fine, Larry. I'll just be talking to Lyon."

The humid breeze picked up slightly as they stood by the truck, and Lyon was somewhat taken aback by the serious gaze he saw in Mrs. Wilkins' eye. "So, Lyon," she asked, "any excitement at Joe's last night?" He wrinkled his brow, confused as why she would be asking him. They all knew what went on at Joe's every Thursday: drinking, dancing, and brawling. "The same," he finally offered somewhat tentatively, unsure of why she was asking.

"How about you?" she persisted. "Did you meet anyone special?"

The proverbial light bulb went on, and he cocked his head slightly to one side, answering her slowly. "Actually, I did. A redheaded woman from out of town." That was a simplistic explanation, but it seemed to work for Mrs. Wilkins, who only nodded her head sagely in response. "You need someone to settle down with, Lyon. You need someone who will take care of you." He bristled, despite her good intentions, but she cut off his protests with a wave of her hand.

"Let me tell you something, Lyon. A piece of advice from a very old woman. Real love, true love, only comes along once in your lifetime, if you are truly lucky. Many people never get that chance at all. I found it with Larry. I know what it is, and how special it is. But don't waste it, Lyon. Because it won't come back again."

It won't come back again. Her words had an urgency that caught him off guard, and he stood, his mouth slightly agape, trying to process the moment, when Mr. Wilkins walked up beside them. "Did you do everything you needed to do, Ellen?" he asked. She nodded knowingly, and then gave Lyon a small squeeze on the arm. "I did," she answered, and he almost expected her to give him a conspiratorial wink as her husband turned to open the door for her.

"You know how to reach me if you need, Lyon," Wilkins said as he slammed the door. Lyon nodded, returning Mrs. Wilkins' cheery wave as the truck sped away from him.

He stood still for a very long time, watching the chickens amble down towards the barn, a squirrel try to open an acorn from the tree, the cats basking in the emerging sun. His awareness was painful, and he was uncertain as to what it meant. Scully was drawn to him at the bar because she thought he was someone she used to know, someone she loved. Why was he drawn to her? Why was he thinking about her, wondering if she were still standing in the motel room door, waiting for him to come back?

The morning work was a blur, and he performed his tasks with a routine, detached efficiency. He led the small group of men towards the pasture with an increasing urgency, desperate to finish the work for the day before mid-afternoon. The longhorns were slow, hesitant, as if they knew the fate that awaited them in a few days, so he rode his gelding even harder. The urgency was tinged with fear, with the knowledge that finding Scully again after she left town might prove impossible.

"Hey, Lyon. When is old man Wilkins coming back?" Mark had ridden up beside him, a slightly concerned look on his face. If Lyon could see himself at that moment, through the eyes of the men who rode with him, he would understand why. He had drifted away from them, and was there in body alone. He was cutting the herd with rote, detached efficiency. His spirit was elsewhere, and only Lyon knew where.

"Sunday evening," he answered briskly. "If you guys can handle the routine stuff for this weekend, I am going to be busy with the paperwork for the Monday shipment." Mark only nodded, and then asked, tentatively, "You alright, Lyon?"

He barely acknowledged the question, knowing that he would be, as soon as he could get the hell off this horse and back into town.

Cantering the horse ahead through the pasture, and watching his crew disperse and tackle the few odd jobs remaining for the day, he allowed his mind to wander, back to a moonlight motel room with a beautiful woman who called him Mulder. It won't come back again, Mrs. Wilkins told him, and he knew what she was telling him. Whoever this woman was, whatever she believed, don't let her leave.

He didn't question how she knew about Scully, or how she was so sure they met at Joe's. It didn't seem particularly important. What was important, what was screaming at him in his veins, matching the rhythm of the horse's hooves against the black Texas soil, was that Scully somehow held the key to opening up his reclusive heart, and healing his battered soul.

He'd be a fool to let her go, and, although Will Lyon knew that he could be many unpleasant things, he had never been known to be a fool.


III.

At the age of ten, she began to harbor doubts about the existence of God. She told no one, frightened of what her parents might think of her, and frightened, if she gave voice to her doubts, that would make them all the more real. So she played the role of the dutiful Catholic daughter, at least on the days where the family celebrated Mass, and as she knelt before the priest with her sister beside her, Missy's perfume tickling her nose, she prayed to God for a sign she could believe in, for something to restore her faith.

She sat in her motel room on that gray Friday morning, somewhere in Texas, and prayed again for a sign, to restore her faith in life and love, for something to make her whole again.

The problem was, even as a child, she never got the sign she so desperately prayed for. Nothing came about that convinced her there was a benevolent God, one that cared for her and watched over her during her times of turmoil. Although she continued to practice her faith, the faith of her parents, even now, it was with a secret, half-hearted intent, the feeling that someone had disappointed her.

Maybe that was why she was sitting here, alone, she mused. Because her faith wasn't strong enough. Because, after everything she saw, she still couldn't bring herself to truly believe. If she truly believed Mulder was standing in her room mere hours ago, how could she ever have let him leave?

After he left, she stood in the open doorway for some time, seeing nothing, feeling nothing except the light mist of rain against her bare arms. When she finally blinked, the sun was out, and the last of the clouds had disappeared. She had no idea how long she stood there. But then she took a deep breath, and time started moving again.

She picked up the photograph from the asphalt, although, by now, it was limp at the edges and the black-and-white details of his face had begun to fade somewhat. How appropriate, she thought. I find him, in this photograph, only to have him drift away from me. She didn't look at the photograph again as she sat it on the desk to dry.

She was barely aware of turning on the shower, the warm spray stinging against her skin. She dried her hair and put on fresh clothes, adding the barest hint of makeup, and then sat on the edge of the bed, pulling her feet up beneath her. Through the open window, she saw the signs of life outside. Yet she preferred to remain there, in that moment, in that space where she was last with Mulder.

Mulder. Will Lyon. Of all the times she had ever stared in the face of question and uncertainty, she was as sure of this truth as she had ever been. The two men were the same.

The melodic tones of her cell phone rang through the room, and she stared at it morosely, determined not to have this moment taken from her. She was desperate to preserve the tangible essence of Mulder that was still in this room, and letting anyone else in, even on the telephone, would intrude on that. But guilt began to rise a few seconds later, and she pictured Walter, or her mother, or William trying to reach her.

"Hello?" she finally answered, her voice raspy from tears.

There was laughter in the background, and she sensed William's breathing before she heard his words. "Mom? Can you hear me?"

It was her reminder that she was a good person, she was someone's mother, that everything might just turn out to be okay. "I can, Will," she shouted, covering her other ear with her free hand in an effort to hear him better. "Are you having fun? How are things going?"

His voice was rich and warm, and she felt a rush of love and affection for her son, the most solid evidence she had that Mulder existed. Her tears began anew as he spoke. "Things are fine, Mom. Billy and I have been swimming, and I've gotten to ride everyday."

She smiled. William could forgo any pleasure in life as long as there was a horse for him to ride. "That's wonderful, Will. Just be careful." The miles between them only sharpened her mothering instincts.

There was a long silence, filled with background chatter and what sounded to her like the clanging of a dinner bell, and then the question. "Mom? Have you found out anything about Dad?"

Of course he would ask. It was her sole purpose for being here. But she didn't know how to answer that question. She didn't know how to answer it for herself, and she couldn't even begin to describe it for her son. How Mulder was here, but he didn't remember her, or even what his name was, and that she had never felt as defeated or lost as she did when she let him walk out the door.

"Not yet," she answered, the lie bitter on her tongue. But it was better than the truth, which, in this case, was something she couldn't begin to comprehend. "I'm still looking though. I haven't given up." She was surprised to realize her last words were true, that she hadn't given up.

"Uncle Walter said it might take a few days," Will said. "It might," she answered, her voice barely above a whisper.

And then her son spoke the truest words of all, the ones that unleashed the barriers on her tears. "Maybe there's hope, Mom," he told her, and he was no longer an eight-year-old boy away for his first time at Summer camp. He was her voice of reason and resolve and resiliency, and she muffled her sobs with her hand.

"I've got to go eat now, Mom." She managed something intelligible in response. "I love you," she told him, as he hung up the phone.

Maybe there's hope after all.

And then, her prayers were answered and hope was renewed as she looked up through the open window and saw Mulder standing there, looking at her with solemn eyes. He looked tired, and sweaty, his jeans worn and dirty. He took the hat off his head when their eyes met, and brushed his hair back uncertainly. He looked like a little boy, tentative and uncertain, so much like his son, and at that moment, she loved him more than she ever had.

She didn't remember getting up and opening the door, but then he was standing in front of her, and she reached up to put her arms around him and kissed him on the brow. He stood awkwardly, and then returned her embrace. "I wasn't sure you would still be here," he said, breaking the silence.

I couldn't leave you behind again, she thought. "I am," she answered instead. "To be honest, I wasn't quite sure where to go." The words sounded pitiful even to her own ears, but they were true. She could have left that morning for DC, but the thought of walking into her empty house was even worse than staying in the motel room.

He simply nodded, and she took him by the hand, pulling him into the room and closing the door behind them.

He stood there, turning his hat around in his hand. "I don't know why I came back here, Scully. I was honest with you when I told you I wasn't Mulder. But I have been thinking of you all day, and I just couldn't bear the thought of you leaving town without seeing you again."

She didn't trust her voice, so she stood silently. "I'm here as Will Lyon, and for right now, I hope that's enough for you. It's all I have to give you." She didn't let go of her hand, but urged him with her eyes to continue. "I've never been very good at this, Scully. I've always been too busy with my own problems or my work to ever be able to offer a woman what she deserves. I don't know that I can do that for you. But I want to try."

Oh, god. He was so like the Mulder of old, yet there was a new element she couldn't quite define. He was harder, more uncertain, more wary. But he had come back to her, for reasons neither of them could understand.

And she knew that was enough. She knew he was offering her so much more, something that his battered heart couldn't reveal, could never put into words. She was being offered the opportunity to love again, even if Mulder could not remember their first love. She would learn later what had happened, why he was so convinced he was someone else. For now, it was enough that he had come back to her.

"I'll take it," she said, a small smile on her face, echoing the look on his.

"Well, then," he said, clearing his throat, and shifting his feet uncertainly. "Not that there is much to do in town, but I would like to take you out somewhere, wherever you want to go."

He was so charming and endearing that her heart melted, and she was filled with love for this man. "Sounds good, Lyon. Wherever you want to take me." And it was true. She would likely follow him to the ends of the earth if he asked her. Indeed, she already had, so many times before, even if she was the only one who remembered.

"But I have one favor to ask of you," he added quickly. "I came right from work, and we probably would both like for me to take a shower first. Do you mind?"

She only nodded, and he went to get a small bag from his truck.

Scully sat on the bed, listening to the initial spray of the water from his shower, and then the changes as the water hit his body before landing on the tile. She imagined him, naked, his lean, muscular body standing beneath the water. While it was undeniably arousing, knowing he was so close to her, it was intimate in the simple act of trust. She breathed in, remembering their shower together after that first night, the way she tentatively parted the curtains, revealing his body, the one that she memorized so extensively the night before. The way he smiled at her, never hesitating as he extended his hand to pull her into the water, pressing their bodies together.

Her heart beat in her chest loudly as she stood, walking to the bathroom door. It was closed, the slightest amount of steam trickling underneath. She wanted so badly to open the door, to walk to him, to take him into her arms under the wetness. Instead, she put both her hands on the door, bowing her head, as if in prayer, and swore that she would never forget that moment. He was there, safe, and she could almost feel his essence through the cheap plywood, could feel all the wonderful qualities that made him the man she could never live without. For that moment, it was enough.

 


Chapter Four

I.

"I'm a little worried about all this, Lyon. How often do you go around wining and dining women?" They sat together on a plaid blanket he grabbed from the cab of his truck near the large lake. It was late afternoon, and Scully smiled at the handful of children who played near the water, their parents sitting a discreet distance behind them. It was all so normal, and idyllic, that it made her forgot about the uncertainty, the turmoil she felt as she glanced at Lyon out of the corner of her eye. At Mulder.

He wrinkled his brow and sighed loudly, making a show of seriously considering her question. She couldn't help her laughter at his antics. While he was quiet and thoughtful at times, he could also be quick-witted and sarcastic. So many of his qualities were the same. He made her smile, and she needed someone to do that for her. "You might just be the first," he answered, taking the last bite of his sandwich and turning to prop himself up on one elbow, looking at her with a grin. "Why? Am I doing okay?"

He was doing more than okay. After a few awkward moments when they left the motel, when Scully suggested they stop for sandwiches and Mulder ordered for her, leaving off the onions and mustard, just the way she always liked it, they had settled into a comfortable companionship, one where they simply didn't ask awkward questions. As they bounced along the road to the town lake, Scully unconsciously slid closer to Lyon on the seat. He drove with a tranquil assurance, navigating the roads with simple ease, and she half-expected him to drape his arm over the seat behind her, like they were high school sweethearts without a care in the world. She was not surprised to find that she was pressed up against his thigh by the time they arrived.

"You are doing quite well, Lyon. That makes me wonder where you have gotten to be so good at this, or if I'm just getting lucky." The unintentional double meaning of her words caused her to blush, and Lyon watched her with a widening grin. "Maybe we are both getting lucky," he said, reaching over to tuck a stray strand of hair behind her ear.

Without thinking, she reached for his hand as he pulled away, bringing it to her lips and kissing it softly.

He cleared his throat, and sat with his fingers lightly touching her cheek for another few seconds before he got to his feet. "Actually, I've got one more surprise for you," he said, pulling her up to stand next to him. Folding up the blanket as he walked to the truck, she laughed to see him turn around with two melting ice cream cones in his hand. "I got them at the caf on our way out. They are a little soft, but I think we can manage."

Who was this person, who remembered the way she ate her turkey sandwiches, but did not remember her name? Who accepted her kisses, but could not recall their first embrace? She was confused, and felt a little lost in front of this man, who had always been complicated and somewhat difficult, but now was even more shrouded in mystery.

But rediscovering Mulder as Will Lyon was an emotional journey as well. She wondered vaguely about testing his blood, matching his fingerprints, doing something so that she could wave hard proof in front of his face, evidence that she was right. It didn't seem important. She knew, and she clung to that, just as she fell in love all over again.

She accepted the outstretched offering of melting vanilla, and they began to walk around the lake, settling into an easy stride. Mulder had always seemed one step ahead of her, his lanky legs covering more ground than she could manage in a single step. It seemed that either her legs had gotten longer, or he was simply moving a little slower. Life in general seemed to be moving slower. She decided she liked it that way.

The landscape was startling in its beauty, even seen with the fading afternoon sunlight. The lake was surrounded by fields of green, tinged with gold, and beyond them, a scattering of pine trees and undergrowth. A barbwire fence marked the property to her left, and, beyond that, she saw a crumbling home and the remnants of a few small houses.

As they walked further away from the laughter and splashing of the children at the lake, Scully became aware of a deceptive stillness, a quiet that masked the sounds of nature that surrounded them. She decided she liked it here, the easy ambience, the fact that there was so little between her and the sky. And the fact that Mulder was here to share it with her.

"How long have you lived here, Lyon?" she asked tentatively. The question seemed safe, and normal, but she was hoping he would give her the answers she was looking for, somehow. She was also hoping his voice would distract her from the way he was licking the melting ice cream from the cone.

"Only a few months," he answered, reaching with his tongue to snag a stray wisp of cream on his upper lip. Her eyes darted to his lips, and then she forced them ahead, watching the path in front of them. Pay attention, Scully. "I came here to work for the Wilkins. They have been very good to me." He looked like he wanted to say more, and finally offered, "I'm not a very easy man to get along with. I wish I were, but I'm not. For some reason, even when I try, I always assume the worst about people."

His statement was stark in its sadness, and she frowned, reaching out to hold his free hand with her own. "And what about me, Lyon? What did you assume about me?" She was touched by his embarrassment, but he admirably stumbled ahead, trying to choose the right words.

"I didn't know what to assume about you, Scully. Maybe that's what made you so damn appealing."

God, he was beautiful. How had she lived for the past nine years without his companionship?

"This all used to be part of a ranch," Lyon said, watching as she gazed out upon the fields. "That was the main house there, and the cabins behind it were for the farmhands." There was an unexpected melancholy in his voice, and he saw the question in her eyes. "I like the way things are here, Scully. Simple and uncomplicated. It's a give and take relationship with the land. You only take so much, and then you give back. People can make their lives so complicated, searching for an answer, something that doesn't exist, when they don't have to."

She didn't know what to say in response to those words. The Mulder she once knew and loved would have argued that the search was all that mattered, that the truth defined us. He would never have said that a search for the truth was useless. This Mulder, older and more disillusioned, if that were possible, was different, wiser, wary. She filed the fact away for future use, along with the growing stockpile of things she was learning about this new Mulder.

She worried, anxious that the changes in Mulder, however they came about, were too great to overcome, that he could never accept her and their past. Although he may have forgotten, she remembered everything, every single moment they were together. Yet, as she stood next to him, holding in his hand in an unstated moment of trust, she knew none of it mattered. Not enough to change how much she loved him.

"You carry the weight of the world on your shoulders, Scully," he said gently. "You shouldn't be unhappy."

She shook her head, wanting him to understand. "Not unhappy, Lyon," she confessed. "Just overwhelmed. I am just trying to reconcile my past with my present. And my future." He watched her, his eyes patient, revealing nothing. "It's funny that, in some version, you are in all three."

That brought a smile from him, and they continued their walk, ambling slowly back towards the truck. She called him Lyon, the name he swore by, but in her heart, he was always Mulder. More than once during the day, she started to tell him something, stopping herself when she realized what name she was about to use. He said he was Lyon, and for now, she would bide her time, calling him whatever he wished.

"Tell me about your son, Scully." Her breath caught in her chest, and she prayed for guidance, to chose the right words. Will wasn't just her son. He was their son. Even if Lyon didn't know it. She was struck again by the irony, how this man had a young son miles away, a boy that he never knew existed, a boy who adored his memory. She vaguely wondered how Will would react to the real person, if he would even get the opportunity to find out. She had to make sure he did, for both Mulder and Will.

"William is a wonderful boy," she began. "Smart, curious, inquisitive. Respectful, for the time being. He would be in heaven here. He loves to ride horses. He's got horse pictures all over his wall, and gallops down the hallway to breakfast in the morning. I think he would live in a barn if I would let him." The thoughts of Will made her sad, and she stopped, picturing him miles away, wondering why his mother was traipsing over the country looking for his father. He deserved better.

"Is he like his father?" Lyon's question was unexpected, and, as she peeked up at his face, he looked away, intently studying the tree line in the distance. The question was a weighted one, and she didn't know how to respond. He has your eyes, she thought, and your pensive stare when he was contemplating a problem. He has your long fingers, and your sarcastic wit. He is your son in every way.

"Yes," she answered instead. "Very much so."

"And you, Scully? If you don't gallop horses alongside Will for a living, what do you do?" He was so curious, and she wanted to answer every question for him, so she tried to ignore the surreal nature of the moment, telling Mulder all these things he should already know.

In truth, she prayed to see a flicker of recognition in his eyes after her response.

"Pre-FBI, I was a doctor. Post-FBI, I am a doctor. When I was with the Bureau, I carried a gun and chased bad guys." With you by my side.

He nodded knowingly. "I can see you as both. Healing the sick, righting the wrong. I just"" He shook his head, searching for the truck keys in his pocket.

"What, Lyon?" she urged. Tell me. Say the words I need to hear.

"I'm trying to imagine being alongside you," he ultimately offered, "chasing monsters in the darkness."

Oh, Mulder. You were always by my side.

There was nothing else to say as he opened the door for her, and Scully slid into the truck. As he sat beside her, closing the door against the darkness, she felt safe. She had the missing piece of the puzzle beside her, the one person she needed to make everything right. Even if the looks had changed, even if the edges were worn, it was still the crucial link.

So she kissed him, and stopped running. Stopped running towards the truth, and stopped running away from the loneliness. She found what she needed.

"Scully?" he asked, pulling away from her. "Do you trust me?"

She nodded in response. "Of course I do, Lyon."

He was pleased with her answer, and turned the key in the ignition. "Good. Then let's go riding."


II.

He could tell by the apprehension in her eyes that Scully was having second thoughts about her decision. He led Beau out of the stall, and tried to see the dapple-grey gelding through Scully's eyes. He could imagine the horse looked huge. But she bit her lip as the horse walked up beside her, and reached up to stroke the short mane. "Big horse," she finally said, and he smiled. How could he keep falling more and more in love with this woman at each passing moment?

"Hey, Scully," he said, leaning down to kiss her as he led Beau outside. Her lips were so soft, and he could have stayed there, kissing her for hours, if Beau hadn't thrown his head up and snorted into the evening air. "It'll all turn out okay," he finally murmured as he pulled away. "I know," she said, and he was amazed. That he was loved, that he was trusted, that he had found this beautiful woman who cared for him so much.

"How did Will get started riding?" he asked, pulling the saddle and blanket off the rack near the front of the barn and tossing them on Beau's broad back. "Seems a little unusual for the urban wilderness of the East Coast." Scully's expression softened at the mention of her son, and he was touched again by her devotion to Will. He imagined her as a mother, caring and loving. It wasn't hard to do.

"It's a long story," she said. "I had no idea what I was getting us all into with a five-dollar pony ride."

Scully was a fascinating mixture of power and frailty. It was what drew him to her from the moment he first saw her, at Joe's. The more time he spent with her that day, time that he savored as precious, the more he became aware of a worn quality about her, a weariness with the world and its games. He recognized it easily, because he wore the same face, the same mask of disinterest in the name of self-preservation.

Had she always been like this, this controlling, this hard, this sad? He didn't want to imagine what had caused this change in her, because he instinctively knew that Mulder had been a part of it. And, although she hadn't said the words, Scully still believed he was Mulder. He wasn't Mulder. He simply couldn't be Mulder. But there was such a natural connection between he and Scully, things that he instinctively knew she liked and that she didn't, phrases that she said which caused him to rack his brain, trying to figure out when he heard the words before. He never believed in soulmates, or reincarnation, or karma. Life was what you saw.

Scully was beginning to change his outlook, all of it, and that frightened him.

"Are you the only one riding tonight, Lyon?" she asked, reining in his wavering thoughts. She had an impish smile, one that had bestowed upon him often that day. But he had a feeling her smiles were rare, probably only reserved for her son. He felt blessed everytime she conferred one upon him.

"You'd like that, wouldn't you, Scully?" he teased, reaching under the horse to grab the loose end of the cinch. "Actually, I thought you and I would ride together. You might feel safer that way."

He lightly kneed Beau near the cinch, as the stubborn gelding had a habit of holding his breath whenever he was saddled, causing the saddle to be loose when a rider mounted. Lyon was so focused on his task that he missed Scully's response to his words, the way she squeezed her eyes shut as he told her he wanted her to feel safe. Little did he know that simply by being around her, she was.

"It's easier if you mount first," he said, looping Beau's reins over the fence and crouching down, holding his fingers laced together for her. Her shoes were practical, but not riding boots. They looked like something she would choose: a medium heel, sturdy, but somehow still sexy and appealing. He had never given women's footwear much thought, but, as Scully placed one shoe in his hand and hoisted herself up in the air, swinging her other leg over the saddle, he thought he might have been missing out.

She didn't look frightened alone on top of the horse, nor anxious. Not even uncomfortable. Instead, she in some way managed to look alluring, peering down at him in the dusk, waiting for him to join her. As he did, settling easy into the worn leather, he realized this might have been a very bad idea. Not the riding, as he wanted to show Scully parts of the land that were best accessed by horseback.

While it may have been easier for them both to ride one horse, rather than worrying about her on another, her weight pressing against his groin was instantly arousing, and he closed his eyes, trying to regain control of the moment. As she moved against him in an attempt to get comfortable, he almost lost control. "Hold still for a minute," he said, his voice short. But it betrayed him, as he heard the tone of arousal and need, and knew that she did, too.

"Are you okay?" she finally asked, hesitant, and distinctively amused.

He barked a short laugh. "Damn, Scully, you make a man think some very improper thoughts." That seemed please her, even though it was nothing but the truth.

Beau walked easy down the dirt road, leading past the Wilkins' house and the barn and towards the open fields. The cattle were quiet tonight, standing motionless in the darkness, and he saw their dark shadows looming on either side of them. He knew they were an audience to something very significant, whatever it was that was happening between he and Scully.

Scully's body shifted vaguely in rhythm with the horse's gait, and he allowed his hips to rotate slightly against her. "Will would be incredibly impressed if he could see me now," she announced.

"You've ridden with him?" he asked, curious about her son and how Scully interacted with him. He was a student of human nature, and saw all sorts of mothers, from overprotective and smothering to those who simply didn't care. He imagined Scully somewhere in the middle, with definite smothering tendencies.

"Only once," she said, sighing as she moved further against him, resting her head against his chest. "I think I held him back, because he never asked me to ride with him again." God, could this woman be any more spirited? He visualized the determined set of her jaw as she rode beside her son, intent on keeping up with him, making him happy.

"I'm sure he was proud of you for trying," he concluded. Lyon wondered how hard it had been for her, being a single-mother. He imagined that the sacrifices were those that she made willingly.

She thought he was the father.

That idea gave him pause, and for the first time, he allowed himself to imagine life as a father, having a son who adored him, who respected him. It was a bit unnerving, but not in a frightening way. It was much the same as he felt from the moment he met Scully. It was a life he did not choose, but was now being offered tantalizing glimpses.

A life with a woman who loved him, and who he adored. A son who loved to ride, whose sparkling eyes reflected an enchantment with the world that Lyon had long ago lost. A permanent, secure home, not the transient lifestyle he had known for years. He wasn't sure he would fit in.

But it was far away, the house and the little boy, and Scully was here with him now, pressed against him in the darkness, and he inhaled deeply of her perfume and the saddle leather and the Summer air. "This is beautiful, Lyon," she said, and he pressed his face against her cheek, murmuring into her hair,

"It is," he thought aloud. "I love it out here. It's quiet. Just you and the horse."

They entered one of the pastures now, and he instinctively looked up into the stars. "You see that grouping of stars over there?" he asked her, pointing one finger into the heavens. The sky was impossibly clear, and it looked as if a thousand diamonds had been spread across the dark night sky.

She turned, gazing upward and nodded. "I do." "It's the Virgo constellation," he said, bringing Beau to a halt near the trees and sliding to the ground, his hand resting on Scully's knee. "The brightest star, the one there on top, is Spica. It's the alpha star. Two hundred and sixty light years away." She stroked his fingers with her own, listening to his words. "It's deceiving, though. It looks like one bright star, although it's actually two. And it's dying. Even though it is so bright, it's a dying giant, slowly burning itself out."

He wasn't sure what he was trying to tell her. That appearances could be deceiving, that what we perceive to be true can be a hoax, that our hearts and minds can see something that really isn't that.

That he wasn't Mulder, but he loved her, and never wanted her to leave his side.

"You spend a lot of time under the stars, don't you, Lyon?" She added a special emphasis to his name, and he knew she understood. He began to walk, holding Beau by the reins as they approached a small stream. It divided the Wilkins' property from the north, and was hidden from view by a low line of brush and trees.

The sound of the gurgling water in the darkness gave him pause, and he prayed to whatever deity might exist to make this moment last.

Let me be enough for her, he fervently thought.

He told her the truth, that he could offer her nothing more. Scully took his hand, dismounting, and they sat together on the remains of a fallen tree near the stream. "I find my horse and the evening sky to be better companions than most of the humans I know." One side of her mouth twisted upwards as he hastily added, "Present company excluded, of course."

"Where are you staying tonight, Lyon?" she asked, startling him. He hadn't thought that far ahead, but knew that he wanted to stay with her. He couldn't find the words to tell her. "I mean," she said, flustered at his silence, "it's late, and after you drive me back to the motel, it will be even later."

Her uncertainty was gently amusing. "Where would you like me to stay, Scully?"

Say it, Scully, he willed. I can't, but I'll stay with you if you ask. There's no place I'd rather be.

"C'mon, Lyon. Give me a straight answer," she said, staring intently into the water.

"Ask me a straight question," he responded.

And the distant call of the bird grew quiet, and a cloud crossed over the moon, and he swore even the creek became still. She was illuminated with the most slender beam of light, and he wanted the moment to last forever, just he and Scully, together, away from the craziness of the world.

"Can I stay with you tonight?" she asked, in a tiny, hopeful voice. And he had never loved a person more than he did this woman at that moment. He tilted her chin up so he could look into her eyes, and kissed her gently before answering. "I'd never let you go," he responded, and it was the truth.


III.

"I think you're going to have to help me off here," she managed in a shaky voice, and Lyon fought back a smile as he dismounted and grabbed Beau by the reins, holding his hat in the opposite hand. It was dark now, the only light coming from the barn up ahead and the stars above them, beacons in the darkness. Yet he could see her smile clearly, and the way her cheeks were flushed, and how her hair was gently tousled from the breeze.

He had fallen in love with this woman, and he didn't give a damn about the consequences.

"Grab onto my shoulders," he said as he walked up closer to her. He let the reins drop as she leaned over slightly, putting both hands out to him. So trusting, and he vowed he would never do anything to harm her. Of all the things he had learned about Scully, he knew instinctively that her trust was not given easily. For some reason, Lyon had it, and he treasured it, knowing its immeasurable value.

He pulled her off the horse, and felt her press up against him in the darkness, her hands tangled behind his head. Oh, god. He hadn't thought of this when he reached up to help her dismount, and he was unprepared for the sensations that ran through his body. Scully's full length was against his, and he couldn't help the groan that escaped from his lips. It was so unexpectedly erotic and intimate that he felt her shiver, and he held her even tighter, anchoring himself to that moment with her touch.

If he had any doubts, any doubts that he was immersed far over his head, that moment confirmed it for him. Scully felt it, too, he knew, by the way she stood on her toes to whisper in his ear. "Thank you," she sighed, her voice light and airy and full of want.

"Jesus," he managed, just before he roughly pulled her head back and kissed her.

It was not the sweet, gentle caress of the kisses they shared earlier in the day. Instead, it was a hard, demanding kiss, one that screamed unequivocally of how much he wanted her, of how much his body and spirit desired her. Scully never flinched, never retreated from his kiss. She parted her mouth under him, touching his tongue fleetingly with the tip of her own. He groaned again, tightening his hold on her, and he grew bolder, tracing his hands down her back and lifting her just slightly, so her body pressed against the junction of his thighs.

"Lyon, I want"" He knew what she wanted, for he wanted the same thing. He kissed her again, and then let her slide abruptly against his body to the ground, setting her on her feet.

"I do too, Scully," he managed, his voice raw. "Just not right here."

He was ready to take her in the middle of the Wilkins' driveway, for god's sakes. She deserved better, he thought, looking at her guiltily in the hazy twilight. She deserved the best he could give her, and he wanted to give her everything. Lyon was ashamed that he had so little to offer, but he could certainly do better than the hard Texas soil.

It was lust, but it was more. He wanted the best for Scully because he loved her. He met her only a day ago, yet he knew with agonizing certainty that he loved her.

The horse gave a low snort, shaking his head, causing both he and Scully to jump. "Guess we forgot we had an audience," Scully said, and he could tell by the tone of her voice that she was a little embarrassed. He kissed her again, lightly, on the forehead, and then held on to her hand, perching his hat on top of her head. She looked good in his clothes. She would look better without them, without any at all.

"I guess we did," he answered her, and they began to walk, slowly, letting the gelding cool off and giving them both a moment to regain their senses. "I think you could be a good rider, Scully," he said, making small talk, trying to bring them back to an even keel.

She rolled her eyes at him. "I don't think so. Will inherited his riding abilities from someone other than me."

Her words were unintentionally poignant, and he had a fleeting glimpse of a redheaded boy with his own dark eyes, cantering beside him in an open field.

"It's not rocket science," he answered, shaking the image away. "It's all about balance, a give and take, an understanding of the horse." As they started walking, her initial steps had been unsteady, and he wanted to think it was due to his kisses, for it certainly made his own legs weak. But he knew their brief ride must have had some effect, given her admitted lack of riding experience.

"How long have you ridden, Lyon?" she asked him as they stopped by the barn and he began to unsaddle their mount.

He stopped midway through unbuckling the cinch. He couldn't remember. "I don't know," he slowly admitted, trying to recall the first time his father set him on a pony or how often he rode as a child. The memory wasn't there. "I suppose forever, since I can't remember ever starting."

She gazed at him steadily, her eyes speaking volumes that she was afraid to put into words. They both were, so they let the moment escape.

"C'mere," he said as he led the horse into the stall, shutting the gate behind him and grabbing her by the hand. "I want to show you something." She followed him willingly, only hesitating for a moment as he gestured at the ladder up into the hayloft. She climbed up first, and he pointedly looked at the gate, the walls, the horses, anything to avoid looking at Scully's shapely legs as she climbed up the ladder.

He tried to remember that, beneath the rough exterior of a cowboy, he was a gentleman. But Scully made it damn hard to keep that fact in mind.

She had already settled into the space overlooking the pasture by the time he followed her into the loft. "This is beautiful, Lyon," she breathed, and he agreed. The loft overlooked the back of the Wilkins' land, and, with the sparse trees and the straight line of the fence, there was precious little between their bodies and the stars.

"I know," he answered, sitting beside her, naturally drawing her body to his. He pulled a few blankets from the stack near the wall, and spread them out over the hay. "I come up here a lot at night, to be by myself, and to look at the stars. To think."

"Why are you such a private man, Lyon? Who hurt you so?" It was the unspoken question she had been mulling most of the day, and she spoke it so softly, so easily, that he almost missed it beneath the quiet Summer breeze. "No one," he finally answered. "Everyone. I don't know, Scully. I really don't. I only know that I never felt like I could trust anyone. I never wanted to."

Oh, god. He was desperately clutching his self-control, hanging about him in tatters. "Until you, Scully. I want to trust you." He couldn't take back the words when he uttered them, so they hung between them, dancing, tantalizing them both. He couldn't move, but only watched her as she moved, stopping inches from his lips. "Trust me, Lyon."

It didn't matter what she called him. It all felt so right, so natural, that the issue of his name was no longer important. Reaching down to pull her shirt up from her slacks, he vowed to show her with his body what there weren't enough words to express. That he trusted her, that he loved her, that he would do most anything for her.

As he lifted her shirt up over her head, he stopped, staring at the exquisite sight of the moonlight on her pale skin. Her breasts were revealed with the single twist of the bra clasp, and she pulled off her slacks on her own. It was not her naked body that aroused him the most, although the curve of her hips and the dark curls between her legs took his breath away.

It was the look on her face, the open, simple expression of a woman who loved him. He felt unworthy, and joyous, and wanted to weep and shout at the same moment.

"Let me see you," she said, and he could not refuse her gentle request. He couldn't refuse her much of anything, he realized, as he stood in front of her, facing her, watching as she lay on her back on the soft blanket, naked, never taking her eyes from him. Her eyes were the color of a turbulent sea, and his last clear thought was that they were both far past the point of tangible reason.

Scully looked at him, cataloguing him with a lover's eye. But instead of making him feel awkward, he was incredibly aroused. He was also making a sacrifice for her. Because instead of loving her with just his body, as he had other women before, he was loving her with his heart.

"You feel exactly like I dreamed you would," she said, as he laid next to her, bringing his hand up to the warmth between her thighs, the burnished curls tickling his fingertips. "You've dreamt about us, Scully?" he asked her, tracing the outline of her nipple with the tip of his tongue. She arched her back and purred. "God, yes. I've dreamt of you."

Then he was on his back, and she straddled his hips, and he was inside of her. And he knew, as long as he would breathe, this moment would remain etched in his memory as perfect. Scully above him, nude, her head thrown back and her red hair teasing her shoulders, and the full Texas moon rising above her, bathing them both in twilight.

"Yes, baby," he murmured, urging her on as she settled her body into an easy rhythm. He wanted this moment to last forever, he realized, and thrust his hips against her, dragging her closer to him, slowing the rhythm to a more manageable pace. "Jesus, Scully," he whispered, unsure of what he wanted to say, and not able to find the words in any case.

She whimpered, and moved just slightly, rotating her hips so the friction changed, and he shuddered. He wanted to tell her that this was about so much more, so much more than just sex. That he had never felt this way, and it frightened him. But that he wanted her to know he would never hurt her, and that he would always do his best to protect her.

Scully knew, by the way she brought her hands up to his face, lovingly resting them on his shoulders, using the leverage to increase her motions above him. She knew, as they both came, and the name he cried was hers, and it was said with as much reverence and tenderness as the moment would allow. She knew, for as she fell on top of him, her body quivering, she let her breathing fall into a pattern echoing his own, and they were complete.

The minutes passed, and he could tell Scully was asleep, her body limp on top of him, her breathing finally slow and even. He didn't want to move, to ever feel her weight leave him, so he reached over to one side, stretching as he grabbed a spare blanket with his fingertips and pulled it over them. They lay there, cocooned.

Just as his eyes began to close, and he felt the hazy twinges of sleep pass over him, he heard a voice, his own. "You made me a whole person, Scully. I owe you everything, and you, you owe me nothing." He had never spoken those words to her, not during the day they spent together. But they were true, and, as he drifted to sleep, the voice continued to echo in his mind. "You saved me, Scully. You saved me."


Chapter Five

I.

Her eyes were heavy still, even as the first edges of dawn made their way into the loft, rousing her from her sleep. Sometime during the night, she had found her discarded shirt and underwear. But her legs were bare, and she pulled them beneath the blanket, the chill of the morning air giving her pause. As she opened her eyes, with regret, hesitant to leave the peaceful world of sleep and dreams, and Mulder, she took stock of her surroundings.

Her legs ached only slightly, and her neck was a little stiff from falling asleep on Mulder's bare chest. She wasn't sure how long she slept there, but, when she awoke, the night was inky black, and she could barely make out the features on his face. He had been relaxed, his breathing slow and even, and she never wanted her eyes to close. He was beautiful, and she had found him, and something seemed right again.

Regretfully, she did roll off him, but, even in his sleep, he gave a small moan of protest, quickly encircling her with his arms and pulling her closer to him. So she slept, with peace.

He wasn't there when she reached to her side. She panicked, sitting up straight. He wouldn't have left her, not again, not after everything that happened.

And he hadn't. Instead, he was standing by the open loft door, leaning against the aged wood, clad only in his worn jeans. One bare foot was propped over the other, and he had his hands slung low in his pockets. She admired him, her own Greek god, and with her eyes, lovingly traced the line of his back, the way his muscles stretched and tapered off into his jeans. She knew his body so well, and last night she treasured discovering it all over again.

"Lyon?" she said softly, standing unsteadily to her feet and wrapping the blanket around her bare legs, unwilling to take the time to find her slacks. He didn't turn around. "Aren't you cold without your shirt?"

Again he was silent, and then he dropped his head, and she could hear a strange emotion in his voice, one she couldn't define. "I didn't want to take it off you," he finally answered.

Confused, she looked down, realizing that, in the black of night, she had slipped on his shirt, which now hung down to her knees.

She walked up, reaching her arms around him, draping the blanket over them both, and kissed him on the neck. He didn't move, didn't react, and after a long moment, she began to get worried. What if he was angry with her? What if he had regrets? What if he wished he could have left her asleep in the loft this morning, so that they both would have had a moment to regroup, to adjust to the accelerated pace of their relationship?

"Lyon?" she asked again, more tentatively, her lips brushing against his neck.

"Oh, Scully," he said, and there was something different in the way he spoke her name. She recognized that he was trembling, and she panicked when she realized that they were sobs. Before she could speak, he turned quickly in her arms, nearly knocking her off her feet, and began to kiss her, worshipping her, showering her face with kisses. He brought both hands up to her face, and she could feel the wetness on his cheeks, his own tears.

He said her name, over and over again, chanting it with reverence and sadness and awe.

"Lyon? Are you okay? What's wrong?" She thought of every possibility, and felt the cold fear grip her again. Please, God. Please don't let this have been a mistake.

He finally slowed his kisses and simply held her in a loose embrace, her face pressed against his bare chest. "I saw you last night, Scully."

She was confused. Of course, he saw her. She revealed herself to him with wanton abandon, and nothing had ever felt so right. But slowly the pieces came together. "You dreamt of me?" she asked him, unsure of why he was so upset, so emotional. Please, God, she prayed again, this time with more fervent despair. Don't let him leave me again. It was a desperate plea.

And then he spoke the words, the words that changed everything, the words that frightened them both. "It wasn't a dream, Scully," he said in a low timbre, his breath teasing the hair on her neck. He spoke slowly and deliberately, trying to make her understand. "It wasn't a dream, Scully," he said again, pulling back to see her, tracing his fingers lovingly along her cheek. "It seemed almost like a memory."

Memories.

Her eyes widened, and she couldn't think of anything to say. The delayed reaction hit her a second later, and the words rushed over her, her own tidal wave of awareness. He saw a vision of their previous life together. Somehow, he was remembering who she was, who he was. Oh, god.

"What did you see, Lyon?" She had no idea what to call him, and he winced at her uncertainty, pulling away from her, pacing along the piles of hay stacked against the wall. They were both raw, ultra sensitive to the words and emotions that anchored them together, to that moment in time. Whatever was happening, whatever happened to Mulder during the night, had changed everything for them both.

"I saw you, Scully, standing in long hallway. You looked so tired, and so frightened, and all I wanted to do was comfort you, to make you somehow whole again. But I knew that I was part of the problem, and how could I fix that? I couldn't let you go." His voice dropped a few octaves until she could hardly hear him, but she instantly knew what he was describing.

Dear god. Mulder was recounting the moment in the hallway outside of his apartment, when he nearly kissed her, desperate for her not to leave for Salt Lake City. He remembered.

He couldn't stop, the words gushing forth in a torrent of repressed fear and anger. "You and I were standing in front of each other, and you were crying, and I felt like the biggest bastard in the world because I knew I was the one who made you cry. I was so scared I was going to lose you again."

He stopped, unsure, and she could only look at him, tears glistening in her eyes. He remembered. It wasn't a dream. It was a memory, a clear memory of their life together, a memory of Fox Mulder, the man who, up until two days ago, was a stranger to Will Lyon. Now the unthinkable for him, that they were one and the same.

Mulder saw the fear in her eyes, and walked towards her, holding onto her free hand. His voice dropped a fraction, and she swore she saw the ghost of a smile float across his face. "Tell me about that moment, Scully, because I know it was real. I knew it last night, because I could smell your perfume, and felt your tears on my hands when I wiped them away."

Her tears fell freely now. Mulder was recounting the night she almost left him behind, the night that set forth the dreadful course of events where he turned the world upside down to find her. It was the night she knew, with amazing clarity, just how much he meant to her. And he remembered. Oh, god, Mulder.

She lost track of time, and then she was sitting in his lap, his chin resting on her head. "I don't understand, Lyon," she said, and she felt him shake his head.

"I don't either," he answered, tightening his arms around her. "And I don't even have to ask you if it was true, if you and Mulder shared that moment. I see it in your face." Neither of them understood what was happening. You and Mulder, he said, and she realized he couldn't put the pieces together, could not fathom the unthinkable.

"It wasn't a dream, Scully. It was a memory." A long pause, and she wanted so badly to comfort him, to give him the answers he so desperately needed. She needed them, too. She needed to understand why he was taken from her, and how, in the course of a single day, she found him, and he remembered. It was a small moment, a fraction of the kaleidoscope of memories they shared, but for now, it was enough.

"At first, I thought my mind was deceiving me, that I wanted so badly to be Mulder for you that I convinced myself I actually might be. I want to be enough for you. But it was so real. I lived it."

He lived it. Just as she did. When she first started working with Mulder, when she believed the lies that were told to her as truths, she kept a journal, a memoir of sorts about her experiences. As time progressed, those experiences became more bizarre, too terrifying to make real with words, so she only recorded them in her mind.

She wanted to run through that list, day by day, to see if he remembered. But what was their truth? What happened to him? She could see the uncertainty in his eyes, and she had no answer, no weapon to fight the evil that lurked in the shadows, the evil that took Mulder away from her and made him another man. But they, whoever they were, couldn't take away the memory of one fleetingly perfect moment.

She only wanted to have Mulder and Will beside her, sitting near a gurgling Texas stream, watching the sunrise.

The sound of a car horn in the driveway caused them both to jump. Mulder got to his feet, walking a few steps to see who arrived at the Wilkins. She was embarrassed, sitting in a stranger's barn without any pants on. She quickly changed shirts, lingering over Mulder's soft cotton with regret, and found her slacks, crumpled beneath a blanket. She slid them on, brushing out the wrinkles and picking off the stray wisps of hay. Taking a deep breath, she mentally braced herself for the day, for whatever reality she and Mulder were to find outside of the loft.

Mulder wore a confused expression as he walked back to her, slipping his shirt on and sliding on his boots. "It's the county sheriff," he explained as he took her hand, leading her over to the ladder. As he stepped aside to help her down, he said her name, and she looked up into his dark, expressive eyes. "I love you," he simply said, and she nodded.

"I know," she answered him, and she did know.

"Lyon," the sheriff announced as they walked out of the barn. He was standing on the Wilkins' front porch, one hand on his hip, his face shadowed by a large cowboy hat.

"Sheriff Bensimon," Mulder responded, holding her hand tightly as they walked up to the house. "Mr. and Mrs. Wilkins aren't here, Sheriff. They went down to Austin for the weekend."

The sheriff gave her a curious glance, but said nothing. Instead, he took off his hat and walked down the steps, joining them in the front yard. Scully held onto Mulder's hand tighter. The sheriff wore his law enforcement persona well. His holster hung low on his hips, and the badge on his chest glittered in the morning sunlight. She had a fleeting moment of fear, that somehow he was here to take Mulder away again.

"Actually, I was here looking for you, Lyon. I'm afraid I have some bad news for you." At his words, the fear in Scully's heart grew, and she vowed that Mulder would never be taken from her again. She simply wouldn't allow it.

Mulder showed no reaction to the Sheriff's announcement. He stood very still, his expression bland and emotionless. She had not come all this way to lose Mulder again. Not just for the two of them, but for Will. He needed his father, and she swore she would give that to him.

Oblivious to their quiet drama, the Sheriff watched them with a steady gaze. "It's about the Wilkins, Lyon. They're dead, killed in a car crash late last night near Austin."

Scully closed her eyes, somehow knowing that the proverbial other shoe had just dropped.


II.

It never rained this much in Texas, at least during this time of year. She learned this from the handful of farmhands who gathered at the Wilkins' home that afternoon. Their faces were tired, and tanned, and they reminded her of Mulder, with their dusty Levis and well-worn boots. Or at least the new incarnation of Mulder.

Scully sat alone on the front porch swing, barefoot, tracing the worn outline of the cracked wood with her feet. It was afternoon, and the ominous clouds which were gathered near the treeline at noon had finally erupted, bringing forth a torrent of rain, the large drops slapping against the dirt driveway, quickly turning it into a river of mud.

Make it real, she willed silently. Make this moment real, the warm rain falling from the heavens, the Summer breeze, the way the trees in the front yard swayed and danced in the wind, the rivulets of water streaming off the side of the porch. Make Mulder real.

She saw the truth falling together, although she knew that a certain element of the truth had died alongside a Texas highway to Austin, in the Wilkins' truck. Even if they had no idea how Will Lyon came to be, they knew how he walked onto their ranch, how he worked their lands and tended to their herds. They knew, but they were gone, their answers silent, fading away.

Were they a part of the deception? Did it matter?

The swing swayed gently as Mulder sat down beside her, his eyes betraying his exhaustion and sadness.

"You okay?" she asked, not knowing what else to say. Their emotions were sensitive, and she wanted nothing more to walk out into the rain, into the surrounding pastures, and simply be alone. That would have meant leaving Mulder, however, and she wasn't prepared to do that.

"I guess so," he roughly replied, staring intently at the floor. "I don't know what the hell is going on, Scully. In the past two days, my life has been completely turned upside down. I don't understand anything anymore."

She was angry at what had been done to them. Damn angry, and she wondered vaguely again if things would ever be the same. "The Wilkins were good people, Scully," he continued. "They gave me a roof over my head, and respectability. And they helped you find me."

But what part did they play in the deception? The morning she stood in the Wilkins' driveway seemed a lifetime ago. She wasn't even the same person as she was then, the hopeful, determined woman who was so focused on finding Mulder. Now, she found him, yet the world was a slippery landscape of jumbled emotions and words unsaid.

"They did help me find you, Lyon," she finally answered. She wanted him to understand. How much should she say? She wanted to tell him that she believed their deaths to be no accident, that they died because she came to Texas, that they died because he remembered a fleeting moment in a hallway years ago. But he wouldn't understand. Not yet, not this soon, not when he still lived and breathed life as Will Lyon.

He didn't meet her eyes. "And now they're gone," he responded, and she winced at the barely contained anger in his voice. She had heard that tone from him countless times before, always when they had their backs against the wall, always when it seemed as if their last chance was gone. It was different now, she wanted to scream. We have a child, and we have a chance to build a life together, one that was taken from us.

Mulder wanted answers, and she had never been able to deny him his quest for the truth.

Before she could speak, the front door opened, and Scully saw one of the ranch hands emerge. She herself had been in the house earlier that day, when the sheriff first arrived. Walking into the shadowed foyer, she had crinkled her nose, the smell reminding her of the houses of older people. Cooked vegetables, and dust from rooms whose doors were rarely, if ever, opened. Mulder didn't belong in this place.

The young man walked over to them, and she vaguely remembered his name as Mark, in the rush of introductions that had been made in the late morning as the Wilkins' crew arrived and heard the news. "Lyon," he said, his boots heavy on the wooden porch, "I finished up those phone calls. The herd is ready to ship out on Monday, and Mr. Wilkins' son finally called back. He's on his way down here."

Mulder never moved, his face impassive, and Scully knew he was slipping away, away from the joyous cocoon in the loft this morning, away from the possibility that he was Mulder, that they shared a life together. In his grief, and anger, he shut down the realm of the impossible, instead focusing on inhaling and exhaling.

What was once lost was now found, and she could never bear the pain of that loss again.

Mark was looking at them expectedly, as if waiting for some sort of response. She glanced at Mulder, who sat staring out into the afternoon drizzle. "Thank you," she murmured, unsure of exactly what to say. "I know the Wilkins would have appreciated it." Mark looked at her curiously, as if trying to place her face, and then smiled tightly before walking off.

The remainder of the men said their goodbyes, murmuring words of half-hearted comfort to each other. They seemed to Scully to be expressions people thought they should say at a moment like this, when casual conversation seemed inappropriate and no one wanted to seem insensitive.

Her cell phone rang, the sound jarring amidst the drizzle of rain and perfunctory gestures. Mulder watched her curiously as she searched for the phone in the pocket of her slacks. It was Walter, her reminder of the outside world, of the way things were just a week ago. Dana Scully, single mother and former FBI agent. Somehow, she didn't feel like the same person, much as she imagined Mulder felt.

The world would forever be different for the both of them.

"Walter," she said as she answered the phone, and she watched Mulder's eyes when he heard Walter's name. Nothing. No moment of recognition. She felt her stomach twist, and realized it was all too soon for Mulder, too fast. Their intimacy had brought forth one memory, but she refused to believe the rest of those memories were not still there, behind the floodgates of another man's life.

"I was worried, Dana," Walter said. "I tried to call you a few times last night, but you didn't answer. Did you find out anything? Did you find Mulder?"

"Yes," was her only response, because she didn't know where to begin. There was no possible way she could begin to describe the past two days to anyone. What she and Mulder had experienced was something that had changed them both.

The static in the background was the only sound for what seemed like minutes, neither she nor Walter knowing what to say. Mulder only watched her, quiet, his eyes shadowed. She wanted to scream at him, to tell him to say something, anything, so she would know what he was thinking. It saddened her, to realize that she could no longer read his thoughts, that the instinctual reaction to his emotions was gone.

"You found him," Walter finally said. It was surreal to hear the words, and she knew Walter was disbelieving. "Is he alright? Is everything okay? Where the hell has he been?"

"Things are complicated right now," she offered, not wanting Walter to think ill of Mulder. That was all she would say, knowing the rest would gradually emerge over time. "I'm fine. Right now, that's all I can tell you."

Walter was immediately concerned. "Do you need me to come down there, Dana?" The protectiveness in her voice brought unexpected tears to her eyes.

"No," she responded immediately, wiping away the wetness as Mulder got to his feet, walking away from her, leaning against the railing on his elbows. "And don't tell Will," she whispered. She wasn't ready for Will to know. She wasn't ready because she didn't know what was going to happen in the next hour, the next day, the next week. "I'll call him myself," she asserted, not giving Walter a chance to protest. "I have to go," she said, getting up to stand near Mulder, holding onto his hand.

His hand was intensely warm, and she savored the sensation. It was life, and it reminded her that he was here with her. She wasn't doing this alone. Disconnecting the phone, she stood in silence. The rain was finally beginning to slack off, the large drops diminishing to a steady haze. The air smelled clear, fresh, dancing over her face with the afternoon breeze. The grass, though still damp with rain, glistened beneath the emerging sun, and she relished the sight, the fact that Mulder was standing beside her to see it.

"I hope everything's okay," he said, nodding vaguely in the direction of the phone. If you only knew, she thought, shrugging her shoulders in response.

"Things between us will never be simple, will they?" It was Mulder's question, but he already knew the answer. She knew the connection that brought them together. She knew that Will was his child. She knew that the death of the couple who he cared for was part of a larger plan, something he could not yet process. Something she could not understand herself.

"I need to have things arranged here," he said, "for when Jerry gets into town. He's the Wilkins' son. I don't know what he's going to want to do. The cattle have to be shipped out, the men have to be paid -"

When he paused, she wanted to scream at him about the insignificance of the damn cattle, when they were so close to the truth. And then she realized she sounded exactly like him, back in the days when he was driven by a force even he could not define.

"Yes," she finally said. "There will be a lot to do."

He kissed her suddenly, an unexpected ferocity to his embrace. "I haven't forgotten this morning, Scully. I haven't forgotten that memory, that feeling." Oh, Mulder. Don't forget, because it's all we have for the time being.

"I'll drive you back to the motel," he announced, pulling away from her, turning his face so she would not see his tears. "I imagine we would both like a hot shower, a chance to get cleaned up."

"Okay," she whispered. They were leaving this place, this spot of discovery and heartache and deception, and she was glad. They needed time to heal, to lick the wounds of their latest escapade.

He kissed her lightly on the lips, murmuring, "It'll be okay, Scully." And she believed him, for what other choice did she have?

She should call her mother, who was doubtless worried over her impromptu drive to Texas. She should call her son, to let him know she was okay and that she was thinking of him. But she simply stood there, motionless on a dead man's porch, and watched Mulder walk to the barn, through the last of the storm.


III.

He flipped through the telephone book, passing through the Albertsons and the Criglers and the Hollidays and the Joneses. He stopped at Lyon, recognizing the first entry as that of Larry Lyon, who lived in a small house off Main Street. His wife had passed away a few months ago, and the handful of times he saw Mr. Lyon in the streets, his eyes were rimmed with red and his breath smelled distinctly of bourbon.

Lyon wondered what it would be like to love someone so much that, when they were taken from you, life simply didn't seem worth living. Reality paled in comparison to the dull numbness of alcohol. He thought of Scully, how she searched for Mulder, her strength never wavering, and he wondered how this woman, this invincible woman, came to be.

And then there was his name. Will Lyon, Rural Route 26. That was the Wilkins' address. He never got any mail there, except for the odd solicitation or the revival announcement from the local Baptist Church. He never cared much, to be honest. Mail and phone calls and visits were inconsequential when you didn't give a damn about anyone but yourself.

But now he did, a redheaded woman who silently believed he was another man, and who loved him beneath the Texas stars. Now there was a reason to give a damn, he thought, a shiver dancing down his spine, because he was sure the moment he told Scully she was everything, that she saved him, was real. He lived it. In that moment, he was Mulder.

The door to the room opened, and Scully entered, balancing a drink In each hand and a bag of chips under her chin. She shut the door with her foot, pushing it extra hard. Lyon wondered absently how old the door was, and how many more years it would take for the frame to warp completely in the warm Texas humidity. Like so many things in this town, time was wearing them away, reshaping them into a new form.

He should have gotten up to help her. But he couldn't move from his position on the bed, where his legs were stretched out on the worn bedspread and the town phone book lay open in his lap. He couldn't take his eyes from her, savoring every detail, like a man dying of thirst who spots a clear stream in the distance.

Leaving her would kill him, but he had to leave her to save them both.

She wordlessly handed him his iced tea and they unwrapped their sandwiches. "Are you going to be okay, Lyon?" she finally asked him. He wanted to laugh at her, to tell her he really had no idea if he would ever be okay again. That he wasn't sure who he really was, that the couple he once trusted were dead, that he felt he was somehow indirectly involved, that he loved her so goddamned much it hurt.

But that wouldn't be fair, so he gave her a semblance of a smile before he replied. "I think so. You are here, and for the moment, that is enough." He was proud of himself for speaking the truth, for the right words brought an answering smile from Scully. He noticed how the wrinkles near her eyes became more prominent as she smiled, and how the weariness, which haunted her expression since she came into town, now seemed more noticeable.

"What did you do, Scully, when you found out Mulder was gone?" He tortured himself with conjectures about that time, what she went through, finding out she was pregnant with a new life when she had no idea if Mulder was dead or alive. But he needed to know. The desire in him pulsated, twisted through his body, demanded satisfaction. He couldn't explain it, but the thought of Scully alone, pregnant and desperate, blinded him.

"I looked for him," she said simply, blinking as if surprised by his question, and it was enough. He loved her so impossibly much that it nearly crippled him.

Which is why he had come to decision, as they drove the once familiar road back to Scully's motel room. The town taunted him, laughing in the face of his confusion. He knew every stoplight, every business lining the dusty two-lane. But he wasn't sure what was real. The memories of his forty-odd years were twisted, confused. He tried to understand if it was the normal wear of time, the way the wood of the motel creaked and the Wilkins' front porch sagged, or if it was something more. If everything was fading for a reason.

He had to know. He had to answer the questions for himself, for Scully and for Will. And he had to do it alone.

Scully finished her sandwich, crinkling the paper in her hands, and he knew he was a bastard. He had to protect her. She had no idea that he was leaving her. That, in a few short hours, he would walk out that battered door into the evening darkness in a desperate attempt to find the truth. Nothing would be the same for them until he knew.

He had to know who he really was, and until then, he refused to put Scully and her son in danger, refused to taint their life with his uncertain presence.

"I'm sorry about the Wilkins," she said, and he watched her face as she spoke. "I know you found a home there, Lyon, and I know how important that was for you."

Home. When he was a child, he would come in from school, and his mother would always be there to welcome him, her apron sprinkled with flour from whatever project she had going on in the kitchen. She would make him a sandwich, and he would sit on the back porch. When his parents died, a certain love died with him.

He always believed that was why his emotions were a sparse landscape, where nothing would take root. He traveled once towards the border, to South Texas, picking up some cattle with Mr. Wilkins, and he was fascinated with the flat desert and the mountains in the background. He saw himself.

And now he wondered if any of it was real, if his barren heart was because something was taken from him, something that was his and his alone, something he had only chosen to share with this beautiful woman who believed he was someone else.

He wondered if he believed it, too.

"I think I'm going to take a shower now," Scully said, grabbing the trash from the bed as she stood. She walked over to him, kissing him on the head, and every breath he drew as she stood over him was painful. It was a reminder of what might have been taken from him. "Do you need anything else?" she asked, resting her chin on the top of his head.

I need so much, Scully. I need you, I need answers, I need to find the truth that will make everything okay. "I'm fine," he lied, and she believed him, because she wanted to do so.

He listened as she took off her clothes in the small bathroom, the sound of her slacks and her blouse hitting the tile. Lyon heard the water turn on, and he swore he heard a sigh. He imagined Scully standing underneath the water, letting it cascade down her back, her hair becoming damp.

A pounding began near his temples as he remembered Scully standing in that long hallway, frustration and heartache on her face. He knew she never cried. What brought forth those tears? Why was she leaving him that day? He was determined to remember. He was determined to give her back what she lost. But he could only do that by leaving her again.

Before he could doubt himself, Lyon was standing in the bathroom, the steam from the shower already blanketing the small space. He unzipped his jeans, adding them to the messy pile of Scully's clothes. And he pulled the curtain back, and stepped inside.

"I wondered what was taking you so long," she said, and he smiled.

"I'm an old man, Scully," he said, intending to tease her, but becoming distracted by the way the water ran down her back, tracing the curve of her legs before hitting the tile. "But I could never turn down an invitation from the woman I love."

"I don't remember inviting you," she began to reply, but he cut off her words with his mouth, kissing her with an urgency he felt from the moment the Sheriff arrived at the ranch that morning, from the moment he realized that he could not rest, not yet. She sighed beneath him, bringing her arms around him, pulling him under the warm stream.

Scully's hands were everywhere, slick from the remnants of soap and shampoo, and, as they caressed him, she whispered his name in his ear. "I found you," she said, stopping only to kiss him again, her tongue flicking against his teeth. He knew what she meant, that he couldn't leave her, that she wouldn't allow him to leave her again.

Didn't she understand? Couldn't she see that he wanted her, no matter who he might be, no matter who he used to be? There was something about this woman that beat in time to the rhythm of his heart, so essential to every breath he drew.

The sex was desperate, tinged with unstated declarations of possession and control, of loss and betrayal. Even as he turned her around, her hands pressed up against the slick tile, her hair hanging wet around her face, and entered her from behind, the warmth that was her essence sending a shiver through his body, he knew what he must do.

And so, after the water ran cold and their bodies were exhausted, after he lay spooned behind her in bed, telling how much he loved her and how much he needed her in his life, she slept. It was a fitful sleep, Scully's hands clutched tightly around a pillow pressed to her naked skin. As much as he wanted to go to her, to comfort her, he only watched for what seemed to be an eternity, staring at her in the little light that came through the blinds.

Who was he? His life as Lyon and Scully's stories of Mulder were intertwined, and he couldn't tell where one stopped and the other began. He could only hold onto one moment, one moment when he knew he told her how much he loved her, and that she had saved him.

And then he walked into the darkness, careful to pull the door shut, always aware that time causes even the most formidable objects to fade away.


Chapter Six

I. The Summer had become a ritual of marking off great chunks of time. The time between breakfast and lunch, the time between Will's riding lessons and a weekend barbeque, the minutes between when her alarm went off and when she left the house for work, and the hours after she ate dinner with Will, before it seemed alright to go to bed. In that time, the signs of Summer diminished. Will grew resigned to starting school again, not having the endless hours to spend at the stable. She watered her lawn less and less, the cooler weather decreasing the fears of dead spots of grass. The neighborhood children traded their shorts and bicycles for backpacks and the school bus. And Scully's impressions of Texas became blurry, a mixture of open fields and cattle and miles of fencing along the highway.

But she held the image of Mulder, his hat propped rakishly on his head and his worn Levis dusty from his work, close to her, refusing to let it wither away with the remains of the Summer.

He was coming back to her. She had run through the gauntlet of emotions: overwhelming sadness, when she awoke that gray morning to find the room empty; furious anger, that he ditched her once again, proving that certain Mulder qualities would never be abated; loneliness, sleeping alone at night when she was accustomed to his warm body, even after their short time together; and finally, acceptance. She found him, and gave him the key to unlock the puzzle of his past, his true identity. She did not follow him that day, sensing somehow his personal quest. And when he found his answers, their answers, he would come home to her.

Scully held onto that belief as passionately as she did her image of Mulder, and it sustained her.

"Food's ready!" Walter shouted, and she reined in her thoughts to the present, her mother and Walter setting the patio table with plates. Will ran in large circles in the backyard, flapping his arms wildly around him, shouting at the top of his lungs, the dogs at his heels.

Scully told all of them the truth, even Will. That she found Mulder. That he was physically okay, but somehow changed. That his memories were different. That he would come home to them when he could. And, to Will, that he loved the idea of being a father to a boy who loved horses. Will smiled at that, a knowing smile, and asked surprisingly few questions.

But he did start sleeping with Mulder's old basketball jersey every night, and he moved the picture of Mulder that was on the hallway table into his room, on the small bookcase by his bed. Scully would stand there long after Will had gone to sleep, when even the dogs were snoring in the front hallway, and watch her son. Now, it all seemed so real, Mulder watching over him. Instead of bringing forth tears, it brought a smile.

She was ready to call Will to the table when her mother stopped her. "Let him play some more, Dana," she said, resting her hand lightly on Scully's arm and motioning to the open chair next to Walter. "He'll eat when he's hungry. He's fine."

She sat without argument, knowing her mother was right. "Thanks for grilling, Walter. It smells delicious." And it did. Walter's specialty was grilled chicken, with some sort of sauce that he zealously guarded in the kitchen. Scully grinned everytime she saw him in there, peeking out from behind the refrigerator as he mixed together his secret ingredients.

"Only the best from Chef Skinner," he said, and she laughed, loving him for everything he had done for her family, and for Mulder. Especially for Mulder.

She was blessed, and she knew it. She was loved, and she knew it. Just as she knew Mulder would be coming home, and everything just might just be okay.

The conversation was small talk, mindless chatter between bites of chicken and potato salad and corn on the cob. When she returned from Texas, Walter had endless questions, but she never answered them. Not only was she not sure how to answer, but she felt like Mulder should be given the opportunity to explain what happened over the past nine years. If he even could.

Giving up that opportunity would be giving up hope, and she wasn't willing to do that.

She had not been able to resist doing some investigation of her own, into Will Lyon and his history. Although his records were sparse, they seemed legitimate. She finally had to stop looking, because everytime she saw Lyon's name, she saw Mulder that morning in the loft, standing beside the open door, the sunrise a backdrop to their day. The day he remembered something, however small, and the day she absolutely knew it was Mulder, the man she always loved. It caused an ache inside, one she would rather live without if she could.

"Will starts school next week, huh?" Walter spoke casually between bites of her mother's potato salad.

She nodded in response. "He does," she said. "And he's not too happy about it either. Seems that Billy has been assigned to a different teacher, so they won't be in the same classroom." Will had been temporarily devastated, as Billy was his best friend and this was the first year they had not been given the same teacher.

As she wiped his tears away that night, trying to convince him with the argument that Billy only lived right down the road, and Will could see him anytime he wanted, her thoughts naturally drifted to Mulder. How would he handle Will's crisis? God only knew there were enough of them. She tried to imagine Mulder sitting with Will on his lap, the two of them with their heads nestled closely together, Mulder whispering softly to Will. She was reminded of the way Mulder gently saddled his horse, the innate quality in his hands and his voice that calmed the gelding.

As sure as she was that it was Mulder who walked away from her that night in the motel, she also saw the changes in the man he had become. For his abundance of wariness, he was also tired, and took greater comfort in the simple things in life. Sitting in the grass with her, eating ice cream. Pointing out constellations in the heavens. Kissing her gently in a musty motel room. All of these were traits of the man she respected, and she catalogued them with a desperate tenacity.

Just as being a mother had given her the gift of patience, and she drew on it daily, every hour, every minute. She saw Mulder everywhere: in front of her at the bank, checking out a book from the library, throwing a ball to a small black dog in the park. Everywhere he couldn't be, yet she saw him.

"This has been an eventful Summer, for everyone," her mother said, and she saw her mother and Walter exchange a quick glance across the table before looking at her. She wanted to give a sarcastic laugh, as "eventful" seemed unable to capture everything that had happened. "Yes, it has," she simply answered instead.

Will galloped up to the table, his face flushed with exertion and his red hair sticking to his forehead. "Had enough?" she asked him with a laugh. He looked exhausted. He nodded his head and sighed, sitting beside her mother, who brushed the hair away from his forehead as she fixed his plate.

"Mom, Billy wants to know if he can go riding with me this weekend," he stated, his mouth full of potato salad.

"Don't talk with your mouth full, please," she gently chided him, "and yes, that'll be fine, as long as it's okay with Billy's mother." Will spent the past few years trying to convince Billy that riding horses might be the greatest pastime on earth. She wasn't sure Billy was all that convinced, but he did go riding with Will on occasion, mostly, Scully figured, to make her son happy.

The doorbell rang, causing the dogs to bark, looking into the open patio door towards the foyer. "I'll get it," Will exclaimed, jumping to his feet and nearly toppling the table over.

"Sit," she simply said, putting her napkin down on the table and getting to her feet. If Will got away from the table now, he might never finish supper. "I'll get the door."

The rush of cool air greeted her as she stepped inside, and she was aware of a strange sense of calm in the house, the light from the front porch window creating hazy shadows in the room. She felt almost lightheaded, and decided it must be from the heat outside, and Walter's grilling.

As she opened the front door, she knew it was something else. At her feet, there lay a simple white notecard, folded over, with no envelope. Picking it up, she felt her stomach churn and the hairs on the back of her neck prickle, all the signs that something was happening.

"Come ride with me."

Oh, god.

Her breath caught in her throat as she immediately recognized the distinctive scrawl. Stepping off the porch, she raised one hand to her eyes to block out the last of the afternoon sun, and scanned the street, looking for his familiar form. Mrs. Evans was knelt over her flowerbeds, her large-brimmed hat hiding her face from Scully. She saw two young boys playing basketball in the driveway across the street from her. A young child leapt through the sprinklers in the lawn next door.

Everything seemed normal, just as it did when she stepped onto her porch and looked out on the street on any other day, but it was different. She held the proof in her hands, proof that he had been standing on her front steps, proof that he existed.

She looked closer at the folded notecard, and, below Mulder's invite, was an address, written almost as an afterthought, the slant making the words harder to decipher than the initial message. But she recognized it immediately, having spent the better part of her life for the past three years driving to it. It was the stable where William rode, not far from their home. Mulder was there, waiting to go for a ride.

"Dana?" It was her mother, holding onto her arm, her eyes anxious and concerned. "Are you okay? Is something wrong?"

She wanted to laugh with joy, to tell her mother that everything, for the first time in a very long time, might actually be okay. But she didn't. Doing so would waste precious time. "Come ride with me," he said. The words danced around her, tantalizing in their promise, and she could think of little else.

"Everything's fine, Mom," she answered, rushing past her mother, grabbing her purse and car keys off the table in the foyer. "I've got someplace I need to go. Will you and Walter stay with William until I get back?"

Her mother walked back inside, her brow wrinkled in confusion. "Of course, Dana. Are you sure there's not a problem?" Her mother was a godsend, Scully knew. She loved Will unquestionably, and understood so much without being told. How her daughter felt about Mulder, and how special their relationship was. How they all believed everything could be okay again.

Yet her mother seemed to feel it was a personal affront that her daughter and Mulder were not living under the same roof, that Will grew up with a surrogate father in Walter while his biological father was missing. Maggie always maintained that Mulder was missing. He had not deserted them. He was not dead, nor lost. Just missing.

She stopped only long enough to kiss her mother gently on the cheek. Don't think, were the words she chanted in her head. Just go. "Everything will be fine, Mom. I promise. Please don't worry."

And, with that, she pulled on her shoes and ran outside, feeling like the young child leaping through the sprinkler in the neighbor's yard. She refused to think about what she was doing, about what might be happening, only knowing, with overwhelming assurance, that Mulder was waiting for her, wanting to go for a ride. II. He sat on an empty bench near the side of the barn, watching the sunset. He felt his age, like a tired, old man who was nearing the end of an exhausting ordeal. Lyon knew he was nearing the end of something. He hoped the ending would provide him with the courage he needed to make his life right again. Lyon waited for Scully to show. He knew he was a coward, putting that note on her doorstep and leaving before she answered the doorbell. Like a gawky teenager. He stood beside the garage across the street and watched her. When she stepped onto the porch, he felt the earth stand still. She looked gorgeous, radiant, like she had been waiting behind that door for him all Summer. He was such a bastard. A coward and a bastard. She probably had been waiting for him. He berated himself over and over again since he left her behind, wondering if he made the right decision, wondering if she would hate him for abandoning her. But it was the only one he could make at the time.

And it was the only decision he could make until he knew the truth, and she accepted him for that truth.

He recognized the sounds of a SUV rumbling up the stable drive, and knew it was Scully. It was late, and most of the other riders had gone home. He had struck up a friendship of sorts with the owner of the stable, mentioning Will. She rambled on and on about what a special boy Will was, about how he loved to ride, and he listened with rapt attention to every word. She easily agreed to let him rent a horse for an evening ride, provided he stay near the well-lit stable area.

He rose unsteadily to his feet, uncertain, and then he saw her, rounding the corner, nearly out of breath. She looked like she ran the distance to the barn instead of drove. Her hair was slightly disheveled, her lips parted as she drew in an unsteady breath. He thought she had never looked more beautiful. "You're here," she said, stopping a few feet in front of him. She clasped her hands uncertainly, as if she wasn't sure where she wanted to put them. He hoped she wanted to put them around him, for that was all he could think about. Holding her, touching her.

"I am," he answered, and he closed the distance between them in a quick step, and held her. He pressed her closely against his chest, his chin resting perfectly on her bowed head. Neither of them said a word. For the moment, there was nothing to say.

He had come back to her, just as he silently promised her he would that long-ago Texas night, and she met him at the stable, forgiving him.

"Where have you been?" she finally asked, pulling slightly away from him. He took advantage of the moment to kiss her, his touches frantic. One kiss simply wasn't enough. Her lips were even softer than he remembered, and the way she faintly moaned beneath his touch made him want to kiss her even more.

When he was finally able to regain his bearings, he saw that the sun had almost slipped beneath the horizon, and they were standing beneath the large light on the side of the barn, its glare casting an uncertain circle around them. "We need to talk," he said, stepping away from her with regret.

They began to walk, falling into an easy, even stride, and she reached over to hold onto his hand. He wasn't sure if she was seeking an anchor, or if she was providing one for him.

He didn't know what to tell her, where to begin. When he left her behind that morning, he did so with every intention of finding the truth, finding out what happened to him. That fleeting memory with Scully was so real, so tangible, that he was determined to uncover more, along with the truth regarding his life as Will Lyon.

The problem, he found, was that every memory he had was hazy. He couldn't decide if Will Lyon had spent every Summer riding on his father's ranch, or if that was Mulder. Did he spend time vacationing on the East Coast as a child, or was that a moment from another man's life? Who suffered the loss of a young girl named Samantha, Mulder or Lyon? He was only able to distinguish between the two sets of memories by Scully's presence. Looking into her shadowed eyes, he wondered how he could tell her that the moments he remembered between them, before she walked into Joe's, were fleetingly few.

They continued to walk in silence, as he tried to decipher his thoughts. The organized speech he planned for this moment disappeared into the haze of emotion upon seeing her again. Finally, he spoke.

"You and I were standing in the cold rain, Scully, surrounded by trees. It was so cold, and dark, and we were talking about time, how it was a universal element that could never be changed. We were dancing, in Memphis, and I twirled you around and pulled you back into my arms. You were so sick, so tiny in a hospital bed, and all I could do is hold your hand and cry."

As he spoke, he watched her. She paled, and then held onto his hand tighter, her eyes reflecting every emotion. She remembered these moments, too. They were real. They had shared something between them that was too perfect to be taken away.

"But I only remember a few things, Scully," he admitted, speaking the words he dreaded, the words he feared would cause her such pain. He knew they did for him. He tried, spending hours staring into the evening sky, watching the sunrise from his truck, gazing into a black cup of coffee, trying to remember more. He tried to put together memories a different life from what he lived, and was only rewarded by bits and pieces. But all of them, the few he could remember, were with Scully.

"I have tried, Scully, so damn hard. I have tried to remember a life as Mulder, with you. But all I can remember are these snapshots, memories that are so brief that they are gone in a flash. I nearly drove myself crazy." He thought about showing her his worn notebook, but then thought better of it. He picked it up that morning after he left the motel, and started writing, everything he thought, and everything he remembered. It was all too important to forget. "What else did you find out?" she asked. It was as if she was trying to process everything at once, and understood nothing.

He valiantly struggled ahead, wanting her to believe. "I went through the Wilkins' books after their son arrived, sorting through the records for him. Mr. Wilkins received several large payments about the time I started working there, from a company his son had never heard of before, a company here in DC. I did some checking, but couldn't trace down anything about them. The address doesn't exist. These payments continued until the week you arrived."

He thought he saw a passing expression of pain on her face. "I went back to my hometown, Scully, hoping to find some of the friends I had growing up. There were a few, one or two, and they seemed to remember me. But it was so damn long ago, that I don't know if they really did or were only humoring me. I tried to track down people I worked for recently, places I stayed before I ended up with the Wilkins."

She knew what he was telling her. "Let me guess," she said, for the first time speaking in the clear tone he recognized as belonging to her. "You couldn't find anyone."

He was surprised, that she didn't seem angry or hurt or defeated. He felt all of these things over the past weeks he was away from her, the weeks he spent searching for the truth, about Will Lyon and Mulder. "No," he confirmed, not sure what she wanted to hear.

"Scully, my life is so fucked up. I have no idea who I am or where I really was six months ago, a year ago. But I had to c come back to you, because you are the only one I give a damn about. I don't care about Lyon or Mulder or anyone else, but I need to be here with you."

She was silent for so long that he was scared, uncertain if he had said too much, too soon. He knew the connection between them, knew her absolute certainty that he was Mulder, but he also remembered the way she whispered his name, Lyon, beneath the evening sky, and the way she kissed him.

He was not wrong. Coming here was not a mistake.

"Who am I to you?" he asked, needing to hear her say the words that would make everything okay, that would keep him here next to her. Say it, he pleaded, begging her.

"Say something, Scully," he finally said, unable to stand her silence any longer. And then she looked at him, and smiled. He was so surprised that he wasn't sure at first if she was weeping, and then he recognized the smile on her face, and the light in her eyes.

She was staring at some distant spot over his head, near the trees, when she finally spoke. "Mulder and I didn't fall in love instantly," she said, speaking with a slow deliberateness, as if she were choosing her words with the utmost precision. "There was an instant respect, a mutual admiration, but mostly there was an incredible friendship. He was my best friend, and, as time passed, I loved him in every possible way."

She paused, and reached out to hold his other hand.

He had an absurd thought, one that made him almost laugh out loud from a combination of joy and fear. Several weeks after he left Scully, when he was driving through the farmlands of Oklahoma, searching for answers to a question he could not ask, he spent the night in a small motel. As he lay in bed that night, thinking of Scully and their time together in a room very much the same, a black-and-white film began to flicker on television. He watched, fascinated, as the hero appeared, sweeping the young woman off her feet, and whisked her to safety. At the end, they stood with their hands clasped together, vowing an eternal devotion, the sort of love that would not fade.

He glanced down at Scully's small hands holding onto his, and then looked up again into her eyes. Her tears were finally beginning to fall, but he could not make himself break their embrace to catch them.

"I love Mulder," she said, one side of her mouth quirking up into a sad smile. "I love Lyon," she continued, finally releasing his hand to wipe the tears away from her cheek. He didn't know what to think, what to say, so he said nothing. "And I love you," she whispered, her voice nearly inaudible in the stillness of the evening air.

Somewhere close by, a horse whinnied, and he thought he heard a dog bark off in the distance. He processed those sounds, the sounds of the world around them, before he could process her words. She loved him. Whoever he was, whoever he might become, it was enough for her that he was standing here.

She loved and accepted him, and that was all he needed to know.

He kissed her with a delicate tenderness, a reverence for this beautiful woman who changed his life, who changed him in ways he knew he could never understand, could never possibly know. And for whatever might happen, it was enough for them both at that moment to be standing with each other, creating their own version of the truth.

She found her voice before he could speak. "Didn't you promise me a ride?" she asked. He was lost, and he was found, and he knew he would never let this woman go. III. It was morning when they awoke in yet another motel, a new day, and she felt it as she lay in Mulder's arms. A glorious rebirth, a victory over an invisible enemy. Whatever force tried to take Mulder from her had failed. Although things would never be the same, she found him. Things would be better. When she met him last night at the stable, she was frightened at what he might say. The confusion in his eyes as he haltingly told her the truth, that he no longer knew who he was, broke her heart. She wanted to scream against the injustice, pursue the ones that hurt him. But, for the moment, she suppressed her instinctual response, instead finding acceptance in the man who stood before her.

They pulled into her driveway, and, as she turned off the ignition, she heard Mulder clear his throat, shifting his feet nervously. He always had a nervous habit of bouncing his feet, chewing on a pencil, twirling his fingers, any sort of physical outlet for his anxiety. His uncertainty was touching, and she leaned over to kiss him lightly on the cheek. "This will be okay, Lyon. I promise."

She made the silent decision sometime during the night that she would call him Lyon. In her heart, he was always Mulder, would always be Mulder. But she respected the changes in him, and the fact that he possessed this new side to his personality. It didn't matter what name he was called. She knew who he was, and he was home. "So, this is your house," he said, leaning forward as if to get a better look.

"In theory, it is, but it actually belongs to the First National Bank. They are kind enough to take a large sum of money every month to let me live here." He laughed at her before he spoke. "It looks like you, Scully. Neat, orderly. Much how I imagine your life is."

She knew what he was trying to tell her, as this was so new to him, to all of them. How would he fit into her life, into Will's life? After so long, after such changes, what would they find when they opened the door on their new life together? "Our life, Lyon. I hope you don't think I am letting you go back to Texas."

"I never want to leave you again, Scully," he quickly answered. "Once, twice, however many times I've done it, they were enough."

They walked up to the house, Mulder stopping at the sounds of a basketball thumping against the house in the backyard. She had called her mother the night before, telling her to get the guest bedroom ready for Walter, and asking them both to stay at the house, to watch William until the morning.

"What's going on, Dana?" her mother asked, nervously, and she could hear Walter's questions in the background. She smiled before she answered. "I'm fine, Mom," she said, meaning it this time. "We're fine."

Now, as they stood in the driveway, she saw Mulder's questioning glance. "It's William," she confirmed, nodding her head. "The only thing he likes as much as riding horses is playing basketball. He's pretty good at it, too." When Will first showed an interest in the game, she knew how he inherited that trait. She saw images of Mulder in Will's long fingers as he edged the ball towards the basket, the self-assured way he threw the ball over his head, his lanky gait as he ran around the court.

Mulder pulled open the squeaky gate, holding it for her, and she understood. He wanted to meet Will.

In the years after Mulder was taken, after Will was born, she imagined this scene a dozen times. It changed as Will grew, from Mulder returning to see her nursing a small newborn with flaming red hair and dark eyes, to Mulder watching his son riding from a distance. Now that it was real, that it was actually happening, she felt numb.

So much had changed for them both. "Are you sure?" she asked, not knowing why, thinking maybe this was too soon, that another few minutes might change things. "It's been long enough," he answered, so she walked into the backyard. Will must have started playing ball right after breakfast. The dogs were stretched out on the side of the garage, watching him with a dull interest, and she could see the sweat trickling down his back. "He shoots, he scores," Will shouted as she watched him, throwing his arms up in the air, the ball swooshing through the hoop.

Oh, god. Please let this be okay.

"William?" she called, her voice shaky. He turned in surprise, obviously so engrossed in his game that he did not hear her enter the yard. "Mom!" he shouted, leaping over to her, letting the ball bounce against the ground. She watched as the ball disappeared into the grass, re-emerging a few times before stopping by the hedge near the fence, as if in slow motion. Everything seemed so surreal.

"I missed you last night, Mom. Uncle Walter and Grandma let me stay up late to watch a movie, but not that late. I even got up to let the dogs out this morning..." Will's voice trailed off, and she could sense Mulder walking up behind her.

Will's eyes grew large, and he blinked, twice, as if not sure that Mulder was standing there, in the backyard. He looked back to Mulder, and then to her. "Mom?" he said, a questioning, plaintive tone in his voice. Oh, Will, she wanted to say. It's so hard to comprehend this when you are only eight years old and can't understand why you came into this world without your daddy there with you. I can't tell you why, but I can tell you he is here. I found him for you, for all of us.

She didn't say those words, not sure enough in her ability to form a coherent sentence.

Instead, Mulder walked up beside her, and knelt slightly so he was eye-level with Will. She stepped backwards, wanting to record this moment in her memory, wanting to always remember how green the grass was and how red the roses were, and how much Will looked like his father with their dark eyes and strong features.

"Hi, Will," Mulder said, gently, and she realized with a jolt what was happening. Even if Mulder could never fully remember, could never know with certainty who he was nor what happened to him, he wanted to be Will's father. He wanted to be in their life.

"Dad?" her son said, and she watched, one hand pressed against her mouth, as he walked the few steps to Mulder and brought his skinny arms up around Mulder's neck. There was no hesitation on Will's part, and she saw Mulder's eyes close as he felt Will's embrace.

If she could stop time forever, this might be the moment she would chose. This might be the perfect moment of all.

"I don't understand," William said, looking over towards her with wide eyes. "You said that you found Dad in Texas, but now he's here. Where have you been?" he asked Mulder, looking over at him with faintly accusatory eyes.

Mulder never flinched. He drew himself up to his full height, and tucked his hands into pockets. "There's a lot to explain, Will, but a lot that I don't understand myself. All I know is that I am so glad your mother found me, and glad to be here with you."

A flicker of movement drew her attention to the back porch, and she saw her mother and Walter, watching the scene in the yard with quiet emotion. She thought she saw a flicker of recognition as Mulder looked at Walter, but she wasn't sure. Scully felt a brief moment of panic. This is too much, she wanted to say, too soon. She wanted to grab Will, to take Will and Mulder away from this life, to allow them time to heal, to discover each other.

But then she felt Mulder's hand pressing against her own, and looked up to see his soft smile. "This will be okay, Scully. I'm going to be okay."

And, as Mulder held Will's hand and walked to the porch, she understood that it was going to be all right. We are more than the sum of our memories. We are more than the recollections of our youth.

We are a part of the people who love us, and believe in us, she thought, watching Mulder, and their son, in the morning light. That sort of eternal love, and life, could never fade.

The End


Author's notes: Thank you to everyone who sent emails and feedback in response to "Fade." I was truly touched by the response. If feedback sustains the author, I have feasted on this story. When I first started writing "Fade," I could hardly imagine the story that Scully and Mulder wanted to tell. Writing it was an adventure for me, and I hope reading it is one for you.

Thanks as always to my wonderful beta Kayla. Without her initial enthusiasm and encouragement, "Fade" might still be languishing on my hard drive. A special thanks to my husband and son, who always seem to understand why Mommy stays up so late at night, wanting to tell a good story.

I'd love to hear what you thought of "Fade." You can email me at annhkus@yahoo.com.

 

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