TITLE: Things Bright and Green
Author: DBKate (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Disclaimer: The X-Files the property of 1013 productions. No copyright infringement is intended.
Length: 4,888 words/27K
Characters: Mulder, Scully, child Samantha clone, The Lone Gunmen. Genre: Alternate Timeline, post "Herrenvolk". M&S strong friendship/UST, some angst, some fluff, some humor.
Written for The Nursery Files This Christmas Challenge. (Although I screwed up one of the requirements. Oh well.)
Summary: Post-"Herrenvolk" AU. Mulder escapes with the child Samantha clone and with Scully, all three go into hiding. Months pass, Christmas is near and the struggle to find joy begins.
The cabin is a few miles off of the New York State Thruway, somewhere in the middle of a cul de sac that has no residents this time of year in the deep winter. It's the vacation home of one of Langley's distant uncles, Scully can't remember his name. She looks out of the window, over the thick dusting of snow that's accumulated overnight and the name comes to her...Uncle Frank. That's it.
Not that it matters. She's only half aware of where she is most of the time. All she knows is that she's not home, that she's on the run with Mulder who set off their enemies by stealing one of their creations and taking off with it, igniting them like a swarm of angry bees who've had their hive invaded, their sour honey stolen.
Scully tried to dissuade him at first, looking at the mute little clone of his sister with nothing but trepidation and undisguised horror. She stared at the girl as Mulder babbled something about drones and bees and dozens of language-deprived children living on a farm that the bounty hunter burnt down. Scully's head throbbed as he begged her for help, to save...save...whatever this was.
"She's evidence, Scully. Evidence," he'd exclaimed, his eyes wild, his face bruised and cut. "Give me at least that much."
She didn't ask what the girl was evidence of. She only rubbed her temples, unable to take her eyes off of the...thing that Mulder had rescued from who knew where to reveal only God knew what.
To the creature's credit, she was staring at Mulder with a similar look of bewilderment but continued to hold onto his hand with an endearing, childlike trust and that's when Scully discovered she couldn't say 'no'. She packed her bags that afternoon, expecting no longer than a few days away, but the days turned into weeks, the weeks into months and Skinner surreptitiously told them to stay low until he came to get them because this time...
This time, it seems, Mulder has really done it.
They have a car lent to them by Agent Pendrell of all people, who also sends, via the Lone Gunmen, more of the Smith files, printed out on paper. Big stacks of indecipherable numbers and strange charts are everywhere and keep Scully occupied. The distraction is a bitter one --she knows the answers she'll find in those files won't be welcome ones.
Mulder's stroke-felled mother is somehow better. Cured, miraculously, although Mulder has his theories about who... and how... that was facilitated. It's a small bit of relief while they're gone, one that they're grateful for nonetheless.
The little clone -- named Sandra because Scully won the argument with Mulder over the unhealthiness of naming her 'Sam' -- takes immaculate care of herself and whatever safe house they're in, running on automaton. Scully watches her as she moves from task to task until she finds nothing left to do. Sandra sits then, her hands folded on her lap, liquid brown eyes staring ahead with what looks like sadness, their indefinable quality breaking Scully's heart all the more.
Mulder takes long drives, sometimes shopping for supplies, sometimes doing other things he doesn't feel like talking about. He speaks affectionately with Sandra, who stares at him with the same trust she did on the day she was taken and that seems to be enough for him.
"Have you heard anything?" Scully asks a newly arrived Mulder as he brushes fresh snow from his shoulders. She puts aside the latest stacks of paper as Sandra wipes down the coffee table for the third time that day.
Scully would give anything to find a way to communicate with the child, but it seems hopeless. The Consortium are very efficient with the most helpless versions of their experiments, taking their humanity away wholesale, leaving a broken, empty vessel behind where there once was life.
Scully should know... she was one.
Mulder tosses the cash the Lone Gunmen sent on the table. Two hundred dollars in untraceable five dollar bills are in a brown paper bag, wrapped in plastic. They have a post office box up here, one of the six they've opened all over the Northeast, to both confuse and prepare with.
"Skinner gave Pendrell a Christmas card that sang 'Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas' which we can assume means we're here for the holidays."
Scully's heart sinks. "You really think that's a message for us?"
"Pendrell did. He forwarded the card. I'm assuming he's not on Skinner's list."
Scully can feel her mouth tighten. Outside the window, snow is starting to fall and Sandra is sitting again, silent and without hope on the battered loveseat. Her blank stare speaks more eloquently of sorrow than all the words in the world. Scully knows that Mulder's heartsickness, his hopes, his desire to have his sister back blinds him to much of this, that he wants to believe he can save her but...
Their eyes meet over Sandra's head and Scully takes a deep breath.
"We can't keep her here like this, Mulder." Scully finds herself having to look away. They've had this conversation before, never to good effect. "She's not... happy."
She can feel Mulder's cold stare. "So you're saying we should give her back to them? Would that be better? Is dead better than unhappy?"
"She's not merely unhappy, she's miserable." Scully walks over and stands over Sandra, tenderly pushing a curly lock of dark hair back over a thin shoulder. At first it seemed rude to speak about her right in front of her, but her lack of response to... anything... made it normal. "She was born to do a very specific job, nothing else. She can't talk, she can't see past her assignment, she's lost and we don't have the tools here to help her."
"You just want to go home for Christmas, right?" To Mulder's credit, he sounds more tired than accusatory. "You can leave if you want, Scully. We'll all get out of here together and you can honestly not know where we are. Just say the word and we're out of here."
Scully turns around. She's exhausted too but has enough energy for the hot anger that courses through her at his suggestion. "We're killing her, Mulder. Slowly. I refuse to believe you can't see it," she says quietly... directly. "We're no better than they are if we don't take care of her needs. If we just stash and steal her away, as evidence, we're as complicate as they are in her abuse."
Mulder's face crumples, sending a sharp pang of empathy through Scully's chest. "Isn't there anything we can do? If we could hold out another couple of weeks, I'm almost sure Skinner will get us through."
"We've tried," Scully says, sitting next to the girl and pulling her into her arms for a snuggle that's more obligatory than desired. Hugs are accepted passively, without any sign of comfort received and Scully throat tightens as she rests her cheek atop the crown of brown hair that's the same color as Mulder's. "I don't know what else we can do. Maybe a psychiatrist..."
"I have a degree in that," Mulder says, with a touch of irony.
Scully chuckles into Sandra's hair. "For all the good that's done you."
He sits down with them, looping his long arms around them both. Scully breathes into his embrace and is heartened to feel Sandra curl closer between them. The short days mean that the sun will be going down in less than an hour and once the fireplace is lit, maybe they can work out a plan. One that isn't only about escape... but in saving the life they meant to preserve all along.
"We don't have to miss Christmas while we're stuck here," Mulder says after a few minutes of them sitting together, staring at the cabin walls, huddled as if their lives depended on it. "Although I might need a refresher course on it."
"First you get an axe..."
"I like the sound of this already."
"... and chop down a tree."
"How about Hanukkah? I think there are a few candles in the kitchen."
"We can do that too."
"I mean instead of." Mulder ducks away from Scully's half-hearted swat. "Never mind. Tomorrow I'll go sacrifice a tree for our pagan celebration, a fact which you're free to debate."
Scully strokes Sandra's hair, looking out the window as the shadows lengthen, tree branches growing heavy with snow. "You really want to go there?"
"Only if there's nothing better on the radio."
Because they don't have television and Scully winces at the thought of another four hours of college football chatter. "I'll make soup instead." She smiles at Sandra who looks at her expectantly. "Want to help me, honey? I know you like chicken soup."
The girl rises immediately and heads to the kitchen before Scully can stop her. The sound of water running and the clicking of the electric stove fills the cabin as Mulder's eyes meet hers. He nods grimly, his silent agreement filling Scully with relief.
Tomorrow, they'll bring some light into the house.
The snow is crisp and fresh as the three of them head out to the short stretch of woods behind the cabin. Sandra, dressed in mismatched, but warm, clothes picked up from thrift shops from the Midwest to New York, slogs alongside them dutifully, her gaze set firmly on Mulder's back. She seems more comfortable outdoors, her cheeks brightened with color and Scully talks to her as they struggle through the drifts, holding tightly onto her hand.
"Do I know what I'm looking for?" Mulder asks, the axe slung over his plaid-clad shoulder making him look disturbingly like Paul Bunyon.
"Pine tree, no more than five feet high I'd say. We don't want to kill ourselves dragging it back." Scully stops to catch her breath, surveying their surroundings. "I don't see that many small ones. Just these huge..."
Sandra disentangles her hand from Scully's and for the first time, makes a little noise. Surprised, they both turn toward her. Through what looks like weedy brush, she's stroking the branches of a young Douglas fir tree, its dark green needles already releasing their fragrance through her touch. It's on the short side, but wide enough to make up for it and besides, it appears to have been chosen.
"Sweetie, that's perfect," Scully says, heartened beyond all things. She nods at Mulder who gets to work freeing it from the tangles. In the end, all of them have to take turns with the axe, the sturdy trunk unwilling to give way but eventually they free the tree and together, they hoist it back to the cabin.
The next step is improvising a holder which takes a while. Finally, Scully's background in physics triumphs over the gravity that wants to send the ill-balanced pine tumbling to the floor. Mulder worries about its proximity to the fire as Sandra stares at the tree, her eyes brighter than they've been in months.
"She's been trained as an arborist," Mulder explains, his voice low. Sorrowful. "Or designed that way."
"Then she'll be the perfect keeper for our tree," Scully says, cupping the girl's warm cheek with her hand. She's tired of talking around the child, she hates the idea that there's a world so cruel to allow men to make a human being without a soul.
It's the one thing she doesn't want to believe.
It's with determination that Scully works on the decorating, sending Mulder out for popcorn and string, colored paper and a tangled loop of lights from the local drug store. Hours are spent, happy hours, with Scully teaching Sandra how to fold stars and string popcorn garlands as Mulder watches over the little girl's shoulder, with an encouraging grin.
The child works solemnly but with a purpose that goes beyond what she's been programmed to do and in this, Scully senses hope. Wonderful hope.
The fireplace glows as they place everything, tucking stars behind the popcorn, topping the tree with a wire hanger twisted into a star by Mulder's nervous hands. They find holiday music on the radio and after the decorating is done, they sit side by side, looking over their creation. Sandra's eyes glow in the firelight and Scully thrilled with the tiny glimmer of joy she sees there.
Mulder looks happy too, smiling over Sandra's head at Scully who feels her cheeks turn hot at his grateful expression. "My mother always did the tree," she says, pulling a blanket over their legs, tucked close on the couch. "My father was only home for Christmas sporadically, but Mom made sure that no matter when he came home, the tree was waiting. When he saw it, that's when Christmas really began."
Sandra makes a high-pitched noise, her hand raised toward the tree.
Scully breathes deep before pressing her lips to the little girl's forehead. "Do you like it, honey?"
Another noise and Scully can see Mulder's eyes turn overbright in the flickering firelight. "O Come Emmanuel" plays on the radio and there's peace in a moment that stretches throughout the night. When the fire dies, she and Mulder tuck Sandra into bed, the pull- away cot they found in the spare room, one of the many improvised sleeping places they've made for her.
"Tomorrow we'll bake cookies," Mulder promises, ignoring Scully's skeptical look. He shrugs innocently at her. "What? Haven't you heard of Pillsbury?"
This night is freezing, the coldest one yet in their journey. The blankets are few, most of them are covering Sandra in her bed, made thick with the majority of what is to spare. The fire is down to charcoal and neither one of them want to burn it too long, as chimney smoke could be a clear giveaway to their location. Silently, they climb into Scully's bed together, Mulder dragging his comforter behind him, pillow clutched in hand. They start the night back to back, all the covers on top for maximum warmth, but as the night goes on they end up face to face, entwined in each other's arms.
They stay that way until the sunrise, waking up facing each other in the light of dawn, both of them smiling. Scully returns to sleep in Mulder's arms, trusting him to keep her and the child they've guard together, safe until she wakes.
Scully finds that the coffee isn't made the next morning, which surprises her as Sandra has imprinted this as a necessary waking duty, usually having the first pot ready before they rise. Instead, the child is back to folding stars, her brow furrowed in concentration over the remains of the construction paper.
Scully smiles and silently shows Mulder whose face relaxes, losing some of the grim intensity it's gained over the past few months. They share breakfast, Sandra absently eating as she rearranges the tree's decorations.
Scully settles with her stack, grimacing at the one labeled "SOT", which Mulder claims is regarding something called 'serial ova- types', the official name of the child-clone drones of which Sandra is one. She thinks about the experiments performed on her own body, her ova taken and shudders to imagine a connection between them -- perhaps an army of her own mute children laboring in Their fields. Her stomach roils and Scully pushes aside the files, deciding to turn on the radio instead.
Christmas music plays, soothing her ragged nerves. She thinks about writing a letter to her Mom, apologizing -- again -- about missing Christmas, but decides against it. Her mother may not exactly be understanding, but she's accepting that this is her daughter's life. Grudgingly accepting, that is.
"I'm hitting the post office," Mulder says, shrugging on his coat. "Do we need anything?" He leans in toward Scully and squeezes her shoulder. "Do you want to send anything out?"
Scully shakes her head. "No. As long as Frohike keeps my family informed that I'm still alive, that's enough."
"We'll buy your mom a bottle of wine when this is all over," Mulder says.
Scully raises an eyebrow at him. She's not sure if her mother drinks wine. "For what?"
Mulder grabs the car keys, wincing against the cold air that blows in from the open door. "Forcing her to deal with Frohike of course."
"Don't be gone long. It makes me nervous," Scully warns, leaning her head back against the couch. The door shuts and she stares at the ceiling, her heart sinking. She has no idea how and when they're going to get out of this and what the result will be -- if any. A hundred fatal things might happen to them, all of them more terrible than the next and for what? What could possibly happen to make this worth it?
As if in answer, Sandra sits beside Scully and gently takes her hand, turning it palm up. She places a star in it, just so, an offering and a gift. She looks up and to Scully's vast surprise, the girl smiles at her.
Scully's jaw drops. She stares at the star and is speechless. These children have language after all and it's one that has no need for words.
She hugs her and the hug is returned. "The Little Drummer" boy plays tinnily over the transistor and Scully hums along, holding Sandra tightly, knowing that Mulder's enemies are in for a battle they can't win if they try to take this child away from her.
As if on cue, there's a knock at the door, making Scully jump. She hustles Sandra behind the couch, motioning for her to crouch down as she reaches for her gun atop the fireplace mantle. Heart pounding, she slides up to the door, prepared to shoot whatever is in wait on the other side. The locks are clicked over and she nudges the door open with her foot, her Sig Sauer leveled.
"I'm armed!" she cries, her entire body shaking.
Frohike makes a small noise before throwing his hands up. "I'm aroused," he replies. Behind him, Byers and Langley wave hello.
Scully sags with relief, even as her hands itch to strangle all three of them. She hurriedly ushers them inside. "What are you doing here? It's dangerous. You could have been followed."
"Negative," Byers says. "We took extraordinary precautions, traveling separately, backtracking from Canada and avoiding Mulder. Just in case."
Scully pulls the couch aside to retrieve a shivering Sandra, whose eyes are round with fear. "It's okay, honey. It's just your funny uncles," she says as she helps the child to her feet.
"Is that the alien?" Langley asks, squinting at Sandra with undisguised curiosity.
Scully feels the hair stand up on the back of her neck. She fixes Langley with a cold stare, gratified when he shrinks away. "This is Sandra. She can't speak but understands most things. Please be courteous."
"Jerk," Frohike mutters, elbowing Langley.
"Sorry," he apologizes sheepishly. "Anyway, we have good news. We think."
Byers loosens his scarf, sending a tiny shower of wet snow to the rug. "Skinner has communicated to us that the Syndicate is willing to make a deal."
Sandra is holding Scully's hand and gazing up at her in the same innocent, longing way she looks at Mulder. Scully squeezes her hand reassuringly. "Could you make us some coffee, Sandra? Would that be okay?"
Automatically, the little girl goes to the kitchen, with Scully and all three Lone Gunmen looking after her. She turns to Byers. "What did they offer?"
Byers clears his throat. "Your three lives for guaranteed silence on the entire matter. No hearings, no investigation, no accusations. You continue on with your lives and the... " He pauses. "...little girl will be placed with an anonymous family of their choosing."
She can't help but roll her eyes at that. "I don't trust them anywhere near her. As for the rest..." Scully keeps a watch over the kitchen, making sure Sandra isn't listening. "I can't make any decision without Mulder."
"Where is Santa anyway?" Frohike asks, sitting down and helping himself to the leftover popcorn sitting there from the night before.
"Post office. Looking for letters from you." Scully motions for Byers and Langley to sit down, as Sandra returns a few minutes later with the coffee pot and mugs, balanced on a tray. She pours a cup for each of them which the Lone Gunmen accept warily.
"There's nothing wrong with it," Scully snaps, annoyed by their suspicion, even though she knows there's a reason for it -- she herself wasn't always as sanguine about Sandra. Her head hurts and she wishes Mulder were there. She hates this ludicrous game They always play, never failing to find the leverage to slip out of any potential justice.
"Nice," Frohike says as he sips, raising his cup to Sandra. "You make a good cup of joe, kiddo."
Sandra stares at them with the detached curiosity of a cat examining an anthill before returning to the tree to add more stars.
The door lock clicks and Mulder enters, paper bags in hand. He takes in the Gunman's presence with a frown. "What are the Three Not-So-Wise Men doing here?"
"Skinner's gotten a deal for us," Scully says. She takes Mulder by the elbow and steers him into the kitchen, away from the rest. "But I'm not sure you'll like it."
Mulder puts down the bags and stuffs his hands in his jean pockets, expectant. "I'm pretty sure I'll hate it, but what is it?"
"Our promise of silence in exchange for our lives, a return to the status quo," Scully says, her words measured. "No investigations, no hearings, nothing. We go back to work and Sandra..."
Mulder's eyes turn dark. "Goes into the Federal Home For Wayward Clones? No way."
"I didn't like that part either. Supposedly an anonymous family will take her in. But how can they? She's not a typical child. She needs special care. She's a person, not a thing. I've seen it." Scully thinks about the star placed in her palm and her hand curls into a fist at the thought of Sandra being taken away.
"As if they'd trust such a secret to some random family. And besides, we're just supposed to lay down and let them do their experiments without question. No recourse, no justice... no truth. That's always the way it goes, right? Forget it. No deal."
Scully rubs her aching temples. "You said the farms were destroyed. Sandra is the only evidence we have. But our leverage here is limited. The hunter can find her easily if they tip him off... basically, its our agreement to be quiet in exchange for her life."
"We keep her then. We'll exchange our silence for her staying with us. That's as far as I'll go."
"Mulder, how can we take care of her? If we continue our work we won't have time to look after her properly. Contrary to what Smith said, she does need care... and love."
Arms crossed, he leans back against the refrigerator. Scully can see how much this ordeal has taken out of him, his face is drawn and pale, there are fine tremors running through his fingers. She reaches out to him, taking his hand in hers running her thumb over his knuckles. Mulder breathes deeply, the tension leeching away and he pulls her into a hard embrace.
"I'm sorry, Scully. I've done it again. I didn't think this through."
She shakes her head, her eyes closed, cheek pressed against his chest and finds comfort in each breath he takes. "You did the right thing. Even if we can't expose them... this time, it was worth it. For Sandra. Saving her was worth it. We'll find a safe place for her, away from them and keep working. I know the right opportunity will come. We just need faith."
His words are a whisper against her hair. "At least I have your faith."
She leans back, gives him a weak smile. "You know what today is, right?"
He pretends to think. "Festivus?"
"No. It's Christmas Eve," she says, with feigned patience.
"Too bad. I was really hoping for a traditional airing of grievances."
"That's every day. Think you can handle a canned ham and some frozen vegetables for dinner tonight? Or do I have to make the Irish Special?" She pokes him and he pretends to be hurt, grabbing his mid-section. "Come on, let's enjoy ourselves for one night and take care of business in the morning."
"Anything to avoid the Irish Special," Mulder says. "Frohike might like it though." Reaching into one of the grocery bags, he pulls out a large bottle of wine and hands it to her. "I guess we won't have to bribe your Mom after all. Pop the cork, Red and pass the cheer. Maybe Byers will start telling knock-knock jokes."
"Maybe he'll sleep in the snow," she rejoins with a warning look. "I hope you brought those cookies for Sandra. You promised."
Mulder produces a box of pre-made reindeer shaped dough and shakes it. He looks at Scully with curious affection. "You really think she remembers what I said?"
"I know she does," Scully replies, remembering the star placed in her hand. She makes a noise of triumph when the corkscrew is found and grabs a few mismatched glasses on her way to the living room, where the Lone Gunmen have been roped into folding more tree decorations with Sandra. She kneels at the coffee table, working diligently while they haplessly try to follow along.
Scully pours the wine, which they gratefully accept. She turns the radio up and asks Byers to feed the blaze in the fireplace which has grown low. The hours pass and good smells from the oven fill the air. When Mulder comes out bearing a plate of cookies, Scully is just tipsy enough laugh aloud.
"He's such a good homemaker," Frohike says, reaching for a cookie. "You should have seen the Thanksgiving spread he made for us a few years ago."
"Yeah, I can still taste the Cheeze Whiz," Langley says, sitting back, his long legs crossed. "Frohike, stop scarfing down all the kid's cookies."
Scully grins at his words. 'The alien' has turned into 'the kid' quickly enough. She watches as Sandra slowly eats the treat, her eyes widening with surprise at the taste. Scully wonders if she's ever had one while on the farm, thinking that it was probably considered a 'waste of resources'.
Anger stings her. She encourages Sandra to take another and then one more, as if such an act would spite her creators in absentia. Scully turns up the radio and grabs Frohike's hand to dance to "Jingle Bell Rock" as Langley grins and Byers looks worriedly out of every window. Mulder bops out of the kitchen and nudges Frohike aside, to dance with Scully in the cramped room.
Sandra folds more stars. The ham gets slightly burnt, but still tastes good. The fire dies down and all the adults get stupidly drunk when Mulder pulls out the bottle of Johnnie Walker Red he'd saved for just that moment.
Sandra ends up tucking most of them in with blankets pulled from every closet and bed. She eats the rest of the cookies afterwards and from her warm spot on the couch ensconced in a sleeping Mulder's embrace, Scully can see the little girl is smiling... and happy. She smiles back before closing her eyes to bring the day to a close.
Oddly enough, it turns out to be a good Christmas after all.
The Gunmen are gone by the time Scully wakes up. She blinks in the early morning light, her head pounding. Mulder looks bleary, but he's already on the move, packing all their bags with Sandra arranging the house back into a semblance of it was when they arrived.
"Safer to travel in a major holiday morning," Mulder explains, gently tossing Scully her coat. "We're going to hide Sandra with Frohike's cousin... she's adopted several special needs children over the years and according to him, will never turn away another."
"Thank God for extended families, huh?" Scully hugs her coat close, wishing she had a glass of water. "Are we sure this wasn't just drunken rambling?"
"We'll see when we get there. She lives in Westchester, so it's on the way home."
Scully feels a painful pang. "That's not that close to us." "All the better, probably," Mulder says, but she hears the hitch in his voice. He's hurting at the idea of Sandra being so far away as well. He pauses in front of Scully and holds out his hand, which she takes. "We'll visit often enough, you know we will. Especially on Christmas."
Scully looks at the tree, covered with paper stars and drooping popcorn. She bites her lip against the sting of tears. "Promise?"
Mulder pauses. He looks at her, his face as serious as she's ever seen it. "I promise."
The words are a vow. She showers and dresses slowly, suddenly loathe to leave their prison especially when Sandra decides to hold her hand on the way out the door.
Scully looks back at the cabin, at the snow that drips off the roof and says a quick prayer of thanks for her hours there, a prayer that she never thought she'd utter.
The ride back home is long, with too many painful stops. Frohike's cousin turns out to be everything he said she'd be, a true safe haven, and Scully finds herself staring out the car window at Sandra until she's no longer in view.
Once they are back to work, Scully marks the days until the next Christmas on her calendar, placing a paper star on her desk, just so.
She has plans for next year, ones she has no intention of forgetting.
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