Title: Waiting
Author: Nlynn
Disclaimer: Not mine, etc.
Rating: PG-13
Spoilers: Through the end of the series.

Summary: You could be whoever you wanted to be, slip on one identity, and if it didn't fit, toss it aside and try on another one.

Notes: For the E-muse Beat the Heat Secret "Santa" Challenge. Many thanks to MCA for catching my mistakes and Bonetree for organizing the challenge.

Scully emptied her pockets and took off her apron. It would be the last time she'd see that stupid blue and yellow bird smiling at her, its wings lifted and eyes alight with joy. Birds of a Feather was a restaurant of the past. Time to move on to bigger and better things, hopefully a restaurant that didn't stitch its mascots onto the employee uniform. It could have been worse, she thought. She could have been forced to wear a hat with wings.

Shuddering, she left the breakroom and the apron behind. Mulder would be finished with his shift soon, then they'd pack up their things and leave town. They never stayed in one place for more than a couple of months. It was too much of a risk, even if they were in Middle of Nowhere, USA. You just never knew about people. Who gabbed to customers and who kept a journal of people coming and going. They preferred to lie low, create no waves and just be your typical, run-of-the-mill husband and wife who like to live on the road and take in the sights.

"You forgot this," Mulder said, walking up behind Scully and dangling the apron in front of her. "Josh said you could probably sneak it outta here if you wanted."

"Mu ...," she winced, realizing that she had almost called him by his real name. She took a breath and started again. "No, I think my wardrobe's quite complete without it." For emphasis, she pushed the hand holding the apron away.

"And give up Tweety, here?" he sighed. "Well, it's your loss." He returned the apron to the breakroom and then he and Scully left. The motel was just like any other they had been in, except more lived in. By the end of a stay, Mulder's clothes often ended up on the floor and the chairs. Three months ago, Scully had cared and would have told him to pick up his things and put them away. Now, she just toed them out of her way. To his credit, though, he did the laundry, lugging the laundry bag to the Laundromat and waiting out the cycles. If Scully wasn't working, she'd go with him and they'd play rummy on top of the washing machine, each cycle vibrating through three of a kinds, runs, and the pièce de résistance, four aces.

Life on the run had developed a routine. Hit a new town, check out the local diners, land jobs, find a motel with a TV and CNN. If there were no jobs, it was on to the next greasy spoon. At first, it held a certain fascination. There was the thrill of abandoning your current life and leaving everything behind. Dirty dishes, unpaid bills, plants that needed watering, oil that needed changing, all gone and no longer accounted for. You could be whoever you wanted to be, slip on one identity, and if it didn't fit, toss it aside and try on another one. Scully changed her name, her clothes and her hair. But she could do little about her personality. Even if she wanted to, she could no sooner be Annabelle the gum-chewing waitress than she could change her height. So she settled. She was Claire, the reserved waitress who wanted to see the world. She could live with that.

Nowadays, though, it was harder and harder. The glamour of life on the run had quickly faded, leaving behind blurry images of shag carpeting, poor lighting and mattresses that needed flipping. The restaurants began to look the same, one easily replaced with another. (With the exception of Lulu's, which did indeed have the best apple pie ala mode she ever had tasted.) There were no comforts of home, and Scully missed curling up on the couch with a glass of wine and reading her medical journals. She missed her sheets, her bed, her bathroom, her refrigerator, her everything.

Most of all, though, she missed her connection with friends and family. She missed going out to the movies, walking along M Street with her mom and finding new shops and restaurants. Not that Mulder wasn't good company. He was just ... Mulder.

"Dammit," Mulder muttered, bringing Scully back to the present of their latest motel room, this one with beige carpeting and beige prints hanging above a bed covered with a brown bedspread. Mulder ran a hand through his long hair as he checked his pockets once again. "I must have left it at the restaurant." He looked at Scully, defeated. "I have to go back and pick up my check. Can I get you a souvenir? Maybe ..."

"Don't say it, Mulder. Don't even think it," Scully said.

He shook his head. "Okay, okay," he laughed, shutting the door behind him.

Scully leaned against the headboard and closed her eyes while the news played in the background. When she opened them, she was staring at the phone, which probably hadn't been changed since the '60s. It was black with a black finger wheel and white numbers that were smudged beyond recognition. That was probably the only thing keeping someone from lifting the phone and trying to sell it on Ebay, she thought. That and the fact that it was nailed down to the nightstand, she corrected when she tried to bring it closer.

She could look, but not touch. That was the rule they agreed on when the first hit the road. No calls. Not a single one, no matter how important. To make it absolute, they tossed their cell phones in the river, satisfied that whoever was on the other side listening would get an earful of nothing. Their cell phones weren't the only ones bugged, she thought. Surely the new consortium had insinuated itself into her mother's life without her even knowing it. Calls coming from church committee members, her brothers and even telemarketers were recorded, analyzed and catalogued for easy reference. Scully didn't have proof, but she and Mulder figured that was the next logical step. Because of them, her mother's life was no longer all that private.

Right now, though, the consortium was waiting. If she picked up the phone and dialed her mother's number, how long would it be before someone broke into the house and took her away? Would the organization even bother with her? Or would it take the instantaneous trace and come directly after them? Probably the latter, but Scully didn't want to risk it. Didn't want to risk her mother.

She ran a finger along the marred handset and thought that her mother would be safe as long as she and Mulder stayed away. Knowing this, though, didn't bring her mother's voice any closer.

The night was dragging and Scully's lower back was starting to tighten up. She leaned over, legs shoulder-width apart, and released some of the tension. She had been on her feet since lunch and the dinner crowd had yet to arrive, or so she had been told by Jackie, her 42-year-old "service sister."

"You doing okay, Claire? Why don't you take a quick break and catch your breath before the night picks up. I'm gonna need your help because once the game lets out, oooh boy. Watch out Eddie's!" Jackie laughed, tossing Scully a french fry from the plate she had snuck over to the waitress station.

"Thanks, Jackie, but I'm fine," Scully said, popping the french fry into her mouth.

Jackie looked Scully up and down, pausing for a beat. She shrugged. "Suit yourself. Hey, anyway, how long you been doing this?"

Scully cocked her head to one side as if in thought, "Hmmm, about seven months." She tried to stick as close to the truth as she could since lying and acting weren't exactly her strong suits, which she had learned when she almost broke her cover while playing the role of Mulder's wife three years ago. A New-Ager, indeed. Mulder had gotten quite a laugh out of that one. Truth was, he was far more suited to stretching the truth and at making people believe his truth. She always stuttered and stammered. Mulder played right into the theatrics, ad-libbing and whatnot while she was much more comfortable following the book and letting logic win out. No wonder he always needed saving, she thought.

"Yeah, seven months. We had been living on the East Coast (true), working normal jobs (a bit of a stretch) when we realized we needed to get away (get away from the military, which wants Mulder dead, and aliens, who want us both dead, that is. So, true). So, we're talking a break and seeing the country (pretty much true)."

"Ahhh, you and the cook?" To Scully's nod, Jackie smiled. "He's about 100 proof delicious."

Scully fought back the urge to roll her eyes. "Don't tell him that. It'll just make him impossible to deal with."

Jackie laughed. "I like you, Claire. Here, let's give those tables a once-over before things get hopping," Jackie said, tossing Scully a damp and ratty towel.

They'd been wiping tables for less than 10 minutes when the first rush hit. The doors to Eddie's opened and in flowed what seemed to be a busload of tourists. "Awww, shit. We don't need this shit," Scully heard Jackie mutter as she pulled out a tray and started filling glasses of water. "Oh, sorry," Jackie said when she realized Scully had heard her. "I get a little worked up now and again and let my mouth fly. I really oughta watch that. Hey, you feel okay taking orders? How about we split up this station? You take those three tables by the window and I'll take the other four."

"I'm ready," Scully said, helping load the water onto the tray.

"Go ahead and get these glasses of water out and I'll grab ya an order book."

Jackie turned and rushed off. Scully took a breath and lifted the tray, watching her step as she rounded the drink station. The din of the restaurant had already risen by several levels, making it impossible to hear a single conversation without being next to the table having it. When she looked up, she saw a family crowded around a crescent booth, members presumably arguing over who would get to sit on the aisle. The mother shepherded everyone into the booth, and when she was almost done, Scully stopped breathing. There sitting on the dull olive green carpet was a car seat with infant wearing a blue hat decorated with stars and planets. The hat had two pointed ends and was identical to the one Scully's mother had given at William's baby shower.

Scully tried to jerk around to get away from the scene, forgetting she was carrying a full tray. When she realized it, she tried to right herself and catch the tray as drinks began to slide. Glasses clanked into glasses and water sloshed up and over the tray. More glasses followed suit when Scully couldn't right the tray fast enough, sliding over the lip and hitting the carpet one on top of the other. Glass flew and the crash was loud enough to stop conversations on either ends of the restaurant as one glass crashed into another on the floor. The wave had started and Scully was helpless to stop it. The tray's weight had slid beyond her balance point and the only thing she could do was let go and try not to get caught in the shards of flying glass.

She stood there and watched it happen. When the last ice cube had been silenced, the restaurant was quiet for a split second, right before the baby in the car seat let out a strong wail.

"Oh, Jesus, Claire! Are you okay?" Jackie had both her hands on Scully's shoulders and was looking her over for any signs of injury.

Scully stepped back, not wanting to be touched. "I'm fine, really." But her voice shook. Not from the accident but from her split-second reaction to seeing a baby who, for just an instant, looked like her son.

"Scully!" Mulder yelled, displacing Jackie and doing his own inspection for injuries. "Are you okay? What happened?"

"I'm fine, really."

"You're shaking."

"No, I'm fine. Mu ... maybe we should clean up this mess." Scully turned toward the waitress station and let out a short cry of pain, her hand going to her back. She stopped instantly.

"What is it?" Mulder asked, anxious.

"I think I pulled something." She tried to take another step and was greeted with a pain that shot from her lower back down her left leg, not as intense as the first one but enough to force her to take smaller steps.

Jackie had started to clean up the mess along with a couple of bus boys and one patron who saw the crash and wouldn't take no for an answer.

Mulder took Scully's arm. "Here, let me help."

"Mulder, it's just a muscle spasm. I just need to take it slowly."

"Then why are there tears rolling down your cheek?"

Scully reached up and touched her index finger to her wet cheek. She hadn't realized she had been crying. "I want to go home," she said before catching herself. "I mean, back to the motel. I need ..."

"You need drugs. That's what you need," Jackie said. "Don't move. I'll be right back." She slipped past the Matt the manager and quickly turned so she was behind him and facing Mulder and Scully. She made the sign of a cross with her fingers and backed away slowly. Scully smiled despite herself.

"I see we've got quite a mess," Matt said.

"Had," Mulder replied.

"What was that?"

"Had quite a mess. What you said indicated that there was still a mess. And, clearly, there is no mess in front of us."

Matt rocked back on his feet and puffed out his chest a little. "Well, Ted. You're new. And if I were you, I'd get back to the kitchen before you make a different sort of mess."

"And what sort of mess would that be, sir?"

"The kind where you don't have a job. Are we clear?"


Mulder gently took Scully's arm and started to lead her to the back of the restaurant.

"Hey, didn't you hear me? Where are you going?" Matt called out.

"To wallow in my own mess," Mulder said, taking off his hat and setting it down on the stainless steel counter next to the door leading to the breakroom. As they walked through the door, Scully heard a muffled Matt and was sure he was flinging some obscenities their way. Tonight, Matt would definitely be in it. While the thought pleased her, she wasn't too pleased about leaving Jackie with all the work.

"Don't you worry about a thing, this will take care of all your problems," Jackie said, as if on cue. She looked left and right and then held out her hand, which contained two green and yellow capsules. "It's Flexeril. It should help tonight, but I gave you an extra just in case."

Scully looked at the capsules and then back at Jackie, trying to decide which was worse, that a waitress was handing out prescription medication or that she was about to take it. Jackie took her hand and put the capsules in it and smiled. She whispered, "Don't worry, Bill and I, we've got insurance." She winked, gave Scully's hand a squeeze and took off out the door before Scully could tell her that they wouldn't be back. Best that way, she thought. Best not to make attachments. It was a lesson she learned growing up as a Navy brat and constantly moving. She'd make friends only to leave them a short while later. After the fourth move, she had learned how to make friends without revealing herself. It led to unfinished relationships, but that was the price you paid for growing up in a military family. Halting a friendship never came easily, though, especially with someone you honestly liked.

Scully slowly shifted in bed, rearranging the motel-flat pillows into a more comfortable position. She had taken the Flexeril as soon as they got back to the motel and quickly fell asleep. Mulder didn't have time to ask her about what happened, and she didn't have time to worry where their next check would come from.

But the bliss of surrendering to sleep pain- free was replaced this morning by a tight ache and occasional spasms. Scully knew without a doubt that she'd be spending the day in bed, if not the next few days.

She flipped through the channels and found CNN. From motels, hotels, your cheap variety holes in the wall to your fancy digs, each had one thing in common: CNN. Today, a gas pipe had burst in Arizona, leaving its denizens without petrol. In Colorado, some lost hikers were found, tired but unscathed. And Washington was gearing up for another protest on the Mall.

Mulder would back from his run soon, Scully thought. And with him would be the paper, fresh coffee, fruit and doughnuts. Her mouth watered at the thought of a chocolate doughnut with sprinkles. Until then, she'd watch the news and think.

Funny, this is the fastest they had been fired from a job. It had only taken them, well, him, one week to get them kicked out the door. Technically, she still had a job, but she doubted that Matt would want her back. Last time, the firing had been her fault.

They were working in a dive in the Florida Keys, which came not only with its own special brand of conch, but also with its very own harassing regular. Sam came in every day, sat on the same stool at the counter and made the same inane comments. Scully, unfortunately, had been on the receiving end of those comments.

"Hey sugar, gonna pour some of yourself into that coffee?"

"Ain't you a pretty thing."

"Awww, come on now, ditch that man of yours and hang with me."

And he did it with a specific routine. He'd call her over, asking for more coffee, which she would dutifully bring. When she went to pour the coffee, he'd pulled his cup out of her reach or calmly cover it with his thick palm. She'd sigh and start to walk away and he'd call out, "Hey what about my coffee?" When she called him on the carpet, he raised his hands in the air as if to say he was just an innocent. He was only being friendly with her, that's all. Nothing to get worked up about.

She tried to switch shifts with the other waitresses but they were quick to have plans. She sucked it up and decided the best approach would be the one with the least contact. She'd take his order, nod, bring his food and disappear. She'd bring his coffee by, listen, pour and walk away.

Then he had begun to time his arrivals. He'd walk through the door when she was on the floor serving other customers and he'd find a reason to brush up against her. Just the upper part of his arm making contact with hers. She passed it off as an accident the first time. The second, she glared. And when he did it a third time -- this time with the gall to actually linger ­ she caught his hand and twisted hard. So hard she sprained his wrist. When he complained to management, she was the one called on the carpet. That was when she found out that Sam just so happened to be the manager's brother. Convenient, that. With the town being small, it wasn't long before she was out the door.

Come to think of it, they left the job before that because of her, too. They had moved from the Keys up to Georgia and were working at Le Peep when a customer had a heart attack on Scully's shift. She didn't think. Just went into action. When the paramedics arrived, she was giving vitals and explaining things that waitress with limited education wouldn't possibly understand. Thing was, she was supposed to be that waitress. Her co-workers stood around her, mouths agape.

Soon, she was in the manager's office. He had her application in front of him and was tapping his pen against desk. "I can't say that I quite believe what's on this document," he had said. "But I do know that the person I hired is not the same person sitting in front of me today. I don't know the deal, and I don't want to know. You're welcome to stay on, but you should know that this town talks, and before you know it, they'll have you up at that clinic. Either that, or they'll be coming in here looking for free medical advice. Stay or go, your call."

They had decided to go.

From there, there had been other towns, small and medium. They had kept to their plan to lie low for as long as possible before trying to slip across the border into Canada.

Scully slowly moved her legs to the edge of the bed and sat up. She let her legs take some of her weight, and when she was reasonably sure that she wouldn't collapse, she stood. She made her way to the bathroom and slowly lowered herself to the tub. When she was seated properly, she leaned over and turned on the water, letting it run over her hands until it reached the right temperature ­ nice and hot.

A bath would be good. A bath would soothe her back.

She stripped out of her pajamas (which she could barely remember putting on) and when the tub was full, eased herself into the water.

Naked, she could clearly see herself. Scully. The woman she was before she let a hairdresser cut her hair short. She had dyed it on her own, in a bathroom much like this one. It went from flaming red to mousy brown in less than an hour. She bought a pair of cheap ugly glasses, cut off her nails, bought her clothes in a Salvation Army store she and Mulder had found along the highway and effectively became Claire Adams, waitress, traveler. Special Agent Dana Scully was effectively hidden from the rest of the world. But sometimes they slipped. She'd call Mulder by his real name rather than his alias, Ted. He'd call her Scully. They couldn't afford mistakes, yet they'd make them. And while she winced when she heard her real name, she also soared with joy. God, she loved the way he said her name. The various ways he said it:

"Scully," whispered against her skin, his breath coming out harder on the l's and giving her goose bumps.

"Scccuuullllyyyy!" His panic-filled yell that let her know he'd always come after her.

"Sculleee," his playful tone, most often accompanied by a roll of the eyes, most often used when they were bantering.

"Scully," said directly, pointedly, in an attempt to get her to open up, to tell him what was going on.

"Scully," his late-night voice, the one filled with pain and guilt. It told her that she was the only one he trusted. It sought her comfort and she freely gave it.

She heard the door open and close and finished up her bath.

"Chocolate with sprinkles?" she asked, slowly making her way back to the bed.

"Of course, only the best for our patient," Mulder said, pulling a doughnut out of the bag and handing it and a napkin to Scully as she climbed back into bed. She took a bite and closed her eyes. "Mmmmmm, this is good. Coffee?" When she opened her eyes, a steaming cup was in front of her. She smiled and watched as Mulder took a seat at the table.

Mulder drank his coffee and ate his glazed doughnut while watching the news, but Scully could tell that he really wasn't paying attention. His eyes shifted from the carpeting back to the screen too often, and his right leg was bobbing up and down at an alarming pace.

As if he heard her thoughts, his leg stopped. He set his coffee on the table and walked to the bed next to hers and sat. "Scully, what happened yesterday?" His voice was soothing, asking her to confide in him. She knew it was coming. She knew they'd have to talk about William again. Part of her wanted to. Part of her wanted to lock it away and forget. It sounded awful, to forget her own son. But if she allowed him in, she would go crazy.

"Mulder, I thought I saw him. I thought I saw our son."

"Oh, Scully," he got up and sat next to her, his back against the headboard. She sat forward so he could slide his arm around her and then she leaned back, putting her head on his chest.

"Okay?" he asked, worried about her back.

"Yeah, it's okay."

"Good," Mulder nodded.

"I don't know Mulder, but I haven't been able to stop thinking about him, not since I saw that baby. Honestly, not since I gave him up."

Mulder ran his hand up and down her arm and she continued: "I don't know what I was thinking, but after Spender, after the cult, I thought I was putting him danger. I thought if he stayed with me, they'd find him and hurt him. But now, I don't know. How safe is he?" Her voice cracked and she took a breath. "What if they can find him? What if I made a mistake? What if he's safer with us rather than away from us?"

"No, Scully, no. You did what you thought was best for our son. You made a tough decision to keep him safe, away from all of this. Right now, I don't think he'd be very safe with us. I don't know how we'd take care of him given our situation. After all this," he said, waving his hand, "we can go find him."

"When? When is this over? When does it end?"

Mulder paused. Didn't say anything for a couple of heartbeats.

"I don't know."

"Honey, let me tell you one thing. It's balls to the wall here on Saturday mornings. Can you handle that? You got that in you, you'll be just fine." Those were the first words out of Linda's mouth when she sat across from her in the Double T diner's office.

That was two months ago. Scully had healed and she and Mulder had left town the following week for another long stretch of road and an endless supply of country-western radio stations.

She was back to stacking dishes up her arms and carrying trays loaded with plates and drinks. All without a single twinge. The shifts went by quickly because the diner was almost always full. When there was a break, you could find the waitresses outside sneaking cigarettes and talking on their cell phones. Mulder was in the kitchen, whipping up club sandwiches, chicken sandwiches, burgers and breakfasts.

Ever since they talked, Scully felt on edge. She wanted answers but had no way to ask the questions, no way to contact anyone without blowing their cover. The one thing that helped ease the frustration was that they had decided it was time to cross over to Canada. They'd still have to keep low, though. The military might not be able to cross borders, but the aliens don't adhere to such international laws. Still, Scully could start research on a vaccine and they'd finally be on their way to fighting the impending invasion and getting their son --­ and their lives ­-- back.

A lofty goal, Scully thought. "You can't even get half your orders right, what makes you think you can save the world? Hell, you couldn't keep your own son safe ... Stop," she chided herself.

It's something. It's the start of something, she thought. And that's a hell of a lot better than nothing.

"Hey, break time," Chula said, tapping Scully on the shoulder. "How're your tables?"

"Fine, No. 8 just got their food, 10's ordered and 7's about to leave," she said, handing over her order pad.

"Enjoy your 15 minutes," Chula laughed, thinking she'd found a great joke.

Scully winked at Mulder as she passed the cook's station on her way into the breakroom. Once there, she sat and turned the TV to CNN. She was pulling out her tips and arranging the bills when she heard the lead story:

"Today, three adoption agencies were burned to the ground in New Jersey, Oregon and Nevada. No lives were lost, but records were destroyed and employees of the agencies could not be found. In a possible related story, three families who had adopted children from those agencies were reported missing by loved ones. The case is under investigation and we'll bring you more on this late-breaking story as soon as we get it. But for now ..."

Scully didn't wait to hear the rest, tearing out of the room and into the kitchen. "Mulder. Now." She grabbed his arm and pulled him with her. The other cooks looked on, curious, but picked up the slack.

"What? What's going on?"

Once inside the breakroom, Mulder listened as a reporter interviewed friends of a family that had gone missing. The cameraman focused on their ranch-style home and then the friends. Soon, a picture of the happy family took up the screen.

"It's not them, Scully. The boy, he's older."

"But it could be. They could be next. We have to move, now. We have to find out," she said, moving to pick up the phone on the table. Mulder lunged for the phone and reached it a second after Scully. He kept his hand on top of hers, preventing her from lifting the receiver.

"Think, Scully. Think. It could be a trap. This could be exactly what they want. Scully, we could be walking right into their hands."

Scully shook her head, fully aware that the tables had turned. Mulder was usually the one who ran off half-cocked with only a shred of information to support his cause. Now, she was the one willing to risk their lives based on a single report from CNN. "It's real. I can feel it. Mulder, trust me." She looked at him, her eyes giving him all the emotion she had locked away the last year. Slowly, his eyes changed from fierce determination to understanding. He rmoved his hand.

Scully lifted the receiver and dialed the familiar number. The dial tones hit the local switchboard and were linked with a switchboard in Virginia, where the computer tried to match up the tones with the appropriate residence. It tried a few times before directing the call to another computer. This time, it answered in three heart-stopping tones and then voice:

"I'm sorry, the number you have reached has been disconnected or is no longer in use. Please hang up and try your call again."


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