|Title: Miss the Dance
Author: Diana W.
Written: September 1998
Archive: Gossamer okay. All others please
Feedback: me first.
Rating PG-13 for language.
Category S, A, MSR
Keywords Mulder Angst, Character death (in past), Mulder/Scully romance
Disclaimer The X-Files and the wonderful characters within this story (except Meg Mulder) belong to Chris Carter and 1013 Productions. I have only borrowed them so we could have a good cry together. I will return all borrowed toys, safe and sound, when I finish playing with them. Don't you wish governments would do the same? Lyrics in each chapter are from "The Dance" by Tony Arata, sung by Garth Brooks.
Summary: Mulder copes with the death of his wife - with help. Is it her ghost or his imagination?
Our lives are better left to chance
The sound of a car door slamming and quick steps on the porch brought Mulder out of a pleasant daydream. He knew those footsteps. With a smile, he shut down the document he had been pretending to work on and turned towards the study door, waiting for her knock, calling out his usual response.
"Nobody here but the FBI's most unwanted."
[The sound of heels on the floor. Turning and looking up into a fresh young face, smiling and extending her hand. 'Agent Mulder? I'm Dana Scully. I've been assigned to work with you.']
Long legs crossed the study floor and a lithe young body threw herself into his arms, hugging him ruthlessly, red hair tumbling in his face. She smelled like sunshine and ocean breezes.
"Easy, Meggy!" His arms went around her, returning the hug. "I'm old and I break easily."
Meg snorted and sat up. "Fifty-six is hardly old, and you broke easily when you were young. Mom used to say you single-handedly supported the country's medical system."
"Hospital administrators everywhere cried when I took early retirement." He pushed the red hair out of her face. "You look good, Meg. Did you have fun with Grandma?"
"Yeah, but you're going to have a heart attack when you see your next charge account statement."
"That's okay - I'll take it out of your inheritance. Where's Grandma?"
"Getting her stuff out of the car. Uncle Charlie drove up with us."
She hesitated. "Uncle Bill and Aunt Tara are coming, too." Mulder made a face. "Now, Daddy, play nice."
"I always play nice. I haven't punched Bill in years." As she started to say something, he interrupted. "That doesn't count - I was drunk."
Sharp blue-green eyes studied his face. "You okay, Daddy?"
He smiled back, a practiced smile that didn't quit reach his eyes.
"I'm okay, Meg." He gently pushed her off his lap, standing up. "Let's go get our guests settled in."
Meg rocked on her heels, not looking at him. "Daddy, Uncle Charlie brought a girl with him."
Mulder raised an eyebrow. "Good for Uncle Charlie."
Meg shook her head. "She's not for Uncle Charlie - they're just friends. They teach together at the Academy. She's for you."
Mulder closed his eyes for a long moment and, when he opened them, automatically looked at the picture on the desk. "Again? Don't they ever give up?"
"They're worried about you, Daddy. It's been almost two years."
"One year, ten months, sixteen days - but who's counting?" He forced a laugh and heard Meg sigh. "I'm okay, Meg," he repeated.
[Sure. Fine. Whatever.]
Maggie Scully was at the screen door with her suitcase when he came into the main room, and he went to her rescue.
"Let me get that, Mom."
She smiled and relinquished the suitcase to him, then wrapped her arms around him for a big hug. "Fox. You look like you've been getting some sun."
"Yeah, I'm a regular beach bum. You look a little tired." He gently touched her face, looking younger than her eighty years. "Imp child been giving you a hard time?"
"Not in the least. I enjoyed having her with me - made me feel young again. Now that Charlie's kids are on their own and Matthew is in college, I hardly ever see them. The house gets a little too quiet sometimes. Bill's trying to convince me to give it up and move into a 'Seniors Center', but ..." Her eyes studied his face, concerned. "Are you okay, Fox?"
"I'm fine, Mom. I'll put this in your usual room."
The screen door opened and Charles Scully entered, luggage in both hands, followed by a blond stranger. Mulder set down the suitcase and put on his best impassive-Mulder face.
"Meg, you've still got a ton of stuff in the car and I'm not carrying it in," Charlie said with mock sternness. "Hop to it, young lady."
"Yes, sir," Meg said, giving him her best mock salute and disappeared out the door.
"Hey, Mulder," Charlie set down the suitcases and enfolded his brother-in-law in a brief hug. "You look - "
He paused and Mulder smiled in self-mocking humor. "Like shit?" he thought.
"- great. Retirement must agree with you." He turned and grabbed the arm of the blond stranger, almost desperately. "I'd like you to meet Commander Linda Taylor, a fellow instructor at the Academy. She's without family over the holiday, so I invited her up. Linda, this is Fox Mulder and whatever you do, don't call him 'Fox'. Mom's the only one able to do that and live. Everyone else calls him 'Mulder'."
Linda held out her hand to shake Mulder's, a warm smile on her face.
"Even your wife?" There was a sudden stillness in the room, and Mulder gently released her hand. Linda glanced at Charlie, clearly puzzled.
"Yes," Mulder said quietly. He picked up the suitcase. "I'll put this in your room, Mom."
He set the suitcase down on the bed, then sat down for a moment, catching his breath. She didn't know. They hadn't told her. They were telling her now, and he didn't want to be there when they did. He didn't want to hear it again.
"I could use some help, here," he muttered.
[You'll be fine, Mulder]
He drew a deep breath and stood up, opening the door to the hallway. He could hear voices drifting down from the living room.
" - didn't you tell me before we got here? This is unfair, Charlie, and you know it."
"Linda, it's just a weekend. It'll be fine. You'll see."
Mulder closed the bedroom door firmly behind him and walked down the hall noisily to warn them that he was coming. He managed to paste a smile on his face as he entered the living room, although he almost lost it when he saw that Bill and Tara Scully had joined them.
"Tara, you look great," he said, crossing to hug her briefly, then turned to extend his hand to Bill Scully. "Bill. Good to see you."
Bill shook his hand, his eyes narrowing as he studied Mulder's face. "Mulder. You all set for the family descending on you?"
"Wouldn't miss it for the world. What's the 4th without the Scully clan gathered here? Sorry to hear your bunch won't be joining us, Charlie. Is Matt coming?"
"He's taking the ferry in tomorrow. He's visiting some school friends in Boston." Bill picked up his luggage. "You got us in the same room as last time?"
"Yep. Charlie, you know where your room is. Is this your suitcase, Commander Taylor?"
"Linda. Yes, it is."
He led the way down the hall. "Charlie, Bill and Tara are downstairs.
Your room is next to Meg's and you'll be sharing a bathroom with her, if that's okay."
"Fine with me."
He opened a door and set the suitcase next to the bed. "Closet's here, and the dresser is empty. This door leads to the bathroom; if you want some privacy, there's a lock on the door from Meg's room. Dinner will be in about an hour, if you want to freshen up first."
He started to leave and Linda said, softly, "Mr. Mulder, I'm sorry. About your wife. I didn't know or I wouldn't have said - "
He managed a smile. "It's all right. It's not your fault. Charlie should have told you."
"If he had, I wouldn't have come," Linda said frankly. "I certainly had no idea I was being invited without your knowledge. I guess that was part of the plan."
Mulder looked at Linda with a hint of amusement in his hazel eyes.
"The plan is to get me over Scully. It's been almost two years." He paused and said, softly, "I'm not getting over her." Then he quietly closed the door behind him.
An hour later, Mulder was putting the finishing touches on dinner and Meg was setting the table when everyone began drifting into the living room. Linda joined Maggie Scully at the window, looking down the lawn toward the boat dock and the bay.
"It's beautiful here," Linda said softly. "Is that your boat?"
"It was Dana's," Maggie said, a remembering smile on her face. "She loved to sail - the sea is in the Scully blood, you know. Her father took her sailing when she was a child, and she was teaching Meg. Have you ever been on a sailboat?"
"No," Linda said.
"Well, Charlie and Bill will probably take it out tomorrow. I don't go out anymore, but Meg will, and maybe Tara. You're welcome to go with them."
"I might at that. Does Mr. Mulder sail?"
Maggie laughed. "Poor boy gets seasick. He'd have to take Dramamine every time he went out, and he'd still look green. I could hardly believe it when he bought her the sailboat to begin with - it's too big for one person to sail, so he had to go with her."
"He must have loved her very much."
Maggie's eyes filled with tears. "Yes, he did," she said simply.
Mulder came into the room. "What can I get everyone to drink? We've got tea, lemonade, sodas - "
"I wouldn't mind a beer," Charlie said, coming into the room as he spoke. Bill shot him a warning look and a growl and Charlie immediately flushed as only a redhead could.
"Sorry, I don't have any," Mulder said easily. "There's a store in town, though, if you want to pick some up."
"That's okay," Charlie said hastily.
Mulder chuckled. "I'm not going to mug you and take your beer away. Lighten up, guys."
"Iced tea for me, Fox," Maggie Scully said, turning to Linda. "What about you?"
"Sounds good," Linda agreed.
"Two iced teas," Mulder said, turning to go back into the kitchen.
"Meg, give me a hand here."
After dinner, Mulder put on his sweats to go for his nightly jog. To his surprise, Charlie joined him and he realized that this was another phase of the Plan.
"So, what are your plans for the rest of the year?" Charlie asked as they jogged easily down the beach.
Mulder shrugged. "I'm doing it. I'm retired, remember."
"You plan on being a beach bum the rest of your life? At least come back to D.C.. If you don't want to get your old job back, you could teach, lecture, do consultant work."
"I've got plenty to do here. I'm writing a book."
"Yeah?" Charlie looked skeptical. "How far have you gotten? Can I read it? What's it about?"
"I'm not ready to show it to anyone."
"Don't bullshit me, Mulder. What about Meg?"
"What about her?"
"She should be in school - "
"She is - home school. And doing quite well, thank you very much."
"She should be interacting with kids her own age. This would be her junior year; she should be in a real high school."
"Have you seen the statistics on public education? Not to mention the violence."
"There are private schools, Mulder. You can afford to send her to one."
"What - Our Lady of Perpetual Motion? No, thanks, Charlie."
"There are non-Catholic ones in D.C., too. Some of the best. Hell, the President's son goes to one."
"And that's supposed to be a ringing endorsement?"
"Mulder, you can't stay shut away up here - it's not healthy. And in a couple years, she'll be going away to college - what will you do then?"
"Go away to college? I planned on chaining her up in the basement. Relax, Charlie - I'm kidding. I'll be fine."
"Mulder, I'm worried about you. You should be getting out, meeting people-"
"I do. I go out at least once a week - more when it's my turn on the phone line. I'm always meeting new people."
"I'm talking about normal people, Mulder, not just - just - "
"Alcoholics? It's a regular word, Charlie; there's no reason to be afraid to say it."
They had completed the return leg of their jog and were approaching the house. Charlie stopped, grinding his teeth in frustration.
"Mulder, you are being deliberately dense."
"Charlie, you've been divorced for three years. When you tell me that you're getting married again, then we can talk. Until then, I don't have to listen to this," Mulder said with a mock grin, "'cause I can outrun you."
He took off down the beach. Charlie gave up and let Mulder run down the beach alone. Bill joined him, watching the receding figure.
"I'm really worried about him, Charlie."
"He'll be all right," Charlie said softly. "He really loved her."
"He's not the only one."
Mulder ran down the beach, away from a house filled with too many Scullys - and none of them the right one. She came out of the shadows, running alongside him, and he automatically slowed his steps to match her shorter pace.
"You're getting better, G-man. Almost five hours and you haven't threatened to punch either of my brothers in the nose."
Mulder snorted. "It was a close call. Did you hear that crap? And, by the way, I could have used some help in there."
"What did you want me to do? Throw some lamps around? I'm not a poltergeist, Mulder. They can't see me. Only you can."
He looked at her sideways with a grin. "They brought somebody with them this time. A *living* woman."
"Dead jokes - funny, Mulder."
"They think I should let you go. Get on with my life." He stopped jogging and turned to her, reaching out to gently stroke her cheek. "You don't want me to let you go, do you?"
"You can't ask me questions like that." She looked at him in amusement.
"Because you know what I say I want is really what you want me to want because I'm here right now only in your mind. Unless I'm real, which would mean I'm a ghost."
Mulder looked at her in exasperation. "Why do you always *do* this?
Isn't this a little late in your life - excuse me, your death - to be the great skeptic? If you're not a ghost, how do you explain yourself?"
"Are you seriously going to try to out-talk me?"
"Heaven forbid! I couldn't do that while you were alive - I haven't got a ghost of a chance now."
"Ha-ha - very funny, Mulder." She walked next to him in silence for a long moment. "How's Meg?"
"She's good. She seemed to have a good month with your mom."
"Have you talked with her? I get the feeling that she's not happy."
"Scully, she lost her mother - of course she's not happy."
"Mulder, you're avoiding my question. The one rule we had is Meg comes first. We even stuck to that one."
"She needs you to be there for her, especially this weekend."
"I know that, too." He stopped walking and sighed, rubbing his face wearily. "It's hard, Scully. It's damn hard."
She touched his face gently. "You're okay, G-man."
He shook his head. "I miss you. I miss you so much."
"You're okay," she repeated and leaned over to kiss him. "I've got to run." She began running down the beach, toward the descending mists.
"Scully! Come back!"
She turned and laughed at him over her shoulder, the breeze catching her red hair. "Go play with the live girl!"
Mulder sighed and turned back towards the house. He was deep in thought and looked up in sudden surprise when another body fell into step alongside him. She linked arms with him, matching her long legs to his stride.
"I missed these walks."
He smiled at her, watching the way the moonlight caught her blue-green eyes and the wind whipped her long red hair around her shoulders. "Me, too."
"You okay, Daddy? You look like you haven't been eating."
He shrugged. "You know me, Meg. Food just isn't a big deal. I eat when I'm hungry. I haven't been very hungry."
"Yeah, well, Uncle Bill and Aunt Tara are having a fit. And what is this Uncle Charlie says about you writing a book?"
He avoided her eyes; she had her mother's perception and he had never been able to successfully lie to her mother. "Well, you know- I'm working on - it's a sort of -"
He looked at her sideways, grinning like a little boy caught in mischief. "Yeah."
"Daddy," Meg said reprovingly. They walked in silence for awhile, then Meg said, hesitantly, "Remember what you told me last year, Daddy? About about talking to Mom?"
Mulder looked at her quizzically. "Yes. Why?"
"You still talk to her, don't you, Daddy?"
"Yeah, sometimes," he said quietly. "It makes me feel less lonely. Helps me - hold it together, you know?"
She nodded. "I know. I remember how it was. What do you talk about?"
"Lots of things. You. She likes to hear how you're doing. She worries about you." He stopped and looked searchingly in her face. "Is everything okay, Meggy? We haven't really talked much since you got back."
Meg hesitated, then said. "Everything's fine."
"No boy troubles? You and your grandmother get along okay?"
"I'm fine, Daddy," she said in an exasperated teenager tone. "You worry too much."
"Meg, do I tell you I love you enough?" Meg looked at him in surprise and he said, "You know, I've read the studies and they say teenagers stop hearing if you say things too much, but I know saying too little can cause just as much harm. Do I say it too much? Too little?"
Meg smiled affectionately and squeezed his arm. "Daddy, stop over-analyzing! You say it just right."
Arm in arm, they went into the house together.
If I'd only known
Mulder checked the straps on the life-vest for the third time. "You sure that's tight enough?"
Meg rolled her eyes at him. "Yes, Daddy, I'm sure. And what's the big deal, anyway? No one else is wearing a life vest. I can hardly breathe in this thing."
Mulder crossed his arms and gave her the patented parent stare. "If everyone else wants to drown, that's their business. It's my responsibility to keep you alive till you can start supporting me. And you will not take off that jacket while you are on the boat. Do you hear me?"
She muttered something under her breath. "Margaret Christine Mulder, did you hear me?"
"Yes, sir." She sighed and climbed into the sailboat, going to the bow and as far from her father as possible.
Charlie watched her with a grin, then turned to Mulder. "Don't worry.
We'll keep an eye on her. She's a good sailor, Mulder."
"Yeah, well, accidents can happen." He turned to Linda and helped her into the sailboat. She picked up a life vest and put it on as she went forward to join Meg, glancing back once at Mulder. He smiled his thanks to her and she nodded.
He tossed the line to Bill. "I'll pick up Matt at the ferry in Oak Bluff and meet you at the marina at around noon, okay?"
Bill nodded, then began issuing instructions to his crew. Mulder stood on the dock watching till the boat reached open water, then sighed and turned back to the house.
Mulder picked up Matthew Scully at the ferry, amused by the appearance of his youngest nephew. Bill had been disappointed when Matt had decided against a Naval career - probably the only male in the family to do so in generations, thought Mulder - and now Matt was sporting long hair and an earring. He couldn't wait to see what Bill thought of this, he thought with a grin.
In the end, however, he was disappointed. Bill Scully's only reaction was to raise an eyebrow (God, were all the Scullys born knowing how to do that just that way?) and comment about the lack of barbers in Boston. Matt just grinned at that and helped to tie up the boat, then he and Meg went off in search of other teens while Mulder loaded their gear into the Explorer.
"So, Linda, did you enjoy yourself?" Mulder asked, as Charlie had maneuvered the seating so that Linda was in the front passenger seat.
She nodded. "It was incredible! Being so close to the water, feeling every swell - "
"Careful, Linda!" Charlie said with a laugh. "Mulder gets seasick he'll be tossing his cookies from your description in a minute."
"I'll just be sure to aim in your direction."
"Now, children," Bill said with mock severity. "Linda is our guest. Surely you can come up with other topics of conversation?"
Charlie thought for a minute. "Nope. Mulder?"
Linda laughed and turned the conversation to the town they were driving through, and Mulder readily answered her questions, having grown up on the island.
They arrived at the picnic grounds to find that Tara and Maggie were already there and setting up. With the inherent knack that teens have for locating food, Meg and Matt were already there, trying to sneak a cookie while Maggie wasn't looking.
"Stop that!" Maggie said with a laugh, slapping their hands. "Go play till we're ready."
"Good idea," said Charlie picking up the volleyball. "Come on, Bill you and Matt against me and Meg." Bill agreed and the four went off.
Mulder turned and looked at Linda in amusement. "I think Phase 3 of the Plan has begun. They are leaving us alone to talk."
Linda smiled at him. "You can relax. You're not my type."
He tilted his head and smiled at her, a devastatingly charming smile, and she could see that he was very sure of its effect. "And what is your type?"
She turned and looked towards the family group where Charlie and Meg had teamed up against Bill and Matt, then just smiled.
Mulder threw back his head and laughed, the first genuine laugh she had heard from him. "So, does Charlie know or does he tread blindly towards his fate?"
She looked back at Mulder, ruefully. "Well, if he knew he wouldn't have tried to set me up with you, would he? I must admit, when he invited me up for the weekend to meet the family, I got the wrong impression."
"You're a very tolerant woman, Linda. Scully would have handed my head to me if I had tried anything like that with her."
"I have trouble picturing a little thing like her putting a big fellow like you into such a quake."
Mulder smiled softly, his eyes turned inward to his memories. "She was only little in inches. Her soul, her spirit, her determination, and her strength far exceeded her size." He noted the skeptical look on Linda's face and said, mockingly, "You think I exaggerate, *Dr.* Taylor?"
Linda looked up at him in surprise. "How did you know? Charlie didn't tell you."
Mulder shook his head, his eyes gleaming at her. "Like knows like. Psychologist or psychiatrist?"
"Psychologist. And I *am* an instructor at Annapolis. Charlie wasn't lying about that."
"So what do you think?" he asked mockingly, "Psychologist to psychologist."
Linda thought for a moment. "I think that, because of the depth of your love and the suddenness of her death, you may be overly glamorizing your late wife. Building an ideal picture that no one else can hope to compete against. It keeps you safe from any new emotional involvement."
Mulder smiled and shook his head. "Scully and I were together for twenty-four years, and we were married for eighteen of those years. Over glamorize? She could kick my ass from one side of the island to the other.
"Nope, Doctor; sometimes the easiest answers are the true ones: I love my wife - and I said *love* not loved- deeply, honestly, passionately, and completely. True love. And that only comes once in a lifetime."
They were silent for a long time, watching the volleyball game.
"I was married for five years."
Linda shrugged. "Navy life can be hard on a marriage. He was a civilian, and I was at sea for six months at a time."
Mulder nodded. "Charlie's marriage broke up over the same thing."
"I came home one day and he told me that he had been seeing someone else, that he was leaving me for her. I thought my word would fall apart but it didn't. Ironically, I got the Annapolis appointment six months after the divorce came through." Her tone was absent, her eyes focused on the past.
"Am I supposed to get some sort of lesson from that, Dr. Taylor?"
She turned and looked at him, blinking, as if surprised to see him sitting there. "No. I think I am the one getting the lesson. And if I had to decide who was saner - the man who forgot his wife while still married to her or the man who refuses to forget his wife after she is gone - I'm afraid I couldn't agree with the rational answer."
Tara announced that the food was ready, and the volleyball players came back to join them, loudly debating the last point scored. Everyone settled on the blankets and chairs, digging in hungrily, and for a while there was little talk. After everyone was full and the leftover food packed away, they settled down to wait for the fireworks. Meg began telling her grandmother about their morning sail, and Matt was telling Charlie about his first year at college.
Mulder had been idly listening to the conversation around him when his sixth sense for danger suddenly went on alert.
[Mulder! I need your help!]
Standing up, he looked around him slowly, trying to get a fix on the source of the danger but everything looked normal, muted in the twilight shadows. Then another flash out of the corner of his eye caught his attention and he turned, focusing.
There she stood, over to one side, holding one hand over her ear while she tried to listen to the cell phone in her hand, her short red hair falling over her face like a curtain. Damn it, he thought in irritation, why isn't she wearing a vest? Even back there behind the cars, it was S.O.P.; he tried to catch her attention, but she was intent on her conversation, every inch the efficient A.D.. Then a glint of something metal up on the roof caught his attention and he went cold.
"Scully, get down!"
She didn't hear him, she was talking, and he began running, desperately, towards her. Oh, please, God, let me be fast enough! He was almost there - he could see her face staring at him - there was a loud crack and he was diving for her, trying to get between her and the gunman, but it was too late, too late -
"Shit!" Bill jumped up and raced after Mulder, trying to catch him, but the dark-haired man had a head start and was running with a desperate speed. Before Bill could reach him, Mulder was diving, knocking the woman to the ground, shielding her with his body as the bottle rocket sailed harmlessly past them and exploded on the open ground beyond them.
Bill slid to a stop, catching his breath, wondering how in the hell Mulder had known that the bottle rocket was going to hit that woman, then realized grimly that Mulder hadn't known. He'd thought it was Dana.
Mulder was raising his head cautiously, looking around him and then down at the woman he shielded. Scully had disappeared; this was a complete stranger. He felt Bill's hand on his arm and accepted his help to get up, then Bill was bending over the woman, helping her to sit up.
"You okay, ma'am?" Bill was asking.
The brunette stranger nodded. "Just got the breath knocked out of me."
Her companion was staring at them, amazed. "That rocket would have hit her!"
Paramedics arrived on the scene, helping the woman up and checking her over, so Bill turned to Mulder. He was standing frozen, his eyes unfocused, ignoring everything around him.
"It's over, Mulder," Bill said in a quiet, firm tone. "Everything's okay."
"I saw her," Mulder said in a dazed tone. "She was here."
"Come on, Mulder, let's get you home." He took Mulder's arm firmly and guided the younger man back to the rest of the family. "I'm taking Mulder home," he told his wife quietly. "I'll take the Explorer - can you bring everyone else back in the car?"
Tara nodded. "We'll meet you back at the house." She glanced over at the silent Mulder. "Should we give you some time?"
"I don't know that it will make much difference but, yeah, give me an hour." He turned back to Mulder, fishing the keys to the Explorer out of Mulder's pocket, then steered the silent man through the crowd and the parking lot, ignoring the fireworks display that had begun behind them.
Mulder was silent on the trip home, docile as a child when Bill told him to get into or out of the car, letting Bill guide him into the living room. It was only when Bill put the cup of coffee in his hands that he began to shake. He carefully set the cup down and stared at his hands.
"Mulder, what happened out there?"
Mulder bit the inside of his mouth to keep from screaming, twisted his hands into the fabric of his shirt to keep from throwing things, from striking at that irritating face so close to his. He stood, breathing heavily, avoiding Bill's eyes.
"I'm gonna get a shower."
He left the room abruptly, before Bill could say anything, and shut himself into his room. He went into the bathroom and turned the shower water on, hot - as hot as he could stand it - and stepped in, fully clothed. He stood there for a long time, head bowed under the water, letting it cascade over him, drown him. And, as the shock began to wear off, he began to shake with rage. He wanted to scream and scream and scream until his voice was hoarse. He wanted to break something, cut himself until his pain bled away. He wanted to crawl inside a bottle, numb the pain, and never come out. He wanted to smash all those kindly sympathetic faces, the ones that murmured that they knew what he was feeling when they had absolutely no concept of the pain that racked him with every breath, every movement, every thought. And then the tears came, the wrenching sobs from his gut that drove him to his knees, huddled in the bottom of the tub, keening his grief and loss.
Bill sat in the living room, head bowed, wishing that he could just go somewhere and get roaring drunk, just forget about what had happened. About what he had to do. He could taste the bile in his mouth. His jaw hurt from clenching his teeth.
"Damn it, Dana," he murmured. "Why did you make me promise? Why couldn't you just let me walk away from this?" But even as he said it he knew that he couldn't. It was not in Bill Scully's nature to walk away from family, no matter how unpleasant the situation.
The screen door opened and Tara entered, followed by the rest of the family. She met her husband's eyes across the room and he shook his head.
She sighed, then resolutely put on a smile.
"Anyone want some dessert?" she called out as she headed toward the kitchen. "We've got pie and cake, and I'll put on some coffee."
Mulder came into the living room, dressed in his jogging clothes, his hair still damp, and carefully avoided looking at the faces of the assembled Scully clan. So many of them and only one of me, he thought bleakly.
"Dessert, Mulder?" Tara was asking.
"Thanks, no. I thought - I'm going to go for a run." He had to get out of here, talk to her, get his life back under control again.
"Mulder," Bill said firmly. "We need to talk about this."
Mulder looked at him, his eyes cold and his expression unreadable.
"There's nothing to talk about. I pushed that woman out of the way of a bottle rocket. End of story."
Bill stepped between him and the door. "That's *not* the end of the story. You thought you saw her. Dana. You called out her name. You really thought you saw her, didn't you, Mulder?"
Mulder's voice was low. "Yes."
"Mulder, we know how painful this has been for you - " Mulder snorted but Bill continued, undeterred, "and I think that it's just too much for you to handle alone. Living here on your own, looking after Meg, and having to deal with your grief - I don't think you can do this by yourself."
"What are you saying, Bill?" Mulder said in that irritating, smugly superior and mocking tone that Bill hated. "Stop beating around the bush and just come out and say it."
"Mulder, I think you need to get some help. Professional help."
"What kind of help? Housemaid? Babysitter? Keeper?"
Mulder stood looking at him for a long moment, his eyes hard and cold, his head nodding a little. "You think I've lost it."
"I think you're trying to handle more stress than you are capable of handling," Bill said carefully, not letting Mulder's tone needle him.
"Cut the psychological crap, Bill. That's my area, remember? And I'm handling it just fine."
"You're not handling it, Mulder; that's the problem. If it was just you I'd say fine, but it's not. Meg has to be considered, too." Bill took a deep breath. "Mulder, I didn't want to have to do this, believe me, but I think it might be better if Meg comes to live with Tara and me."
Mulder looked pained then looked over at Meg. Trying to keep his voice neutral, he said, "Well, Meg? You want to live with your aunt and uncle?"
Meg shook her head. "No, Daddy."
Mulder looked back at Bill, shrugged and said, "Well, there you go. Thanks for the offer, but I think we'll just keep on as we are." He walked past Bill onto the porch and down the steps to the beach.
Bill followed him and, after a moment, Charlie did, too. He had a feeling a referee was going to be needed in the upcoming battle.
Bill caught up with Mulder. "I'm sorry, Mulder, but Meg is not old enough to make this kind of decision, and you're not - capable right now. I've got an appointment with the Court on Monday."
Mulder stopped and swung around. "You plan to see a judge? You'd get a Court order to take Meg away?" Mulder said, incredulously, then his eyes narrowed in fury. "You're punishing me for hurting too much, aren't you? I shouldn't hurt any more! The fucking statute of limitations on pain has run out!"
"I'm thinking of Meg's best interest," Bill said, clenching his teeth.
"Oh yeah, rip her away from her father - that's in her best fucking interest!"
"You want to have an adult conversation or shall we see how many times you can swear in a minute?"
"Fuck you!" Mulder said furiously. "How many is that?"
"You need to get your priorities straight."
"My priority is my daughter!"
"Then make her one!" Bill snapped.
"Get out!" Mulder said, livid with anger. "Get out of my life!"
Bill got in Mulder's face, daring him to strike him. "Your life? If I hadn't found you, you wouldn't have a life! I'm the one who found you, remember?"
Mulder's knees turned to jelly. The memory of that horrible time came back, filling him with darkness. A darkness that had sat upon his soul.
Until she had come back. Desperately, he wished that she was here, touching his face, holding his hand, comforting him and giving him strength against this onslaught.
"I'm the one who barged in after you swallowed all those sleeping pills with the whisky chaser! I'm the one who made you throw it up, who took you to the emergency room so they could pump your stomach. Remember, Mulder?"
His voice softened. "I'm the one who stayed with you that night, who held your hand when you had the DTs so they wouldn't strap you down. I'm the one who held you while you cried. Get out of your life? I could no more do that than I could get out of Charlie's. Or Dana's."
Bill walked back up to the porch, then turned around abruptly. "It took me a long time to like you, Mulder. It's taken me even longer to care, but I do care. If you choose to flush your life down the toilet, I'll be sorry - whether you believe it or not. But if you think I'll let you take Meg down with you, then you don't know me. And you have never made the *slightest* effort to know who I am."
The night was silent, filled only with the reverberation of the slammed door.
Mulder turned away blindly, unable to bear the pity on Charlie's face.
"Um, I'm going to take a walk."
He jogged down the shoreline, his breath catching on sobs, trying not to think, not to do anything but concentrate on his legs moving, his heart pumping. He jogged a mile, two miles, stopping to catch his breath when he reached the rocks below the lighthouse.
"Remember the meteor shower?"
She was sitting on the boulders, leaning back to look up at the stars.
"A certain daughter was conceived under these stars. A miracle baby, our own star child."
Mulder sighed, wiped his eyes, and sat down on a boulder next to her.
"They want to take Meg away, Scully. They think I'm losing it." He felt miserable; he had failed Scully, he had failed Meg. "Maybe they're right.
I'm sitting on a rock, talking to a ghost."
"I could go." She started to rise, but he reached out a hand to stop her.
"No. Don't go."
They sat in silence for a long time, then Mulder said, quietly, "I think I'm in trouble."
Her eyes were intense, studying him closely. "Why?"
"I think maybe I'm sick. Mentally sick." He swallowed hard. "Am I sick?" he asked appealingly, looking at the one who had always been his mental barometer.
She stretched, stood up, and looked out over the water. "Don't they always say that if you can ask yourself if you are crazy then you can't possibly be crazy?"
Mulder made an exasperated sound. "Cut the psycho-babble, Scully. I'm the psychologist, remember?" She was silent. "I thought I saw you tonight, at the fireworks. I heard you calling for my help. Was I imagining that?"
She still had her back to him. "She would have been hurt, possibly killed."
"Bullshit, Scully! And while we're on the subject, tell me why! *Why* didn't you wear the vest? You knew the regs, hell, you would have reamed anyone else on your team for forgetting! So why in fucking hell weren't you wearing your vest?"
"Are you blaming me for dying?"
"Well I sure am tired of blaming myself, and there's no one else around!"
She turned toward the rocks, starting to climb up them. Panic suddenly flooded Mulder, washing away his anger, and he clutched her hand.
She looked down at him, a little sadly. "I'm not helping you. Maybe I should go."
"I will have to go sometime. I think - I think it has to be soon." She looked up at the moon, as if hearing something beyond his hearing.
Mulder grabbed her hand, desperately. "But not tonight!"
"No, not tonight." Her eyes looked pained. "I don't want to go. But you'll have to let me go someday."
He shook his head. "I can't let go. Not yet."
She turned back to him with a smile, kissed him softly. "Okay."
His arms held her close. "I'm not ready."
She sighed, her hand gently stroking his hair. "I know. It's okay, Mulder. I won't go till you're ready."
Bill was sitting on the porch steps when Mulder returned to the house.
Mulder sighed; there was no way he was going to get past Bill, and he was too tired to go another round.
"Where were you, Mulder?"
"What, are you applying for the job of Keeper?" He tried to make it sound like a joke but he knew it only came out as tired, pathetic.
"Idiot. Sit down before you fall down."
The tone came out gentler than he had ever heard from Bill Scully and, despite himself, tears came to his eyes. He sat down on the steps and sighed.
"You've been gone for hours. I was getting worried."
"Yeah, well, next time I'll jog straight out into the bay and save you the trouble of a Court battle."
"Oh, that's a great idea, Mulder. Leave Meg without a father, too."
"Well, according to you I'm not doing such a great job of it."
"I didn't say that. I think Meg's lucky to have a father who cares about her as much as you obviously do."
Mulder swung around and stared at Bill, his jaw dropping. "Excuse me?
Weren't you just threatening to take her away from me?"
"Mulder, just because I think you're one toy short of a Happy Meal doesn't mean that I don't know you love her."
Mulder snickered and dropped his face into his hands. "One of us has gone round the bend, Bill, and I think it's you for a change."
They were silent for a long time.
"Meg says that you talk to Dana."
Mulder's head snapped up. He turned to look Bill directly in the face, and found that he was doing a Great Stone Scully face as good as his sister's.
"Is she right? Do you - talk to Dana?"
Mulder's heart began to race. Here it was. If he told the truth, Bill would have him wearing a nifty wrap-around jacket before the weekend was over. If he lied - hell, what was he thinking? He'd never been able to successfully lie to any of the Scullys.
He drew a deep breath and let it out. "Yeah. Sometimes."
"Are you just talking out loud to her or do you see her?"
"I see her. And touch her."
"Are you saying that Dana is a ghost?"
Mulder hunched his shoulders. "I don't know. I don't know if she is a ghost or if it's just my imagination. But when I see her, when I talk with her, it makes it easier to cope with - with this situation." Bill was silent and he said, appealingly, "At least I am doing better than I was eighteen months ago - I'm not suicidal and I've been sober for over a year. I'm coping, Bill. Maybe my way of coping is not your way, but it works for me."
"It's a crutch, Mulder," Bill said gently. "And sometime you'll have to give up that crutch and learn to walk on your own."
"I will. When I'm ready."
Bill sighed. "It's not normal to be spending your nights with your deceased wife."
"You can't apply normal to me," Mulder pointed out with a grin.
"It's a fantasy."
"And how many *normal*, married couples make love and fantasize it's someone else? So I have an emotional fantasy - why should I apologize for it?" His voice softened and he said with painful sincerity, "I'm not crazy, Bill. I know fantasy from reality. When I go to restaurants, I don't order for two. At the movies I buy one ticket. I'm just trying to survive. Trying to make sense of this."
Bill nodded and closed his eyes. Silence descended again. And then, from a corner of the porch, a soft voice spoke and startled them both.
"The truth is that we're both jealous because you have something that we've never known. That's the truth, and we don't want to face it."
Charlie stood up and walked over to the two men. Bill and Charlie locked eyes for a long moment, and then Bill sighed.
"All right, Mulder. Do it your own way. But I'm warning you: one crazy act like earlier today, one fall off the wagon, and I'll have Meg out of here so fast that your head will spin. Do you read me?"
"Gee, thanks, Bill," Mulder said mockingly. "Just what your borderline psychotic needs - more pressure."
"You're not psychotic, Mulder. You're just Peter Pan." Bill sighed heavily. "And I'm too tired to play Captain Hook tonight. I'm going to bed. We've got reservations on the 9:30 ferry and it's after midnight."
Yes, my life
Mulder raised his head from where it rested on his knees and managed a half-smile. "Hey, Meggy." He scooted over a little on the stairs so that she could sit down next to him. He had been sitting there, thinking, ever since Bill and Charlie had gone in.
"You okay, Daddy?"
He shrugged, half-smiling. "As okay as ever. Whatever that is."
"I won't leave you, Daddy. Ever."
He sighed and reached over to hug her to him. "Meg." He drew a deep breath and let it go. "Someday you will have to, Meg. It's part of growing up. No matter how much we love someone, at some time we have to let him or her go. Otherwise we stop growing, and that's when we start dying."
He smoothed her hair away from her face. "I'll have to let you go, and you'll have to walk away from me."
"Mama needs to go, Daddy." Her eyes were large, magnified by tears.
"You have to let her go."
His eyes filled with tears, but he nodded. "I know. It's just - it's so hard. I loved your mother so very much...I miss her so much."
They were quiet for a long time.
"Daddy, if you had known - would you still do it? Would you still have loved her? Knowing how much this would hurt?"
[Even if I knew for certain, I wouldn't change a day. Well, except maybe that Flukeman thing...I could have lived without that just fine.] He closed his eyes for a moment, feeling the tears well up in his eyes.
Then he smiled, a little crookedly, and said, "Sometimes it's better not to know but, yeah, I would still have loved her. Even knowing how much it would hurt. I'd have missed so much good. And you." He reached out to stroke her cheek gently.
"You want to go back, don't you, Meg? Back to the Georgetown house?"
She nodded. "I want to be with other kids. Are you okay with that?"
"Yeah. I understand."
Meg wiped away the tears on his face, then leaned her head against his.
And they sat there for a long time, silent, looking out over the sea.
Mulder was waiting when Bill came up the stairs with the suitcases.
"Here, let me give you a hand with that."
Bill looked at Mulder with a puzzled frown. "Okay."
They were silent as they carried the suitcases out to the car.
"Meg and I had a talk," Mulder said quietly. "We've - I've decided to come back to D.C.. Open the Georgetown house."
Mulder nodded, looking down at his feet, scuffing them like a kid.
"Yeah." He drew a deep breath and let it out. "And get some counseling."
Bill stared at him, stunned, and then a slow smile came over his face.
"You're serious, aren't you?" Mulder nodded again. "This is great, Mulder! If there's anything I can do to help, just name it."
"I'll need to find a school for Meg - "
"Done. I'll check them out personally. When are you planning to move back?"
"It'll take a couple days to get everything settled here, get a moving van. End of the week."
Bill nodded. "The house will need to be opened up and aired out. Cleaned, too. I'll take care of that."
"Mom's got the keys. She'll know better what shape it's in. I haven't been back since - " Mulder swallowed hard.
Bill squeezed his shoulder. "I know. It won't be easy, but we're all here for you. You'll be okay, Mulder."
Mulder smiled, and for once he felt the smile had reached his eyes.
"Yeah. I'll be fine."
He stood on the beach in the moonlight, looking out over the water. It was calm, tranquil, the waves gently lapping the shore. He felt her stop beside him.
"You're leaving." Her voice was quiet, serene as the water in front of them.
He sighed. "You know that rule. Meg comes first. I've got to go back."
She nodded. "It's time. You don't need me anymore."
"I'll always need you."
[You saved me. You made me whole.]
She smiled. "And I'm always with you, Mulder. In here." She touched his heart.
"Will I see you again?" Mulder thought he couldn't bear it if she said no. He was so lost when she was gone, so empty without her.
She nodded. "You will. That's a promise, Mulder. We'll be together again and it will be forever. Only - not just now. You'll wait, won't you? Till it's the right time?"
He nodded. "Yeah. I'll wait. Just - just don't make it too long, okay?"
She kissed him softly. "You're going to be all right, Mulder."
"I know." He reached out to smooth her hair one last time. "I love you. I always loved you."
She smiled, and her smile was as bright as the moonlight glowing around her.
And then there was only the moonlight and the sea.
They stood on the street outside the brownstone, watching the last of the boxes come off the truck. Inside, they could hear Tara and Meg directing the movers while Maggie hung freshly washed and starched curtains on the windows. After two years of emptiness, the house in Georgetown was coming back to life again.
"So, what are you planning to do?" Charlie asked Mulder. "Go back to work? Teach?"
Mulder shook his head. "No, I don't think so. I might actually write that book, though. With all the things I've seen - makes Stephen King's books look like kid stuff."
Charlie laughed. "Better make it fiction, though - no one will ever believe those things really happened. Maybe it'll even get picked up for a movie. Or a TV show."
Mulder shrugged. "Who knows? And I've been thinking about getting a dog. You know, to keep me company while Meg's at school. Not a little yappy thing like Queequeg - a man's dog."
"I can just see you taking care of a dog," Bill said, shaking his head.
"How many fish did you kill over the years?"
"Hey, fish are tough. Dogs have *got* to be easier." They climbed the stairs to the brownstone. "Besides, walking a dog is a great way to meet other people."
Charlie grinned. "You could always take out a personal ad."
"Now there's an idea. You know, I saw this movie once where this man put in a personal ad asking women to send in their erotic diaries - " Bill snorted. "Mulder, you are one sick man." He slapped Mulder on the back. "Welcome back, brother."
Author's End Notes:
The following concern things that my beta-readers commented on, and other observations. They are not necessary to the story, and if this sort of thing bothers you, just stop reading here. However, please do not flame me about story content without reading these first.
- Lyrics at each chapter head are from "The Dance" which Garth Brooks sings on at least 2 of his CDs, including "The Hits". Playing that song while reading this story late at night is guaranteed to cause Angst, Trauma, and a run on the Kleenex box. Your mileage may vary.
- I am indebted to Pellinor's "Deep Background" page for info on Martha's Vineyard, where the story takes place. I was deliberately vague on the location of Mulder's house; suffice it to say that it is neither his boyhood home or his father's house, but is probably on the northern side between Chilmark and Vineyard Haven. I don't know if they have fireworks on the 4th or where they would have them, but the Chamber of Commerce notes fireworks for First Night (Jan 1) at Vineyard Haven, so that's where I put the 4th's.
- Since Charles Scully has not yet physically appeared in the series, I have taken my characterization of him from a general feeling in fanfic. I busted up his marriage for my own perverse pleasure, however.
- I had *intended* to treat Bill Scully's characterization a little gentler than most fanfic while still remaining true to the series, but I didn't realize how deeply I would sympathize with his point of view. Must be because I'm the eldest and *always* know what's best for my younger siblings! If you don't care for my view of him, well, there are plenty of other fanfics to choose from.
- Yes, the jokes and references in the Epilogue are intentional. If you do not get the jokes - or do not *see* any - please print the page and take it to a DD fan - he/she will be glad to explain.
- This story began as a challenge due to a comment on one of the Lists about how stories dealing with the death of either Mulder or Scully had Scully going on but Mulder self-destructing. I think he is a lot stronger than that.
- "To Gillian on her 37th Birthday" references. When I saw that movie, I was not happy with the ending - hey, I'm a delusional romantic and I saw nothing wrong with the man talking with his dead wife. So I decided to write an X-Files version, and have Scully's ghost come back to D.C. with Mulder, a sort of "Topper" or "Ghost in her Life" variation. However, once I got into the story, the characters took over and it ended completely differently than I thought it would, and much more like the movie that inspired it. And that's when I realized that this story was not so much about "ghosts" than it was about letting go and moving on. However, I am still fascinated with the idea of the skeptical Scully as a ghost, so I am working on another story (tentatively titled "Ghost Hunter") from that perspective.
- So is she a ghost or Mulder's imagination? Well, I don't know, and Mulder doesn't know, so the only one who really knows is Scully. And she ain't saying a word !-)