Title: The Sound of Laughter
Author: Rebecca Rusnak
Disclaimer: Mulder, Scully, etc. are owned by Chris Carter, Ten Thirteen, and Fox Broadcasting. I'm making no money from this.
Spoilers: None
Rating: PG
Classification: SA

Summary: When Samantha returns, Mulder finally has something to laugh about.

7:30 a.m.
November 28, 1998

The morning sunlight streamed in through a crack in the curtains, and a thin golden beam landed on Fox Mulder's face. He shifted on the couch, turning his face away, hoping for a few more minutes of sleep. He had not fallen asleep until the wee hours of the morning, when exhaustion finally overcame his grief. He rolled over on the couch, his back to the room, squeezing his eyes shut against the offending light.

A soft giggle floated through the room.

Mulder froze, all sleep instantly banished from his mind. He listened, straining carefully for any further sounds, anything to give evidence of a presence in the room. Nothing. With a sigh, he relaxed. He was hearing things, his ever-present guilt causing him to hear his sister's laughter. It was a sound he would never hear again, he had realized last night, while weeping distraughtly over the anniversary of her disappearance. Twenty-five years ago, it was, but for Mulder, it may as well have been yesterday.

He had reached a watershed last night, crossed the line drawn in the sand. Clutching his sister's picture, miserable tears running down his cheeks, he had finally accepted the truth: Samantha was dead and he was never going to find her. He had screamed then, screamed hopelessly, his hands tightening into fists, crushing the picture.

But accepting that awful truth had not been without its reward. In the depths of his despair, his own shrieks still ringing in his ears, he had abruptly fallen silent, revelatory. Samantha might be dead, but she was not gone. On the contrary, she was here, with him. He had her memory, and as long as he had that, she was *not* dead and gone after all.

This revelation had struck sometime around four a.m., and he had fallen asleep with a smile on his face, dreaming of nothing for the first time in years. The blackness of sleep had never been so welcoming.

Something soft struck his shoulder, and a wispy giggle wafted across the room. In sudden terror, trying frantically to remember where he'd put his gun, Mulder sat up. His eyes tried to look everywhere at once, and he missed her the first time around. Another soft plop on his cheek, and he twisted his head, suddenly seeing the other occupant of the room.

For a moment the person's expression mimicked his own, eyes wide, lips trembling, then she laughed. "You're hard to wake up, Fox," she caroled. Her hand dug into the cereal box, came up with another corn flake, and tossed it at him.

This one fell short of its mark, landing on the coffee table in front of the couch, and Mulder blinked at it, then looked up. "S-Samantha?" he croaked.

In a flash, the little girl threw down the cereal box, and was up from her chair and flying across the room. She flung herself into his arms, and Mulder was thrown back against the couch by her charge. Her arms entwined around his neck. "Oh, Fox, I've missed you," she said.

Dark brown hairs tickled his nose, small knees dug into his thighs. This was no hallucination, surely. What, then? Mulder grabbed the thin arms and pulled them off his neck. "Who are you?" he demanded harshly.

Shocked eyes filled with tears. "It's me," she said, "it's me, Fox. Don't you know me anymore? Did you forget me?"

He shook his head hastily. "No, of course not, but, you can't be Samantha. She's--" He found he could not say it, could not vocalize his latest discovery.

"I *am* Samantha, Fox," the little girl declared. She climbed down from his lap and stood her ground before him. "Last night, you decided I was dead." At his startled look she frowned. "I'm not dead, Fox. I'm right here. See?" She held out one arm and pinched herself. "I'm real."

With a trembling hand, Mulder reached out and touched her small wrist. "Why--why did you come back?" he whispered.

Samantha smiled, a little girl grin stretching across her face. "Because you wanted me to," she said.

Mulder blinked, astonished. Was that it? Could it be so easy? All these years, wasted, because he had not wished hard enough?

"Fox? Aren't you happy to see me?" Samantha's face wore a childish pout.

He nodded, not trusting himself to speak.

"Then why aren't you smiling?" Troubled lines creased her brow.

Mulder tried it. Tentatively, he smiled, just a little at first, then a larger one, until he was grinning broadly. Samantha's grin matched his own, and Mulder found himself breaking into laughter, and was amazed at how good it felt.

9:00 a.m.

For an eight-year old, Samantha had amazing patience, and she had waited while Mulder got dressed and ready for work. He had emerged from the bedroom to find her staring out his window, a pensive look on her face. "Do you *have* to go to work, Fox?" she'd asked.

He had thought about it, decided that, no, he didn't, and called in sick. He'd also called Scully, and told her his good news, but she had already left for work, so he had just left her a message on her answering machine. She'd find out eventually, anyway.

"So what *do* you want to do?" he'd asked his sister.

Samantha's eyes gleamed. "Go to the park," she'd immediately replied. Her smile had matched his own as they walked out of the apartment building and driven to the park. All the way there she had kept up a stream of little-girl chatter, and Mulder found himself enchanted by his sister. She really was an interesting person, for a child.

The wind kicked up the dead leaves as they walked through the park, hand in hand. Mulder pointed out spots of interest, as they walked. He noticed the looks they were getting from the other people in the park, and a curious sort of pride swelled his chest. He loved being out with his sister, showing her things, loved just being with her. He was sure the two of them made a pretty picture together.

He showed her the bandstand, where every year a Fourth of July picnic was held, and a band played American songs with patriotic fervor. Samantha gazed at the empty bandstand, then smiled up at her brother, cheeks dimpling. "Sing me a song, Fox," she ordered.

Mulder looked around, checked the area. His singing voice was terrible, but how could he deny his long-lost sister? Gamely, he started singing, "You're A Grand Old Flag," and was relieved when Samantha joined in. An elderly couple gave them a queer look as they walked by, but Mulder merely stared at them and continued singing. So what if he was singing a Fourth of July song in November? You could be patriotic on other days of the year, couldn't you?

Samantha gave him a hug when the song ended, and kissed him quickly on the cheek. "You're the best big brother ever," she declared firmly in her eight-year old's voice. Then she took off running. "Can't catch me!" she called, her voice trailing behind her.

Mulder waited, giving her a head-start, knowing he could catch up to her easily, his long adult's legs easily outdistancing her child's stride. When he judged the distance between them to be reasonable, he ran after her, laughing at her startled shriek as she looked over her shoulder and saw him coming. "I'll get you!" he called threateningly, and Samantha shrieked again, then pealed laughter.

She dodged around a man on a bicycle, and Mulder narrowly missed a collision himself. Then he had her, and they rolled to the ground, laughing helplessly. When they had themselves under control, they sat up. The man on the bicycle was staring at them curiously, and Mulder frowned at him.

"Hey, are you okay?" the guy called, and the reason for his worried stare became clear.

"Yeah, we're okay," Mulder shouted back. "We didn't hit the ground very hard." He turned to his sister. "Right, Samantha?" She nodded emphatically, and Mulder turned back to the man. "Thanks for asking, though."

A puzzled look crossed the man's face, then he shrugged. Getting back on his bicycle, he pedaled away.

"I'm hungry. Let's get something to eat, Fox," said Samantha.

Mulder stood up, held out a hand to his sister. "You're the boss, ma'am." Samantha giggled again.

10:15 a.m.

The food might be good here, but the service had definitely gone downhill, Mulder thought in annoyance. His waitress had taken his order without once looking at Samantha, steadily ignoring her. How anybody could do that such a pretty child was beyond him, and he tried hard not to get angry.

"Anything else I can get you?" the waitress asked, tapping her pencil against her pad.

"What do you want, Samantha?" Mulder asked. His sister had not looked at the menu he had placed before her, but she had watched him order with curiosity.

"Pancakes with maple syrup," she said imperiously to the waitress.

"Sir?" Her name plate read Darlene, and she frowned at him.

Mulder made a short gesture. "You heard her. Pancakes with maple syrup." He looked at Samantha again. "Do you want any eggs with that?"

Darlene harrumphed, and gathered up the two menus. She turned to go.

"Stop!" Mulder grabbed her arm. "You didn't finish taking our order."

"I want an orange juice, too, please," Samantha said politely. Mulder was proud of her.

"Excuse me?" The waitress pulled away from his grip. "What else did you want, then?" Her pencil tapped again, impatiently.

"An orange juice, too," he said. "Better make it a kiddie size."

"Fox!" Samantha groaned, and rolled her eyes. "I'm eight years old, I'm not a kid anymore."

"Yes, you are," he replied, grinning wickedly.

Darlene the waitress rolled her eyes. "Right," she said, and left.

"She wasn't very nice, Fox."

"I know," Mulder said. "I guess she won't get a very big tip." Samantha giggled.

The waitress returned soon with Mulder's breakfast, but without Samantha's pancakes and orange juice. "Aren't you forgetting something?" he asked tightly.

Darlene heaved a sigh. "Oh, right. Your *other* breakfast. Tell you what, mister, you finish that one, and then you can have your other one."

Samantha gasped, and Mulder lost his temper. With studious care, he lifted his plate, held it out over the table's edge, and dropped it. It made a satisfying crash as it hit the floor and shattered.

The waitress stepped back, her eyes widening. "Come on, Samantha," Mulder said, holding out his hand. He marched his sister to the door, then turned to face the waitress. "I can't believe you could be so cruel as to ignore a child. What kind of person are you?" On that note, he and Samantha left the restaurant.

8:30 p.m.

"This is Dana Scully. I'm not here, leave a message please."

Mulder winked at his sister, then began speaking. "Hey, Scully, it's me. I can't believe you're still at work. I just wanted to let you know that Samantha and I are having a wonderful time She really can't wait to meet you. You should come over and see us."

He disconnected the phone and put it back in his coat pocket. It had been an exhausting day. First the park, then breakfast, then the movies, then lunch, then the zoo, then dinner, and now he and Samantha sat together on a bench near the Reflecting Pool. All day he had basked in a warm, proud glow as total strangers had stared at him and his sister. They had all looked strangely puzzled as they watched, and Mulder felt sorry for them, that they couldn't recognize love and happiness when they saw it.

Now they sat quietly, while the night cooled around them. Samantha was tired, and she had asked him to take her someplace quiet, someplace special. The Reflecting Pool was all Mulder could think of, and he had brought her here.

"Hey, Fox, I dare you to step in the water," Samantha said, pointing at the pool. Mischief danced in her eyes.

"Samantha," he said reprovingly, but mentally he was alread going for a swim. All day he had been unable to deny his sister anything, and had cheerfully made a fool of himself for her. Anything to make her laugh, to hear that wonderful sound.

"Come on, Fox. Are you chicken?" Samantha socked her fists into her armpits and flapped her arms. "Bawk, bawk, bawk!" she called, her pointy nose bobbing up and down. "Fox is a chicken! Fox is a fraidy-cat!"

Mulder scooped up his sister and stood up. "I'll show you who's chicken," he said, striding toward the Reflecting Pool.

"No! Fox, no!" Samantha twisted in his arms, struggling, but her face was alight with laughter, and she interspersed her cries with chicken noises.

Mulder deliberately stepped into the pool until it reached his hips, and casually deposited his sister in the cold water. She sank under, then came spluttering to the surface, sitting on the bottom step. "Fox!" she hollered. "You're mean!"

Mulder just laughed. His sister looked like a drowned rat, with her long hair hanging in her face. He turned around to leave the pool and felt something tug at his ankle. For a moment he tottered, his arms windmilling for balance, then he fell backwards with a mighty splash.

Samantha gave him a smug look. "Serves you right," she said.

"Now look what you've done," Mulder said. He pointed at the amazed by-standers, all of whom had stopped what they were doing to watch the goings-on in the Reflecting Pool. "You've given them something to talk about tonight, that's for sure."

"Well, you shouldn't have dunked me," Samantha said defensively.

"Mulder!" The cry came from behind him, and he spun around, water spraying from his hair. The red-haired woman that approached looked anxious. "Mulder, what are you doing?"

"Scully!" At last, he could share his good news. "Scully, I want you to meet Samantha." He turned back around, tugged his sister's arm until she was in front of him. "Samantha, this is Special Agent Dana Scully. She's a very special lady."

Scully's mouth dropped open, and Mulder savored the moment, the shock in her eyes.

"She's pretty," Samantha commented. "Are you going to marry her?"

Mulder choked on his laughter. "No, Samantha, I'm not going to marry her. We work together, that's all." He gave Scully a conspiratorial wink.

Scully continued to stare at him for a moment, then she shook herself. "Mulder, will you excuse me?" She turned her back to them, and Mulder saw her pull out her cell phone.

"Probably telling her mom the good news," Mulder said to Samantha. "Wait until you meet Mrs. Scully. She's really neat, too. You'll like her."

Samantha nodded and wrung the water out of her hair. She looked at him and giggled. "You look silly, Fox."

"Oh, yeah? You look pretty silly, too," he countered, splashing her playfully. Samantha ducked, and before he knew it, they were deeply embroiled in a splashing contest.

"Mulder!" Scully's sharp cry penetrated Samantha's laughter, and he stopped trying to dunk his sister long enough to look up at her.

"Why don't you join us, Scully?" He gave her what he hoped was his best puppy-dog look.

Scully knelt down beside the pool. "Mulder, we need to talk, okay? Can you get out of the pool? People are watching." She gave him a meaningful look.

"Oh, right. Come on, Samantha." He held his sister's hand and helped her out of the pool, careful not to let her slip on the steps. When they reached the bench again, he sat down and took Samantha on his lap. "What's up, Scully? Is it something you can say in front of Samantha?"

The look Scully gave him was full of...sadness? Why was she sad? "Mulder--"

"Fox, look." Samantha pointed, and Mulder looked over her head to the two men approaching. Behind them strode Walter Skinner, and Mulder smiled.

"Sir, I'd like you to meet my sister, Samantha Mulder," he called, watching the man as he came up to the bench. "I know I said that to you once before, but this is the real thing, sir."

Skinner gave Scully a hard look. "How did this happen?"

Mulder glanced at the two men who moved to flank the bench. Good old Scully--providing protection for him and his sister. But why was Skinner asking Scully how it had happened? Shouldn't he ask Mulder himself? "She was here when I woke up this morning, sir," he offered.

Skinner looked at him, and a muscle in his jaw twitched.

"Agent Mulder, would you...and your sister...come with us, please?" asked one of the strange men.

On his lap, Samantha stiffened, and Mulder bent his head to whisper in her ear. "It will be okay, Samantha. These men will protect us. They won't let anybody take you away from me again." She relaxed in his arms, and Mulder looked up at Scully. "Where are we going?"

"Someplace safe," Scully said, her voice thick, as if she was fighting tears.

Mulder gave her a broad smile, and stood up, carrying his sister. "Okay. Let's go."

Holy Cross Hospital
Silver Springs, Maryland
December 6, 1998

The cartoon channel on the TV played its daily programming, an endless string of colorful pictures and loud sound effects, punctuated by commercials for the latest action hero or breakfast cereal. The figure on the bed stared at the TV with an intense stare, as if expecting a pop quiz when the show was over. He did not turn around as she quietly opened the door and let herself in.

She watched him silently, fought the tears that burned the back of her throat, waited for him to notice her. "Hey, Scully!" He smiled brightly at her, glad to see her, as always. "You didn't visit yesterday." A faint accusatory note colored his voice, and he frowned. "Why not?"

"I--I had some things to do, Mulder." She forced herself to smile. "What are you watching?"

"Roadrunner and coyote," he replied. He rolled his eyes, and gave her a small shrug, then moved his arm in a nudging motion. "Look who's here, Samantha. Say hi to Agent Scully." He stared blankly at a spot a few feet from where he sat, then looked back up at her. He smiled again. "Isn't she something?" Pride and love shone in his eyes.

Scully smiled back, her vision blurry with tears, and wondered if there was anything she could have done, if she could have prevented her partner's descent into insanity.

"Yes, Mulder, she is," she said softly.


-- End --

Author's Note: Although I honestly did not intend this to be a humor piece, I have had various reactions from readers, ranging from tears to outright laughter. I struggled over the classification of this story, so please let me know if you think I should change it to include some ironic humor.

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