CLASSIFICATION: S, A
SPOILERS: Tooms, Little Green Men
DISCLAIMER: Not mine; they belong to CC, FOX, etc.
Notes: I'm repeating here what I said in part 1: if you want closure, look elsewhere. You won't find the happy ending in this part either. If you didn't like part 1, then don't read this.
However, if you want to take the next step on this journey, forge ahead.
* * * * *
* * * * *
The little girl may not have her mother's distinctive red hair, but her bright blue coat made her easy to locate among the children swarming the play apparatus. Bounding away from the smaller slide, Anna ran over to the swings. She took a seat on one and looked over her shoulder. Scully appeared behind her and began to propel the girl gently into the air.
Mulder was just close enough to watch them without binoculars, though far enough away that he couldn't get a good look at Anna's facial expressions. But he could imagine that some of the squeals and giggles filtering through the window he'd cracked open were hers.
Sitting here listening to the giddiness of children was such a soothing change of pace from his typical stakeouts. Tedious hours spent in shady locations when on assignment, or even more shadowed ones on unauthorized surveillance. The part of this that was familiar was sitting in the car alone. After Krycek's betrayal and vanishing act, Skinner had long since stopped trying to foist new partners on Mulder. There was the occasional sidekick for a case, but nothing more permanent.
Clear as a bell, Scully's voice rang through his head. "Mulder, you know that proper surveillance requires two pairs of agents, one pair relieving the other after twelve hours."
He chuckled softly. Even after all these years, he could still hear her carrying on the other half of the conversation, presenting the counterpoint to his every thought. He wondered sometimes what that said about his sanity.
Turning his eyes from Anna, he focused more closely on Scully. She'd changed over the past four years, and for the better. Gone were the fresh schoolgirl looks of that pretentious young woman who first strode into his office. She was more mature now, more sophisticated. The kind of woman who would definitely turn some heads.
He wondered how many suitors she'd had in the last couple of years--how many rivals to fill the position of Anna's father. Certainly, there must have been a few. The background check he'd run on her told him little other than that her marital status hadn't changed, and her finances didn't indicate any joint accounts or frequent contributions from another person.
Unconsciously, Mulder glanced at himself in the mirror, then quickly looked away from those tired, world-weary eyes. He rubbed a hand over his unshaven jaw. Yeah, he was quite a catch, he thought sarcastically. He could beat out any other contender, hands down. He wasn't sure why he was even contemplating it, really. Try as he might, he couldn't picture himself standing next to her by the swings, the third part of their happy family unit. Where he sat was exactly where he belonged--on the outside looking in. He was an outcast, a loner. It suited him.
The swing slowed, and Anna jumped off just as Scully brought it to a stop. The girl darted across the playground, disappearing from his sight behind the tree. Mulder stretched his neck to find where she ran off to. He had parked next to a large oak as shelter so he wouldn't be easily noticed from the play area, but the downside was that it also partially blocked his view. Scully was still standing by the swings, talking to another woman. But Anna soon emerged on the other side of the tree. She was headed for the seesaw, close on the heels of a little girl about the same size as her.
He watched the girls slowly push higher and higher on either side of the seesaw, until their feet were completely leaving the ground on the way up. He worried that they were going a little too high for such small children and that one of them could fall off. Wondering if Scully would come over to slow them down, he glanced back at the swings, but she was no longer there. He couldn't spot her on the playground and assumed she was somewhere out of his vision on the other side of the tree. But the woman she had been chatting with was now standing close to the seesaw and didn't seem too concerned about how high the girls were pushing. Mulder released a deep breath, only then realizing that he had tensed up with his concern.
The sound of someone trying to open the passenger-side door jolted him, and he instinctively reached for his weapon. As he looked over to see who was tapping on the window, he removed his hand from the holster. So, that's where Scully had gone.
Reluctantly, Mulder hit the power lock to unlock the door, and Scully slid into the passenger seat.
"You're slipping on your surveillance skills, Mulder. Apparently you have half the mothers in the neighborhood thinking you're some kind of pervert."
"Well, they wouldn't be wrong," he joked. "But I'm not *that* kind of pervert." He looked over, hoping for a smile, but she wasn't amused. It was a sharp reminder that the Scully sitting in the car with him wasn't the same one he'd been dialoguing with in his head for so long.
"You're just lucky Eileen brought it to the attention of her neighbor the FBI agent instead of calling the police. She thought she saw you outside the preschool yesterday afternoon too. How long have you been watching us?"
Returning his gaze to the playground, he shrugged, not wanting to answer her honestly. "Long enough." Actually, he was *really* lucky that no one had spotted him doing the same thing two weeks ago.
"Were you planning to come over and say hello?"
Scully sighed, clearly frustrated with his terse answers. "Then what are you doing here?"
He'd asked himself that a number of times already. He hesitated, searching for the right answer. "I wanted to make sure she was happy."
"She would be happier with her father in her life."
He couldn't help but scoff. "That's rather...a change in policy." Actually, "hypocritical" was the word he wanted to use, but he didn't.
She was quiet for a moment before answering. "I made a mistake, Mulder. I fully admit that. I should've told you the truth a long time ago. But I can't undo the past. All I can do now is look out for her future."
"Were you ever going to tell me?" He looked over at Scully, but she remained focused on the play area in front of them. "I mean, if it weren't for that case last month, I still wouldn't know."
"I always intended to tell you, someday. But the more time that passed, the harder it was to know how to open the conversation. And the easier it was to avoid it altogether."
He knew the feeling, and held part of the blame. After all, he hadn't pursued her when she left. He had run the gamut of emotions back then. At first, he thought she'd been forced to leave, as punishment for following him to Puerto Rico. But then he found out she requested the transfer. His initial anger gave way to resignation. It was better for her career, he rationalized, and her life. Never once did he suspect the real reason she left. But he could've found out so easily if he'd only tried to contact her. In the end, it was simply a matter of pride. He wanted her to be the one to break the silence first and come running back.
Now, however, he knew the truth, and the wound was still tender. "All that time, what did you tell Anna about her father? Why did she think I wasn't there?"
"I told her that you lived far away. She's still young enough not to probe deeper and ask the more difficult questions that I can't answer."
"And when she is old enough? Then what would you tell her?"
"I always hoped you would know by then."
"So I would have to answer the difficult questions myself?" He couldn't hide the bitterness in his tone.
She rounded on him. "You've done a pretty good job of putting yourself in that position. What was she supposed to think when you disappeared suddenly without even saying goodbye? You said you didn't want to be the kind of father who just popped in and out of her life, and yet that's exactly what you did."
He looked back toward the park. Anna was coming down the slide, her pigtails bouncing as she landed at the bottom and jumped up to run back to the ladder. The woman who had been standing by the seesaw was now near the slide, not so discreetly keeping an eye on his car. Anna soon reappeared at the top of the slide, ready for another trip down.
In a small voice, he confessed what he had been yet to admit to himself. "I was scared."
"Of what?" Scully asked gently.
He waved his hand absently toward the window. "Of this. Of fatherhood. Most guys get nine months to prepare themselves for this kind of responsibility, and a couple more years before the kid can actually talk back. But Anna, she's already this little person with a mind of her own. It's a hell of a thing to dump in a guy's lap." He dared a glance in her direction, but only found compassion staring back at him. "What can I say? I panicked, and I took the easy way out."
"Then this is your second chance. Come talk to her, Mulder."
"Why, just to say goodbye? I can't stay, Scully. I have to fly out by tomorrow morning."
"Mulder--" She took a deep breath and started again, with less of an edge to her voice. "I understand what you're concerned about. But being far away doesn't mean being a bad father. You know my dad was in the Navy. Until I was 10, he spent more time on a ship than he did on shore. But he made the most of every minute we had with him. He built a lot of good memories, and those are what I carry with me."
Her rosy portrayal was a stark comparison to the memories of his own father, but he didn't want to dredge up those examples to argue his point.
"Besides," she continued, "not every family member can live close by. My mother is still out in Bethesda. Anna only sees her once or twice a year, but she adores her grandmother. They talk on the phone all the time, and send each other cards. It makes the time they get to spend together that much more special."
At the mention of her mother, Mulder thought about asking Scully what she'd told her family about Anna's father, but he wasn't sure he wanted to know. Instead, he said, "I'll think about it."
"So, you're not getting out to say hi?"
He shook his head. If he said hello, that meant he would have to say goodbye. And, what he couldn't admit to Scully was the part that scared him even more--that if he ever felt those little arms wrapped around him again, he'd never be able to let her go. It would be so easy to walk away from his fruitless fight and lose himself in the simple life, where the greatest tragedy was a scraped knee. But he couldn't hide from the fact that there really are monsters under the bed.
Anna was talking to the woman by the slide--probably Eileen, he guessed, the neighborhood watchdog. The girl turned away from the conversation and started looking around the park. Did she really resemble Samantha as much as he first thought, or was that only because every girl he met he identified with his sister?
"Then I need to get going before Anna sees me with you." Scully opened the car door and stepped one foot out, but then she turned back to face him. "No more stalking. If you want to see Anna, you can come to the front door. Or you can call, or write. But you need to make a decision, Mulder. Either you're part of her life, or you're not."
She didn't look back as she got out and walked away, but he knew she wouldn't be happy if he lingered. As Scully caught up with Eileen, Anna reached for her. Scully swung the girl up into her arms and pivoted to stand with their backs facing Mulder; he knew that was intentional. He started the engine and put the car in reverse. After a final long gaze, he backed out of the parking space.
On his way out of the lot, he pulled out his cell phone and hit number 2 on the speed dial.
"Hey, guys, it's me. Looks like I have some time to kill this weekend. Got any juicy leads for me?"
His next call would be to the airline. Where he ended up tonight didn't really matter. He just needed something to take his mind away from here.
* * * * *
* * * * *
Send feedback to: email@example.com