CLASSIFICATION: S, A
DISCLAIMER: Not mine; they belong to CC, FOX, etc.
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Sitting in the uncomfortable airport chair, Mulder bounced his knee impatiently while he watched the passengers deplane. He resisted checking his watch again, since he already knew the plane was running late. His flight was scheduled to depart five minutes ago, but their plane had only just arrived, and it would probably be another fifteen minutes before the plane was ready to start boarding. He couldn't afford for his flight to arrive late since he was already cutting it close if the flight was on time.
The ring of his cell phone drew his attention away from the weary passengers streaming through the door to the jetway.
He smiled at the sound of Anna's voice. "Hey, pumpkin, how ya doin'?"
"I'm not a pumpkin. I'm a flower."
He laughed. "I'm sorry, I stand corrected. How's my little flower doing?"
"My petals won't stay on."
Scully's voice was audible in the background. "If you'd stand still for minute, I'd be able to tie them back on."
"You'd better stand still for your mom, Anna."
"There you go," Scully said. "Now you can talk to Daddy."
"But the petals are over my ear."
"Fine, give me the phone. You can go practice."
There was some rustling and the pitter patter of little feet running away.
"Sorry about that," she said. "Anna wanted to call to tell you about her costume. She wanted to make sure you were coming tonight."
He looked over at the gate, where the passengers continued to trickle out the door. "I'm at the airport as we speak. Looks like the flight is running a little behind, but hopefully they'll make up the time once we're in the air."
"I'll save a seat for you, somewhere near the aisle if I can."
"I'm surprised Anna's in her costume already. Isn't it another five hours until the play starts?"
"She's been so excited about this that she insisted on wearing the costume all day. But we're actually leaving in about an hour. The dress rehearsal had to be canceled, so they're doing a run through before the performance."
There was a beep on the line--call waiting.
"Oh, hey, Scully, I've got a call coming through. I should take this."
"All right. We'll see you tonight."
"Tell Anna I'll be there."
He hit the button to answer the other call.
"Mulder, this is John Byers."
Mulder was mildly surprised at the call. He wasn't expecting to hear from the Gunmen this weekend, but they had been busily searching down leads for him for months. Frohike might call him just to offer cheesesteaks, but if Byers was calling, that usually meant business.
"Hey, Byers. What's up?"
"I have some information to pass along to you. It's probably nothing, but you said to give you anything, no matter how small."
Mulder sighed. He thought about how many of those "small" leads he had tracked down over the past weeks, only for them to turn out to be dead ends.
"What've you got, Byers?"
"There have been reports of colored lights in the sky in North Dakota. However, they haven't been verified as UFO sightings. But one of our MUFON contacts says the reports are from reliable sources. Are you on a case, or will you have time this weekend to check it out?"
There was a day when Mulder would have been able to pursue this through work, but not any longer. Not without the X-Files. Now he had to spend his evenings and weekends pursuing the biggest case of all--the disappearance of his sister. It was exhausting not to have any down time, but he was more motivated than ever to find the truth. He needed to close the door to his past so he could move on with his future.
Mulder looked over at the gate again. The door was shut, indicating that the plane was finally empty and being prepped for his flight.
"Have you checked out the flight schedules?" he asked.
"There is a flight from Dulles to Fargo departing in an hour. The next flight is tomorrow morning at 7:15. But the phenomenon isn't likely to appear three nights in a row. If you want to see it for yourself, your best chance is to be there tonight."
Mulder looked at his watch and considered his options. He could stop through North Dakota on the way, but there was no way he would make it to Seattle before the morning. If the lights didn't make an appearance again tonight, there was probably little point in him stopping by North Dakota on the way back.
In the end, he knew he had only one choice.
* * *
As the lights dimmed, Scully turned in her seat and scanned the back of the auditorium again. Mulder had yet to show up, and she hadn't heard anything from him since before he boarded his flight. She knew his flight had arrived, because she had called the airline to find out if it was delayed. But she resisted calling Mulder. If something had come up, he needed to call and tell her himself. She wasn't going to chase him down.
Scully checked her phone one more time before putting it in silent mode for the duration of the performance. The curtains on the stage opened, and one of the teachers stepped up to the microphone to introduce the play.
"Sorry I'm late. Remind me never to arrive in Seattle during rush hour."
Startled by the voice close to her ear, Scully looked over to see Mulder settling into the seat next to her. She was glad the lights were low, to hide the flush on her cheeks. She was ashamed to realize that she had been thinking Mulder stood them up.
"It's okay," she whispered. "You haven't missed anything."
Turning her attention to the stage, Scully tried to stop chastising herself and focus on the children filing onto the risers.
"It's a good thing your hair is the color of a bonfire. I could find you even in the dark."
"Shhh," she reprimanded. But she couldn't help but smile.
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Even in the chaos of children and families milling through the packed cafeteria, Mulder could recognize the sound of Anna's happy squeal. But he couldn't see her until a small sunflower came bursting through a forest of legs and launched herself at him. He picked her up and settled her at his side.
"Did you see me, Daddy? Did you see I'm a flower?"
"Yes, I saw you. You made a very good flower."
"And I singed too. Did you hear me sing?"
"Yes, I heard you sing. You did a great job. I'm very proud of you."
Scully reached up to straighten the headpiece of flower petals as it tipped off the back of Anna's head. "Maybe we should take this off now, honey."
Anna grabbed at the petals. "No, Mommy. I have to keep it on. Sophia's mommy is going to take our picture."
"Then maybe we should go find her," Scully said.
"Sophia!" Anna yelled out, far too close to Mulder's ear. He let her down to the ground as she started to lean out of his arms. She ran off into the crowd again. He was concerned that he should follow her, until he saw Scully wave in acknowledgement at a woman standing next to where Anna had stopped.
"That's Sophia's mother," Scully explained. "Sophia is in Anna's class, and sometimes Anna goes over to their house after school."
Mulder nodded as he watched the two girls chattering excitedly. He couldn't help but notice that Sophia's mother kept giving him sideways glances. As he turned back toward Scully to say something, he caught another woman nearby quickly look away.
Leaning in, he confided, "I feel like I'm being watched."
"What?" Scully looked up at him, puzzled.
He nodded sideways, toward the woman that he could feel looking at him again.
"Ah," Scully said in acknowledgement. "They're just curious. They've never seen Anna's father before."
"And have they heard stories?"
She smirked at him. "Possibly. Anna talks about you all the time. There's no telling what she's said about you."
"I'm afraid to know."
He was grateful when Anna came running back over and interrupted the conversation. She was pulling at the knot tied underneath her chin.
"I want to take it off."
Scully knelt down and helped Anna untie and remove the headpiece. Without the petals, she looked more like a little green elf than a flower, but Mulder decided not to tell her that. She turned and reached up for him, so he dutifully picked her up again.
Mulder listened patiently while his daughter told him all about her class, her teacher, her costume, and everything else her rambling monologue led her to. Scully stood close, trying to smooth out Anna's hair where the headpiece had left it sticking up and tangled.
In this moment, in the midst of this noise and chaos, an incredible sense of peace settled over him. Here he stood with his daughter in his arms and her mother by his side. In a room full of families, the three of them looked like they belonged. He didn't care who was watching them. This felt right.
Anna's chatter petered out as she finally began to tire, and she leaned her head on Mulder's shoulder.
"Are you two ready to go home?" Scully asked.
Mulder nodded. He was ready to go home.
* * *
Mulder sat on the couch checking his voice mail while he waited for Scully to finish tucking in Anna. The girl had been sound asleep by the time they got back to Scully's. Mulder yawned, thinking that sleep might not be such a bad idea. His body was tired, but his mind was wide awake. In fact, he felt more alert than he had in a long time.
He hit "end" and turned off the phone. There were no messages from the Gunmen. Byers was supposed to call if there were any new reports from North Dakota, but it appears there hadn't been.
Scully came in and settled next to him on the couch. She hadn't changed yet, and for the first time all night he was able to get a good look at her. She wore a plain blue dress, but on her it looked far from plain. He was searching for the right words to tell her how nice she looked, but she spoke first.
"Thank you for coming tonight. I know it was a long way to travel just to watch Anna sing one song, but it meant a lot to her for you to be here."
He nodded and pondered for a moment. Then, he said, "Have I ever told you about Samantha's last dance recital?"
"No, you haven't."
"It was about six months before she disappeared. I was what--eleven, twelve? I couldn't care less about a bunch of girls twirling around in pink tutus. But Sam was so excited about that recital. They'd spent weeks preparing for it. She wanted everyone in the family to be there. But Dad never made it. He was out of town on business, as always. I can't tell you how devastated she was that he wasn't there."
Scully reached over and placed her hand over his. "But you were there for her then. And you were here tonight."
"There was no way I couldn't come. I couldn't disappoint Anna like that."
Scully started to pull her hand away, but he turned his hand over underneath hers to grab on. She resisted only slightly and then yielded as he twined their fingers together.
"Do you think I'll ever find her?" he whispered.
She regarded him intently for a moment before answering. She said gently, "I think if anyone could, it would be you."
He watched their entwined hands as he considered her non-answer. Finally, he said, "What do I expect to find, anyway? It's been over twenty years. That she's been in suspended animation on a spaceship all this time? Abductees are usually returned. She probably moved on with her life and doesn't want to relive the past. She may have kids of her own by now, and yet all I can see her as is a little girl in braids and a pink tutu. Sometimes, I wonder..." As his pause lengthened, Scully squeezed his hand. He swallowed down the lump in his throat and continued. "Am I doing this for her, or for me?"
"You're doing what you believe to be right, because that's the man you are. You never give up."
"Even when I'm wrong?" He looked up to see her answer.
"Even when no one else believes that you're right."
He sighed. "Maybe I'm tired of wasting my time being wrong."
"What are you saying, Mulder?" Her brow pinched as she looked at him in concern.
"I'm saying that Samantha would never forgive me if I missed my daughter's school play to chase after aliens, even if I thought I was doing it for Sam."
"You haven't given up on her," Scully said with certainty.
"No, I haven't, and I won't. But I think it's time I made better choices. I can't chase down every inane report of lights in the sky on the slim hope that this one might finally get me a step closer to the truth. I've spent too many years living in the past. But time hasn't stopped to wait for me. I don't want to wake up one day and find out that the present has passed me by."
"It hasn't. And it won't as long as you're here for Anna when it really matters."
"What if I was here all the time?"
Hesitantly, she asked, "What do you mean?"
"I mean, what would you think of me moving to Seattle?"
He wasn't surprised at the shock on her face. In fact, he found it rather endearing how her mouth opened and closed mutely like a goldfish.
When she found her voice again, she said, "What about work?"
He shrugged. "I'll ask for a transfer. And if I can't get one, I'll look for something else to do. Consulting, maybe. Unless you'd consider coming back to D.C."
She frowned. "I can't say the thought hasn't crossed my mind. But I've built a life out here. And this is Anna's home. She has friends and a good school. I know what it's like to have to move far away when you're so young. I don't want to uproot her if I don't have to."
"You don't have to. And I don't expect you to. But I want to be closer to her. If that means I need to move out here, then that's what I'll do. But only if it's okay with you."
She paused for a moment and then said, "Of course it's okay. Anna would love to have you here."
It wasn't quite the answer he wanted, but he realized that he hadn't yet asked the right question. He looked down at their hands, still tightly woven together. They were clinging to each other, he realized. Their hands were expressing the tension, and the hope, that the two of them struggled to admit.
"You know," he said, "tonight was the first time in a long time that I felt like part of a family." He paused, unwilling to look at her yet. "Do you think, if I moved out here, that we could be a real family someday?"
It seemed like an eternity before she answered, but she never let go of his hand.
"I think so, someday."
He looked up at her and smiled. The corners of her mouth twitched up as her smile mirrored his. He noticed a stray lock of hair clinging to her lips, and he reached over with his free hand to tuck the hair behind her ear.
He stroked his thumb over her lips where the strand had been. "Someday."
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