CLASSIFICATION: S, A
DISCLAIMER: Not mine; the X-Files belong to CC, FOX, etc.
July 14, 2008
"For the last time, the answer is no! That's final! If you want to ride horses, then we'll find somewhere around here, but you're not going to that camp!"
"That's not fair! Grandpa always let me go! You never let me do anything! I want to go back to Grandpa's!"
William stormed off to his room and slammed the door for dramatic effect, sparing Mulder from sending the boy there himself. In the stillness that ensued, Scully stood frozen with her arms folded, while Mulder restlessly paced the floor, his hands clenching and unclenching at his sides.
This scenario was not a new one but only the culmination of a series of conflicts over William's past versus present. In the years he had lived with Spender, known to him as "Grandpa," nothing had been denied him. Anything he asked for, he always received, including horseback riding lessons at a summer camp in the mountains of North Carolina. This had become the family's latest issue, and while his parents had yielded on a few of his smaller requests, they were adamant that he not be allowed to leave their supervision to attend the camp, even for a week. Hence, they had become "mean" and "unfair." But his most deadly weapon, which he was learning to wield with great skill, was the appeal to go home to Grandpa.
And, as usual, this set off another recurring discussion:
"We have to tell him, Scully. He needs to know the truth. I won't let my son grow up thinking that his 'grandfather' was some kind of saint."
He had stopped to face her, hands propped on his hips, but she moved toward the doorway, ready to make her own retreat.
"No, Mulder. We've been over this. He's too young. When he's older, we'll tell him the truth, but not until he's ready to handle it."
"Don't you think that letting him believe a lie will be just as harmful? This isn't like believing in the Easter Bunny!"
"Shh, Mulder. I don't want to talk about this now. William might hear us." And with that, she was gone, headed down the hallway to their bedroom.
In her absence, Mulder continued to pace for a few moments, like a tiger in a cage. This was his wife's favorite appeal to end the conversation, and she always gave it as a final pronouncement, indifferent to his compliance. This time, however, he had no intention to go along with it. They finally needed to have this out.
Upon his approach to their bedroom, he found the door shut. He wasn't sure if he was the one she was closing out, but he didn't bother to knock before opening it. She was standing by the bed, her back to him; as he stepped closer, he realized that she was dialing the phone.
"Who are you calling?"
She jumped slightly when he spoke, apparently not having heard his entry, and hastily returned the phone to its cradle.
"It doesn't matter." She didn't meet his eyes as she turned and headed past him toward the doorway, but he stepped into her path, demanding her attention. This was yet another old conversation, and he was getting tired of letting her have the last word.
"Get out of my way, Mulder."
His response was ground out through his teeth as he tried to control his temper. "Who. Were. You. Calling?"
Her eyes met his in defiance, and then she intentionally put distance between them before she answered. "Roger, okay? I thought maybe he'd have some advice on how to deal with this."
Mulder shut the door behind him before letting loose. "You won't to talk to me about this, but you'll talk to Roger?!?"
"He's a psychologist--"
"That's bullshit, Scully! *I'm* a psychologist, and this is *our* son! If you want to talk to somebody, then talk to me!"
His partner sighed and crossed her arms over her chest, mumbling something under her breath.
"What was that?"
"No. You have something to say, then say it to me."
Her eyes were aflame when they met his. After a long pause, she responded, in a tone that was intended to pick a fight: "I said, sometimes Roger's easier to talk to."
He knew she was waiting for his outburst, but none followed. The fight drained from him, replaced only by resignation. After a stony showdown, he stepped past her and in one swift motion picked up his keys and wallet from the nightstand. He turned and was halfway out the door before she had time to register what was happening.
The conversation had never ended this way before.
"Where are you going?" Her voice was now more confused than angry.
He didn't care whether or not she heard him, not bothering to raise his voice as he answered from down the hallway.
"Anywhere but here."
July 14, 2008
The July heat had let up just enough to permit extinguishing the air conditioner in favor of fresh air. A warm breeze tickled the drapes and ushered in the sounds of a city settling down after sunset. The third floor apartment in Hyde Park was smaller than what the family had hoped for, but it still had more square footage than the San Francisco townhouse, and it allowed Mulder easy access to the University of Chicago campus. These summer months before the term started were supposed to be a chance for the three of them to reconnect before they all became too busy with their own commitments, but things weren't quite shaping out the way they had expected.
Kissing her sleeping son on the forehead, Scully quietly rose from his bedside and latched the door soundlessly upon her exit. After his tantrum that afternoon, he had spent most of the day in his room, emerging only for dinner. By then, his anger seemed to be long forgotten, but the two of them had eaten in relative silence, both feeling the pronounced absence of their third member.
Even at this late hour, Mulder had still not come home.
Scully sighed as she shuffled toward the front door to lock up before heading to bed. She set the deadbolt but left the door unchained; she only wanted to keep out intruders, not her wayward husband.
During their years on the X-Files, she would have worried when he went off like this, fearing he was getting himself into trouble that she'd have to dig him out of. After their son's supposed death, Mulder's wanderings took him to more predictable locations, usually the local bar, and her rescues entailed dragging him home to sleep it off. But now that he was sober, she no longer worried about his escape of choice. He had ceased to run off on wild goose chases, and instead of punishing his liver, he punished his body in other respects. This is why they had gotten him the membership at a 24-hour gym, so he would always have somewhere to go when the urge seized him. Therefore, she didn't worry. She expected that whenever he finally exhausted himself tonight, he would come staggering in the door and collapse into bed.
Picking up her son's shoes from the entryway, she opened the hall closet to toss them inside. The door was almost closed before her brain registered that their landing had not been the customary *thump* on the wooden floor but a much softer sound. She reopened the door and looked down to see what had obstructed their fall.
It was Mulder's gym bag.
Scully quickly dropped to her knees and unzipped the bag, fighting off the panic that was starting to lay hold. Everything was in there: his running shoes, his sweats, his swim trunks, his goggles--even his membership card. She'd never known him to leave for the gym without these things.
In spite of her mounting fears, she told herself not to worry. He would probably be home soon. She would wait up until then, maybe read a book for a while. Anything to keep her mind from wandering down errant paths.
Little did she know, there was good reason to worry.
July 14, 2008
By the time he arrived at the sleazy bar, Mulder didn't know how long he had been driving aimlessly around town, nor did he care. When he ran out the door, he hadn't intended to end up here. He really hadn't been thinking about where he wanted to go. The gym would've been his first choice, until he realized that his bag was still at home. There was no way he was going back there. He just had to get away--away from Scully, but perhaps even more, away from himself. It had been months since he had felt the call to drink as fiercely as he did tonight. He just didn't have the energy to fight both his wife and his impulses. Something had to give.
Seated now on a well-worn barstool, Mulder traced his finger over the rim of the glass, his eyes absently following its movements. He was so thirsty, so very thirsty. He had come this far; why had he not yet taken the final step?
He felt justified. To do what exactly, he wasn't sure. But he felt something was owed to him. He deserved something. All he wanted was to have a happy family, to raise his son right. Why must everything in his life conspire against that? Even Scully.
He forced down a dry swallow, the motion of his finger hesitating for a moment and then speeding up to keep his hand from shaking. The other hand clenched into a tight fist on the surface of the bar.
It wasn't that he doubted her fidelity, even though he insinuated that to her every time that bastard Roger's name came up. What really got to him was the fact that she would talk to another man about their son--HIS son--when she wouldn't talk to him. Hadn't they already lost enough years to another man raising their son? A man that even now still had a hold on the boy, his bony hands clutching him from beyond the grave. Every time "Grandpa"'s name was invoked, Mulder could feel that same cold hand squeezing at his heart.
The finger stopped circling and joined its companions in wrapping tightly around the sweaty glass. But he didn't want it to be the glass. He wanted it to be that bony neck, so he could snap it in two.
Too many times that night at the estate had come back to haunt him, like so many other moments from the past. Once more, he had held a gun to their nemesis but couldn't pull the trigger. It took someone else to do it for him. What kind of man did that show him to be? He couldn't protect his family; he couldn't bring them justice. He was powerless, inept, impotent. He was less of a man than Scully and William deserved.
Is that why she could only talk to Roger behind his back, because she was discussing what a disappointment her husband was? A loser and a lush. And here he was again, sitting at a bar, just to drive the point home.
His fingers slipped from the glass. He wouldn't do it. He wouldn't give them the satisfaction. He wasn't going to prove them right.
"I'll have what he's having."
Mulder started at the sultry voice so close to his ear. Absorbed as he was with his own thoughts, he had been completely oblivious to his surroundings. As he turned toward the voice, his head unconsciously following a whiff of perfume that he couldn't name, he emerged from his fog to realize that the woman seated next to him was staring directly at him while she placed her order with the bartender.
Putting up a hand to stop the man before he walked away, Mulder slid his glass over in front of her. "Actually, you can have exactly what I'm having. I haven't touched it yet." He stuttered a little over his words as he realized what he had said. "Actually, I've *touched* it, just not drank out of it, so you might want...."
He didn't have a chance to finish, interrupted by her coy, "I know," spoken through a seductive smile before she brought the glass to her ruby lips. But before she drank, her pink tongue slipped out to lick the rim of the glass.
Mulder forced himself to swallow and look away, chuckling nervously as he did so.
"Trying to quit?" The voice was even closer now, almost purring.
His eyes followed the sound of the melting ice tinkling in the glass as she set it down. "Trying not to restart."
"So, what's a recovering alcoholic like you doing in a place like this?"
He chuffed at her teasing line. "Listen, I--" He was searching for some polite way to tell her that he wasn't interested, that she'd have better luck with someone else, but a glance at her eyes stopped him short. Behind her bravado, he saw something there that he recognized, a need and hurt that matched his own. When you stripped everything else away, he thought, in this moment they were just two broken souls looking for someone to talk to.
Was it any different than what Scully had done?
He covered the sudden seriousness of the moment with a shy half-smile and returned his gaze to the ring of condensation left behind by his drink. "You know, the usual. Problems at home."
"Trying to numb the pain?"
"Mmm, maybe trying to forget who I am for a few hours."
"I can make you forget." Her breath was warm and humid on his ear, replaced by a cold draft in its absence. His own breath caught in his throat when he felt a warm hand settle on his knee and slowly creep up his thigh. He couldn't dismiss the arousal he felt--and part of him didn't want to.
His breath now forced its way through, coming out in pants. His throat was dry, so very dry, and he stared longingly at the ring of moisture in front of him. He had come here tonight to slake his thirst. Hadn't he already broken his commitment by simply walking through the door? He was already a failure. Why walk away with nothing to show for it? Besides, there was no way he could go home tonight. He did need a place to sleep.
He just needed to forget who he was for a few hours.
The tension in his body melted away along with his resolve. He knew she felt his decision the moment he made it, the hand coming to a stop just short of where he really wanted it. But he still didn't dare to turn and look at her.
"What's your name?" she asked.
He closed his eyes and unconsciously leaned toward where the honeyed voice had just been. "Marty."
"Marty." She repeated it teasingly, as though she knew it wasn't his real name. "My name's Alex."
*Alex.* Mulder's eyes shot open and he immediately recoiled. Hearing that name was like a splash of cold water on his face, breaking the spell to restore the stinging pain that he was trying to forget. The name had too many negative connotations, conjuring up too many horrible memories. His father. Scully's sister. Scully's abduction. The smoking man.
But the string of thoughts had brought an idea to his mind, a possible solution to his problems.
Once again oblivious to anything but his own musings, Mulder sprang up from the stool and, with three swift strides, was out the door.
He took no notice that Alex was left staring after him, totally confused about what had just happened.
July 15, 2008
Scully slammed her keys down on the table in the entryway, stopping just short of noisily closing the door with the same force. She swept a hand over her eyes once more, willing away the tears. Anger and panic struggled for dominance in her churning stomach, both held in check for the moment by mounting frustration.
She still had no idea where Mulder was, and she was due to pick up William in less than an hour. Somehow, she had to pull herself together--and find some answers--before she had to face her son's difficult questions.
The problem was, she had no idea where else to look. A fitful sleep had come over her the night before as she lay in bed reading, but when she jolted awake at 4:00 am, it was to the horrible realization that Mulder wasn't there, and that he wasn't coming back.
She had started with his cell phone, answered immediately by a chirp in the living room. For a split second, her heart had risen to think that he was calling her at that very moment, only to sink as she realized that he had left his phone behind.
Her next call had been to the gym, where she demanded to talk to every employee that had worked the desk in the last twelve hours--including a few that had already gone home for the night. They didn't appreciate being awoken at such an ungodly hour to tell her that no, they had not seen her husband that day. Eventually she had to admit to herself that he hadn't gone to the gym.
It had been years since he had run off like this, leaving her with no clue to his whereabouts. And every time he had done it, the result had not been good. Too many times he had turned up in a hospital bed, or in desperate need of one. She forced herself to stay focused on her task, to shake off the slide show of memories that these thoughts elicited--not least of all that unexpected call from Skinner and the long plane ride across the country, not knowing whether Mulder would still be alive when she finally landed.
The hospitals had been her next resort, followed by the police. Scully knew she couldn't file a missing persons report on him so soon, but she used the authority of her badge to demand incident and accident reports for the last few hours. She finally turned to the credit card companies, insisting they provide her with a list of recent activity, but they maintained that the information wouldn't be processed and available in their system for another 12 to 24 hours. With every call, she tried to tamp down the rising panic in her voice, wanting to get information without worrying others, but she wasn't succeeding in either respect.
By the time she called the last credit card company, William was up, and she had to make a plan for the day. There was no way she was going to work, but she couldn't take her son with her, either. She had no idea where she might find Mulder, or in what condition, and she didn't want William to be there to see it. Calling up one of her son's friends and apologizing for the early hour and short notice, she was relieved to hear that he was welcome to come over for a few hours. After a call to the office and a quick breakfast, she had dropped him off on the way to her first stop.
Considering every other option first, Scully had reconciled herself to scouring the local bars. She didn't want to believe that Mulder had gone out drinking, but at this point, she had no idea where else to look. The problem was, in a city the size of Chicago, there were just too many options. And with the majority of the establishments closed in the morning, it was almost impossible to track down the bartenders for information on their patrons from the night before.
Upon call after call, and dead end after dead end, she had finally gone home, defeated, frustrated, and resolutely holding back the tears.
"Dammit, Mulder! Where are you?!?"
But the only answer was her own voice echoing through the empty hallway.
July 15, 2008
Even at midday, the isolated country road was all but deserted, leaving Mulder with little company but the forest of young pines rising on either side. The memories of this place were bittersweet, reminders of the pain that had been inflicted on his family, and the joy at the miracle of a second chance. The last time he'd driven down this road had been in the opposite direction, escaping the pain in exchange for the joy. He never expected to be coming back.
The tall iron fence that surrounded the property was Mulder's first clue to how much had changed under the new ownership. Before, it had been an eerily inviting country manor. Now, it was a well-guarded fortress. Pulling his rental car up to the front gate, he waited for a response. Finding none, he put the vehicle in park and strode over to the intercom mounted in a stone post.
At his buzz, he was greeted with a hostile "Who is it?"
"An old buddy come to pay my respects." Mulder looked around for the hidden security camera, finally spotting it in the bushes next to his head. He gave it a toothy, sarcastic grin.
"Well, well. Can't say I expected to see you again. I thought our business was finished."
Mulder dropped the sarcasm and looked gravely at his invisible conversation partner. "I need a favor."
There was no verbal response, but a moment later, with the clang of a lock disengaging, the gates began to swing open.
* * *
"To what do I owe the pleasure?"
Krycek leaned leisurely back in his chair behind the large mahogany desk, mere inches away from where C.G.B. Spender had taken his last puff. Despite the major security changes to the outside of the estate, the inside had changed very little.
Mulder settled back in his own chair on the opposite side of the table. It was noticeably less comfortable and several inches shorter than the other.
"Am I correct in assuming that you've collected evidence against Spender? Documentation or photos to be used for blackmail?"
After slyly regarding him for a moment, maintaining his poker face, Krycek replied, "Say that I did. The man's dead now. What use would you have for this information?"
Mulder paused before responding, looking down at his hands in indecision. When his eyes rose again, it was with a steady gaze. "I need proof of what he did. Proof that a child would understand."
A wicked smile slowly stole across Krycek's face, a show of respect for someone who had fallen equally low. Shame crept over Mulder to be on the receiving end of such a look, but he quickly pushed it aside. He had come too far to change his mind.
As Krycek leaned forward, the anticipation built inside Mulder, the hope that his trip was going to pay off. But Krycek was only reaching for the decanter at the edge of the desk.
Mulder sighed and ran a hand over his face. "No." His hopes sank again, as he now feared that the weasel only intended to toy with him and then send him away empty-handed.
"You sure? You might need it."
That caught Mulder's attention. He watched with curiosity and apprehension as Krycek rose and crossed to a bookshelf along the side wall. After browsing several titles, he finally settled on one and pulled it from the shelf, bringing it back to the desk. Only once he set it on the table and opened the front cover did Mulder realize that it was not a book but an empty shell, disguised as a book cover, containing an assortment of papers and photos. Looking around him, he couldn't help but wonder how many of the hundreds of books lining the walls contained similar secrets.
Apparently anticipating his logic, Krycek broke through his thoughts. "Ah, ah, ah, Mulder. You only get what you came for. Everything else is mine. That was our arrangement. Remember?"
Mulder's eyes settled on his. "Cut to the chase, Krycek. What do you have for me?"
While the prosthetic hand held the "book" in place, the other sifted through the contents, carefully shielding them as it went. Finally the motions stopped, and a black-and-white photo emerged from the middle of the stash. Krycek handed it across the table.
"You can keep this one. I've got plenty more where it came from. Of course, most of the others are more...graphic...but you wanted something suitable for a child."
Swallowing his apprehension, Mulder finally let his gaze wander down to the photo now clasped in his hands. It was a grainy image, apparently captured from a surveillance video. And what he saw there both infuriated him and made him sick.
He had seen this place before. It was the inside of a train car, used for human experimentation. Along the perimeters of the shot, several figures in pale scrubs and surgical masks busied themselves in preparation for their next procedure. In contrast, a lone figure stood next to the gurney in the center, his black suit drawing the eye's attention and screaming out his incongruity in this context. In defiance of medical protocols, a stream of smoke wafted from his cigarette up toward the camera.
On the gurney lay an inert figure whose face Mulder knew better than his own. So much younger then, she looked almost peaceful, her eyes closed as though merely in slumber. But at any moment he expected those eyes to spring open in accusation.
Mulder couldn't help but spit out in his rage, "All this time, there's been proof of what was done to her?!?"
Krycek had returned from replacing the volume and was settling back into his chair. "Mulder, Mulder," he intoned patronizingly, "you're not much of a chess player, are you? You can't win the game unless you're willing to sacrifice a few pieces."
"I've already made too many sacrifices," he replied through clenched teeth. His mission accomplished, Mulder couldn't bear to spend another moment in this man's presence. Without another word, especially one that he might regret (or not), he got up and headed for the front door.
"What, no 'thank you'?" The mocking chuckle echoed after the retreating guest.
July 15, 2008
Scully settled further into the couch and stared numbly at the evening news. It had been over 30 hours since she had last seen her husband, and after a full day of searching for him, she was physically and emotionally exhausted. Against her better judgment, she had decided not to file a missing persons report or to call in FBI resources--yet. Since Mulder hadn't turned up in any of the local hospitals, she had to accept the possibility that he simply didn't want to see her and would eventually contact her on his own. She just prayed that when she next saw him, he would still be in one piece.
A sound down the hall drew her attention. Muting the television, she held her breath, trying to discern the noise. The locks were disengaging in the front door.
She sprang up from the couch, reaching the hallway just in time to see her missing husband kick off his shoes in the entryway. He was wearing the same rumpled clothes from the day before and a weary expression, but otherwise he looked no worse for the wear.
"My God, Mulder, where have you been?" She tried to keep her voice down lest she wake their son, but her harsh whisper only served to accentuate the stress in her voice.
"There was something I had to do." He didn't make eye contact with her as he passed swiftly by, a small piece of paper clasped in his hand. She watched in bewilderment while he headed straight into their son's room, shutting the door behind him.
At first, Scully was so surprised by his actions that she didn't move. What on earth was he up to this time?
Memories of their last argument pushed past the fear and panic of the day, and the uneasy feeling in her gut sent her into action. She quickly moved to the closed door, just listening at first to determine what might be unfolding on the other side. All she could hear were two muted voices in conversation.
Finally the uncertainty got the better of her and she decided to interrupt their little tete-a-tete.
She found William sitting up in bed, Mulder seated along the edge facing him. The boy was holding the piece of paper that she had seen in Mulder's hand. As she entered, William looked up at her, his eyes still cloudy with sleep but now full of emotions that she couldn't quite read. Mulder didn't turn to look at her, but she knew he was aware of her presence when he reached over and quickly took the sheaf from his son's hand. In the motion, she caught a glimpse of the other side, only now realizing that it was a photograph.
In two swift steps she had crossed the room and relieved Mulder of the picture. Her breath caught when she recognized the figures in the image, first their enemy, then her own immobilized body. Shock and horror from the memories then shifted into rage at the surfacing awareness of what her husband had just done.
"May I speak to you in the hallway for a moment?" Her anger was barely veiled by her quiet civility.
Mulder caressed his son's face, then turned to face his punishment, rising and leaving the room with eyes lowered to the floor.
Scully was sure to close the door behind her before grabbing hold of Mulder's arm to drag him farther away from their son's earshot.
"What the hell were you thinking?!?" She still managed to keep her volume low, although the tension was perceptibly mounting.
In counterpoint, Mulder's voice was almost devoid of emotion. "He had to know the truth."
"After I told you he was too young for this? So what now? You think this will just fix everything? That we can just go on with our lives, without any consequences?"
For the first time since his return, Mulder's eyes finally met hers. "We were never going to have our son back until he knew the truth."
His resolute calm only angered her further. "You and your goddamn Truth!" she spat at him. With nothing else at hand as an outlet for her fury, she resorted to the photo still in her grip, ripping it into quarters before throwing it to the ground. "I'm checking on William and then going to bed. You can have the couch."
She was careful not to touch him as she moved past him down the hall and disappeared into their son's room.
* * *
Mulder had no concept of what time it was as he reclined on the couch, mechanically changing channels. The lights were off, so the bluish glow strobed through the room as one station flashed to another. He had only caught a few hours of sleep in a cheap motel before rushing off to his flight that morning, so he was now drained and exhausted, but sleep just wouldn't come.
He had spent all day avoiding consideration of the consequences for his actions, and he didn't want to give in now. He knew that Scully was beyond angry with him, and probably had every right to be, but he still couldn't help but feel that ultimately he had made the right choice. Whether he had or not, the damage had already been done.
It took a moment for his tired brain to register the motion beside him. The strobing stopped, settling on a random channel, and Mulder turned to see his son standing next to the couch, watching him with tear-filled eyes. William turned briefly to look back, and Mulder followed his gaze to see Scully standing in the doorway. She nodded gently at the boy, and then Mulder watched as he came closer.
"Hey, what's wrong?" Mulder spoke tenderly, stroking the boy's head bowed shyly before him.
"I had a bad dream." William looked plaintively up at his father. "The bad men came to take Mommy."
Mulder's heart sank and he reached out to take William into his warm embrace. "Oh, buddy, I have nightmares like that all the time. But it was just a dream. Mommy's okay. Nobody's coming to hurt her. I promise." Mulder pulled back and looked into his son's glistening eyes. "Okay?"
The boy sniffled and hesitantly nodded. Mulder smiled reassuringly and nodded in confirmation, sealing his promise with a kiss to his son's forehead. "How 'bout I come tuck you back into bed?"
"Can I sleep in your bed?"
Mulder hesitated, unsure how to respond, but a voice behind him came to the rescue. "It's okay."
Stroking William's hair one more time, Mulder gave his answer. "Why don't you go with your mom, okay?"
William nodded again and then disappeared around the side of the couch. But a moment later, Mulder heard the small voice behind him: "Daddy, are you coming?"
Mulder looked back at them uncertainly, waiting for Scully's reaction. She looked toward him, her eyes not making it all the way up to meet his, and offered a defeated nod. After she had turned and led their son away, he clicked off the TV and moved from the darkened room toward the single light filtering down the hall.
* * *
The apparent closeness of the small family huddled together on the bed was anything but. They lay together in the center of the bed, illuminated by a lone bedside lamp, the boy in the center with a parent facing him on either side. Both had watched him as he drifted back to sleep, each studiously avoiding the other's eyes. Nothing had been spoken for over half an hour when Scully's whisper broke the silence.
"He's asleep. We should put him back to bed."
"I'll take him."
Gently scooping his son into his arms, Mulder then turned and disappeared through the doorway. Scully lay waiting in the quiet, unsure whether or not he would return to their room.
A moment later, her answer came. Mulder stood in the doorway, his hands on either side bracing his weight as he leaned forward, giving the impression that an invisible force prevented him from proceeding further.
"If you want me to go, I'll understand. I can get a motel room for the night."
Scully couldn't muster a response, not trusting the words that might escape her mouth. Taking the silence as agreement, Mulder turned and headed down the hall.
It wasn't until he vanished from her sight that the consequences of this option settled in for Scully. She quickly got to her feet and pursued him.
"God, Mulder, I just got you back. I don't want you to leave again." It was the first time since his return that the anger gave way to the loss that she had been feeling all day long. Defiant tears slipped from her eyes and blazed a trail down her face. Her voice was choked down to a faint whisper when she continued. "Do you have any idea what you put me through today?"
By his crestfallen face, it was clear that until that moment, he hadn't. "I'm sorry, I wasn't thinking about..."
"You weren't thinking about me."
"That's not what I meant."
"But it's true."
He didn't offer a rebuttal.
In the awkward pause, Scully realized she was standing just outside their son's door. "C'mon, I don't want to risk waking him again." She turned and led the way back to their bedroom. Mulder hesitated a moment, as though uncertain of her invitation, but when she looked back at him in question, he followed.
Closing the door behind him, Mulder took the opportunity to finally divest himself of the two-day-old outfit. Scully sat back against the headboard, brushing away the lingering moisture from her cheeks and then crossing her arms to wait for him to finish. Once he turned to face her in a fresh t-shirt and boxers, she continued the conversation.
"I thought we were through with the ditching."
"Just like old times, huh?" Mulder's attempted joke fell flat.
"No, actually, it's not, because we have a child now. I can't just go chasing after you, because one of us has to be here to take care of William. Not to mention the fact that I had no idea where to look."
"If I had told you where I was going, you never would've let me go."
"No, I wouldn't--and I don't think I need to explain why."
"I'm sorry if I worried you. That wasn't my intention."
She chuffed out a bitter laugh and shook her head. "Don't bother apologizing. Given the chance, I'm sure you'd do the same thing all over again."
"Yeah, you're right, I probably would."
Too exhausted to fight anymore, Scully resigned herself to this reality. Her reply was quiet. "Next time, the least you can do is leave me a message."
Humbled by her subdued tone, Mulder nodded mutely at her then tentatively approached the bed and sat on the edge, still allowing her plenty of space.
"Where did you go, anyway?" she asked.
Mulder hesitated a beat before answering. "North Carolina--but only after an initial stop at a crummy bar."
Scully felt a mixture of pity and horror settle in her gut. "Oh, Mulder..."
"I didn't drink, amazingly, but obviously I wanted to or I never would've gone there." He moved back against the headboard, finally pulling his legs up onto the bed. With a deep sigh, he continued. "I've lost my accountability network. When we first came to Chicago, I was glad for the fresh start. I no longer had to be 'Fox Mulder, alcoholic'--I could just be myself. But I didn't realize that the baggage came with me. It's all part of the package now; I can't leave it behind, and I can't ignore it. I need to find a local AA chapter so I have somebody to talk to the next time..."
"The next time you don't feel like you can talk to me?"
"I guess it goes both ways, doesn't it?"
She physically recoiled from his verbal slap, raising her defenses again. "I never--"
But he halted her with a dismissive gesture. "It's too late right now to get into that argument again. Why don't we both get a good night's sleep before we head into round two?"
"Fine," she huffed at him, mimicking his dismissive gesture and turning her head away.
A stifling stillness lingered for a moment, neither of them moving, until he finally asked, "Do you want me to go back to the couch?"
She turned and glared at him. "No. I'm actually thinking about handcuffing you to the bed."
He waggled his eyebrows at her, and she cracked a smile in spite of herself.
"I didn't mean it that way."
"You could spank me instead."
"Goodnight, Mulder." She slid down in the bed and pulled the covers up, then turned onto her side facing away from him.
After a long pause, Scully felt the mattress dip down behind her, once he apparently determined it was safe to stay; but she knew he wasn't foolish enough to venture closer than his own side of the bed. The lamp then went off, abandoning them to the heavy silence of the dark.
Every muscle in her body remained taut, her ears unconsciously pricked for the rhythmic breaths of his REM sleep, but none came. Weariness eventually prevailed over the tension and pulled her into sleep, leaving her oblivious to the words that remained unspoken on his part and, like stomach acid, were gnawing away at his insides.
July 16, 2008
Cooking had never been Mulder's strong suit, but there were a few key dishes that he had mastered over the years. One of them was frozen waffles. That was his gourmet meal of choice this morning, which he was elegantly preparing as a sort of peace offering to his family.
The few hours he had spent in bed were restless ones, his conscience refusing to allow him tranquility or sleep. It was still dark outside when he finally rose, deciding to do something more productive than lie in bed alone with his thoughts. He was hoping that a nice breakfast might help to break the tension in their home and ease them into civil conversation.
"Oh, I didn't realize you were here."
He turned to see Scully standing in the doorway, hesitating in her entry. "Where else would I--"
What had started as an offhand and lighthearted remark ended abruptly when the reality sank in. It was a comment better left unfinished. Mulder decided to change the topic, and quickly. "I made breakfast."
She skeptically eyed his version of the day's most important meal. The table was already set, adorned with an array of sugary and fattening toppings, lacking only the stack of waffles undergoing their metamorphosis from frozen to fluffy by the magic of the toaster.
"I'm not really that hungry. I just came in to make some coffee."
"I'll do it." He swiftly reached for the empty coffee pot, eager to be helpful, but this left her lingering on the threshold, apparently uncertain what to do with herself.
"I'll just go check on William."
Looking over only in time to see the empty doorway, Mulder silently berated himself. So far the morning wasn't going as well as he had hoped.
He couldn't blame her, really, for her feelings. But it would do them no good to hold on to this. He couldn't take back what had happened. The only remaining option was to do some damage control, and then they could move forward. Or, at least, that was the plan. The first step was to clear the air and get them talking again.
Mulder turned at the click of heels against the tile, followed by the soft shuffling of little bare feet. A drowsy William was still rubbing the sleep from his eyes, and Mulder couldn't help but smile at the sight he made, his hair all spiked in different directions. He'd seen a similar sight in the mirror many a morning. Scully led their son to the table and then helped herself to a mug of coffee, without bothering to look in her husband's direction.
Deciding it was best not to force any conversation at this point, Mulder silently removed the last two waffles from the toaster and placed the full platter at the center of the table. He took his seat opposite William, hoping that Scully would follow his example. After a moment of hesitation, she did.
They fell into a familiar rhythm, mother serving and cutting food for son before turning to her own plate, father passing her each dish and condiment, then serving up his own share. But when it was Scully's turn to fill her plate, she didn't bother. The waffles were set back on the center of the table. Her mug was the only part of her place setting that she touched; sipping quietly and methodically at the steaming liquid, she lifted her eyes only to glance occasionally toward William while he ate.
"So, Will, anything you want to do today?" Mulder ventured.
The boy glanced up at his father but only shook his head slightly and then returned to his waffles.
"We could go down to the park, toss a ball around."
William reached for his milk and stole a glance at his mother, whose eyes were currently fixed on her empty plate.
"Or, maybe we could check out some stables in the area. I know how much you want to ride horses."
But Mulder's words continued to fall on deaf ears, or at least didn't elicit a direct response. However, Scully chose that moment to abruptly scoot back her chair.
"I need to leave for work or I'm going to be late." While she spoke, she crossed to the sink and tossed out the remains of her coffee, and then returned to the table to lean over and kiss her son's cheek. "Be good for your dad today, okay? I'll see you later."
Scully had already rounded the corner into the hallway when the quiet voice called out behind her: "Mommy?"
The footfalls soon halted and backtracked. When she reappeared in the doorway, William asked in the same soft voice, "Did my grandpa hurt you?"
Mulder felt the wind ripped from his lungs, like he had been kicked in the chest. He watched as though from a distance as Scully's face crumpled and she hastened to drop to her knees next to William and gather him into her arms.
"Oh, William, sweetie, it's okay. Mommy's okay. Grandpa won't hurt anybody ever again, I promise."
Scully rocked the boy, whispering reassurances into his ear, until he calmed and his grip slackened. She pulled back to kiss his forehead, followed by a heavy sigh. "Maybe I should stay home today."
It took Mulder a moment to stabilize his breathing and find his voice again. "No, you go ahead. I think Will and I need to spend some time together."
Finally she settled her gaze on him, but with an intensity that he rarely saw and knew to dread. He tried feebly to reassure her. "It'll be okay, Scully."
Her glare remained steady. "Maybe it won't."
The message sank in loud and clear: He had fucked up big time, and it would be a long road to making things right again.
But she surprised him by saying goodbye to William. "You know where to find Mommy's phone number if you need anything, right?" He sniffled and nodded. "Will you be okay now?" Another slow nod. "Then that makes two of us. I'll see you after work, okay?" She gave William one more tight hug and then breezed out of the room without any further acknowledgment of her husband.
Mulder sat quietly watching William pick at his food. When the snick of the front door closing echoed down the hallway, the motion of the fork paused, and Mulder made one more attempt to lighten the conversation.
"Hey, kiddo, your waffle's looking pretty soggy there. Can I get you another one?"
But the boy just shook his head, set down his fork, and slithered out of his chair and from the room. Mulder was left alone at the breakfast table with a full stack of waffles before him, mocking the peace offering he had tried to make.
Sliding both hands into his hair and letting his elbows hit the table to prop him up, he had only one thing left to say.
Basement of St. Patrick's Memorial Church
July 21, 2008
Nearly a week had passed since his little side trip down south, and Mulder just considered himself lucky to still have a place to call home. Things hadn't been easy, but at least Scully deemed him worth talking to, on occasion, and he was doing everything he could think of to make things better. Which explained why he was here tonight.
Mulder looked around the small meeting hall, taking note of the people trickling in the doorway. He'd had such a difficult time feeling comfortable in the Alcoholics Anonymous meetings the first time around, and starting with a new chapter always brought back the same discomfort. He constantly had to remind himself that as much as he thought he was different from these people, he was really just like the rest of them.
Feeling restless waiting for the meeting to start, Mulder wandered over to the refreshments table and grabbed a Styrofoam cup. He had just filled it with steaming coffee and was reaching for the creamer when he heard a familiar voice close behind him.
"Hi, Marty. Small world, huh?"
His spine involuntary stiffened, possibly in response to the chill that had just run up it, and he took a deep breath before turning to face her. "Hi, Alex. Fancy meeting you here." It felt like a stupid thing to say, but he really didn't know how to handle this situation. He lifted the cup to his lips to avoid saying anything else.
"Well, now you know my secret. I didn't belong in that bar any more than you did." Her words were serious, but her eyes were teasing.
He chuckled uneasily. "At least we're both in the right place now."
She stepped closer and propped a shapely hip against the table. "I don't go there to drink as much as to meet men." Leaning in, she dropped her tone. "Although, I shouldn't be there for that either. I'm also a member of Sexoholics Anonymous."
Mulder just about choked on his coffee. He didn't know whether to take her seriously or if she was just coming on to him.
"Uh, listen, Alex, I gave you the wrong impression the other night. I'm married, and I love my wife very much. I never should have--"
"So? Bring her along." Her lips curled into a flirtatious smile. "The more, the merrier."
The leader called the meeting to order then, and none too soon. Mulder chivalrously gestured for Alex to lead the way to the chairs, and then he judiciously hung back and grabbed a seat close to the exit. When the meeting was over, he would waste no time getting out of there.
July 21, 2008
It was late when Mulder finally slid his key into the front door. His time at the gym had felt much more rewarding than the AA meeting, perhaps only because it was a chance to do something instead of just talking. That was one aspect of the FBI that he actually missed, the ability to take action. If he truly intended to pursue a career in psychology, this was one void he would need to find another way to fill. Of course, if he wanted to pursue psychology, it wouldn't hurt getting his own life in order first.
After padding quietly down the darkened hallway in his socks, he gently turned the knob to their bedroom door, eager not to wake Scully. But as the bed came into view, he found it empty and still made. The bathroom door was open, the room dark, and there were no other lights on. His heart began to sink as he sensed that he was alone. If she had decided to take William and leave him, she was certainly justified. But he expected Scully to leave an note--unless she was getting her revenge for what he had pulled on her last week.
Mulder tried to squelch his panic and retreated down the hallway to his son's room. The faint glow of the nightlight shining through the crack of the ajar door gave him a glimmer of hope. He quietly pushed the door open.
Relief washed over him as he saw his son there in bed, with Scully snuggled up alongside him. The receding panic yielded to embarrassment and then shame as he remembered that William had hardly slept a night by himself this week, and that he himself was responsible for his son's predicament. Just as quietly as he had entered, he pulled back again, hoping not to disturb either of them, but Scully's head turned in his direction. He decided to return to the bedroom, not certain if she was ready to follow.
His sweaty shirt and socks had just hit the hamper when he heard the bedroom door softly click shut behind him. He turned to find Scully yawning and pulling back the covers on the bed.
No point avoiding the obvious. "Another nightmare?"
She sighed and sat down on the mattress. "He managed to fall asleep after I read to him, but then he woke up an hour later calling for me. I know I should've insisted that he go back to bed on his own, but I just couldn't leave him alone like that, so I held him until he went to sleep."
He took a seat on his own side of the bed, leaving a gaping chasm between them. "This is all my fault."
To her credit, she didn't say anything. She just looked at her hands. But her silence was as good as an agreement.
"I don't know how to fix this, Scully."
There was a long pause before she responded, but her gaze remained lowered. "We've waited too long to find him a local counselor. This is more than we can handle by ourselves."
"Maybe we should ask Roger for a referral."
She turned to face him them, with fire in her eyes, but it soon fizzled out when saw the lack of guile in his expression. She clearly recognized the huge concession he had just made. It took her a moment to assemble her response. "I can call his office in the morning. You could also contact the university, see if someone in the department can recommend anyone."
He nodded and smiled slightly, grateful that she was meeting him halfway. He stood and took a step towards the bathroom. "I'm going to hit the shower. Do you need the bathroom first?"
"Uh, yeah, give me just a minute."
But there was so much percolating inside of him that he couldn't leave it at that. He knew he had made a mistake, yet he still felt it was well-intended. He needed her to understand that he had never meant to hurt William.
Scully's hand was on the doorknob when he blurted out, "I just couldn't stand lying to my son anymore."
She froze but didn't turn to face him. He took it as license to continue. "My entire childhood was built on lies. Lies about who my father was, the things he was involved in. And lies about Samantha and what really happened to her."
Scully dropped her hand from the knob and pivoted in his direction, watching with concern as he carried on.
"I grew up idolizing my father, believing that he was a good man who had been horribly wronged and didn't deserve to lose his entire family. But he let me live with the guilt all those years. He let me believe that I was responsible for losing my sister, that I could've done something to save her, when the truth was, he was the one who was responsible all along. I can't do the same thing to William. Maybe I went about it the wrong way, but he deserves to be raised with the truth, not a pack of lies. I owe him that much." The passion of his confession tapered off, leaving his last line little more than a whisper. "I love him that much."
His wife dropped her head and took a deep breath before she met his eyes again. "I can't condone what you did, Mulder. I understand your reasons, but you had no right to make a decision like that without consulting me first. He's my son, too. I don't want to raise him with lies any more than you do, but there's a difference between a blatant lie and judiciously handing out the truth. I know this has always been difficult for you to accept, but there is a time and a place for the truth, and this wasn't it." She closed her eyes and released a shaky sigh. "I'll be out in a minute, and then you can have the shower."
* * *
Despite her exhaustion, Scully was propped up in bed reading when Mulder finally returned to the bedroom, spring fresh and ready for bed. He climbed into bed silently, either not wanting to disturb her or not really interested in talking. But she was.
"So, how'd the meeting go?"
Settling into the mattress, he faked a yawn and turned onto his side, facing away from her, as he answered. "Oh, you know, the usual deadbeats. I think I'll check out some other chapters in the area."
His evasion was blatant, and not at all what she expected. Something was clearly up. Rather than ask, she burned a hole into the back of his head with her stare and let her silence speak for itself.
It didn't take long for Mulder to flop over onto his back and sigh, looking at the ceiling in lieu of meeting her eyes. "I'm a schmuck, Scully."
She cocked an eyebrow. "I realize that, but you'll have to be more specific about how it pertains to this situation."
His eyes closed, another evasion. Whatever was on his mind, he was having a hard time sharing it with her, which didn't bode well. "I didn't tell you everything about the bar the other night."
"I'm listening." She couldn't mask the anxiety in her voice.
Opening his eyes, he sat up and faced her before continuing. And then he reached for her hand--another bad sign. "There was this woman."
Scully felt her stomach drop. She didn't want to contemplate where this was headed. Relapses into alcoholism she was prepared for, but never in their years together had she suspected Mulder to be unfaithful to her. She wasn't sure she could handle this information on top of everything else. His touch suddenly felt like acid searing her skin, but she couldn't withdraw her hand. She simply couldn't move.
Mulder must have detected her change in demeanor, since he hastened to reassure her. "Nothing happened!" Scully let herself breathe again and tried to pay attention to the rest of what he was saying. "But I was tempted. I can't even tell you how ashamed I am that I would ever consider something like that, even for a moment. I'd never be able to live with myself if I did that to you."
She realized that his grip had tightened; with his other hand, he softly stroked the back of hers. She moved to reclaim her fingers from him, but when he let go, she saw the flash of disappointment on his face and reconsidered. Her hand remained loosely in his grasp.
"Anyway," he proceeded, "I saw her at the meeting tonight. That's why I can't go back there."
It took some time for her to get her heart rate down and her breathing back to a normal rhythm. The sickening feeling had started to dissipate, but there was only a numbness that followed. After a long silence, she finally spoke. "If she hadn't been there tonight, would you ever have told me about this?"
He paused to think about it. "I don't know. I think the guilt would've gotten the best of me sooner or later."
In a weak tone, she voiced what she hoped wasn't true. "Was it because you were angry with me about Roger?"
"A little, maybe." He shifted to face her more fully. "I know that there's nothing going on between you and Roger, not physically, and I know that he's a good psychologist and he only wants to help Will. But the truth is, he doesn't have all the facts, and he will never fully understand this situation. God knows it's hard enough for *us* to understand, and we've lived it. But it hurts, Scully. It hurts when you end a conversation with me to go talk to another man."
The accusations she had been prepared to throw at him a moment before had stopped in mid-air and made a 180. She knew he had been upset about Roger, but she had always thought it was irrational male posturing. It had never occurred to her that her actions had profoundly hurt him. But it was true, she had turned to another man at times when she felt closed off from her own husband.
Unable to raise her eyes to his, she focused on the bed between them and stated quietly, "Maybe it doesn't have to be a physical act for it to feel like a betrayal." It wasn't an apology, but at least an acknowledgement.
She met his eyes then and saw only understanding. In their thoughts, and maybe their hearts, they had both already cheated.
"I think..." She hesitated, searching for the right words. "I think we need to learn accountability with each other, for more than just the drinking."
"Do you think we should go back into counseling?"
"If that's what it'll take, then maybe we should."
Mulder shifted closer once more and took both her hands in his. "We've fought so hard to get where we are, Scully. We're finally a family again, and I will do anything it takes to make this work." A tear escaped his eye and trickled down his cheek, but he didn't let go of her hands to brush it away. "Promise me something." She inquired with her eyes. "Promise me you won't let me mess this up."
She was having a hard time suppressing the tears welling up in her own eyes. Clearing her throat, she answered as steadily as she could, "On one condition."
"What?" He sounded hopeful, if a bit hesitant.
"Don't let me mess this up either."
Her smile broke first, and the tension faded as he answered with a smile of his own. With a grateful nod, he let go of her hands to pull her into a tight hug. It felt like ages since they had really held each other like this.
They rocked back and forth gently, and she tried to reclaim control over the tears that escaped unbidden. When she finally loosened her grip on him, Mulder pulled back and placed a tender kiss on her forehead. He looked down into her eyes then, and his lips opened as if to speak, but when his eyes shifted to her mouth, his lips followed. The first touch matched the kiss to her forehead, gentle and sweet, but their lips met again, and again, each time with more pressure and urgency, eager to get reacquainted.
Time seemed to slip away, only returning when she felt him push her back into the mattress with his weight. Concerns began to creep back into her consciousness, but her body was ignoring them, submitting instead to her mounting arousal. It had been so long since Mulder had touched her like this, and she always turned into putty when he nibbled on her neck the way he was doing right now.
They both froze, doused with reality. Reason regained the upper hand, and she firmly pushed him away as the call sounded again down the hall. "It's your turn."
But her words were unnecessary; he was already on his way to the door.
Office of Dr. Stapleton
July 30, 2008
Scully reread the sentence for the third time, trying to get her brain to connect with the words on the page. The article was on dealing with anxiety in children, and she thought it might prove helpful. But somewhere between "This" and the period, she kept getting distracted.
She raised her head from the page and sighed. Seated opposite her were a mother and son, the boy perhaps five or six. The woman was once again reprimanding him, with loud, harsh whispers, to sit still. The boy complied, but it only lasted for about ten seconds. He just wouldn't stop squirming. Attention deficit disorder, Scully guessed.
Closing the magazine in her lap but holding her place, Scully glanced around the waiting room at the bright murals on the walls. Shiny, happy people. Cartoonish faces without a care in the world. Maybe it helped the children feel better, but it was enough to make her sick.
Completing their revolution of the room, her eyes landed on her husband. His right knee was bouncing at light speed, and a rubber ball that he had picked up from somewhere was being juggled between his hands almost as rapidly. Scully reached over and placed a hand on his leg, which brought all motions to a sudden stop.
"Sit still, Mulder, before you start making me nervous."
"Oh, like you're one to talk, Ms. White Knuckles."
Scully looked down at her hand to realize that she did indeed have quite a firm grip on his knee. Before she could withdraw her hand, Mulder reached down to pick it up. Their hands clasped loosely and settled on his thigh.
"Reading anything interesting?" he asked, looking down at the text in her lap.
"No," she sighed, and then set the magazine aside on the end table.
She felt his thumb start to rub the back of her hand and suspected that it was just another manifestation of his nervous energy, now that the rest of him had been stilled. She watched while the boy across from her turned around and started climbing on the back of his chair.
Mulder's thumb paused for a moment and then resumed stroking. "You think everything's going okay in there?" He nodded slightly toward the door in question, behind which their son was meeting with the new counselor for the first time.
"I certainly hope so." She dreaded the thought of spending the next few months trying out one psychologist after another until they found the right match for William.
Interrupting her thoughts, Mulder leaned in and confessed, "I feel like I've been called in to the principal's office."
"Feeling guilty for pulling the girls' pigtails again?" She meant it as a joke, but regretted her words when she saw a flicker of shame pass over his face.
"Yeah, something like that." He attempted a smile, but it soon faded.
She crossed her right leg over her left, pivoting her torso to face him, and reached her free hand across to rest atop their loose clasp. Lowering her tone, she spoke just above a whisper. "No one's here to point fingers at you. What's done is done. Now we just have to figure out how to move on."
His eyes searched hers for a moment, perhaps judging her sincerity, or her level of forgiveness, then dropped to focus on their joined hands.
"You know..." He cleared his throat and continued, "I saw a sign for a marriage counselor down the hall. Maybe we should get the phone number on our way out."
She was weighing whether or not to tell him about the list of counselors she already had--it had come from Roger, in the e-mail that suggested Dr. Stapleton for William. Apparently, her answer was too slow in coming, because Mulder quickly glanced up, his eyes full of concern.
"Maybe we should," she offered, hoping he wouldn't read too much into her pause. She squeezed his hand for good measure, and he smiled back at her, this time more heartily.
Their hands remained connected, but they shifted away from each other and settled into an uneasy silence. They had never been good at waiting.
Scully found her gaze wandering the room again. She leaned toward Mulder and said quietly, "Is it just me, or is the decor in here rather hideous?"
He chuckled softly and looked around at the walls. "I think it's meant to be cheerful, or soothing, or...something."
She nodded toward a character on the facing wall and stared at it with him when he followed her gesture. "I don't know what that thing is supposed to be, but I swear it reminds me of the Flukeman."
Mulder guffawed rather loudly, and then quickly raised his free hand to cover his mouth. Scully hadn't meant it to be quite that funny, but his laughter was contagious, and she couldn't suppress the chuckles bubbling up within her.
The two of them were in a fit of stifled giggles, and attracting plenty of stares from around the room, when the counselor's door opened. The pair immediately sobered, and Scully felt her face growing hot. Dr. Stapleton gave them both a quizzical look before saying, "Mr. and Mrs. Mulder?" and gesturing for them to join him inside the room.
As they rose from their seats, Scully avoided looking at her husband, knowing that one wrong glance from him could set her off again. She made a beeline for the open door and sensed him fall into step immediately behind her.
Just before they came within view of the psychiatrist, now seated inside the room, Mulder leaned in and whispered, "If we get sent to detention, will you sit next to me so we can pass notes?" She bit her lip to avoid smiling and quickly crossed to an empty chair next to their son.
August 7, 2008
Mulder muted the baseball game and looked over to see his sleepy son lingering in the doorway. He sat up straight and turned to watch the boy over the top of the couch. "Hey, kiddo. Did you have another bad dream?"
William just nodded and blinked at him with big, watery eyes.
Checking his watch, Mulder rose from the couch. "C'mon, let's get you back to bed."
Scully was working late tonight, so it was his turn to deal with the nightly ritual. Dr. Stapleton had given a number of suggestions about how to keep their son in bed for the whole night, and at the top of the list was to quit coddling him. It was questionable whether William was still having the vivid nightmares that brought them to this point, or whether this had just become an excuse to stay up later and get attention.
Meeting his son in the hallway, Mulder placed a gentle hand on his shoulder and steered him toward the bedroom. The light was still off, so he left it that way and held up the covers for William to climb under by the glow of the nightlight. With an efficient tuck and a kiss to the forehead, Mulder headed for the doorway.
Mulder stifled a sigh and tried not to let any impatience creep into his voice. This wasn't the first time tonight they had gone through this dance. "Yeah?"
"I can't sleep."
Turning to lean on the doorjamb, Mulder regarded William in the shadows. The truth was, Mulder was growing weary of this routine. He loved his son dearly, and he still hauled around the guilt from having brought their family dynamics to this new low, but they seemed to be stuck in a very tedious rut that he didn't know how to dig out of.
Thoughts of a bottle of sleeping pills flitted through his mind, and for one brief moment, he clung to this as a glimmer of hope. The counselor had given them a prescription for William, but Mulder knew if he gave any pills to the boy, he would be unraveling all the recent progress in his marriage. Scully absolutely refused to medicate her son, and Mulder was already risking her wrath, having secretly filled the prescription himself and hidden it in his gym bag. He was afraid they may be left with no other recourse and was willing to consider anything, but he realized now that there had to be another solution. The cost of another reckless decision was just too great.
Mulder pushed away from the door and took a seat on the edge of William's bed. For a moment, he just sat there quietly, running his fingers through the boy's strawberry blond hair. William looked up at him expectantly, but Mulder was at a complete loss. He had never felt so inept as a father. His son was looking to him for answers, and he had none to give.
It was moments like this that the craving hit him. Just a little something to relax him, to numb his mind, to make him forget. On any other night, he'd be out the door like a shot and headed for the gym, but tonight he didn't have that liberty.
Scanning the room for any sign of inspiration, his eyes settled on a copy of Moby Dick on top of the dresser. Scully had been reading it to William, carrying on the family tradition. Mulder rose to retrieve the book. "This ought to put him to sleep," he muttered to himself as he fingered the worn cover.
He flipped on the light and returned to the bed. "How about a story?" William nodded, so Mulder tapped him to scoot over toward the wall and then stretched out alongside him on the mattress. Fishing out the bookmark, he idly wondered whether Scully censored the text as she read it, leaving out the parts she deemed too mature for their son. Or maybe she added commentary about how this was really a character study of his old man: "Don't worry if your father goes missing again, William, he's just whale hunting; sooner or later he'll come back--with a peg leg."
He pushed such thoughts aside and propped the book open against his bent legs. "Chapter thirty-one: Queen Mab."
"Who's Queen Mab?"
Mulder turned to look at his son. "Well, uh, in Celtic mythology, she was the Queen Wolf, named for the mead of feminine wisdom that she served to her consorts. She was also called Maeve, associated with the warrior queen of Irish legend." His eyes had absently wandered to the ceiling as he scanned his encyclopedic knowledge for more details. "In English folklore, she became the Queen of the Faeries, or, as Shakespeare described her, the fairies' midwife who rode her tiny chariot over people's faces while they slept..."
His gaze returned to find William's face crinkled in confusion. The boy was the spitting image of his mother in that moment, his expression resembling her "Mulder, you're crazy" look.
"...Uh, maybe you should ask your mother when she gets home." He quickly turned back to the book. "Okay, chapter thirty-one. 'Next morning Stubb accosted Flask. "Such a queer dream, King-Post, I never had. You know the old man's ivory leg, well I dreamed he kicked me with it; and when I tried to kick back, upon my soul, my little man, I kicked my leg right off! And then, presto! Ahab seemed a pyramid, and I, like a blazing fool, kept kicking at it. But what was still more curious, Flask--you know how curious all dreams are--"'"
Mulder tilted his head toward his son. "Yeah, Will?"
"Do you get scared when you have bad dreams?"
The book fell closed over Mulder's finger. He answered openly, "Yeah, sometimes I do."
"What do you do?"
Mulder shifted onto his side, letting the book fall to the mattress between them. "Well, I try to tell myself that it wasn't real, that it was just a dream. Then I look over at your mother and watch her sleep, or listen to her breathe, to remind myself that she's alive and safe and right there next to me. But, you know, it hasn't always been that way. Sometimes she wasn't there."
He paused and took a deep breath, feeling that he just couldn't impart the comfort that he wanted to; it wasn't there to give. "I wish I could tell you that nothing bad will ever happen, but I can't promise that. Life is full of change, and that's why we have to remember to appreciate what we have--and the people that we love--every day, and to never take anything for granted. But there's one thing I can promise you, William: your mother and I will always love you. That's the one thing in this world that will never change."
Mulder tried in vain to blink back the tears that were forming, but one escaped down his cheek. Pushing the book aside, he shifted closer to wrap his arms around his son. He wanted so badly to make other promises, that no one would ever hurt him or his mother, that the good guys would always win, that he himself would never do anything to hurt him. But he knew such promises were empty. His life was a tapestry of losses and defeats that proved this very point.
More tears followed down the damp tracks on his face. Holding the boy close, he murmured into his crown, "I'm sorry, Will. I'm so sorry any of this had to happen." It was a plea for a lost sister and a once lost partner as well, for all those he hadn't been able to save.
Mulder leaned back as he felt William's head shift beneath his. A small hand came up and began to wipe away the moisture from his cheek. "It's okay, Daddy."
The seriousness of his eyes and maturity of his tone robbed Mulder of his breath for a moment, but then he released it in a silent chuckle. There was so much of his mother in him. He kissed the boy on the brow and cuddled him close, letting a comfortable silence blanket them.
It was in this position that Scully found them when she returned home later, both sound asleep.
The Rhythm & Blues Lounge
August 22, 2008
Mulder's hand closed over Scully's to keep her from checking the phone display again. "Relax. It's too early for him to even be in bed yet."
Her fingers twitched to shake his hand free, so he gathered them up in his loose grasp and rested their entwined hands next to the cell phone. But she offered no response, instead scanning the smoky room from their small table nestled in a back corner.
Undaunted, he tried a different tactic. "This is as bad as the first time we tried to go out for dinner when he was a baby. Remember? Your mom had to tell you to stop calling to check on him or you were going to wake him up."
One side of her mouth crept up. It was a promising sign.
It wasn't that Mulder himself wasn't concerned about William, but he figured Scully was worrying enough for both of them. Their son was spending the night at a friend's house while they had a night alone together--both events at the suggestion of their counselors. It was the first night William had spent away from home or away from his parents since the nightmares began, so they were justifiably wary about how things would go.
A waitress stopped by their table before he could say any more. "You ready to order?"
"I'll just have a Coke," Mulder said.
Scully released his hand and leaned her elbows on the table. "Make mine a Diet."
With a hand on her arm, Mulder leaned in and offered, "You can order something stronger, if you want." When she didn't immediately respond, he quipped, "I'll be your designated driver."
Scully looked up at the waitress, still hovering with pen poised for their final decision. "Diet Coke is fine." As the waitress turned to leave, Scully leaned back in her seat, her eyes immediately settling on the phone again.
Mulder reached for her hand once more, this time stroking a finger teasingly over her knuckles. "Just because I'm a teetotaler doesn't mean you have to be. Besides, a glass of wine might help relax you."
She frowned at him but didn't respond directly to his statement. "Are you sure coming to a bar was such a good idea?"
"We're just here for the band. C'mon, Scully, how often do you get to listen to a jazz ensemble comprised entirely of faculty and grad students? I keep hearing about them around campus and thought it might be fun to catch a gig."
She looked less than thrilled. Mulder was growing a bit discouraged. Dinner had been nice, casual but candlelit at their favorite Chinese place. But as the evening wore on, Scully became more and more distracted, her thoughts clearly on William. However, the night was as much for their sake as for their son's. Since they got William back, they had been so focused on parenting that they had begun to lose sight of their marriage. Nights like this were practically unheard of now, so he was determined to make the most of it.
Mulder settled back in his seat, then leaned forward again when the fake tree behind him began to tickle his ear. He thought about moving to another chair but preferred this seat adjacent to his wife and facing the stage.
Despite all his efforts, Scully's focus remained on the phone. Mulder knew he was taking a big risk, but he decided to take matters into his own hands, so to speak. Reaching across the table, he took hold of the phone, set it to vibrate, and slipped it into his pocket.
He leaned in and kissed her quickly to preempt her protest. "I'll make you a deal?"
She eyed him suspiciously before answering. "What?"
"I promise we'll call and check on William when we get home, if you promise not to spend the rest of the night worrying about him." At her hesitation, he prompted, "Deal?"
She narrowed her eyes at him, but a suppressed smile danced at her lips. "Deal."
Their drinks arrived just as the band returned from their break and prepared for the next set. The cozy room was soon throbbing with a bluesy rhythm. In such a close space, the sound was nearly deafening, and Mulder knew that would be the end of the conversation.
The pair sipped at their drinks for a while, just content to enjoy the music. A few couples began to filter toward the small area in front of the stage, creating a makeshift dance floor. Eyeing them, Mulder got an idea. Tightening his grip on Scully's hand, he rose from his seat and tugged her in his direction. She quickly caught his gist and resisted. "Mulder..."
With one good pull, he brought her to her feet and careening into him, then turned and dragged her reluctant form toward the stage. When he got them positioned in an empty spot and his arms wrapped around her, he looked down to meet her glare, and laughed. He could tell her annoyance was mostly an act, and that her resolve was flagging.
He pulled her in closer and nuzzled her temple as he swayed them suggestively to the music. It wasn't really a slow song, but he didn't let that deter them. The music soon shifted, though, and the pace slowed. Mulder was happy to note that Scully began to relax in his embrace.
Holding her like this, a peace settled over him, one he realized he hadn't experienced in quite a while. Feeling her melt in his arms, so loving and trusting, he couldn't believe that he had ever considered sharing such intimate physical contact with another woman and, in that one impulsive moment, ruining the best thing he'd ever had. His arms tightened around Scully instinctively as he vowed never to let anything come between them again--least of all himself.
They swayed to the sultry tones, letting the saxophone and bass lull them into a pleasant haze. As the beat wore on, Mulder's hands drifted farther south, lower, lower, until eventually he had a good handful of denim-covered flesh and gave her a provocative squeeze. Scully pulled back just enough to cock an accusing eyebrow at him, but made no move to evict his hands.
He took that as encouragement. Leaning in to be heard over the music, he spoke directly into her ear. "What do you say we go home and have a slumber party of our own--pajamas optional."
She nuzzled his cheek for a moment, then brushed her lips over his earlobe. "Just as long as you hold up your end of the deal."
"Deal." He shifted his face toward hers and sealed their bargain with a kiss. Before the set had ended, they were already on their way out the door, driven no longer by the pulse of the music but by a deeper rhythm throbbing in their veins.
August 23, 2008
Mulder stole a glance at his son while he waited for the cross-traffic at the intersection. According to Mrs. Cooper, the evening had gone just fine, and Mulder was loathe to bring up any sensitive topics if they were unnecessary. Besides, William seemed more interested in the Game Boy he had borrowed from his friend than in conversation.
"So, Will, I guess you had a good time last night, huh?"
"Dad, you have to try out this game, it's the coolest. And Eddie has this new computer game, too, with jet fighters and lava men and cyclopses."
"Uh, okay." Mulder chuckled at the boy's excitement and focused on the left turn.
"Can I go back to Eddie's tonight? His mom said they're having pizza."
"Well, maybe we can talk your mom into having pizza at our place, okay?"
"Okay." The response was quiet, and Mulder guessed that was more from distraction than dejection.
They stopped at another light. Mulder wanted a chance to have this conversation before they got home. He placed a hand on William's shoulder to get his attention and asked gently, "How did you sleep?"
William didn't answer right away, but Mulder knew from the pause of his hands on the game that he'd heard the question. The signal turned green and Mulder returned his hand to the wheel and advanced with the traffic.
"I had a bad dream and woke up, but they were all asleep."
"What did you do?" Mulder prompted.
"I did what the doctor said and remembered a happy time with Mommy."
"Did it work?"
"I guess so. I went back to sleep."
Mulder couldn't stifle the grin that emerged. Maybe they'd get past this after all. The spot outside their building that he'd vacated earlier was still available, and he pulled the car to a stop along the curb. William didn't seem to notice, absorbed again with his game. Mulder reached over and ruffled his hair.
"Hey, I'm proud of you, buddy. You did a good job last night. I know your mom will be proud of you too."
One side of William's mouth twitched up into a smile, but otherwise, he didn't remove his attention from the game.
"Now, you think you can put that on pause long enough for us to go inside?"
* * *
Scully was in the kitchen making coffee, just fresh from the shower, when she heard the front door open. She'd tried not to be nervous about their arrival, but the anxiety from the night before had only been put on hold, not eliminated entirely, despite the many ways Mulder had tried to free her mind.
The smile at that thought still lingered on her lips when her son came bounding into the room. "Mommy, you've got to check out this game. It's so cool. And Eddie said I could borrow another one, too. Can we have pizza tonight?"
Scully grinned at his enthusiasm and briefly met Mulder's amused look, where he was leaning in the doorway. "How about we start with a hug?"
She opened her arms, and William threw himself into her embrace. She held him tightly for a long moment, then kissed his head and pulled back to look into his face. "How did it go last night?"
"It was fine. I woke up, but then I went back to sleep. Can I sleep over there again sometime?"
The warmth of relief began to infuse her, finally chasing the anxiety away. "If Eddie's mom says it's all right. Why don't you go unpack your bag, and then you can tell me all about it, okay?"
William scampered off to his room. Scully turned back to finish with the coffee maker, releasing a deep sigh that dissipated the rest of her tension. She heard Mulder's footsteps behind her, and long arms wrapped around her waist. Blissfully, she leaned back into his embrace, letting herself feel, at last, that maybe things were going to be okay. His warm breath tickled her neck, replaced by the soft press of his lips. Then his tongue followed, tracing a line up to her earlobe, while his hands began to wander from her midsection, one higher, one lower.
"Mulder!" she hissed at him. "We're not alone anymore."
"So, that means the countertop's out of the question?"
"What, the kitchen table wasn't enough for you?"
She heard him snicker in her ear, and his arms loosened their grip. She pivoted in his grasp and rested her hands on his shoulders.
"I'll never get enough of you," he said softly, on his way in for a kiss. The kiss was chaste but lingering, and the electricity behind it sent a shiver up her spine.
He pulled back and smiled smugly at her reaction. She sent him a chastising glare, tempered by the smile playing at her lips, then stepped in and rested her head against his chest. She heard him sigh contentedly as his chin settled on the top of her head, and for a moment they just indulged in the embrace, swaying slightly to a music of their own.
"Do you think we'll make it, Scully?"
She pulled back to catch the expression on his face. She considered the question, all the highs and lows they'd been through over the last few weeks--and the last few years--before answering decisively and honestly, "Yeah, I do." She quickly added, however, "But I don't think it'll be easy."
He chuckled. "Since when have we ever done things the easy way?"
"That doesn't mean we should try to be complicated."
"Life is complicated." He lifted a hand to her face and wistfully played with a rogue strand of hair. "So is love."
She leaned into his touch. "Especially love."
His hand stilled. "I can't make the excuse that I was too young when we got married, but I don't think I was mature enough to understand just how much work this would be."
She raised her eyebrows and asked uncertainly, "But it's worth it?"
His broad smile held nothing back, and she was instantly reassured. "Oh yeah, it's definitely worth it." The smile turned mischievous, and he leaned in and whispered, "Especially when you do that thing with your tongue that nobody else has ever done to me before."
She couldn't suppress her blush, and he snickered, obviously proud of himself for having such easy control over her. There was only one way to wipe that smug grin off his face: she grabbed his head and pulled him down for a passionate kiss.
They were busy chasing each other's tongues when small footsteps entered the room.
"Jeez, you two--get a room."
The pair quickly pulled apart and stared in shock at their son. Oblivious, he grabbed a juice box from the fridge and left. Scully turned to her husband with suspicion.
"Don't look at me. I didn't teach him that one."
The Emerald Garden
September 16, 2008
While they waited for the hostess to come show them to their seats, a pint-sized warrior was practicing his hand moves. Mulder jumped back just in time to miss a palm waving a little too close to his groin.
"Whoa, watch it there, Karate Kid."
"Not karate, Dad. Tae Kwon Do." The admonition was accompanied by an eye roll. Mulder had a good idea where William had picked up that habit.
"Well, try to aim your Tae Kwon Do away from the family jewels."
The hostess showed up just in time to distract Scully from offering her own eye roll. The small Vietnamese restaurant was little more than a converted office in a strip mall, dressed up with some ethnic decor, but the review in the Tribune had been raving.
Both the martial arts and the sampling of new eateries were part of their attempt to rebuild the family. The Tae Kwon Do was supposed to give William a sense of empowerment to build his courage, while the restaurant was part of building new memories, ones denied him by his "grandfather." Since Spender wouldn't be seen in public with William, the boy had mostly been kept tucked away at home and thus had very few experiences at restaurants, such as this one.
The trio took their seats at a table along the far wall. Mulder dove into his menu, while Scully leaned over to William and tried to interest him in one of the chicken dishes.
"Hey, Scully, they have a kids' menu on the back." She looked at Mulder and then turned the page on her menu, but William beat her to it.
"Can I have a hot dog?"
Mulder leaned across the table and said conspiratorially to his son, "I don't think you want to order anything here that has the word 'dog' in the title."
"Mulder!" Scully glanced around to make sure the waitress hadn't overheard and then glared back at him. But he just chuckled at her response, not the least bit chastened.
"Hey, Will, why don't you let your mom order something for you? If you don't like it, you can try some of mine."
The boy considered it for a moment, then nodded. "But no green stuff."
"Okay," Mulder agreed, "no green stuff."
Scully gave him a look but withheld comment.
The waitress came to take their orders and departed again; no sooner had she left than the muted ring of a cell phone sounded. Scully leaned over and reached for her jacket, hanging on the back of her chair.
"Work?" Mulder asked.
She checked the display and then shut the phone off. "Yeah. Probably the lab results I asked them to rush." She glanced up to meet his questioning look. "It can wait until after dinner." The words were simple, but the message was clear: This was family time--it took top priority.
When her hand returned from replacing the phone in her pocket, he reached across the table and wrapped it in his own. She squeezed his hand back, and they shared a warm smile. He didn't release her grasp as he turned to their son, who was trying to make origami with his napkin.
"So, Will, tell us what you learned in class today."
The boy launched into a detailed reply, but the words bypassed Mulder's ears. His focus was fixed on the warmth of Scully's hand in his, the light in William's eyes as he shared his enthusiasm, and the feeling of utter joy in his heart from having such a simple moment as this. There had been times in his life, even not so long ago, when Mulder thought he could never have this again. He wanted to catalogue every sensation, every second, and hold on to them like buried treasure.
Mulder had told his son never to take anything for granted. Least of all the love of those who are precious to you. It was time for him to listen to his own advice.
If love was worth more than gold, he was the richest man in the world.
Author's notes: It took me much longer than I had hoped, but I finally finished this third part, and with it, the whole trilogy. Going back and rereading the first two installments has been a lesson for me in how my writing has changed over the past couple of years. Whether for better or for worse, let the reader be the judge. But thank you for sharing the journey with me, especially those of you who poked along the way, and those who are still interested enough in this little universe to be reading the third part. Now, I am happy to call this universe complete and move on to other fics.
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