Collage by Tiffany - archived at Tiffany's X-Phile Heaven
TITLE: Transcendent Sacrifices AUTHOR: Lara Means E-MAIL: LaraMeansXF@aol.com WEBSITE: www.reocities.com/larameans_2000 CLASSIFICATION: SRA RATING: R ARCHIVE: Gossamer, NO; Spookys, NO (I'll submit directly to both); Ephemeral, YES; Xemplary, YES; anywhere else, YES, but if possible please let me know
SPOILERS: Small ones for Paper Hearts, Memento Mori, Tempus Fugit, Detour, Emily, Chinga, Agua Mala, The Unnatural, Amor Fati, Millennium, Closure, Hollywood A.D., Je Souhaite, Requiem. (post-ep for Requiem; sequel to my stories "Someone I Once Knew" and "Contact")
SUMMARY: "You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you might find you get what you need." - The Rolling Stones.
DATE POSTED: 10/09/00
FEEDBACK: Encouraged and welcomed at LaraMeansXF@aol.com
DISCLAIMER: U.S. copyright law says that the studio is the author of a movie or television show, not the writer or creator. Which means that "The X-Files" ultimately belongs to Rupert Murdoch. (Of course, it was *created* by Chris Carter, and brought to life by David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson.) I mean no infringement, Mr. M. -- I do this for love.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Despite the summary, this is *so* not songfic.
Heartfelt thanks and eternal gratitude to Nic Simpson and Diana Battis for their advice and encouragement. Also, thank you to everyone who sent feedback on "Someone" and "Contact." (Additional notes at the end.)
This story is set on Columbus Day weekend, October 12, 13 and 14, 2013.
Written by Lara Means
There are clouds in the distance. Some are thin and wispy, others are thicker and darker. If it were later in the day, the setting sun would paint them in streaks of dusky rose, rusty orange, blue gray. But it's early yet, just after lunchtime, so the only colors in the sky are yellow and white, touched by shades of blue.
I close my eyes and let the cool fall breeze caress my face. As I breathe in the salty fragrance of the ocean, the sounds of the other people on the dock fade away. My body hums with anticipation, with anxiety, with fear, with wonder.
Amazing, how life can change so quickly. Six months ago, we were in an altogether different place. The only thing on track was my career -- after years of dancing around the possibility, I'd decided to become a 'regular' doctor. At my age, the additional training and long hours required for my residency were tougher than I'd imagined, which didn't help things at home. As it was, my marriage was merely tolerable -- not exactly unhappy, but not exactly happy either.
Then came the difficult Memorial Day weekend with his parents in Pennsylvania, when he finally confronted my ambivalence and asked me, flat out, if I wanted a divorce. My answer, an ambivalent "I don't know," just made him angry.
On the drive home, everything changed. In an instant. With the sickening sounds of scraping metal, shattering glass, my little girl's screams... and the sight of my husband's blood.
Barely more than a month later, another paradigm shift -- Sara contacted her father, wanted to meet him. I approached the whole thing as something *she* needed, ignoring how I felt about seeing him again. I was certain that he still hated me for what I did to him, denying him the opportunity to be her father before he even knew about her. But my daughter, wise beyond her years, knew he didn't hate me -- he thought I hated *him* for turning his back on us, on her. He still loved me, she said, and I know she had high hopes for our reunion.
I hear the disembodied loudspeaker voice announce that the ferry to Martha's Vineyard will be boarding in a few minutes. I open my eyes and glance around for Sara -- she's nowhere in sight.
Panic grips me and I call out for her. For the first time in years, I wish I still carried a weapon. "Sara? Sara!"
Then I see her, hurrying over to me from the snack bar, two bottles of Diet Coke in her hands. I'm so relieved I could almost cry. I try to hide it, but she sees right through me.
"Mom, I'm fine, I'm right here." She hands me a soda, sees my trembling hand. "Are you okay?"
I nod, letting out a shaky breath. "You just... I didn't know where you were."
"I told you I was going to get us something to drink." She gives me an appraising look, shakes her head. "You've been an ex-FBI Agent for how many years? C'mon, Mom, I thought we were past all this paranoia stuff."
From the moment I found out I was pregnant, I became obsessed with keeping my baby safe. Even with Skinner's assurance that the Smoking Man was really dead, I couldn't allow myself to take her safety for granted. Cancerman wasn't our only enemy -- Krycek and Covarrubias were still out there somewhere, and God only knew what their agenda was. I had to stay alert, even after I left the Bureau and we moved to New York.
But that was nearly six years ago. Sara's right, we should be past all that. We're safe now. I slip my arm around her and pull her close. "I'm sorry, Sweetie. Old habits."
She hugs me back, then grabs my suitcase. "Ferry's boarding."
We stand together on the deck of the old ferry as it chugs across the sound, taking us to him. To Mulder.
His life has changed drastically, too. In three short months, he's become a father. I imagine it's one thing to know there's a child out there who's a part of you, but another thing entirely to come face to face with her, to try and become a real part of her life. He's in New York practically every weekend, taking Sara to baseball games, basketball games, museums, movies, plays, concerts... She's visited him on the Vineyard a few times when he wasn't able to come to New York. Sara's blossomed under his influence, becoming more confident and self- assured, comfortable with her innate beauty. And Mulder -- he's embraced his new role with as much passion as he devoted to his work over the years. He savors every moment he spends with his daughter.
It was her idea for the three of us to spend Columbus Day weekend together. Tomorrow's his birthday, her first to celebrate with him, and she's really looking forward to it. She picked out his gift and has already made reservations for us to take him out to dinner at the best restaurant on the Vineyard Sunday night. And I think she's hoping that spending three days and two nights in his house will bring the two of us closer.
Ever since she first contacted him, Sara's harbored a not-so- secret desire for us to resume our relationship. Whenever Mulder's in New York, she does her best to turn whatever they're doing into a 'family thing.' By the time I sat her down to explain that Mulder came to see *her*, it was too late -- he'd already started to add a 'family' event to his weekend schedules. And on more than one occasion, Sara has claimed a headache or tummyache and stayed with the Caldwells, leaving Mulder and me to go out alone.
Not that I mind, really. Even at nearly fifty-two, the man can still turn my insides to jelly. Mulder's always been attractive, but as he's aged, he's become quite handsome. The streaks of gray in his hair, the smile lines at his eyes, the way those eyes can still see into my heart... not to mention the glasses.
That I love Mulder is a given -- but I don't know how he feels, what he wants. On some level, I'm afraid he's still angry with me for marrying another man. That he doesn't love me anymore.
Sara's hand on my arm and her urgent "Mom!" rouse me, and I turn to her. "I called your name three times. Where were you?"
I shake my head and smile at her. "Woolgathering. What's up?"
She fidgets momentarily, a sure indication that she has something to say that she doesn't want to. "I'm not..." Then she takes a deep breath and dives in. "I want to move in with Dad for a while."
Nothing could surprise me more than this. All I can do is blink at her, my mouth falling open. She takes my hand and squeezes it, hurrying to explain.
"You know I love you, Mom, I love you more than anything. It's... I want to get to know him better, and it's hard to do that just on weekends."
She wants to live with him. She wants to leave me and live with him.
I try to hide the hurt and confusion I'm feeling, but my voice is unsteady. "Have you talked to your father about this?"
Sara shakes her head. "I wanted to talk to you first."
"So you spring it on me five minutes before we dock." She doesn't say anything, just stares at her sneakers. Her new sneakers. That Mulder bought for her. I take a deep breath and shake off the jealousy that has inexplicably surged inside me. "I'll talk to him. We'll figure it out."
She nods, and we stand together side by side. A long moment passes, and she puts a hand on my arm. "Mom? I'm sorry. I didn't mean... You know I love you, right?" I turn my arm under her hand, and she links her fingers with mine. But I don't say anything.
With a glance at me for approval, Sara hurries ahead when the ferry docks, snaking her way past the people boarding from the island. I stop on the gangway -- I see him. He's standing on a footbridge, his arms on the rail. He's staring off toward the water, confident that she'll find him. And she does.
"Daddy!" At the sound of her voice, he turns and smiles. My God, that smile. I can count on one hand the times I've seen that smile. Sara runs into his arms and he holds her tight, lifting her up and spinning her around. He puts her down and kisses her, then draws her close for another hug. From the looks of them, you'd never guess it's only been a week since they last saw each other.
I stand here on the gangway, watching them. I let my emotions run free -- they aren't paying any attention to me anyway, so I don't feel the need to hide.
Since before she was born, I've wanted this for her. I prayed that Mulder would be returned in time for her birth, and I cried when he wasn't. I tried to make up for his absence, but Sara knew better. She liked Ethan, may have even loved him, but she never bonded with him the way she's bonded with Mulder. And Mulder... he loves her beyond reason. This man was meant to be a father -- no, he was meant to be a *daddy*. I've known that about him ever since Emily. He was so gentle with her, so loving, so... endearingly goofy. He was the only person who could make her smile. Like Sara's smiling now.
She turns around, her eyes searching for me. Mulder looks up too, and his eyes lock with mine. The mask slips quickly into place and I wave -- and hurriedly blink back tears when I find myself on the receiving end of that smile.
I reach them and Mulder gathers me in for a hug. He kisses my cheek like he always does, but then he takes my face in his hands and stares into my eyes. My mind flashes back to the first time he kissed me -- New Year's Eve, 1999. His eyes were smiling then, the same way they're smiling now. He leans in and presses his soft, soft lips to mine...
When he pulls away my eyes come open -- I didn't realize they'd closed -- and he's still close, still smiling. My left eyebrow rises a few millimeters and he brushes his thumb lightly over it. "I'm so glad you're here," he whispers. I've lost the ability to speak, so I just return his smile.
Mulder takes my suitcase and Sara's hand, and we move toward the parking lot. Sara reaches back for me, her eyebrow raised and a little Cheshire Cat smile on her lips. I've seen that look before -- hell, I've *given* that look before. I shake my head and take her hand, smiling up at Mulder, who's watching us. He looks happy. He's looked happy ever since July. And that makes me happy.
Mulder's house is in the town of Oak Bluffs, on a private beach facing northeast, toward Nantucket. It's a two-story Cape Cod with a fenced-in front yard, green and lush even in October. Sara runs up to the porch, bouncing on the balls of her feet waiting for us. Mulder smiles indulgently as he unlocks the door -- and Sara's immediately tackled by forty pounds of panting, affectionate black Lab.
"Who's this?" I ask as Sara rolls on the floor while the dog licks her face.
"Spooky," Mulder says, and I cast a glance at him. He grins. "Seemed like a good idea at the time."
I laugh and crouch down, extending my hand to the dog. Spooky sniffs, then tentatively licks my hand. I reach up and scratch its head, which sets its tail wagging. The dog puts a paw on my leg and leans in to lick me under my chin. Sara giggles at that. "She likes you, Mom."
Spooky soon tires of me once she spots Mulder taking a leash from a hook by the door. He fastens the leash to her collar, he says, "Sara, why don't you get your mom settled, give her the grand tour while I take Spooky out?"
Mulder and Spooky go outside and Sara shows me around. It's a beautiful home -- I don't know what I'd expected, but somehow I don't think it was this. The first floor has a spacious living room and comfortable kitchen, with the master bedroom on one end. Upstairs is a study, the room dominated by Mulder's old black leather couch. I run my hand along the soft, well worn leather, a hint of a smile on my lips.
I shake my head, but I can't look at her just now. "Pleasant memories," I tell her. Pleasant indeed. Mulder and me, wrapped up in each other. The taste of beer and popcorn and Mulder in my mouth. 'Caddyshack' in the background, before our moans and groans and sighs and screams finally drown out everything else.
I can feel Sara's eyes on me, a blush rising in my cheeks. "If you tell me I was conceived on that couch, I'm never sitting on it again."
I laugh and throw an arm around her, keeping that little detail to myself. I think I see a shudder run through my daughter's body as she shows me to the guest room. I deposit my suitcase there and Sara gives me The Eyebrow -- I shoot it right back at her and she sighs, moving on to the other bedroom on the second floor. Her room.
It's bigger than her room at our apartment in New York. There are no hints of Mulder here -- this is her space, a sanctuary he's created for her in his home. She's standing back, just inside the doorway, waiting for my approval. I walk over to the bed, where a new collection of stuffed animals hold court. I pick up the one in the middle -- a small gray alien, with a big head and slanted black eyes -- and I have to smile.
"Dad got me that the last time I was here," she says in a very small voice, and I'm ashamed that I've been so selfish in considering this thing. She wants to live with him because she loves him, not because she doesn't love me. This is something she needs, and her needs are more important than mine -- isn't that what being a mother is all about?
Putting the little alien back among his friends, I turn to Sara. "It's perfect, Sweetie. It's you."
My daughter smiles at me, and I see it. His smile. *That* smile.
Sara and I sit on the back porch, watching the waves and letting the stress wash away. We're comfortable in our silence, just rocking slowly in the porch swing, my arm around her, stroking the long, thick hair I've envied since she was a toddler. We hear a dog barking, then I spot Mulder coming up the beach, Spooky dragging him along behind her. When he's closer to the house he lets the dog off her leash and she comes bounding up the sand toward us, tail wagging happily. Sara gets up just then and gives Spooky a pat on the head, then goes inside -- for what, I'm not sure.
Mulder trudges up to the porch and drops onto the swing next to me, breathing hard. His head falls back, eyes closed, a thin sheen of sweat on his face. His mouth quirks in a wry grin. "I'll be glad when Spooky's as old as I am," he mumbles, and I suppress a laugh. "It's worse now than when she was a puppy. At least then I could amuse her with a rubber ball and a few squeaky toys." I can't suppress the laugh anymore, and after a second he joins in.
Sara comes out with a small towel and a bottle of water, already opened. I'm impressed and proud of her, and I give her a smile as she hands them to Mulder with a kiss on the top of his head.
"Eww, Dad, your hair's all sweaty."
"That's 'cause I'm old, baby girl," he tells her, wiping his face.
Sara moves behind the swing, puts her arms around his neck and kisses him again. "You, old? Never." She grabs the towel and starts rubbing his hair vigorously. Mulder laughs as she does.
I love watching them together. Their easy interaction, their close bond, their obvious love... I can't help but wonder how things would've turned out under different circumstances. If I'd found out I was pregnant sooner. If Mulder hadn't gone to Oregon. If he'd been returned sooner. If I hadn't married Ethan. If I'd divorced him when Mulder came home. If Mulder hadn't decided to stay away.
Sara tosses the towel in Mulder's lap and kisses his head again. "There. All dry."
"You're pretty good at that. Considering a career as a barber?" He gives me a wink, and I play along.
"We've got her application for cosmetology school all ready to go."
Sara gives me The Look, which she just gets better and better at, and laughs. "Oh yeah, I can't wait. Can I go play with Spooky?"
At the mention of her name, Spooky perks up, tail wagging. Mulder nods, and they're off toward the water. "Don't go too far," I call after them.
Mulder and I sit back and watch them play for a few minutes. "That's what I need," he says softly, "a kid to keep her busy."
I don't say anything about Sara wanting to live with him just yet. Now's not the time. So I ask about something else -- in truth, the only thing about Sara's request that still troubles me. Mulder's work.
After he left the Bureau, Mulder decided as I did that he wanted to do something else with his life. Even though, according to Frohike, Mulder would never have to work another day in his life, I know him -- if he stayed home all the time, he'd go stir crazy. So he continued his training in psychology, and went to work as a consultant for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. He mostly works with recovered children, helping them cope with their experiences. Sometimes, though, he's called in when a child is reported missing, to talk with the parents. To determine whether they're victims or perpetrators. His status as a former FBI profiler is valuable to them -- but I believe they call on Mulder too often, when local law enforcement could handle the job.
"How'd it go in Atlanta yesterday?" I ask him. Sara and I were supposed to arrive last night, but he was called out of town suddenly. That's what concerns me.
He sighs, shakes his head. "Not good."
"I thought it was a recovery."
"I didn't want Sara to worry." He's quiet for a moment, and I turn on the swing, facing him. I reach over to gently stroke his arm, and he goes on. "Seven-year-old boy, reported missing on Wednesday. I got there Thursday evening, and I knew. I knew just by looking at them."
I lace my fingers with his, smooth his hair where Sara left it mussed. "Parents?"
"Mom's boyfriend." I slip my arm around him and draw him close. He lays his head on my shoulder and sighs. "I've been doing this work, or something like it, for my entire life, Scully, and I have never understood -- never *will* understand -- how anyone could harm a child."
We're both watching Sara now as she plays with the dog, and I think we're both offering up a silent prayer of thanks. That she's ours. That she's healthy and strong and safe. That she's here at all. And I know, deep down, he's thinking about Samantha too, the pain she went through.
I lean down and rest my head on his, and his silky hair tickles my nose. He looks up at me, and I can see a shadow of his own pain in his eyes. I press my lips to his forehead, lingering there for a long time. When I pull back he moves in closer and hesitantly kisses me. It's brief, but it's charged -- I have to fight the urge to follow his lips with my own when he releases me. I'm rewarded for my restraint when his eyes flick to my mouth and he whispers my name, then draws me to him again.
This kiss is beyond charged. This kiss is lightning. He tugs on my lower lip, then his tongue soothes it, and I open my mouth to taste him. God, it's been so long since I've tasted him...
We take our time, exploring, reacquainting ourselves. His hand comes up to caress my cheek, mine tangles in his hair -- it's almost like that night thirteen years ago, when we first gave in to what we'd felt for so long.
The sounds of Spooky barking and Sara laughing bring us both back to the present. We end the kiss, both smiling a little shyly. Mulder traces my lips with his finger, sending a shiver through me, and murmurs, "I've missed you so much."
I'm getting a better idea of how Mulder feels.
We decide to take it easy the rest of the day, just enjoying each other's company. Mulder fired up the grill for hamburgers and hot dogs, I made my mom's potato salad, and Sara assembled ice cream sundaes from the several flavors in his freezer -- her favorite, and mine, and a couple more for good measure.
All during dinner, he touches me. Kisses me. At one point he wipes a smudge of chocolate syrup from the corner of my mouth, then licks it from his thumb. This simple action, paired with his eyes staring into mine, is incredibly sensual -- at least, until we hear Sara's comment: "That's either really romantic or really disgusting, I can't decide which."
After the sun sets it turns quite chilly, and we spend the rest of the evening inside watching a movie. Sara's taste in movies has always been a lot like her father's -- raucous comedies and old sci-fi. Tonight she picks 'Plan 9 From Outer Space' -- I sit between them, eating buttered popcorn and laughing myself silly as they take turns reciting the dialogue.
Sara says goodnight soon after the movie ends. Mulder and I clean up the kitchen, then I go up to tuck her in. I sit on the bed behind her to brush her hair, something that's become one of our nightly rituals in the past few months.
"Did you have a good time today?" She suppresses a yawn as she nods. "Tired?"
"Um-hmm. Dad can be handful."
"You don't know the half of it," I say with a smile. "I like watching you two together."
"I was just gonna say the same thing about you," she tells me, then grins. "Except for that chocolate syrup thing. That was just weird."
I laugh a little, brushing and waiting for her to ask me. I don't have to wait long.
"Have you talked to him yet?" She sounds almost apologetic.
I shake my head. "Not yet. But I will."
She stares at her fingernails for a moment, turns to face me. "Mom..."
"It's okay, Sweetie. I'm not mad. I understand, really I do. When I was your age, my father and I were very close -- I want that for you and your dad."
Her voice gets soft. "Was Daddy close to his father?"
I honestly don't know how to answer that. I know so little of what Mulder's life was like before Samantha disappeared. Then I remember... "I think they were when he was a little boy. He told me once they were Indian Guides together." She looks at me skeptically -- practically the same look I gave Mulder at the time. "Didn't help him when we were stranded in a forest one night."
"Your fire-starting skills left a lot to be desired too," we hear from the doorway. Mulder and I share a smile at the memory, then he winks at Sara. "Although she does a killer rendition of 'Joy to the World.'"
"You don't have to tell me," Sara giggles, "I've heard her sing."
"All right, you two, that's enough," I tell them, mock- indignant. Sara climbs under the covers as Mulder comes into the room. We both give her goodnight kisses, snap off the lights and go.
Crossing the study, I pause a moment at the leather couch. Mulder comes up behind me and slips his arms around my waist, his mouth at my ear. "Reminiscing?"
I give him a small smile, and he kisses my neck. "Why'd you keep it?"
"Sentimental reasons," he rumbles against my skin, nibbling my earlobe. I lay my hands on top of his and he holds me tighter.
"Never thought of you as sentimental, Mulder." His lips, teeth, tongue on my skin... Jesus, anything that feels this good ought to be illegal.
"Only about some things... about you..." His hands under mine span my stomach, stroking and caressing. "Wanna recreate some memories?"
He tightens his arms around me, holding me closer. I can feel him pressed against me, getting aroused. Already aroused. The heat that's been building since he kissed me this afternoon bubbles up and pools between my legs.
"Not with our daughter in the next room." Was that my voice? Couldn't be. I want this. I want him. I want him so badly...
Mulder rocks his hips against me once, and my sharp intake of breath surprises me. When he releases his hold on me I feel naked, bereft without his warmth against my back. His hands come up to grasp my arms and he turns me around to face him. He leans down and kisses me lightly, whispering, "Downstairs, then."
I nod a little and pull away from him, going down the stairs first. I have to put some distance between us before I lose control completely.
He follows me into the kitchen, coming close even though my back is to him. When I glance at him, I see confusion on his face. "Scully?"
"Would you like some tea?" I wonder if he can hear the forced calm in my voice.
He shakes his head, frowns. "What... Did I do something wrong?"
"No, Mulder, it's... You've touched me, kissed me, more in the last twelve hours than in the last three months, and I just..." For God's sake, Dana, just say it. "You don't kiss me like that in New York."
He's staring at the floor, and I almost miss his response. "I can't kiss you like that in New York."
He looks up at me now, fixing me with that anxious expression I thought I'd seen the last of a long time ago. And suddenly I understand.
"You mean at my apartment." He nods so slightly it barely registers. "Because of..."
He cuts me off, squeezing his eyes shut. "I walk in, Scully, and it's like... it's like he's *there*, watching. Waiting for me to do something, to touch you or... So he can tell me I'm too late, that you're... that you belong to him."
He takes a shuddering breath and finally opens his eyes -- there's so much pain there. Because of me. Because he came home to find me married to another man. I have to make him understand. I step closer, reach out to him.
"No," I whisper. He shakes his head, and I take his face in my hands. "No," I tell him more firmly. My thumbs smooth the lines beneath his eyes, then trail down to brush his lips. He smiles a little, remembering, as I do, unspoken words of promise and devotion. Words I need to speak now. "My heart has always belonged to you. Always."
He turns his head and presses a kiss to my palm. He seems content with this, but there's more I need to tell him. "He knew that, Mulder. He knew."
He looks surprised. "Scully..."
"I need to say it." My voice is stronger than I thought I was capable of. "I know you don't want to hear it, but I need to tell you. I need you to know how it was."
Mulder nods, and I take a half step back, giving us both a little space. He looks into my eyes as I speak -- his expression is soft, affectionate, loving.
"He loved me, and he loved Sara, and he did his best to fill the gap in our lives... Then you came home. And he knew."
"That early-morning phone call at the hospital."
I nod, remembering as if it were yesterday. "He was angry. Jealous. We fought when I got home." Mulder takes my hands in his, strokes his thumbs over my knuckles, encourages me to go on. "When you decided to... to step back, he felt secure. Until Sara's birthday."
He brings my hands to his lips and just holds them there, his mouth pressed to my fingers. "Scully, I didn't mean to..."
I shake my head fiercely. "No, Mulder, you... I had wondered for so long if I'd ever hear from you again. At least I knew that you were still... that you still cared."
"I never stopped caring. Never stopped loving you. Or Sara." God, the way he looks at me. So much love in his eyes. How could I ever doubt how this man feels?
"And we never stopped loving you, Mulder. *I* never..." I wrap my arms around him and hold him close, my head over his heart. I hear him take a shaky breath, and I know he's holding back tears -- so am I. He tightens our embrace, and we stand together in his kitchen, just holding each other.
I didn't intend to get into this tonight, but I should've expected it. Mulder and I have a history of not talking about the important things until it's almost too late, and this has been building since he was returned eight years ago. I smooth my hands up and down his back, letting a sigh escape. "Why can't things ever be easy for us?"
I feel his sad chuckle before I hear it. "Fate?"
"Can't be. Not after everything we've been through, all we've sacrificed."
He smiles and tilts my face up, drops a soft kiss on my forehead. "I like to think we've been rewarded for our sacrifices."
I return his smile, knowing what he means. "Sara."
Mulder nods. "She's the best thing that ever happened to me, Scully," he reaches up to tuck my hair behind my ear, his fingers trailing along my jaw. I lean into his caress as he adds, "Although you run a very close second."
He kisses me, and I snuggle in his arms again. "She loves you so much."
"I love her, too. And you."
It's now or never, Dana. I take a deep breath, then tell him. "She wants to come and live with you."
He doesn't move. For that matter, neither do I. I feel him inhale, then he whispers, "What?"
I lean back to look at him -- his expression is a mixture of surprise, elation, hope, fear, shock. "Sara wants to come and live with you for a while," I tell him with a smile I hope is reassuring. He opens his mouth but nothing comes out, so I fill the silence. "She wants to get to know you, Mulder. I've given it some thought, and I believe this would be good for both of you."
He searches my eyes for any sign I might be being less than honest with him, but I'm not. Watching them today, I realized that their spending more time together can only be a good thing. But concern clouds Mulder's face. "Scully... is everything okay between you two? Sometimes, when their parents aren't together, kids play them against each other -- I don't believe Sara would do that, but..."
"No, she wouldn't -- and everything's fine between us, really. It's just that... having you in her life is still new. It's only been three months, only weekends." I shrug, smiling up at him. "She wants more."
Mulder steps away from me now, moving off into the living room. He runs a hand through his hair and turns back to me -- I can see the self-doubt in his eyes. "Scully, I've been alone for a very long time. What if... what if I can't do this? What if I can't give her what she needs? I mean, don't girls her age need their mothers more than their fathers? Scully... I don't know the first thing about being a father!"
I take hold of his hands and sit him down next to me on the sofa. "Yes you do, Mulder. You love her. That's the most important thing." He tries to get up again, but I don't let go of his hands, keeping him with me. "I think you'd be terrific. But it has to be your decision."
"What about what Sara wants?"
"She knows it's not up to her." I give his hands a squeeze, but it does little to soothe him. "Mulder, I'm not completely without reservations here, but I have total confidence in your ability as a father and your devotion to Sara."
He's relieved, pleased that I have faith in him, and nods slightly. That seems to be all he needs for now -- his eyes drift shut, and I can see how weary he is. I reach up to caress his cheek and he leans into my touch. "Sorry to drop this on you so suddenly -- she told me on the ferry this afternoon."
Mulder laughs a little, his eyes still closed. "That's our girl."
My fingers stroke lightly over his face, his eyelids, his forehead. He sighs, and I lean in to kiss him. It's a sweet kiss, gentle, not like we shared earlier. I think we're both just too damn tired for anything else. I end it and stand, bringing him with me. "Get some sleep," I tell him. "Think it over, and we'll talk about it again before we say anything to Sara."
He nods, fixes me with a sleepy gaze and a lopsided grin, then wraps his arms around me. I rest my head on his shoulder, becoming aware of my own fatigue, then he tightens our embrace.
"I'm afraid, Scully." His lips are at my ear but I barely hear his whisper. "I didn't have the best role models as parents, you know? What if I screw everything up? What if..." He takes a deep breath, and his voice seems to get impossibly softer. "What if she hates me?"
How can he think that's even a possibility? My hands smooth up his back, and I turn my head so I can place a kiss on his throat. Then I lean back a little, so he can see my eyes, and I can see his. "Mulder... Don't you know by now how that little girl feels about you? She... she could no more hate you than I could."
I watch his shifting expressions as the truth of what I said sinks in. There's still a lot of self-doubt there, but it wars with the happiness I know he's feeling. He gives me a loving smile and threads his fingers through my hair. "Have I ever said thank you for her?"
It was the last thing he said to me, in his hospital room eight years ago. Tears threatening, I nod. "But I never have." I pull him close again, going up on my toes and drawing his head level with mine, and with my lips at his ear I whisper, "Thank you, Mulder, so much..."
We tighten our embrace once more, holding on to each other as if our lives depended on it. How many times in our past was that really the case? How many times did I hold him, sick or injured? How many times did he hold me? Yet how long did it take until we realized the depth of our feelings for each other?
We finally let each other go, and I stretch up again to kiss him. My hand rests on his chest, and I can feel his heart beating beneath it. I only intended this as a goodnight kiss, brief and affectionate, but I deepen it myself. Our tongues touch and explore as our hands massage and caress. God, I've missed this, missed kissing him, missed his talented mouth on mine.
Mulder ends the kiss and holds me, stroking my hair and breathing hard. "Scully, I... Go on upstairs." I look up at him, confusion evident in my eyes. He presses his lips to my forehead, and I can feel them moving as he speaks. "I need to think about this thing with Sara, and you... When we're together again, I want to focus on *you*."
I've been the focus of Mulder's attention, desire and passion before, and I want that again. So I force myself to push away from him. His hands trail down my arms, taking hold of my hands as I walk backwards toward the stairs. His eyes sweep over me and he grins, a seductive quirk of his lips. I return it, adding a slow wink before turning to go upstairs.
Aside from the glorious sunrise streaming in through the windows, the first sight that greets me when I come downstairs bright and early this Sunday morning is Fox Mulder -- lying on his back on the sofa, wearing flannel pajama bottoms, legs crossed at the ankle, arms folded over his bare chest, sleeping peacefully. Why he's sleeping here, when he's got a perfectly comfy-looking king-size bed in the other room, is a mystery to me.
I can't help the slow grin that overtakes me as I watch him sleep. His silky hair has tumbled onto his forehead, and not even the strands of gray can detract from the resulting little- boy look. His full lips purse reflexively, his tongue darting out to moisten them, and I want nothing more than to follow it back into his mouth. I steal a glance down his body, pausing at the bulge I knew I'd find. It's been more than thirteen years since I last made love with this man, and I remember it as if it were yesterday... every look, every touch, every sound. I want him again, now, just as I did all those years ago.
Shifting my gaze back to his face, I move to kneel on the floor next to the sofa. I reach out and brush the hair from his forehead, letting my fingers comb through it slowly. I did that a lot when he was in the hospital, those three days he was unconscious after he was returned. I'd hoped he would find it as soothing as I did -- I needed the contact then, needed to touch him, to reassure myself that he was real.
As I touch him now he sighs, and his breathing shifts. He's waking up. I continue my gentle movements, waiting for him. After just a few minutes, his lips form a slow grin and his eyes open a few millimeters. I'm the first thing he sees, and I give him a smile.
"You are so beautiful," he murmurs, and I look away, suddenly shy. He trails a finger along my inner arm, bringing my eyes back to him. "You are." He means it, too. That Mulder can still find me beautiful, after all these years and at my age, amazes me.
We keep up our soft touches as he comes to full waking, then I have to know. "Mulder, why are you on the sofa?"
He gives a little shrug. "Couldn't sleep."
"You were doing fine a few minutes ago."
"Till you woke me up." I notice his tiny grin and return it.
"Sorry. Couldn't help myself."
His eyes drift shut again. "That feels nice." I begin to wonder if he's gone back to sleep, until he whispers, "Tell the truth, Scully. You weren't really checking me for head trauma all those times, were you?"
I laugh a little. "Not *all* those times, no. Sometimes it was just an excuse."
He looks up at me now, his eyes soft and smiling. "You never needed an excuse, Scully."
I want to kiss him. I want to kiss him now, and never stop kissing him. But I just keep moving my fingers through his hair. Keep shivering at the touch of his fingers gliding up and down my arm.
"Why couldn't you sleep?"
"Thinking too much, I guess." He shrugs again. "Sometimes it's easier out here, or on the couch upstairs."
"Some things never change."
Then we hear the biggest change in both our lives -- Sara. She comes bounding down the stairs, Spooky on her heels. "Morning, Mom!" She looks surprised when she spots Mulder on the sofa. "Hi, Daddy. I'm gonna take Spooky out before she tinkles on the floor," she says as she attaches the dog's leash. "Kisses when I come back!" And she's out the door.
Mulder and I exchange a look.
"Hurricane Sara strikes," I tell him with a smile. I mean it as a joke, but then I remember another hurricane, a real one, a lifetime ago. A time when I almost lost him. My smile fades quickly and all I want to do right now is hold him, cherish him... kiss him. So I do. It isn't a particularly long kiss, but it's tender and passionate.
Ending the kiss, I lean down to rest my head on his chest. His arms come up around me, and he runs his fingers through my hair. "What was that for?"
I raise my head and give him a tiny grin. Then I stand up and offer him a hand. "Go shower. I'll make coffee." He lets me pull him to his feet and kisses me again, then heads off toward the bedroom.
By the time Mulder comes out, in khakis and a sweater, his hair still damp from the shower, I've made a good start on breakfast and Sara's setting the table. He stops next to her and gives her a hug. "Morning, Daddy!" she says as she hugs him back. She's been calling him that more and more. I'm glad.
Mulder drops a kiss into Sara's thick hair. "Morning, Sweetheart." He takes in our activity, glances at me. "What's going on, ladies?"
I give him The Eyebrow and play innocent. "What are you talking about?"
He comes into the kitchen and wraps his arms around my waist, nuzzling my neck as I flip a pancake. "You're making breakfast, Sara's setting the table. You two are supposed to be my guests..."
Sara pipes up, interrupting with, "We're not guests, Dad, we're *family*."
Mulder looks from her to me, giving us both warm smiles. I glance at Sara, nodding slightly. She quickly darts upstairs and Mulder looks at me, surprised. "Scully..."
"It's a special day, Mulder."
"It's Sunday." He still doesn't get it, so I give him another hint.
"It's the thirteenth."
At that, Sara flies down the stairs, a festively wrapped package in her hand, and throws her arms around Mulder again. "Happy Birthday, Daddy!"
Mulder laughs as she pulls him down for a kiss. Smiling, I just watch them until he catches my eye, then I whisper, "Happy Birthday."
I can count on one hand the times we celebrated each other's birthdays when we worked together. My gifts to him have faded from my memory, but I still carry the Apollo 11 keychain he gave me during our fourth year, just after my cancer was diagnosed. And I learned to appreciate baseball in his arms one summer night, a very late or very early gift from one Fox Mantle. This year, though, I'm going to make his special -- for both of them.
I scoop the last pancake off the griddle, popping it into the oven with the rest, and join them at the table as Mulder tears into the wrapping. Sara glances over at me, then comes to stand close, her arm around my shoulders. Mulder opens the hinged box and lets out a gasp -- the watch is beautiful, elegantly crafted, perfect for him. He looks up at us both, his mouth hanging open.
"Do you like it?" Sara whispers, excitement pouring off her.
Mulder's still at a loss for words. "It's... Sara, I... it's..."
"*Daddy*! Do you *like* it?"
He smiles at her, a full, joyous smile. "I love it, Sweetheart. It's the most beautiful..."
"It's engraved on the back." I glance up at her -- this is something I didn't know about, and I make a mental note to find out when she had that done. Mulder turns the watch over and reads the inscription aloud.
"To FWM, we love you, DKS and SAM." He looks at both of us, his eyes glistening. "I love you, too."
Sara moves to him and he pulls her onto his lap. Their arms wrapped around each other, I think they're both trying not to cry. They're not alone in that.
Breakfast is leisurely, and we use the time to plan our day. The only thing we have definitely scheduled is dinner, and Mulder is impressed with our choice of restaurant. We decide to spend the rest of the day exploring and sightseeing.
We rent bicycles and ride up to the lighthouse at the northernmost tip of the island. We wander the boardwalk in Oak Bluffs, playing carnival games and riding the antique carousel. We drive to West Tisbury and Chilmark, so Sara can see where her father grew up. We try unsuccessfully to find the beaches where Steven Spielberg filmed 'Jaws.' All day and at dinner Mulder revels in the chance to show us off, beaming as he introduces us every time we run into someone he knows.
Sara says goodnight almost as soon as we get home -- the day has worn her out. I offer to take Spooky for a walk while Mulder tucks her in. I want to give them some time alone, so the dog and I stroll down to the shoreline. I slip off my shoes and squish my toes in the wet sand -- Spooky loves this, and she runs into the water as far as the leash will let her.
By the time we turn back, Mulder is standing at the water's edge behind the house. He stares out toward the ocean, hands in his pockets, bare feet getting wet. Spooky barks once when she sees him, tail wagging furiously. When we reach him he takes her leash from me, kisses my cheek and whispers, "Be right back." I watch as he takes the dog into the house and comes back out carrying a blanket. He lays it on the sand a few yards up from the shoreline, then reaches out his hand to me.
We settle on the blanket together, him lying on his side facing me. I'm sitting up, arms wrapped around my knees, watching the waves roll in. I shiver a little in the cool night breeze.
I nod and he moves closer, not quite touching but close enough that I can feel the heat coming off him. I shiver again, but it has nothing to do with the temperature. I look into his eyes as he traces a finger down my arm, and I'm taken aback at the intensity of the desire I see there. He moves even closer, his lips joining his fingers along my arm, and I can't stop the low moan that escapes me. I can feel him smile against my skin, then a gentle pressure on my shoulder as he lays me down next to him.
He leaves a trail of wet kisses up my arm to my throat, his hand slipping underneath my sweater to caress my stomach. I feel frozen, incredibly aroused but unable to do anything beyond reacting to what Mulder is doing to me. I want to touch him, to feel his skin against mine, but I can't move -- not until he shifts on the blanket to hover over me, his knee parting mine. His hand moves higher to stroke the underside of my breast through the satin, and suddenly my paralysis is broken. I pull him closer, drawing his sweatshirt up and clutching at his back. My hips grind against his and I can feel him, already aroused.
His mouth continues its worship of my throat while his fingers tease my breasts, and I'm certain I'll die soon if he doesn't kiss me... touch me... make love to me. Finally, *finally* he raises up, looking at me with a feral intensity I'd forgotten he was capable of. I hear him whisper, "Love you, Scully," then his mouth covers mine, his tongue plunging inside as his hips rock against me. God, I want this man.
But when his hand leaves my breast and moves to the button on my pants, I stop him. "Mulder, no... not here." He looks around, as if just remembering that we're lying on the beach, then his eyes return to mine, a mix of desire and apology there. "I want to, I do, just..."
"Not here. Inside."
"Yes." He kisses me again, and helps me to my feet. I grab the blanket as Mulder pulls me toward the house.
He takes my hand and leads me into the bedroom, locking the door behind us. Then it's almost like he starts over -- he draws me close and cradles my face in his hands, kissing me gently, his tongue teasing at my lips. I deepen the kiss as he wraps his arms around me, pulling me against him. He moves us toward the bed and we drop onto it, essentially resuming our positions from before. My hands are more active this time, shoving his sweatshirt out of the way and trailing my nails up his back. My leg moves to hold him to me as his fingers work the button on my pants. He unfastens it and begins to draw the zipper down -- suddenly my hand is on his wrist, stopping him.
Mulder raises up and looks at me, questioning. "Scully? If you don't..."
"No, Mulder, I do, really, I... I'm just a little nervous." He smiles gently, giving me time to figure out what's going on in my head. "It's been a long time since you and I were together last... we're older, things have changed..."
He leans down and kisses me softly, stroking my face. "Scully, you know I could never think of you as anything but beautiful." I glance away, but his finger under my chin brings my gaze back to him. "I'm older too, you know," he grins. "I have more gray hair than you, more wrinkles..." I reach up and trace the lines on his face, run my fingers through the silk of his hair. He kisses me again, then stands up.
I sit up and watch as Mulder pulls off his sweatshirt. He tosses it aside and just stands there a moment while I look at him -- yes, he's a little older. A little heavier. There's a sprinkling of gray in his chest hair. But he's still Mulder. He's still the man I love.
He reaches out a hand to me -- I take it, let him draw me to my feet. He begins to unbutton my sweater, keeping his eyes locked with mine as he does. When he finishes he slips it off, letting his hands caress my shoulders. He kisses me, our tongues touching lightly, then he steps back. Waiting.
I give him a hesitant smile, then reach behind and unclasp my bra. I let it drop to the floor, looking away from him. Between the drooping and the stretch marks, I'm afraid he'll be disappointed. I realize I shouldn't have been when I hear his choked whisper.
I look into his eyes then, and all I see is love. And I believe him.
He comes close again, brings my hands to the button on his jeans. I can feel him beneath the denim, hot and hard, as I slowly pull the zipper down. I push his jeans off his hips, then stroke him through his boxers. He gasps at the contact, and a shudder runs through him. He grabs my wrist and pulls my hand away, his eyes shut tight.
"Don't." He exhales slowly, then tells me, "It's... it's been a long time, Scully, I... I want..."
I kiss him, and he opens his eyes. He smiles, knows I understand. I guide his hands to the waistband of my pants, where he was before. He unzips them and slips his hand inside. It's my turn to shudder when his fingers venture under the elastic of my panties.
"What, Scully? Tell me what you want."
"You... I want you."
Between us we make short work of our remaining clothes, then we're on the bed again, our mouths and hands everywhere. His hands on my breasts. My mouth on his jaw. His fingers parting my folds. My hand stroking his erection.
His tongue swirls around the tight peaks of my nipples, and he kisses his way down my body. I know where he's headed and I want him there, need to feel his mouth on me... but I need to feel him inside me more.
I tug on his hair and urge him away from his downward path. His weight covering me is welcome, and he kisses me deeply, full of the passion I remember so well. But he surprises me by rolling us over so that I'm straddling him. It takes me a few seconds, but then I understand -- he wants this to last, and it takes longer for him to come in this position. Besides, he once told me he liked to watch my body when I move above him.
I raise up on my knees and guide him to my opening, then slowly take him inside me. The memories come flooding back, memories of every time we made love. I've missed this. Missed him.
"Oh, God, Mulder."
"Scully... you feel..."
"I love you."
I think I've surprised him. I never actually said that while we were making love. Sometimes after, sometimes before, sometimes when we were nowhere near the bed -- but never before with him inside me.
Mulder nods a little and smiles. He runs his hands up my arms to my shoulders, then pulls me down to him and kisses me. It's a passionate kiss, full of love and desire, promise and devotion.
I end the kiss and lean back, and he raises his knees behind me for support. Then I start to move -- slowly at first, then faster as we find our rhythm. He begins to thrust upward, matching and countering my movements. He caresses my breasts, squeezes them. Our thrusts and counter-thrusts pick up speed -- I reach down to where we're joined, feeling him glide in and out of me. My touch there sends a shiver through us both, and I can feel my release approaching.
Instinctively Mulder begins to thrust harder, faster. One hand joins mine at my center, while the other rolls and pinches my nipples. Then he starts to whisper to me. Amazing, even after all this time, he still knows just what I need.
"God, Scully... you're so beautiful... come on, baby, that's it... let me see you come..."
With a hand behind my neck he pulls me toward him, changing the angle of penetration just enough. Then he thrusts up into me, hard, grinding our fingers against me -- and I'm soaring. Quaking above him. Screaming his name.
Mulder barely moves until my orgasm has almost subsided, but when he does it's sudden. He rolls us over again and braces himself above me -- that passionate intensity is back in his eyes. I wrap my legs around him as he begins to move -- again, slowly at first, then faster and faster, harder and harder, until he's pounding into me and I'm just hanging on for the ride, urging him toward his own climax.
And when he comes, he screams my name.
Some time later, after he's spooned up behind me, Mulder wants to talk. Of course, he wants to kiss my shoulder, too.
"I love you."
"I love you, too."
"I've thought about it, Scully... and I want to." I'm not sure what he's talking about, so I roll over a little so I can see his face. I quirk an eyebrow and he smiles. "Sara. I want her to come live with me."
I return his smile, glad he's come to this decision. "Good."
"I know there are things to work out, but I want this."
I kiss him softly, trying to let him know how happy I am for him. Then I turn over again and snuggle back against him. He tightens his arms around me and goes back to kissing my neck.
I glance back at him, eyebrow raised. "Mulder..."
"Marry me, Scully."
Now I turn over to face him. Part of me hopes he's kidding. Part of me knows he's completely serious.
"I love you, Scully, and I want us to be together. You, me, Sara -- I want us to be a real family."
I don't know how to respond to him. The first time he said it, fifteen years ago, it was a joke. The second time, when he came home, I was married to someone else. Now... now, I just don't know.
Mulder sees the confusion in my eyes and lets me off the hook -- for now. "Don't say anything now, okay, just think about it. Think about Sara, how it would be for her if the three of us were together..." He grins, trails a finger lightly down my chest. "Think about you and me, how good we are... how right it feels between us..." He leans down to kiss me, whispering into my mouth. "Then say yes."
When he ends the kiss, he molds his body to mine again. Before long I can hear his breathing slow as he falls asleep. But I can't sleep. Because I know now what my answer will be.
I slip out of Mulder's bed while he's still asleep. I make coffee and take a cup out onto the back porch, settling on the swing and watching the sun rise. I have no idea how to do this, how to tell him.
Sooner than I expect, the sliding door opens and he comes out, sipping coffee and running a hand through his hair. He doesn't sit down right away, just watches me from the door.
"I woke up alone this morning."
"I was hoping to put that behind me."
I close my eyes as he comes closer. "Sorry." He sits down next to me, close but not touching. "Mulder..."
"You're saying no, aren't you."
It's all I can do to nod. I still can't look at him.
That's my Mulder, cutting right to the chase. But it's also the part I'm not sure I can explain.
"Why?" He's insistent, almost demanding an answer. I take a deep breath and try to give him one.
"You said... you said to think about Sara."
"Sara wants us to be together."
"So do I, Mulder."
"Then why..." He shakes his head, tilts my chin up to look at him. "Explain it to me, Scully."
I can't look at him and do this, I have to put some distance between us. Without having to see the pain in his eyes, I figure out how to make him understand.
"Why did you disappear from our lives eight years ago?"
"Is that what this is about? Are you still angry?"
"No, Mulder, I'm not, I swear." And I'm not. I haven't been for a long time. I turn to face him now and ask again. "Just tell me why."
He's still puzzled, but he answers me. "I wanted to do what was best for Sara, and for you."
"So you walked away."
"Yes, but Scully, that wasn't my first choice."
I nod, glancing away from him again. "I know, and I'm sorry for that. But that's why I have to say no." He shakes his head, and I sit next to him again. "Mulder, I... I deprived you of your daughter. And I deprived Sara of her father. I want to give some of that back, to both of you."
Realization overtakes him suddenly. He understands what I'm doing. Why I'm doing it. He doesn't like it, but he'll accept it. But I have to tell him something else.
I take his hand in mine. "I hope you'll ask again someday. Because I do want to say yes."
He gives me a small, sad smile, then brings my hand to his lips. "Count on it."
The sliding door opens behind us and Sara steps out, bringing Spooky with her. "You guys are up early." She looks from him to me and back again. "What's wrong?"
I can't do this. I can't watch her excitement when I tell her she can move in with Mulder. And Mulder knows this. He gives my hand a squeeze, then turns to Sara.
"C'mon, Sweetheart, let's take Spooky for a walk."
She hesitates, seeing tears in my eyes. "Mom?"
Mulder gets up and holds out a hand to her. "It's okay, Sara, Mom just needs a minute." Still watching me, she finally takes his hand and they move off toward the beach.
I know in my heart I'm doing the right thing. I'm giving them a chance to get to know each other. To be together. To be a real father and daughter.
Doesn't make it any easier.
END NOTES: Yes, there'll be at least one more story about this little family.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has a program called Project ALERT, in which retired law enforcement officers work with NCMEC in their efforts to locate and recover missing children. I don't know if the work I've given Mulder is something NCMEC actually does; it works for my purposes, and is something I can see him doing once he leaves the FBI. For more information about NCMEC, go to http://www.missingkids.org.
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