NOTE: This is a WIP -- I reserve the right to mess with, abuse, fold, spindle and mutilate it as I go. And I will; you know I will.
Many thanks to everyone I inflicted this on, including: Amy, Dee, Weyo, Syn, and Euphrosyne.
Along with a Volvo wagon, half an acre of prime-ish Virginia real estate, something small and fluffy that yapped a lot and almost passed for a dog, and a new haircut, Scully had, in my absence, acquired the sudden conviction that breakfast was the most important meal of the day.
I'd been back for nine weeks, up and actually moving around for about five of those, and our early morning routine had been more or less the same: I made coffee, poured the OJ, put some milk in a sippy cup, and alternately stared at and picked at a bowl full of some cereal that tasted like I'd have been better off chewing on the box; Scully had one slice of the thinnest whole wheat toast I'd ever seen, smeared with something approximating - but definitely not - butter, and a handful of vitamins; and William made odd noises and steadfastly refused to eat anything put in front of him. It wasn't perfect, but it worked for us, more or less.
But as I made my way down the stairs, trying to avoid both boy and dog toys, I could tell that morning was going to be different: that morning, I could smell bacon.
Mrs. Scully was standing at the came-with-the-house green stove, flipping pancakes and very quietly disagreeing with Scully about something. Scully was scowling at her plate, and very quietly disagreeing with her mother.
"It won't kill him," Mrs. Scully said.
"That's not the point, Mom."
"It didn't kill you, either."
"And that's not the point. The point is he's my son and I've decided-"
"Morning," I said, and slid as inconspicuously as I could manage into the chair opposite Scully.
"Good morning, Fox." Mrs. Scully turned and smiled me a big fake smile. "Do *you* want bacon?"
The answer was yes, but I was pretty sure the question was rigged. I stole a glance at Scully, hoping she'd slip me the answer scrawled on the back of her hall-pass, but William was keeping her otherwise occupied.
"Maybe a little?" seemed like a reasonable compromise.
No sooner were the words out of my mouth than Mrs. Scully placed a plate of pancakes, eggs, and about half a pig in front of me. I swear I felt the earth move; it was, no doubt, every single one of my dad's ancestors spinning in their graves.
"Thank you, Mrs. Scully." I caught Scully's eye this time. One side of her mouth twitched. She was not happy. "That's, um, that's a lot of bacon."
"Oh, don't worry, Fox, it's not even real bacon. It's turkey bacon." She flipped another pancake. "And it doesn't look like anyone else is going to be eating any, anyway, so someone might as well keep it from going to waste."
"Oh." Hoisting a strip, I dangled it at arm's length. In my best conspiratorial tone, I whispered, "Which part of the turkey does the bacon come from, Scully?"
"Have some?" William asked holding out his hand.
"No, sweetie." Scully turned her attention back to the highchair and cut William's food into even smaller pieces with the side of her fork. "Eat your pancakes."
"Please I have some?"
"You know, he had turkey at Thanksgiving," Mrs. Scully said. "He survived."
"Mom. . ." Scully rolled her eyes. "William, open your mouth."
William, soul of co-operation that he always is, obliged in his own fashion. "BLAH!"
"BLAH BLAH BLAH!" William replied, tongue hanging out, left hand in the puddle of syrup on his plate.
Scully shot me the don't-encourage-him look that she'd been perfecting through practice lately. "That's very silly, William," she said in the same pin-prick tone she used for deflating all my really cool theories. "Now put your tongue back inside your mouth where it belongs, please."
I went back to pouring syrup on my pancakes, but had to wonder; if I didn't 'encourage' William, who was going to? Even my dad - who had either been genuinely evil or woefully misguided - knew the prepubescent importance of a well-timed fart joke. A guy didn't learn these things on his own, and we were getting a late start.
I wasn't sure Scully understood that. Any of it. Something else to add to the long, long list of things we had to talk about, but weren't.
"Eat nicely, William," Mrs. Scully said from her place at the stove, "or Grandma won't be able to take you to the zoo."
Scully scowled. She disapproved of 'coercing' William, and spouted the exact same drivel about 'choices' and 'logical consequences' I'd had spouted at me back in DevPsych201, lo, those many years ago. Be that as is may, every two-bit psychologist, marine drill sergeant, interrogator, kindergarten teacher - and apparently, grandmother - knew that sometimes, coercion was your best approach: William immediately opened his mouth.
"Good boy," Mrs. Scully said, without turning. How long did you have to be a mother before the eyes in the back of your head became fully functional, I wondered. I sent myself a mental memo to call Doggett and get him and Reyes on that one, ASAP: clearly, it was an X-File.
I chewed and swallowed and watched Scully attempt to get a another forkful of food into William, watched him evade her efforts and toss a chunk of mushy pancake to the almost-dog, watched the almost-dog attack the sticky lump of goo with feral glee, and I tried not to think about not thinking about the X-Files. They'd been my life for so long. Or, more to the point, I'd thought of them as a life for so long. A house, a family, fake bacon, wet Saturdays in the sub-sub-suburbs - turns out this is what I'd worked all those years for. What I'd fought for. Died fo-
Something in my chest tightened. I sucked in a breath. Then anoth-
The antiseptic smell of a hospital bed. A snarl of wires and tubes tethering me to the wall of monitors buzzing and bleeping around me. Scully over me, her eyes red and her stomach distended, holding my hand and gently, carefully, telling me-
I'd been dead.
"Coffee, Fox?" Mrs. Scully asked, abruptly yanking me back from the edge of my own private rabbit hole.
"Um," I replied brilliantly. I picked up my empty mug. It was smooth and solid and cool to the touch, decorated with ugly grey flowers.
I exhaled, relieved. I had to be alive, awake; I'd never deliberately imagine myself living in a house with such a girly coffee cup.
"Mulder?" Scully's voice was soft with concern. "You okay?"
"Yes. Coffee, please." I nodded. "Sorry, I was just daydreaming."
Scully didn't believe me, but she didn't call me on it either, and I was grateful. The last thing I wanted to get into in front of Mrs. Scully was my mental health, or profound lack thereof.
"Is that mug okay, Fox?" Mrs. Scully asked. "Is it cracked or something?"
"Mug's fine." I put it down, flicked the rim with my nail. "Just fine."
"I was surprised."
I'd been working my way through the pile of food on my plate and trying to decide what kind of dishes we'd have if it were up to me. I'd settled on something with a tasteful Yankees logo certain in the knowledge that that was never going to happen. I dropped a strip of not-bacon on the floor for the not-dog, who looked grateful. Yay, me.
I'd had a Yankees mug, before. There was a tiny chip on the rim that I caught my lip on almost every time I used it. I had meant to throw it out, but some bout of sentimentality I couldn't even explain to myself kept me from ever going through with it. I wondered briefly what had happened to it, what had happened to all the crap I'd hastily dumped in boxes before I left. I hadn't asked; Scully hadn't volunteered.
I looked up.
Mrs. Scully stood at the sink washing dishes. The house had been built in the 20's and hadn't been updated since avocado green appliances seemed like a cool idea and dishwashers hadn't been standard. From what I could gather, 'dishwasher' was number one on Scully's list of renovation priorities, even above 'taps that don't drip' and 'windows that both open and close'.
"I said I was surprised when Dana told me she was buying this house." She turned, her hands still in the sink, and gave a half-shrug. "Well, when she told me she'd already bought this house."
I blinked a couple of times and scratched my cheek, stalling. Truth was, I'd been surprised, myself. Before I left, I'd liquidated all my assets - my parents' possessions, stocks, bonds, some real estate that had been in the family for years and that, as the last Mulder standing, I'd been able to dump - and handed it all over to Scully. I'd told her to do something with it, something for herself and for William, something to ensure their future. In my wildest dreams, I'd never expected 'something' to be this.
"Oh," I said, shooting for neutral.
"Dana's always been such a city kid," she went on.
"I can see that." I took another sip of coffee, emptied the cup, wondered where this conversation was going and how I could gracefully get out of it.
She stood on tiptoe, peered out the window, frowned. "This isn't exactly the city, Fox."
I couldn't argue with that. If *city* had an opposite, Stanton was it. Although technically the same distance from Quantico as Scully's Georgetown apartment had been, it could just as easily have been on the other side of the world. Until recently, most of the area around here had been farmland. Yuppie sprawl - big houses on broad streets with bad names - was changing that in a hurry, though. This place was still a little off the beaten path, but I didn't think it would be long before developers had their way with it, too.
"No," I said. "No, it's not."
"My parents had a place in the country when they retired," she said after a moment. "Not a farm or anything, just a couple of acres with a pond, some ducks and chickens, fruit trees, that kind of thing. The kids spent a lot of summers there. Melissa and the boys loved it, but not Dana. She endured it, but she couldn't wait to get home." She rinsed and set another dish in the drain board and suddenly I realized I was just sitting there. My mother would have been appalled.
I stood, pushing my half-finished food away. Any appetite I'd had was gone, anyway. "Mrs. Scully, let me help y-"
She waved me off, so I sat back down. Shit.
"Dana always enjoyed having everything close by - shopping, museums, nice restaurants -"
"There's a McDonalds in Greyson," I supplied. "And there's got be a Denny's around here someplace. I think there's a federal law."
She chuckled and rinsed the last of the dishes. "Things are different once you have children, though." She took a towel from the drawer and began drying and stacking the plates and bowls in neat piles on the counter. "Your priorities change. They have to."
Never let it be said that the obvious doesn't elude me at every turn. I finally got a clue. We weren't talking about shopping or fine dining or Scully, for that matter; we were talking about me.
I set down my fork. "Yes, they do," I agreed after a moment, wishing I sounded as convinced about that fact as I felt. It was a difficult to manage with stomach full of vomiting butterflies, though. "They - they have changed."
She turned and pinned me with an all-too familiar stare. "I'm sure they have, Fox," she said in a way that made it clear there was nothing she had ever been less sure of.
I cleared my throat. "Mrs. Scully, I-"
"You're finished," she said and nodded toward my plate, but I knew she wasn't talking about my breakfast.
"I-," I began, but her expression told me there was no point. I wasn't sure what the crime was, but I'd been charged, tried, convicted and hanged.
I was a guilty man.
I rose as she swept my dishes away.
"Yeah, I'm finished."
I found Scully in William's room practicing her WWE moves. William wore an undershirt, a diaper, one sock and a scowl, and was doing his best to escape Scully's imaginative variation on the Walls of Jericho hold.
"William, please hold still."
"William, you have to put this sock on."
"I don't like socks!"
"You have to wear them," she answered. "If you don't, your feet will smell bad."
I leaned against the doorjamb. I was never sure if or when I was supposed to add my cent-and-a-half to these little differences of opinion, but, as someone who'd been wearing socks most of his life, this seemed like a matter I could safely weigh in on. "Put on your sock, William."
He stopped squirming and looked up, surprised. "Why?" he demanded.
"Because grandma can't take you to the zoo if you don't have socks. You have to have socks for the zoo. That's the rule."
William frowned. "Lions don't got socks."
"Um, well..." He had me there. " "Over to you, Scully."
"Geez, thanks," she replied with a strained smile. If looks could kill, I'd be dead again. "You, young man, are not a lion. You're a William."
"I am a lion, mommy," he insisted. "Rrrrrrrwr!"
"Fine," she agreed over the roaring. She finally got the second sock on him and reached for the overalls that had fallen from the bed to the floor. "You're a lion. A lion in socks. Now how about we try for a lion in pants?"
Scully rolled her eyes, but only made it about half way around the well-worn track when she stopped and looked at me.
"Everything okay, Mulder?"
"Your hand bothering you?"
I shook my head, glanced at all the chips and gouges in the doorframe that were only half-hidden by layer after layer of paint. "Hand's fine."
"O-kay," she said without conviction, and went back to her wrestling.
I stood there for a moment, silent, searching for words. Finally I spoke. "Scully, what did you tell your mom?"
"When I left. What did you tell her?"
"Oh." She hesitated a moment and licked her lips. "I, ah, I told her what I told everyone else."
I don't know why that surprised, or hurt, me. We'd regularly said harsher things to one another on an almost daily basis at one time. The news landed like a .45 to the gut, anyway. "You what?"
She smoothed the Velcro straps on Will's shoe into place and cast me a quick glance. "Do we have to do this right this moment?"
"I, I - yes," I insisted. "Yes, we do."
"Fine." She frowned. "Yes, I told her the same thing I told everyone else. That you left me. Isn't that what we agreed to?" she asked, trying to get Will's left shoe on. "What you insisted on, in fact?"
I felt my blood pressure rise and drew two shallow breaths trying to tamp in back down. I was not going to lose my temper. I was not going to be-
"That story," I said in careful, even tones, "was intended for the general public, Scully."
"My mother isn't part of the general public?"
"You know what I mean."
"No, I don't. That story, as I recall, was intended to protect the general public," she answered. "I wasn't going to endanger her - or you - by not having my story straight."
"Shi-," I muttered, and got the death-glare before I could finish.
"There, you're all dressed," she told William brightly and set him on the floor. "Why don't you go play with your zoo animals in the study for a bit, okay?"
William trotted to the room next to his, a spare bedroom Scully had set up as a combination office/playroom and then inexplicably dubbed *The Study.* She watched him leave, then looked back up at me. Her smile faded. "What was I supposed to tell her? That we had a line on stopping alien colonization and you had to take off for a while?"
"Why not?" I demanded. "It's the truth."
Scully sighed. "Not everyone appreciates the truth quite the way you do, Mulder."
I could feel my pulse throbbing in my injured hand. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"Mulder, I had a six day old son-"
"We had a six day old son," I corrected through gritted teeth.
"No. *I* had a six day old son, Mulder. You'd been gone for almost six months before his birth, and when you showed back up, you weren't exactly handing out cigars. And trust me, I had a very hard time selling my mother that *he wasn't dead, he was really undercover and we had to fake his death* story when you did reappear. To say she was suspicious would be putting it very mildly. In her mind, your being dead was excusable; being away for any other reason wasn't."
I inhaled slowly and swallowed down the bile making its way into my throat. Dead. I'd been dead. I was-
"That. Wasn't. My. Fault." I ground out.
She seemed to deflate. "No, it wasn't. And I'm not blaming you. I know you had no control over what happened to you in Bellefleur, Mulder. I know that wasn't a choice you made. But I couldn't very well tell her I'd accidentally buried you, either. You were gone, and I was pregnant, and I was putting a brave face on it, trying to make a show of getting on with my life. And then, suddenly, you were back, and just as suddenly, it seemed, you were gone again. I'd just had a baby - your baby - and you took off. At that point, Mom wasn't going to believe anything but what she wanted to, least of all that you were off saving the world, so I just let her think what she wanted to think, and what she wanted to think was the worst."
I thought it through. It made sense. An ugly, twisted kind of sense, the way ugly, twisted things so often did. But -
"You knew I was coming back, Scully."
"No," she said very quietly. She shook her head and her eyes went to the window across the room. "I hoped you were coming back. I wanted you to come back." She paused and pushed a rogue strand of hair back into place, her hand trembling as she did so. "I believed you'd do everything you could to get back. But God, Mulder, even we could only beat the odds so many times."
I didn't know what to say. "Oh."
"I just didn't want to get my hopes up." She held her top lip between her teeth a moment, then rubbed the tip of her nose. "You - you know how that is."
Yes, I knew. I knew all too well. It was the feeling I got every time I looked at her, or reached for William, or closed my eyes, afraid to open them again for fear it would all be gone. And she'd been doing it all this time without benefit of drugs. What a gal.
"Yeah." I nodded. "Yeah, I do know. So what, uh, what did you tell her this time? When you came out to get me?"
Scully smoothed her hands down her denim-covered thighs and up again. "I told her you were in New Mexico, that you'd been injured in an explosion, that you'd been in a coma for a number of weeks, that you'd suffered some amnesia. I told her there was no one else to look after you, no one else to care for you, and that I was bringing you back here to recuperate."
"All true," I said, and tried to smile. Scully tried to smile back. "What did she say to that?"
She sighed again. "She told me I was a fool."
No surprise there, either. Mrs. Scully had barely tolerated me at the best of times. But it only compounded the frustration and guilt I already felt. "I'm sorry, Scul-"
She shook her head. "No. We've both been sorry enough for awhile, all right? Just, just enough, okay?"
I nodded. Nothing was resolved, but this was as close to a real conversation as we'd come in a long time. I thought maybe we were finally making some progress, toward what I wasn't sure. "Okay."
William picked that moment to charge back in, roaring his lion- wearing-socks-and-pants roar.
I scooped him up. "No lions in the house!" I told him, and started tickling his tummy.
"Hey, put me down!" he shrieked between giggles.
"Dana," Mrs. Scully called up from the first floor, "Mark's here. Is William ready?"
"Yeah, Mom, just a second."
Scully joined us in the doorway and I wondered, suddenly, why I hadn't gone to her, why I hadn't sat down next to her on the bed, held her hand, kissed her. Why I had to be such a coward over the simplest things.
"Come on, William, let's go," she said, taking him from my arms and swinging him onto her left hip. "Grandma's ready to take you to the zoo."
"Scully, wait." I caught her by the arm. "You - you're not a fool."
She nodded, but she didn't look at me. "I know that, Mulder."
I tilted her chin up so her eyes met mine. "I mean it."
She nodded again.
"When are you going to tell her the truth, Scully? About us, about the future?"
"I guess-" she dropped her gaze, "-I guess I'll tell her when I figure it out for myself."
Before I could respond, she was gone.
So much for progress.