Date: Friday, November 22, 2002 2:13 PMTITLE: Shadowland AUTHOR: Pacquin FANDOM: X-Files E-MAIL: firstname.lastname@example.org CATEGORY: MSR, angst RATING: R SPOILERS: Through Season 9, post-The Truth DISCLAIMER: The X-Files and its characters are the property of 1013 Productions and Twentieth Century Fox and its subsidiaries, and are used without permission. SUMMARY: Sequel to "Sugarland." A year and a half later finds Mulder and Scully making a new life for themselves. THANK YOU ... to MaybeAmanda for lead-pipe beta reading, to Fran58 and C.S. for their encouragement, and to Sallie for her constant love and support. And to those readers who wondered what happened to Mulder and Scully after "Sugarland," I wondered, too, so here it is....
"They're in last place, Scully. Eighth out of eight in the conference. There's no where to go but up."
"Well, that's one way of looking at it, I guess." She yawns sleepily, cuddling against him. "I take it you've got a plan."
"There are some great kids on that team, there really are," he says, looking at her, stroking her shoulder. He sighs. "They want me to cut."
"Four. Maybe five."
"Mmmm...." Scully murmurs sympathetically, then presses her lips against his chest.
It's a quiet Sunday morning, the only day they can really sleep in. A warm breeze gently moves the worn lace curtains at the bedroom window. It's the second week of October, and yet the weather feels nothing like fall. Indian summer has come to this part of Canada; the nights are pleasant, but the days are hot under the bright blue sky, as if summer had returned full force.
But the calendar says autumn, and it's basketball season. The school is in a real bind--the guy with the contract to coach quit, no reason given, before school even began, so there's no coach, and practice is supposed to have started. Mulder hates to disappoint the kids; they all look at him so hopefully when the superintendent calls him into the gym to discuss the situation. So at this school, Mulder has agreed to coach boys' basketball.
Scully strokes his chest gently, her hand sliding down to his hip, and then she says softly, "Speaking of cutting, what are you going to do about the statistician thing?"
Mulder smiles. She's enjoying this, his problem with the statisticians. The school's policy is that girls act as statisticians for the boys' teams, guys for the girls' sports.
Scully stirs against him. "So tell me, Mulder, how many stats spots are there?"
He sighs. "Three."
"And how many girls have applied for them?"
He sighs again. "Twenty-three."
Scully raises herself on her elbow and stares at him. "Twenty-three? Twenty-three girls for three spots?"
Scully starts to laugh. "God, that's more than boys who went out for basketball itself!"
"You're exaggerating, Scully," he says.
She looks at him again. "Okay, tell me. How many boys tried out for the team?"
Scully raises one eyebrow and gives him an "I-told-you-so" look, then smiles and closes her eyes, settling herself against his chest. "Oh, yeah," she says sexily, "all the girls want to do stats for Mr. Mulder."
"Come on, Scully," he protests. "Help me out here. This is a problem. I don't know what to do about these girls."
"You love it, Mulder," Scully says, her lips curving into a smile, nestling against him. "You love how all the girls in school have crushes on you."
"Well, enrollment in psychology has gone up significantly since I've been there," Mulder teases her, stroking her hair. "And you should talk, Scully. We haven't even got a lawn anymore, thanks to all those guys in your senior physics class coming over to mow the grass every five minutes. What are we down to now, anyway? Ten blades of grass? And that one kid--what's his name, Detweiler?--I think I saw him bringing a pair of scissors over here yesterday."
"It was a weedwhacker, Mulder," says Scully lazily, turning toward him. "He just likes to be thorough." She kisses him, just below the hollow of his throat.
"Yeah, I have to fight those physics guys off with a stick," Mulder says, smiling. Just as in the other places they've lived, he's made a deal with the landlord: They get the small, furnished house at a reduced rent in exchange for cutting the grass and doing the yardwork; and Mulder does some work around the house--painting, small repairs. It works out well; they have almost no contact with the landlord at all this way. Mulder wouldn't mind mowing the grass, but he doesn't get the chance. These teenage boys who've got it bad for Scully do it for him.
"There are some girls in that physics class, too, Mulder," Scully points out. "I go out of my way to recruit girls into the sciences, you know I do."
"And what does that tell you, Scully, when even the girls are over here, working on our yard?"
She smiles at him. "It tells me that even my students have crushes on you. The weather's hot, Mulder, those girls are over here hoping you're going to take off your shirt...."
"Not as much as those guys are hoping you'll take off yours."
Scully laughs. He grabs her wrists and rolls her on top of him. Her hair tumbles over her face, and she looks down at him, a slight smile on her lips.
She's so beautiful, he thinks, looking up at her. Her hair seems thicker and fuller to him, somehow; it's still red, she won't color it, no matter what. It's softer, now, as is Scully herself. They made love when they first woke up about an hour and a half ago, but he wants her again, he's hard for her; he knows that she can feel him pressing against her. He feels the warmth of her body as she positions herself over him. And then he tightens his grip on her wrists as he raises her arms and rolls her over so that she is underneath him again, holding her hands above her head.
She gives a little gasp of surprise as she looks up at him.
"I'll always keep you guessing," he grins, then gently releases her hands.
She gives him the slow, sexy smile that he loves. "You do keep me guessing," she whispers as she reaches up to stroke his hair.
Mulder brushes his lips against hers, kissing her lightly, then deepens the kiss, feeling her mouth open under his. She moves her hands to the back of his neck, then gently down his back, softly stroking him. He kneels over her, pushes her legs apart and enters her, begins moving slowly inside her.
He likes this bed better than the other one, this heavy, tarnished brass bed their landlord finds to replace the wooden bed that came with the house. He's too tall for the bed, with its headboard and footboard, but he has no problem sleeping entwined around Scully. After a year and a half he still can't believe that she's in his bed, that she will be there when he reaches out for her.
Scully is breathing harder now, her eyes closed, her face flushed with pleasure, her hands stroking insistently against his shoulders. He slides his arms under her back, bringing her closer to him, feeling the softness of her breasts against his chest, and he thrusts hard inside her, faster. "Oh, God," she gasps, then reaches back and grabs one of the thick brass columns of the headboard with her right hand, as if she's steadying herself, as if she's going to come so hard that she has to brace herself for it. He loves it when she does that, knowing what he's done to her, what he's made her feel.
Her body stiffens and arches hard against his, and she cries out, her knuckles white as she grasps the metal column of the bed; and he feels it, too, that relentless rush toward his climax, and it's unstoppable, and he thrusts hard and fast between her legs, feels his muscles tense up as he reaches out and covers her hand with his own, moaning as he feels the release of his pleasure deep inside her.
They lie there together, breathing hard, then Mulder takes their hands from the headboard and presses his lips against her palm before he sinks down and buries his head against her shoulder. His breathing slows, and he raises his head, then leans down to kiss her.
"The bed didn't break," he says.
Scully opens her eyes and reaches up to caress his face, then smiles. "No, it didn't."
Mulder breaks the first bed while making love to her their second night in the house. He protests that the bed was old and rickety, that he'll talk to the landlord about getting them a different bed, but Scully's embarrassed.
"Don't you dare, Mulder. We'll just put the mattress on the floor."
And he wouldn't have said anything, but their landlord stops over the next day to see that things are working out okay.
Scully is kneeling on the ground by the back door, digging into the soft earth with a trowel, getting ready to plant some half-price flowers they picked up. It's late in the season, mid-July, but she wants to try anyway.
"Everything's great, thanks," Mulder tells their landlord, then shoots a quick look in Scully's direction. "Except...uh...for the bed."
"We...I...uh...broke the bed," he says sheepishly. "I ... well, you know how it is," he lowers his voice, looking at Scully again.
Their landlord laughs. "I think I can come up with a new bed for you. You can wait a few hours, can't you?" he says slyly, winking at Mulder.
"One or two," says Mulder, and the man laughs again, and claps Mulder on the shoulder.
"Okay, then," he says, "I'll be back sometime later today with that NEW BED." He raises his voice on the words "new bed," and Mulder looks at Scully, who is putting the first plant into the ground. Her back stiffens at their landlord's words, and Mulder can see that she's blushing. She pushes the sharp trowel into the earth, hard, then looks at him, glares at him, gives him "the look"....
It's just like the old days....
It's worked out all right, the way they fell into this life. He's a teacher now; he and Scully both are. It's what they do when they're not searching for the truth, when there are no leads to follow, or when they feel the need to lay low for a while, stay out of sight. Or when they need money. They teach, never staying in one place for very long. Scully especially is in demand; science teachers are needed everywhere. Mulder teaches psychology, mostly at high schools, occasionally at a small junior college, those are pretty obscure; their appointments are supposed to be temporary, mostly for people who are on family leave or who resign suddenly with no explanation. He's glad in a way, for those; it makes it easier when he and Scully do the same thing, attracts less attention.
"If you could get us a copy of your credentials, Mr. Mulder, I'd appreciate it. Need it for our records," a harried administrator calls out to him in passing one day at school. Mulder nods at the man, but he'll never supply a copy of his "credentials." It's not a problem because they never stay long enough in one place.
They don't teach at the same schools anymore. They did at the beginning, but people paid too much attention to them as a couple. People were kind, welcoming, wanting to invite the nice couple teaching at the high school to the church potluck, the spaghetti feed for the young family who lost their possessions in a fire. So now he teaches in one place, and Scully at a school nearby. They use their real names, more or less; he wasn't sure at first how good an idea that was, but it's probably better than using aliases, because even one uncomfortable slip-up would attract attention that they don't want. He has an easier time of it than Scully does; he smiles, thinking that all he has to do is remind himself to call her "Dana" the rare times they're in public together. She has a harder time. He smiles again, thinking of the expression on her face the first time someone called her "Mrs. Mulder." He calls her that sometimes, too, teasingly.
She never changed her name after they were married, of course.
An early summer day in that small North Dakota town near the Canadian border they'd come to after driving out of the Badlands. The church is small, shabby, the paint peeling from the south side of the building. Someone is mowing the lawn; the smell of freshly-mown grass, the scent of lilacs in bloom is heavy and rich about them.
After a hundred years, the church is closing.
"Not enough Presbyterians," the minister explains, smiling a little. "Not enough people."
Maybe that's why the minister doesn't question them too closely about anything. Just nods when Mulder tells him, holding Scully's hand tightly in his, that they want to be married.
"All right," the man smiles. "When do you want me to perform the ceremony?"
"Now," Mulder says.
Here's a trivia question for you, Scully, he thinks: What were the names of the witnesses at our wedding? He thinks that someday he'll dig out their marriage license and check to see. He knows who they are, of course: the minister's wife and the guy who's mowing the lawn. Yeah, his "best man" was a guy whose name he doesn't even know. There's no problem with getting a license; Mulder's surprised, a little, to find that this town, small as it is, is the county seat.
He and Scully stand there in the fading afternoon light, and he takes her hand in his. Has he ever been to a wedding, he wonders, listening to the minister speaking. He really can't remember. Maybe a long time ago, maybe in high school his parents dragged him to one. His mother's family is Scottish, Scots Presbyterian; in her day it was a stern religion, not the liberal denomination it's become now. His father had no religion; he went occasionally to please Mulder's mother, so nominally the Mulders are Presbyterian. But they never go to church again after Samantha.
His mother is mad at God, among others.
And now here he is, back in a Presbyterian church. It's surprising how familiar it all sounds, how much you pick up from television, how much seems to be part of the culture. And it's not like he has to memorize anything; he just repeats the words the minister says to him.
But he gets his vows wrong, after all.
"'... as long as we both shall live,'" he hears the minister intone.
He looks at Scully then. A small smile on her lips, she's looking up at him. Have her eyes always been that blue and trusting?
God, she trusts him...
"I love you, Scully," he says hoarsely, his hand tightening on hers. "I'll love you until the day I die."
He doesn't say them right, the vows, but it's good enough, apparently, because the next thing that happens is the minister is saying the words "husband and wife," and then they are kissing, he is kissing Scully, her lips soft beneath his.
Theirs is the last wedding in the small Presbyterian church.
And then they are gone, into the north, off into Canada, into a new life.
Some day he's going to get out their marriage license just so he can find out the names of their witnesses, the date they got married.
He's really bad at anniversaries.
He always knew he would be.
"I like it here," Scully says softly, looking out the bedroom window at the trees that have turned color: red sugar maples, the bright yellow and deep orange of the oak trees. Soon the leaves will fall, and winter will be on its way. Flannel sheet weather, he thinks, and cuddles her more closely. She nestles into him. "Can we stay?"
He's quiet for a moment. "I don't think so, Scully."
She says nothing. Then she shifts slightly away from him, moving out of his arms as she sits up on the edge of the bed. She slips out from under the sheet and stands up, facing away from him. "You won't get the chance to coach that basketball team out of last place, after all, will you?" he hears her say quietly.
She heads for the bathroom, and Mulder turns on his side and stares at the wall.
The bedroom needs painting.
He guesses he won't bother.
He's trying to explain Maslow's hierarchy of needs theory to his third period psych class when there's a knock at the classroom door.
"Thanks, Katie," he says to the girl who hands him a note; she blushes a little and smiles at him, then turns to leave as Mulder pulls the door shut again, glancing quickly at the note before returning to the front of the class. He's wanted in the office after class is over; he's got a message waiting.
He runs his hand through his hair. He hopes it's not about the basketball thing; he hates to cut anybody as long as they're putting forth some effort.
"Here's your message." Linda, the head secretary, smiles brightly at him, pushing a folded white piece of paper toward him. "Not much of a message."
Mulder opens the note. The letters are dark black against the white paper, and they pop out at him. The secretary is right. It's a short message, two words followed by an address. Only two words, but two words that he prayed he'd never have to read.
Skinner's message, their code.
Come right away.
Alas, Babylon is the title of a book. Mulder finds a copy and wishes he hadn't. It's about the end of the world.
Walter Skinner is not subtle.
Mulder feels the room spin slightly, and he holds his hand to his forehead.
"Mr. Mulder, are you okay?" the secretary asks solicitously.
"Um ... yeah, fine," he stammers. "Linda, could you get my wife on the phone for me, please? I think you've got the number...."
He picks up Scully at her school and they make a quick stop at home first. He grabs their bags out of the closet; they always keep a bag packed, each of them, ready to leave at a moment's notice.
He looks around the shabby one-story house. This has been his favorite one so far. He remembers the day they moved in. "Put me down," he hears her say. In every place they've lived, he jokingly carries Scully over the threshold. Her response is always the same: "Put me down, Mulder."
Scully comes into the living room. "Have you got everything?" he asks. She nods silently; she's very pale, and she looks frightened. "Take a quick look around, Scully," he says. "Anything here you can't live without?"
She raises her eyes and looks right at him.
They are driving toward the next town over. He knows the address: it's the biggest chain motel in the area; he attended a breakfast meeting on the relevance of standardized testing there a couple of weeks ago. Mulder is driving just a little over the speed limit. He wants to get there, and yet he doesn't, but he sure as hell doesn't want to get stopped. He hasn't let himself think yet about what it all means, what has happened. His stomach is clenched into a tight, painful knot.
He's so afraid it's Scully's mom.
Dear God, don't let it be Scully's mother. He knows what Scully's scared of because he's scared of the same thing: something has happened to Mrs. Scully, or one of Scully's brothers; something's happened to John Doggett or Monica.
Or something worse, even.
"Stop the car, Mulder," she says suddenly, leaning against her door.
"Stop the car, Mulder. I'm going to be sick."
He slows the car down, pulls over to the shoulder and stops. Scully opens her door and practically falls out, winding up on her hands and knees, and vomits into the ditch. He gets out of the car and goes to her; she's still on her knees, holding her hand to her mouth. "I'm sorry...." she gasps.
He leaves her for a moment, goes back to the car and grabs the bottle of water that's between them in the drink holder in the front seat. "Here," he says, helping her take a few sips. She rinses her mouth out and spits into the grass. "Better?"
"I'm fine." She tries to smile.
He tries to smile back.
He parks the car at the side entrance of the motel. Scully slowly opens her door, and he comes around to her side and helps her out, then takes her hand in his. He walks quickly, dragging Scully along behind him.
Skinner is in a poolside room, Room 131. It's not that Skinner likes to swim so much, but the poolside rooms have two exits, one directly to the outside and one that opens onto the pool area. Skinner is always prepared.
Mulder pushes open the glass door that separates the pool from the rest of the motel. The air is hot and humid, thick with the smell of chlorine. The pool is surrounded by fake jungle growth, imitation palms and coconut trees, the bright-green artificial grass of the miniature golf course. The light seems bright and unnatural. It's the middle of the afternoon, so no one is in the pool, and in fact, the motel seems deserted. Their footsteps echo hollowly against the tiled floor.
He stops suddenly, so suddenly that Scully bumps into him. He looks down at her.
"Whatever it is, we'll handle it," he says to her.
Her face is white with fear, but she nods anyway.
Mulder's heart begins to pound as they near Skinner's room. The door is ajar, but Skinner's not in there. Mulder panics for a moment, but then out of the corner of his eye he sees someone in the room next door, the motel conference room, a room about the size of a classroom, glassed-in on three sides, facing the pool area.
Skinner's not wearing a suit; he's dressed casually, and that throws Mulder for a minute because, for some reason, he expected to see him in a suit, for something like this, something official. But it's Skinner. Mulder recognizes him even though Skinner is standing facing away from him and Scully, his back to them. Mulder pulls on Scully's hand, dragging her with him.
Skinner hears them enter the room, and turns to face them.
Mulder stops dead in his tracks. Surely it hasn't been that long, thinks Mulder, momentarily stunned.
The change is startling. This can't be right, he thinks. It can't be possible. He can't have changed so much. Mulder can't believe the difference. It's really unbelievable. He never would have recognized him.
But his mother does.
Scully drops Mulder's hand and moves a few hesitant steps forward. Skinner is standing in front of her, with the bundle he has in his arms, and looks at Scully. And God damn it, he can't believe it, but he thinks Skinner has tears in his eyes, and all at once Scully smiles at him, and opens her arms to him, like a lover, and then ... and then she is crying, and Skinner hands the little boy to her.
Mulder is trying to take it all in. Not a baby, anymore, but a little boy. William seems almost as large as Scully, there in Scully's arms, and everything is happening so fast, Mulder can't think. Suddenly Scully's knees buckle, and she starts to sink toward the floor as Skinner reaches out for her. "You take him, Mulder," she says falteringly. "... I can't ... I need to...." He reaches out blindly toward Scully, and the little boy lifts his arms up to Mulder.
He looks down at William, at his son, and says that first thing that comes into his mind.
"I thought you were a puppy."
He did, too. It's stupid, but he thought that Skinner was holding a large, squirming puppy in his arms when they first came in the room.
William looks up at him. "Puppy?"
He's changed so much. Mulder has only memories of his three-day-old son.
And one picture that Skinner had given to him while he was in prison, awaiting his "trial." He'd told him about William, and then had handed the small, grainy photo to Mulder. He doesn't know when it was taken; not too long before William was sent away, he thinks. He's not sure if Scully asked Skinner to give the picture to him or not. He never asked her.
Skinner has gotten a chair for Scully and is helping her to sit down; he kneels on the floor beside her and begins speaking. He knows Skinner is saying something, probably something important, but Mulder can't seem to focus on what it is; Skinner keeps looking at him.
"They're all dead," he hears Skinner say. "Three states--Wyoming, Utah, Nevada. Three epicenters, and everyone dead for approximately 200 miles in all directions. CDC thought it was a new strain of anthrax."
Scully stares at Skinner.
"Now they think it's something else." Skinner looks at her. "Maybe a virus."
She speaks so softly that Mulder can barely hear her. "William?"
"The only survivor." Skinner clears his throat. "They think he has a natural immunity. Inherited from you. Or Mulder. Maybe both of you, some genetic combination."
The baby is staring up at him with some interest, and Mulder looks down at his son, into William's eyes.
He has her coloring. Scully has a connection with William, right from the start.
"Lots of babies are born with blue eyes, Mulder," Scully says softly, gently pushing the pale blue blanket away from William's face. "They don't always stay blue."
"I hope his do." Mulder holds the baby in his arms. "My blue-eyed boy," he whispers to William.
But they haven't stayed blue. William's eyes are brown, brown eyes. Mulder catches his breath; he knows those eyes, those brown eyes, he hasn't seen them since....
"I'm watching 'The Magician' at nine," his voice comes back to him out of the past.
Those brown eyes, that lost little girl....
"I want to believe that the dead are not lost to us," he tells Scully once.
Mulder swallows hard. "Scully, he has her eyes," he tries to say, but his voice barely comes out, and Scully's attention is on Skinner, who, Mulder thinks, is talking about the end of the world.
Mulder stares at his son, and knows that the dead are not lost, that they come back in ways you never imagined...
He didn't think he'd be able to do it after all, on that last morning.
That last morning he stands there looking into the bassinet; he's paralyzed, unable to move. Finally he looks up helplessly at Scully. She gazes at him for a long moment, then reaches down and picks up William, and gently gives the baby to Mulder. She turns and leaves the room, closing the door quietly behind her.
Mulder puts his hand under William's neck, supporting his head the way Scully has shown him. He looks at his son, and William blinks up at him. He cradles the baby against his chest, and bends his head and kisses his son's forehead. He puts his lips close to the baby's tiny ear.
"Don't forget me," he whispers.
He wonders what will happen, if he will ever get the chance to have a connection to his son; he wonders if William will ever know him. It's not the same with Scully. Even if he never sees her again, never holds her, never touches her, she will always be with him. It's different with William.
But here, on an October afternoon in the pool area of an anonymous Canadian motel, Mulder realizes that there was no reason to have been afraid. He closes his eyes briefly, feeling the satisfying weight of his son in his arms as he holds the little boy next to his heart. He is William's father, connected to him in ways that a thousand nights apart could never change.
William is carefully unwrapping a stick of gum he's found in the pocket of Mulder's jacket. He slowly peels off the paper and shiny foil wrapper and gives them to Mulder, then pinches the stick of gum between his thumb and index finger and licks the gum until he's gotten all the sugar off. The gum smells sweet, like Juicy Fruit, thinks Mulder. William looks up at Mulder and presses the sticky treat against his lips. Mulder opens his mouth, and William feeds him the gum, then smiles.
Skinner has finished speaking. He stands and gets his briefcase off a table at the side of the room.
"Scully," Mulder says again, a little louder this time. "Scully, he has her eyes."
Scully rests her head tiredly against Mulder. "I wondered," she says. "It's hard to tell from a picture..."
The baby leans down and grabs some of Scully's bright hair in his little hand. She reaches up and gently pulls it from William's grasp, then brushes her lips against his hand, pretending to nibble his fingers. William giggles.
"We need to get moving," he hears Skinner say.
All at once, Mulder thinks of the poem. In the classroom next to his, the honors English class has been studying twentieth century poetry, and Mulder has heard the last few lines recited many times over the last few weeks.
This is the way the world ends/
This is the way the world ends/
This is the way the world ends/
Not with a bang....
The baby pats Mulder's lips. "Gum," William says cheerfully.
But a whimper.
"Let's go," says Skinner.
Thank you for reading. Story concludes in "Badlands."
My thanks to MaybeAmanda and Fran58 who made places for my stories. Please visit!
If you enjoyed this story, please send feedback to Pacquin
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