Title: Crossroads in Time
Author: Avalon (avalon@fuse.net)
Website: http://home.fuse.net/ktvanden/index.html
Rating: PG-13 for profanity and a hint of sex
Spoilers: Set mid-FTF, then veers off into its own little AU. References to things through season eight, but AU-ish. Oh, it'll make more sense when you read it, I swear.
Category: Hints of Mulder/Diana, Scully/Other, but leads to MSR. Angst. Character death implied, but no one you wouldn't expect from the show itself. Alternate Universe.
Disclaimer: I dearly love them, but no, they're not mine. Great thanks to CC for creating them.
Feedback: I respond to every piece. I really do. It's more divine than chocolate chip cookie dough, and that's truly saying a lot.
Archive: Spooky's, Gossamer, Ephemeral, all the usual suspects. If you want it, you can have it, but please let me know so I can visit.

Summary: How many different lives would we be leading if we made different choices?

She left him on a Friday.

It had been simple, easy. She left him standing in his apartment, his hands on his hips, his hazel eyes flashing wildly as she turned to go. She had been so tired she wasn't even sure she would make it back down the hallway to the elevator. Part of her had hoped that he would come after her, would convince her to stay, to fight with him, to keep going...but he didn't follow her. The elevator had pinged its arrival, she had stepped into it as she had thousands of times before, and she had sighed in a mixture of frustration and relief as its doors slid shut.

She told herself she would give it the weekend. She wouldn't call him until Monday, or maybe Sunday night. Somehow, she convinced herself it was just another weekend, like all the other ones before. In her mind, she had said goodbye to him as she did every Friday, and she would see him again soon, even though she knew she wouldn't be walking into his basement office on Monday. She couldn't. She had resigned.

She half-expected there to be a phone message waiting when she opened the door to her apartment. There wasn't. She lay awake that night until well after midnight, anticipating one of his habitual late calls. None ever came. She wondered if he had gone back to Texas to dig some more, or if he had perhaps enlisted the help of the Lone Gunmen to chase down another half-baked lead. She never really found out what happened to the case they had been investigating...their last case together.

She slept late on Saturday morning and then cleaned her bathroom. She made tea for herself and updated her resume. She called her mother and asked her to brunch after church the next day, and she watched an old black and white movie before falling asleep on the couch for the night.

Her mother seemed surprised when she told her the news, but she certainly didn't protest the decision. She passed her daughter the bulging Sunday newspaper from where it nestled in her tote bag and sipped her coffee. "I suppose you will need to find another job." She smiled tentatively over the rim of her cup.

When she returned to her apartment, her answering machine flashed a message at her. She punched the button, ready to hear his voice. A higher female one greeted her. "Dana! It's Ellen. I wanted to invite you..." She thumbed the volume disc down so that she didn't have to listen to the rest of it.

No call from him. Nothing but silence.

The weekend passed.

She phoned him every day for the next week. She kept her voice from sounding edgy or needy, simply asking how he was, requesting a return call to assure her that he was all right. She licked envelopes and stamps with the cordless within reach, sending out her resume for positions she found listed on the Internet.

On Saturday, the worry overwhelmed her, and she dialed Skinner's home number. He answered in his usual gruff manner, but his tone softened when he recognized her. She asked about Mulder, and Skinner sighed softly in her ear.

"He's taken a leave of absence."

"For how long?"

She could see Skinner in her mind's eye, removing his glasses and rubbing the bridge of his nose, his familiar gesture of frustration. "It's an indefinite leave. He didn't tell me where he was going. I have no idea when, or if, he'll be back."

"He wouldn't just leave. He wants the X-Files back."

"I don't know about that, Dana. He--" His voice became even gentler. "I don't know if he'll go on without you."

She squeezed her eyes shut. How could she have been so stupid, so thoughtless, to just leave him like that? Mulder could be damned exasperating, infuriating even...but he would never desert her, not when she needed him most. And that was exactly what she had done.

She would remedy this, somehow. She would find him, and make him understand.

"If you see him, sir, please tell him I need to speak with him." The silence on the line pricked at her throat, and she spoke around the catch there. "Please, sir?"

"I'll tell him, if I see him. But Dana?"


Skinner sighed again, and Scully felt her resolve melt with that exhalation. "Don't hold your breath."

The week was over, and she still heard nothing.

She decided to practice again. Several hospitals in the area were looking for E.R. doctors, so she applied and was called in for interviews at every one. She smiled at the human resource directors when they asked about her work for the F.B.I., explaining that she had seen enough death to last ten lifetimes. They nodded knowingly, and each called later to offer her a position on staff. She accepted the one closest to the Bureau, thinking that perhaps some night, he would come through the emergency doors, nursing a head injury or a sprained wrist.

Another fantasy. He never came.

She sent him emails at his Bureau address, but no replies appeared in her mailbox. She stopped by his building one evening after a particularly hairy day at the hospital, wishing for nothing more than a trip to the pub with him for a beer. Disappointment pooled in her stomach as she stood in his hallway for way too long, hoping he would answer her knock. She took a pen from her purse and scribbled a note on her prescription pad, her vision blurring as she wrote:

I miss you, Mulder.
Please get in touch.

She shoved it under his door before she lost her nerve and hurried home to her empty apartment.

Ellen kept calling, pestering her to go out as they had in college. She finally relented, hoping to take her mind off Mulder. She met Brian O'Meara at an upscale bar that Ellen frequented. He was a nice distraction, a burly, six- foot blond with laughing blue eyes and an easy smile. At forty-five, he easily looked ten years younger, and he kept in shape chasing his high school football charges around the gridiron. Divorced after only two years of marriage, his children already attended college, and she found herself in his company more and more often after work or on the weekends.

She was shocked to glance at the wall calendar in her kitchen one morning to find that three months had passed, and no word had come.

Her wedding day was very nearly a disaster.

It rained. Her mother's dress was almost ruined when the caterer bumped into her while delivering the cake. Charlie's youngest daughter screamed that she didn't want to walk down the aisle scattering rose petals. Bill didn't make it from the airport in time, so she marched to the altar unaccompanied. Brian's son patted his pockets, a panicked look on his face, when asked to produce the ring during the Mass.

If Mulder had been there, he probably would have smiled and whispered something to her about bad omens.

She had written out an invitation for him and then decided to drop it by his apartment personally. Her knock was promptly answered by a young man wearing a Tommy Hilfiger pullover and leather pants. He grinned at her inquiry and told her that he had moved into the building nearly two months before. He thought the man who had vacated the apartment had moved into a house with his girlfriend, but he could be wrong. She should check with the building superintendent downstairs. Mr. Mitchell might also have his forwarding address.

The smile felt stiff and frozen on her lips as she took the piece of paper the superintendent gave to her. An address in Falls Church, Virginia, and two names stared back at her.

Fox Mulder. Diana Fowley.

She took the invitation home and readdressed it, dropping it into the mailbox on the corner. Two weeks later, the reply card was returned, filled out in a woman's elegant handwriting, announcing that they would be unable to attend.

When she and Brian returned from their two-week honeymoon in Bermuda, she was surprised to find a gift awaiting them. Brian unwrapped it and nodded in approval at the heavy cut-glass vase, handing her the card with a smile. She read the typed words with a sour taste in the back of her throat:

Best wishes, Diana and Fox

When Brian went upstairs to begin unpacking, she put the vase back in its box and shoved it into a corner of the downstairs closet. She told herself that it didn't match the d├ęcor in their new home, but not before two silent tears slipped down her cheeks.

Her watch displayed the date, six months since that Friday when her world had morphed into something strange, not unlike the Alien Bounty Hunter she had convinced herself didn't really exist. She took it off, laid it on her dressing table, and went to find her new husband in their bedroom.

He traced his tongue up her spine, fanning the hair at the base of her neck with his warm breath. She shivered and smiled into her pillow, sinking further into the mattress as he pressed his weight against her. She felt the light scrape of his fingertips along the chain of her necklace, and his lips glazed her ear with kisses.

"You're so beautiful, Dana." He sat back, and she could sense his eyes drinking in the sight of her, a thought that brought a hot rush of desire to her belly. She turned her head to look over her shoulder. Brian stared at her, his chin at a strange angle, his eyes narrowed as if to see something better.

"What is it?"

"You have a tiny scar on the back of your neck. I never noticed it before." His thumb slid over it, and the sensation caused the hot hunger in her abdomen to roil into a sickening coldness. "What happened?"

She flinched away without thinking, realizing even as she did that it would make him even more determined to hear an answer. "It's...it's nothing, really."

"Does it hurt?"


"Then how did it happen? Were you with the F.B.I?"

"Yes." She remembered the doctor pulling the original from beneath her skin, kidding that she had probably been wounded in the line of duty.

He hadn't known the absolute truth of that statement, even when they discovered it was a computer chip.

Brian leaned over her and pressed a kiss to the spot. "My poor Dana."

She rolled onto her back and laced her arms around his neck, pulling him closer. She murmured against his lips, "Make it better, Brian." He smiled and kissed her deeply, and the memory melted away.

But sleep eluded her that night. She lay next to her sated husband, watching the violet sky outside their window over his bare shoulder, thinking of government conspiracies, black oil, and little green men.

And of her ex-partner, the one who had opened her mind to it all, the one who had brought cancer to her doorstep and then somehow stopped it with a miraculous cure that hid just below her skin. She could almost feel the soft caress of his hand as he held hers on her deathbed, his eyes rimmed in red from shedding tears he would never let her see. He had been dead, too, and had resurrected, finding salvation for her as well.

What happened to drive them apart? The question twisted in her heart, making her chest ache with longing.

Orion winked at her from his position in the heavens, and she figured the time in her head. One year, and a few months.

She had never dreamed that she could live in a Mulderless world.

The Oregon where they bought a house was different than the Oregon she recalled. On her first X-File, it had rained almost every day, a cold, steady shower that had turned her hair into an unmanageable tangle of red curls and made her sniffle like a schoolchild. Mulder had constantly asked her if she was getting a cold, honest concern and just a hint of amusement apparent on his face. So young, so cocky, so brilliant and flawed then...it was one of the ways she best liked to remember him.

Busy with his new responsibilities as a University football coach, she spent most of her days away from Brian. She enjoyed her new position at St. Peter's Hospital, where she supervised the incoming interns. Saturdays were spent at football games, and on Sundays, the O'Mearas went sailing or hiking or dined with Brian's colleagues from the college.

It was a nice life, a life full of everyday things that she had longed for, and dreamed of, when she was an F.B.I. agent eight years before. But deep in the night, when she would sometimes creep down the stairs of her sprawling suburban house for a glass of warm milk to ease her insomnia, she would wonder how different her life could have been if she had not walked away.

Brian's heart attack came on the morning of his fifty-seventh birthday. She administered CPR until the life squad arrived, but she knew she had lost him before he was pronounced. One EMT recognized her from the hospital and touched her briefly, murmuring his regrets. She turned away and lifted the telephone receiver with shaking hands, dialing Brian's son's number in Florida from memory.

The empty house was nothing compared to the yawning gap in her heart. She considered moving into a smaller space, but she couldn't muster the energy to even begin looking. Everyone treated her as if she were made of china, handling her with care, afraid she might shatter into a million pieces.

In the lonely recesses of her heart, she wondered if perhaps she was indeed breaking apart. She found herself dwelling more and more on her losses in life. She thought of her father for the first time in years, and Melissa came close on his heels. Emily's shiny round face haunted her, and Brian's memory loomed as large as the bulk of his muscular body. There was no escaping them, and they circled around her, whispering to her as she sat up late into the night.

The only memory that didn't torment her was Mulder's.

It comforted her to think of him. She hoped for his happiness, even if he had found it with a woman she had never trusted. She wondered if he had ever solved the mystery of his sister's disappearance, and if he still worked for the government. It never occurred to her to try to contact him again; she had given up hope of that years before.

Still, she enjoyed those times, when her restless and cruel mind would allow her to call up his face, his voice, those mannerisms that were so distinctly Mulder. And when she peered in the mirror, noting the deepening creases around her eyes and the tendrils of silver in her fiery hair, she mused over what he must look like after almost eleven years.

"Dana? Have you got a minute?"

She looked up to see Sallie Roget's head peering around the door of her office. She and Sallie had worked together now for almost four years. She had been a good friend to her when Brian passed away, and Dana appreciated her keen sense of humor. Plus, Sallie was an excellent doctor, and the two women had often discussed problem cases over lattes at lunchtime.

She removed her glasses and smiled. "Sure, Sal. Come on in."

The taller woman moved into the room, sliding her own spectacles into the breast pocket of her white coat. "I was wondering if you could take a look at this unusual patient that has come in. We aren't really sure what to make of him, and I know in the past you have worked on some really strange cases."

Dana chuffed out a friendly breath. "Yeah, that's me. Weird Ones-R-Us." She held out her hand. "What have you got?"

She flipped open the chart as Sallie began talking. "Caucasian male, early fifties, ordinary in every sense of the word. He was found naked in the middle of a field about ten miles from here three months ago."

She squinted at the words on the page as she fumbled for her glasses again. "Three months? And he's just now coming into the hospital? Where's he been up until now?"

"In the ground, pushing up daisies." She looked up, startled, but Sallie's face was stony. This was certainly not a case of her famous sense of humor. "By all outward appearances, he was dead. But someone dug him up last night and brought him in here."

"You're saying this man is alive? That he's been alive in his coffin for three months?"

Sallie nodded. "It would appear that way, yes."

She glanced back down at the chart. "Who brought him in?"

"We don't know. It's a real mystery. It's like he appeared out of thin air."

An icy finger skated down her spine, and she shivered. // Hold onto your hat, Scully, cause you're gonna love this. // She pushed Mulder's gleeful voice from her mind and stood up, ignoring the hateful way her knee joints protested the sudden movement. She despised getting old. "Where is he?"

"In the I.C.U. He's on every machine imaginable, but he seems to be holding his own."

The women walked quickly through the halls, and she dodged bodies as she went, scanning the pages of the chart. They paused outside the Intensive Care Unit door. "This man hasn't been identified?"

Sallie shrugged. "They haven't given us his name. The admitting nurse is still on the phone with the cemetery. They are trying to piece together exactly what happened."

She grunted in response and pushed open the door. The room was lined with hospital beds, many sectioned off from their neighbors by circling curtains of drab blue. Sallie waved her hand at the first partition on her right.

"Here he is."

She glanced up from the chart she still held in her hands as Sallie swept the curtain aside. She heard the familiar sound of the hooks traveling over the track in the ceiling, a metallic chime that reminded her of keys and change being jostled in a pocket. Her mind grabbed onto that for some reason.

// Mulder used to do that. Jingle his change that way. //

The tiny smile of remembrance the thought brought to her face froze as her eyes locked onto the patient in the bed. The clipboard clattered to the floor, ringing out a startled sound similar to the one that escaped from her throat.

Her knees buckled, but she didn't fall. She stumbled instead into the foot of the bed, her hand brushing the man's feet beneath the sheet. The touch sent a jolt so strong through her that it made her think of sticking her finger in the outlet of her navy-base housing when she was a tiny girl. She felt dizzy and stupid, as if waking up from a thick, black nightmare and greeting the full light of day.

She was vaguely aware of Sallie's voice, asking if she was all right, if she was feeling faint, but she ignored her. She pawed her way up the side of the mattress toward the man's head, flinging her glasses aside to assure herself it wasn't just a trick of her aging eyes. He was a mess of scars, and a penetrating pallor whitened his skin, but the face, although tinged with the signs of age, remained the same. She couldn't deny what she saw.

Sallie Roget watched, stunned, as Dana O'Meara slowly lowered her head to the chest of the patient in the bed. When her cheek turned and settled against the man's hospital gown, Sallie could see trails of wetness glistening on her friend's face. Although she didn't understand what the word meant, she heard Dana whisper it, like a prayer uttered from the lips of the dying:

"Mulder." His name hung in the air like the pendulum of a stopped clock.

She leaned further into the shower spray, her hands splayed in front of her on the tile wall to prop her up, allowing the water to beat into the aching muscles of her neck. She had been up for over twenty-five hours, and she wasn't planning to sleep anytime soon.

She would stay with him until he awoke. Nothing would deter her.

The cemetery had finally verified that the man in the bed was indeed Fox William Mulder, born October 13, 1961, died May 10, 2010, buried May 14 of the same year. This year. The coroner's report had listed Mulder's death as unexplained, the only word she could summon to describe his current condition. He was somehow alive, but in every other sense of the word, his body was dead.

Just like Mulder to become an X-File himself.

But her logical mind rejoiced at having a puzzle to solve, just as her straining heart reveled in his reappearance in her life. Perhaps finally, she would be able to tell him she was sorry. That she had never meant to leave him the way she did, that she still thought of him often, that she missed his presence and his friendship and even the strangeness that he had brought to her.

Yes, perhaps she could even tell him now that she loved him.

She had finally realized it. The thought had come to her one day soon after Brian died, a morning not unlike the ones that had passed before it. She had been rearranging the kitchen cabinets, stacking dinner plates from her old set of Pfaltzcraft that she had decided to donate to the church rummage sale. She traced the tip of one fingernail around the edging of blue wisps, and his voice had rocketed through her mind as it was wont to do on occasion, bringing with it a blinding and shocking result:

"Should we be picking out china patterns or what, Scully?"

She had managed to cling to the plate as it started to slip from her hand, saving it from shattering on the floor*but she had burst into tears.

She had loved him. She still did. Her marriage to Brian had been good and solid, like an old oak door...but her love had remained with a man she hadn't seen in twelve years. The man who had changed her life in so many ways, both good and bad. The man who would forever be branded into her heart, a sensation that both stung and soothed her.

And now he was here with her again. She had been given a second chance, and she wasn't about to waste it.

First things first, though. Make him well. Then, she would go one step at a time.

She dried quickly and hurried into her clothes, stuffing her drooping outfit from the day before into her hospital locker. She pulled her damp hair into a short ponytail, touched up her face, and then headed down to I.C.U. Her lab coat flapped about her as she opened the unit door and abruptly settled into stillness as she paused, astonished, ten feet from his bed.

A young woman sat in the chair she had occupied. Her shoulder-length hair gleamed like burnished walnut, and her arm stretched across the thin blanket to clasp Mulder's hand. She turned reddened eyes to her, her mouth a thin line of worry. She barely looked old enough to drive a car.

The words tumbled out of her, even though she didn't really understand why she felt she should apologize. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to intrude--"

The young woman stood up, dragging Mulder's hand with her. She clutched it to her like a child with a favorite doll. "Are you his doctor? Can you please tell me what happened to him?"

"I'm Dana Sc--" She checked herself, surprise surfacing in her mind. Why had she started to introduce herself that way? She hadn't been Dana Scully in years. "I'm Doctor Dana O'Meara. I was asked by a colleague to consult on this man's case. And you are?"

"I'm his daughter."

The words chased themselves around in her head. "His...daughter?" she finally repeated, hoping she didn't sound as stunned as she felt.

"Yes. I had to fly in from Washington, or I would have been here sooner." The young woman squeezed his hand tighter, and she squelched the urge to reprimand her. "Can you please tell me what happened? I can't quite believe I'm here...that he's actually alive..." She looked at her imploringly, a tear trickling down her smooth cheek.

Her professional decorum took over, driving away the emotional lurch in her stomach. "We're not sure what happened. We understand that he was presumed dead and buried, but he somehow turned up here at the hospital yesterday morning. Quite a bit of his medical history from the last year is incomplete. Can you give me any information? What happened to him before he was interred?"

The girl sank back down into her chair. "He was missing for almost eight months. When they finally found him, they told me...they told me he was dead!" She was crying hard now, and Dana laid her hand on the girl's shoulder, hoping to deliver some comfort.

"How did he end up missing? Can you tell me anything about that?"

Her young voice choked through her tears, but she sounded quite sure of herself. "We believe he was abducted."

The word sounded strange to her now, a word that Mulder himself had used so often in their work together, a word that sent a tremor through her entire body. Her own tone was soft and steady when she asked, "You mean, by extraterrestrials?"

The girl nodded, her wet face set in a look of defiance. "I know it is hard to believe--"

"No, no." She waved her hand in dismissal. "I understand."

Her gaze drifted over to Mulder. His chest rose and fell in the rhythm of the respirator, and the heart monitor blipped his readout in ridges across the screen. The tiny holes on his cheeks and the ones she had examined in his wrists and ankles told a story of captivity, and the ugly scar that split his torso in two spoke of torture and tests. She closed her eyes against the frightening scene that played in her mind, a scene that seemed to be a mirror to her own hazy experience of lost time and painful sensations.

The girl's voice broke into her thoughts. "You know him."

She opened her eyes and blinked at her. The girl stared at her for a moment, the blue of her gaze as penetrating as any look Mulder had ever trained on her. "You know him, don't you?" She stood up, dropping Mulder's hand back to the bed in her excitement. "You said your name was Dana. Are you Dana Scully?" She grabbed Dana's arm, her nails biting through the thin fabric of her jacket. "You were his partner at the F.B.I!"

She couldn't help nodding at her enthusiasm. "Yes, I--"

She cut her off. "I can't believe it! You have no idea...he'll be so thrilled! He talks about you all the time. Scully this and Scully that. I've heard about nothing but Scully since I was a little girl!" The young woman took a deep breath and beamed. "I just can't believe you're here."

A feeling as thick and sweet as warm honey seeped into her chest. She smiled back. "I'm having a hard time believing it myself." She brushed her fingers over the back of Mulder's hand, a brief movement that she just couldn't help. "It's been a long, long time since I've seen him."

"I know." The young woman threw him an adoring gaze, and Dana swallowed hard. This girl was his daughter. Some woman's child, and he was her father. She and Mulder hadn't been partners, hadn't been friends, for a very long time. It made the feelings of love she had contemplated just fifteen minutes before seem like teasing, cruel children, and she quieted them expertly, relegating them to a dark corner of her brain. But she felt compelled to know the truth.

"May I ask you a personal question?" The girl nodded, and she pressed forward before she lost her nerve. "Do I know your mother?"

"I never knew my mother." The brows above her eyes knitted together. "I don't remember her at all. I don't remember much of anything before he found me."

"Found you?"

"Yes. He found me in New Mexico. I was six years old. He couldn't find any record of my birth mother or father, so he adopted me."

An absurd wave of relief swept through her. Mulder had adopted a child. She wasn't Diana Fowley's daughter, as she had suspected...as she had feared. "So you're sixteen now?"

"I'll be seventeen in November." She took Mulder's hand once more. "Now he can really teach me to drive. He promised last year, before he disappeared." She pressed a kiss to his knuckles, and Dana felt tears spring to her eyes. "He is going to get better, isn't he?"

"We're doing everything we can. And he's always been strong."

"Thank you, Scully. I know he's in good hands." The girl smiled again. "Is it all right if I call you Scully? I don't know if I could call you anything else."

She took a deep breath and allowed her smile to shine, the one that she reserved for special people in her life. Mulder would have recognized it had he been awake, having seen it on rare occasions himself. "I haven't been called Scully in a very long time. But I like hearing it again." She turned to go to the door, wanting to give the young woman some time alone with Mulder, but she paused with her hand on the knob. "You haven't told me your name."

The girl settled back into the chair. "It's Emily. It's funny, my name is one of the only things I remember from before Dad found me."

No words would come out of her throat. They seemed to burn there as she fought for control, as her mind rolled over and over like a snowball barreling downhill. She finally gave Emily a short nod and pushed her way out of the room, heading quickly for the bathroom at the end of the hall.

She threw up. Becoming a mother often did that to people, even if it happened nearly seventeen years after the fact.

Time had slipped by so quickly before he returned to her life. Now, as she waited for him to regain consciousness, it moved as slowly as a dying slug on hot cement.

She sat sometimes alone, and sometimes with Emily, at his bedside. He had grown stronger, and most of the wires and tubes keeping him alive had been removed. The staff delivered him to a private room, and Emily brought photos in frames to dress up the space. She had waited that first day until Emily had fallen asleep in her chair, and then moved to the pictures, her curiosity burning bright and hot.

There were three of them. Two showed Emily as she looked now, one with a boy at a formal dance, and the other an obvious school picture taken against a plain blue background. But she gazed at the last one for quite a long time.

It was Mulder as she remembered him best, wearing one of his infernal gray t-shirts and a pair of straight-legged blue jeans. He crouched on the beach next to a tiny girl in a pink print sundress, holding an ice cream cone between them. Both of them sported a smear of chocolate on their chins, both were laughing, and the child clutched at his arm, trying to pull the treat closer to her. The expression on her face riveted Dana to the spot.

Emily. Just like her Emily. Identical to her sister Melissa.

Mulder had found her. Somewhere in New Mexico. He had adopted her, and she had grown into a beautiful young woman.

Her daughter. Their daughter. The idea of it sent her mind reeling.

But she didn't speak to Emily about it. She didn't ask any more questions about their past, and she didn't pry into their private lives. She locked her emotions away, keeping her voice and face as neutral as possible whenever Emily came to visit.

But in the night, she cried at his bedside, pleading with God to allow her to know the truth.

The days ticked by, one after another, like silent virgins walking an uphill path toward a waiting sacrificial volcano.

She shook open the front page of The New York Times and scanned through her glasses for something of interest. She had taken to reading the newspaper to him every morning, hoping that her voice would somehow lead him to consciousness, like the breadcrumb trail for Hansel and Gretel. Emily usually arrived around noon, and she would settle at his bedside to eat her lunch and chatter while Dana donned her doctor's scrubs for the afternoon shift. After her hours were up, she returned, and Emily went to sleep in her office...and then the routine began again. Thirteen days so far. She wondered often what the magical number in this equation would be.

She found an article about the impending election and read the first couple of lines to him. "Senator Hilary Rodham Clinton announced yesterday at a Democratic Party dinner that there was absolutely no truth to the allegations of campaign funding fraud that the Republican Party recently leveled at her. She and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, spent the long Labor Day weekend campaigning for her re-election." She smiled slightly. "Honestly, Mulder, you haven't missed much. Nothing ever seems to change."

"Does that mean I should just stay asleep?"

Her head jerked up so violently to follow his whisper that she heard an audible snap. The newspaper fluttered from her hands as she scrambled forward, her fingers fumbling for his. The eyes that met hers were a bright green-gold, snapping with an amusement that was completely different from what she'd expected. She'd anticipated nothing but strained silence from him when he finally woke up, and she had steeled herself to receive it. But although his color had not changed, and he still seemed exhausted, his gaze held none of the contempt that she had feared.

She blinked back a tear and coughed out a laugh. Her fingers closed around his, and she noted with a leaping heart when he squeezed hers back weakly. She opened her mouth to speak, but he was already ahead of her.

"I've been waiting for you to read all morning. What took you so long?"

Her heart was beating fast, as if she had just run a mile, and it was difficult to say anything around the clutching sensation in her throat, but she forced the words out. "You've been playing possum? I should have figured you would."

He licked his dry lips. "After all this time, you still know me pretty well, Scully."

It was not an admonishment, she knew, but her cheeks burned with a crimson flush all the same. She tried to sidestep that issue, knowing sooner or later they would come to it. "How are you feeling?"

"Like Rip Van Winkle. Everything's still the same, but I know I've missed something."

He stared at her, and she tried to read his look, but she was out of practice. The nervousness and excitement in her stomach propelled her to her feet. "I should go and wake Emily. She'll want to see you right away, I know."

He cut off her turn with a clutch of her hand. "No, wait, Scully. Stay a minute."


"Sit down. We need to talk."

She reached out her free hand and brushed her fingers across his brow, noting the sweat that had broken across his forehead. "We have plenty of time for that. I don't want you getting overly excited. It's too much too soon for you. Let me get Emily. She'll kill me if she doesn't get to see you."

His voice, stronger but edged in emotion, stopped her cold a few steps away. "I know you're wondering, Scully."

She didn't face him. "Don't, Mulder --" The breaking note was bright and sharp in her tone.

"She is your daughter, Scully."

She put out her hand to catch herself on the side rail of the bed. Damn him, she thought hotly as the tears spilled down her cheeks. Always so goddamned relentless, he never could stop when he should...

Her hitching breath cut off her thoughts, the sobs pouring forth like an unexpected thunderstorm. In her peripheral vision, she saw him jerk forward, even though she knew he was weak and incapable of offering her any physical help. Somehow, their hands touched, and his fingers laced through hers, pulling her toward him. She let herself go, finding her head once again resting in the hollow of his shoulder where it met his chest. Beneath her cheek, his hospital gown dampened from her onslaught, but the dim sound of his heart beating seemed to soothe her.

"I found her in 2000, in a research facility in New Mexico. She looked so much like...like your Emily that I took her back to Washington with me. I had a doctor the Gunmen trusted run her PCRs, just like you did with your Emily in San Diego." He paused, and his low voice fell to a whisper. "They matched, Scully. They matched yours, and they matched Emily's. I think they were born at the same time, possibly even twins...but it's the damnedest thing, Scully. She's never been sick a day in her life. Whatever was wrong with your Emily...there's nothing wrong with her. She's perfectly healthy." She opened her eyes, and the look of gentle love that graced his mangled features speared her soul. "She's strong, Scully. Like mother, like daughter."

"I didn't dare to hope when I saw the pictures she brought, Mulder. It just seemed too much like a fairy tale. I thought maybe she was...Diana's daughter."

He grimaced. "No. Diana's been dead for a long time."

She could see pain on his face, a signal to tread lightly. "I'm sorry, Mulder. What happened?"

He swallowed and licked his lips again. "You were right not to trust her, Scully. I should have never let her back into my life. She was...sent...to keep me distracted. It worked for a while." He smiled wanly. "She gave me the tip about the facility in New Mexico. Apparently the Consortium wanted Emily for some reason. But she must have had a change of heart, and she somehow thwarted their plans. I think they killed her for that." He sighed. "But before then, I knew she was working against me, and we had split up. After she was murdered, it was just Emily and me"

"You kept her safe."

"I never understood it, Scully. I still don't. They never tried to touch her after that. Perhaps she wasn't what they thought she was."

A hint of a smile tugged at her lips. "She's a beautiful young woman, Mulder. You did a good job. You're a good dad."

"Except when I get myself abducted by aliens." His voice was nothing more than a croak now, and she straightened up, still keeping her hand in his.

"You need to rest." She hesitated for a mere second and then pressed a brief kiss to his hairline. "I'll be back later, and we can talk more."

He nodded and allowed her to slip out of the room as he closed his eyes and drifted into sleep. But she lingered in the corridor, watching from the tiny square window as the sun slanted its rays across the new morning, afraid to let him out of her sight, afraid to lose any more precious time.

"Did she make it OK?" He sat in the chair next to the window, his back straight beneath his colorless bathrobe. His hair was combed from his forehead in a wave, reminding her of the way he used to wear it when they first met. Clean-shaven and sweet-smelling, she was pleased to see he was able to do more and more for himself every day. She slapped the morning edition of the Times next to his ravaged breakfast tray and smiled.

"You mean, aside from the fact that she's terribly disappointed you're not with her?" His lips curled into a grin, and she noted the healthy pink beneath the fading scars on his cheeks. "She's on her plane, heading back to Washington. And really, you shouldn't be far behind her."

She crossed and sat in the chair opposite him. He pushed the rolling bed table from between them and looked at her. He was waiting, she knew, for something, and she wasn't entirely sure what it was he expected. But she knew what she needed to say.

"You're recovering very well, Mulder. Another week, maybe less, and you can go home." She kept her tone as light as possible, even though the weight of that reality was heavy in her heart. "You always were a fast healer."

"I always had a good doctor. I still do." Her smile widened and she looked away quickly. He continued, his next words extraordinary and unexpected. "I'm glad you were able to practice, Scully. I know you've helped a lot of people over the years with your work."

It was time. The moment had come, and she couldn't back away from it. They hadn't spoken of anything from the past besides hints and fleeting comments about old times. He had opened up the door now, and she knew he was waiting to follow her through it.

"I've thought a great deal about that decision, Mulder. The choice I made that Friday after we came back from Dallas." She took a deep breath and looked him in the eye. "I'm sorry if I hurt you. I didn't mean to leave you that way. I never imagined I wouldn't see you after that day."

His face softened. "Scully, it was my decision, too. My choice. I've relived that moment more times than I can count. I could have gone after you, tried to convince you to stay...I could have returned your calls. I could have gone back to the F.B.I., tried to get the X-Files back--"

This surprised her. "But I thought...I thought you and Diana were at the Bureau, working on the X-Files together..."

"No." He shook his head. "I never went back. I still searched on my own, following an occasional lead from Skinner or the Gunmen. But it just wasn't the same." His gaze penetrated to the depths of her. "Not without you."

"But your sister...your quest for the truth..."

His eyes fluttered closed for a moment, and in that instant, she understood. "Oh, Mulder. I'm so sorry."

"I'm not, Scully. I wouldn't have wanted her to live a life of lies and pain." He collected himself swiftly. "But I don't think we can know. I mean, how many different lives would we be leading if we made different choices? We don't know."

"What if there was only one choice? And all the other ones were wrong? And there were signs along the way to pay attention to..." Her voice trailed off as she realized she had finally asked the one question that her mind had turned over for twelve long years, like a pirate contemplating a glittering bauble buried in the sand.

She wondered now if she had discovered a treasure or a curse.

Mulder hummed deep in his throat, obviously tumbling the idea through the passages of his own mind. "And what if you missed some of the signs along the way?"


He sat forward in his chair, and she felt his fingers brush hers. Her hand opened reflexively, seeking the heat and the pressure of his touch, and she tucked hers inside of his gentle fist. "Then I think, Scully, you have to recognize that maybe the lessons that don't get learned are presented in another way. Maybe you come to the crossroads again, and you get another chance to choose a different path."

His comment struck her hard, and shaking, she squeezed his hand. The words that she spoke shook, too. "I...I want to make the right choice this time, Mulder."

"I do, too." His eyes glittered wet green. "I'm sorry, Scully, for not telling you about Emily. But when I found her, you were already married, and...I didn't know how we could fit into your life. If you would want us to fit in. You had what I thought you always wanted, and I couldn't upset that." The tears that threatened finally spilled from him, breaking his voice as well. "And she was so much like you, Scully, I couldn't bear to give her up. She was all of you that I had left."

She pulled him closer, her arms around his neck, and they cried softly together. The moments slipped by as their emotions drained through them, countless fears and the unearthly burden of lost love washing out of them both. When her heaving chest finally slowed and the tears stopped flowing, she realized that she felt lighter than she could ever remember feeling.

Finally she moved back, pressing her forehead against his. "Mulder," she began, choosing her words carefully. "You are Emily's father. Nothing will ever change that fact. But I--I would like to be a part of her life, somehow, if you will allow me to be."

He lifted his head and peered at her. He didn't speak for a few moments, and her mind panicked, suddenly afraid that she had misjudged his intentions. "I have one condition, Scully."

She gave a slow bob of her head to ask him to continue, not trusting her voice.

"That you be a part of my life, too."

Still not sure she could speak, she gave him the only answer she could. She kissed him softly, her lips hesitating slightly over his. He responded immediately, and as the moment spun out between them, she felt the dawn of a new day in the gray space of her heart.

The time on the courthouse clock read half past four, and she adjusted the straps on her heels one more time. He was late, but it was raining in torrents, and the traffic was atrocious.

She didn't mind waiting. After all this time, it didn't seem like much of a burden.

The door to the office banged open, and he strode in, soaking wet from head to foot. His dark hair stuck up from his head in tufts like overgrown grass, and she laughed, rising to meet him. He gestured helplessly at her, and she slowed him with a hand on his arm.

"It's fine, don't worry. They're behind, too."

He huffed out an impatient breath and stilled as she smoothed his hair and blotted his face with a tissue from her handbag. "It's raining like a son of a bitch," he said, as if her powers of observation had left her.

"I know, Mulder." She raised herself on tiptoes and kissed him, and she felt the tension drain from his body as he melted into her. When their lips parted, she smiled at him. "Isn't it a beautiful day?"

It rained on her wedding day, again. She couldn't have cared less.

The End

Author's Notes: I started this story so long ago that I completely forgot it existed. I ended up sending out the snippet I had to the I Want to Believe List to see if anyone recognized it. We finally determined that it was mine, and something stirred me to finish it. But I have to give the most credit for this story actually being written to the support and encouragement of sallie. If it hadn't been for her, I would never have finished it. Thanks, doll, for your unwavering enthusiasm and your quick, fantastic beta. This one truly is just for you.

Also, special thanks to Jenna, who made a lovely mix CD of MSR songs for some of us IWTBers. The song "Crossroads" by Don McLean was on there, and while I was finishing up this story, I realized how appropriate that song was to this piece. It also inspired me with the title, so here are the words:

"Crossroads" by Don McLean

I've got nothing on my mind, nothing to remember, Nothing to forget, and I've got nothing to regret. But I'm all tied up on the inside, No one knows quite what I've got, And I know that on the outside, What I used to be, I'm not, anymore.

You know, I've heard about people like me, But I never made the connection. They walk one road to set them free And find they've gone the wrong direction. But there's no need for turning back Cause all roads lead to where I stand, And I believe I walk them all No matter what I may have planned.

Can you remember who I was? Can you still feel it? Can you find my pain? Can you heal it? Then lay your hands upon me now And cast this darkness from my soul. You alone can light my way, You alone can make me whole once again.

We've walked both sides of every street Through all kinds of windy weather. But that was never our defeat As long as we could walk together. So there's no need for turning back Cause all roads lead to where we stand, And I believe we walk them all No matter what we may have planned.

Thanks for reading. Although I haven't been writing as much recently, perhaps I will see you again. And I'd love to hear what you think: avalon@fuse.net. Blessings! --

"We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospection." --Anais Nin

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