Title: Feathers, Bones, and Shells
Author: Dawn
Feedback: sunrise@avenew.com
Rating: PG
Spoilers: The Truth
Keywords: V, A, MSR
Archive: Gossamer; others are fine, just let me know
Disclaimer: Mulder and Scully belong to Chris Carter and 1013 Productions. No copyright infringement is intended.

Summary: She will not allow this loss to remain shrouded in mystery. She will not become Teena Mulder.

Author's Notes: For Carol, the sister I never knew. Many thanks to dtg, Vickie, and Michelle for their thoughtful beta. Feedback: Yes, please.


The song of my heart is ancient and true
and it sings like a thousand bells
For sorrow and grace, for my love of you
the feathers, the bones, and the shells
--Beth Nielsen Chapman


Raindrops patter a staccato beat against the glass, and Mulder's breath feathers across her cheek. He's on the edge of sleep, respiration slowing, embrace loosening. She longs to join him, to escape the tangle of emotions warring inside her, but he's still fully dressed and she's in her robe. Practicality wins out.

"Don't go to sleep."

Mulder's reaction, swift and intense, is the last thing she expects. His eyes fly open, the boneless, supple sprawl of his body turning rigid. Fine tremors pass like electricity through her fingertips, and his heart pounds against her breast. Gaze darting around the room, he examines every shadow and dark corner. The fear gradually fades from his eyes and he draws a deep breath, nose burrowing deeper into the crook of her shoulder.

"Mulder?"

"Sorry. 'M all right."

Sure you are. It's perfectly natural to experience a panic attack because someone nudged you awake.

She brushes her lips across his cheek, fingers smoothing the soft material of his tee shirt. "What just happened?"

"I told you. It's nothing."

He nuzzles the skin just behind her right ear, lips and tongue teasing the sensitive skin. She grits her teeth against the tingle that shoots down her spine, resisting the urge to shiver. Just when her iron will begins to erode, he gives up with a sigh.

"Their methods of brainwashing were crude but effective--physical punishment and sleep deprivation. They must've kept me awake for at least 72 hours. Every time I started to nod off--"

She stops the admission with a kiss, comfort quickly turning to hunger. It's been so long, she can't seem to get enough--the smell of the sun and rain on his skin, the taste of sweat and tears, the feel...

The hardness pressing against her thigh is more potent than a slap, dousing her arousal. She breaks out of the kiss, palms pressed defensively against his chest as she struggles to catch her breath.

"Mulder, we can't."

His husky response tests her resolve. "Why not? Seems to me we were off to a pretty good start."

"Because I'm not on the pill, and I doubt you're packing condoms along with that weapon." Her attempt to duplicate his brand of deflection rings hollow when her voice breaks. "I can't get pregnant again, Mulder. I won't."

He goes very still, face crumbling. "I'm...I didn't think. I just want..."

She musters a trembling smile and cups his cheek, thumb tracing his lower lip. "I know. I want it, too."

Mulder laces their fingers together, presses a kiss to her palm, and lies down again, curled along her side. She concentrates on the warmth and weight of him and tries to forget the empty space in her soul that even he can't fill.

"Do you know where he is?"

Soft and muffled, his words are more tactile than audible, like Braille against the smooth skin of her cheek.

She doesn't want to do this--not here, not now. She's tired--of half-truths and obfuscation, of injustice and impotence, of loss outweighing gain. But most of all, she's tired of hurting, of the constant dull ache that haunts the edges of every conscious thought, muting even the joy of Mulder's return. Flaring into bright agony at the slightest provocation.

Mulder's leg tightens across her thighs and his fingers curl more tightly around her own.

"Scully."

She lets her eyes slip shut, resigned. She will not allow this loss to remain shrouded in mystery. She will not become Teena Mulder.

"Yes."

The iron grip loosens. His hand slips inside her robe, tracing the curve from hip to waist and back. "Who are they?" So careful, calm.

She's not fooled. Everything about him screams tight control, from the studiously neutral tone of his voice to the mechanical movement of his fingertips. Easy to recognize the armor--it's become her second skin.

"They live on a ranch, in the middle of nowhere." She hesitates a beat. "Wyoming."

She waits, throat tightening when his hand falters and he burrows his face further into the crook of her shoulder. She feels his eyelashes flutter, hears the hitch in his breathing.

"Scully, how can you be sure...are they...?"

It is her turn to speak cautiously, forcing words past the iron bands around her throat. "Their names are Jack and Sarah Van De Kamp. They grew up within ten miles of each other; were high school sweethearts. That piece of land has been in his family for four generations.

They tried to start a family for years without success. Then, just as they were considering fertility treatments, Sarah became pregnant. It was a little girl. They named her Carol."

"Was?"

She draws in a slow breath. "Carol appeared healthy at birth, but after a few months it became apparent something was wrong. She was small for her age, well behind in all the developmental milestones. She couldn't manage solid food without vomiting; began to lose weight at an alarming rate. The pediatrician called it 'failure to thrive,' but in truth, he was baffled.

"They tried everything modern medicine had to offer--the most prestigious hospitals, the top specialists--to no avail. After more than a month in the hospital, submitted to countless diagnostic tests and treatments, Carol died. It was three days before her first birthday."

"So they decided to take someone else's baby, rather than have another of their own."

She winces at the thinly veiled bitterness mirrored in her own heart. "They were advised not to have more children. Carol's illness was traced to a genetic defect that damaged her metabolism. Jack had been exposed to toxic chemicals during a brief tour in Vietnam."

Mulder removes the hand from her waist, propping himself up on an elbow to stare into her eyes. "Vietnam? Scully, how did you find these people?"

She meets his glare without flinching. "I think you know."

He sucks in his lower lip and bites down, steel gray eyes softened by the sheen of tears. In the prison, she wept in his arms. Now it's her turn to be strong. She recaptures his hand and presses a kiss to his knuckles. "What are you thinking?"

He stares at their joined fingers, throat working furiously. "I'm thinking I want to get into the car and drive, Scully. Day and night, without stopping to eat or sleep. Until the road runs out at a ranch in Wyoming and I'm holding my son in my arms again."

"And then, what?" She keeps her voice gentle, without judgement.

"And then we get out of the damn car."

"And in ten years...?"

"I'm tired, Scully. Maybe the best we can hope for is right here, right now."

"I don't accept that, Mulder. I want much more for us, and for William. Don't you?"

"I want...I need..." His voice drops to a raspy croak. "We may never have another child, Scully. If I'm going to lose him, I...I have to know he's safe."

The pain is as fresh as the moment she placed William into Skinner's hands. She watches the shadows of raindrops trickle down the windowpane and rides it out.

"Jack Van De Kamp was no ordinary soldier, Mulder. He was special ops. He'll protect William with his life. You know I would never just... I had to be certain, too."

She feels a tug on her arm, and before she knows it she's draped across Mulder's chest. He kisses the top of her head, cradling her body between his arms and legs.

"I'm sorry, Scully. I'm so sorry."

She's not sure what he's sorry about--insisting she justify giving away their son? Not being there when she was forced to do so? It doesn't really matter. She will not become his mother. And she will not allow him to become his father. For good or ill, this will be her burden to bear.

She clings to him and wonders if it will always be like this--sorrow and joy, hope and despair irrevocably mingled, edges blurred beyond recognition. Perhaps Mulder was right, after all. Maybe this is all they can hope for.

She wants to believe that it's not.

End
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