Title: Nor Custom Stale
Author: ML
Feedback: welcomed with open arms! msnsc21@yahoo.com
Distribution: IWTB, Ephemeral, Gossamer, yes; otherwise, please let me know and leave headers, etc. attached. Please archive both parts of this story together. Thank you.
Spoilers: S7 and back
Rating: PG-13 for adult situations
Classification: story
Disclaimer: The characters mentioned in this story are the property of Ten Thirteen, Chris Carter, Fox Broadcasting, and the actors who gave them life. I mean no infringement, and I'm not making any money from this.

Summary: after Mulder's return in "Age Cannot Wither
," life goes on.

He wakes up first most mornings. It's an old habit.

He likes to lie there, watching Scully sleep. He likes to see the slight rise and fall of her body, hear her soft inhale and exhale. He especially likes it when she's sleeping facing him, so he can watch the infinitesimal movements of her eyes under her lids. He hopes she's dreaming of him. He knows he dreams of her, and some mornings when he wakes up, he still thinks he's dreaming.

If he stays very still, sometimes he can make himself think he's back in DC, in Scully's apartment, and that none of the intervening years have happened.

He expects to wake up in a cold, featureless space, held captive in unseen fetters, never in control of his body, only sometimes in control of his mind.

It's only in dreams that he seems to have any memories of his abduction and captivity, and those are fleeting and obscure. When awake, try as he might, he can summon nothing.

Now more than ever Scully is his constant. She's lived through it all, she is his guide in this brave new/old world.

It's the little things that are strange --things he took for granted before. Kitchen appliances, for example. And the texture of materials is different; they smell different too. How much of that is due to his senses being in a state of sensory deprivation for so long, he's not sure.

Food --produce, especially-- doesn't look the same. Some of the fruits and vegetables are familiar, but there are so many hybridized plants that seeing a familiar one pleases him all out of proportion. Scully is patient with his surprise and uncertainty. For her, this all happened so gradually it's like nothing has really changed for her. For Mulder, it's definite culture shock.

But at night, alone with Scully, with only the sight and scent of her surrounding him, time ceases to exist in any meaningful way. It's as though he never left, and this alone makes everything else bearable.

In the weeks since he's been returned, they have developed a routine. At first, having a routine is a novelty in and of itself. Yes, they had jobs to go to before, and there was a certain pattern to their days, but not like this.

On days that Scully works, Mulder gets up, showers and shaves, makes the coffee. They eat breakfast together and he gives her a kiss and watches her drive off in her funny little electric car. Then he gets on the computer or watches some of the recordings Scully has gotten for him. He goes for a run, though he avoids the old forest road when he's alone.

He doesn't really like having Scully out of his sight but he doesn't want to crowd her, either. She has accepted him so willingly into her life --hell, with open, loving arms-- and he doesn't want to screw that up.

When Scully is at work, he finds plenty to occupy his days in those first weeks. Scully keeps him well supplied with reading materials and recordings of history. Mulder spends days immersing himself in the history of Scully's world, all the things which occurred while he was somewhere else.

It's enough to keep him busy for a while, and more or less keep him out of mischief while Scully's at work. Little by little he discovers other things he can do, too.

He finds that he likes to cook, and has some fun figuring out all the odd devices in the kitchen designed to make the job easier. He especially likes the sonic cleaner and the instant recycler, both which eliminate any mistakes without a trace. It's fun to whip some new dish up and surprise Scully with it when she comes home.

His favorite part of the day is when Scully comes home. No matter where he is in the little house, no matter what he's doing, he's attuned to her arrival.

That first glimpse of her face, the smile that makes her eyes light up and that he knows ignites an answering spark in his own. He marvels anew at the fact that he is here now, with Scully.

One night he greets Scully at the door wearing a voluminous chef's apron. When he turns to lead her into the dining room, he is gratified by her shriek of delighted laughter as she sees that all he has on under the apron is a thong.

Dinner is very late that night.

On another night, after a day of watching old sports programs, he asks Scully, "Do people still play baseball?"

Scully looks at him, startled, but then smiles. "Of course, Mulder. And basketball, and the Olympics. Hyped just as much as it ever was, sadly."

The following day, Scully arranges for delivery of a portable basketball hoop. When she comes home that night, she has a basketball and an invitation to shoot hoops with a couple of the guys at the hospital. It becomes a part of his routine.

Maybe it's too much of a good thing. Maybe the routine itself is the problem.

Scully seems okay with things the way they are, but she also has the stimulation of a job to go to, even though it's nothing like what she used to do. Instead of cutting up dead people, she gets to heal living ones. She's adapted, she's moved on. He wonders, though, if she misses the old life.

Mulder thinks about where he is now. He thinks about before. He thinks about all the questions he still doesn't have answers to, large and small.

Scully has changed. Not in essentials, of course; everything Mulder loved about her before is still true, still there. But he mourns what he missed.

He wants his life back, and he wants hers, too. Every minute of it. He wants to see what she's seen, to have experienced her life.

On Scully's days off, sometimes they just stay in bed all day. He doesn't remember Scully giggling so much before, either in or out of bed, but he's become addicted to the sound. They make love, they talk, they share memories of their lives together before. They watch movies. Scully has managed to dig up some old favorites.

"I hate to admit it, Mulder," she says with a show of great reluctance, "but `Caddyshack' has somehow withstood the test of time." There's a memory they share, and a sweet one at that. Who'd've thought that Rodney Dangerfield and Bill Murray would act as aphrodisiacs?

It's not all fun and games, however. As they get to know each other again, much of what Scully has to tell him is difficult and painful, and not just for her. Although for Scully, many, many years have passed, he can see that what she felt then is still fresh to her. He feels her pain as well as his own. Pain for having missed so much, for having caused hurt to Scully and others. Added to this is a feeling of helplessness, and frustration at having nothing but blankness in his memory. How could so much time have passed with him unaware, and with no memory of it at all? He feels like Rip van Winkel.

If he can't have memories of his own, he wants Scully's. He's impatient to know everything now. Nonetheless, he doesn't want to spend all his time with Scully asking her questions. He also wants just to be with her, to experience her as she is now.

Scully seems to feel the same way. She's obviously very happy to have him back, she shows it in so many ways, from the way she looks at him to the way she is always reaching for him, as if to reassure herself that he is there, and real. But she hasn't pressed him to remember any details of what happened to him, and she doesn't try to overwhelm him with her own story. This is just like the Scully of old; he'd always had to nag her to tell him things.

But even Scully knows there are some things that can't wait.

The first morning after she brought him home, Scully sat them both down at the table in the kitchen. She kept hold of Mulder's hand, but couldn't meet his eyes. Mulder could feel both her reluctance and her determination and waited as quietly as he could while she gathered her thoughts.

"I need to tell you some things, but I'm not sure how to begin," she said.

Mulder wasn't sure he liked the sound of this at all, but he kept still. The silence stretched on, and finally Mulder said, "You know, whatever it is, it's kept this long. It'll keep a while longer." He felt a churning in his stomach. He wanted to say, tell me now, get it over with so I can figure out how to deal with it and move on. And so can you. I hope we can.

It seemed so unfair that now she's found him, there was still so much stuff for them to work through. That she had to experience lifetimes without him, and now he had to play catch up. He wondered if he will ever be able to, if this life will ever stop seeming strange to him.

Scully looked so distressed that he put his own distress aside and tried for her sake to inject a little levity.

"Scully, just do what they say in `Alice in Wonderland.' Begin at the beginning, go on to the end, and then stop. Maybe you could start by telling me what you did when I was first gone." It's extraordinary how hard it was to say that.

"I tried to go on with my life, and with your work," she said. "It was so hard, and it never seemed to get any easier. Though I think the first lifetime was the hardest, in some ways it was also the happiest," she said with a sad smile.

"How so, Scully? Tell me." Mulder moved to sit closer to her and put his arm around her. She leaned her head against his shoulder.

"Well, to begin with, I had you...but then I lost you, and I lost everyone else I loved in that time. I lost you, then one by one, I lost Skinner, the Gunmen, my mother..."

Mulder felt like a fool. He should have known.

"I'm so sorry, Scully," he said softly. "You must have been terribly lonely," he added. "What made you happy during that time? I hope you found someone to be with." He didn't really hope that, but he was trying to be noble about it. After all, what good was he to her during that time? Memories can't warm you, can't give you a hug when you need one, or tell you how loved you are.

She smiled again, a degree or so happier. Mulder felt the clench of jealousy. He wanted to know, but didn't want to have to hear it.

"No, I wasn't entirely alone," she said. "I had a traveling companion for almost seventy-five years."

"Tell me about him," Mulder said after a long moment. He watched her face flicker with memories of whoever this person was, and it was obvious that she loved him. It was certainly a "him," and it pained Mulder to know it.

"He was a very special person," Scully told him. She closed her eyes for a moment, and he could see tears gathering in the corners, ready to come out. "He was open to extreme possibilities, and deeply committed to finding the truth. He looked a lot like you. I think you would have liked him, Mulder. You have a lot in common with him."

I beg to differ, Mulder thought, but it could have been true. If he'd been around, Scully probably wouldn't have fallen for this guy, but they might have been friends. He must have been an okay guy if Scully liked him.

"When did you meet this guy?" Mulder asked. He was determined to be an adult about this if it killed him. He owed Scully several lifetimes of favors, though hearing about this guy and being nice about it might use them all up in one go. "Did I know him?"

"Not in the widely accepted definition of the word," Scully said. "But he knew you."

Mulder gave her a puzzled look. "So he was...what? FBI? Come on, Scully, quit with the mystery and tell me." He knew she'd had a partner after he'd been taken, but she'd described him as a skeptic. Besides, she wouldn't have taken up with someone so quickly after he'd gone. He'd have bet money that she'd wait a long, long time...

"Did you know him before I was gone?" Mulder pressed her. Might as well know the whole story.

"I met him not long after you were taken," Scully confessed.

This was *not* good. He could feel his jaw tightening.

"Do you want to know his name?" Scully had a sparkle in her eyes now. She was enjoying this far too much. Why was she enjoying this?

Mulder took a deep, slow breath and did his best to relax. "Okay," he muttered. "What was his name?"

Scully said, very slowly and deliberately, "His name was William Samuel Scully." She watched Mulder as he thought about this.

"Scully," he said with sudden comprehension. "You had a baby after all."

She nodded, pursing her lips either to keep from crying or keep from laughing. The tears ran freely down her cheeks now.

"How...when...did you try the IVF again?" Mulder wasn't sure if he was happy or just relieved at this revelation. Happy for Scully, sure. But he wasn't sure what it meant in terms of his involvement. His mind raced through all the possibilities. It could have been a donor egg implanted, maybe using his sperm, maybe not...Or, adoption? A surrogate? Scully hadn't wanted to think of other alternatives at first after the IVF failed, but maybe she'd come around...the only impossibility as far as he could see was that they'd made the baby themselves, without outside intervention of some kind.

"No, I didn't do IVF again. No one could explain how it happened, least of all myself...but it seems that somehow, in some way, I was able to conceive in the usual way." She reached out for his hand. "You and I, Mulder. We did it together."

A son. He'd had a son. It was incomprehensible. He would have said, "inconceivable," but evidently that wasn't true.

He was pierced with a sadness he thought he'd never feel again, akin to how he felt when Samantha was taken. He'd had a son, and he never knew him.

Scully watched him silently as he processed this.

Finally he said, "What was he like, Scully?"

She smiled through her tears. "He was smart, funny, compassionate, handsome, loving. He was about your height, and had your eyes. He loved baseball. He had a fantastic memory. He was everything I could have asked for. You would have loved him, Mulder."

"Of course I would have loved him, Scully, he was your son."

"And yours, Mulder. He was so much like you. Having him in my life is what made not having you bearable for a long time. When Will died, I felt that I'd lost my only link with my real life. My last link with you."

So many regrets, so much lost time. Scully didn't look much older to him than she had when he first went away, until he looked deep into her eyes. There all the pain and loneliness of the long, long years resided. He would give anything to take that pain away. He would shoulder it himself, if he could.

They spend much of their first weeks together talking, talking, talking. The revelations get less difficult as Scully moves further away from her first lifetime.

It's what he likes best: hearing Scully's personal history, from her directly. Even if it's painful to him, he wants to know everything. He welcomes the pain. He wants to share that with Scully, too.

Certainly there are no revelations as startling, or as unexpectedly painful, as the fact that he had a son he never knew, and never will know.

He still can't quite wrap his mind around the fact that he's been returned after such a long time, and that Scully lived through that time, never aging.

They've talked about that, too, in the weeks since his return. That's one of the changes: that Scully is so willing to accept what has happened. Scully as a believer is a concept Mulder has trouble with. But she is the one who has experienced several lifetimes; she has no choice but to believe what she's lived.

"Mulder, I denied it for a long time," she said. "I didn't want to believe it, but it is true."

"Do you remember," he said tentatively, "that case with the photographer? The one you went on without me?"

That's the way he remembers it. She went on a case without him, and she almost died because of it. But afterward, she'd told him what Alfred Fellig did. She didn't exactly share her fears of what it meant with Mulder, but he could tell from her steady, no-nonsense retelling that she feared it. Feared it, but didn't believe it.

"There was something else, even earlier than that," she told him. "Remember Clyde Bruckman?"

Oh yeah. The guy who implied he, Mulder, was marked out for a particularly undignified death. Well, look at me now, Bruckman. Not much chance of that now, is there? He nodded casually at Scully, and said merely, "What about him?"

"He offered to tell me how I'd die," she said in a matter- of- fact tone, "and I finally broke down and let him." She paused, considering her words carefully. "And he told me, `You don't.'"

That case was pretty early in their partnership, and Mulder knew that at that time, she would have dismissed Bruckman's words without a second thought. Then, to have this other case happen...

"I didn't believe him," Scully said unnecessarily. "He also told me that I'd end up in bed with him."

Mulder snorted at that.

"He was right, as far as it went," Scully reminded him. "Remember how we found him? It still didn't make me believe him. But since then, I have wondered..."

"Yet here you are, and here I am," he said. "And we *do* appear to be aging normally, now."

"As near as I can tell, Mulder," she agreed. "Time will be the ultimate proof of that."

Now, their almost-idyllic summer is drawing to a close. Mulder has found himself increasingly restless over the past week or so. Not that he's unhappy, being with Scully, but it's Scully's life he's in, not a life they've built together. It's Scully's world he has come to, and he still isn't sure of his place in it.

Is this what it was like for Scully, all those years ago? How did she feel when she came to the basement on that first day, and was swept into a world she knew nothing about, and had to struggle to get a handhold on?

Is she sorry that he reappeared, to upset her life? Except for a few mementos, Scully has traveled lightly through the years. She hasn't dragged all her baggage along with her from place to place. Now, with his reappearance, she has had to relive all those memories and associations she'd left behind.

He wonders if it might have been kinder to her if he'd never come back. Not that it appears he's been given any choice in the matter; his return seems more arbitrary than his abduction. But he's here now, and disappearing again is not an option, he realizes. Going away would only cause Scully more pain.

He needs to figure out how to live his life in this brave new world. Where does he fit in? What does he want to do, now that he's grown up?

He hasn't talked to her about this. He doesn't want to sound ungrateful, or to worry her.

Once he's mastered the new operating system (though he still prefers his hunt-and-peck on the keyboard to voice commands), Mulder begins to explore his new world, and to try and find his place in it.

He takes armchair tours of the cities he used to know. He explores the on-line encyclopedias, randomly choosing topics and reading everything he can find. It's interesting to see so many of the issues that seemed so important in an earlier day treated as a footnote in the passage of time. It gives him an entirely different perspective. He remembers some flippant comments he made to the passengers of the Queen Anne, that trip to the Triangle that might (or might not) have happened. He'd been pretty cavalier about the past that was their present. Now that it's his past he's looking at, he feels a little differently about it.

He looks for evidence of the Consortium, of alien occupation or activity of any kind. He finds a MUFON website and reads the latest. It doesn't actually sound much different than what he's read in the past. Scully has told him that Bellefleur still has a certain reputation amongst aficionados, but she hadn't seen anything out of the ordinary until the night Mulder turned up.

Evidently there are no alien conspiracies to uncover any longer. Was his abduction the last salvo in a war that was neither won nor lost? Is there still an alien threat out there, somewhere? There's still something like the FBI, though like everything else, it's become more global. He types in "X-Files" on the FBI site and comes up empty.

Scully told him that her new partner took over the X-Files while she was on maternity leave. When she returned, she had been unable to do the traveling she'd done previously, and Chesty Short got his wish in one respect--Scully spent more time researching leads from the office, on the computer, than she did in the field.

Evidence of alien activity seemed to die out at about the same time Will was born, Scully told him. Maybe it was coincidental, but she wondered if Will was supposed to be something he turned out not to be. There had been times during her pregnancy that she'd worried Will would be taken from her, and if there'd been anything unusual about him, maybe things would have turned out differently.

"I can't explain it, Mulder," Scully told him. "Just before Will was born, reports of abductees being returned started coming in. Several were returned right here, in Bellefleur. Theresa Hoese and her husband were among the first. They had no memory of where they'd been, or of anyone else there with them. No one could tell me if you were there or not."

It is a mystery, and he wonders if he will ever get to the bottom of it. He'd been a damned good investigator, in his day; but this is more like archeology than police work. All the witnesses are long gone, with the exception of Scully.

Does he want to go traipsing all over the world, following up leads long cold? Scully had done just that, she told him, with Will in tow. Would covering the same ground again, after all this time, be worth it?

Maybe he owes it to himself and to Scully to at least try.

Besides, what else is he going to do?

There are still schools. He could teach, but what? He has no idea what advances have been made in his field over time.People still read books and newspapers; he could write, but what about? Ancient history? Once upon a time, invasion was imminent? The story of two brave, misunderstood agents who bucked the odds to stop it?

Is science fiction still a viable genre, or has reality outstripped fantasy?

He doesn't want to be restless, but he is. He wants to be content where he is.

The fact remains that he isn't.

It's got nothing to do with Scully. It's in him.

The thought comes unbidden to him that maybe if he hadn't been taken, if he'd had Will to be a father to, he'd have learned to enjoy a normal life.

He's always heard that you can't miss what you've never had. Now he wonders how true that saying is. He misses the child he never had. He misses the life he could have had with Scully.

Scully has noticed his restlessness. He sees her watching him, probably wondering what's going on in his head. He wishes he could figure out a way to tell her without sounding whiny or ungrateful.

"Mulder, why don't you come to the hospital and have lunch with me today?" Scully asks one morning as she gets ready for work. "You could drop me off this morning, and come back at lunch. Maybe you'd like to go into town or something."

Mulder makes a show of considering his options. "Well, I don't know. My favorite talk show comes on at noon, and I have to get the laundry done..."

She silences him with a kiss. "I miss you. Please come."

He actually likes visiting Scully at the hospital, hard though it was to admit at first. She is so obviously well-liked there, and by extension, people seem to like him, too. For some strange reason, his appearance in Bellefleur seems to enhance Dr. Scully's standing in the community.

He isn't used to people being genuinely friendly to him, and at first it makes him feel standoffish. But after a while he realizes that no one here means him harm.

He goes into town and talks with people there. So many things are the same, and yet not the same. People are still people. They dress funny to his eyes, and their hair sometimes looks strange to him, but in essentials they are unchanged.

Going into town and seeing other people helps his restlessness somewhat, as Scully must have realized. It also stirs him up a little more, makes him curious to see more of the world that he can observe through television or computer screen.

He won't leave Scully, however. She seems so happy here, and there have been comparatively few periods since he's known her when she's seemed truly happy. He's afraid, however, his dissatisfaction will begin to affect her happiness. He has to figure out what to say to her.

Scully saves him the trouble by bringing it up herself one evening at dinner.

"You're not happy here, Mulder, are you?" she asks him point-blank.

"I'm happy with you," he replies, wanting to be sure she knows that. "If you're here, I'm happy."

"Mulder." Scully reaches for his hand and says softly. "I know that. I have never, for one minute, doubted that. But you're not happy *here*. Is it Bellefleur?"

He shakes his head no. "I don't know what it is, Scully. I don't know what to do with myself."

"So do you want to leave?" Scully looks him straight in the eyes, her own expression neutral.

"Not without you," he says, meeting her gaze, and he sees relief in her eyes. Had she really thought he'd contemplate leaving here without her?

"You don't have to feel obligated to stay with me, Mulder," she continues, as if determined to say what she's rehearsed. "You don't owe me anything. In fact, it's pretty much the reverse."

"Huh?" In his karmic bank account, Mulder knows how far in Scully's debt he is, and has been, almost since the beginning of their partnership.

Scully says patiently, "Whose money do you think has financed my travels all these years?"

"Well, I just figured you always worked, Scully." He really hasn't given it much thought at all, except to learn the "new" payment methods. He hasn't done much transacting himself, but has been with Scully to places where business is conducted through a combination of debit cards and a complicated bartering system.

"The seed money was yours, Mulder," Scully tells him now. "I've never had to work, but I've wanted to. I've always wanted to be a part of the world, not separate from it."

Mulder knows she doesn't mean to sting him with her words, but she has. Somehow, he's responsible for her Alfred Fellig-like existence. How can she say she owes him anything?

"Mulder." He looks back at her. "You are not to blame for any of this. I don't blame you, and you need to stop blaming yourself. I think much of what happened to you was planned --if not pre-ordained-- when you were born, or maybe even before that."

"Do you think that your getting pregnant was pre-ordained too?" He registers the shock in Scully's eyes and instantly regrets saying it. He's not even sure why he did; it seemed to come out of left field.

The tears shine in her eyes as she says, "Yes, Mulder, I do, but not in the way you think. I think having Will was a miracle. It came with a price, though. That's something that no one ever talks about. Miracles often have a price."

Mulder mutters, "Yeah, part of the price is having an idiot for a father. I'm sorry, Scully. Sorry for what you had to go through, and sorry I wasn't there for you. Maybe it's better I wasn't there, though. I don't know that I'd have been a very good father figure. I didn't have a very good example."

She comes over to where he's sitting and puts her arms around him, resting her chin on his shoulder. "I think you would have made a great father, Mulder. I wish you could have been there, but I don't blame you for any of it. You paid for the miracle, same as I did. And you didn't get any of the benefits."

Mulder tugs on her arm and turns in his chair, pulling her into his lap. "Maybe it's time I started collecting some of them now," he suggests.

Scully cups his face in her hands and he tilts his face up, pursing his lips and raising his eyebrows. She takes the hint and leans into him, pressing soft kisses all around his face until he growls with impatience and pulls her in for a little serious lip-lock.

It's almost enough to make him forget any worries he has. When he has Scully in his arms, and he feels her mouth on his, nothing else really matters. He wants to be sure that she knows that no matter what, she is the center of his world.

Scully relaxes into his arms. He cradles her head with one hand and lets his actions complete the reassurance of his words. Her response to him is reassuring to him as well. As long as they can be together, everything will be okay...

He's not sure how long they've been sitting at the table, kissing and murmuring to each other, but he thinks it's about time they moved to someplace more comfortable.

Scully stirs a little in his arms as he shifts her around. She mutters something into his neck.

"Shh," he says, but she pulls away a little and looks at him with questions still in her eyes.

"You didn't really answer my question earlier, Mulder," she reminds him. "Are you bored?"

He looks down at Scully, her eyes heavy-lidded and her lips enticingly swollen from his kisses. "Right now?" he chuckles. "I don't think I've ever had that question asked in this situation before."

Scully pulls herself away little more. "I'm serious, Mulder."

"So am I, Scully. How can you expect me to answer other than `no' at this moment?" He's not sure he wants to continue this conversation at the present moment. Maybe if he just kisses her again...

But he should know better with Scully. She pushes against his chest and stands up. "Meet me in the living room," she says, and marches out.

With a groan, Mulder complies. Not that he has any choice. He should have known that now the subject is broached, Scully will want to resolve it. He might let himself get distracted, but Scully will keep him on task, as usual.

He notices Scully has chosen to sit in an armchair rather than the sofa. With a sigh, he sits facing her.

"Before you say anything else, Mulder, I have to tell you I expected you to be bored long before this. I think this is the longest `vacation' you've ever had. Except maybe for enforced hospital stays." She allows herself a small smile as she says this.

"I'm not really bored, Scully, it's just...what can I do?" he asks a little plaintively. "I don't wanna just sit around all day, or shoot hoops, or surf the `net. I feel like I'm a non-person. My resume is really outdated. I have the feeling that my particular area of expertise isn't in great demand."

"Mulder, I know you can do anything you set your mind to doing." Scully smiles a little more broadly. "Don't worry about credentials; the Gunmen taught me a thing or two. If you want to teach, we can get your degree and curriculum vitae updated without too much trouble."

Mulder is tickled and a little shocked. "Dana Katherine Scully! You'd falsify documents for me?" He puts his hand over his heart. "I think I'm in love."

"You should have seen the look on Frohike's face when I asked him to help me," Scully laughs, and then turns a little more serious again. "I don't guess you want to be a kept man, Mulder, but it's okay with me."

"As long as you're the one doing the keeping, Scully," he tells her. "But I don't want you to get bored with me, either."

Scully's eyes have gone all soft again. "Not possible, Mulder," she says.

"C'mere, Scully," Mulder says in his most sultry voice, and pats the sofa next to him. He half expects her to refuse; he knows this conversation isn't over yet. But she surprises him again by doing as he asks, and curling up against his side. He turns her head so he can kiss her again and they sit in contentment, exchanging soft, undemanding kisses.

After a bit, she sits up again and it's obvious to Mulder that she still has at least one more item on her agenda.

"I was thinking that maybe we could do some traveling," she suggests. "I have a lot of vacation time saved up. We could tour the world, if you like."

"But you'd want to come back here, after?" he asks.

She doesn't answer right away. "I've been happy here, Mulder. I felt welcomed from the start, and now that you've come back, I feel at home. But you may have different feelings about this place. And if you can't be happy here, I can't be, either." She takes his hand in hers. "I think I could be happy wherever you are, Mulder," she says, and kisses him.

"'Wither thou goest,' Scully?" Mulder grins. "Aren't you even going to argue with me a little?"

She smiles. "Well, I hope you'll give it some thought, Mulder. We don't have to decide anything right away. You should know, the house on the Vineyard is not only still standing, it's still yours."

"I suppose you had to let the lease go on my apartment, though," he jokes.

She makes a face at him. "You won't believe how long I actually *did* hang onto it, Mulder. But I'm sorry to say, your fish were early casualties."

The very next day, Mulder begins to plan an itinerary. He has a vague idea in the back of his mind that they might stay at the Vineyard house for a while, and he makes that the last stop. Scully arranges for a leave of absence and one morning in late summer, they pack up the little car and head out.

They take their time, zigzagging across the country, stopping at spots they remember. Some have changed beyond recognition. The former desert area known as Dreamland is a fully developed retirement community now. If possible, Las Vegas is even more artificial than ever, with big domed areas over half the buildings in the city.

"Climate and pollution control," Scully explains, and Mulder nods. He's read something of that. Before privately-owned internal combustion engines were banned, some cities in high-impact areas created self-contained artificial atmospheres and banned all but electric transport within their confines. Parts of Los Angeles were now under domes, as were some other cities in other high-congestion areas. Since then, global warming had been slowed somewhat, and banning of all but electric cars for most of the populace rendered the dome cities unnecessary and impractical before the trend went too far.

Mulder's glad of this. Las Vegas and Los Angeles have always been little different anyway; however, he's not sure he could deal with New York or Chicago or Boston under domes.

Because of the range of their car, their progress each day takes them only a couple of hundred miles. Scully had suggested taking the bullet train, but Mulder reminded her that the point wasn't so much arriving as getting there.

He starts out sharing the driving duties with Scully but is so easily distracted by what he sees out the windows that Scully ends up doing the bulk of the driving. He pays her back by giving her massages every night when they stop.

Just for old times' sake, he books them into a couple of less than four star establishments, but with the help of an on-line travel consultant, also manages to find some nice places, too. It tickles him that there is still a Sam Houston Motor Lodge in Texas, though the town of Cheney has disappeared off the map. The town and the surrounding countryside have been absorbed by the sprawl of Dallas and its suburbs.

Scully just rolls her eyes at some of Mulder's choices, but she doesn't seem displeased. She seems very pleased by some of the nicer places, and isn't shy about sharing her pleasure with Mulder.

It occurs to Mulder about halfway through their trip that this is like a honeymoon. They had never traveled together before except when on a case. They'd never really gotten to the point of even talking about such a possibility. They'd been lovers for only a short time before Mulder's abduction, and consumed with work, as usual. This trip just for the sake of traveling seems very strange at first. Some of the memories it invokes are bittersweet at best, but the novelty of being with Scully and having her all to himself without the distraction of work more than makes up for it.

The skyline of New York City looks much like it did the last time he saw it; several new buildings are there, but he can still recognize the Chrysler Building and the Empire State. The Statue of Liberty, amazingly enough, is still in the harbor, though the harbor itself looks entirely different. Watercraft unlike anything he's seen dot the water. Ships both huge and tiny are everywhere.

They don't stay long in New York. Neither of them have very fond memories of that city.

Washington, DC, is one of the last stops they make before their ultimate destination. All of the usual monuments are there, plus more. The Esplanade and all the other open areas display more statuary and symbolic sculptures and fountains than ever before.

The most meaningful monuments to them are the personal ones. Scully directs Mulder to a small park he remembers from years ago. This is where Melissa Scully is buried, and now so is Margaret Scully. The surprise to him is that Walter Skinner also has a stone nearby.

"He could have been buried at Arlington," Mulder says.

"He wanted to be among friends," Scully replies simply. She wordlessly points out another stone, a small obelisk with three names inscribed on it.

"They're here too?" Mulder asks in amazement.

"Well, not really," Scully says, laying her hand against the smoothly polished stone, tracing the name of Melvin Frohike. "Byers had a family plot, and Frohike donated his body to science. Langly wanted his ashes sent into space, or failing that, scattered over Area 51. Guess what he got."

Mulder grins. "Don't have to. So you still hung out with the Gunmen, huh?"

"They helped me out a lot, Mulder. I don't think I could have coped without them. Or without Skinner."

They stand near the memorials to their friends and family for a time, holding hands, honoring them in silence.

It's not until later that it occurs to Mulder that there is no stone for their son, and by then he's unwilling to bring it up. He can see that this trip is already taking a toll on Scully.

The Hoover Building itself is now a museum. For old times' sake, they take the tour, stifling giggles at some of the inaccuracies that the guide states.

Mulder asks, with an innocent expression, about what might be in the basement, which is not on the tour.

"I think it was probably always just storage," the guide says, puzzled that he even asked. "Isn't that usually what basements are for?"

Mulder grimaces and Scully rolls her eyes at him. In the main lobby, she takes him to see the wall listing all the Directors and Deputy Directors through the prior century.

He makes a small whistling sound as he comes across Skinner's name. "He got there, in spite of us," he says. Tears sting at his eyes.

"He got there because of us," Scully says. "He was instrumental in exposing a conspiracy at the FBI, with Kersh at its center. Notice Kersh's name isn't there?"

"Kersh wasn't a Deputy Director, was he?" Mulder asks.

"Well, not for long," Scully says. "About a year, all told. But he was stripped of his title when it all came down, not long after Will was born. He died not long after that."

"Died, or was killed?" Mulder murmurs to her, mindful of the other tourists nearby.

"Good question, Mulder," Scully whispers back.

"Why didn't you tell me this before?" he whispers accusingly.

"I have to save some stories for the long winter nights," she smirks. "I'm still trying to keep you guessing."

"Well, you're doing a good job," he says.

They arrive on Martha's Vineyard one bright autumn day. Scully has gotten increasingly pensive as they've come closer to their destination. Mulder is aware of this but he has his own memories and feelings to deal with, too.

The last time he was here was just after his mother had died, and he was liquidating most of his parents' assets. He'd considered selling it then, but instead left it to Scully, along with pretty much all his other worldly goods. He's very glad now that he did so.

The house is much as he remembers it. Scully has made sure it was kept up over the years, and must have gotten someone local to check over the place periodically. The shrubs look a little overgrown, but not badly. The house itself is snug and sturdy and as secretive as always.

When he goes inside, everything seems different. The furnishings are not at all what he remembers, with the exception of a few family heirlooms. His father had been pretty indifferent to his surroundings and he remembers the furnishings being pretty shabby. He sees the Scully touch subtly throughout the house. More than that, it looks lived in, the way a house does when a family has occupied it. He never had that feeling here before.

It's like everything has an overlay, blurring the lines of what he sees and what he knows, making everything familiar and unfamiliar at the same time.

Scully comes up behind him as he surveys the living room. "I lived here, off and on, for quite a while, when Will was growing up. It was one of his favorite places. And, oddly enough, I felt safe here."

He refrains from reminding her that his father was murdered here.

"You know how the Vineyard is. People mind their own business. No one questioned members of the Mulder family coming and going, or the house staying shut up for long intervals."

"Did you go by the name of Mulder when you came here?" He's sort of pleased by that.

"Yes, I did, as did William. The last time we came here, he was William Mulder and I was his daughter, Katherine."

"Is this another tale for a winter's night?" he teases.

"Not really, Mulder. I went by a lot of aliases over the years. I always tried to pick something you'd recognize. I even went by Georgia Hale for a while."

"Believe me, Scully, I would have found you no matter what," he promises her.

They spend most of the day getting the house habitable and getting some supplies from town. The end of the day finds them in front of the fire in the living room, eating a light supper. Mulder feels more relaxed than he ever has in this house. Having Scully here has made all the difference.

He's always felt a bit like a visitor in this house in the past, but now it feels more like a home. When Scully takes his hand and leads him to bed, he goes willingly, but with a touch of unease. It's very strange to think of making love to Scully in this house. It holds so few happy memories for him. With Scully here, however, the same magic happens that happened in Bellefleur. Everything melts away, and it's only the two of them. Where they are is no longer important; all that matters is that they are together.

He is wakeful in the night, listening to the distant sound of waves and the creaking of the house. It could be anytime, anywhere right now, with the darkness obscuring everything. He pulls Scully closer to him, and she stirs and presses against him. He imagines listening for a baby, their baby, in the room down the hall. He imagines Will's childhood here. Scully told him it was a happy one, surrounded by people who loved him. He hasn't wanted to press Scully too much, and awaken old sorrows, but he'd like to know more about his son.

The next day, they go for a walk, and end up on the shore, looking out over the water. The wind has a sharp tang to it, a promise of the winter to come. They find a dune to sit against. Mulder pulls Scully back against him and rests his chin on her head. He doesn't say anything, just watches the waves and holds Scully.

"We used to come here with our picnics, Will and I," Scully says eventually. "He learned to swim in the ocean here."

Mulder nods his head, rubbing against Scully's hair, and waits for her to continue.

"We celebrated your birthday here every year. I used to tell him stories about you, and what I knew about your family. It helped to have the house here, and what was left of the pictures..."

He remembers. His mother had burned all of hers before she committed suicide.

"After Will was gone, I scattered his ashes here. And then I didn't come back for a long time."

"Oh, Scully..." He brushes his lips over her ear, hugging her close. "I wish I could have been here with you. I wish..." He's not sure what he wishes, except that what happened to him had never happened, that he'd been allowed to spend that lifetime with Scully, watching their son grow. He wishes he could make this up to her, somehow. As sharply as he feels the loss for himself, it must be much worse for Scully, to have raised him alone, only to lose him in the end.

To have loved Scully, and be loved by her, only to lose each other in the end...he won't allow it, it will not happen. Not in this lifetime.

"I miss him, Mulder. It was awful, knowing I'd outlive him. And when he was gone, I lost the last connection with my real life..."

Mulder holds her close, hugging her to him but not speaking. He imagines what it must have been like, to come here alone, scattering the ashes of a loved one.

"I'd never had a service for you, Mulder. Your case stayed in the X-Files. It was closed as far as the FBI was concerned, but not as far as I was concerned. But when I came here with Will's ashes, I prayed for your rest as well...I couldn't have gone on, otherwise.

"I knew then what you must have gone through with Samantha, how it must have been all those years, never really knowing what had happened to her."

"But you moved on." He says it softly, not accusingly. "You made a life for yourself."

"I had to, for Will," Scully replies just as softly. "He was all I had of you, and I couldn't neglect him. And after, I kept on because it was what Will --and you-- would have expected me to do." She turns in his arms, and wraps herself around him. She lays her head against his heart.

Mulder kisses the top of her head and hugs her to him just as tightly as she hugs him. "I can't ever make up for the time lost, Scully," he whispers into her hair. "But I will do everything I can to make you happy now, and give you whatever I can."

They've been there a few days when Scully mentions she has to make a trip into Boston. "You don't have to come, Mulder. I'll go and be back in one day."

"I don't want you to have to go alone, Scully," he says.

"You'd probably be bored, Mulder. I have to go to the medical center. It's something I promised to do at the hospital back in Bellefleur."

"Are you sure?"

"It's okay, Mulder, really. Besides, there's something I need for you to do here while I'm gone." She's licking her lips nervously.

"What would that be, Scully?" he prompts her.

"I'll tell you in the morning," she says. And no matter how he tries, he can't get anything else out of her about it.

Next morning, before she catches the ferry, Scully gives Mulder a large archival box. "There are some things in here I thought you might like to see," she says. "I've been saving them for you." She gives him a swift kiss and heads out the door before he can say anything. "I'll see you at dinner, okay?"

Mulder looks at the box and makes himself some more coffee before opening it.

As soon as he opens it, he understands why Scully wants to make herself scarce while he looks at these things. Here is what Scully left behind when she started her new life: the mementos that would have made moving on unbearable.

There's an outfielder's mitt, with a baseball tucked firmly into the pocket. An envelope with report cards, programs, a few cards and letters. A very old, ragged, faded Yankees cap.

At first he thinks somehow that these are things that used to belong to him, but when he looks inside the envelope, he realizes they must have been Will's.

There's also a stack of cases containing some type of recordings. They are numbered, so Mulder dutifully takes the first disc out, pops it into the multimedia player and waits for it to figure out the format and begin the show.

At first, he thinks it's his own image on the screen. But how would Scully get hold of something like that? This is a man in his twenties. The image grins, and it's even more like seeing himself. Then the voice.

"Hi, Dad," said Mulder's son. "It sounds weird to say that, and maybe it sounds weird for you to hear it. This was Mom's idea, and I think it's a good one, but it's still weird." He cleared his throat. "Okay. This is the first in a series of recordings I'm making for you, so you can see what I was like. Mom has this idea that someday you're gonna show up, and even if I'm not here, or she's not here, you'll know a little something about me. Mom has a bunch of recordings from when I was a kid, and I'm sure she's gonna show them to you, too. But I wanted to talk to you myself. Mom won't know what these recordings say; they're just for you. You can let her watch them after you've seen them if you want."

It's too much. He shuts off the machine and closes his eyes.

After a few minutes, he opens his eyes again, and pushes the button.

When Scully comes home, he's still sitting facing the screen, all of the boxes in a neat stack on the table in front of him. He doesn't turn to look at her, but he feels her approach, and he reaches his hand out to her.

She comes and sits beside him, taking his hand in both of hers. "Are you okay?" she asks softly.

After a minute, he nods. He still doesn't trust himself to speak.

"I know I can't give you the life you didn't get to live," she says, "but I can at least share some of it with you."

He clears his throat and says in a voice he can barely recognize as his own, "We'll make our own life together, Scully. You and me."

She nods, biting her lower lip, the tears shimmering in her eyes matching his own. He puts his arm around her and holds her close. "Thank you," he whispers into her hair. "Thank you for Will, and for believing in me."

Scully nods again, and smiles, laying her head on his shoulder.

Mulder is exhausted after such an emotional day, and he can see that Scully is already half-asleep on his shoulder.

"You wore yourself out," he says in a murmur. "you should have stayed home today."

"I would have, Mulder, but what I had to do was important, and you needed to have some time alone with Will, too," she says.

"Well, if you have to go again, I'm going to go with you," he tells her. "At least I can make you stop for lunch, and I'm sure I can find something to do if you're going to be busy."

"Actually, I'd really like it if you could come with me next time," Scully says. She's suddenly very alert, and she shifts around to kneel on the sofa, facing Mulder. "I may have a job in mind for you, if you're interested."

"Really? Is this something you were looking into today, Scully?" There's definitely something afoot. There are still tears in her eyes, but what's behind them is pure joy.

She nods. "It won't be for some months yet, but I can guarantee you won't be bored." She can barely contain her smile now, and she takes Mulder's hand and places it against her stomach.

All he can do in response is smile.


He's late, as usual, and he really doesn't want to miss this.

It's the first lecture in the genetics module, and it features Professor Emeritus Dana K. Scully-Mulder. Even after all this time, and even though it's a recorded lecture, she still packs the house.

He's very proud of this, and not just because of his relationship to her. He hopes that one day, he will be as revered as she is. He's only a first-year medical student, but he's following in her footsteps.

Even though he's late, he always stops for a moment to read the plaque outside the Scully-Mulder Life Sciences Building. He was there at the dedication, so he's been told, but he was too young to remember. He knows the words inscribed there by heart, but he never gets tired of reading them, just as he never gets tired of his grandmother's stories about her parents. They had an amazing life, as the whole Mulder-Scully clan knows. It's not something they talk about much with outsiders, but there are no secrets among the family. The truth has always been very important to them all.

He traces the words on the metal plaque set in the wall:

This Building is dedicated in loving memory of:

Dana Katherine Scully Fox William Mulder and William Samuel Scully in loving memory by daughter and sister, Samantha M Scully-Mulder

"The Truth Will Save You"

William Scully-Mulder, great-grandson of the couple for whom the building is named, smiles in a way his great- grandparents would have recognized, and enters the building whistling.


Thanks for reading! feedback welcomed at msnsc21@yahoo.com Find more of my stories at: http://www.kimpart.com/mlfic.html

Acknowledgment: To Brandon Ray. Many thanks for your comments and suggestions!

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