Title: Replacing Sorrow
Author: bcfan
Spoilers: Post Colonization
Thanks to MaybeAmanda for her adverb-pruning beta

Summary: A trial, a friendship, and a promise.

It wasn't so much the heat. It was knowing her world would never be cool again.

Scully wiped the funk from her brow for the thousandth time, blinked against the salt that was stinging her eyes. She licked cracked lips and wished for lip balm, remembered reading once that it was purported to be an addictive substance. Well, yeah. But that minor addiction had died an easy death in the hollow place that used to be her heart.

The place where Mulder used to be.

She felt a sweaty hand grab hers, a wordless command, and she held the nearly-empty canteen to ten-year-old lips. Watched crescents of lashes slip closed as he concentrated on the moisture.

A nod.

He hadn't talked for weeks. She hadn't felt much like conversation either, not with Mulder gone. But Will's mind seemed to be in a far away place where she couldn't follow. If she had time to think beyond survival she would be worried.

Scully crouched, used a stick to draw in the dust. "Your dad said to go here," she whispered. The rough map mimicked a westward trek to flat-topped mountains, a crooked line ending at a cartoon skyscraper. "Something is here. We must find it."

Will blinked, nodded again, lowered his zipper and peed into the dust, erasing her sketch. Scully noticed with long-forgotten doctor's eyes that his urine was dark. If she didn't get him more water, some nourishment, her son would never make it. Even at ten, he was up to her shoulder - too big to carry.

"I'm sorry." If she had the energy she'd be crying right now.

Will stared at her with Mulder's knowing eyes before pointed west.

She walked. She felt like she had been walking forever.

It was starlight and wolf howls before they rested, crouched in a shallow cave. Scully relaxed with the rock solid against her back as Will huddled, twitching with sleep, in her arms.

Scully absently scratched peeling sunburn, dozing and starting awake a dozen times before joining her son in broken slumber.

Her dream was always the same. She was furious, shouting, as Mulder turned away.

"I hear something," he'd explained patiently. "I feel something."

"Goddammit, Mulder, don't leave us here."

"I'll be back in an hour."

Liar. Two hours later she'd heard faint screams - human screams. Three hours after that she stumbled, Will trailing behind, on a maroon patch of blood. But that was her only clue.

In her dream, the blood spread like spilled paint over the dust, over the rocks and shrubs, creeping toward Will. She snatched Will up, and held him, with superhuman strength, over her head as the gore spread upward to fill her mouth, choking her awake.

Scully groaned.

She carefully rolled her son to the ground where he curled into a sleeping ball. Staggering upright, Scully slipped into the faint pre-dawn light, in search of something to call breakfast.

"Cas, more strays. Should we shoot 'em or run 'em off?"

Cassie lowered her binoculars. They surely didn't need more than the seventeen souls under her care, and they had dodged or shot at plenty before. Still. "Nah. We'll talk first. See what use the woman can be."

They ambled over the ridge and down the slope in a tight group, Cassie in the lead. The woman grabbed the boy's arm and appeared to consider running before freezing where they stood.

Cassie stepped forward, shotgun loose and easy in her hand.

The boy shrunk back behind his ma, whites of his eyes showing like a young colt that's been spooked.

The woman was a different story - the common coin of weariness and starvation, but standing stern with a spark of steel grit that Cassie had come to value.

"Where you heading?"

The woman pointed towards the mountains. "West."


"Scully." She pointed to the boy. "Will."

"And I'm Cassie. You keep walking the way you are, you'll be stepping right into our camp. Question is, are you a paying customer?"

Cassie waited for an answer. Finally, the other woman spoke. "I don't have anything to trade. I can help around the camp - I can cook, wash, help with first aid. Or we can walk the long way around. But my boy, he needs something to eat. Please."

Cassie heard a shuffle behind her. "Jake, Morey, you head back. I'll be along."

Morey said, "Ya sure, Cas?"

Cassie held up her shotgun and smiled, and the young men headed out. She reached into her pouch and pulled out some jerky. "Here."

The woman's hand shook as she divided the pieces - two for herself, three for the boy, Cassie noted. They began to eat with an intensity that made Cassie's guts ache, and she passed her canteen as the boy began to choke.

"Slow down, son," Cassie murmured. "We got more food in camp. Your welcome to stay a day or two, but that's all I can promise. After what's happened, folks hold tight to what they got."

Scully put down the canteen, wiped the rim before carefully replacing the lid. "A day or two is fine. More than fine. After that, we have to go west."

"Yeah, you said." Cassie started back to camp, noted that Scully walked between her and Will. A good mother. She had been a good mother once.

Probably why I'm being such a soft idiot now, Cassie scolded herself.

The camp may have been nothing more than tents and half- built adobe structures thrown randomly onto the top of a narrow rise, but to Cassie it was evidence of past life regained. A beautiful sight after three years of hard work. They had the beginnings of some kind of patchwork family selected carefully by her from strangers wandering, lost, in the aftermath of disaster. They had a solid defence system where watchers could see for miles, crops that grew in the arid climate, a team of hunters, one invaluable horse and, even more precious, an old well Cassie had discovered when she had tripped and almost fallen through the rotting cover.

Scully was stumbling and dragging Will by one arm by the time Cassie led them to her tent. "Sleep here. Then baths." She heard a quiet, "thanks," before both collapsed on the mattress, and Cassie watched for a moment as Scully reached for Will's limp hand before closing the tent flap.

She was unsurprised to see several people gathered, waiting.

Annie spoke. "What's going on, Cas?" The teen's face was curious, but the two men behind her were scowling.

"We got visitors. Not residents. Visitors."

Tom drawled, "Interesting. Didn't know we were running a hotel now." Blake snickered, and Sarah begin to chew her lip.

"You got something to say to me Tom, say it." Cassie stood taller, stared hard at the group. "Or are you telling me it's not my decision who stays on my property, in my camp?"

"No, no, Cas, I'm sure Tom didn't mean anything," Annie stuttered, and Tom added, "Hell, no, Cas. It's that this just ain't only yours anymore. We're all working here, and got rules that we all agreed to."

"And when I found you, Tom, wandering around the back country muttering to yourself? You think the rest said, 'Hey, let's have that crazy bastard join us'?"

Tom flushed and clenched his fists and the others took a step back.

Cassie deliberately soothed her voice. "Tom, you were troubled but I could see you were a good man. And your hands proved you were a hard worker even when you were too sick to swing an axe. I took a chance on you. Now I'm taking another chance." She stared at Tom until his eyes shifted. "Got a problem with that?"


"Anyone else got a problem?"

No one did.

Scully and Cassie carried buckets of warmed water and poured them into the metal tub while Will watched. The canvas privacy screen of the bathhouse softened the sun, dappling the shadows into soothing abstract designs. Cassie tossed Scully two shirts and a pair of pants. "I don't have nothing as will fit the boy except a shirt, and here's something for you. I'll wash and hang your clothes if you like."

Scully smiled. Will turned his back to Cassie, undressed, and sat in the tub. Cassie held in a sigh. She could see every rib on his thin back.

Cassie got busy scrubbing Will's clothes in a bucket as Scully washed Will's hair. Streaks of mud rolled down his shoulders from his bowed wet head.

She carried the bucket outside, rinsed Will's clothes, and began hanging them on a line when she heard a soft noise.

Cassie stopped to listen. It was Scully - humming something - and Cassie heard a breath of childish laughter, the first sound she'd heard Will make.

Scully's voice - "Out you go, bullfrog" - and Will was smiling as he stepped outside, his mother's clothes a bundle clutched against his chest.

"Thank you, Will. I promise the hot sun will have you back in your own clothes in no time."

Will wrinkled his nose as he looked down at the shirt hem covering his knees and the rolled up sleeves bunched against his slender wrists. His hazel eyes danced. There's something about that boy, Cassie thought - but the thought was interrupted by a series of shouts in the distance.

Cassie hurried to finish the washing. "Tell your ma to meet me back at my tent. Sounds like the hunters are back and, judging by the noise, it's good news."

A short time later, the entire camp gathered around a dusty trio of men. The horse drank greedily from a trough, a travois with two deer still hitched to his shoulders. Cassie noted Scully and Will, isolated at the back behind an invisible barrier the crowd had erected.

"Good work, men," Cassie voice cut through the noise, and the crowd applauded. "I officially declare tonight a feast night. With this meat to replace our stockpiled provisions, let's break into our larder."

Cheering all around, and Cassie continued. "I'm sure a few of you have noticed our visitors, Scully and Will. The hard work of our hunters and our kindness towards folks who deserve it seem to be bringing us luck. Take time to welcome them."

Cassie's shoulders relaxed as people began to turn and murmur a word or two. Scully's quiet responses smoothed their hardened faces.

As the feast wound to a close, Scully and Will sat among the crowd at long benches, sandwiched in between Cassie and an older boy with a faded pack of cards in his hand.

The boy tugged Scully's sleeve. "How does Will know all these card tricks? He can pick out the right card every time."

Cassie noted with interest Scully's worried glance before she pasted on a smile. "I don't know. Will's always been good with cards."

Will blinked up at Scully, and she brushed his hair back from his forehead with an affectionate hand. "Do you want anything else to eat?"

Will nodded no, and shifted his eyes toward the door.

"Would you like to go to bed?"

A yes, and Scully stood.

"I'll go with you," Cassie offered. "I could use the quiet."

They walked through a blanket of starry darkness to the tent. Cassie sat outside on an upended log, staring at the sky and shaking her head at the foolish reflection that was washing over her in salty waves. What was and could never be again. All the might have beens. Life with Frank and the kids, and how she had dragged herself from the muck of despair after it all went to hell to find a bit of sanity in her new life.

Scully was suffering that same despair, Cassie knew. It was as plain as the love for her son and the unknown reason for pressing onward into more of the nothing that surrounded this camp.

Cassie gestured to another log as Scully stepped outside, poured water into two battered metal cups, and offered one. "I wasn't expecting you to stay awake."

"Thanks." She sipped her drink. "Sometimes - I don't sleep as easily as Will."

"Bad dreams?"

Scully nodded.

"Yeah, I had them bad after the disaster, when Frank and the boys didn't make it. They were in Denver visiting Frank's mother."

"The disaster." Scully's face was blank. "What do you think happened, Cassie?"

"Must have been some kind of world wide nuclear disaster, with all the explosions in the cities and people dying. There's no t.v., no radio any more. I guess up here we're far away from the radiation."

Scully carefully set her cup on the ground and stood. She turned her back on Cassie, her shoulders shaking.

Cassie heard the whimpers and shook her head, angry at herself for causing another breakdown, another painful wound that hurt so much before it healed. She put her hand on Scully's shoulder, and was shocked to the core when Scully turned and laughter brayed out, tears coursing down her cheeks from trying to hold back.

"Nuclear disaster?" She gasped and started laughing again, before wiping the tears and snot away with a sleeve. "Mulder was right - he said no one would ever believe him and he was right."

Cassie grabbed Scully by the shoulders and shook hard, once. "Sit down. Tell me what you know. Now."

"I'm sorry, Cassie. For laughing, and sorry for your loss. But," Scully shook her head, "you'll never believe me."

"Believe what? Are you saying there wasn't a nuclear disaster, that the ground isn't tainted and that's not the reason everyone died? Because if not, I'll go searching for Frank and my kids."

"No, stop." Scully held up her hand. "No, there's no hope for your family, or for someone I lost. But it's not because of nuclear disaster. It's worse."

"Tell me."

Scully sat and began her story. Her voice was steady, only breaking in a couple of places that must have been personally painful, though Cassie had no understanding of why. The hours long narrative was unbelievable, ridiculous - and chilling as hell, because Cassie believed every word.

"So, we're under attack?"

Scully nodded.

"By aliens?"

Scully nodded again. "And they're still on Earth trying to control us?"


"And you don't know how to stop them?"

"No," Scully said simply. "I don't."

Cassie took a deep breath. Her life depended upon reading people, and she was certain that Scully was telling the truth.

After a patch of silence, Cassie stretched and yawned. The first finger-breadths of light were shining in the east. "You've mentioned this Mulder a dozen times, but never said what happened to him."

The glint of tears shone in Scully's eyes for a moment before she blinked them away. "I have to believe he is dead," a low voice. "All the evidence proves it. But it's so hard."

"I know." Cassie's voice was gentle, "I'm going to say something, Scully. Please don't take it the wrong way. You're a good mother. But if you have to leave and that puts Will in danger, wouldn't it be better if you left him here? I'd be privileged to take care of him for you."

Scully shuddered, and she gripped her hands together so hard that her knuckles blanched. "I think of Will. I've thought of Will every step of this journey. You can't know." She took a deep breath. "I tried to protect Will when he was a baby by sending him away, and it didn't work. It wouldn't work now. We must stay together. It's the only way I can protect him."

Cassie stood and offered Scully her hand, pulling her up. "Get some sleep, Scully. If Will wakes up, I'll take care of him until you're ready. I can't help much, but I'll hitch up the buggy tonight and get you as far west as I can."

"Won't people try to stop you?" Scully wondered.

"It's my horse. For that matter, it's my loaded shotgun, too." Cassie grinned.

Scully climbed steadily up the path, Will matching her stride for stride. Her farewell from Cassie had been brief but heartfelt, and she had been touched by a backpack filled with generous provisions.

Will held Cassie's gift of an eagle's feather in one hand, stroking it occasionally as he walked, a small smile on his face.

Mulder said west. And Scully was going west although she didn't know why, beyond a feeling, growing by the minute, that she was close to the end of her journey. She hoped for a good ending - Mulder would never purposely steer her in the wrong direction.

"These mountains seem right," Scully said, and Will nodded. "Where do you think the building might be?"

Will pointed upward and to the left. He seemed so sure. Scully smiled at her son, felt her spirits lift, and deliberately breathed in hope and exhaled worry. Deciding to follow Mulder's directions had really been no decision at all.

The altitude did nothing to lessen the sun's intensity, and Scully drew comfort from this as well. If evil hatched in the icy places, in Cinderella coffins and harvesting tubes, then surely heat offered salvation.

They turned a corner, shimmied through a narrow gap between boulders, climbed up to another bend in the path - and skidded to a halt within two feet of a man holding a rifle.

Scully grabbed Will's hand. "We're unarmed."

The man held the gun steady. "Have you come to see the Prophet?"

Scully bit back a gasp as Will stepped forward and nodded, smiling.

"Yes, we have," she said.

The man scratched his chin and lowered his weapon. "The Prophet said he'd have two worthy visitors - a woman with red hair and a boy. You sure look like them."

"I'm Dana Scully. This is my son William."

"That's right. Follow me."

"Wait." Scully touched the man's back and he turned. "This prophet is looking for us? Who is he?"

"I got here three days ago. I've never met him, but I know what people say - that The Prophet is the vital link in our communal fight against the off-world demon hoards. And ma'am, we're winning the fight."

"Really? How?"

"I don't know the how or the why of it, but I do know of the origin group's vision, as described in our Sacred Readings: Gather together those with knowledge and scientific power and join with them our spiritual efforts. There will be a Prophet to guide us and an unknown Saviour to set us free. So sayeth the lesson."

Scully gave up trying to understand the man's jumbled logic. Best see for herself. And as she stumbled through a long rock tunnel, with Will stepping eagerly ahead, frustration fought a war with hope. Would their so-called prophet be some quasi-religious figure asserting that he could vanquish the alien invasion? If so, all of Scully's work to claim victory over the aliens with the development of a vaccine - with science - seemed a tarnished bauble in the face of this new twist.

But what if the prophet were someone else. Someone from her world. Someone - she stopped. Scully decided to wish for the possible instead, that some of the friends they'd met in the course of their struggles had survived and made it to this fortress in the mountains.

Her wishes were answered when a door slid open and they were guided into a domed room and met with an eager crowd. John Doggett grabbed Scully's hand as Monica Reyes enveloped her in a hug. "You're here!" Monica laughed.

John bent down. "Is this little man that baby I used to know?" he said and shook Will's hand, too, as Will smiled shyly back.

Scully gaped. "Monica, how did you and John get here?"

"We didn't have a choice. We were 'gathered' here by a group of," Monica bent to whisper, "nuts. But nuts with good hearts and sound ideas for fighting the aliens. In fact, the vaccine is ready, and-"

Monica stopped. Whispers of "The Prophet" filled the room.

Scully took a deep breath, afraid to hope. She turned - and there, with crutches under his arms and a broad smile on his face, was Mulder.

"Dad!" Will shouted, and propelled himself into Mulder's arms. Mulder dropped his crutches and hugged tight, balancing on his good leg until someone slid a chair under him.

Scully burst out crying.

"Come here," Mulder urged, and she did.

After a moment's lifetime of shared tears and kisses, Mulder held Scully's face in his hands. To complain. "They kidnapped me, Scully. The idiots think I'm a prophet. I didn't want to go with them but they broke my leg and hauled me away like a slab of beef. I've been telling them AT LENGTH how stupid it is to break a PROPHET'S leg."

"I bet," Scully sniffed, and was amused to see certain members of the crowd - the ones wearing robes - shift their feet and blush with embarrassment.

"They also failed in their search for you and Will, right, fellas?" Mulder goaded.

"Yes, Prophet," several men muttered.

"Careful, Mulder," she said with mock sternness, "they might toss you back out again as a bad catch."

"No hope of that. Not now, when we've finally developed the vaccine."

Mulder stood, one arm around Scully and the other around Will before grabbing his crutches, and turned to the crowd. "Everyone, we can't break out the champagne just yet. The vaccine is developed, and now the council must decide how to best distribute it around the world."

"Our synod can spread it through the faithful," said an elderly robed figure.

"That's one idea. But your, uh, Prophet needs to rest. Anyone who can be spared should take a break, follow my example."

The crowd began to disperse. Monica waved and she and John left by the main door. Mulder led the way to a room behind the dais, the entrance to an apartment carved into the mountain.

"What now, oh prophet?" Scully asked.

"Ouch, Scully. Not you too."

Mulder bent down, gave Will's shoulder a squeeze. "You okay?"

"Yes, dad. I looked down from the stars, so I knew I'd find you."

Mulder grinned and shook his head. "That's something we're going to talk about. But for now, you think you could find the kitchen and a bowl of ice cream - give mom and I some alone time?"

Scully kissed Will's forehead before he left.

"What now, Mulder?"

"Now we play catch up." Mulder gave Scully a playful nudge. "As much as we can play with a broken leg and what appears to be a psychic son."

"Will's eating the first ice cream he's seen in years - that should distract him. And Mulder, as your personal physician, I foresee no problem with beginning a physical therapy routine."

"That's the right attitude, Doc. Tonight is ours, and tomorrow the future is ours to take. Let's grab it with both hands."

A steadying hand on Mulder's arm as he propped his crutches against the wall next to the bed, and Scully smiled. "That's a promise."

The End

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