In Pace

By Seema (seemag1@yahoo.com)

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Author's Note: Consider this a companion piece to "In Trutina," but it essentially follows the events of "When Stars Are Bright." However, like all of my post-series fics, this one can stand on its own. Spoilers for the entire series ahoy. My gratitude to Rocky for going beyond the call of duty and betaing this one. Set in the summer of 2003, a year after the events of "The Truth." HTML version: http://seema.org/xfiles/pace.html

Disclaimer: The truth is undeniable; Scully, Mulder and Doggett belong to Chris Carter and 1013 Productions.

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Mulder took another deep swig of his soda; the carbonated beverage tickled his nose before settling as an uncomfortable bubble somewhere in his chest. The sun, peeking through the tall evergreens, warmed his neck and bare arms. In the distance, he could see the clear blue waters of Lake Tahoe. He shifted his position on the uneven porch planks, his long legs sprawled out in front of him.

Nine months and counting now, he thought with a wry grin. The longest time he and Scully had spent in one place. He wondered if they'd ever get moving again, if they even wanted to. Truth be told, he kind of liked being out here, in the fresh air, below the evergreens, and in the shadow of the mountains. When they first stopped here in Tahoe, he hadn't ever expected it call it home, or rather, the closet thing to home since he'd fled Washington, D.C., two years previously.

The initial intent had been to stay at Lake Tahoe for a couple of nights on their way to Portland, Oregon. After two days, they'd left behind their ramshackle hotel, heading north towards Eureka. At midday, they'd stopped for lunch at a diner, and the expression on Scully's face had prompted Mulder to turn the SUV around. She'd been happy at Lake Tahoe, he thought, so he brought her back.

They rented a 'rustic' beach house just a few hundred yards away from the shore, signing a week-to-week lease, paid up-front with money from Mulder's inheritance from his mother. The two-bedroom home was adequate for their needs and sometimes, when he watched Scully in the kitchen, he could almost feel comfortable in their forced domesticity. They'd even had their portrait taken -- it had been his idea. A local photographer was offering a deal and Mulder thought, in their drive to imitate a life close to normal, they should take advantage. Scully had dressed up in a black dress, low-cut in the front, and he'd worn a black shirt and slacks. He'd wrapped his arms around her, holding her close, but Scully's expression was as artificial as the frosted mauve lipstick she'd chosen to wear that night.

"Wasn't that fun?" Mulder had asked later as he drove them home. "Just like a real couple, Scully, just like Bogey and Bacall. Who would have thunk it?" He had reached over and given her hand a squeeze.

"This can't last," she had said curtly, and then turned to watch the passing scenery. It was only then he had realized she wasn't wearing the cross around her neck and he let go of her hand. He had known what she meant and more importantly, understood she was right. The transient population of Lake Tahoe lulled them into a false sense of security, but he couldn't help but look over his shoulder every time they went to the grocery store or went for a walk; his hand never left the small of Scully's back.

Now, he could hear shouts and laughter coming from the direction of the lake. The beach was nearby, a private strip he and Scully shared with four other families. Mulder often would go down to the beach and walk along the water; Scully almost never did. He had long given up trying to persuade her to come with him. He knew the reasons why she stayed away, and he respected those. Yet another reason to blame himself, he thought moodily. Another sin at the door of Fox Mulder.

Mulder took another sip of his soda. Scully should be coming back soon now, any minute. Just thirty minutes, she'd said. It surprised him how he counted time when she was away; he wondered if she did the same. He gave a short, almost bitter laugh. Of course she did. Their life had been reduced to each other, to this house, to this narrow strip of land beneath the evergreens. Perhaps it wasn't the same acute sense of loneliness they'd both experienced during their nine months apart after William's birth, but it was still significant, so significant that Scully had given up everything -- her life, her family, her possessions and career -- to follow him on a quest that he too was starting to tire of.

"I'm not going to lose you again," she had told him in Roswell.

"Don't I have a say in the matter?" he had asked, trying to inject what he later realized was inappropriate humor into his voice.

Scully's eyes had watered. "Mulder, don't do that to me."

He'd kissed her. "You won't," he had told her. Another kiss. "We're stuck with each other. For better or for worse, through aliens or UFOs, monsters of the week, through gunk and slime, 'til colonization do us part."

A cool breeze brought Mulder back to the present. Ten years, he thought, was a long time to be searching for the truth. And Scully had been right that night in Roswell: What had it gotten him? Nothing -- only Scully. And perhaps for *her*, it worth it all. That the discovery of his father's real identity, the realization his sister was long dead, the loss of his son -- perhaps all of that was meant to bind him even closer to the one person who didn't call or think of him as "Spooky."

Once again, he shifted his position on the porch. He knew he could get up and take a short walk, but he chose to remain in place. In place, in place, in place; the phrase beat a merciless rhythm in his head. He closed his eyes tightly, breathing in long, deep gulps of air. He knew Scully was tired of running and she wanted to stay here until the end; he just wouldn't -- couldn't -- let himself get that comfortable.

He looked up as he heard the sound of tires crunching the gravel. He shaded his eyes with his hand as the white SUV pulled into the driveway. A few seconds later, he heard the door slam, and Scully came across the driveway, a plastic Walgreens' bag in her hand.

"Hi," she said.

He stood up. "Did you have anything else?" He gestured towards the car. Scully, in general, tended to be a minimalist type shopper; he, on the other hand, would stock up on canned goods and other non-perishables as if colonization was about to happen the very next day.

Scully shook her head. "Just this." Through the thin white plastic bag, he could see the black letters 'e.p.t' clearly. She looked at him curiously. "You've been sitting out here since I left?"

Mulder shrugged. "It's a nice day."

She walked up the pathway and stopped in front of him. He reached up, caught her hand in his and pulled her down to the step with him.

"You okay?" she tipped her head to the side, eyeing him with concern.

"Yeah, just thinking." He rested his hand gently on her knee.

"I'm sorry I took so long," Scully said. Her hair, now past shoulder length and dyed a muddy brown, brushed against her cheeks. She was dressed in jeans and a loose fitting gray t-shirt, one of his, actually. No more ridiculously high heeled shoes, but sneakers instead. It had taken Scully a little adjustment to fit into this new life of theirs, life on the lam, he liked to call it, but now she seemed peaceful. Not resigned, but *content*, and for that, Mulder was grateful. He knew Scully would follow him anywhere; she'd said as much nearly a decade earlier when they'd been sitting in a car outside Eugene Tooms' house. She had said then that she'd never put her life, her career on the line for anyone but him; the fact she was sitting next to him now was ample proof she had meant every word. "There was a lot of traffic."

"Hey, Lake Tahoe is like that. It's July, you know? People wanting to get out with their kids."

Scully reached for his soda can, took a sip of the Diet Coke, and then passed it back. "I didn't want you to worry." She glanced at him sideways. "I know how you get."

"That you'd been taken? It's broad daylight, Scully. UFOs only come at night." His lips turned up into a lopsided grin. "Haven't nine years on the X-Files taught you anything at all?"

"You forget the men behind the vast government conspiracy to hide the truth from the American people." The corners of her mouth twitched slightly.

"Never," Mulder said. He downed the remainder of his soda. "They are constantly on my mind, always and forever."

"At least now I know for sure where I stand with you, Mulder." But she was still smiling, and her tone was light, teasing.

He glanced at the Walgreens' bag. "Nervous?"

"A little. You?"

"A lot."

"At least one of us is honest." Scully tipped her head to the side and then after a moment's consideration, she ran her fingers through Mulder's hair. Her touch was soft and gentle. "You're getting grey, Mulder." He caught her hand in his.

"Gee, thanks for the compliment, Scully. I *am* forty-one years old, you know."

She smiled. "Forty-two in October."

"That's still three months away, Scully." He glanced at her sideways. "You're no spring chicken yourself."

Scully bit her lip. She'd turned thirty-nine in February and shortly thereafter, had started dying her hair. She'd explained to Mulder it was because she figured she was too recognizable with the red hair; he understood the lie for what it really was. It occurred to him she had been twenty-nine years old when they'd first met, that they'd now spent a decade of their lives together. He could still remember the first time they met and his first impressions: long auburn hair framing a round oh so young-looking face, and the way she'd talked at him on that first case in Oregon: high-pitched and practically screaming the words in his face, not bothering to hide the incredulity in her voice. He remembered standing in the cemetery at the unearthed graces, spinning his wild theories at Scully, and she'd stood there, in the pouring rain, laughing hysterically. Not because she'd thought he was crazy, and he'd realized that immediately, but because she found it almost insane that *she* could actually believe what he was saying. He'd thought then that there was hope, and on days like today, sitting in the warm sunlight, he could still be believe in that hope.

"Mulder." Scully tipped her head to look at him. "What is it?"

"Good thing we're off the X-Files, isn't it, Scully?" Mulder squeezed her hand. "We're too old to be chasing after monsters of the week."

"Is that why you've been sitting on the porch all afternoon, Mulder? You're feeling your age? Should I consider getting you a rocking chair next? To rest your creaky bones?"

"We should probably get one anyway." He nodded towards the bag. Her fingers tightened on the plastic. "You really okay, Scully?"

She nodded. "I'm fine."

In the background, Mulder could hear splashing. Apparently, the children had finally decided to venture into the water and by the sounds of their laughter and shouts, apparently were enjoying themselves. He tried not to think of William, but at times like this, he always did. He would sometimes push away the thought that he had not signed away his parental rights, that only Scully had; there had been cases in the early 1990s, he knew, of biological fathers coming forward to claim their children after adoption proceedings had begun. Of course, he never mentioned these thoughts to Scully, and he knew he would never act on them. She'd made the gut wrenching decision to give up their son in his absence, because it was the only way she knew how to protect him. And logically, circumstances had gone from bad to worse, and Mulder knew going after William now could only harm the child.

"What about you, Mulder?" Scully asked softly. "How are you?"

"This changes everything," Mulder said. "No more late nights, Scully, no more chasing down the truth or government conspiracies. Things like that get hard when you've got a diaper bag over one shoulder and a kid on your back."

"Yeah." Scully sighed heavily. She twisted her fingers together; he noticed her fingernails were uneven, and devoid of polish. Even during some of their messiest of cases, somehow Scully had managed to keep her nails perfectly manicured. Amazing, he'd thought then. The woman could be attacked by a death fetishist or the product of an author's imagination and yet never break a nail. "Are you going to be okay with that?"

"Hey," he said. "It's no big deal." He regretted the words the minute he said them. He'd never had this conversation with Scully before, not about William. Scully bowed her head. He couldn't miss the softening of her expression, the way she turned her head ever so slightly away from him so he couldn't see the narrowing of her eyes. Her lower lip quivered and Mulder felt his heart slip down to his knees. He wanted to apologize for his remark, but then Scully lifted her head and looked at him directly.

"But you're right. It does change everything," she said softly, but clearly.

"We're going to be fine, Scully." He squeezed her hand again, but her expression remained skeptical, tinged slightly with fear and longing.

The breeze ruffled the leaves in the tall evergreens surrounding them. Mulder finished off the last of the soda and then crushed the can slowly in his hand. Scully watched him, her brow furrowing.

"You have to confide in me," she said finally. "You have to tell me what you're thinking."

"Honestly?"

"Honestly."

He shrugged. There was a trash can at the corner of the house, the cover propped up against the wall. He made a gesture, as if to throw the remains of the can, but then thought better of it. He knew from this angle, he'd probably miss and have to go pick it up anyway.

"Happy and concerned, both at the same time. Uncertain of what the future holds for you and me," he said slowly. "That we've slowed down and while the truth is still important, I like sitting here with you rather than dipping my fingers into some slime or searching for a subterranean monster."

Scully's lips turned up. "Who are you and where did Fox Mulder go?"

"It's a concern, Scully, knowing what we know, and how it's all going to end. It's a risk we're taking, a chance that we'll make it, and that somehow we'll survive long enough to hear the voices of the dead and understand how we can translate what they teach us into a way we can save ourselves."

"Is that really how you feel?"

"Yes."

Scully looked down at her fingers. "I never believed, Mulder, never quite enough. I doubted the possibility of a miracle, and feared it when it did happen. And now--" she shook her head pensively "-- we have a second chance." She cleared her throat. "Of course, this could be a false alarm, Mulder. I might not be pregnant."

"I know." He swallowed hard. "And that's another risk we're taking -- hoping for a second miracle with the possibility of disappointment." He pressed his lips lightly to her cheek. "But it's worth it, Scully. You have to trust me when I tell you it -- all of it -- is worth believing in."

They sat in silence, their shoulders touching, fingers entwined. Finally, Scully roused herself.

"I'm going inside," she said, clutching the plastic bag tightly. "You coming?"

"Give me a minute. I want go down to the beach."

She nodded and disappeared, the floorboards squeaking under her feet. Mulder stood up slowly and watched as the screen door slammed after Scully. He stopped a few steps later, as he heard the phone ring; not just any phone, he thought as he turned around slowly, but Scully's cell. The phone Doggett had pressed into her hand just minutes before they had parted ways just over a year ago, the phone which was never supposed to ring unless--

Scully appeared at the door, her face completely pale.

"Is it?" Mulder took a step in her direction.

Scully stared wordlessly at the phone. "Yes," she said softly. "It was Agent Doggett."

Mulder glanced at the path which led from the house down to the beach. The air was heavy with the smell of pine. He swallowed hard. There would be no walk next to the water today and within the hour, they'd be on the road again, leaving behind this temporary life they had lived for the last nine months. He brushed by Scully.

"Let's start packing," he said. He didn't look at the Walgreens' bag lying next to the door as he walked briskly through the house. He knew instinctively that Scully remained in the doorway, clenching the phone in a white-knuckled grip, but he didn't look back. I'm sorry, Scully, so sorry, he thought as he climbed the stairs to the bedroom, I'm so sorry. And it also occurred to him as he started pulling clothes out of drawers that it would all be over, all too soon.

~ the end

My website: http://seema.org