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05 November 2009 @ 04:06 pm
Machines of Freedom: Chapter 9  


December 16, 2012
9:35 PM Mountain Time
Stark, Montana Compound

Mulder had just about mastered the art of poking buttons on his phone while walking. He considered this an important skill development. Also, he needed one of these things when he got out of here. Definitely necessary.

The little beeping locator showed Will was down in the shelter. He'd asked this morning, the awkwardness he had just shaken around them creeping back into his voice, if it would be OK if he helped out with the work down there. Mulder had agreed quickly, not wanting to look anti-refugee even by accident. It was about the safest thing he could do here, anyway. Casey was helpfully ensconced in a tiny office somewhere, apparently buried under lines of code and obscure South Asian scripts, and he was pretty sure Will had been scared off going anywhere near her by Mulder's little performance yesterday.

He had woken up realizing he was pinning Scully to the bed, which was such an obvious anxiety-tell that he was a little embarrassed for his subconscious. He had rolled away from her, and taken a few deep breaths to try to bring it under control. Yes, yesterday had been shitty; yes, they needed to manage the Casey situation, since they didn't have anything close to the time or person-power to actually figure it out. But he needed to put it away, and get it together. Knowing that Scully wasn't interested in simply abandoning Will after the apocalypse was reassuring; now that he wasn't a slave to adrenaline, he could see that he needed to figure out how to move the anger away from center stage. He ran his hand over his face. When Sadie was six months old, he had briefly considered getting be a parent, asshole tattooed on the back of his left hand, so he'd notice it when he was on the verge of doing something particularly idiotic. He could really use it right about now.

Now he came to their door, and swiped his card through the lock. The lab had said Scully had left a while ago. They'd been missing each other all day; she had been in a meeting when he had swung by the lab earlier, and then he'd gotten stuck covering for Doggett in control. The anxiety hadn't fully dissipated, and he wanted to see her. The little beeping locator had said she was here. Really, he needed a full set of those at home too. Six of them for Sadie, at least.

The living room was empty. "Scully?" he called out. Nothing, and he began to get nervous. "Scully?" he tried again.

"I'm in here," he heard her say quietly from the bathroom.

"Oh," he said. He couldn't tell what, but definitely something was wrong. "You okay?" he said, trying to hover from far enough away to escape the accusation of hovering.

There was a long pause. "Is Will there?"

"No, just me."

"You can come in."

Well, that was surprising. He set down his phone and badge on the table and walked over to the bathroom. When he opened the door and stepped in, he briefly stopped breathing.

She was sitting on the closed toilet, in her old blue bathrobe. Her hair hung snaky and wet down her shoulders. God, it hadn't been that red in a decade, at least. He glanced around the room. There was an empty box of dye on the sink, a pile of plastic and rubber detritus from the process. The sink looked bloody with spilled color. She was holding a pair of scissors in her hands. Her eyes were wet, just slightly puffy, which meant she'd been crying for a while.


Her hair hung snaky and wet down her shoulders. God, it hadn't been that red in a decade.



He sat down on the floor next to her. "Well, this is surprising."

"I think I need you to cut it," she said, turning the scissors over and over in her hands. "I don't think I can do it."

He wasn't sure if she meant do it right, or do it at all. He looked at the long strands hanging down her chest. She hadn't cut her hair at all, really, since they went on the run. At first it was cover, like the new colors, the switch from contacts to frames. But she'd kept it long all these years, and gone back to red, but never as strong. He wasn't sure if it was to avoid standing out, or if it was a real preference. The length, though, she liked. He'd started to see the moment when she moved from being Dana to being Dr. Scully as the one where she wound her hair up and reached for the clip. And she was never going to be Agent Scully, not to anyone but him, not ever again. "Are you sure you want to cut it?"

She shook her head, looking at the scissors. But when she looked up at him, she nodded slightly. "Look where we are, Mulder. What choice do I have?"

He placed his hand over hers, stilling the scissors. "We're going back after this," he said, because he needed to believe it too. She shook her head again, tried to fidget with the scissors, but he pressed harder. "Did something go wrong with the tests? Or at church?"

"No, it's not that." She lifted one hand to wipe her cheek. "I'm not very good at doing this anymore."

She was putting her armor back on, he thought, but it doesn't fit. She's a doctor and a mother and a lab director and not, by any means, the savior of the world. Except she is. "You're pretty good." She laughed a little.

He stroked her wet hair with his free hand. "I don't know. I'd probably cut it all crooked and irregular. Drive you insane, and I don't think there are any hairdressers on the refugee list." She laughed again, and it sounded realer, less ironic. "Plus, I kind of like it like this."

She looked at him then, arched an eyebrow. He waggled his in return, and this time the laugh was real. He stroked her hair again. She closed her eyes, and leaned down to rest her head on his shoulder. He squeezed her hand, still clutching the scissors, and focused on the chemical smell of her new hair.

***

December 17, 2012
9:47 PM Eastern Time
Baltimore, Maryland

Maggie Scully thought of herself as a reasonable woman. She generally disliked disagreement, and was happy to go along with others' plans where they weren't too distasteful. She accepted there were some things she couldn't be told, and so she never asked Bill where his ship had been, or Billy either. And she never asked Dana where she had been for those two years, or why she had simply pretended Fox didn't exist while he was living with her for so long or, for that matter, how in the world Sadie had been conceived. Some things weren't for her to know.

But she'd been walking around with a gun in her purse for nearly a week, and she was starting to feel entitled to some answers. And just as soon as she saw her daughter again, she was going to get some.

She dried off the last glass and placed it on the shelf, then closed the cabinet. She was getting too old for this house, and she knew it, but it was hard giving up on the idea of it. Not just because it had been Bill's house, but because, well, it seemed like Grammy's house now, plenty of beds for the grandkids to stay in, piles of old clothes and games everywhere. But her knees couldn't take the stairs much longer, she worried. The Murray women aged well, but she was not, in fact, immortal. Roberta Connelly from St. John's had just moved into a Catholic retirement community not ten miles from here. She really should go check it out one of these days.

Upstairs, she heard noises that were unmistakably those of a little girl who had been put to bed an hour ago playing with her toys. Maggie sighed, and went to find her book and deadbolt the door. No point going up just to come down again.

But as she went to the door, she saw that there was a figure on the other side of the glass and stopped short. It looked--well, it looked like a black man in a black coat, and she'd lived in Baltimore long enough to have more than a few worries. Gun, where was the gun? Her purse was in the dining room. She went and picked it up. The doorbell rang. Well, he probably wasn't a burglar, then. But she knew if Fox and Dana said something bad might happen, to listen to them.

She held the gun just behind her thigh as she came to the door, and took a deep breath. Very slowly, she opened it, just wide enough to look out. "May I help you?" she asked.

The black man reached into his coat pocket. She tensed, but then he pulled out a badge and opened it. "Mrs. Scully," he said, "my name is Special Agent Mosley Drummy with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. I'm a friend of Kara and Sam's. It's time."

***

December 18, 2012
9:37 AM Mountain Time
Stark, Montana Compound

Scully switched to the walkie-talkie frequency as she walked down the hall to the elevator. "DKS-4671 to WVK-7520. Will, are you down in the shelter right now?"

It crackled, and he picked up. "I'm in our quarters."

"Well, I'm headed to the shelter to meet the next wave. Your parents are going to be here shortly. Can we go together?"

"OK, yeah. Hold on, wait at the lab elevator, I'll be right there."

"Thank you." She hit the finish button, and then the start again. "DKS-4671 to FWM-8201."

Another crackle. What the hell was wrong with their signal, honestly? "Quarry unsighted, so far. But they're on the checked-in list. It's madness down here. We've got like a hundred people and no organization."

The elevator doors opened to reveal Will with his hands in his pockets. "Well, call me if you find them. We'll be down in just a few."

"Gotcha."

She slipped her arm around Will and put her phone in her pocket. "My mother and Sadie are here. Your parents' transport is due in about fifteen minutes. Actually, I think my brother is coming in right after that."

"Bill or Charlie?"

"Bill. Charlie's living in Hawaii right now. We're actually getting him into the Mexico City shelter because it's easier to transport." She patted his shoulder. "Do you want to meet your grandmother first?"

"Yeah, OK." He reached up to fix his hair.

She smiled. "You look fine." His shirt looked suspiciously like it had been ironed. Had he gone door to door until he'd found someone with an iron? God knows Mulder hadn't bought one.

The doors opened on the shelter level. Even with the long hallway and the half-opened blast doors between the elevator and the shelter, she could hear the commotion from the shelter. Only the first two convoys had arrived: the one from the Pacific Northwest, and the first round of the Mid-Atlantic ones. The southern California and mountain states arrivals were nearly simultaneous, and due in about ten minutes. At that point, they'd have about a hundred and fifty people in the shelter who didn't know where they were or what they were doing, along with an additional twenty staff. She took a deep breath. This was going to get insane.

She and Will stepped through the doors to the cavernous shelter. The staff had worked hard to make it look hospitable; there was furniture, some of it scavenged from staff bedrooms, and the walls had been painted, though they were still clearly cement. The bedspreads on the cots had been color coordinated, and she smiled at the thought of one of the more anal of the lab techs designing an algorithm for them. There were tables with coffee pots and cookies, even, which struck her as heartbreakingly Midwestern. Probably Matt's doing, then.

She spied Mulder through the crowd. He began to push his way towards them, looking more than a little tired. Then, suddenly, she heard a familiar shout of "Daddy!" She followed the sound, and saw Sadie struggling away from her mother's arms and breaking into a full-scale run across the thirty feet separating her from Mulder, still wearing her coat, mittens flapping where they were clipped to her sleeves. She collided with his legs and grabbed on to him. He bent, picked her up, and caught Scully's eyes over Sadie's shoulder. Quarry sighted, she thought, and smiled.

She was about to go over to them when she saw her mother, standing where Sadie had left her, looking suddenly, terribly lost, and she was filled with a rush of relief that her mother was actually here. She walked over to her faster than she had intended to. "Mom," she said, and hugged her fiercely. Her mother held on just as tightly. "Oh, Mom, I'm so glad you're here."

Her mother pulled away and smiled, though there was something both relieved and forced in it. "Oh, Dana." She cleared her throat. "Well, we had a fine trip, and Agent Drummy was very helpful on the plane, and--Dana, what did you do to your hair?"

She realized that Will was standing behind her, awkwardly. She took a deep breath. "Mom, I have someone I want you to meet." She turned, and stepped towards Will, her hand on his shoulder. He shuffled, slightly, and ducked his head as he came forward. She chanced a glance at her mother, who seemed struck dumb. "William," she said as calmly as she could, "this is your grandmother."

"Hi," he said, and shifted his weight from one foot to the other.

Her mother pressed her hand over her mouth. "Oh," she said. "Oh, William."

Will cocked his head to the side. "You used to babysit me, didn't you? You were in a lot of the pictures."

Maggie nodded, wordlessly. "Grammy would watch you while I was at work, some of the time," Scully said, putting her hand back on Will's shoulder. She wished she could telepathically command him to hug her mother, but he wasn't one to initiate contact, and Maggie seemed frozen in place. He glanced up at her, and then nodded, just slightly, and stepped towards his grandmother. "Hi," he said again, and smiled.

She managed to smile, and to reach out and put her arms around him. "It's been so long. I'm sorry I'm reacting like this."

"It's okay," he said, and hugged her back.

Scully's phone crackled. "Convoy number three arriving, mountain states. Convoy number four is five minutes out. Give us ten minutes to get everyone in," John announced.

Will pulled away from his grandmother. "Is that my parents? The mountain states one?"

"Yeah, that's them. They'll be here very soon." She saw his nervous glance at the door. "Do you want to go wait in the hall to catch them as soon as possible?" He nodded, and she looked up at her mother. "Mom, we have to go get Will's adoptive parents. Bill, Tara, Matt and Kaylynne are arriving in convoy number four, okay? Just wait here, and I'll be back as soon as I can."

Maggie just nodded, and stared at Will. Scully guided him with her hand on his shoulder towards the door. "John, this is Dana. Can you get the Van de Kamps towards either the front or the back of the crowd? We're looking to make finding them as easy as possible."

"Already did it. They were first off the bus."

"Thanks." She nodded at Mulder, who was still holding Sadie. This was the thing about having two kids, she realized, and smiled that she could even think that. He nodded back, and closed his eyes, his hand circling on Sadie's back. She took a deep breath and lead Will down the hallway.

***

She had been talking for five straight minutes. This was not totally unexpected, given how chatty she could be normally, but still pretty developmentally impressive. Most of the time, he hadn't really been listening to details: something about a tea party, and either Sadie was still confused about the difference between polar bears and pandas or Maggie had resorted to a drive to the National Zoo to encourage naptime rather than just going to the Maryland Zoo, and her fascination with the sharks at the aquarium had not diminished between visits. "So many teeth!" she said, bouncing up and down on his hip.

"Just like you," he said.

"MORE than me!" She threw her arms up in the air, and he had to shift his weight to still hold onto her as she leaned back. "I petted one!"

Poor shark. "Were you gentle?"

She narrowed her eyes and looked at him with that particular distain for his intelligence she was so fond of. "Daddy. Sharks aren't gentle." God, they were going to post a picture of her next to the petting tank: do not let this child molest sea creatures. "And a big ray! A big big one!" More arm-waving, in ray-emulation.

He looked up just in time to see Will and Scully return, with the Van de Kamps in tow. He hadn't wanted to see this, but he was glad he had, because Regina was crying and had her hand on Will's arm, and Paul just looked drained, empty of any emotion, and couldn't take his eyes off Will. Scully had her hands in her pockets, but Will kept looking over at her, in between talking to his mother. Scully pointed, calmly, towards an area of the shelter, as if suggesting they could set themselves up in it. Will followed her hand, but noticed Mulder standing there. His face fell slightly.

Mulder took a deep breath, and smiled. This had to be okay. Will relaxed just a little, and kept sneaking glances at him while Scully lead them through the crowd. "Hey, Sadie," he said. "You want to meet someone?"

"I met enough people." She put her head on his shoulder. "Where's Mama?"

His phone beeped. "Californians are here," John announced. "It's a big bunch. Stay where you are, please, guys, just to keep it under control."

"Mama's helping Uncle Bill and Aunt Tara and your cousins get here." He hoped he wasn't going to have to deal with them too much. Matt and Kaylynne were just terrible, and he had enough to handle without dealing with bratty kids.

"Do I have to stay with them, too?" Sadie whined.

His daughter had such good taste. "No, you're going to stay with me and Mama and--" He stopped. Will would probably stay down here with the Van de Kamps. He'd want to see them. They'd want to see him--to keep him in their sight at all times, if they were sane, rational parents. He swallowed. He was fucking senior staff; they couldn't keep him out of the shelter. A few more days, at least, before things went back to normal. "We've got a little apartment just for us, and we've got your toys and your books and your clothes and everything." And your brother. Maybe. He wasn't used to feeling quite so bruised and content at the same time, he thought, as his hand kept worrying circles on Sadie's coat. He really should take her coat off. He'd be able to do something soon, he was sure.

"Fox?" Tara had spied him from across the room, and was pointing him out to Bill. She looked on the verge of hysteria, which he didn't think was a terrible idea, given the situation; Bill, on the other hand, looked like he had spent the seven hours getting here working up a good head of rage. Carefully, he shifted Sadie so his staff badge and locator, clipped to his belt, were visible. This is my show, he thought. Deal with it.

He met them through the crowd. "Good, I'm glad they got you. Was the trip OK?"

"Where the hell are we? What's going on?" Bill said, folding his arms across his chest.

Good to see you too, he thought, wishing he could roll his eyes. "Someone's going to give a speech in a minute or so. And we're not allowed to give out our location, sorry."

"What kind of set-up is this? Those machines they ran us through--what the hell, Mulder?"

Mulder exhaled to keep from snapping. "Maggie's just over there. Let's go get you all together. It'll be easier for the next couple days."

"Days? Have you finally lost it?"

"Not really." He waved at Maggie, whose face crumpled in relief when she saw Bill. She actually got to them faster than he could get a recalcitrant Bill to move his family, and hugged her son harder than he would have expected.

"Hi, Grammy," Sadie said. "I told Daddy about the sharks."

"That's nice, dear," Maggie said, keeping one hand on Bill's arm. "Oh, Bill, Tara. I'm so glad you're here, too."

"Wherever here is. And where's Dana?" Bill grumbled.

Mulder looked around for an escape. "Dana's busy right now, but she should be right back." He spied Mo standing over towards the front of the room. "Excuse me, I have to go talk to a colleague." He pushed through the crowd until he got to the front.

"Mulder," Mo said, smiling just slightly and holding out his hand. "Good to see you again."

Mulder shook it. "You too. Thanks for working the surveillance. How was the trip?"

"No problems." He shook his head. "Your mother-in-law is seriously badass."

He laughed. "Runs in the family."

The phone in his pocket crackled with John's voice again. "Staff in the shelter--who's down there? Who's highest ranking?"

Mulder pulled his out and hit the button. "Scully and I are here, though I don't know where she is right now."

"Look, I'm all caught up with dealing with things up here, and no one's done a speech yet. Can you handle it? You remember what's cleared and what isn't, right?"

"Yeah, but am I the right guy for this? I don't know if I'm appropriately reassuring."

"Just don't use the words 'explosive alien C-section' again and I think you'll be fine."

"Ok." He put the phone back in his pocket. "Sadie, can you stay with Mr. Drummy while I go make a speech?"

"No." She was collapsed against his shoulder now, sucking her thumb intermittently.

"Please? I won't go far."

"No." She kicked him in the intestines to make her point.

He sighed. Well, he could do this with a toddler-shaped barnacle, he supposed. He glanced around the room; most of the refugees seemed to have found family members, and there were a lot of anxious, hugging reunions. He found the Scully clan; Tara was wiping tears off her face and holding onto Bill's arm, with Maggie on the other side, though looking much calmer. The kids were sulking, which was basically all they did. Scully was trying to talk to her brother, who was standing there with his arms crossed, snapping in between things she said. He looked up and caught Mulder's stare, and seemed to ratchet the yelling-at-Scully up a notch.

"I'm a terrible person," he said conversationally to Mo, as they walked towards the large cafeteria table at the front of the room.

"Really?"

"Oh yeah. Watch the bald guy with Scully."


"I'm a terrible person. Watch the bald guy with Scully."



He climbed up the bench and stood on the table. "OK, Sadie. I've got to be loud now, all right?"

"I can be loud too."

"Yes, but let Daddy be loud right now."

"'Kay." She closed her eyes.

He took a deep breath. "Excuse me? Everyone?"

The refugees turned towards him, and some even gathered closer. He'd admit, it was a heady feeling. He should have been a university lecturer; this shit was great. He waited a few moments, and tried to catch the point at which they had been waiting long enough. He looked over to catch Scully's eye, and couldn't help but smile at her. "My name is Fox Mulder," he said, "and I've been right for years."



"My name is Fox Mulder, and I've been right for years."




***

7:45 PM

Mulder was surprised to hear a knock on the door. No one had said they were coming by; after dinner with the whole family down in the shelter, Scully had headed back to the lab, and left him to negotiate the bathing and putting to bed of a jetlagged preschooler alone, which he tried to view as a vote of confidence and not a karmic punishment. "Hold on, Sadie. I have to go see who's at the door."

She hit the wall a few times with her sword. "I want to finish my story."

"We'll finish it when I come back." He headed to the living room.

Will was standing on the other side of the door, his hands in his pocket. He startled to see him. "Will. Did you forget your key?"

Will shook his head. He didn't come in. He tried to guess which of the ways things could be wrong was in effect at the moment, but no clues. Finally, Will spoke. "Um. My bag's up here."

He tried to keep the rush of grief off the surface. "Well, you need your bag. Come on, we'll get it."

Will stepped through the door, but didn't walk towards his room. He surveyed the living room. There was a pile of My Little Ponys in front of the TV, surrounded by big foam blocks, and a bunch of plastic high-heels distributed in random patterns.

Should he touch him? Go pack his things? Tell him that it was OK that he wanted to be with the Van de Kamps? Get over his shit long enough to call them 'his other parents,' which seemed to be Scully's preferred term?

"Um," Will said, looking around the room. "It's really loud down there."

Oh. Mulder's heart broke a little. He wasn't sure he was welcome, not any more, not in this family, this version of it. He didn't think before he reached out and pulled Will towards him, wrapping his arms around his back. "Will. You can always stay with us. Always."

Will leaned into him, just a little. "I don't want to bother you."

"You're our son," he said, marveling that he'd never said it before. "You don't bother us." He stroked his hair. "I mean, if you steal my car and crash it into a haystack when you're fourteen or something, we'll have words."

Will pressed his cheek against his chest. "I can drive when I'm fourteen?"

"No. That was the whole point of the story." He took a deep breath. "Do your other parents know you're here?" Will shook his head without saying anything. Mulder pulled out his phone, tried another steadying breath, and hit the walkie. "FWM-8201 to whoever is on security detail in the shelter."

"This is Ryan, Mr. Mulder. How can I help you?"

"Can you find Regina and Paul Van de Kamp, and let them know that Will is sleeping up here with us tonight?"

"Yes, sir. Anything else I should tell them?"

He thought about it for a minute. Be a parent, asshole. "Yeah. Ask them if they want to come to breakfast tomorrow. Eight o'clock, up here."

"I'll tell them. Do you want me to arrange an escort for them on the schedule, or will you pick them up?"

He thought about the probability of him being dressed by 7:45. "An escort would be good, if you've got the personnel."

"Not a problem. Thank you, sir."

"People call you 'sir' a lot," Will said.

"Yeah, I don't know what's up with that," he said, and rubbed Will's back, the way he had Sadie's in the shelter earlier. "I was just reading your sister a story. Do you want to come help?"

"Is it okay? I don't have to."

He nodded at the bedroom. "Come on."

As they walked back in, Sadie sat up and looked at them. "What's that?" she asked, pointing her sword at Will.

"Sadie, this is your brother, William," Mulder said, sitting down on the floor next to the head of the bed. Will hovered by the foot of the bed.

Sadie examined him critically. "No, it's not."

Mulder laughed. "Yes, actually, it is."

"William's a baby."

Ah, the literalism of youth. "No, he was a baby when we took those photos, a long, long time ago. Now he's a big boy. See? Right there." He gestured to Will, who was a little transfixed.

Sadie considered this for a moment. "Can you read?" she asked.

"Yes," he said, looking a little confused.

She held out her copy of Skippyjon Jones. "Read it. Daddy reads it too funny."

Will took the book and sat down awkwardly on the end of the bed. "No," Sadie said. "Up here. Lay down. That's how you read books."

Will looked at him, vaguely terrified. Mulder nodded. Will slipped off his shoes and lay down next to Sadie. She held out her sword. "Daddy, take my sword away." He took it. She picked up her stuffed shark and squeezed over to the wall to make room for Will. "Now read it."

Will swallowed, opened the book. "Skippyjon Jones, by Judy Schachner. Every morning, Skippyjon Jones woke up with the birds."

Mulder stood, and walked to the door with his daughter's sword. He looked back at his children, in bed together. Will turned the page, holding the book up over their heads so it caught the light from the small lamp Scully had brought to clip to Sadie's bed. Sadie stuck her thumb in her mouth and stared at the pictures raptly. He smiled at them, and went to go get the ponies out of the living room before someone stepped on them.



Click here for Chapter 10
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(Anonymous) on August 11th, 2012 08:12 pm (UTC)
"My name is Fox Mulder," he said, "and I've been right for years."

*THIS* all I have to say is FUCK YES!



***apologies for the language :)***
bmerb on November 17th, 2016 09:52 pm (UTC)
Gah that last scene! Sniff sniff