Genre: it's Halloween in 11 days what do you expect?
Timeline: a certain number of years after IWTB.
Author's notes at the end.
“Fecund America! To-day,
Thou art all over set in births and joys!”
Walt Whitman - A Carol of Harvest for 1867 -
“Daaaaaddddyyyyy!” The little girl ran up to Mulder's legs, chubby fingers clutching at his trousers.
“Hey, One. What's up?” he said, closing the front door and picking up his daughter. She slapped both hands on his cheeks with adoration. Her hands were sticky. They always were. He suspected jam this time. He blew a raspberry on her warm neck. Her squeal was so high-pitched, he wondered if they had any crystal in the house.
Two rounded the corner with a bunch of crayons in one hand and a sheet of paper in the other.
“Look, Daddy. I drew a lizard.”
Mulder set One down and knelt to admire his other daughter's work. “It's lovely, Peanut, but didn't you say last night you were going to try drawing a princess?”
Two stared at him with all the gravitas a four-year-old can muster while wearing a pink Hello Kitty sweater. “The lizard ate her.”
Mulder nodded. “These things happen.”
“I drew a lizard too,” One pointed out, “but mine's yellow.”
“Where is it?” Mulder asked, standing up.
“Mommy put it on the fridge with maggots.”
“Don't you mean magnets? Or has your mother been bringing work home with her again?” He loosened his tie, walking into the kitchen. He could indeed see a piece of paper stuck to the side of the fridge with a yellow blob drawn on it. Next to it was the family calendar. Tomorrow's date was circled in red with the words “Harvest Festival” scribbled over it. Scully's handwriting.
Not for the first time today, he felt like there was something –
No, there was nothing.
In the living room, he could hear the twins arguing over the yellow crayon. He went back in and settled the dispute by breaking it in half.
“Oooh, Mommy is going to kill you,” One said. Her sister nodded.
Mulder smiled. “She tried that once. It didn't work. Where is your mom, by the way?”
“Upstairs,” Two said, staring up at him with her impossibly blue eyes.
He pointed a finger at them. “Stop fighting over those crayons.”
From the sideways glares the two little girls exchanged, he knew there wasn't a snowball's chance in hell of that happening. Maybe they should have gotten an extra box.
He found Scully in their bedroom. She was sitting cross-legged on the bed, surrounded by stacks of papers. She had her glasses on.
“Hey, whatcha doin’, partner?” he drawled. A poor man’s John Wayne.
He still liked to think of her as his partner even if these days their partnership had a definite parenting slant to it. They hadn't worked together for many years – though he couldn't remember exactly how long. Somewhere along the line, they'd gotten married. They'd moved to the suburbs. He'd taken a desk job as a behavioural analyst. She'd gone to work at the local hospital. He tried to remember something about her job and failed. That was odd. He and Steve from accounting had been discussing their respective spouses' professions not two days ago, he remembered that much. So why couldn't he –
It didn't matter. Everything was fine.
She looked up at him, frowning. “Mulder, why don’t we have any photo albums?”
He joined her on the bed, making it bounce. He stroked her hair, bringing her face towards him to kiss her temple. “Don’t be silly, of course we have photo albums.”
She pulled away, pinning him with that stubborn stare he often saw his daughters using. “Are you sure?”
“What brought this on?” he asked.
She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. “A memory. My mother's home. She had a ridiculous amount of silver picture frames on the mantelpiece. There was one where my father stood on a jetty in full Navy uniform, holding me up in his arms. I must have been the girls' age. I remember my mother holding the camera.” She smiled. “I can still feel the sea spray on my face.”
Mulder reached out for her hand. Her eyes bore into his.
“We have two daughters, Mulder. We should have picture frames and photo albums. So where are they?”
“They’re – ” This was ridiculous. They did have photo albums. He knew they did. And they were always kept in –
Something fell apart inside him, a hitherto solid floor suddenly giving way.
“I don’t remember,” he admitted, running a hand down his neck. He could use a haircut.
“You don’t remember because there is nothing to remember. We don’t own any photo albums.”
“What family doesn’t have photo albums?” He shook his head.
“Ours, apparently.” She gathered up the piles of papers and put them back in the box beside her.
“But I remember taking pictures. Just last month, when we went to the beach, I took a shot of the girls holding up a starfish.”
Scully took her glasses off. “Yes, I remember that too. But you know what’s weird? I can’t remember how we got there.”
“We took the car.”
“Are you sure?”
“Of course I’m sure. We drove there,” he insisted.
“What was the date? How long did the trip take?”
“Do you even remember the name of the beach we went to?”
“Of course! We went to –”
Scully opened her mouth to speak but was cut short by two pink bullets entering the bedroom in a flurry of noise and brandished artwork. She shot him a brief ‘we’re-not-done’ look, before opening her arms wide, catching Two mid-flight before her daughter’s rainbow-smeared hands made any contact with the bedspread.
“Picasso, Matisse, it’s time for your bath,” she told the little girls.
As usual, there were protests, pleas, bargaining and various attempts at side-tracking, but between the two of them they managed to get their offspring relatively clean and into bed within the hour. Under the harsh bathroom light, the dark circles under his wife’s eyes stood out. He volunteered for story-telling duty and she didn't argue, even though it wasn't his night.
He came downstairs and joined Scully in the kitchen. She was making sandwiches. He hoped they had grape jelly left. He dropped the Knuffle Bunny book he was still holding onto a nearby chair.
“Are they both asleep?” Scully asked, twisting the lid off the peanut butter jar.
“Yep. The natives are finally restful.”
She acknowledged this with a nod, spreading Jif on several slices of bread she'd laid out. “I am in awe of your sandman proficiencies.”
“Ambien in their milk works wonders.”
She smiled and sighed, “It would make bedtime so much easier.”
“It would,” he agreed.
“We’re terrible parents.” She grinned.
“The worst.” He grinned back.
He watched her cut the crusts off the sandwiches.
“This is a waste of perfectly good bread,” he pointed out, pulling up a chair to sit down.
Scully shrugged. “You go ahead, fight that battle with your daughters,” she replied.
He made a face at her. “My daughters are suffering from Yellow Crayon Shortage.”
Scully wiped her hands on a dish towel and went to pull open one of the kitchen drawer behind her. Half a dozen yellow crayons clattered on the table in front of him.
“Learning To Share 101,” she informed him.
Mulder winced. “I may have sabotaged your efforts.”
“I know. They told me not two seconds after you'd left the bathroom.”
He stretched his arms, crossing his hands behind his head. “Betrayed by my own flesh and blood,” he sighed.
“Trust no one,” she reminded him.
They smiled at each other.
There was something important they'd meant to discuss but he’d forgotten what it was. His eyes fell on the calendar again.
“What time do we have to leave tomorrow?” he asked her, nodding towards the fridge.
She followed his gaze. “Ten a.m. should give us plenty of time to get there.”
Something was scratching inside his head, the splinter of a thought he should not be having. He pulled on it.
“We went last year, didn’t we?”
There was something – something –
She stopped wrapping the sandwiches in aluminium foil just long enough to give him a puzzled look. “Of course we did. We go every year.”
“It’s a family tradition. We never miss the Harvest Festival.”
They stopped dead in their tracks and stared at one another. They had spoken those words at the exact same time.
“Mulder –” Scully began.
“What the hell was that?” he wondered out loud.
“We’ve been married too long,” she tried to joke, but her eyes held no mirth. It reassured him to know she was experiencing the same discomfort he was. It wasn't just his usual paranoia talking. Something was –
He ran a thumb over a smear of peanut butter on the table, licked his finger. “Maybe –” He held her gaze, choosing his words carefully. His mind was trying to swerve away and he pushed against it. “Tell me what happened last year. At the Festival.”
She tilted her head, “You know what happened. You were there with me.”
Her eyes narrowed. “Fine, we went to the Festival and we –” Her eyes widened. She tried again. “We –” She shook her head, incredulous. “Mulder –”
The photo albums. They had no photo albums. That's the conversation she'd wanted to continue but it had slipped their minds somehow. Even now, he was finding it hard to hold on to the thought. The memory of that earlier discussion felt thin and crumpled like used tissue paper.
Something was wrong. Something about their life was wrong. His chair clattered to the ground as he stood up.
He witnessed the same dangerous thoughts bloom behind her eyes, watched his own rising sense of panic reflected there. The world was spinning around him and she was the only mooring he could trust. He meant to go around the table, he needed to touch her.
Then he froze.
“Scully, your nose is bleeding.”
She brought her hand up, staring in disbelief at the red on her fingertips. She looked over at him.
“Mulder. So is yours.”
Everything went white.
“Welcome to the Harvest Festival,” said the man in the ticket booth. His strong jaw and thick-set features looked familiar. Maybe it was the same guy who'd been giving out tickets last year. Mulder wondered what kind of job he had during the rest of the year. Maybe he sold tickets at the swimming pool, or the ice rink.
Mulder paid for the tickets, let Scully take them, and the family went through the metal detector, or at least that's what he supposed it was. With big gatherings like this one, you could never be too careful. He spotted their neighbours, the Duncans, farther down the line. He made a note to talk to Douglas about his lawn-mower-at-8am-on-Sundays habit. One of their twin boys was perched on Doug's shoulders, a colorful rainbow lollipop halfway in his mouth.
Next to him, One and Two were fussing. He should have brought candy, even though Scully had lots of sensible doctory things to say about children and sugar intake. He knelt down to meet his daughters' eyes. “What's the matter?”
“I want to go home,” One said, sniffling.
“Yes, Daddy, let's go home,” Two agreed. “We don't like it here.”
“Go home? But you girls love the Harvest Festival,” Scully said, kneeling next to Mulder.
One shot Two a weird look. “Mommy, we've never been here before,” Two said slowly.
Mulder reached out to stroke his daughter's copper curls. “What are you talking about?” he said, smiling widely. “We go every year.”
“It's a family tradition,” Scully added, giving One a peck on the cheek.
The little girls said nothing more. One edged closer to her sister. Two took One by the hand and didn't let go. A pretty blonde Festival attendant in a pristine gray uniform and white gloves approached them and cooed at the twins. She collected the tickets from Scully and, taking hold of One's free hand, led the girls towards the children's main entrance.
Two turned her head to look back at Mulder with an uncertain, worried expression. He felt something stir inside him but it was so distant, he couldn't –
He raised his hand to wave at his daughters but the Festival attendant was already leading them through the gate. Soon they were lost in the crowd of children.
He felt Scully's fingers wrap themselves around his. He looked at her. Her face was ashen. She tried to speak, but no words came out. He did not understand what was going on, but pulled her in his arms all the same. Her body shook briefly against his before going very still.
“Mr. and Mrs. Mulder?”
Their own Festival attendant had arrived. Everything was going to be fine now.
“Her last name is Scully,” he said, rubbing his hand soothingly against her back. “She never took my name.”
The attendant, a short balding man with a plain face, consulted his list, then shrugged. “Please follow me.”
Mulder woke up with a start. Scully was lying on her side next to him, hands curled into loose fists under her chin. Indistinct noises were coming from the baby monitor.
He crawled out of bed, limbs heavy. His head was foggy and there was an unpleasantly tight pressure in his skull. He wasn't a young man any more. He padded wearily to the nursery. One of the twins was awake. Curious hazel eyes stared right up at him.
He lifted the little boy up from his crib, nestled him against his arm.
“Good morning, Three,” he said, ruffling the child's wispy brown hair. “Let's not wake Mommy just yet.”
Three gurgled a spit bubble in agreement.
He took his son to the window. Together, they watched the sun rise over the red tiled roofs.The End.
A MOTHERSHIP OF THANKS: to chinapatterns, hankmoodyblues and wendelah1 for last minute emergency beta during which I was saved from the demons of bad punctuation, erratic grammar and foreign turn of phrases. You ladies are simply fabulous.
NOTES: I wanted to see if I could subvert the Mulder & Scully Happy Family White Picket Fence trope. I thought all those mind control experiments our dynamic duo investigated over the years must have played a major role in the colonization grand master plan. There would be no Resist or Serve if the cattle was not aware it was serving. Besides, Halloween is nigh, so a creepy story seemed in order. Yes, I know, I know, I ruined their happy ending and you all hate me now. Life is hard.