The Sins of the Fathers
Vignette, rated G
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Thanks to MaybeAmanda for her patented beta-with-a-smile (not to mention for my MulderClone!).
Disclaimer: The whooooooole Mulder family exists in perpetual servitude to Ten Thirteen and Fox, and are speaking here strictly off-the-record. No copyright infringement is intended.
Summary: Set Pre-XF, it's Bill Mulder having a side course of angst with dinner.
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At dusk on Friday, Bill Mulder turned into the driveway and pulled up close behind Teena's station wagon. It had been a long day at the end of a long week, and he was very tired. If he were a different man he would have been happy to be home.
He set the brake and turned off the engine and opened the door; he gathered up his briefcase and the coat it had been too mild to put on. He stepped out of the car and absently pushed the door shut behind him, and as he came up toward the front of Teena's car he glanced down and stopped just in time to keep from tripping over the bicycle sprawled on the driveway beside it.
When he opened the front door of his house he heard the kitchen radio, heard Teena's animated voice and Fox's laughter. He paused just to listen. He wondered how it was that it hadn't struck him until this very moment how seldom he heard Fox laugh. He felt lighter somehow just hearing it, but when he closed the door the boy fell silent.
He left his briefcase near the front door. He made his way to the kitchen and stopped in the doorway. "I'm home," he announced.
Teena, standing in front of the stove, turned toward him, offering a smile that never quite reached her eyes. "Hello, Bill," she said.
The boy was sitting at the kitchen table, a glass of milk in front of him. "Hi, Dad," he said, and half-rose from his seat, an unaccustomed brightness in his eyes.
"Fox," Bill said, "where did we agree you should put your bicycle?" And the boy dropped his gaze and turned hurriedly toward the back door.
If he had known that Fox would be left, that Samantha would be taken, Bill thought he might have been able to make things different, but it was too late now. Fox was lost to him too.
After the boy had gone, Teena said, "Fox was chosen today to play on the basketball team this year." She opened the oven and took out a covered casserole dish. "You should say something to him about it." When he didn't answer, she glanced up at him. "You're a little late."
"I got involved in some things." He went across the kitchen and hung his coat on one of the hooks near the back door. "You know you didn't have to wait dinner."
"We're a family," she answered, as if speaking the words could make it so. "We'll eat together."
Fox slipped into the kitchen and went back to his place at the table. Bill sat down, and Teena brought their plates to them. Bill unfolded his napkin and laid it across his lap; to his right the boy shifted in his seat and toyed with his fork. Teena returned to the table with her own plate and took her seat across from him. She and Fox watched him expectantly, and he bowed his head.
"Lord, for what we are about to receive, make us truly thankful." He wasn't sure why he still said a grace over his meal each night; he hadn't stepped into a church in over two years. Some nights it seemed that this food was all he had left to be thankful for.
"Amen," murmured Teena. The boy was silent.
They began to eat. "How was work today, Bill?" Teena asked, although he knew she wasn't interested.
"We're still researching the case I was telling you a little about the other night," he answered vaguely. "We spent half the day tracking down all the old documents. This afternoon we finally finished getting current addresses for everyone involved. We want to start the interviews on Monday."
Teena nodded. Fox paid meticulous attention to the baked potato he was breaking into pieces with his fork. For a time the only sounds were the clinking of silverware against china and the low music from the radio on the shelf above the sink
"So, Fox," he began, speaking into the thick silence, telling himself it was only a trick of the shadow and light that lent the boy's face that hunted look at the sound of his name. "Your mother tells me you made the basketball team. I'm proud of you."
Fox's eyes were as hollow as Bill's voice. "Thanks," he mumbled, and stared back down at his plate.
Fox would turn fifteen in just two weeks. He had grown inches in the last year, still slim, all arms and legs, still learning to use those long limbs. He was becoming handsome, with Teena's soft eyes. This was when Fox needed him, needed a father; this was when he should be teaching the boy what it was to be a man. He had made a few tentative gestures, but Fox had pulled back as if stung. Bill understood that this was only what he had earned.
He studied the boy across the table, knowing that even if -- perhaps especially if -- he felt his father's gaze, he wouldn't look up. There was an otherness about the boy that he still told himself was due to the experiments; that it might be owed to something more mundane was a thing he had never allowed himself to contemplate.
One little child in exchange for the future of the whole race. It had seemed to be a destiny that had chosen him long ago, in a time beyond the memory of men. He had felt himself inextricably caught up, ground between cogs and wheels that had begun to turn before he was born. Now he was afraid to ask himself whether he was so blameless, whether he might have found some other way.
"It's quite simple, really," Carl had told him in the months before Fox was born. "You will merely tell Teena that Dr. Serikstad is a pediatrician on the Federal health plan. She need never know." He paused to take another drag on his ever-present cigarette. "It's best that she never know."
It was as easy as Carl had said. Teena never suspected -- why should she suspect? -- that her baby was receiving anything more than the usual course of childhood vaccinations. When from time to time Dr. Serikstad seemed concerned about something and drew blood to test, or took chest X-rays, Teena worried for a day until she'd been assured that all was well.
Bill worried constantly. His dread became like a melody in the background, a song whose words he could never quite catch. He knew about the other children and the terrible, untreatable conditions they had developed. He knew how they had died. He watched daily for the first sign that Fox was as doomed as the others, but four years went by, and the experiment officially ended, and still Fox seemed to thrive.
Knowing he would only lose him, Bill had steeled himself from the beginning against loving this child too well, and his reticence toward Fox had been made all the more painfully apparent when Samantha was born.
He had loved Samantha with a ferocity that shocked him. She was small and sweet and bright and beautiful, the fulfillment of a promise. Samantha was the Fates' reparation for what he had suffered, for what he would suffer yet, for sacrificing his son the way he had. He was Abraham, standing over Issac with the dagger in his hand, and no ram had tangled its horns in the underbrush to save him.
And almost ten years later Carl had walked back into his office with his infernal cigarette and told him flatly that he must give up his child.
"Take Fox," he'd said, hating himself, hating the unthinking ease with which the words sprang to his lips.
"You know we can't take Fox," Carl had said with infuriating patience. "Fox has been... *altered*... by our previous work." He still remembered how the tip of the cigarette had glowed in the half-light of the evening. "Would you rather I appraised Teena of the situation, or -- "
"I'll do it," Bill snapped, and Samantha's fate was sealed.
And they had come too soon. They had promised him it would happen over Thanksgiving Day weekend, when the boy would be away at his grandparents'; instead they came three days earlier, and Fox saw the whole thing. The terror in his eyes when he had run to them at the Galbraiths' house afterward had wrenched at Bill's gut, but when he tried to reach out to the boy he found that the gulf between them had widened over the years to a chasm, and neither of them knew how to cross it.
Fox pushed his empty plate back a little and wrinkled his napkin in his hands, and Bill watched Teena's expression soften as she looked up at him. "There's plenty there, if you want some more," she said.
He shook his head. "No thanks." His feet moved restlessly under his chair.
"Do you have homework?"
"Oh yeah," he answered, half-smiling, and Teena reached out to touch his arm and smiled back.
"You're excused," she said, and Fox fairly bounded up from the chair. He set his plate down by the sink and headed for the living room.
"There's ice cream in the freezer," Teena called after him.
"Maybe later, Mom," came the distant answer, and then the thumping of his feet as he took the stairs two at a time.
He dropped his head in shame and wondered whether his daughter would have loved him the way Fox loved Teena, and then felt a deeper shame for the way he had failed the child he still had. He had been so sure that, as hard as it was, he was doing the right thing. He didn't know anymore whether he had helped to save the world, or had only damned his own small part of it.
He was sure that Teena hated him for the choice. He couldn't tell her it had been no choice at all. To tell her that would be to tell her everything that had been done to the boy. To tell her would be to admit he'd given up both of her children. If there was even a chance, however small, that Teena might love him again as she had before, he would not throw it away by telling her what he had let them do to Fox.
Teena rose and took away his plate, and set a cup of coffee on the table in front of him. She had already poured the milk into it for him. He sipped it slowly, watching her as she wrapped up the leftover food and put it away in the refrigerator, as she put the dishes into the sink, turned on the hot water, squirted dishwashing liquid onto the sponge. She hummed softly along with the tune on the radio.
He stood up and carried his empty cup and saucer over to her, and she took them and put them into the water with the rest of the dishes. He laid his hand on her arm and she turned toward him. "Everything was very good," he said.
She nodded. "Thank you."
He hesitated, thinking he might lean down and kiss her cheek, but he waited too long and the moment passed. She turned from him and reached into the soapy water for a plate, and he withdrew his hand. He suppressed a sigh as he made his way slowly out of the kitchen, across the living room, and into his study.
He had never thought himself a hard man, or a cold one; yet somehow it seemed that over the years he had become both, and he had no way to turn back the clock.
He put out his hand and thumbed the switch of the small reading lamp on his desk, and in the dim light he went across the room to the liquor cabinet and took out the bottle of Jack Daniels' and a glass. He poured just a little, and thought better of it, and half-filled the glass. He carried it back to his desk and sat down, and lifted the glass to his lips, staring unseeing out the window into the night.