A/N – I haven't posted anything on here for a really long time, so I apologize if my writing seems a bit rusty. This is something I've had in my Fanfiction folder for years and had every intention to finish after the release of the second film five years ago, but I never got around to it. Now, from some reason, it sort of wrote itself, so I thought I'd share. Any feedback is welcome – I might have disappeared from this website for a while, but my love for review hasn't faded. Happy reading!

Disclaimer – the characters and any reference you might recognize from the series are the eternal property of Chris Carter and the rest of the X Files team, I'm just playing.

Sandcastles

Part One

He wakes up with a start. Darkness is complete, but not as complete as in the place he has just left. Dawn must still be a few hours away, he figures. And it isn't really as dark, he tells himself, shuddering as he thinks of the place that is gradually vanishing from his mind. Until next time. He tries to comfort himself, reminding himself it was nothing but another bad dream. Lord knows, in another time, another life, he has accumulated monsters to last him a lifetime. They come to haunt him now, with as much persistence as he has demonstrated while chasing them in the past. Usually he cannot tell one from the other by the time he wakes up. He can't remember if it was Eugene Tooms dominating his nightmare tonight, Donnie Pfaster, Duane Barry. The list is endless. And yet this is all it has been; nothing but a dream.

He sits up as his eyes quickly adjust to the shadows that envelope the room. His mind clears considerably. It becomes easier to make out his surroundings, and it comforts him further. The loud voices in his head quickly make way to the real sounds around him, and the one that matters most of all, the sound of soft, steady breathing. He looks down at the woman who is sleeping peacefully, obliviously, next to him. Her mass of red, tangled hair is a sharp contrast to the cream-colored beddings. She lies there with her back to him, snuggling into the covers. Her being next to him is the only reassurance he needs. He once told her she was his touchstone, and there is really no better way to put it. One look at her, and he knows there is nothing to be afraid of.

He waits a moment longer for his breathing to steady. He closes his eyes, trying to match its rhythm to hers. It helps; he is feeling calmer already. Only when he is sure his heartbeat won't startle her into wakefulness, he eases himself back onto bed and curls around her small form. She doesn't wake. In her sleep, she presses her back against his chest and he adjusts the covers so they would drape around both of them. He lays his head against her shoulder and wraps his arm around her waist to pull her closer. He lets her essence surround him. Its familiarity is his greatest comfort. Only then he is ready to give in to slumber once more.

The brightness that overtakes him almost instantly is startling, but only because it is so different to the darkness he remembers from his previous dream. He knows exactly where he is, and he blinks several times until the familiar image is coming into focus. He does not recoil from the vision as it wraps itself around him. He simply sits aside and lets it unfold as he watches himself and the young boy play in the sand. The vision has changed quite a bit over the years, especially during the time he was forced to flee and live underground. They no longer build an enormous space craft, but a sandcastle. The boy is no longer a young version of himself, but his own son.

In his sleep, he sighs deeply. He has not seen this vision in years, but it has come back to haunt him shortly after their ordeal with Father Joe, nearly two years ago. It induces different emotions within him at different times of his life. At first it was confusion and endless pondering as for who this boy was and what was it about him that made him appear over and over again. When the boy's image began to alter, puzzlement shifted into awe. The vision was his way of holding on to the memory of his own son while on the run. Recently, the vision triggers deep sadness. Sadness and longing for a boy he is unlikely to ever meet again, but who has changed his life profoundly in every possible way.

No words pass between him and the boy as they build the enormous sandcastle on the beach. The only sound is that of the ocean, an occasional laughter or a squeal of delight. There's a certain bond forming between them, building up as they work side by side. It is just the two of them out there, always the two of them, as though it is the way of his subconscious to make up for the time they have lost. He mourns this relationship they could have had, the one he gets to experience only through this dream, this vision. He mourns the son he didn't know he had wanted, the one he lost before he realized that he had.

It feels unfair to even refer to him his son. He has failed William, deserting him so soon after he was born. He has not seen him since he was three days old. He exists now only in his memory, in photos, in stories, but time is cruel and unjust, and reminisces fade faster than one wishes them to. He can only imagine what the boy might look like now, for he is constantly changing in the vision, growing older as the years go by. In his mind's eye, William looks exactly like his mother, all auburn hair and blue eyes. If he is lucky, he will inherit none of his father's features.

William will be eight soon, and his yearning to see him again is as strong as in the day he has learnt of his loss. There was no time to mourn for him until much later, only when they were away and safe, but recently he feels as though he is drowning in it, unable to set himself free. He misses his son, the only son he has had, the only son he will ever have. Knowing that they will never have more children, that this was their one missed opportunity, only intensifies the pain. And even if they have other children, their existence will never diminish the loss of him, their miracle child.

xxxxx

He finds himself alone in bed when he wakes up the following morning. He sits up, disoriented, and looks around him. It is a moment before he remembers where he is, but then it comes to him; his parents' summer house in Quonochontaug, Rhode Island, where they have spent the last five days. Once he is placing himself, memories of his dreams from the previous night also rush in. He sighs and gets out of bed.

He is still feeling drowsy, so he takes a shower before he gets dressed. The scent of frying eggs is all over the small house, and so he knows he will find her in the kitchen, and he is heading there. He's surprised to discover he is hungry; he's amazed at how after the turmoil of last night his body still manages to maintain such mundane needs such as hunger.

She is having coffee at the table, reading from a paperback, but she looks up as soon as he walks in and smiles at him. His heart is still missing a beat whenever she does so. He should be used to seeing her smile by now, but it still takes him off guard whenever she does.

"Hey," she says as he sits across from her. "I thought I would have to wake you up."

"What time is it?" He asks, his voice still raspy with the hints of sleep in it.

"It's almost ten," she says with the slightest note of reproach.

He lets out a long whistle. "I haven't slept in this much since..." He falls silent, realizing he cannot even recall the last time he has. He looks up at her with feigned terror. "Geez, Scully, when have I become so old?"

Her smile widens an inch as she stands up. She crosses the small room towards the counter, where she is heaping some food onto a plate and setting it in front of him. He mumbles a quick "thank you" before tackling it. He thinks he hears her chuckle, but he doesn't stop to question it. He's too busy wondering where she's become such a fine cook. He thinks of himself as a pretty good cook now as well, to be honest, but he knows all credit goes to her. He loves helping her around the kitchen.

"So, umm," she begins, with clear hesitation in her voice. He looks up and sees it reflected in her eyes. Her forehead creases ever so slightly. "You had another nightmare last night."

It isn't a question. He is speechless against her resolute tone, against her piercing gaze. When she is looking at him like this, it's like she knows every last detail about his dream.

"Not a nightmare, I think," he says, because he barely remembers the darkness. He has become good in burying it deep inside him. "This was a good dream."

"It didn't feel like a good dream to me," she says, and he can sense she is almost scared to contradict him. "You were tossing and turning half the night, Mulder."

"I... don't remember that part." And it is true; he doesn't. But now sudden helplessness threatens to overcome him. Has it really been worse than he remembers?

She shakes her head somewhat sorrowfully, but doesn't question the nature of his dream. He guesses it's pretty obvious. The absence of their son haunts her as well. He can't even imagine what it feels for her; she's known their son for several months before being forced to give him up. For years he has stopped himself from picturing this dark time in their lives, when she was hurting and he could not be around to comfort her. When they reunited all these years ago, in that motel in Roswell the night they fled, he made a silent vow as he watched her sleep. No matter how desperate the circumstances, he would never leave her again.

"So what do you want to do today?" he asks her, mostly to clear the air. He's still feeling somewhat drowsy, but he knows he will have to do something if he wants the shadows to be gone.

She cocks an eyebrow and he knows it means she has guessed his motives. But she makes no comment about it. They are here to escape the darkness, not delve further into it. "Hanging around the lake sounds just fine," she replies, smiling. "And then… maybe hotdogs for dinner? I'll let you pick the movie."

"Five days out here and already you're starting to trust me? Are you really that desperate, Scully?" he asks, barely able to dodge as she hits his head with a rolled newspaper.

"Shut it before I change my mind," she retorts, mock sulking. "Now hurry up and finish your breakfast. I'd like to get to the lake before we run out of sun."

"Oooh, bossy," he says, rising his eyebrow suggestively as he pulls her closer.

Yelping in surprise, she topples forward, ending up on his lap. It is a moment before her giggles fade, but then their gazes lock and she reaches out to brush his hair away from his face. "Are you sure you're okay, Mulder?"

Keeping his eyes on hers is a struggle. He hates lying to her. "I'm fine."

Only when she leaves the kitchen it hits him. All these years this has been her line. He can't help but wonder when the tables have turned.

xxxxx

He wakes up the next morning buzzing with new energy. It's surging through him like wildfire. He doesn't remember the last time he has felt livelier. It's still extremely early, barely even dawn. Scully is still deeply asleep by his side. He decides to do something he hasn't done in a while. He slips out of bed and blindly searches for some clothes. Then he heads towards the lake for a run.

He's always enjoyed running. In a different lifetime he might have taken it up professionally, having won various competitions in his teens. There's something exhilarating about it, the wind wiping against his face, the need to keep a clear head, to stay in sync with one's breathing. It works better than meditation on him.

He loves running here. The air is so crisp, so clear; he makes sure to take in as much of it as possible. He runs the long way to the lake. The back of the house has access to a private beach, but they mostly prefer lounging on the main beach some distance away. He runs all the way there and back.

When he returns a couple of hours later, his tee shirt is soaked back and front, he's feeling like a new person. He takes a quick shower and then goes up to the attic. He meant to sort through the crates and boxes he found there upon their arrival, but he feared the memories would overwhelm him. He's working as quietly as he can, but soon he hears steps echoing up the stairs. The door creaks as Scully walks in, using her foot since she holds two mugs of steaming coffee. The scent is intoxicating.

"Thanks," he says as she hands him one of the mugs. She smiles still somewhat sleepily and sits cross legged on the wooden floor next to him.

"I thought you cleared all these years ago," she says.

"Nope, not everything." He reaches for another box and empties it. It contains large, old fashioned albums with dark leather covers. "I didn't even know those were up here. I thought my mom kept all the family albums at her place." He runs his fingers over the smooth cover of one of them, hesitant to open it. "These have been here for ages. They definitely need sorting."

"Well, do you want some help? I come from a long line of photo album experts."

He laughs softly. It sounds just about right. He can imagine the shelves upon shelves of photo albums at Margaret Scully's house, neatly organized by dates. Then he thinks of a particular album, a smaller one than the others. One that he knows she has because her daughter gave it to her for safekeeping right before they fled. One that is only half filled with photos of a baby he's never fully known.

She notices the change in his expression and her eyes are filled with questions. He dismisses her concern with a shake of his head. "Sure, I'd love some help. Maybe we can take some of these back with us."

Immersing himself in the past, in his youth, actually helps. They stop every now and then as he recounts another anecdote, another incident, that is related to a certain photograph. She's listening intently, and he thinks it's kind of funny. She knows so much about him already, but there's so much left unknown, even after all these years. It only makes him wonder how much he doesn't yet know about her.

xxxxx

He wakes up late the next morning, and the house is quiet. She's nowhere to be found, but a note in her handwriting on the kitchen table tells him she's gone to town to get some groceries. He runs his fingers through his hair, feeling dismayed. He feels bad for oversleeping, for not being up on time to go with her and help her. He knows she's perfectly capable of handling grocery shopping by herself, but he's feeling kind of useless.

He finds a pen and scribbles a few lines at the bottom of her note, telling her to find him on the beach when she's back. He's feeling a bit drowsy, having had another nightmare the night before, and he hopes the fresh air will do him good.

It is a gorgeous day by the lake. The stuffiness that's so apparent in the house, even with the newly installed air conditioner on, is hardly felt out here. There's even the slightest breeze, ruffling his hair as he makes his way to the water's edge before plunging in. He floats idly for a while, just letting the water carry him away. He doesn't feel like swimming. He just wants to clear his mind. There are children yelling in the background, disrupting the otherwise calm surroundings. He doesn't really care. With his ears bellow the water's surface, their voices are nothing but a mild echo.

Soon he gets tired of doing nothing, though. He's never been the type. He rolls over and regains his balance. He can barely feel the ground underneath his feet. He hasn't realized he's drifted so far. He swims a little closer to shore and looks over. He can now see the kids he's heard yelling earlier. They're sitting by the water's edge in small groups, building sandcastles. He spots his small pile of clothing, water and book, a safe distance behind them. He looks further away, but can't yet make out the approaching figure he hopes to see, that of a petite woman with auburn hair, safely hidden underneath a large straw hat.

He swims closer and brings his attention back to the kids on the beach. They don't seem to belong to the same age group. There are two women sitting a small distance from them, clearly watching over them. The kids don't seem to mind the fact they shouldn't have anything in common, being in different ages. They yell and squeal to one another as if their sandcastles are the most important thing in the world. And why would they act differently? It should be the most important thing in the world at their age. Why should they be bothered by anything else like conspiracies or alien invasions, by the darkness?

Their images are becoming clearer the closer he swims towards the shore. A boy of about twelve is chasing two squealing girls with a piece of dripping seaweed. He smiles, thinking of himself and his sister Samantha fooling around on this very same beach. One of the girls even looks a bit like Samantha, her wet hair streaming down her shoulders in tangles. Certain melancholy washes over him as her absence hits him once more. He's known the truth for years now; he knows she's dead, that she isn't coming back. It doesn't make her loss less painful or overwhelming.

He walks passed the children on his way to his spot, now smiling sadly to himself. What wouldn't he give for another year on this beach with her, just one more summer, before he was forced to grow up so abruptly. What wouldn't he give for this girl to really be his little sister.

And then he notices something and stops short.

One of the kids, who sits in close proximity to the two women, now catches his attention. In fact, this little boy is all he sees. His smile quickly fades. He feels the blood drain from his face, his heart beating faster and faster. He seems one of the youngest, no older than seven or eight. It isn't the boy's striking red hair which catches him off guard, although a hidden voice within him tells him that it should. As he sits there alone, building his sandcastle, it is almost as if the boy has stepped out of his dream.

As if he senses he is being watched, the child suddenly turns and their gazes lock. His gaze is intense, almost too intense for his relatively tender age, but he can't bring himself to look away. He fears that if he does, the boy will suddenly disappear, fade into thin air. He barely dares to blink. The boy's eyes are glimmering. Although he can't see their color from such distance, somehow he is certain they're ocean blue. There's only one other person he knows whose eyes are the exact same color.

At first he tells himself that it's impossible, that the sun is playing tricks on him. Didn't he think a moment ago that one of the girls was his sister? It is a hot day and he's barely drunk anything all morning. Only he doesn't feel dehydrated. On the contrary; his mind is painfully alert.

His first impulse is to rush towards the women and ask them at once who this boy is. This is how he's always worked, based on hunches and intuition. But this isn't a case he is working on. This is more personal than any case he has ever investigated. If he is going to act, he will have to do so carefully.

The boy is still eyeing him curiously. There's strange recognition in his gaze, and this fact startles him. If anything, it makes him suspect he is right. And if this is the case… there's only one way to confirm his suspicion.

Somehow, he manages to look away, turn his back on the children. He towels off and gets dressed in a haste, then dashes home.