Title: Beyond This Mortal Coil
Author: aka "Jake"
Classification: S, Post Series
Spoilers: Seasons 1-11
Summary: Death is part of life. Especially where Mulder and Scully are concerned. Hanky alert if you’re easily moved. This short story is about loss and longing and enduring love.
Disclaimer: The characters Fox Mulder, Dana Scully, and Jackson Van De Kamp are the property of Chris Carter, FOX, and 1013 Productions. No copyright infringement intended. This is for fun, not profit.
Author's Notes: “Beyond This Mortal Coil” takes place long, long after the other stories in my Unfinished Business Series (“Reprise,” “Thanksgiving,” and “Fox Hunt”). Note the timestamp. It’s not necessary to read any of those previous stories for this one to make sense. It can be read as a stand-alone. However, in this universe, Mulder and Scully have a daughter named Katherine Abigail Mulder, born on October 18, 2018. They call her Katie.
Canon-compliant through Season 11.
KaiSeavers, a member on AO3 (Archive of Our Own), mentioned she’d like to see more stories in this series. She kindly expressed a fondness for Katie’s character. Well, KaiSeavers, this is probably not the story you were hoping for but this is what came out when I sat down to write. To paraphrase Phillip Padgett in “Milagro”: Jungians would say it's the characters who choose the writer, not the other way around. So I guess you could argue [they] directed me. ;)
Beta: Thanks as always go to the eagle-eyed xdksfan.
FARRS CORNER, VIRGINIA
TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 23, 2044
Katie Mulder upshifts the S550 Mustang, making the engine roar. She loves this car. Silver. 2018. A classic now, originally owned by her father but gifted to her when she left for college nine years ago. She’s driven it thousands of miles since then, many at speeds well above the limit. Her mom always says, “You’re your father’s daughter, especially when driving.” No surprise. He taught her to use a stick shift when she was only 13. “Don’t tell your mom,” he’d said at the time. “She’d say you’re too young but every kid should know how to drive a manual transmission. You never know when it’ll come in handy.”
It was just part of his mission to teach her all the things he considered essential in life, like Morse Code, star gazing, how to shoot a gun.
She takes the turnoff to Farrs Corner at 80 mph, wheels squealing, slush flying, snow flurries pluming out a quarter mile behind her. There’s no emergency, no need for speed other than the sheer joy of it. Black Sabbath’s Paranoid blasts on the radio and she imagines her dad listening to it when he was nine or ten, playing air guitar and pretending to be someone other than a Vineyard brat.
The Virginia backroads unspool behind her. A pewter overcast darkens the February sky and a paltry layer of snow makes the dormant farm fields and leafless trees sparkle. The sign for Wallace Road appears ahead on the left. Katie lightens up on the gas, lets the car slow, and downshifts before making the turn to her childhood home.
The house comes into view behind a veil of uncut grass and weeds that separates the yard from the road. The front gate is open. She navigates the long dirt driveway and pulls to a stop beside a red Honda, which belongs to Amelia Crouse, her mother’s visiting nurse.
The house hasn’t changed. It still needs a coat of paint. There’s a warped board on the steps leading up to the porch. Her old swing still dangles from the sugar maple between the house and the shed. The ropes are stained with mildew now and the seat is broken. She remembers Dad hanging that swing, brand new. Back when she and Mom stopped going to the East Street Park because Mom had been kidnapped and Katie was held at gunpoint by John Barnett. Dad shot him. Shot him dead, right in front of her, which led to nightmares and therapy sessions and no more trips to the park. And a new swing in her own backyard.
She engages the parking brake and turns off the engine. Her keys rattle as she drops the fob into her purse.
Coming home is both uplifting and difficult. Uplifting because her childhood was mostly a good one, that kidnapping and shooting incident aside. Her parents were loving, to her and to one another. Not everyone is so lucky, she knows. Including her brother Jackson, although he seems to have made peace with the past. But her visits are fraught now, too. She’s no longer a carefree child but a worried caregiver, splitting her time between work and checking on Mom.
Today is Mom’s 80th birthday. Katie has brought groceries for dinner, a homemade cake, and a gift. She exits the car and opens the trunk to grab her overnight bag and two canvas totes. She pauses before climbing the porch steps, craning to see the stone between the house and the pond that marks where her dad’s ashes are buried.
FOX WILLIAM MULDER
BELOVED HUSBAND AND FATHER
"I Want To Believe"
His absence is like a punch to the gut even after 11 years. Her lungs empty. She ducks away from the awful truth that he no longer inhabits this world. Her protector. Her teacher. Her hero. How can he be gone when she still has so much to tell him? When she needs his advice and love more than ever?
The pain of loss is too much. She focuses on her mom instead. The strongest woman she’s ever known. Still mentally as sharp as a new scalpel but lately grown frail with age. Her recent fall is concerning. Katie wants her to move closer to DC but so far Mom has resisted. She plans to broach the subject again today.
The front door opens as she reaches the top step. It’s the nurse on her way out.
“Hi Katie.” Amelia bestows a warm smile.
“How is she today?” Katie asks.
“She’s in good spirits. Her wrist is healing nicely and the bruises on her face are fading.” Amelia squeezes Katie’s arm. She’s one of those touchy types who hugs everyone. “It would be great if you could get her to eat something. She’s awfully thin.”
“I’ve got the makings for a homemade dinner.” Katie hoists the totes. “And cake.”
“Perfect. She could use the extra calories.”
They bid each other a good evening. Katie pushes her way through the front door.
The inside of the house has changed as little as the outside.
Katie leaves the two totes on the kitchen counter and sets her overnight case at the foot of the stairs before going into the living room where her mom sits in her favorite chair, her eyes closed, an open book in her lap. A floor lamp casts a warm glow onto the book’s pages, chasing away the darkness that sets in so early at this time of year. Mom’s hair is long and completely silver now. It falls in pearlescent waves across her shoulders. Her thinness startles Katie. She can’t weigh much more than 90 pounds. Lines crease her pale face. Yet despite the years, she’s still strikingly beautiful. High cheekbones, pointed chin, aquiline nose.
Her mom’s eyes open, clear and blue. She smiles. “Katie, honey, it’s good to see you.”
“Happy birthday, Mom.” Katie leans down and kisses her soft, warm cheek. The bruise from her recent fall shadows her left brow. Her left wrist is wrapped with an elastic bandage “How’re you feeling?”
Her mom raises her hand, stares for a moment at the bandage there. “Better. Thanks.” Her gaze wanders to Katie’s suitcase by the stairs. “You’re staying the night?” She looks and sounds delighted.
“Yes. Dunlap is covering for me at work.”
“How is work? Any interesting cases?”
The question isn’t perfunctory. Her mom genuinely wants to know. Not just because she loves her daughter and is interested in her life in general, but because she can relate. To say Katie followed in her parents’ footsteps, especially her mom’s, is a whopping understatement. Her career path is nearly identical to Dana Scully’s. Medical school. Headhunted by the FBI. A stint slicing and dicing at Quantico. The one significant departure: Katie wasn’t assigned to the X-Files Division to debunk the work; she requested to be transferred there. And given her pedigree, her request was swiftly granted.
The following day, she ordered a vanity plate for the Mustang: SPOOKY2.
There’s been one big change, however, since her parents’ time at the Bureau. The X-Files Division is no longer relegated to the basement. In fact, it was elevated to the third floor long before Katie joined the FBI. As far back as ’23, the Pentagon started publicly revealing UFO incidents — more than 650 at the time. Although they claimed none could be attributed to extraterrestrials, they increased the budget significantly, to study what they began calling UAP, Unidentified Aerial Phenomena. Almost overnight, the X-Files Division grew in status and size. It now houses six agents instead of two. Has a full-time secretary. And Agent Matthew Somers, her dad’s last partner, leads the unit. Their cases are as challenging and as exciting as ever.
“Dunlap and I are heading to Loveland, Ohio, next week,” Katie says.
“Please, don’t tell me you’re investigating the Loveland Frog. That so-called ‘frog’ was most likely a large, tailless iguana.”
“Your dad always wanted us to check that story out.”
“Why didn’t you?”
“Too little time? Too little support from the powers-that-be? Or maybe I simply nixed the idea of a 4-foot-high cryptid with leathery skin and a frog face wandering around the Buckeye State as too extreme even for us.” She chuckles at some fond memory.
“Well, I’ll let you know what we find.”
“Please, do. Honestly, I hope you do find it.”
“Me, too. Are you hungry?” Katie changes the subject. “I brought ingredients for a stir fry.”
“That sounds wonderful.”
Katie gets to work, setting the rice to boil and chopping the bok choy, scallions, mushrooms, and other veggies. The aroma of sesame oil fills the kitchen when she coats the hot wok. She sears the fresh shrimp and broccoli before adding the more tender ingredients. When everything is heated through, she adds a liberal amount of peanut sauce, then removes the pan from the heat. The sizzling stops and she thinks she hears voices in the living room. Is her mom talking to herself? Maybe she turned the TV on.
Katie dishes up oversized portions for both herself and her mom, which she brings to the living room along with two sets of chopsticks and a bottle of pricey rice wine.
“Were you watching something on TV?” Katie asks. She fills their wine glasses.
“No.” Her mom digs into her meal. “Oh, Katie, this is delicious!”
It’s good to see her mom enjoy her meal. Katie’s especially pleased when she asks for seconds.
They chat about the neighbors and a new business in town, a coffee shop that offers technology tutoring. Once her mother is fed and relaxed, Katie brings up the subject of moving.
“Mom, this was fun and I’d love to get together with you more often.” She hopes she doesn’t sound like she rehearsed this little speech, though she did. “If you lived closer—”
“I don’t want to move, sweetheart.”
“Okay. But would you at least be open to looking at some places? I toured a senior living community yesterday in Georgetown that—”
“No, honey. I appreciate your thoughtfulness and I know you worry about me living way out here, but I won’t leave this place.”
“Because your father is here.”
Ah, right. His ashes, buried out back. “But—”
“Katie, you work on the X-Files, you know the pressure of those cases, the darkness they bring, so I’m hoping you can understand. Throughout our time together, your father provided a balance that kept my spirit from toppling. He offered me something to hang on to. He made my world solid, despite the unreality of our daily lives. His love was a gift…” Her mom pauses, seeming to collect her thoughts. Tears fill her eyes. “I made a terrible decision once. I left him. For several years.”
“I-I didn’t know that.”
“I never told you because it’s one of my two greatest regrets, the other being my decision to give up Jackson for adoption. If I could go back…change those two terrible choices…” She shakes her head. She’s adamant. “I won’t ever leave Mulder. Not again. I hope you can accept that, sweetheart.”
But he’s dead, Katie wants to say, and I’m alive and I need you, Mom.
Instead, Katie nods, fetches the cake, lights the candles, and sings Happy Birthday. Her mom looks pleased. She makes a silent wish and blows out her candles with Katie’s help. They each polish off a large slice of cake.
“That was excellent.” Mom leans back in her chair and pats her non-existent belly.
“I’ll leave you the leftovers,” Katie promises. “But first, your birthday present.”
Katie brings her a brightly wrapped package, which delights her mom, who tears into the wrapping. Her smile widens when she sees the gift: a framed photo of Agents Mulder and Scully together, dressed in matching FBI jackets, hair flailed by the wind, grins on their faces. They both look impossibly young. In the picture, their arms are pressed from elbow to shoulder. He is leaning over her, his lips next to her ear.
“Do you remember what he was saying to you?” Katie asks.
“No, but it was probably something implausible if not impossible. Or he was poking fun at our ASAC.” She runs her fingers over the image. “Where did you get this? I don’t remember seeing it before.”
“I found it in your old office, down behind a bunch of filing cabinets and assorted office equipment. The space is used for junk storage now.” There was a small pinhole in the photo, like it had been tacked to a bulletin board at one time.
“What made you want to go down there?”
“I was curious about where you and Dad used to work.”
“Well, it wasn’t much to see, even while we were working there, though in some ways, it felt like home.” Her mom props the photo on the end table beside her chair. “I love it, sweetheart, thank you.”
* * *
After dinner, her mom naps in her recliner while Katie puts away the food and cleans up the kitchen. She then takes her overnight bag upstairs to her old bedroom, where she finds Lisa, her favorite childhood doll, propped on her pillows. She trades her bag for the doll and hugs it to her chest. Memories flood over her, into her, fill her up.
Most are wonderful. Only a few bring embarrassment or regret. One, however, stands out as the worst moment of her life: the day Dad died. She was only fifteen. He’d been helping her that week to narrow down her college choices. She planned to apply for early enrollment the following autumn. But on Tuesday afternoon, he got a call to talk an alleged alien abductee off a ledge, literally. The top of the Bank of Baltimore Building, 31 floors, 454 feet high. He’d nearly succeeded, too. Eileen Turcotte was ready to come down, take the help he was offering. He’d climbed out beside her, started to pull her to safety, when she lost her balance. She tumbled over the edge and took him with her.
Grief sucker-punched Katie when she heard the news. She felt crushed by her sorrow. It seemed she couldn’t breathe for weeks. Couldn’t survive the pain of her loss. She felt nothing but an aching emptiness in her heart.
Agent Matthew Somers tried to console her by saying Mulder “died as he lived” and would’ve preferred being killed on the job while trying to save someone else’s life over suffering from a debilitating illness in old age. Katie wasn’t convinced. Falling 31 stories seemed a terrible way to go. And she would’ve given anything to have those extra years with her father.
Over time, it was her mother who saved her and brought her back to something that resembled a normal life.
Much later, long after Dad died, Katie learned that Mom had held out hope he’d miraculously rise from the dead, like he’d done years before. It wasn’t impossible, Katie supposed. She grew up hearing stories like that. Her parents’ cases were her earliest bedtime tales after all. Fat-sucking mutants, fluke men, invisible elephants, cryptids, flying saucers, and EBEs…it was entertaining and awe-inspiring and it led her to the profession she loves today.
“I still miss you, Dad,” she mumbles into Lisa’s yarn hair.
Again, she thinks she hears voices downstairs. Her mother’s steady pitch followed by a deeper murmur. Then her mother laughs.
What in hell? Did someone stop by for a visit?
She abandons Lisa on the bed and hurries downstairs. She’s surprised to find her mom alone in the living room, sitting right where she’d left her.
“Was someone just here?” she asks.
Her mother shrugs and shakes her head.
“Mom, I heard you talking to someone.” Is her mother’s mind starting to go?
“Okay, okay,” her mother says, sounding reluctant. “Mulder, show yourself, please. Before our daughter has me committed to a memory care facility.”
Now Katie truly fears for her mother's sanity. Until a shuffle of feet draws her attention to the closed door that once led into her father’s home office. To her astonishment, an apparition resembling her dad emerges through the wooden door. Through the solid panel door!
He stands in front of Katie, real yet not. She can see right through him. She blinks, doubting her own eyes.
“These are tricks the mind plays,” he says with a soft smile aimed at her mother.
“Ingrained cliches from a thousand different horror films,” Mom replies back, like they’ve had this conversation before.
“In their old shabby outfits with the same old haircuts and hairstyles, never aging, never in search of more comfortable surroundings…”
“It actually ends up saying more about the living than it does about the dead,” Mom finishes for him. She is beaming, her eyes sparkle with love.
“It also says that I was right about ghosts, Scully. They do exist. Obviously.”
“But don’t you think it's a bit self-righteous and narcissistic of you to gloat about it?” Her response seems to amuse him.
He crosses to her chair, leans down, and places a kiss somewhere on or near her lips. He appears to shimmer, his outline flowing and sparking. “Happy birthday, Scully.”
Katie doesn’t know what to think. She’s completely unprepared for this strange encounter.
He turns to her at last. “Hey, Pipsqueak,” he says, his voice as gentle as seed on the wind.
Tears prick her eyes. She can’t breathe.
“Daddy?” She goes to him. Gropes for his arm but her hands fall onto nothing. No pulse courses through his veins. No heat pours from his skin. Although she stands right in front of him, she cannot smell the familiar scent of his cologne. He is not there, not in any real or physical sense. He's no more than a reflection or a hologram.
He strokes her cheek and her skin tingles beneath his caress. “I’ve missed you,” he says, making her heart pound.
“Is it really you?” she asks. She so wants it to be true. But maybe it is just a trick of the mind.
“It’s me, though not in the flesh.” His smile is sad as if this situation pains him. “I’ve been visiting your mother in this form for a couple of years now.”
“A couple of…of years?”
“I tried appearing to her before that but it took a while to get her attention. You know how stubborn she can be about ignoring the natural laws of the corporeal body.” He winks at her mother.
“How is this even possible?” Katie asks.
“Sweetheart, years ago, when I finally discovered what really happened to my missing sister, I learned a valuable lesson. I want to share it with you now.”
She’s almost afraid to ask. “W-what is it?”
“I learned that life is not blotted out completely. All who are born still live and only wait to be born again at God's behest. We are all ancient souls. Those of us who have left this earthly plane continue on in starlight. You and I will travel together again at some point in time. But not today. I hope…I hope that brings you some comfort.”
He embraces her. She feels his love swirl around her but doesn’t feel the solidity of his arms. She closes her eyes and soaks in his affection and tenderness. He’s a benevolent ghost, not come to haunt her but to heal her. A doting father even after death. When she opens her eyes, he is gone. He’s nowhere in the room, but her mom looks at peace, truly at peace for the first time today.
“Mom, was that real?”
“You work on the X-Files, sweetheart. More than that, you are your father’s daughter. You must believe in ghosts.”
I want to believe, she almost says.
* * *
Three months later, Katie receives the call she’s been dreading.
“Your mother passed away in her sleep last night,” Amelia Crouse says, her voice sympathetic. “She didn’t suffer.”
“But, she was fine when I saw her last weekend.”
“She’s been losing ground for some time, as you know. She was apparently ready to go.”
Ready to go? That isn’t a medical explanation. What was the underlying cause of her death? What biological breakdown stopped her mother’s heart? What bodily failure stole her away?
Katie calls Jackson. He’s as bereft by the news as she is, but he talks her out of an autopsy or further investigation.
“She wanted to be with him,” he says simply, as if anything is simple about the death of a parent. “And now they’re together.”
“What about us? Didn’t she care about leaving us?”
Jackson is silent for a beat and she worries her question was hurtful, given his past.
“I’m sorry,” she says, meaning it.
“It’s okay. I believe she loved us both, every day of our lives. But…” He takes a breath. “She missed Dad and couldn’t wait any longer to be with him.”
Katie’s not sure if Jackson really believes what he’s saying or if he’s trying to rationalize the irrational for her sake.
Over the next few days, they plan the funeral. It takes place at St. John's Catholic Church in Alexandria. It’s well attended. In truth, the pews are packed. Some mourners are forced to stand in the back. Dana Scully was well liked and highly respected. She touched a lot of lives.
Jackson gives the eulogy. He looks stoic and handsome in black. He does justice to their mother’s legacy.
Katie, also dressed in black, says little and cries a lot.
Following the service, a celebration of life is held in the church basement. The priest offers comfort. Her family rallies around her and Jackson. Their two uncles and their spouses, and their many cousins salve the orphaned siblings’ wounded hearts.
A few days later, Jackson and Katie go alone to bury their mother’s ashes alongside their father’s. They stand for a while afterwards, saying nothing, staring at the grave. Katie toys with her necklace. The chain holds her mother’s cross and her parents’ wedding rings. Jackson places the photo Katie gave their mother on her birthday in front of the stone. The act makes the death of their parents all too real. Katie breaks down and reaches to Jackson for comfort. He holds her until her sobs peter out.
“I’ll contact an engraving company to have Mom’s dates added to the stone,” he says.
They decide not to sell the property after all. Jackson volunteers to call the real estate agent to cancel the sale.
Two more days pass in a blur of loss and heartache. Katie returns to the Farrs Corner house alone to start going through her mother’s things. She begins in her mom’s closet, sorting her clothes into piles for charity or the trash bin. The fabrics carry her mother’s scent. Burying her nose into her mother’s bathrobe brings tears and an ache in her chest that threatens to buckle her knees. She steps away from the closet to open a window and let in the early June air.
But she’s stopped when she sees them, two ghosts down on the lawn, strolling hand in hand. They pause beside the Mustang. He points to the vanity plate. Her heart catches in her throat when he turns to look up at the window. He gives her a thumbs up and flashes a smile.
She finds herself smiling back.
Dad once told her a story about ghost busting on Christmas Eve with Mom.
His name was Maurice. He was a brooding but heroic young man beloved of Lyda, a sublime beauty with a light that seemed to follow her wherever she went. They were likened to two angels descended from heaven whom the gods could not protect from the horrors being visited upon this cold, gray earth. Driven by a tragic fear of separation they forged a lovers' pact so that they might spend eternity together…
Two angels descended from heaven. Her parents’ own love story is one for the ages, too. The greatest of all love stories, she believes. She’s soothed by the idea of them spending eternity together. She can only hope to meet her perfect other one day and love him even half as passionately as they have loved each other.
She watches them go. Her father’s hand hovers at the small of her mother’s back. He ducks his head, whispers something in her ear. It makes her laugh. Their immortality turns them translucent. They are so beautiful. Katie’s heart cracks with the fear she will never see them again. They are leaving her.
They shimmer and glitter like the starry heavens. They are but pinpricks. As they pass through the front gate, they dissipate to become part of the cosmos.
The loneliness she feels is crushing. She needs something to put her back against. She needs to work, she decides.
She pulls her phone from her pocket and dials.
“Dunlap,” her partner answers.
“Hey, it’s me…”
(Posted August 28, 2023)
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