Sleep Now

by Rose Campion

title: Sleep Now
author: Rose Campion
disclaimers: John and Fox don't belong to me, but it's not my fault if they told me they wanted to ride off into the sunset together. As always, no profit, etc. being made from this. rating: PG-13
summary: another tribute to JiM, who was once so kind as to let me use the Houseboat story idea. I hope this use again isn't an imposition. Two men, a boat and a separate peace. This story was written for the 14th Lyric Wheel- the poetry wheel.

Mulder turned, unable to sleep. Insomnia had never been his particular bugaboo, not once upon a time ago it hadn't. Much water under that bridge since then though.He shifted on the sofa, turning his back to the television he'd just clicked off, finding the assorted late night yammerings now a distraction, an irritation, whereas once he'd found them a comfort. Once, they were his lullabies, his soma. No other sound to distract him, other than the slight brush of the waves against the hull of his houseboat, hardly noticeable now, so familiar they were to him.

His bed was hardly more than five feet away, so small were the confines of this life, this place, but even though it would have been more comfortable than the narrow length of the sofa, he made no move to close those five feet. He had one light burning, the table lamp closest to his sofa, but even a mere forty watts was enough to softly illuminate his quarters from end to end, wreathing them in more shadow than light, true, but revealing the snug, well-built spaces, the shelves and cabinets that lined the walls, his desk and computer, the only door in the place, the one that led to his bathroom. His domain was no more than forty feet long, not even as wide as a single-wide trailer house. The boat itself had been purchased for a thick wad of bills, changed hands in a bar one night, no bill of sale, nothing to indicate that he, or anyone else, owned it. The slip at the marina was rented from someone who rented it from someone who rented it from the marina. His name was on no lease, no bills. It was all as close to anonymous and traceless as you could get these days, while still maintaining an existence more permanent than a series of cheap hotels, rented by the week for handfuls of cash, which was how he'd been living until he'd lucked upon a man who had a boat and needed a pile of folding money.

Fox Mulder was on no one's map, no one's radar and that was the way he'd wanted it. Not so much because of any danger, but just to be left alone to lick wounds that were years in healing, that he was beginning to suspect might never close over. Nothing but his books and his television and the waves of the marina lapping at the sides of the boat. No one to know or care where he'd gone to. He'd wanted it that way, planned it.

And yet, long, almost endless nights like this made him wonder if what the hole in the middle of his chest was needing before it could close over was a heart returned to that resoundingly hollow place and the sounds of someone softly snoring in the bed, turning as if reaching for him in the night.

Sometimes he wondered if there was someone who had that same empty spot. Someone who was reaching for him. Someone who might have shed a few tears when he'd disappeared.

Doggett turned over in his sleep and reached for someone who wasn't there. Strange how his body was still sure, after so many years of night time solitude, that there would be that particular someone waiting for him to snuggle into. He'd been habituated into this during the years of his marriage, and though the impulse had mostly hibernated since the divorce, it'd been woken by a few, short months of company. Three years ago to the date, tomorrow, was the last time Mulder had slept in his bed, feeding that impulse.

Tonight, he was in a strange bed, in a strange city. He was in a hotel room in Santa Monica, in California, a place he'd never expected to end up. He'd been in a lot of hotel rooms in his life, this one much like any of them, with a view of only a parking lot, an seemingly endless sea of vehicles. Even through the curtains, squares of light from passing traffic danced across the room, yellow against the purple darkness. The sheets seemed bent on tangling in his feet no matter how he pulled at them and the pillow, as usual, was something akin to a rock. The room smelled, not bad, but strange and unfamiliar, like cleaning supplies and cigarette smoke and strange women's perfumes.

During the long, sleepless hours of the night, he could, as much as his rational self hated to admit it, feel Fox's loneliness pulling, calling to him. It had taken just one look, one brief glance after years and he had pulled up roots, deserted everything he'd known to follow that pull.

After the shitstorm of the century was all over and miraculously the world all but unchanged, Doggett had gone back to his work and his house, the one in Falls Church that had been the perfect shell for his own loneliness once. But it had taken two years for him to admit to himself that the shell was too empty. That he needed someone to be there when he reached for them in the middle of the night and that it couldn't be just anyone. That a particular someone had taken his heart and gone into hiding with it.

The next year had been taken up by the search for Mulder. He'd searched for the man once before, but if anything, this time it was even more frustrating. No one seemed to care that he was gone, not even Dana, her heart finally too broken by promises that had never been made, much less kept.

There'd been no sign, no hint that Fox Mulder was even alive. None of the vast resources of the Bureau brought up even a trace of him. No activity in any of his bank accounts. His credit history just stopped, like coming to the edge of a cliff, only a drop to the void of financial non-existence.

Doggett's break had been purely accidental. He'd come to California on a case and had spotted Mulder, walking into a marina that Doggett had been staking out. Doggett wasn't proud, only a fool. He'd stalked Mulder back to a houseboat, remained out of sight until Mulder had boarded that boat, shut the door behind him.

A week and a half to wrap up his case, some drug thing that should have been a peak in his career but had suddenly lost all significance. He took a bit longer to tie up loose ends and Doggett had returned to California, unable to stop himself. He'd been reaching out in the night for someone who wasn't there for three years too many.

The morning brought blue skies and breeze off the water strong enough to churn the water into little crested wavelets that broke against the docks and boats. Gulls wheeled in the sky, riding the thermals, curves of white against the pure blue. They cried plaintively, sounding almost like screaming babies to Doggett sometimes. The air smelled something like sea air, but also like diesel fuel.

Doggett was sitting his car, looking out over the docks, his target in easy viewing distance. A weekday morning and the place almost seemed deserted, no one boarding any of the sailboats, with their polished mahogany hulls and brightly finished brass fittings, or any of the vividly painted house barges. Mulder's barge was painted pine green, a dark, almost baleful presence amidst the gypsies on the water.

Any minute now, he would get out of the car and explain himself to Mulder. Four hours later, he still stared at the boats, unable to move. Any time he imagined the words he'd say, how he would tell Fox about still reaching for him in the middle of the night, the words seemed like they would freeze in his throat.

Doggett was so intent on watching for Fox to emerge from the boat that he startled to hear the door of his rental open. Mulder pulled the door all the way open and sat in the passenger seat.

"So, how long have you been looking for me?" he asked.

To hear that low, rumbling voice say, "For years," somehow melted something inside of Mulder that had been so cold and icy that he'd hardly recognized it as himself anymore.

That voice was a little more hesitant than Mulder remembered it. The map of forehead wrinkles a little more detailed, the topology more pronounced. A few streaks of gray had finally started to invade the dark brown hair. There was a certain hurt that seemed to settle in the lines around those blue eyes that Mulder had never gotten over. This was same man that Mulder had left, but more cautious, warier of the world.

"How did you find me?" Mulder asked.

"Have I?" John asked. Again, hesitant, doubtful.

Something in Mulder wanted to reach out to him, to reassure him, but there was too much water under that bridge to cross it easily. Mulder held back for the moment. Mulder considered the question carefully while John started talking again.

"It was just dumb luck, me seeing you. You got yourself about as thoroughly lost as a person can get these days. I looked just about everywhere and way you can look for someone and you didn't leave a trace.

"You know your neighbor, the one that got busted about a month ago with twenty pounds of china white in his boat? I was on that bust. Caught sight of you while I was on stakeout."

"What took you so long to get back?" Mulder couldn't help asking, like you couldn't help probing a fresh wound, to gauge the depth and extent of the hurt. That bust was over a month ago. Doggett must have had a lot of hard thinking he'd had to do before he was willing to contact Mulder. And Mulder somehow couldn't help but feel a twinge of...loss, of something, that Doggett hadn't dropped what he'd been doing and talked to him right then, that instant.

"I thought about it a while," John said, thoughtfully. "I figured maybe a man who loses himself as much as you did doesn't want to be found. I figured maybe the only thing to do was lose myself too. It takes a while, you know, to lose yourself. Sell a house. Quit a job. Hide the money. Drop out of sight."

"You found me," Mulder said, the words coming unbidden from his mouth. "You'd better come in."

Doggett shut the car up and followed Mulder up to the dock and across the gangplank to the houseboat. The deck of the boat was about level with the dock and the plank was just a broad piece of plyboard that bent slightly under his weight.

The house part of the boat was just a blocky structure on top of the broad, flat barge, like a small cabin, sided with painted cedar. Mulder opened a door set with a stained glass panel and motioned Doggett inside.

The inside of the almost claustrophobically small cabin was naturally finished cedar, panelled where it wasn't shelf after shelf of books. One of the narrow walls was taken up with something like a kitchen, a small stove, a half sized refrigerator, a single bowl sink. The nearby table was covered with computer equipment, papers. It was a contained, peaceful, quiet place, fit for a man who'd determined that he would live a life apart from all he'd once known and loved.

Bright sunlight streamed in from the east. Despite his wait, it was still morning. It seemed impossible that it should be still morning. Night should have come and come again, so long Doggett had sat in that car, trying to decided what it was he would say at this moment.

"Do you want to know why I went into hiding?" Mulder asked.

"You've got your reasons and I don't need to know them. Only thing I really need to know is if you want me to be lost with you," Doggett said. "If not, I guess I'll get myself lost someplace else."

Mulder grinned, broadly, making him seem younger, his worn face not so writ with care. "I've been waiting for you for years," he said. "Don't you dare go."

"I won't," Doggett said, fervently promising it. "I'll stay for as long as you'll have me. For all my years."

Later that night, wakeful for reasons he didn't understand, but didn't question, Mulder sat on his sofa, staring out the small window to the bay. The moon was full and the water mostly still. The moon reflected a nearly straight path on the water, like a causeway to heaven, a golden paved, living, moving highway. The leather couch was cold under his bare skin, his body pleasantly sore in a way he was just starting to remember, an easy price to pay for the ecstasy received earlier that night. The boat smelled unfamiliar yet familiar with the scent of musk, of sex. All was quiet except for John's soft breathing, even and deep, and the sudden, unexpected cry of a sea bird, one of the gulls restless.

John stirred in the bed, capturing Mulder's attention. John had been sleeping on his back, but he turned over onto his stomach and reached out as if feeling for someone. John felt the empty bed for a moment.

Mulder left his perch on his sofa and crawled back onto the platform bed. He curled up on his side next to John and that strong, heavy arm was first draped across him, then pulled him close, so that Mulder was fitted into John's muscled body, feeling its warmth, the sheer rightness of its solidity. John shifted again and Mulder followed, the pair of them moving as one. John turned over again onto his back, spreading his arm, allowing Mulder to nestle into the crook of John's armpit. John's chest was a firm pillow, the masculine scent of him sheer pleasure to sniff in.

"You know," Mulder said softly and solemnly, the tone one took when talking of deep truths in the quiet hours of the night. "I don't think I ever really was alone. It was as if the potential of you was always there, waiting for me. No matter how far away from you I was, you were always there."

"Shhh," John said, pulling Mulder closer, burrowing his nose into Mulder's hair. "Sleep now."

Poem provided by the very kind Pollyanna. I have to admit that I had a hard time getting my brain around this poem and coming up with an idea. Until I went on vacation in Amsterdam and stayed in a houseboat on one of the canals. Then I knew it had to be a houseboat story.

All You Who Sleep Tonight

by Vikram Seth ( 1950 - )

All you who sleep tonight
Far from the ones you love,
No hand to left or right
And emptiness above -

Know that you aren't alone
The whole world shares your tears,
Some for two nights or one,
And some for all their years.

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