THE PROMISE HEART
By Char Chaffin
Spoilers: Past AU, then surfaces in S7, before "Requiem" Disclaimers: Clones on Loan
Story Notes: At the end!
Thanks to: Sallie, Carol, Tess and Robin, for beta and excellent technical advice!
Summary: A family tradition becomes a mantra for the future -
"The Promise Heart"
COUNTY CLARKE, IRELAND
It was made of red cloth, stiffened with starch. It was edged in hand-tatted lace that had been carefully sewn on along the edges, and there was a tatted lace bow at the top. The shape of it was slightly uneven, the starch a bit lumpy, here and there. Across the back were embroidered the words, 'Gra Mo Chroi'...
Love of My Heart.
There were tears in her eyes when she finished it - and she imagined how emotion would clog his throat when she'd present it to him; how he'd smile when he accepted it.
She'd made it for him while he'd been gone at sea. Young, passionately in love and dreaming of him, she'd sat for hours at the window, struggling with the complicated tatting, her fingers unaccustomed to the thick tat bobbin and hair-thin thread. Over and over, the thread had broken. Over and over, she'd thrown it away, rethreaded her bobbin and begun again. It had to be perfect. Had to be of the exact tension and width, the perfect delicacy. For her love.
For her Michael.
It seemed to take forever just to tat enough to encircle the heart, but her persistence paid off. When she measured it around the edge of the shape she'd cut, it was exactly right. She even had enough left over to make a bow.
While Michael slowly made his way back home, she'd carefully sewn on the lace, embroidered the back of her gift with words that rushed through her own tender young heart. She stiffened the cloth with her mother's best potato starch. She made an 'envelope' out of fine Irish linen, edged in red ribbon. The heart was taken to church and blessed by Father Cary on the Sunday before Michael was to return. She placed it in the envelope she'd made and tied the small flap closed, then cushioned the romantic token between layers of white paper. And she waited for her Michael to come home.
And she waited. And waited.
Three weeks later she stood over the open grave, tossing in a handful of dirt, kneeling to place a single white rose on the roughhewn coffin, her tears flowing down her pale, freckled cheeks. Her mother flanked her on one side, her father on the other; their faces were sad and worried. She was their middle daughter, the dreamer who'd wanted nothing more than to be a good man's wife and the mother of his children. She'd adored Michael Murphy, and now she faced a future alone, for her love had fallen ill aship, and had died on that voyage home. And as sure as they knew their Brenna, they also knew she'd never love another. She might marry someday, but she'd only love once in her life.
As for Brenna, she'd mourn the loss of her Michael for all of her days. And on her deathbed she'd whisper his name as she passed from this world, knowing he was awaiting her on the other side, his hands held out for her; a broad smile of welcoming love on his handsome face.
She'd kept the gift she made for him, the stiffened cloth heart trimmed in delicate tatted lace. And although she had eventually married, and had borne five children... still the true love of her heart - her 'Gra Mo Chroi' - would always be Michael. The heart was his; she'd never given it to her husband. She'd never mentioned Michael to her daughters, or to her sons. But when her middle daughter Megan was thirteen, Brenna showed her the heart, still wrapped in Irish linen and protected between layers of white paper. Brenna laid the precious token in her daughter's hand, with motherly love and simple instructions.
"Give it to the love of your heart, on a day that means the most to you. Give it with passion, and with generosity, mo chroi - as you give yourself."
Megan Flannery kissed her mother's face, and promised.
She lit the candles with fingers that trembled. Blew out the match and then pressed a hand to her nervous stomach. It was silly to be nervous, that was a fact - but she couldn't help it. Tonight meant everything to her. She'd waited her entire life for it.
Tonight was her wedding night.
Five hours earlier she'd stood at the altar of St. Christopher's and pledged herself to Thomas O'Roarke. She'd gazed into his bright blue eyes; her voice had been a dry whisper in her throat as she'd spoken her vows. Thomas had actually had the audacity to wink at her, flashing that devilish smile, his face turned just enough to hide his expression from the family and friends crowded in the church's old wooden pews. And when she'd fumbled a little at the words 'obey and trust', he'd stuck his tongue out at her.
Impudent, funny, handsome, strong and passionate Thomas. The love of her heart.
Megan loved him with a fierceness that she was just beginning to understand. She'd known him half her life; he was the boy next door for most of her teenage years. He'd always been the best-looking fellow in her class; she'd been bowled over by his wit, his charm, his boldness. When she was sixteen he'd come calling for her, charming her parents and bringing her spring flowers. And he'd walked her home from that first date, holding her hand, asking her for another date for the very next night... pressing her up against the oak tree in her front yard and kissing her with that wide, full mouth of his. Her first kiss... her first experience with a young man's eager mouth, his tongue, his embrace.
She'd fallen for him, hard. He was everything she wanted. He was the one she'd love, for all time.
Her wedding night, and here she stood in front of the mirror staring at herself in the white lacy gown and matching robe. Her mother had made it for her, had presented it to her on the night before the wedding. She'd pressed the box into Megan's hands, smiling mistily at her, murmuring, "For you, mo chroi. Wear it with happiness, knowing how much your man loves you. And how proud I am, to claim you as my child." She'd kissed both her daughter's cheeks and Megan had flung her arms around her beloved mother and clung to her, whispering her thanks in a voice gone thick with happy tears.
The reflection in the mirror showed Megan a newly-married woman that she barely recognized. Gone was the girl with the unruly dark brown pigtails. Gone, the babyish cheeks and the thin body. She was eighteen years old and tonight she would become a woman. Tonight she would know how it felt to have a man intimately touch her, join with her.
Tonight she would give her husband the priceless gift of her body... and the precious token of her heart, for in the box that held her wedding night finery was an Irish linen square protecting a red cloth heart. Megan had teared up when her mother had told her of the Promise Heart, and its significance. It was hers to give, to the one she'd love forever. Hers to give, to her Thomas.
Megan held the white linen envelope behind her back as Thomas opened the door and walked in, a bottle of champagne in one hand and two glasses in the other. His tie was loose and three buttons of his dress shirt undone. His dark red hair was mussed and the smile on his face was openly tender as he took in the sight of his bride, dressed in virginal white and standing in front of a mirror with candlelight blazing all around her. He set the bottle and glasses on the table next to the bed, strode across the room and took his new wife in his arms.
Just before he covered her mouth with ardent kisses and whispered words of adoration in her ear, Megan placed the token in his hands, stepping back just enough to watch the expression on his face as he untied the ribbon and lifted out the red cloth heart.
When he turned it over and read aloud the words embroidered there, she echoed them back to him...
"Gra Mo Chroi... my Thomas. Love of my heart. Forever..."
PIER 7A, NAVAL STATION, NORFOLK, VA
The wind was cold and bitter, whipping up around her face and stinging her eyes. Or maybe it was the tears of thankfulness that caused them to redden and her nose to run. Whatever the reason, she barely felt the cold. She stood on the dock with her coat wrapped tightly around her body and watched the ship approach. Closer, and closer.
She'd been dreaming of this day for so long. Had been longing for it. Needing it to happen, worried that it never would. Afraid that when it did, somehow nothing would be the same as when he'd left. When the day had finally come and she'd awoken that morning, rushing around to get dressed, fingers trembling so badly that her older sister Mary had actually knocked her hands aside and buttoned up her blouse for her... Margaret O'Roarke knew that once she saw his face she'd be fine. All she needed was to look into his blue eyes, feel his arms around her, breathe in the comforting scent of Old Spice and tobacco that always clung to his uniform... and she'd be all right. She'd stand at the dock with all of the other women, all of the family members waiting for their men to come home - and she'd throw her arms around William Scully and never let him go to sea again.
A watery sun broke through gray clouds as the ship finally docked, and a great cheer went up all around her, but Maggie couldn't have forced a squeak out of her tight throat. She twisted the straps of her handbag until they resembled knots. Her feet were icy in their leather pumps, her hair blew around her eyes, getting caught on her lashes. She'd forgotten to wear a hat again. Her stomach was fluttering like mad. And she stared at the gangplank, stared so hard that she probably could have conjured his image just from sheer concentration. She watched the sailors in their whites, crowding along the rail and waving madly to the upturned faces of their women, their children, mothers and fathers - all waiting for them. She strained for a glimpse of Bill, but couldn't see him.
Then from somewhere on the dock came the sound of a radio, tinny and touched with static. Above the buzzing in her ears and the immense relief of finally spotting Bill on the deck of his ship, she heard the first bars of a song that would forever be their song, suddenly a truly appropriate accompaniment to this day and its significance:
'Somewhere beyond the sea
Somewhere waiting for me
My lover stands on golden sands...'
She forgot her worries; that things might have changed, that his feelings might have cooled. She forgot the trembles in her fingers and the jitters in her stomach. She forgot everything but the way he ran down the gangplank and right up to her, as if they were the only two people on that dock. She only knew his arms snapped about her body as he raised her clean out of her shoes. He swung her around in a dizzying circle, kissing her passionately in front of God and her family, who'd come down to the dock with her as moral support, and who now regarded the embracing couple with fond amusement and perhaps a touch of envy. Her world narrowed down to the hard mouth that pressed hers open and the eager tongue that pushed its way inside, blessing her with the third French kiss of her entire life. Since Bill had given her the first two, the night before he'd set sail... she was happy to let him take another.
When he finally set her back on her feet, she hopped around reaching for her shoes while her mother chuckled and her father grinned. Bill held her steady and refused to let go of her hand, even when she tugged at it in an attempt to open her handbag. She hissed at him, "Bill! You have to let go; I have something for you!"
With a smile he let go, and she managed to open her bag with fingers gone shaky again. Under the approving eye of her mother, she pulled out a white linen square tied with red ribbon, tinged slightly yellow with age. She placed it in Bill's hands, her gaze misting over when he held it in his big palm, and just stared at her with his own heart in his eyes.
"Open it." Her voice was raspy with emotion.
He shook his head. "Not until I ask you a question, Maggie Mine."
She swallowed audibly. "And what would that question be, Bill Scully?"
"That you do me the honor of becoming my wife. That you take my name and all my earthly goods, and live with me forever."
Tears that had been standing in her eyes slowly rolled down her cheeks, as she nodded. She'd quite lost the power of speech.
His smile was brilliant and lit up his face. "Would that be a yes then, Maggie O'Roarke?" As he spoke, William Scully untied the ribbon and lifted out her grandmother's red cloth heart, edged with tatted lace and bearing a promise on the back. He blinked back the moisture in his eyes as he looked at her token.
She saw those tears and melted anew. "Yes. It's a 'yes', Bill... Gra Mo Chroi. Love of my heart..."
The words were echoed back to her as her future husband gathered her into his arms and sealed her promise - and his - with a kiss. And the family tradition - that of a middle daughter's love token given to her chosen man - continued.
She poked at the fire, debating whether or not to add another log. There was a decent bank of coals, enough to get them through the night. The room was overly warm, but she'd been chilled for days. The added heat was welcome to her, although she didn't doubt Mulder was probably cooking. But he hadn't complained so far.
"Come back here." The low command actually made her toes curl.
She sent a quick smile in the direction of the voice, turning her head enough to see the picture he made, lying on the sofa with a ripple-patterned afghan draped over his hips. Naked from the waist up and bare from the knees down. Tousled hair, slumberous eyes. Beard stubble and lips still swollen from their last bout of frenzied kissing. Tanned, smooth skin reclining against plump cushions.
God... it was all she could do not to leap on him, rip that soft afghan from his body and devour him alive.
Dana Scully shivered as much from the cooler temperature of the room as from residual desire, as she replaced the poker in its holder and faced him, standing in front of the fire and warming herself. Their eyes locked, his a darkened hazel and hers a simmering blue, each prolonging the moment when she'd join him on the sofa and pick up where they'd left off. They'd been making love for most of the weekend, stopping only for light meals and necessary trips to the bathroom. They'd slept a little, snuggled a lot; had talked sparingly. Mostly they'd spent their time loving each other. It was more vital than anything else. It was more important than everything lurking in the background or the inevitability of life that waited outside her door. She would have liked nothing better than to crawl inside his skin and never come out.
"Scully... here. Now." The demand was issued with one hand extended toward her and in a honey-rasp tone that slipped straight up her spine. She blushed and ducked her head. Held up one restraining hand, when it looked as if he'd jump off the cushions and drag her, caveman style.
"I will. I just need to, um... I need to get something. I have to do something." The words spilled out in an untidy heap, earning her a raised eyebrow and a quirky little grin. She knew what he was thinking; that Dana Scully rarely fumbled when she talked.
Well, she was rattled. He'd really shaken her up this time. It wasn't their first intimacy together, but it may as well have been for all of the quivering awareness she was feeling and the emotion that threatened to buckle her at the knees. The loving had been nothing short of amazing... and the love she carried for this man was something she wanted to acknowledge, far past any word or touch.
The love of her heart... and it was time to let him know.
With a tiny smile tossed in Mulder's direction and a swift, "Be back in a sec," Scully walked into her bedroom and over to her closet. She stood on bare tiptoes and felt for the box on the top shelf, finally locating it and pulling it down. She carried it to the bed and sat on the edge of the mattress, opening the lid, smoothing back layers of old tissue paper. Carefully she lifted out a linen square, trimmed in red satin and tied with a satin fastener.
Scully held it on the palm of her hand, looking down at a tradition that had been passed from middle daughter to middle daughter, all the way back to her great-grandmother Brenna. A 'promise heart', her mother had told her, pressing it into her hands the day she graduated from high school. Meant to give to the true love of her heart, on a day that meant something special to her. Scully had kept it protected in a box on the top shelf of her closet for all these years... and she'd forgotten to give it to Mulder the first night they made love.
Tears welled in her eyes and spilled down her cheeks. She was late in giving the one tradition that was hers alone to perpetuate.
"Scully? Baby, what's wrong?"
Hastily Scully laid the token on the bed and swiped at her eyes. Even as she was shaking her head and opening her mouth to refute her tears, Mulder had crossed the room and knelt in front of her. Neither seemed to notice the other's nudity as he reached out a hand and cupped her damp cheek, gently turning her face until he could see into her drenched eyes.
The love in his was overwhelming, humbling...
She shook her head again and then pressed her cheek into his palm. "I'm all right, Mulder. I just seem to have forgotten something very, very important. Something I should have done weeks ago. I'd better do it, now."
He sat on the bed next to her, keeping an arm around her shoulders, as she took his hand and laid the linen envelope face up on his palm. Mulder stared down at it for a moment, then met her eyes. In them she could swear he'd somehow guessed what was hidden behind the yellowed Irish linen.
One long finger traced the outline underneath the linen, measuring the shape of it, and he murmured in her ear, "It feels like a heart. It's obviously very old, Scully. I know there's a story here." He placed the unopened linen on his knee and slipped three fingers under her chin, lifting her face to his, kissing her cheek and then her mouth gently as he asked, "Tell me all about it. Tell me the story of the heart."
She smiled against his lips, loving the knowledge that its history was important to him; that he'd want to understand its significance even before he opened it and read those words for himself. She cuddled into his embrace and her hand laid atop his, their fingers meshed together, as she told him. "The heart was made by my greatgrandmother Brenna, for the man she loved, who died at sea before he could return home and marry her. She vowed never to give it to another even though she did eventually marry. Instead she kept it until she could pass it on to her middle daughter."
"Why middle daughter?" Mulder was curious.
"Well, Brenna was a middle daughter. I suppose even back then she was subconsciously setting the parameters of a tradition, maybe unbeknownst to her at the time. Anyhow, the tradition stuck, with the women of my maternal family passing on the heart to each successive middle daughter. And the heart came with very specific instructions, Mulder."
He gave her a squeeze, which she returned. "Such as?"
Her voice dropped to a rough little whisper, "That the middle daughter give it to the love of her heart. Her 'Gra Mo Chroi'..."
"And am I that love, Scully?" The rasp against her ear was thick with emotion.
She nodded, felt herself blushing a little. "Yes. You are. You're the only one I'd ever give this heart to. And I feel so stupid, because I should have given it to you weeks ago, the night we first, um... you know, made love. I should have given it to you then, but I didn't."
"Scully... I know why you didn't think to give me the heart. You were too busy being overwhelmed by my manly and lustful attentions... am I correct?"
His gentle humor was just the right levity, and she snickered. "Yes of course, Mulder. I was overwhelmed that night." She grew serious again. "I couldn't think of anything but you; couldn't have left your side if I'd wanted to, even for a three-second ransack through my closet to find the heart and give it to you. I was that floored by all that we'd done, all that we'd felt."
She turned into his arms and her mouth was ardent against his lips, the heart slipping a bit on his knee as they kissed and murmured to each other. Scully rested her head on his shoulder and they both regarded the linen square for a quiet moment.
Finally Mulder roused himself to remark, "You know, Scully... it's not as if you'd have been able to give me the heart that night - you were at my apartment, remember? Besides," he slid his mouth down over her neck and nuzzled it between her breasts, "you DID give me a heart. You gave me the living one, the precious one. The one that pounds inside your body when I touch you; the one that beats with immeasurable strength when you stand by me, fight alongside me. The one I wanted to win the very first time I realized that I loved you."
"Oh, Mulder..." She was barely able to speak. As potent as his touch had proved to be, his words hit her even stronger. She wound her arms around his neck and tugged him close, kissed him deeply. The little linen square slid from his knee and fell to the bed as their kisses grew in tenderness, gentling each other. Their day had been spent in wild passion, lovemaking that had exhausted them and yet left them replete. Now they took serene comfort in the sweet caress, the feather-light stroke of fingers on warm skin, the breathy vow and the glowing smile.
For the longest time they lingered there on the bed, holding fast to each other, a silence filled with everything they hadn't yet spoken, with words that could be communicated in so many other ways. The shadows lengthened a bit in the corners of the room and they both chuckled when Mulder's stomach growled, declaring its need for food. Scully pulled away a little and smiled at him.
"I should feed you, before that din your belly's creating awakens the dead." She started to rise but he held her close against him.
"I'm not hungry. That grumbling is a reflex action that all stomachs have when you don't feed them at precise intervals. It'll keep." He regarded her with a teasing light in his eyes, adding, "Besides, I don't want to move, not yet. I want to stay here and lollygag all over you. I want to make out with you and maybe get to second base." His hands curved over her breasts and she heaved out a shuddery breath as she leaned into his palms.
"Mulder, you already got to second base. In fact, you made it all the way to fiftieth base, remember?"
He deadpanned, "Is there a fiftieth base? I can't recall. I must have passed out after forty-third base." He stretched out on the bed, taking her with him.
Scully curled into his side and let her fingers play with the dark hair growing low on his abdomen, her head on his shoulder. She yawned out a soft, "If you passed out then I must have been taking advantage of an unconscious man. I'm sure that's an offense in at least five southern states, and probably parts of Europe. I guess I'd better turn myself in. After I take a nap."
"Well, before you become a dead weight on my arm, do you mind if I open my heart? I'd kind of like to see what a token of Scully tradition looks like."
She gasped in disbelief, sitting up and looking around for the discarded linen square. "Oh, God. I can't believe I forgot it, again. I swear you must use some sort of hypnosis over me, Mulder. I forget everything when I'm in your arms." Spying the token hanging off the corner of her bedspread, she snagged it and handed it to him.
He sat up beside her and untied the fastener. "Well, that's as it should be. Love is supposed to be magical, taking oneself out of the body and transporting it to another plane, where mundane things such as food and short-term memory loss are less than important." His grin was cheeky as it flashed her way, but when he looked down at the uncovered heart the grin faded, to be replaced with awe.
"Wow. This is amazing, Scully." He held the heart up and stared at it. "Did your Brenna make this lace? It looks handmade."
Scully nodded, reaching out a finger to touch the stiffened trim. "She did. I've never tried tatting but I remember Grandma Meg telling me how hard it was to do. According to family lore, Brenna sat by the window for hours every day, tatting the lace. It was a real labor of love for her."
Mulder turned the heart over; read the words aloud. This is Gaelic, isn't it? 'Gra Mo Chroi'. 'Love of my heart'. Thank you, baby." He gathered her close, still holding the token, "Thank you for your heart. I promise I'll take good care of it."
Her sigh was a puff of warmth against his neck. "You already have, Mulder. And how did you know what it said? You don't read Gaelic... do you?"
"You told me yourself, remember? When you were talking about Brenna."
"So I did. But I'd also bet you know a few words of Gaelic, don't you?"
"But of course... A'ghra."
"What does that mean?"
He kissed her again, and then once more, before laying the heart on the night-stand and gently urging her under the covers. She went willingly, snuggling into his warm body. For a few minutes they listened to the silence in the room, counting their own heartbeats. Then she spoke and her voice broke a little as she confessed, "I think the promise heart will die with me, Mulder."
It was an abrupt turn into melancholy, and Mulder was quick to soothe a hand over her tousled hair. "Why? Why would you think that, Scully? Do you really believe you'll be the end of your bloodline? You think there'll never be a child you can pass tradition to; a middle daughter who'll take that heart and give it with love?"
She raised her head from the pillow of his shoulder and met his eyes. "Well, frankly, no. We've given it a shot. Our best shot, in fact. And... nothing. I have to face the facts. I'll most likely be the last middle Scully daughter, Mulder. The promise heart will go no further than me." As she spoke she fought back the tears and made her voice as matter-of-fact as possible.
But Mulder wasn't having any of it. He flipped her underneath him and stared down into her wide eyes. His own voice was firm and confident. "Yes, it will. It WILL go further, this I can tell you. You'll have a child, Scully. You'll have more than one. And you'll give that heart to our daughter, someday. You will."
Her smile was sad as she registered the definitive 'our daughter'. "And how would you imagine I'd do that, Mulder? You know how important a biological child is to me." Her voice lowered, "How important having your child is. I would have difficulty accepting anything less."
"Miracles, remember? They're all around us. Every day, I see one. You gave me one the night you came into my bed and took possession of my soul, Scully. You gave me a promise that night. I'm holding you to it." He leaned into her, kissed her. Long, slow kisses that burned all the way inside. Kisses that healed; kisses that purged.
Kisses that made her believe.
On the night-stand next to the bed a little red-cloth heart reposed, trimmed in tatted lace and bearing forever-messages on its back. It had passed through four generations of loving women, and it was just gearing up for the next four... or ten. Or more. It had nothing but time to wait, secure in the knowledge that somehow its meaning would transcend this room, these lovers.
The early evening darkened to night and the shadows on the bed became one tightly-bonded, living testament to tradition and devotion... with the promise heart bearing solitary witness. As it had done for generations past and as it would do for generations to come.
STORY NOTES: In my quest to write a bit of Scully history, I discovered how much fun it is to try piecing together the Scully lore with the kind of plot-craters CC bequeathed to X-fans everywhere. <g> With no decent record of the birth of the older Scully children, and dissenting bios on the date and location of Maggie's and Bill Scully's reunion and subsequent marriage, I did what any sensible Xfic writer would do: I faked it! Hopefully those who read this can forgive any little spots that seem conflicting.
Additional note: My mother tatted lace, as did my grandmother. The thread is as fine as hair and breaks if you breathe on it. Tatting is tedious and frustrating and patience-draining... and the resulting lace is as lovely as angel wings.
As always, it's great to hear from you! Email me, at firstname.lastname@example.org
Take a gander at my website when you have a free moment! http://char.chaffin.com
If you enjoyed this story, please send feedback to Char Chaffin
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