When it comes to childhood memories, all of Gracie's are of her dad. He was the one who read her bedtime stories and tucked her in, who brought her to school and helped her with her homework, who patched her up and kissed her boo-boos and chased the monsters from under the bed.
Her memories of her dad are warm and solid, just like he is. Memories of mom come from pictures of her holding Gracie when she was a baby, from stories that Dad tells her. She used to listen to those stories, study those pictures, the smile on Mom's lips, the look in her eyes - which were Gracie's eyes too - and wonder why Mom had left them if she loved them so much?
Those were the times when Dad would get real quiet, hold her just a little tighter and he'd always tell her the same thing. "Gracie, your mom loved us more than anything in the whole wide world. And I don't know why she left us. But I do know she never would have done it if she didn't have a good reason."
And because Gracie knew her dad would never lie to her about something so important, she believed him.
Her memories of her mom start as a teenager, start the day she came back.
She says day, but of course it was night. Late enough for Gracie to be in bed, supposedly asleep, but she was reading and what Dad didn't know wouldn't hurt him. It wasn't so late that he's gone to bed though and when there was a knock at the door, Gracie sprang into action right away, flicking off her bedside lamp and moving to the door to see who was there. House callers at that hour of night couldn't be good news.
Her room was near to the top of the stairs so she crept as close as she could get without being seen. Her dad didn't look around when he went to the door and she saw him cast a careful eye towards the locked drawer on the hall table before shaking his head once and opening the door.
Then his hands fell to his side and he staggered back a step and Gracie went cold all over, thinking he'd been hurt.
Then he spoke.
At that one word, it was like a hand reached into Gracie's chest, squeezed her heart tightly and it was hard to breathe suddenly, hard to think.
"Hello, John." A woman's voice, soft and low, almost timid, drifted up the stairs and Gracie leaned forwards, eager to catch her first proper glimpse of the woman who had given birth to her.
"What... what..." Her dad ran a hand over his face, up over his hair. He shook his head again and though Gracie couldn't see him, she could imagine the look of shock on his face. And then suddenly he wasn't standing still any more, he'd moved so quickly that Gracie had barely even registered it. But his arms were around her mom and he was holding her tightly and her arms were gripping his shoulders, fingers making white knuckles fists in the back of his jumper. She heard her dad sob, saw his shoulders trembling and she pressed her hands to her lips to keep back any noise she might make.
It seemed a very long time before they separated and when they did, her dad cupped her mom's face in his hands. They'd turned slightly so now she could see their profiles and if either of them had turned any further, they would be able to see her looking down at them. Gracie knew that wasn't going to happen though - they only had eyes for each other.
"You're here," Dad said. "It's really you?" His voice was a mix of joy and disbelief and Gracie could tell that his eyes were wet.
Mom nodded, her hands on his shoulders. "I didn't know if I should come." She looked down, bit her lip. "I didn't know if you were still here... if anyone else..."
Dad shook his head. "It's just the two of us," he told her and the smile on Mom's face could have lit up the town. When Dad added with a shrug, "I'm still married," the smile vanished in a sob.
"You have to know..."
Tears were streaming down Mom's face and Dad made a sound that was very familiar to Gracie, having been on the receiving end of it far too many times to count. At the same time, his thumbs moved to wipe the tears away and the look on his face made tears come into Gracie's own eyes. All these years and she'd only ever seen him look that way in pictures, either when he was looking at her mother or looking at her.
"It was him, wasn't it? Mulder's smoking man." Mom's jaw dropped a little and Gracie frowned because she didn't know what that meant. Surely if Mom had run off with another man, he wouldn't be acting like this? But he continued, "What happened a few weeks ago... everyone getting sick... Strange lights in the sky... and now here you are... His fingerprints are all over this."
Gracie knew about that all right, remembers the fear, the panic, remembers seeing the news on television (her dad was old fashioned like that) and the Tad O'Malley clips on his iPad. She and her dad had been lucky; they'd managed to avoid any illness, even as those around them dropped like flies. But what did that have to do with Mom?
Mom nodded, the action dislodging Dad's hands from her cheeks. He just slid them down so they rested on her shoulders, like he couldn't bear to lose contact with her. "I thought he died in New Mexico," she said, revulsion in her voice. "Until he summoned me to his hospital bed." She visibly shuddered. "He told me about it all... His plans to decimate the population, save for a chosen few... I was to be one of the lucky ones." Her lips twisted bitterly. "I told him to go to hell and I walked out of there ready to take him down. You were away in Phoenix on the Underwood case, I was going to tell you when you got home, figure out together how to get the son of a bitch. But instead..."
Dad's jaw had dropped the moment she mentioned Phoenix. As her voice trailed off, he nodded, eyes wide, mouth equally so. "When I got home from Phoenix... you told me you were pregnant."
Mom pressed her lips together. "And that changed everything. I could take the risk for you, for me... but not for her, John, not for our child." Her hands were fists on his chest and her eyes were wild and wide. "I couldn't bear the thought of anything happening to her. So I went back to him, with a deal of my own. He could have me, once the baby was born, once I knew she was healthy... I knew any immunity I had would be passed to her. And you had to be saved too."
Dad shook his head, like there was something he was missing. "I woulda needed a shot-" he objected and Mom looked down. Dad frowned, a look on his face that Gracie hadn't seen since she was playing ball inside the house and accidentally broke one of the panes of glass on the French doors in the kitchen. "What did you..."
"Our anniversary." The words made him stop and Mom continued quickly, like she was afraid he'd stop her again. "I made your favourite meal, got a nice bottle of wine..."
"Which you couldn't drink..." Dad shook his head. "You got me passed out drunk on purpose?"
"Once I knew you were out cold, I gave you the shot." He looked away, chuckled without any real humour and Mom's expression turned pleading. "There was no other way, John, don't you see that? I had to save you, both of you... If we'd run, he never would have stopped looking for us, not once I knew what he was going to do. He would have killed us all, if not with the infection then some other way. We'd have been constantly looking over our shoulders... this way, she was safe... and you..." She stumbled over the words, looked down. "You wouldn't lose another child."
Dad's face went slack and tears came into his eyes. "Ah, Mon..."
"I know you must hate me," Mom said quietly. "And I don't blame you. But it was the only way... the only way."
Dad shook his head. "I don't hate you, Monica," he said, and his voice was lower than usual, had that gruff tone he got every time he talked to Gracie about her mom and why she left. "I could never hate you." His hands moved back to her face again and he lowered his head, pressed her forehead against hers. They were silent for a long time, or at least it seemed that way to Gracie, until her dad asked, "Is it over?"
Mom's smile came back full force, her hands moving to close over Dad's wrists. "He's dead," she said and neither of them looked unhappy about it. Dad just lifted an eyebrow, what was usually his 'are you sure you really want to ask me that, young lady?' look and Mom chuckled. "This time, I made sure I saw the body. It's over, John... it's really over."
"So... you're back? Is that what you're telling me?"
Mom shook her head rapidly, her face falling. "I'm not assuming anything... I know I just can't walk back into your life after so long away but..."
Whatever else she might have wanted to say, she never got a chance to say it. Because Dad closed any gap between them, pulling her close, and he kissed her. Her arms went around his neck and she kissed him back and Gracie put her head in her hands as tears rolled down her cheeks. She didn't lift her head until she heard Dad's voice. "I know we can't pick up right where we left off," he said. "But, Monica... I want to try."
There was another sob from Mom and Dad pulled her into a hug, his cheek against the top of her head, her head tucked against his chest. "What will you tell Gracie?" she asked quietly. "What she must think of me..."
"I don't think we'll have to tell her much." Dad's voice was laced with amusement. "She thought I didn't know she was reading after lights out... If I know our girl, she's listening at the top of the stairs, waiting on me to call her down." He looked up then, his eyes easily finding Gracie's. "That about right, sweetheart?"
Gracie nodded, standing on shaky knees and gripping the bannister of the stairs for dear life as she walked down. She didn't take her eyes off Mom as she walked, saw Mom lift her head, heard her gasp when she saw her, saw the dark eyes and dark hair that were so much like her own. Her knees buckled and only for Dad's arms around her waist, holding her up, she would have fallen down. Her mouth moved, but no words came out and it was left to Gracie to speak, to say something profound, something meaningful, something that they would remember for the rest of their lives.
What came out was, "Hi, Mom."
And then Mom was sobbing and pulling her into her arms, or maybe Gracie was reaching for her, but either way they were both holding on to one another and crying and her dad's arms were around them both and he was crying too and they stayed like that for a long time, a decade's worth of pain and longing washed away with their tears and their hugs.
Dad was right, in the end.
Mom did have her reasons for leaving, and it wasn't always easy to adjust to being a family of three instead of a family of two.
But whenever Gracie looked across the room at her parents, saw them smiling at one another, holding hands, she knew that it was all worth it.