Welcome To The Harem
Concessions Made by Deslea R. Judd
Summary: "In times of war, concessions must be made." It's December 1982, and Samantha comes home from her latest abduction to a grieving lover, a frightened brother, and a stepmother who doesn't know what to do. R for adult themes, spoilers to Closure. Please note content warnings in the headers. See also sequel Concessions Broken.
NEW Concessions Made *R* 1/1
Deslea R. Judd
DISCLAIMER: Characters not mine. Interpretation mine.
ARCHIVE: Sure, just keep my name and headers.
RATING: R for adult themes.
CONTENT WARNING: This story references incest between consenting adult siblings. Don't say I didn't warn you.
SPOILERS/TIMEFRAME: Pre-XF, spoilers to Closure.
CATEGORY/KEYWORD: Angst, Romance (of a sort), Jeffrey/Samantha.
SUMMARY: "In times of war, concessions must be made." It's December 1982, and Samantha comes home from her latest abduction to a grieving lover, a frightened brother, and a stepmother who doesn't know what to do.
AUTHOR'S NOTES: At the end.
FEEDBACK: I'm sorry...I'm really bad at keeping up with email. But I cherish it, and I do reply - I just take a while. firstname.lastname@example.org
MORE STORIES: http://fiction.deslea.com
AWARDS/ELIGIBILITY: Spooky 2002 eligible.
She feels it pressing insistently against her eyelids, but it is not the fierce light to which she is accustomed. This light is gentle. Like sunlight, but blessedly cool and kind.
Moonlight, she realises. It's moonlight.
Her eyelids flutter open. She blinks - once, twice, a third time. From her vantagepoint, the moonlight is above her, at an angle. She seeks to orientate herself before she moves.
From the source of the light, she allows her gaze to slide in, through the window, over the peeling paintwork of the ceiling. It settles on a light fixture, and she releases the breath that has been held tight in her throat. She knows that fixture. It's a ridiculous, pretentious thing. Who the hell puts a chandelier in a dumpy weatherboard house? She and Jeffrey used to laugh about it, in between taking pot shots at it with his BB gun. Boy, was Cassandra pissed when they knocked it out. She hated that chandelier even more than they did, but she made them fix it anyway. Tough love.
She's home. In the den.
As if to confirm that, she turns her head a little, looking for comforting landmarks. The television is where it has always been. So is Cassandra's armchair. Pictures of herself and of Jeffrey adorn the side table. So they still live here, and so does she. All right.
She lifts her hands and smooths them down over her body. She recognises the silky fabric beneath her hands. It's the soft slip she had taken to wearing to bed not long before -
well, before she was taken.
Jeffrey liked it, she remembers. It was chaste and discreet, but it was delicate and pretty, and when he ran his trembling, guilt-soaked hands over her body, the fabric slipped easily with him. He was a creature of touch, Jeffrey. It was only in touch that he ever seemed to let go of the terrible strain and the painful, painful restraint that seemed to define the very lines of him. It was only in touch that-
Oh, shit, she's crying.
She swallows the hitching sobs that rise in her throat, laughing shakily through her tears. You'd think she'd have learned. You'd think she'd have known the comfort they'd found couldn't last.
Nothing ever does.
She sits up, and allows the world to shift and righten before attempting to rise. She gets to her feet, and feels to her relief that her legs are steady beneath her.
She walks to the kitchen.
She hopes that the newspaper is still there. It all depends on whether Cassandra is home. If Cassandra is home, there will be newspapers. If not, Jeffrey will have thrown them out as soon as they're read. That's how Cassandra raised him - to stick to routine. That's how her absences went unnoticed. That's how she managed to keep custody of her only child even when she wasn't there. Jeffrey never skipped school, never skipped baths, never skipped meals. He stuck to the routine.
There is a newspaper, and she makes a sound of relief. It sits in a companionable mess alongside a plate. Crumbs on the plate. Dregs of juice in a waterglass. The vestiges of disorder comfort her. She works very hard not to remember what they do to her when she's -
well, when she's gone.
But she remembers the sterility. The disorder of home pleases her. Cassandra's disorder pleases her.
She picks up the newspaper, turns it over. Reads the date.
Oh, my God.
That long? It was that long?
The shock hits her, and she pulls out a chair and sinks into it. With trembling hands, she turns the pages. A new Russian leader. The late - oh, my God, Princess Grace of Monaco? When? How? She wonders how she can find that out. Jeffrey wouldn't like it if she asked him. Maybe Cassandra. Assuming Cassandra wasn't gone at the time too.
She looks up from the newspaper to the figure in the doorway. He's thinner than she remembers. His bare chest is highlighted by the moonlight, pasty-white with too many hollows. His striped pyjama pants are loose and low around his hips. When she left they sat snugly at his waist.
He stares at her, eyes bright, Adam's apple working visibly. She feels tears rising in her throat. Oh, Jeffrey.
All at once, the palpable agony in his expression subsides. It falls out of his face in a rush. Like dropping a mask - or putting one on. He is expressionless for a long moment, and then his face turns pink and flush with anger. "Hi Jeffrey? You leave for six fucking months without a word and all you can say is hi-Jeffrey?"
She closes her eyes and bears his assault. It isn't fair, but it's how he survives. How he maintains his denial in the face of the evidence of a mother and a sister who always leave him. A lover, too, now. She doesn't argue with him any more. She just lets it wash over her. It will pass. It always does.
When she hears his footsteps thud gracelessly past her, she opens her eyes once more. She turns a little, watching as he gets a glass tumbler and fills it with water from the tap - undoubtedly his original purpose in coming down here.
He stands there in front of the sink, his back to her, staring out the window into their barren little backyard. The lines of his back are harsh, drawn out and held taut by nineteen years of trauma and their associated mental gymnastics. Twenty years, now, she realises - and she's just a few weeks off nineteen. Again the words rise in her mind - that long?
She goes to him.
She stands behind him, running her hands over his shoulders, pressing herself against his back. Needing his warmth.
She shouldn't do it. Six months is a long time. A lot can change. Maybe there's someone else. The thought saddens her, as much as she knows she should be glad.
But she doesn't really believe that. No one understands what he goes through. No one ever could. No one but her.
And she needs him.
"Don't," he says. But he's trembling beneath her palms, and she understands that he doesn't really want her to stop. He just wants to be able to live with himself in the morning. He wants to make it her fault. That's okay. It isn't fair, but she'll bear that, too.
She steps back a little, but leaves her hands on his shoulders. Gives him the chance to walk away. Just in case she's wrong. Just in case he really does mean it after all. But he turns to face her instead.
"Samantha," he whispers. Tender fingers find her hair, stroking it back off her face. His eyes gleam with tears. "I thought they killed you this time."
Grief washes over her, fast and fierce. Grief, and an odd kind of gratitude.
He believes her. Underneath it all, he believes her.
"Jeffrey," she whispers, but then his mouth is on her, tender and urgent. She kisses him too, not sure whether the tears in her mouth are his or hers. "Oh, Jeffrey."
"Thank God," he sighs as his palms ease down over her flesh. "Thank God you're home."
"I was so scared," she tells him when she finds him, hard and insistent with her hands.
"I thought I lost you," he says while gentle fingers prepare her.
"-so alone," they whisper when they join.
His tears spill on her cheeks when he empties himself within her.
She wakes entwined in his arms.
The sun is high in the sky, and they're in his bed. It's the double bed he bought from his gas station earnings just before she left. "I like the extra space," he'd said in answer to his mother's questioning eyebrow. Cassandra had looked a little puzzled, but she accepted the purchase without comment.
She loves that bed. It makes her feel more...legitimate, somehow. It's a bed for grown-ups. Not like their chaste little childhood bunks. And it's the bed he bought for her.
She is aware of movement - of Cassandra's door; of the humming, rhythmic sound of her wheelchair down the hall. The bathroom door opens and closes. After a long pause, she hears the shower begin to run. Five minutes, she estimates, maybe ten. That's how much longer she has before she must extricate herself from Jeffrey's arms and go to her own bed for the first time in six months. Yet again, the words rise in her mind - that long? She suddenly feels very weary. She closes her eyes.
She wakes with a start to the sound of Cassandra's voice. "Jeffrey, can you drive me to-"
The first thing she sees is Jeffrey. He's blinking, a look of horror on his sleep-befuddled face. She turns, following his gaze to Cassandra in her chair in the doorway. Her mouth is formed into an O.
Jeffrey scrambles to sit up, pulling the coverlet to cover himself. "Mom-"
"Samantha?" Cassandra demands, unbelieving. She wonders what Cassandra can't believe - that she's alive, that she's back, or that she's in her brother's bed.
Well, okay, that's an easy one. Jeffrey's bed, hands down.
They all stare at each other for a long moment, and then Cassandra reverses out of the doorway and leaves them without a word.
Jeffrey's voice is frantic. "Oh, my God. Oh, my God."
She finds her voice. "Jeffrey, don't. Let me talk to her."
"Talk to her? You must be nuts! We have to go, we have to leave-" and then his voice dies away.
Cassandra needs them. Leaving her is not an option. Not for this. Not for anything. She knows this, and looking at him, she knows he knows it too.
"It has to be handled," she says. "One way or another, it has to be handled."
"I can't," he says. "Would you-"
He breaks off. A look of shame passes over his features. He shakes his head and rises. He begins to dress. "Stay here."
Somewhere along the line, she thinks, Jeffrey will have to take responsibility for their relationship. It strikes her as wryly funny that he would decide to do it now - now, when it really should be her.
She is the interloper in this household. She is the one who had no right to be here, and who was embraced anyway. She is the one who owes amends.
She gets to her feet and pulls on her slip. "No, Jeffrey. Trust me. It needs to come from me."
"She's *my* mother," he protests.
She doesn't point out that Cassandra is practically her mother too. "That's exactly why it shouldn't be you. She's going to ask questions, Jeffrey. When. How. How long. Whether we use birth control."
He pales a little. She sees in his face all the things he would have to say, all the words he would have to use. She sees the paralysing discomfort rise in his features, and she knows he will let her do what has to be done.
The battle takes longer than she thought it would. Jeffrey has grown a lot in her absence, she realises, watching his expression vacillate between determination and worry. But at last, he falters, and slumps down on the bed, his head in his hands.
"Oh, God," he says. She thinks he might be crying.
"I'll take care of it," she says. She drops a kiss on his head and leaves the room.
She pauses in the hallway.
She stands there, looking from her bedroom door to the kitchen. She balances two equally horrifying images: going out there in her slip - Cassandra must surely realise now that she wears it for Jeffrey - and Jeffrey deciding to go out there and talk to Cassandra after all. After a moment's indecision, she goes to her bedroom and dresses as quickly as she can.
She finds Cassandra on the verandah. She's sitting on the stoop, her wheelchair a couple of feet away. She's smoking. Her elbows are perched on her useless knees.
Her heart is pounding.
"Cass?" she says softly. Her voice is trembling.
Cassandra is silent for a long moment. Her shoulders are stiff. For a terrifying instant, Samantha fears she will tell her to go. Go, and never come back.
She doesn't look at her, but her voice is gentle. A little raw, maybe. "Come and sit with me, dear."
She takes no comfort in the endearment. That could well be automatic. But she does as she's told.
The questions come, just as she told Jeffrey they would.
"It was after you came back the last time - wasn't it? While I was still gone?"
"I sensed things. Changes. I didn't want to think it. I didn't want to believe it."
She nods again. She doesn't know what to say.
"Do you - are you - in love?" Cassandra wonders, with a quizzical look, as though she can't quite comprehend what she knows intellectually to be possible.
"It's all mixed up together," she says. "I love him as my brother. And I love him as-" my lover, she thinks, but doesn't say it. "You know," she finishes, lamely.
"Yeah." Cassandra taps the ash off the end of her cigarette and brings it to her mouth once more. "Are you taking precautions?"
"Yes," she says. "I'm on the Pill." That won't cover them for last night, but she'll see her doctor today or tomorrow. There are ways. She doesn't worry Cassandra with that. "I'm not bringing a baby into this, Cass. Not his, not anyone's. I wouldn't do that."
"Good," she says. They fall quiet for a time, but then, hesitantly, she asks, "Are you going to stop?"
Samantha closes her eyes. Somehow this question mortifies her, and she doesn't quite know why. "I don't know. I don't think so. He's afraid of what you might think of him. We both are. But-"
"But this is what you want."
She bows her head. Put like that, it sounds so selfish.
"I don't know what to tell you," she says at last. "How to make you understand. There were times when I felt like I would die. Like there was only so much pain a person could endure, and live. And I was right at the limit." Cassandra is staring at her, frowning. Like she's seen something she's never seen before. "And now-"
"Now, you can go on," Cassandra finishes for her in a very different voice. It isn't a voice she's heard before.
Samantha nods. Her mouth feels unnaturally dry.
"You're not the first person to love unwisely, Samantha," Cassandra says after a moment. "I kept on loving your father in the face of unspeakable things for much the same reasons."
"Jeffrey isn't like him, Cass."
"No. But the principle is still the same."
She waits to be told that it can only end in disaster and pain. That evil thrives on evil even in the company of good. That some lines should never be crossed. Something like that. But Cassandra surprises her.
"In times of war, concessions must be made."
She looks at her, uncomprehending. At last, she forces out, "I don't understand."
Cassandra pitches her cigarette out onto the lawn. "Sometimes, Samantha, we do things to survive. Things we would never normally do. I've seen people do terrible things. Murder. Torture. I've seen them use their bodies for barter. Awful things."
Samantha stares at her. For all Cassandra's talk of alien ideology, she's never heard her speak like this. This is something new - something Cass has spared them until now.
"You're not - you can't possibly mean that you approve."
"Approve? No. But I think maybe I understand. At least a little."
Relief washes over her, thick and sweet. To her horror, her lips begin to tremble. Warmth rises up in her face, and she can't smother her sobs. "Oh, God, Cass, I-" and then her words dissolve in a flood of tears.
Cassandra's arms are around her. She makes nonsense sounds into her hair. "Shh, baby girl. There, there." The stupid platitudes make her cry harder. She wishes she could believe them.
Slowly, she grows calm. Cassandra releases her, and lets her wipe her face and get herself under control. When she has, she bums a cigarette without asking. They smoke in silence for a while.
The two of them turn. Jeffrey's there behind them, hovering in the doorway, looking very, very young.
"Jeffrey," Cassandra says brightly. "Come and sit with us."
Jeffrey does. He looks acutely uncomfortable. They wait for Cassandra to speak. Finally, she does.
"Would you drive me into town?"
Well, that's one mystery solved.
She has often wondered where Jeffrey learned his extensive repertoire of denial strategies. Now, she knows.
At the knee of the master.
She's never seen Cassandra in denial before. There has never been a need for that between them. But now, she sees how Cassandra has managed to hold down jobs and make friends in spite of everything. When she wants to, Cassandra can pretend that everything's fine.
And that's what she's doing now.
She points out books and tries on clothes. She twitters about the new season's colours. She lavishes presents on Samantha - "early Christmas presents, darling. It's so good to have you home." She treats the three of them to ice cream and lunch. In that order. Jeffrey sits stiffly beside her like a stunned pig waiting for the slaughterer's final blow.
"I have a funny story to tell you," Cassandra says at last.
Jeffrey and Samantha exchange worried looks. Cassandra's funny stories are usually anything but. Their reasons for their discomfort differ, but it is acute for both.
"What is it, Mom?" Jeffrey asks. He shifts awkwardly in his seat. He's been doing that all day. Normally she would tease him for it, but now, she doesn't know what to do. Whether to act like his sister or his lover. In reality, she is a mixture of the two, and she no longer knows where one ends and the other begins.
Cassandra turns to Samantha. "I ran into an old friend of your mother's the other day, dear," she says.
Samantha doubts this very much, but she doesn't say so.
"Did you know, the year you were born, my husband was in Europe? For the whole year?" She says it with the air of someone sharing a juicy bit of gossip over a matronly cup of tea. "He left eleven months before, and came back three months after."
Just had to spell it out, in case we didn't get the point the first time, Samantha thinks, but she doesn't say it. It's so ridiculous, she ought to laugh, but she just stares. Wondering what the hell Cassandra is up to. She's glossing over the incest (how that word makes her shudder) - she's covering it up - but why?
"I don't understand," Jeffrey says in a strangled voice.
"Well, it was all so providential, darling, don't you think? I mean Samantha here isn't your sister. I had no right to raise her. Aren't we lucky we never found out earlier? She might never have come into our lives."
Ludicrous. None of them believe it. Not even Jeffrey - and God knows, he's always been the first to embrace denial like a long-lost friend.
Samantha and Jeffrey both stare at her. Cassandra is oblivious.
"You know, I do like the look of that caesar salad. Jeffrey, would you be a dear and get the waiter?"
"I think we should move," Cassandra says mid-twitter.
Jeffrey looks up from the sink, holding a bowl in sudsy hands. From her position by the cupboard, Samantha notices a growing fracture down the middle of the blue ceramic. It will break soon.
"What was that?" he says, looking down at Cassandra. Cassandra ignores his scrutiny. She wipes the plate in her hands, and passes it up to Samantha to be put away.
"I've always wanted to go somewhere where nobody knows us," Cassandra says. Dreamily. Like a wistful little girl. "Leave everything behind. Start fresh."
Jeffrey would hate that, she thinks, stacking the plate neatly on the pile. He likes predictability. He likes routine.
"What are you talking about, Mom? We have a life here." He's looking away from Cassandra again, but he still isn't washing up. He's staring out into the night. Like he was last night, Samantha remembers, and she looks away, suppressing a twin flush of desire and shame.
"Think about it, Jeffrey. We could go where no one knows anything about us. No one to judge us. Wouldn't that be nice?"
Samantha brings her hand to her mouth. She can't see her reflection too clearly in the window, but she feels very pale. She doesn't think it's fallen into place for Jeffrey yet.
"We could do whatever we liked," Cassandra says. "All three of us. No-one would ever have to know."
The bowl breaks in Jeffrey's hand.
"Do you believe it?" he asks her when his hand is on her breast.
She's never lied to him. She won't start now. "No. I don't."
"I do," he says. "Why would Mom make up something like that?"
To give you peace, you idiot, she feels like screaming, but she doesn't say it. She just shrugs and lets him ease her jeans down over her hips.
"My father lies all the time. I think he'd lie about this. Just to torture us."
Except their father's acknowledgment of her paternity pre-dates what they do in this bed. Pre-dates it by over a decade. She marvels at the power of his selective perception.
"I believe it," he says, his lips brushing hers.
She doesn't, but she allows him a non-committal nod as she welcomes him into her mouth.
He makes love to her with the light on, without shame or pretence or artifice. When he slides into her, there is none of the guilt she has come to expect in his features. Her name falls freely from his lips, not a terrible secret, but a celebration.
His jubilation is infectious, and she receives his reverent touch with joy. But when they're done, she does not share in his untroubled rest. She would join him in his denial, she thinks, watching him sleep, if it would grant her the peace he has found.
But that is something she can never do.
Cassandra is smoking.
This is a very different Cassandra. The twittering woman they left when they went to bed is gone. This Cassandra is pensive. Morose. Not to mention, well on the way to inebriation.
Samantha drops down into the chair in front of her. They hold each other's gazes in the light of the moon.
"Are you sure about this?"
The lines of Cassandra's face are hard and old. She shakes her head. Her eyes glitter with tears.
Cassandra lights a cigarette and brings it to her lips. "I couldn't stop it, Samantha. What they did to our family. What they keep on doing to our family." She breathes out in a rush of smoke. There's a hitch in her breathing. The smoke breaks off, lingers, and rises again. "The least I can do is make it easier to live with."
"You're feeding his denial," she says. Not unkindly.
Cassandra sniffs, sitting up a little. She taps her cigarette into the ashtray at her side. She says stiffly, "Were you together? Just now?"
She averts her gaze, mortified, but she nods. Her belly grows small and hard under the weight of Cassandra's scrutiny.
"Was it better?"
She nods again. Still mortified. Wondering where Cassandra is going with this.
"You remember what I said this morning? About concessions made in war?"
"Yes, I remember."
"I'm granting you yours, Samantha," Cassandra says. "But you have to grant Jeffrey his."
She thinks about it. Is Jeffrey's denial any worse than the things they've done together in this house? Any more compromised? Any less of a comfort? To her, it seems so cowardly - so dishonest. But is it really so bad?
She honestly doesn't know.
"All right," she says at last. "All right."
It isn't, but it will have to do. It's all she has to give.
Cassandra stubs out her cigarette. Still sniffling. "Will you drink with me a while, dear?"
She nods. She goes to the kitchen and comes back with a waterglass. She allows Cassandra to fill it with cheap vodka, right to the brim.
They clink glasses. "To concessions made," Cassandra says softly.
"Concessions made," Samantha agrees.
They sit there, the older woman and the younger one, drinking together in companionable silence.
Just a couple of casualties of war.
SEE ALSO Concessions Broken.
AUTHOR'S NOTES: Thanks for reading this one. I know the subject matter explored here will push a lot of people's buttons, so thanks for taking a chance on me and coming along for the ride.
This fic draws on a lot of sources. Originally, the idea came from a discussion on Whyincision. I was throwing out fic ideas that I'd like to see explored, and when I considered Jeffrey and Samantha and their life with Cassandra, the idea of an incestuous relationship occurred to me. I'm an only child, but I do think that there's a certain kind of sibling incest that occurs in a crisis situation, which would not occur outside that situation. A mutual, non-abusive relationship born of isolation and need. In a way, I guess it's analogous to the same-sex relationships among ordinarily heterosexual men in prisons and in war. I imagined this kind of crisis situation for Jeffrey and Samantha in the conditions in which they were raised, and this exploration was an outgrowth of that. I wanted to see that compassionately explored, and I think - I hope - I achieved that.
There are a lot of themes here culled from other sources. The early sequences, where Samantha reorientates herself after her abduction, is inspired in part by "Acaulescent" by Miss Elise, a beautiful exploration of Marita's recovery from the tests. In an oblique way, it's also inspired by E. Watson's wonderful "Memories Of Mom", an exploration of Jeffrey's upbringing with Cassandra. It also draws a little on bittersweet "Nicotine Bliss And The Road Not Travelled" by Kelly Keil. And, of course, it pulls in a lot of themes from my own other works - themes about survival, the mythology as war, compromise, and so on.
It was important to me to make clear that this is a love relationship, but also to be tasteful and restrained, precisely because it is such a sensitive subject. I don't know how well I achieved that with Jeffrey and Samantha's love scenes, but that was what I was aiming for, for what it's worth.
In case you're wondering how this ties in with the mythology, I think it can co-exist with it. I don't see this as contradicting Closure at all. If I may expound my theory here, I have always considered Closure to be a mix of fact and psychological fiction. In other words, I believe Samantha lived with Cassandra and Jeffrey. I believe she ran away and that she wound up in that locked hospital room. However, I believe she was simply retrieved from that room in some way and that her life continued as it had done previously. I believe Mulder embraced the starlight theory in order to reach his own personal closure - his own acceptance that she was indeed lost to him. So I don't think this story contradicts that at all. Nor do I believe that Jeffrey knew that Samantha was Samantha Mulder when they were together - after all, he didn't know who his father was, or who the Mulders were. Samantha herself didn't seem to have a clear memory of her old life from her journals. All either of them knew was that they were half-brother and half-sister. There's room to theorise they might not have even known that much, though obviously that's not the assumption I've worked on here.
Anyway - thank you, Gentle Reader, for indulging my ramblings, and for coming on this bittersweet little journey with me. Thanks for trusting me with a less-than-easy read. -- Deslea