Title: Birthday Week
Author: Neoxphile
Feedback: neoxphile@aol.com...we'll never get to "Pirate Day" without signs of interest
Spoilers: nothing past The Truth
Keywords: challengefic, William, kidfic
Summary: As usual, the quads cause trouble. But this time it leads to an interesting seventh birthday for William (Miracle Season sequel)

Author's note: the page for this story can be found here: www.mulderscreek.com/smallincrements.html

part 5 (the conclusion) posted 6/21/2011


May 1st, 2008

At four o'clock in the afternoon it seemed as though the only room in the house that wasn't full of noise was William Mulder's bedroom. There were only nine people in the household, but from the noise it sounded like twice that. Somewhere in the house a baby cried, but that was barely heard over riot of kindergartners' voices.

Instead of doing his homework, William practiced writing the number seven on a piece of loose-leaf paper. It wasn't as though the number was new to him, since he'd been able to count before he even started preschool, but just then it had a special significance. After all, in a few more days he himself would finally turn seven years old. It was going to be a lot of fun, his father promised.

It was just too bad that he had six siblings who would be there at his birthday party. Actually, he didn't really mind Hope and Promise being there; they were only babies, and they didn't get into much trouble. The whole problem was the quadruplets. Brian, Jeremy, Eric, and Alison seemed to make it their life's mission to drive him and his parents crazy. His mother said they didn't do it on purpose, but it to William it seemed a lot like they must. How could four little kids get into so much trouble all the time by accident?

On the rare occasions that the quads managed to drag him into their insanity, he usually got lectured about being the oldest and how he was supposed to "know better." This struck William as unfair. They were a year and a half younger than him, but it had been longer than a year and a half since the first time he was told that he ought to know better. When were they going to know better?

He asked his parents that once, and they looked at him like they had no idea. He suspected it had never even occurred to them to wonder. That made him wonder if they expected his siblings to be brats forever. William sure hoped not.

He was just putting the pen down when he heard a loud crash. A heartbeat later his father yelled "Jeremy!" William sighed, hoping it wasn't anything that he liked that just got broken.


May 15th, 2008

Mulder slide a folder across the desk. "Skinner left us a present."

"What is it?" Scully lifted the cover to skim through the top sheet inside.

"A blast from the past," Mulder told her with a broad grin.

She continued to skim the brief. "Jersey Devil? We've already investigated that. Years ago."

Her husband shook his head. "Way back when, someone thought what they'd seen was a Jersey devil, but that she-beast we ran into had nothing to do with the real Jersey devil."

"The 'real' one?" Scully raised an eyebrow. "You can't say you believe that old story."

"Don't you?" he challenged her. "Can't you imagine declaring that the devil can have your next baby after you've already had twelve?"

"Let's not even try to imagine that scenario. It would be tempting fate."

For moment Mulder went very white, and it was clear that he was thinking about the unusual way that they had acquired almost all of their children. "Oh."

"And I know you, Mulder. You're just hoping to meet your old girlfriend again," Scully said archly.

"What? You haven't missed her too?" he asked, grin restored. "Hopefully she's gotten a manicure since the last time we encountered her."

"If she hasn't, don't piss her off this time. I don't feel like patching you up again."

"I'll do my best, but you know it never been smooth with the ladies."

"You can say that again."

"Hey!" Mulder looked mildly affronted. "Skinner's secretary said that she'll arrange our flight for tomorrow."

Scully nodded, and skimmed over the details of the case file again. "Is there a qualitative difference between a small demon and a small devil?" she asked, referring to witness statements.

Mulder shrugged. "You were the one raised Catholic. You tell me."

"I believe very small demons are referred to as imps," she paused, and looked her husband in the eyes. "Don't even say it."

"What?" Mulder protested innocently.

"They don't need any encouraging nicknames, Mulder."

"I wasn't even thinking about the quads."

"Really," she said flatly.

"Well, I wasn't thinking hard," he mumbled.


The Next Day

It had been their every intention to pack the night before, but both of their eighteen-month-old daughters had been inconsolable due to teething pain. Even dinner had nearly been laid to the wayside as they tried to soothe the fussy twins. The older kids tried to help too, but as usual that only made things worse when they terrified their younger sisters rather than amusing them.

So, at six-thirty in the morning they were frantically trying to pack for their case before their brood woke up. Two suitcases sat on their bed, and both of them overflowed with things that still needed to be strapped down.

"Did we order a birthday cake for William yet?" Mulder asked, looking up from a stack of neatly folded shirts. He'd put a padlock on their closet door which was the only way to assure that the kids would stay out of it. Before he had thought of this idea, he had lost seven dress shirts to various art projects that the quads had done.

"I did," Scully said pointedly. "It'll be ready to pick up on Monday night. And Mulder, we had better be home to pick it up."

"I'm sure we will be," Mulder said, not sounding entirely convinced. "Crap! Doesn't William have a doctor's appointment this morning? Why does Doctor Stevens insists on scheduling checkups near children's birthdays?" It wasn't really William's birthday that Mulder was thinking about when he made this complaint. Instead it was the fact that they had six children to bring in at the same time in December - though four years apart in age, the twins and the quads had birthdays within the same week.

"He does have an appointment. You said that you have a few things to wrap up at the office, so I'll bring him. I have a few things of my own to take care of... so if you meet us at the doctor's office when he's done, you can bring him to my mother's while I do those things. Mom said she'd bring him to school after picking up the twins since we don't have time to drive all the way to the school," Scully said calmly. They were sending the children to a small Montessori school outside of the city, because it was the only school that would allow the quads to stay in the same classroom together, which was something that Scully felt strongly about.

"Your mother is a lifesaver," Mulder said sounding heartfelt. It was true. If not for Maggie Scully, they might not be able to continue their career as field agents because of the travel involved. Their family had already been blacklisted by every babysitter in the city. Babysitters who had never even met the quads refused to take their phone calls.

"Don't think I don't know that. You're going to let the daycare know my mom's going to pick Promise and Hope up?" Scully asked as she threw things into her own suitcase. Fortunately, the Hoover building's daycare wasn't allowed to refuse to take kids, no matter whose they were.

"Of course." Mulder made a mental note to do that when he brought them up there. He watched with interest as she shoved a fairly large first aid kit into her bag. "What's the matter, Scully? You didn't believe me yesterday when I said I would try to keep away from her claws?"

"It's not that I don't think you will make every effort..." she said, letting her voice trail off.

He smirked at her. "It's just that you don't think I will be successful."

"The odds are against you."

"This case is going to be different. I can feel it," he claimed. Scully looked unconvinced.


Hoover Building

They say the best laid plans of mice and men go awry, and as usual, it was the quads that set plans topsy-turvy. Mulder's packed bags were in the family's mini-van, he'd already jogged back up to the daycare and kissed the twins on their fuzzy little heads, and was about to leave the Hoover building when the phone on his desk began to ring.

Ringing phones had a way of not being good news, so he was very tempted to just let it continue to ring, and make his escape. But at the last second he caved. What if it was Scully, wanting to change their plans? He couldn't very well explain to her how bad luck and telephones went together.

He told himself he was foolish and tried to keep his hands from shaking as he picked up the receiver. "Hello?"

"Mister Mulder," a crisp, familiar voice said. "I need you to come to the school. Immediately."

"Mrs. Wheat," he heard himself whine to his children's principal. And cringed when he realized that he'd done it. "I thought there was a full day of school today."

"There is," she said sharply. "But I'm afraid your children will not be finishing the day."

"What did they do now?" he asked with a plaintive sigh. Reports about bad behavior came home regularly in the kids' backpacks, and it wasn't the first time he or Scully had been required to pick them up. "And do you mean all four-"

"Yes, I do. We can discuss their behavior when you arrive."

"Damn." he hissed under his breath as he hung up the phone. Alison and Jeremy were always going to be involved no matter what, but he had hopes that occasionally Eric and Brian might behave. Apparently they had not lived up to his hopes this time.

He glanced at the clock on the wall. It was nine-thirty. The quads had only made it through an hour and a half of school. Still, time would be tight. It was a forty-five minute drive from the office.


Triune Montessori School

As he walked towards the office, Mulder noticed that the door to their kindergarten class hung open despite the fact that the teacher, Mrs. Grace, was addressing the class. Peering in he noted that several children were missing, not just his own. Another parent might have taken some small comfort in knowing that their offspring hadn't been singled out. Not Mulder. He immediately began to worry about how many kids his little instigators roped into their schemes.

It turned out that two shamefaced little boys were sitting with his children when Mrs. Wheat signaled him to join her in the office. A secretary left the two boys sitting where they were, and just brought his own kids into the office for the discussion.

As his children sat down, Mulder wished that they looked half as contrite as the other two. They didn't. It worried him more that they seldom displayed remorse for their mischievous deeds than the fact that they did them in the first place.

The principal glowered at the unperturbed kindergartners. "Do not speak while I catch your father up to speed," she said sternly.

To Mulder surprise, not one of them protested. He turned his eyes towards the older woman.

"Mrs. Grace had," she stressed the last word, making him cringe in anticipation. "-a collection of mini beanie babies, given to her by her husband, and she was gracious enough to share them with her class. The boys smuggled them out of the classroom when Mrs. Grace brought them to the lavatory after snack time."

For a moment he was lost to the memory of early elementary school, when kids were brought to the bathrooms in groups instead of being sent there on their own. "I presume that they were...flushed?"

"Exactly," Mrs. Wheat said flatly.

Brian and Eric had the good grace to squirm and look slightly guilty, but Jeremy and Alison did not. Mulder stared at his daughter, trying to work something out. "Was Alison in the boys' bathroom?"

"No."

"Then why-"

Mrs. Wheat looked at his sons. "Boys, whose idea was it to flush the toys down the toilets?"

All three boys pointed at their sister. Mrs. Wheat flashed Mulder a smug yet outraged look.

He resisted the urge to cover his face with both hands and instead addressed his daughter. "Alison, why??"

"I wanted to know what would happen," Alison explained simply with a shrug.

"But why the boys bathroom?"

"It was easier to get the boys to do it," she said earnestly.

Mulder didn't doubt it. William was the only of her brothers who ever hesitated to do what she wanted, and he'd seen her lead John and Monica's four-year-old son Kevin into the same sort of trouble more than once. He tried not to think about what she would be like when she was a teenager.

"Turning back to Mrs. Wheat he asked, "How much will getting a plumber to fix things cost?"

She picked up a pen and wrote down a number. "This was the estimate I was given."

He sighed when he read it and reached for his checkbook. "And the value of the toys they flushed?"

Mrs. Wheat wrote down another, blessedly smaller, sum. This time he addressed the check to their teacher rather than the school.

Once the checks were in her hand he asked, "How long are they suspended for?"

"Just the afternoon. I think that'll give them sufficient time to think about their actions."

He doubted it, but it didn't seem wise to admit that. "Let's go," he said, watching carefully to make sure that they all left the room without doing any more damage to the school.

Long ago he and Scully had thought the hard part would be over once the quads were out of diapers, but this had been disproven over and over. He'd asked Scully if there was a gene for naughtiness, and she laughed at him. Apparently she thought he was joking. He wasn't. William had always been so well behaved, so why couldn't the younger kids be?

That's when it occurred to him. William. He paused at the threshold, hoping that the kids would not wander out of sight. "My mother-in-law was going to bring William in late-"

The principal shook her head. "We'll see him tomorrow as well." She smiled minutely when she caught his frown. "I'm sure that he really would behave well himself, but I don't want the rest of them on school grounds again today."

"Right." He could have protested that it was unfair, but it really wasn't. He wouldn't have wanted them to come back if he was the principal, either.


Ten Minutes Later

Four miles from the school Mulder nearly swore to himself when he realized that he had less than an eighth of a tank of gas left. There was a Shell station on the right, so he pulled in. Unfortunately it was a self-service station, so he had to get out of the mini-van and pump his own gas.

It became clear immediately that the gas station was not interested in sending anybody on their way in a timely manner. The gas trickled into the gas tank so slowly that Mulder was convinced that he could have put it in quicker with an eye dropper. After eight long minutes Mulder was able to complete his transaction.

When he opened the driver's side door, he realized that he hadn't kept as close an eye on the situation inside the vehicle as he should have, because two of his children were frantically rebuckling the belts to their booster seats. Though he dismissed that, it was the silence in the mini-van was what tipped him off initially that something was rotten in Denmark. If there was one thing his children were, silent was not it.

It therefore came as no surprise when he turned the ignition and nothing happened. Just then he noticed a clump of wires poking at his ankle.

Trying to keep his temper, he turned and looked over the backseat at his children. "What did you do to Daddy's car?"

Four small pairs of shoulders rose and fell as one.

He glared at them. Hard.

Alison caved. Pointing a finger, she said, "Jeremy did it."

Unhappy to of been thrown under the bus, Jeremy began to whine but Mulder quieted him with a look. "What did you touch?"

"I didn't! I mean." The little boy soon realized that his defenses were not fooling anyone. "I didn't mean to break it. I just wanted see where they went."

"Where what went, Jeremy?" Mulder asked, while silently counting to ten.

"The little wires," Jeremy told him. "They're all different colors."

"So, you pulled on them?"

"Yes..." Jeremy held out something Mulder didn't realize until then he'd had hidden behind his back. "This came off."

Mulder stared at the plastic box in his son's small hand. He thought the things shoved into the box might be fuses. Though not an expert mechanic by any means, Mulder was fairly certain that mini-van at least needed a fuse box in order to function.

"I need to make a phone call. I'm going to do it outside the car. If anyone moves, you're all going to boarding school."

Brian looked puzzled. "What's boarding school?"

"It's a school where naughty boys and naughty girls live all year round. And they eat gruel."

Eric looked at him wide-eyed. "What's gruel?"

"Paste made of flour and water."

"We won't move, Daddy," Alison promised anxiously.

Part of him felt bad that they actually believed his threat, but the rest of him was more than happy to let them think he was serious so perhaps they wouldn't do anything else to the vehicle while he stood outside to make his call.


Meanwhile...

Scully and William were sitting in her car, still parked in front of Doctor Stevens' office building. William stared out the window, keeping his eyes peeled for his father's mini-van. Scully herself tapped on the steering wheel with inpatient fingers. She stopped as soon as she realized what she was doing.

"Daddy should be here any time now, William," Scully assured her oldest son, but she didn't really feel as confident as she tried to sound. Mulder almost never ran late. The only times he hadn't been there on time in the past, were those when he ditched her.

When her cell phone began to buzz she was relieved to see her husband's name on the display screen. "Mulder, where are you?"

There was silence for a moment. "Uh... I'm waiting for a tow truck," Mulder said apologetically, and she was immediately suspicious.

"What happened?"

"I was about to leave the office when Mrs. Wheat called-"

"So what did they do the mini-van?" she asked, cutting to the chase. It was possible that the quads hadn't done anything at all to Mulder's vehicle, but it was also possible that she could wake up tomorrow morning and the law of gravity would be suspended.

"I'm not exactly sure," Mulder admitted. "There are a lot of wires hanging out from underneath the dashboard... all I did was stop for gas," he added plaintively.

She didn't like that he was already beginning to sound defensive. "So I take it you're not going to make it in time to run William to my mom's house before our flight."

"No."

"That's okay, I'll just call her and-"

"See, that's the thing. I already tried to call her. I think she might already be on her way to get the twins from daycare. Alison admitted to 'borrowing' your mother's phone last weekend..."

"I guess I'll have to try to change our flight then," Scully said, trying to put up a calm front. From the look on William's face as he watched her, she wasn't doing a very good job of it.

"You can try." She swore that she could hear almost hear him shaking his head.

"What's that supposed to mean?" she asked impatiently.

"You haven't been listening to the news today, have you? Flights are getting canceled left and right, just like last month. Apparently they discovered some new problem that urgently needs to be addressed today. Were actually lucky that this flight hasn't been canceled."

"All I can at least try."

"I'm sure you will, Babe."

"Mulder, what I told you about silly pet names?"

"I believe that I'm not supposed to say them when you are in arm's reach."

"Mulder," she said warningly.

"Scully, I have to go. They're throwing things in the car now. Good luck. Call me back and let me know what happens."

When she noticed that her oldest son was still looking up at her with an expression of mixed curiosity and concern, she smiled down at him. "Your dad's just being a worrywart. Don't you worry too."

"Okay, Mom," William said quickly. It was clear that he was merely humoring her, but she didn't call him on it.


Airport

Scully took William by the hand and rushed up to the counter. "Hello, my name is Special Agent Dana Scully. I need to change the flight that my husband and I are supposed to be on shortly to one this evening."

She had expected her clout as an FBI agent to open doors for her. Unfortunately, no one had told the person behind the counter. The clerk gave her a vapid, if slightly apologetic, smile. "Gosh, I don't think we can do that."

"Why not?" Scully asked patiently.

"Well, the flights that are leaving in the next hour are the last ones for the week, I think. You might be able to get another flight Monday."

"You think?"

The clerk did not notice the new coldness that crept into Scully's voice. "Yeah... based on what happened last month, I think it's just a matter of them fixing things to the FAA's liking. But that took, like, several days last time."

"So you're saying that if I don't take this flight right now, I'm not going to be able get another flight until Monday?"

"Or Tuesday. It could be fixed by Monday." The girl made no attempt to hide her doubt.

The nails of her fingers dug deep into the palm of the hand not holding William's as Scully reminded herself not to take out her frustrations on someone who clearly had no responsibility for the problem; there was no way on earth that the girl was smart enough to even badly design a jet plane. "Right."

"You look upset, Mommy," William whispered.

She was, but she wanted him to think otherwise. After mulling things over for a moment, she unclenched her hand and turned back to the clerk. "Look, I have the tickets for both my husband and I with me. Can I use the second ticket for my son instead of my husband?"

"Yes, but no child discount, can be applied to an already purchased ticket. Sorry."

"That is the least of my problems," Scully muttered before turning to William. "So, how does going with Mom on a case sound?"

To her surprise, his eyes lit up. "Cool!"


Meanwhile...

"Sign this." Mulder was taking the clipboard from the tow truck driver when his cell phone began to ring. "My wife, sorry," he muttered as he scrawled his signature across the form and handed it back while clumsily opening his phone with the other hand.

"Any luck?" he asked.

"No."

"Then-"

"This is such a mess, Mulder. I'm going to take William with me. You'll have to catch up when you can get another fight."

This flew over his head. "Wait, what?"

"If I try to bring him home or to Mom's I'll miss the flight too, and there isn't another one until Monday. At the earliest. Skinner will have our heads if we don't get a move on this case."

"Um...okay, then. I'll get a flight as soon as I can to meet you."

"Love you, bye."

"Love you too."

The tow truck driver has patiently waited for the conversation to conclude. "Sorry, our plans for a work trip have just been fubar'd."

"That sucks," the driver offered.

"Yup."

"Do you need a number for a cab? Normally I offer to drop the driver off at the garage, but I can't fit an adult and four kids into my truck."

Mulder thought he saw something on the man's face that suggested that he was scared of having those particular kids in his truck anyway. Considering one of them had managed to pull out a fuse box in less than ten minutes... "If you have a number, that would be great."


When she noticed that William was sticking very close to her in the airport, it occurred to Scully that William had never flown before, at least not at an age when he was old enough to remember doing so. They had meant to bring the kids on a trip, but things had a way of seeming like a good idea at first, but not so good under actual consideration.

"Almost there," she whispered as they made their way to the plane. He just nodded.

Scully found their seats, and let William sit by the window. They both turned their attention to the flight personnel who was explaining where the exits were. When the fasten seatbelts sign turned on, Scully was not surprised to see that William looked nervous.

"What's the matter?" she asked, already predicting that he was afraid of the danger suggested by the need to wear seat belts.

"I don't have any clothes," William said anxiously. "No pajamas. No clothes for tomorrow. I don't have my toothbrush either!"

She smiled and patted him on the head. "My boss won't expect me to do anything until tomorrow, so as soon as we land, we'll go shopping."

"Really?" He looked surprised.

"Sure. I'm not going to make you wear the same clothes everyday and to bed."

"But no one else is getting new clothes," William said guiltily.

It was on the tip of her tongue to tell him that his brothers and sisters couldn't give a flying fig about new clothes, but she didn't. "None of them are having a birthday in a few days either."

"Oh, but-"

"No buts. Surely you've heard the expression 'desperate times call for desperate measures'? Just tell yourself that this counts as one of those times and stop worrying about fairness. Okay?"

"Okay," he agreed, turning to look out the window for the first time since boarding the plane. "Mom, know how on the news a few months ago people got stuck at the airport and had to sleep there?"

"Sure, I remember that."

"That's not going to happen to us, right?"

"No, it won't."

"How do you know?"

"Will, do you know why they got stuck there?" Scully asked, amused.

"No."

"There was a snow storm."

"Oh. I guess that won't happen then."

He still looked contemplative, and she hoped he wouldn't ask about plane crashes next. It was one thing to promise that there wouldn't be a snow storm in May, but no one could predict a plane crash. Looking at her son, who was now examining the contents of the pouch on the seat in front of him, she found that she was suddenly nervous too.


"I don't know why they insist we fly," Scully told William later into the flight. "It's not as though it's too far to drive."

Actually, she did know why: the bean counter Mulder had threatened to punch just before he'd been taken by aliens had quit a couple of years later, and the man's replacement had loudly suggested to Kersh that travel expenses ought to be strictly regulated. It was far easier to keep an eye on the costs incurred by flying than driving, so they'd been stuck flying everywhere since.

"The FBI sounds kind of weird," William told her. "Dad said there's a lot of rules."

"In your dad's mind, there are."

"Mom, what is this case about?" William asked.

"Someone saw something," Scully said vaguely.

"Obviously. I'm not a baby, you can tell me."

She sighed. "A few people reported seeing a very small demon."

"A demon!"

"A small one," she said defensively. "There won't be any danger. I wouldn't take you on a case if there was going to be anything dangerous about it."

"So... demons aren't dangerous if they're small?"

"It stands to reason," she said, hoping that he wouldn't think about it too hard.

"You know, Jeremy and Allison are-"

"Don't say it," Scully warned him.

"Don't say what?"

"Whatever you were going to say about your brother and sister, just don't," Scully snapped.

William slumped in his seat. "Okay," he said, looking both guilty and sulky.

Scully wanted to say something, but she didn't know what. Hearing about how badly behaved the quads were got very old. Nothing she and Mulder did seemed to be able to corral the most spirited of their offspring. Their kindergarten teacher had already suggested ADHD medication, but their doctor said that they didn't need it. Scully interpreted that to mean that it wouldn't help in the doctor's opinion.

"Does it have wings?" William asked after a while.

"The demon?"

"Yeah," he said, giving her a strange look.

"According to some people, it does."

"That's cool. Did it bite anybody?"

"No. Nobody has gotten into a physical confrontation with it."

"Did they get any pictures?" William asked.

"Surprisingly no. Your dad thought they might, because everyone seems to have a cell phone that takes pictures, but no one thought of it. I guess they were too surprised to react quickly enough."

"You don't think it's a demon," William guessed.

"No. I think it's probably not a demon," she admitted.

"Then an animal?" William asked. "We saw a blue heron when we were out at gym, and Timmy thought it was a pterodactyl."

"He did?" The corners of her mouth twitched as she imagined Timmy's reaction. She knew from a class trip she'd chaperoned the year before that he was a very excitable child in the best of circumstances. Her mind summoned up a picture of him shrieking and running for safety as the "pterodactyl" flew by.

"It did hold its legs way behind it when it flew. You could kind of think it was a flying dinosaur," William said generously.

"I don't know if this case is about an animal. It could just be people's imagination."

He looked surprised. "What would make people's imagination think they saw a flying demon?"

Scully didn't want to tell him that drugs or alcohol could induce such a vision, so she didn't. "People imagine that they see things pretty often. Most of the time, things aren't what they thought."

"Like ghosts," William suggested. "I don't think there are such a thing. Do you?"

Before she answered, Scully thought about the Christmas night she and Mulder had spent in a haunted house. "There might be ghosts. People have said they've seen them for thousands of years, so it is hard to dismiss all of that."

"I didn't think about that," William admitted.

"If your dad was here, he would remind you that it's good to keep an open mind." Scully looked at her oldest son. "But the way I look at it, you don't want to be too open-minded."

William grinned. "Or else your brain might fall out."

She grinned back.


Meanwhile Back at the Ranch...

Mulder spoke to his wayward children as he herded them in through the door. "I want you all to go to your rooms right now, and I don't want to hear anything from you for the next hour."

"Why?" Eric asked.

His father glared at him. "Do you think I really need to explain why?"

The little boy shrugged. "I guess we were bad today," he suggested.

"You guess?" Mulder wasn't able to resist asking.

Fortunately, not one of them thought it was an actual question, because they slowly made their way up the stairs, into the bedrooms. "Doors open," he called up after them. God forbid he left them in their rooms with the doors closed. Who knew what they'd think to do then.

Sighing, Mulder picked up the phone, intending to leave his mother-in-law a voice mail, but was startled when he got her instead. "Fox?" she asked, sounding concerned. "Aren't you supposed to be on a plane right now?"

"I am, but I missed my flight-"

"What did they do?"

"Uh...long story, involves the tragic demise of a few small stuffed animals. They also took my car out too, but the garage thinks it can be fixed by tomorrow afternoon. Anyway, it looks like I've missed the only flight before Monday, so if you want to bring Promise and Hope by, I'll take them off your hands. I'd come get them, but the car..."

"Dana's gone on alone, then?"

"Well, she has William with her."

"I think I'll keep the girls, Fox."

"For the whole weekend?" Mulder asked, surprised.

"Yes. I don't get to spend much time with them alone." Without having to deal with their rambunctious older siblings, she meant. "And I'm sure you'll have your hands full anyway."

"I'm capable of looking after all six of them-" he started to protest, but she cut him off.

"Dear, I know you are. But you have to admit it's easier this way."

"Yeah. Well, if you're sure-"

"I'm sure. Can they go back to school Monday?"

"They were only sent home for the day."

"Okay. You drop them off before you go to your flight, and I'll pick them up in the afternoon."

"Thank you, Maggie."

"You're welcome, Fox. Kiss them for me."

"If I can hold them down long enough, I will." Mulder was rewarded with the sound of his mother-in-law's laughter as he hung up.

It would be easier without the babies there too, but he felt guilty every time he and Scully imposed on her mother. Maggie claimed to enjoy being an involved grandmother, but he couldn't help but imagine how his own mother would have felt and projecting some of that onto Maggie. There was just no two ways about it, they were going to have to get a live-in nanny sooner or later. Maybe a really strict German one, who wouldn't pull any punches.


New Jersey

"I don't understand how come they're called Pine Barrens," William was saying as a taxi brought them to their hotel. "Doesn't barren mean empty?"

Barren was a word that still echoed with an old grief, Scully found, even though her body had rejected the label nearly eight years earlier. "It means that nothing can grow there."

"Then how can it be full of pine trees, then?"

"I don't know. We'll have to look that up, because you're right, it does sound oxymoronic."

"Oxymoronic?" William's blue eyes flashed with puzzlement. "An air moron?"

"No," Scully said, stifling a giggle. "It means things that shouldn't be logically paired together, like Jumbo Shrimp, or Government Progress, but are." As soon as she gave the second example, she thought better of it. An adult would find it funny, but not a second-grader.

"'cause shrimp are little?"

"That's right."

"Huh." He drifted into silence as Scully brought him inside to check in...at least until they saw their room. "Oh wow, two beds," he exclaimed before sitting on one and trying to bounce. "If Dad was here, would you use them both?"

"Probably not," Scully said, starting to smile. It had been a long time since propriety would have dictated using two beds in the rather unlikely circumstance of them needing to share a room early in their partnership.

"Oh. Can I have this one?"

"Sure."

"Can we eat in the dining room?" William asked, finally succeeding in bouncing.

"I don't see why not."

"Are we gonna find your demon tomorrow?"

"That's the plan."

"No wonder you and Dad like to go on cases. This is fun!"

Scully could only shake her head and laugh to herself.


**

Bright and early the next morning, Mulder called the airlines to ask if there were any flights out. It didn't come as a surprise when the person he spoke to told him that they didn't anticipate any flights going out in the next forty-eight hours.

"Daddy, why do you look mad?" Alison asked as she looked around the kitchen. Her brothers hadn't managed to make their way downstairs yet, so it was clear that the little girl was baffled by his unhappy mood.

"I just called to find out if I could fly out to meet your mom today, and they said that no flights are going to happen until Sunday at the earliest," Mulder explained as he put slices of bread in the toasters and grabbed a stack of bowls from the cabinet above it.

"Are you gonna get in trouble for not being there?" Alison snagged the first bowl of fruity cheerios he set on the table, and waited patiently for him to pour the milk; William was the only kid in the family who was allowed to pour beverages.

"No."

"Then how come-"

"I feel bad that Mom is doing all the work, and that William got dragged along with her." He thought about trying to explain the concept of the protestant work ethic, but that seemed like it'd go over a five old's head.

To Mulder's surprise, she looked alarmed and he hadn't even given her the lecture. "Is it dangerous? For Will?"

"No no, your mom wouldn't bring him anywhere dangerous. He'll be fine. Probably very bored, though."

"Oh. Yeah, his DS is still in his room, even." It must have been put somewhere above his younger siblings' heads if they'd failed to "borrow" it by then.

Seized by a sudden impulse, Mulder gave his daughter a serious look. "Alison, I need you to promise to be good today."

From the expression on her face, it was clear that she'd connected the dots and realized that it had been partly her fault that he was feeling guilty about William and her mother. "Uh, okay."

"Good. Remind your brothers to behave too. They listen to you."

"Right..."

Just then the boys tumbled into the room, and Mulder had to make sure they were presentable before they all sat down to eat. While they were all relatively quiet, he looked them over before announcing, "Since my car isn't going to be back from the mechanic's until this afternoon, we're going to walk to the bus stop in just a few minutes so you can get to school. When we're on the bus, you're all going to sit together, be quiet, and not bother the other passengers. Understand?"

"We understand," Alison said quickly, and the other kids followed her lead.

The ride on the city bus was about as event-free as Mulder could hope for, so he began to feel a cautious optimism about the rest of the weekend.


New Jersey

"So, now what?" William asked as he pulled a comb through his hair. He'd gotten dressed without prompting, just asking her to cut the tags on the clothes they'd bought the night before.

"Now we're going to go and talk to people who saw the so-called demon."

"That's all?" He looked disappointed. "We're not going to go and look for the demon?"

"Not right now." And not before William was sent back to her mother's, she hoped. Bringing William with her as she talked to people was not a big deal, but she didn't want him with her if there really was an animal involved. "Your dad only tells you about the exciting parts of our job. We spend a lot of time doing things that are pretty boring too, like talking to people."

"Why?"

"You know how in movies the good guys rush in, guns a' blazing, and immediately get attacked by the bad guys or monsters?"

"Yup."

"That's why. In real life, you try to get as much information about what you're up against before you go off half-cocked and get someone killed."

"Well, that would be bad," her son mumbled.

Scully frowned to herself, thinking about how many cases they'd had that had ended with bodies, no matter how cautious she and Mulder were themselves. "It's always bad when people die needlessly."

"So we talk to people now, and then there's no surprises?" William asked. "No wonder you said I'd be safe."

"That's the plan," Scully agreed. She found herself hoping harder than usual that there'd be no surprises.


Washington, DC Jake's Garage

Jake was both reasonable and prompt, which is why Mulder continued to bring their vehicles to Jake's even after they'd bought a house and moved several miles farther away than before. Good mechanics, the kind who both knew their stuff and didn't go out of their way to screw you on labor charges were hard to come by, so he knew a good thing when he saw it.

Since Jake's reputation was impeccable, his place was always busy, which is why Mulder found himself dodging cars as he made his way across the parking lot. Some of the drivers, mechanics taking cars out on test drives, waved as they noticed him. Just before he let himself into the office, Mulder noticed the mini-van parked along side the garage, and was relieved that it looked finished.

As soon as he stepped in, Jake stood up. He was tall and burly, still in great shape despite being in his early sixties, and would have looked at home on the set of a pirate movie or the back of a Harley. "Mister Mulder, nice to see you."

"You too, Jake."

"We've started a pool. How many of the kids were involved in ripping out the fuse box?" Jake asked. His eyes sparkled with good humor, and he and Mulder liked each other enough for him to know Mulder wouldn't be insulted by the joke.

"Just one."

Jake shook his head. "Tim wins. Most people didn't think a single kid could have done it, but..."

"...but my kids are gifted at mayhem," Mulder said with a wry smile. "Do you have my bill written up?"

"Here you go."

When Mulder looked over the bill, he was relieved that it wasn't nearly as bad as he anticipated. He pulled out his checkbook for the second day in a row, and wrote out a check for the full amount.

Jake took the check, and gave him a serious look. "When you buy your next car, come see me first. I'll research cars with a 'rugged' reputation for you."

"Thanks, Jake." Mulder smiled weakly. He had a feeling that a Hummer was about the only thing that would withstand the remainder of the kids' childhoods.

At least it started right back up like it forgave him.


New Jersey

Scully realized that things weren't going to go smoothly when Ty Clayton had suggested they meet in the "tobacco shop" he owned and managed. Resisting the urge to remind him that she was a federal agent, she frostily suggested a nearby book store as an alternative meeting place.

To her mild surprise, Ty seemed capable of reading between the lines because he showed up without anything on his clothes to beg the legitimacy of his business, and he smelled only of ivory soap. Of course, he marred the slacks & button-down shirt picture of respectability the moment he saw Scully and William and opened his mouth. "Hey, who's the little dude?"

Without missing a beat, William replied, "I'm another witness too. I saw the demon last week."

"Wow, really?" Ty asked, looking impressed.

"No, not really," Scully said frostily after shooting her son a look. "This is my son, William. He's going to sit here quietly. I apologize that I couldn't get a sitter during your interview."

"Oh, it's okay," Ty said good-naturedly. It didn't seem to bother him in the slightest that an almost seven-year-old had just made him look gullible.

"So, could you tell me how you happened to see this 'demon'?"

He frowned. "I can practically hear the air quotes, agent..."

"Sorry, it's agent Scully." She was beginning to feel flustered because she knew that so far she wasn't living up to her usual standards of professionalism. For a moment she thought about sending William off to explore the children's section, but he really seemed to be enjoying himself, so she didn't have the heart to.

"Agent Scully. Look, I know that this seems impossible, but I really did see something out in the Pine Barrens last week."

"Please, tell me about it. What you were doing when you saw it, what it looked like, what it was doing...anything you can recall that you think could be helpful," Scully said by rote.

Ty's conversational style was more stream of consciousness. "Okay, so, I'm dating this girl, Jen. I really wanted to impress her, so I suggested we have a picnic. I had this picture in my head of being at the park and all, but... Jen said a picnic was a great idea, but let's have it in the Pine Barrens. That's less weird than it sounds when you know that Jen is into entomology and was hoping to spot a karner blue butterfly or the barrens buck moth." As Ty rambled on, Scully had the urge to ask him to skip to the relevant parts of the story, but she was afraid to trust his judgment about what was relevant, so she endured the tale of his picnic with the would-be lepidopterist. "...so, after she went off in seach of an outhouse, I was spreading out the picnic blanket when I heard something."

"What?" William asked, apparently no longer able to stand Ty's monologue.

"Wings. Big ones. Turning around quickly, I saw red wings. I could hardly understand that, since the only bird with big red wings I knew about was an ibis thing that was in a horribly depressing story they made me read in school when I was this dude's age...but when I got a closer look, I knew the wings didn't belong to a bird."

"Why not?" Scully asked, knowing that he expected her to.

"No feathers." Ty shook his head at the memory. "Now, I'm not anywhere near as good with biology as Jen is, but it looked like bat wings, and we don't have any bats that big in this country. Hell, I'm not sure there are any bats that big anywhere in the world."

"Maybe a mad scientist made 'em?" William suggested helpfully, and Scully nearly groaned.

"Funny, little dude. This wasn't a movie." Scully raised an eyebrow, pleasantly surprised that Ty wasn't that sort of conspiracy therorist. "Nah. So I knew that I wasn't looking at an animal." Ty gave Scully a challenging look. "Unless you can think of an animal with leathery, dried blood colored wings that are a couple feet long?"

"I can't say that any come to mind."

"Jen couldn't think of any either. That's why I knew I had to report it, then. This thing wasn't part of the natural world."

"So your thoughts turned to the unnatural world?" Scully asked politely.

"Exactly. This thing was clearly more out of revelations than out of a biology book. I don't want anyone to be hurt by it, so of course I had to let law enforcement know what was out there." His expression became a scowl. "Of course, they didn't believe me at all until other people reported the same thing."

"My parents' friend John used to be a cop. They're not big on believing in demons," William told Ty sympathetically. "Mom said he used to be a real idiot about that sort of thing. Right, Mom?"

"Um...right." She hadn't quite put it that way, but it wasn't hard to see how William had taken that away from hearing her complain about Doggett's skepticism. Turning back to Ty, she asked, "Do you think you could locate the spot in the barrens where you saw, the...creature?"

"No," Ty said too quickly.

Scully suppressed a sigh. From the speed of his reply, she was pretty sure that having a picnic and looking for butterflies hadn't been the only thing the owner of the headshop had done out in the woods with his girlfriend. For a moment she contemplated telling him that she had no interest in any illicit substances that might be found near the spot, but decided against it. If the other witness was a dead end, she could always call on him again.

Removing a business card from her wallet, she handed it too him with a bright smile. "Thank you for your help. If you think of anything else, please give me a call."

"Will do." Ty's relief was unveiled. "When did you say you were going to go out there to take a look?"

"I didn't say. I'm not sure yet, since I'm still talking to witnesses."

"But this weekend, do you suppose?" he pressed.

"I doubt it."

"Oh, right. Be careful out there."

She was willing to bet money that Ty would be out in the barrens with a trash bag before the weekend was over. "I will, thank you."

Ty scurried off after mumbling something about needing to get back to his store before the help let the place go to hell. When she looked down, she noticed that William was looking up at her. "He lied, huh?"

"I think so," Scully admitted.

"How come?"

"I think he was afraid that he was going to get in trouble for leaving something behind in the woods."

"Wow, they must have really strict littering laws here, huh Mom?"

"Yup."

"Now what?" William asked, looking back towards the children's books.

"Well, we've got some time before we go and see the next person we talk to. How about we pick out a book and get something for lunch?"

"Yeah!"

Scully hid a smile as he led the way towards the books he was interested in. Apparently his worry about being treated to things his siblings were missing out on had already faded to bearable levels.


Later Washington, DC

When Mulder went through the quartet of backpacks, he was relieved to see that there were no notes from their teacher in any of the bags. Maybe the talk he'd had with Alison in the morning would have a lasting effect on their behavior.

This relief only lasted a short while, because the effort of behaving in school had them brimming with energy in the house. Dinner needed to be made, so Mulder tried to get things together despite the near constant distraction of loud, energetic playing going on around him.

After half an hour, he was beginning to suffer from sensory overload, so he desperately began to cast about for a way to keep the kids out from underfoot while he finished cooking. Mulder looked out the window and saw with relief that it was still bright and sunny out. He glanced from the pot on the stove to the children running around and said, "Why don't you go and play outside?"

The Mulders' yard was ringed by a six foot tall fence. It was only because of this that Mulder and Scully felt comfortable allowing the kids to play in the yard without one of them there to watch their every moves. It wasn't that they were over protective of their kids as so many parents seemed to be, but that the fence was there to protect everyone else from the kids. So far, none of them had managed to scale it yet, so any mayhem they managed was confined to their own yard and possessions.

"Okay, sure," Brian agreed. "We can practice soccer, right?"

"Um, why not?" Mulder agreed, distracted by the pot that was now boiling over and spewing tomato sauce onto the top of the stove. "There's supposed to be a storm tonight, so I want you to promise that you'll come in immediately if you hear thunder or see lightning."

"We promise," his children chorused.

"Right. I'm going to open the window over the sink, so I'll hear any thunder or lightning too."

"Daddy, if it lightnings can we fly a kite?" Alison wanted to know.

"No!"

"Why not? We was learning about-"

"Ben Franklin," Mulder said, cutting her off. "I guess your teacher forgot to mention the next person who tried to create electricity with lightning."

"Next person?" Jeremy asked. "What next person?"

"Georg Wilhelm Richmann. He was the first person to die while experimenting with electricity. He decided to try to recreate what Franklin did, and ended up getting hit by the lightning. A bunch of other people," Mulder said, though unable to recall any of their names, "died that way too. Which is why everyone knows not to do that now." Or they would, if teachers bothered to mention that it had been mere luck that kept ole' Ben safe.

"Oh, I guess that would be bad," Alison said, but Mulder decided to watch her carefully the next few times it stormed anyway.

"Out!" Mulder declared before reaching for a wad of paper towels. "It's still nice out, so out you go."

It didn't take nearly as long to clean the stove as Mulder anticipated, and that made him glad. Things weren't going perfectly in Scully's absence, but he thought that he was handling things fairly well, all things considered.

It was only seconds after he patted himself on the back that a tremendous crash had him jumping a foot. After he started, he looked about wildly, and was puzzled to see the kids' soccer ball in the doorway to the dining room. His eyes shifted to the left, and discovered a pile of broken glass, which lead all the way back to the shattered sliding glass door that separated the kitchen from the deck.

Peering out the window, he saw Eric looking up at him. "Oops!"

"Oops," Mulder muttered while reaching for the knob for the stove burner. Just then the wind outside picked up, and it began to rain. "Great."

A minute later he was hauling the protesting kids into the house, skirting around the broken glass, and plunking them in front of the TV. "Dinner's going to be late because I need to cover up the hole in the slider before all the rain gets into the house. You're going to sit here, very quietly. Understand?"

The kids exchanged glances, apparently worried by how calm he sounded. Then they nodded vigorously.

"Good." He plucked a DVD out of the pile of them next to the TV and shoved it into the DVD player. It turned out to be one of their old Barney DVDs, but he didn't worry about that as he made a mental list of what needed to be done to keep the storm outside.

He did, however, crack a smile when he heard Brian whisper "Barney? Eww. This must be our punishment."

It took Mulder nearly twenty minutes to find a tarp and waterproof tape to seal up the hole. That'd hold for the night. It'd have do, because he was pretty sure no one would come out and fix it after six. After that he tossed out the broken glass and turned the stove back on.

Peeking into the living room a few times, he saw the kids dutifully watching the insipid purple dinosaur sing to them about friendship and shoelaces. None of them looked happy, and he wondered what his wife would think of using the video as a disciplinary measure.

Outside the lightning gained strength, and two of the kids shrieked in surprise and fear when the power went out.

Mulder shook his head and thanked God that he'd let Scully insist on buying a gas oven. At least he could finish cooking. It was going to be a long night if the power failure went on very long.


Saturday

When Scully rolled over and finally opened her eyes, the first thing she saw was William. He was sitting on the other bed, staring at her. "Morning, William," she said before covering her mouth to yawn.

"What are we gonna do today? Talk to more crazy people?" William asked excitably.

"Will..." Something in the back of her sleepy mind spoke up and told her that she ought to correct him, but her heart wasn't really in it. Ty Clayton had turned out to be the least odd of the trio of witnesses that Scully and William had spoken to the day before.

Odd as they were, though, she thought that they had seen something...which is the only reason she didn't rent a car and drive back home. There was something lurking in the pine barrens, and she wanted to know what it was.

"Sorry, maybe they're not crazy. But they're weird, Mom."

"Yeah, they were pretty weird," she agreed. "But we're not going to talk to any more people today."

"We're not?" William gave her an uncertain look.

"No. I thought of something else for us to do today, since the last couple of people I'd like to talk to before going out to look around in the woods are busy this weekend."

"What?"

"Oh, I thought it might be fun to go to Six Flags. What do you-" Before she could even finish asking the question, William began to exclaim in delight and disbelief. She trailed off, smiling to herself. He'd been a good sport about being dragged along on a case, and she thought that this might make up for a lot of the sitting around and being quiet that'd been required of him.

"Really? Mom, really?" he asked once he calmed down enough to speak intelligibly again.

"Of course, really. Come on, we'll need to get going if we want to get there when the park opens."

"Yay!"


DC

The power failure only lasted three hours, so the lights were back on by the time Mulder put the quads to bed. This was a darn good thing in his opinion, because Alison, despite being generally fearless, couldn't sleep without a night light. Everyone slept better than they would have without power.

Bright and early the next morning, Mulder phoned Pete, the handy man who had seen the family through many home repairs over the past five years, and arranged for him to come over to replace the broken slider. Since the Mulders were very good customers, he waived the customary fee for weekend work, but wouldn't be over until after Sunday afternoon.

"I want you to promise not to touch the tarp or the tape," Mulder had told the kids after hanging up on Pete. "Mom's going to be pretty mad about the broken door-"

"It was an accident!" Eric protested.

"-so I don't want her to be even more upset because someone screwed with the tarp and let bugs or rain into the house," Mulder concluded.

"Eww, no bugs in the house," Brian muttered before grabbing Eric by the arm. "Come on, let's play cars." They'd been given an elaborate garage and race track for Christmas, and it usually held their interest fairly well.

Mulder expected Alison and Jeremy to play too, but they wandered back into the kitchen after just a few minutes. After the third time he'd stopped in the middle of loading the dishwasher to say "stay away from there," he got fed up.

"Here," Mulder thrust the half full trash bag at Jeremy and pushed the recycling towards Alison with one foot. "If you can't find a way to play quietly like Eric and Brian, make yourself useful."

"Okay..." they chorused and grabbed up the stuff for the curb, where it would sit until the trash truck came Monday morning. Scully was big into composting all food waste, so it was unlikely to be bothered by animals over the weekend.

Except for the clink of flatware being loaded into the dishwasher it was quiet for two minutes, but then the silence was ripped asunder when Alison shrieked at the top of her lungs. "DADDDYY! DADDDDDDYYYYYYYY!"

Having never heard his daughter scream with such horror and desperation, Mulder dropped the fistful of spoons he was holding and flew out the door. When he reached Alison, he saw her standing over her brother and sobbing.

Jeremy was covered in blood. It dripped down his face, and spotted his torso.

It only took Mulder a second to work out what had happened: there were blood-coated shards of glass poking through the garbage bag.

Alison's blue eyes were wide with shock, but she did manage to say, "He tripped on the bag."

"Okay. Ali, I need you to go inside and get the first aid kit from under the sink in mine and mom's bathroom. Can you do that for me?" he asked gently.

After a second the daze dropped off her face, and she scampered into the house.

Mulder sat on the ground and pulled Jeremy into his lap, making the boy whimper. "It's okay, Buddy, let me see what you did here."

"It hurts!"

"I know, I know it does." Using the tail of his shirt, Mulder wiped blood off of Jeremy's face and looked for the cut. It was wide and deep. Further examination revealed another long cut at the crook of his elbow and a shorter slash across his belly.

"Daddy, what happened?" Eric asked behind them.

Mulder turned his head, and tried to give Eric a reassuring smile. "Eric, do you think you could go next door and ask Mrs. Gold to come over, please? Tell her that Jeremy hurt himself and I need to bring him to the hospital."

"I will," Eric promised before carefully skirting around them.

Like most of the neighbors, there was little love lost between Mrs. Gold and the quads, but Mulder thought she'd be willing to help them out, if only grudgingly.

"I have to go to the hospital?" Jeremy asked in a wobbly voice that startled Mulder. He hadn't made a sound since complaining that he hurt.

"'fraid so. I think you're going to need some stitches."

"Oh, okay."

The door to the house slammed, making Mulder look up. "Here, Daddy," Alison said, lugging the heavy first aid kit over to him.

"Thank goodness your mother didn't bring this kit with her," he muttered as he popped the top open and began to rummage through it. He'd kidded her about the one she'd packed, but this well-stocked kit was fit to do civil war era field amputations.

"What happened?!" a voice cried just as Mulder finished wrapping gauze around the wound on Jeremy's scalp. It seemed the most serious, so he'd started there.

"What happened is I stupidly threw away broken glass in the garbage can, forgot about it, and Jeremy tripped over the trash bag while bringing it out," Mulder explained to his curlers-bedecked neighbor. "I need to get him to the ER-"

"Go!" she made a shooing motion with her hands. "I'll keep an eye on the other kids for you."

"No!" Alison cried. "I want to go with you!"

Mulder's instinct was to tell her that she was staying home, but he thought better of it. "Okay. It'll be your job to make sure Jeremy talks to you," he said, not bothering to explain that he figured not being able to carry on a conversation would be an indicator that things were more serious than he thought.

Mrs. Gold seemed to catch on, and he caught her nodding before she turned to Eric. "Go get your brother, please. We'll have cookies and watch TV at my house."

"Thank you, Mrs. Gold," Mulder said, heartfelt.

She gave a short jerking nod of her chin. "We're neighbors. Neighbors help in an emergency."

When Eric and Brian returned, he had them recite his cell phone number to prove that they could give the number to the babysitter if she needed to call him. Then the boys followed her to her house.


Mulder was mostly worried about the cut to Jeremy's head, but he made an attempt to bandage up his arm and belly too before putting both him and Alison in the mini-van.

"Okay, here we go," he muttered before sliding behind the wheel.

"Are we going to call Mommy?" Alison asked.

"After we get to the hospital. I think we'll have you call grandma too, okay? Then she can get your brothers from Mrs. Gold's house."

"Okay."

Alison glanced at Jeremy and then back up at her father. "I thought we was supposed to call 911 when something bad happened," she remarked.

"Jeremy's not hurt that bad. I don't want to tie up an ambulance in case there's a serious car accident, or someone has a heart attack."

"Oh!"

In the backseat, Allison kept up a steady stream of chatter, fortunately all directed at her brother. Up front, Mulder was too busy berating himself to converse. He never should've thrown out the glass, not once it had broken in a fashion that proved it wasn't safety glass. And then to forget that it was in the trash... the bag had been light enough for the kids to carry, but he hadn't thought about the danger the glass in it represented.

When they hit a pothole, Allison yelled.

"It's just a pothole, Ali, don't get so excited."

"No Daddy, that's not what's the matter. Jeremy's bleeding a lot more."

When he glanced in the rearview mirror, he expected Jeremy's head wound to look worse, but it didn't. Instead the bandage on Jeremy's arm was soaked through, and blood was beginning to drip down his wrist.

"Shit!" Mulder yelled before he thought better of it. "Hang on, Jeremy, were almost there."


... Almost there took nearly 15 minutes, and Jeremy's tee-shirt and shorts were saturated with blood by the time Mulder raced into the ER carrying him. Allison trotted along behind them like a worried shadow.

He didn't know if Jeremy was immediately whisked into an exam room because it was a slow day or because he was painted red, the doctors immediately began to examine him. Mulder and Alison were banned from the room, which made Mulder feel helpless.

Watching the doctors work on his son left Mulder terrified. They were acting like Jeremy was much worse off than Mulder had believed when he decided against calling 911. For the first time ever, he felt seriously worried about losing one of his children, and that thought was unbearable. Losing Emily had torn Scully up, and she'd only known the girl for a couple of weeks before her death. What if they lost Jeremy? Everything was Mulder's fault, so how could she ever forgive him?

A dismayed little moan from around the level of his waist broke through his thoughts. It soon dawned on him that he wasn't the only one terrified, so he gathered Alison up and brought her to the waiting room. It killed him not to see what was going on, but watching was clearly traumatizing his daughter.

She was worn out from worry too, and eventually fell asleep on his lap as they waited for news. Glancing down at her, and noting how pale she was where not spotted with her brother's blood, Mulder was beset by new worry. If Jeremy wasn't okay, Scully wasn't the only one who would blame him -

"Mr. Mulder?"

Mulder looked up sharply and noted a man in scrubs in front of him. "Yes?" he asked, voice shaking.

"It took a while, but we were eventually able to repair the artery he nicked in his arm. We needed to give him blood-"

"Bottom line, will he be okay?" Mulder interrupted to ask.

The doctor didn't smile. "Right now our biggest concern is the cut across his belly-" for moment Mulder felt insulted that the doctor was putting things in layman's terms, but he chided himself to pay attention as the man went on. "We have reason to believe there might still be glass in the wound, and considering the location, organ involvement is a possibility. I have these consent forms for exploratory surgery-"

Mulder snatched the forms from him and began to sign. "Do whatever you have to."

"All right," the doctor said, gathering up the paperwork. He then wandered off with it.

When a nurse walked by, Mulder waved her over. He stood up and gently placed his daughter in his vacated seat. "Could you sit with her while I go get her a change of clothes from my car?"

The nurse took one look at the rusty stains on the girl's clothes before saying "of course."


They long ago learned to keep spare clothes in their cars, so it didn't take him much time to find something Alison could change into. He even found a shirt for himself, but he'd have to hope that no one looked too hard at his dark denim jeans.

Clothes still bunched in one hand, he leaned his forehead against the roof of the mini-van. He'd make a terrible doctor, he decided, because clearly he couldn't tell a serious injury from an inconsequential one. All of his efforts have been on the wrong cuts entirely.

Sighing, he pulled out his cell phone, and dialed a familiar number. When she picked up he said, "Scully, I screwed up big-time..."


Meanwhile...

"Can we go on the superman rollercoaster again?" William asked eagerly the moment they stepped off the ride. Crowds of people thronged the amusement park, and here and there you could see people carrying large stuffed animals, and kids younger than William with balloons tied to their wrists.

"Don't you want to try another ride? We could come back to this one before we leave," Scully said, thinking about how long they'd waited to get on the rollercoaster.

William looked at the length of the line that had grown in their absence, before reluctantly nodding. "Hey look, here's a map of the park."

"Oh good, why don't you pick-" Scully stopped when her cell phone began to ring. "It's your dad," she explained before answering. "What's up, Mulder?"

After a moment all the good humor drained out of her, and she sat down on the bench next to the park map. "Is he going to be okay?" she listened for a moment before saying, "actually, that's pretty routine, so you shouldn't panic. But I could drive home-" but Mulder cut her off, stoically saying that he could handle things, and that nothing would be improved by her rushing home. "Okay. But if he gets worse...love you too. Keep me updated." As much as she wanted to rush home, she knew that insisting that she do so would just make Mulder think Jeremy's condition was more dire than it probably was.

She closed the phone and stared at it, startling when William put his hand on her shoulder. "What's wrong?"

"Jeremy got hurt. He's at the hospital."

William's eyes filled with concern. "How? Is he going to be okay?"

"He cut himself badly on broken glass. And your dad thinks he'll be okay," Scully said, deciding not to let William know how worried Mulder had sounded. If things got worse, then it'd be time to worry him too. "I offered to go home, but your dad said that he doesn't think it's that serious."

"Does he need an operation or anything?"

"Well, just a little one. They're going to put a scope in the cut in his belly to make sure there's no glass in there still and to make sure it didn't cut anything vital. Then they'll stitch him up," Scully told him calmly. She knew that many doctors routinely insisted upon an exploratory laparotomy after all penetrating abdominal wounds, so she'd been less frightened by the idea than Mulder obviously was.

"Oh..." William looked at the ground. "Now what?"

"Dad said he'd call back when he had news. The park doesn't close for another few hours, so I think we should go on some more rides while we wait."

Her son looked surprised. "Wouldn't it be bad to have fun while Jeremy's in the hospital?"

"Would not having fun make him feel better?" Scully asked, thinking about how prone to feel guilt William was.

"No, but I don't want him to be mad at me," William explained. "I don't want him to think I'm a jerk."

"Come here," Scully said, hugging him. "He's not going to think you're a jerk." Privately she worried that Jeremy would be mad at her for not racing home, but she was sure that he wouldn't demand the presence of any of his siblings.

"He's not?"

"No, especially when you tell him that we're coming back here when we have vacation next month."

William's eyes widened. "We are?"

"Sure. I need to run it by your dad first, but I think the quads are big enough to come here now too."

"And I get to tell Jeremy?"

"You get to tell him. But don't rub in the fact that you've been here already," she said, knowing that he wouldn't.

"I guess it would be okay to go on a few more rides while we wait for Dad to call."

"How about the parachute drop?" Scully suggested. She did her best to keep things light, but not appearing scared to death or callous was a hard balancing act.


"Mister Mulder?" another doctor, a very young one, asked not long after Mulder returned from bringing Alison to the cafeteria for some bland food. She was now sitting a few feet away, watching a cartoon he couldn't follow on the waiting room's TV.

"Yes?" Mulder did his best not to let his voice trembled. Scully insisted that the surgery was strictly routine, but he couldn't help but wonder if she'd just said that to keep him from panicking.

"Jeremy's out of surgery. There wasn't any glass, and he managed not to cut any vital organs. He's a lucky little boy."

"He's going to be okay?"

"Yes, I'm sorry I didn't make that clearer. He's been stitched up and given something for the pain. I think you'll be able to bring him home tomorrow morning."

To the woman's surprise, he put his face in his hands. "Sir?"

"This is all my fault," Mulder said when he looked up again. "When we bought the house the realtor told us she 'thought' that glass doors had been replaced with safety glass, but obviously they hadn't been...how could I be so stupid to have just thrown the glass away?" Mulder babbled.

The resident put her hand on his shoulder. "These things happen. Parents assume that they can always think everything through, but we all get distracted. When we're lucky when nothing bad happens...we're not always lucky."

"But I should have-"

"You never got hurt when you were a kid?"

"What?" Mulder asked, thinking about the three days he'd spent under psychiatric observation at the state hospital when Samantha disappeared. "No, not enough to go to the ER. My sister broke her collarbone, though."

"See? Your parents weren't perfect, either."

He almost said that he hoped that he was a better parent than Bill and Teena had been, but he didn't. The young resident was obviously trying to comfort him, and as much as he hated to admit it, she was right. Even very good parents still had to deal with their kids being injured. "Thanks."

"Do you want to see him?"

"Yes." He looked over to his daughter, calling, "Ali?"

Alison held out her arms, wanting to be carried, and he didn't blame her. It had been a very long day for her too. Swinging Alison up on to his hip, he looked at the resident before saying, "Lead the way."


He looked so little in the bed, Mulder found himself thinking as soon as he stepped into Jeremy's hospital room. So small, so fragile with his head and arm bandaged, not to mention the bandages hidden by the thin hospital blankets. He looked like he still hurt some, even though his eyes were closed tightly.

"Is he okay, Daddy?" Alison asked the moment Mulder put her down.

"Surgery takes a lot out of people," the resident explained on her way out of the room. "Your brother will sleep pretty soundly tonight." She paused, looking from Alison to Jeremy before mouthing "twins?" to Mulder.

He shook his head. "Half of a set of quadruplets," he said aloud, making her eyes widen. He was tempted to mention Promise and Hope, but she escaped before he did.

"Grandma!" Alison cried a couple of minutes later, running to the door. Jeremy slept through it.

"Maggie?" Mulder asked, turning. He'd called her not long after talking to Scully.

Maggie had the babies with her, and they looked happy to see him. "I haven't picked the boys up yet," she explained as Alison hugged her.

"Thank you so much." Mulder gave her a smile that was two parts guilt and one part gratitude.

She looked from Mulder standing there, to Jeremy in the bed. "I'll bring them to my house."

"You knew that I wanted to stay with him?" he asked, surprised.

"It's hardly unexpected, Fox. I spent the night next to Charlie's bed when he had pneumonia when he was three. And just like you're going to, I spent that whole night beating myself up for not doing better."

"Getting pneumonia was hardly something you let happen," Mulder protested, feeling the need to defend her even if she had no interest in defending herself.

Maggie raised an eyebrow, reminding him strongly of her daughter. "Wasn't it? He got pneumonia because I didn't realize how sick he was when he came down with the flu. We all screw up, dear."

"You know, you're the second person to tell me that today..."

"Maybe you'll believe one of us, then," Maggie said firmly before taking Alison's hand. "Come on, darling, we need to get your brothers before they make your poor neighbor insane."

"They couldn't really, could they?" Alison asked eagerly. Mulder couldn't tell if she was hoping that was or wasn't within their power.

"No, it's a figure of speech."

"Bye, Daddy." Alison ran back to him and gave him a hug before rejoining her grandmother and baby sisters.

Mulder watched as Maggie rolled the double stroller down the hallway and Alison more or less kept with her. Then he turned back to Jeremy. When he put his hand on Jeremy's, the little boy's sleeping frown smoothed out, and Mulder realized that his son must know on some level that one of his parents was there.

It'd be a long night, but Mulder was ready to sit there, doing penance.


The Next Day

Mulder nodded along to the after care instructions that he was given for Jeremy as he packed the boy's things into a blue plastic bag. "...and I'd like you to keep him quiet today, and get as much rest as possible. I rather doubt he'll be up to going to school Monday."

Normally Mulder would have laughed his butt off at the idea of being able to keep any of his kids "quiet," but glancing at how pale and listless Jeremy looked in hospital bed, it seemed possible. Likely even.

"I think we'll set him up with some movies to watch in bed today," Mulder said. "Sound good, Jeremy?"

Jeremy's only response was a half-hearted nod.

"Great." A clipboard was held out to Mulder. "If you just sign these, you can be on your way. A nurse is bringing a wheelchair for transport-"

"What?" Jeremy surprised them both by squeaking in alarm. "I can't walk?"

"It's hospital policy, young man. Everyone leaving gets wheeled out."

"But I can walk, right?"

Before the confused woman could launch into another explanation of hospital policy, Mulder spoke up to reassure his son. "You can walk just fine, but the hospital doesn't want you to. Right now you'd probably be a little wobbly since you lost all that blood and they don't want you to fall so you're going to be wheeled out to our car, but no one is trying to suggest that you can't walk any more."

"Oh." Jeremy looked relieved.

Mulder handed back the clipboard. "I take it you don't work with kids very much."

The reply was mumbled. "Not as a general rule, no."

"Daddy, can I have ice cream in bed?" Jeremy asked, worry apparently already forgotten.

"I think that can be arranged."


Maggie Scully's

As soon as Mulder pulled into his mother-in-law's driveway, the front door opened and the kids spilled out like a litter of puppies. Maggie lagged behind because she had the twins, but Eric and Brian immediately began pounding on the mini-van's side door, eager to get in.

Mulder got out and obliged them, and they immediately clambered in to see how their brother was. Alison, on the other hand, stayed outside.

"Hi, daddy!" Alison exclaimed, throwing herself at him. She looked a lot more cheerful than she had the night before. Something thumped against him as he accepted her hug.

"What's that?"

Alison showed in the fist the clutched a string of beads. "Grandma gave me these 'fore we went to church this morning. They're for saying prayers better."

"Oh." He wasn't thrilled that Maggie had taken in the church, but he was too grateful for help in a crisis dare complain.

"But Brian says I gotta give them the Mrs. Gold when we get home."

"Why?" Mulder asked, wondering where on earth Brian came up with that idea.

"'cause they're rosemary beads and her mail says Rosemary Gold, so grandma must have gotten them from her."

"Brian read her mail?"

"Just the TV Guide."

"Right... they're actually rosary beads, Ali."

"So I can keep 'em?"

"If your grandmother gave them to you rather than lent them to you."

"I did," Maggie said behind them. She'd finally caught up. "I offered them to Brian and Eric as well, but couldn't convince them that they weren't necklaces."

"Necklaces are for girls," a muffled voice inside the mini-van protested.

After shooing Alison into the van, Mulder took Hope from Maggie and strapped her into her car seat before turning for the other baby. "You make that look so easy," Maggie remarked.

"What?" Mulder shot her a puzzled look.

"This," Maggie said, waving a hand at the kids in booster and car seats.

"Well, by now I have a lot of practice."

"I know, it's just nice to see how efficient and unflustered you are."

"You're just trying to make me feel better about yesterday," he accused in a mild tone.

"Maybe a little, but I do admire how well you and Dana manage."

"With a lot of help from you," Mulder protested.

"I pitch in now and then, it's true, but you are alone with them twenty-four seven."

He thought about protesting that it wasn't like they hadn't signed up for parenthood, but stilled his tongue. They'd signed up for parenting one, and had ended up with seven courtesy of the sinister forces in their lives. They wouldn't have changed things, but he sort of understood where Maggie was coming from - parenting kids you'd planned for probably really was a different kettle of fish.

"Thanks," he told her, still feeling a little uncomfortable.

Maggie nodded before leaning in to see Jeremy. "How are you, sweetheart?"

"Tired."

"I bet." She turned to look at the other kids. "Be good to him, he's not going to feel up to playing and rough housing the next few days."

"We will, grandma." They actually sounded sincere, and Mulder could picture himself reminding them of their promise to their grandmother if they bothered Jeremy.

Mulder gave her a quick hug before shutting the door to the van and getting in himself. "Thanks, Maggie. Take care."

"You too, dear."


That Night

It was quiet in the Mulder home, and for once it wasn't alarming. The twins had been tired, so Mulder had put them down early. And as for the quads...they'd apparently taken Maggie's warning to heart, because they'd been very solicitous of Jeremy. The four of them were quietly watching a movie, tucked into Mulder and Scully's bed so they could all pile in together.

Mulder decided to take advantage of the quiet, and called Scully. "Hey, Scully, what are you wearing?" he laughed when she playfully scolded him. "Jeremy's doing okay, I guess, as pale as you for a change...but he's definitely not going to be up for school tomorrow...yes, I thought of that, but I'd like to be the one to stay home with him. We impose on her too much, Scully...I was thinking that I could join you Tuesday afternoon. The flights should all be back on schedule by then. Okay... Love you too."


Meanwhile...

Scully hung up the phone, aware that her son had been listening the whole time. Therefore, it didn't surprise her when he immediately asked, "Dad's not going to come tomorrow, is he?" William didn't look disappointed, just curious.

"No, not tomorrow. Jeremy's feeling a little better, but not well enough to go to school. Dad's worried that we ask too much of your grandmother, so he wants to stay home with Jeremy himself."

"I thought Grandma liked spending time with us."

"She does, but he doesn't want to stick her with looking after a sick, actually hurt, kid all day."

"Oh."

Scully patted his leg. "You're worried about your birthday, huh?"

"No! Well, yeah," he finally admitted.

"Dad will definitely be here by Tuesday night. We'll do something fun and go to dinner."

"Okay."

"Are you sad that your siblings won't be with us, though?" she pressed. Her conscious was getting to her because it was clear that the case wouldn't be over by the next night like she'd so hoped.

"Nope," he said a little too quickly, making her suspect that he was actually glad about it.

It must be hard, she reflected, being the oldest and expected to always include younger siblings without protest. Maybe this trip was a good thing, because for the first time since he was a year old, his birthday would just be about him and his parents.

"Okay. What sort of fun thing did you want to do?"

"Can we see an IMAX movie?"

"I think that can be arranged."

"Awesome."


May 20th, 2008 New Jersey

The sound of the hotel phone ringing roused Scully from a sound sleep, but by the time she was awake enough to reach for it, it hung up. She glanced over at the other bed, and realized that the phone had woken William too. It wasn't even eight yet.

The phone rang again immediately almost immediately, and this time she was able to fumble for it before it was too late. "Hello?" she asked, more than half expecting to hear her husband's voice. Mulder promised to call before he hit the road - flights still were erratic, so he planned to drive and arrive during the afternoon...since he was coming to celebrate William's birthday, they couldn't see how the FBI could object to him driving.

"Agent Scully?" a semi-familiar voice asked, "It's Ty Clayton."

"Hello, how can I help you?" She asked, trying to sound professional. She'd rather hang up on him so that the line would be clear when Mulder called, but that would be hard to explain if she was called to make an account of it.

"You need to get to the Pine Barrens ASAP. That thing is flying around right now!"

"Where exactly did you see it?" She paused as he gave excitable, yet mostly coherent, directions. "Thanks for letting me know."

"Are you going to check it out?" Ty asked, which she should have predicted.

Scully glanced at William, torn - there was no way to arrange for a hotel babysitter on such short notice, but if she waited... "yes."

"Do you want me to stick around?"

"As long as you don't put yourself in any danger."

"See you in a few, then."

"Right."

"Who was that?" William wanted to know. "Not Dad."

"No, it was that man we met, Ty."

"Oh, that guy. What did he call for?"

"I was hoping not to go into the field before you went home, but it looks like you're going to have to come with me."

William was immediately indignant. "You were going to leave me behind?"

Choosing to ignore that, she went on, "-but it looks like I have no choice but to take you. You have to promise that you'll stick by me, and do what ever I tell you to. I really mean it, it's the only way to make sure that you stay safe."

"Of course! I'm not stupid, Mom."

Normally she would argue with him that she wasn't trying to imply anything, but really, she didn't have the time to waste. "Come on kid, we've got to go right now."

"Then let's go!" William said enthusiastically as he bounded for the door.

"Uh, Will? How about getting dressed first?" She shook her head. At least it was William - she had a better shot of having him listen to her than any of her other children.


The Pine Barrens

If Scully had any worries about finding the creature, she forgot them as soon as Ty Clayton came into view. It was clear that he hadn't shaved since their last visit, and he was waving his arms like a mad man. "It's over there!" he shouted, pointing into the distance. Then he began to jog towards her. And then past her.

Scully stared at him. "Where are you going?"

He barely slowed. "Home. Butterflies aren't worth it, and the girl isn't even worth it. There's no way in hell I'm sticking around with a demon flying through these woods." Ty looked more than a little shaken. "Good luck!"

"Ty. Ty!" she shouted, but he shook his head without turning to look and kept on jogging.

"He's scared, huh?" William asked, making her look down at him. He didn't look as frightened as their erstwhile informant, but nerves clearly showed through.

"It's okay, baby," Scully said soothingly as she looked in the direction that Ty had been pointing at. So far she'd only seen a hint of movement to suggest that there was anything in the woods with them. "Ty's just managed to spook himself."

"Really?"

"Ye-" The words died in Scully's throat as something large suddenly launched itself into the sky. Perhaps it had been on the ground as she spoke to William, because it was now thrusting itself up into the air with all the grace of a buzzard scared away from roadkill. It was four hundred yards away, but closing the distance between them quickly.

"Mommy?" William whimpered and looked to her for a course of action.

She drew her gun, and pulled William behind her. It was hard to aim because the creature's trajectory through the air was erratic, and trees partially hid it, so it was a zipping blur of dark blue and red. Still, she thought she got a bead on it.

"Don't hurt him!" a woman screamed.

Scully spun around. A woman with dark hair was running towards them.

"Please don't hurt him!"

"Mom! He's over there!" William yelled to her. The thing had come to ground again.

When she looked where he pointed, she saw something other than what she expected. Witnesses had reported a small demon, and she had interpreted that to mean a scaly creature with red craggy skin, as one often saw in the artwork. It did have red wings. But those wings were attached to very small shoulder blades. The shoulder blades of a very small boy.

The so-called demon looked for all the world to be a two-year-old with a set of leathery wings.

So stunned by what she was seeing, Scully didn't react to the woman who ran towards the very strange child. Before Scully could say anything, the woman had scooped him up in her arms. And like any other frightened child, it buried its head against her shoulder.

Even at the distance she could hear that the woman talking to the child. "Why do you do this? Why must you scare Mommy like this?"

Mommy? Scully thought. Had the woman giving birth to the boy with wings? Or had she compassionately taken in the strange foundling, like in one of those horrible movies Mulder was so fond of?

The mother, by whatever method made her such, approached cautiously. "Thank you. I was afraid someone might hurt him. No one understands..." the woman trailed off just as Scully realized that she knew her.

It seemed as though the recognition was mutual. The woman showed this by backing away. "You!" she muttered as she put distance between her and Scully.

Scully put her hands on her hips. "What do you mean, you? I think you have a lot more to answer for here than I do."

"I've kept my nose clean." The woman cradled the strange toddler in her arms as she spoke. "I haven't killed anybody else."

"While that's terribly reassuring, there's still the matter of those other murders. Fact is that the US justice system holds citizens to a slightly higher standard than 'I haven't killed anybody else.'"

Behind her, William asked, "Mom, who did she kill?" but Scully had no intention of bringing up the murder of several infants.

When the woman didn't say anything, Scully added, "You realize there's no statute of limitations for murder."

Betsy Monroe gave her a defiant look. "Are you going to bring me in for those murders?"

Scully thought about it for moment and shook her head. "I'm here investigating sightings of the small demon. I presume that you're holding what people saw." For moment she stopped and studied the child. "It's taking him quite a while to grow, isn't it?"

Betsy gave her a blank look for a second, and then seemed to realize what she meant. "This isn't...this is my younger son."

"So you have two surviving sons?" Scully asked, hoping that William wouldn't understand what she meant by surviving.

"Yes."

"And how many more did you..." she made a waving motion with her hand.

"None!" Betsy yelped indignantly. "I figured out what I was doing wrong...before. There was none of that ever again." That, of course being small bodies buried in backyards.

While they spoke, William just gave them puzzled looks. Neither woman seemed inclined to enlighten him. Eventually, he did ask a question. "Is that a demon?"

Betsy held her little boy out for William to get a better look at. If you could look past the red wings, the child appeared to be nothing more than a barefoot, sandy-haired toddler wearing denim coveralls.

William studied him, before turning to Scully. "Mom, I think it's a baby."

It was on the tip of the Scully's tongue to ask "baby what?" but she didn't. "I think you're right."

"But why does he have wings?"

"Birth defect," Betsy said. "It runs in my family, you know, like extra fingers."

"Oh," said William. "I saw an article once about a turtle who had two heads."

"Right." Betsy looked slightly confused by this, but decided not to make an issue of it.

"Are you going to have them taken off?" William asked innocently.

"I don't know yet," Betsy said. Scully betted that the answer was no, but that the woman didn't want to admit it.

"Hmm."

The half-demoness turned to Scully. "So, am I under arrest or what?"

Scully was torn. On one hand it would be nice to see the woman go away for the murders of all of those innocent babies, but what happened to this baby, and presumably his older brother? There wasn't anything that could be done for the dead babies, but quite a lot could be done to these children, who would most likely be seen as freaks. That, and it would be an awful lot of paperwork to open up a cold case... "Or what."

"Really? You're not going to bring me in?"

"I told you, I'm here investigating a demon sighting. We need to talk about that."

Betsy sighed. "I figured."

"This can't keep happening." Scully gave the demon's mother a sharp look. "You're lucky that some yahoo with a gun hasn't shot at him yet. That we know of."

Betsy shivered. "I'll have to work something out so this doesn't keep happening."

"You had better," Scully said shortly. "I doubt that the NJPD are the think first, shoot later sorts, and if he causes any more disruptions..."

The half-demoness was positively green now. "It's serious, I get that."

"Right."

The two of them stood in the middle of the woods for several minutes, working out a plan to keep the baby demon, Caleb, safe and in line. While they spoke, William and Caleb played. Ty might have been frightened of the strange child, but William seemed more than willing to overlook the fact that his temporary playmate sported wings.

After a while Betsy collected her son, and Scully took William by the hand. "Come on, we're done here."

"So that's it, the case is over?" William asked, craning his neck to watch Betsy and Caleb walk in the other direction.

"That's it," Scully agreed.

"What about my birthday?"

Scully looked at her watch. "I'm pretty sure your dad's already on his way here, so we'll still do what we planned and drive home late tonight."

"Cool! Do I have to go to school tomorrow?"

"We'll see how much sleep you get on the way home."

"Okay." He stopped to give her a hopeful look. "What are we gonna do until Dad gets here?"

"What would you like to do?"

"Can we go to the natural history museum and see the dinosaurs?"

"Sure, let's go see dinosaurs."


Meanwhile...

Scully was wrong, he hadn't managed to make his way to the highway yet. The quads were off to a slow start, so when she was pointing a gun at a toddler demon, Mulder was trying to get them out of the mini-van with all their belongings.

He sent Alison, Eric and Brian in ahead, but held Jeremy back to talk to him for a minute. "Hey, are you up to this?"

Jeremy smiled. "I feel better, Daddy."

"You're sure?"

"I'm sure."

"Okay. I want you to take it easy at recess, though. No running around like a mad man."

"Not like Eric and Brian?"

"Right, not like them." Mulder smiled himself. "Remind them, and Alison, that you're going to Grandma's after school. I'll be home before you get up tomorrow."

"Are Mommy and Will coming home soon?"

"I hope so."

"Me too." Jeremy gave him a quick hug as the bell rang. "Bye, Daddy."

Mulder watched him go, happy to see that he wasn't running off like usual. Was it possible that the whole terrible experience was teaching one of the kids a little caution? It was a nice thought, but he wasn't holding his breath.


That Night

Mulder balanced a trio of popcorn boxes that were all covered with Prince Caspian logos, and followed William and Scully to the seats they'd picked out. William sat between them, and eagerly reached for the popcorn that Mulder was holding out. "This is the best birthday ever!"

"Because we're seeing one of the Chronicles of Narnia movies in IMAX?" Mulder asked, a faint smile tugging at his lips.

"Well, it helps. But I got to see a real live monster today! It's hard to beat that."

Scully exchanged looks with Mulder. "Uh oh."

"When can I go with you on another case?"

"I don't know that there's going to be a next time."

"Oh, man." William frowned for a moment before brightening. "Maybe I'll have to grow up to become an FBI agent too."

"Um, there are lots of fun things you could be when you grow up," Mulder said quickly. "Don't be too quick to decide on a career just yet."

"O-kay," William drawled. "But I do know one thing I want to be when I grow up, but it's not a work thing."

"Rich?" Scully suggested.

"Yeah rich too, but that's not it."

"What?"

William settled his popcorn in his lap before surprising them by throwing his arms around their necks. "A daddy! I'm gonna be an awesome parent like you guys. And when my kid is seven, I'm gonna make his birthday special too."

The look they exchanged this time was pleased. For all the ups and downs that went along with raising their family, at least one of their kids thought that they were great parents.

William went on. "But I'm not going to have quads too, that's just nuts!"

He looked a little confused when both of his parents burst out laughing, but eventually he began to laugh too.

The End

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