Headers and Prologue Chapter One Chapter Two Chapter Three Chapter Four Chapter Five Chapter Six Chapter Seven
Chapter Eight Chapter Nine Chapter Ten Chapter Eleven Chapter Twelve Chapter Thirteen Chapter Fourteen Epilogue


Title: Broken Mosaic

Author: Neoxphile

Rating: R, probably

Category: MSR, kidfic

Disclaimer: Mulder, Scully, William, Maggie, Doggett and Reyes belong to Chris Carter. Most of the other characters are mine.

Summary: In December of 2012 Mulder and Scully put aside ten years of differences to help their son when he needed them most. In 2014 one threat destroys the new lives they’ve built for themselves. What happens when worlds fall apart a second time?

Author’s notes: sequel to Only Because He Needed Us; Kids' ages - William 13, Benji 10, Owen 8, Kyle 6, Avery 4, Delaney 2


Last update: 10-23-07, chapter 14 and epilogue



Prologue

Early in the fall of 2014 a flu epidemic broke out in the UK, originating near London. The new strain had an unusually long incubation period, which led to many people coming in contact with infecteds before a quarantine was considered.

A month later, the epidemic had swept the globe. Death tolls were massive in nearly every country.

107,000 Americans lost their lives, despite a heroic effort to develop a vaccine. The populations most heavily hit included the elderly, and those in close contact with them, like those in the medical and human services fields, as well as the airline industry, and its passengers, which unwittingly served as a means for the virus to cross oceans. The media also suffered heavy losses, because reporters who investigated the outbreak in its infancy returned to media outlets across the country while unknowingly infectious.

With one in three hundred Americans cut down by the deadly virus, few lives were untouched by the stain of tragedy. Most people knew a person who had died. Some people knew more.




New Mexico
October 17th, 2014

Delaney wept in Mulder’s arms, her face pressed up against his shoulder, wetting it with tears. William shifted his grip on Avery's small hand, and glanced over at his baby sister in envy. He wished he too was small enough to be held and comforted that way. But his father only had two arms, so he and his four brothers stood together in silence, each dressed darkly, each looking at the casket in front of them.

It wasn’t fair.

Cat hadn’t even been his real mother, but his stepmother, and her death hurt so badly… how would the other kids cope? She was their mother. He’d had three mothers in his life, but they’d only had one. Now they had none.

The funeral was unbearable, and the worst thing was that as soon as it was over, he and his father would be going to the airport to fly to Washington DC. Tomorrow there’d be another funeral.

Shaking his head softly, William wasn’t sure if he could stand to see his mother cry, too.




Washington DC
October 18th, 2014

As soon as Scully saw them, she rushed forward as quickly as her feet would carry her and engulfed William in a hug. He was only about two inches shorter than she was and he wasn’t sure if that or her tired appearance surprised him more. It seemed to him as though she hadn't slept at all in the eight weeks since he'd flown back New Mexico. The last glimpse he'd had of her then was of her leaning forward to wave to him though the airport window, while Ethan's protective arm around her waist kept her from falling.

Ethan. Although he was sad for his mother’s sake, it was hard to muster up much grief for the dead man himself. It wasn’t as though he’d disliked his stepfather, but only that he’d barely gotten to know him. They’d met for the wedding a year ago, and lived together over the summer because William had been spending summers with his mother since they’d reconciled, but he and Ethan had politely stayed out of each other’s way for the most part. He’d been an okay guy, good to his mother, and that’s about all William had cared about. It was good to see her happy, like his father was.

Except now both Cat and Ethan were gone, and his parents looked like they half wished they were too.

Something stirred in his memory as his mother led the way to the baggage corral. On a windy beach almost exactly two years earlier, his father told him, Benji, and Owen about the X-Files and all the strange things he and Scully had seen over the years. It was Mulder's confession that he'd been buried that the boy was thinking of. He suddenly got a clear mental picture of his mother grieving then, expecting a baby at that time too, just as she was now. He wondered if she’d looked so careworn when she’d carried him. There’d been a funeral then as well, but unlike his father, there was no chance that Ethan would be resurrected later on. And now the baby she expected wasn't nestled under her heart. Sighing, he decided it was probably better for her health that a surrogate carried that burden for her.

Walking a little quicker, he caught up to her and squeezed her arm. It had to be hard to associate death and birth the way she had to. A few months ago she was thrilled that the experiment she'd volunteered for had been successful, meaning that she and Ethan were going to be parents. What could she be feeling now? Giving her a small smile, he silently vowed to be there for her as much as he could, so it would be easier on her. This time. He owed her that much.

// End Prologue






Chapter One

Seven months earlier

New Mexico
February 14th, 2014

Snow fell from the sky at a furious rate. Their father said it was because of a global climate shift, but they didn't really care. As far as they were concerned that much snow was a gift from mother nature, or maybe God.

William was nearly as enthusiastic about the unexpected snow as he siblings where. His spirits had been high all day because a girl he liked had accepted his invitation for the school dance being held later that night. The cold was making William's cheeks a rosy red, but he scarcely noticed, but it alarmed him a little that Delaney's face was almost as pink as her snowsuit. His little brothers weren't quite as fair, so their faces weren't as pink as his, but given only William and Delaney had inherited fair skin from their mothers it wasn't surprising.

All six children were out in the snow, with William more or less keeping an eye on the younger ones, all unaware that Cat was also frequently at the window to see how they were doing. Benji, Owen and Kyle dragged sleds around the yard, trying to find a satisfying hill, and were noisy about their lack of luck. On the other hand William chose to play with his youngest siblings, lending his strength and hand-eye coordination to Avery and Delaney's attempts to make a snowman.

As soon as he set the snowball for the head atop of the body, he felt a tug on his coat. "My put carret, Will." Delaney's small face looked very serious, even with dirty blonde curls falling into her eyes.

She shrieked when he swung her up in the air and nearly dropped the carrot she clutched in one mittened fist. With a little help she was able to firmly plant the vegetable nearly in the middle of the snowman's face. As soon as William put her on her feet Avery got ansy. "Now me, Will. Gotta put on the hat."

"Boy, you're getting heavy," Will teased.

"Nuh uh. I'm just growin'."

"Same thing." William shrugged. "Luckily I'm growing too so I'm strong enough to pick up a heavyweight like you."

"Uh huh." Avery poked out his tongue as he concentrated on settling the hat on the snowman's head. "All done."

"Oh good. My arms were getting tired."

"You lie."

"I get tired too, you know."

"No he doesn't," Benji said as he joined them. "Don't let him fool you, Ave, he's never tired just like dad. Kind of like that commercial on that tape from a long time ago. They keep going and going and…"

"I know," Avery agreed. "The bunny's funny."

"You guys are weird," William complained. "And I thought you were sledding."

"We were." Benji let the rope to his sled drop to the ground. "But there aren't any good hills to do it on."

"Maybe Dad's got an idea about how to build a hill," William mused aloud.

"Do you think so?"

"If he can fight off aliens for years, he can probably help us sled."

"Let's go ask him then!" Owen shouted, making them all jump because he'd been far back in the yard with Kyle up until then.

"Yeah let's." William almost ran off with the other boys before noticing that Delaney was stumbling through the snow; since she wasn't quite two yet he supposed that it was normal for her to have trouble on the uneven terrain. He made her shriek again when he tucked her under his arm and ran for the house, beating the others. They cried "fowl" as they poured through the front door, despite William's attempts to explain that the word was "foul". He blamed the Daffy Duck cartoons that their father bought them.




4:30pm

William barely had time to put his sister down and take off his coat before Cat handed him the phone, mouthing 'good timing, it's your mother'.

"Hi Mom, happy Valentines!" William said enthusiastically.

"You too, Will. Do you have a few minutes to talk?"

"Yup. I've got three hours til the dance."

"Are you going with a girl?" Scully asked.

"Yeah," he muttered shyly. "Taylor. She's in my science class. But what did you want to talk to me about?"

He wandered to his room with the cordless phone as he spoke.

There was a slight hesitation before she answered. "How would you feel about having a younger brother or sister? "

William blinked in puzzlement. "I have four younger brothers and baby sister. You know that."

"Will, Ethan and I want a baby."

"You want to adopt? Do they let you adopt if you gave a kid up for adoption? 'Cause in the old Sims game Dad gave us you can't-"

"There aren't laws that say you can't, that I know of. I'm sure it's harder to get approved, in any case. We don't want to adopt, though. We want our own baby."

"But I thought you couldn't have more kids. And that you're too old." William blurted out without thinking. "Um, sorry."

"No, you're right. By normal means I couldn't have another baby. I shouldn't have been able to have you... You know what a surrogate is, don't you?"

"Yup." William's health class had covered that material.

"Okay, we'll be using one of those, because you're right, I'm not up to being pregnant at my age. Not that there aren't women who do it, mind you. There's still the problem of ova, though. There's a medical study that takes genetic material from both parents and use an ova that had the DNA removed from to create an embryo. I'm going to be part of that study. Next week."

"So you're going to be a gerbil?"

"What?"

"You know, a gerbil. Like the people that let drugs be tested on them."

To William's surprise his mother laughed. "A guinea pig. And yes."

"I knew it was a rodent," he said, unembarrassed. "So next week, huh?"

"If it goes as planned, you'll have a new brother or sister by Thanksgiving."

"Good luck."

"Thanks. Tell me about how you're doing in school…"





Washington DC
February 17th, 2014

Scully decided that William must have held off talking to his father, since Mulder took three days to call her.

In lieu of a greeting, Mulder's first words were, "What's this I hear about you guinea-pigging for a fertility study?"

"I hope you're not calling to try to talk me out of it," Scully said archly. "Not from a father of six."

"Oh no, I wouldn't think of it," he said placatingly. "You deserve every happiness."

"Then why are you calling?"

"To wish you good luck. Cat and I never needed luck, but I'm well aware that you've struggled because of what they did to you... I just want this for you."

"I'm touched."

"Don't be. Any friend would want the same."

Scully smiled to herself. For a decade being friends with Mulder again seemed as unlikely as being struck by lightning, but things had changed radically in the last year. Thanks to William. "Well, thanks."

"If you need any baby clothes in a few months, especially for a boy, let me know."

"Are you sure you won't need them yourself?" Scully teased.

"Oh no." Mulder laughed. "Six kids is our limit. We could already recast Eight Is Enough."

"You know, there was a TV show in the late eighties called Just The Ten Of Us too."

"Go on, keep it up. Karma will get you and you'll have sextuplets."

"That's an evil thought," Scully complained. "I never wished multiple births on you."

"You've got to admit, you'd look funny carrying triplets if there'd been two more of William, since you'd of been as round as you were t-"

She muttered an oath about men's insensitivity, but her next words were on a different subject. "So how did Will's dance go?"

"He came home in a good mood, so I'd guess that it went pretty well."

"You guess? You mean you didn't talk about it?" She sounded surprised.

"Nope. That's not what Dads do. It's not what sons do either, come to think of it. Maybe you should hope for a girl if you want to know all the dishy details."

"Dishy?"

"Cat's a bad influence on my vocabulary."

"Speaking of bad influences...you'll never guess who is on my roster for my next class."

"Don't leave me in suspense."

"Cadets Kryder and Praise."

"That either of those boys is old enough to be in the FBI makes me feel very old," Mulder complained. "But who knew way back when we'd be someone's role models?"

"I think it's safe to say, that for better or worse, we touched a lot of lives."

He suddenly laughed. "Just hope you never teach cadets Eve and Eve."

"Ugh. They'd never pass the psych screening."

"Are you sure? I did, after all."

"I'm sure there was divine invention at work there," she noted dryly. "As for 'those boys', they've both requested placement on the X-Files."

"I wonder if Kersh would go for that."

"Don't know. When I see John and Monica, I'll ask them about it." Scully suddenly heard the sounds of dishes clattering over the phone. "Sounds like we'd better wrap things up. Tell William that I said I love him."

"I will. Good luck with...everything."

"Thanks. Bye."

"Bye."




Ethan joined her on the couch after she hung up; while she was on the phone he'd wandered off to give her some privacy, which she had to admit she appreciated. He put his arm around her, and she leaned into him. "How's Will?"

"Good. I told Mulder about Kevin and Gibson being on my class roster. He didn't seem very surprised."

"Hmm."

She pulled away from his suddenly, so she could face him. "Are we doing the right thing?"

He didn't need to ask what she meant. Instead he squeezed her hand. "Now that you've scared away all the little green men, the world couldn't be safer for a baby."

She rolled her eyes at his self-satisfied look. He only humored her about her experiences on the X-Files. "You mean gray. And I was being serous. We're not young-"

"You'll live to be a hundred. I think a fifty-year-old orphan isn't too sad. Besides, he or she will have Will to look after them."

"That's true." She closed her eyes and tried to imagine her children together during the summers. "He's already got a lot of big brother experience under his belt."

"Everything will work out great, you'll see."

For a moment, she did see it. This baby wouldn't suffer from being genetically altered in a way that would cause an early death; it wouldn't be the target of a global conspiracy that would lead to a decade's estrangement from its parents...the baby would just be normal. And normal was good.




After dinner Cat found Mulder on the floor of their walk-in closet. She raised an eyebrow and then leaned over him, casting a shadow that made him look up. "What are you doing?"

"Looking for some old files." The files on his lap backed up his story. "Scully mentioned two of the people who were going to be in her next class, and I sort of wanted to refresh my memory."

"You have files on future FBI agents?"

"Only ones who had been part of our case loads. Gibson Praise and Kevin Kryder."

"Ah. I know who Gibson is, but who is the other man?"

Mulder grinned up at his wife, a bit nonplused by little Kevin being called a man. Not that he was so little any more. "Almost nineteen years ago Scully and I investigated a case about someone killing people who pretended to exhibit stigmata. One of the potential victims was a nine-year-old boy named Kevin."

"You saved him," she said it with conviction. It wasn't a question.

"Scully did. His mother died, though, and his father was broken and crazy, so after she rescued him he was put into the foster care system."

"And then?"

Mulder shrugged. "Then he had a foster family, his father recovered…and I guess he grew up. He and Gibson are about the same age. It's hard to believe that they're old enough for Quantico now. More than old enough, actually, since you only have to be twenty-three and they're in their late twenties."

He expected her to say the same sorts of things Scully had, about how they had been role models for the boys, had inspired them…but she didn't. "I'm surprised they didn't write you for character references."

The laugh came out of his throat so suddenly he was surprised that he didn't choke. "What, and make sure they didn't get in?"

His wife patted him affectionately on the shoulder. "Your reputation can't be that bad after all these years."

"Oh, if only you knew, Babe."

"There's only one thing I want to know right now, Fox." She gave him a coy smile. "When are you going to get around to loading the dishwasher?"

Mulder hauled himself to his feet with a snort, leaving his memories on the floor behind him.




Chapter Two

Washington, DC
June 17th, 2014

The sun glared off the landing strip, and William shaded his eyes as he started down the stairs of the plane. Even before he got to the door of the airport the strap of his carry-on bag was biting into his shoulder, making it ache. Grimacing a little, he wished that he were older and stronger, so that sort of thing wouldn't bother him.

"Will!"

His mother's voice floated across the open space, only partially filled with cheap plastic seats and milling people. Looking up, he saw that she was by the baggage corral, so he hurried over.

She hugged him before she said anything, or gave him the chance to. The slimness of her figure startled him for a moment, but before he opened his mouth to ask about that, he remembered: the baby she and Ethan were waiting on was being carried by another woman, one who had been paid for the loan of her womb. Sometimes, when he dreamed, he saw his mother as she must have been when he was about to be born.

He didn't understand the dreams. Back when the aliens had tried to take over the earth, Scully had promised him that she'd get his uncle Jeffery to fix him, and make him a normal boy again. His uncle had given him the same shot that he had ten years earlier, and had joked that it was just like a tetanus boaster, something he'd probably need every ten years. It made William think that maybe he needed to know how to make the serum too, because his uncle was probably not going to outlive him.

In any case, Scully's promise had turned out to be half true. The strange and frightening powers that he'd suddenly acquired while near the beacon did fade away. He couldn't feel his parents' emotions any more, and he couldn't lift so much as a feather without moving his hands.

But he still dreamed of things that might happen.

Once he'd told Cat about them, and she'd laughed, telling him that it was probably symbolism. That had puzzled him, because although they'd gone over the term in his English class a couple of years earlier, he didn't know what dreaming of his pregnant mother was a symbol of.

Cat suggested that it might be his mind's way of making a connection between himself and his soon-to-be sibling. He'd nodded and said that was probably it. But it wasn't that part of the dream that he worried about. It was that they were always so sad in the dream.

That scared the hell out of him.

"What color is your bag?" Until he spoke William hadn't realized that his stepfather was even there. The graying blond man had a way of being quiet that William wasn't used to.

"Um, navy blue. It has a green tag on it."

It didn't seem to take Ethan any effort at all to carry his suitcase, and William found himself envying that. He couldn't wait to be an adult.




While Ethan drove, Scully reached into the backseat and put something into William's hands. "I thought you might be curious."

William sensed a bit of hopefulness to her tone, so he mustered up his enthusiasm. "You're right, I am. Thanks, Mom." He just hoped that she wasn't going to launch into an interrogation about if he was thinking about science as a career. Why were adults always asking kids things like that? He was beginning to think that they were looking for suggestions about what they could do with their own lives.

"You're welcome, Will," she replied happily, then turned to face front again.

The titles of the hardcover books in his hands had theme to them. "Motherhood after 50," "Surrogacy," and "Empty Ova, Bright Futures."

"The book on top is by Joan Lunden. She used to be a news anchor when you were small. The same surrogate carried two sets of twins for her. They were born when Joan was 54 and 56."

"Yeah…" He didn't feel like having a discussion about how older their mother would be when the baby graduated from high school, and it was really the third book that had caught his attention anyway. "What's this 'Bright Futures' book about?"

"It's what your mother and I did," Ethan told him.

After that illuminating answer, Scully elaborated. "For about ten years now they've been working on ways to remove the genetic material - DNA - from a donor egg, so they can put the DNA of another person in the egg to form an embryo when that 'fixed' egg is combined with sperm."

"So a gay couple could have a baby?" William asked.

"Theoretically," Scully agreed. "Some people claim to have already used the technology that way, but none of the claims have been substantiated yet, like the human cloning people claimed to have done in the early part of this century, which is a big distinction between possible and possibly possible. However, they have been able to produce viable embryos for women who don't have healthy eggs of their own."

"Like you."

"Like me. The oldest product of this method of reproduction is a healthy three-year-old girl named Anya."

"So they have done this before." He'd been wondering that since February. It didn't seem to him as though his mother was the rash type who'd jump to volunteer for something completely untested. His father on the other hand, was easier to imagine doing something cutting edge…

"Several times," Scully told him. "And the baby is very healthy, so there's nothing to worry about there, despite his unusual method of conception."

William nodded, but he thought that the weird science stuff was a lot easier to think of than his mother and stepfather making a baby the typical way. "Do you know if the baby is going to be a girl or boy?" As soon as the words were out of his mouth he regretted his phrasing; he could imagine a teacher like his mother lecturing that the baby's gender had been determined at conception.

"Boy," Ethan said. "We're going to name him Cole Minette, after my father."

"Cool." He figured it was his mother's idea, give he was named after his grandfathers too. "He won't have six other kids in his class with the same name."

"Nope," Ethan agreed.

"But he probably won't get picked like my dad did, 'cause Cole isn't too strange a name."

"If he does get picked on, hopefully he'll hold his own like your dad did too."

Will smiled, a little surprised that Ethan thought his dad was tough. Had they ever met? If not then his mother must have said something.

"Or he'll insist that no one ever us his first name. I'm not sure I could handle calling our son Minette," Scully joked.

"I'm sure we'd get used to it," Ethan said dryly.

By this time William's mind was on other things. "Have you ever met the woman?" He blurted out.

"What woman?" his mother asked blankly.

"The, uh, surrogate."

"Oh her. Of course. We see Lindsey about once a month."

"Sure do. Sometimes we go to her doctor's appointments," Ethan added.

"Why do you ask, Will, do you want to meet her?" Scully asked.

"No. I don't know. It's just I can't figure out why a woman would do it. How can you carry a baby then give it away?"

Ethan shrugged without taking his hands from the steering wheel. "I think it helps that the baby isn't hers."

"I don't know..," William said doubtfully. "I read some cases where the women went to court over it before giving in."

"It helps to pick the right woman."

"But, Mom, how do you know someone's the right one?"

"The right type of woman has kids of her own, and is pretty sure she doesn't want more. But the best pick is someone who has done it before."

"So you know she can do it without wanting to keep the baby?"

"Exactly. And Lindsey had a little girl for a couple almost two years ago."

"Okay." He smiled a little for his mother's benefit, but behind his eyes he was thinking of the two other women who'd had important rolls in his life. They'd taught him that some people could love another person's child easily, and some had a hard time of it. For the first time in his life he found himself hoping that someone would be like his adopted mother had been.

"I haven't talked to your dad yet, but you're welcome to come up here for part of your Thanksgiving break," Scully said. "The baby should be a few days old by that point."

Although the idea of being around a newborn didn't fill him with glee, he knew that it meant a lot to his mother, so he grinned at her. "Or maybe the week after, so I can get out of school for a few days."

"You!"

"I can't believe that I'm going to have another brother," William remarked. "Just one sister and five brothers, what are the odds?"

"There's this guy who works for the paper who does all the statistics for the stories," Ethan told him. "Maybe I can get him to figure that out for you."

William was about to tell him that he didn't need to bother, but he thought it might hurt Ethan's feelings. And who knew what statistics like that might come in handy for a paper? His teachers sure seemed fond of assigning them.




New Mexico
July 6th, 2014

"Give me back the ball, A-hole!"

"Dad!" Benji's indignant voice was shrill.

Mulder turned immediately. "Owen, do not use that word," he warned.

"But Dad! We sing a song that uses it at school, the song calls someone an-"

"Owen!"

"Well, it does."

"Yeah right," Benji muttered.

"It's true! Mom sings it with Delaney even."

His older brother gave him an outraged look. "Mom does not sing songs with swears in them to the baby!"

"Yeah huh. It goes ' Dear Liza, dear Liza, A-hole.'"

Benji covered his face with his hands and muttered, "You are sooo dumb."

"Owen, that song is about a person telling his wife about a hole in the bottom of a bucket. The man was not calling her names," Mulder explained.

"Oh."

Mulder studied his son's face, wondering if he really had misinterpreted the song lyrics, or if the claim was a desperate attempt to avoid punishment. Owen's expression was always guileless, so it was hard to tell.

"I'm gonna go play legos with Kyle," Owen muttered, taking off suddenly.

"Why are you so hard on Owen?" Mulder asked Benji after they both watched the younger boy walk back to the house.

Benji shrugged. "He gets on my nerves sometimes. And I know that he's going to follow me around at school. I wish I was going to be at Will's school instead of with Owen and Kyle."

Mulder wool-gathered for a moment, remembering how much it bugged him when Samantha tagged along after him. Remembering now made him feel slightly guilty, but he didn't think his second son ought to, just for feeling something nearly all older siblings did. "You'll go to middle school next year, and Owen will still be at the elementary school. He'll learn how to get along without you."

"Yeah, but Will won't be there then. He'll be at high school." The boy's voice was wistful.

"He'll still be there when you're in ninth grade."

"Barely. He'll be almost grown up then."

"Don't talk like that, Kid," Mulder groaned. "You make me feel old."

"Sorry... Dad, why does Will got to be gone all summer?" The topic shift was so sudden that it seemed to take Benji by surprise too.

"He spends almost the whole year with us, Benji. It's only fair that his mother get to spend time with him too."

"Do you think he's having fun with Dana and Ethan?"

It gave Mulder a little start to hear "Dana", but the kids had been calling her that since she'd come to stay with them a year and a half earlier.

"He seemed pretty happy when I talked to him on Sunday. Did he seem happy to you?"

"Yeah, but Dana's nice, so that's good. I miss him, though."

"He'll be back next week, in time for Kyle's birthday." Mulder put his hand on Benji's shoulder. "Hey, try to be a little nicer to Owen, okay? He looks up to you - the same way you look up to Will."

"All right," Benji said reluctantly.

"Why don't you go ask your mom if she thinks it's okay if we go get some ice cream?"

"Okay!"

Mulder smiled as he watched his son run towards the house.




Washington DC
July 20th, 2014

"Will, I was planning to go fishing this morning. Do you want to come with me?"

After he spit out his toothpaste, William looked up. It didn't sound like much fun, but he thought of his mother's repeated request that he spend some time getting to know Ethan. "Sure, why not?"

Since he was only thirteen he didn't need a fishing license, and Ethan had a spare pole, so they were soon on their way.

As they pulled up to the pier that seemed to be their destination, Ethan asked, "Your Dad ever take you fishing?"

"Nah. He doesn't like to fish." Will didn't bother to add that Mulder's disclosure of that dislike had included references to giant alligators, man-like fluke worms, and an unidentified thing with many tentacles.

"But he does other stuff with you kids."

"Yeah. We do lots of stuff with him: movies, hikes, the beach. Stuff like that. Especially now that my youngest brothers are getting bigger. I bet we'll take Laney too, once she's out of diapers. Cat's not a fan of the outdoors, though."

Ethan cast his line. "You know, when your mom first told me that you were living with your Dad, I thought that was strange. I even wondered if he'd taken you away from her, until she explained. You do seem happy with him, though."

"I love my mom, too," William said a little defensively. When he'd first met her again he'd been determined to hate her for giving him to his emotionally distant adopted parents. But he'd later forgiven her when he'd been made to realize she'd done what she'd thought was best for him. Still, he felt guilty when reminded of his past attitude.

"I'm not suggesting that you don't," Ethan said calmly. "Just making an observation."

"Okay."

"You know that if you ever want to spend more time here, you're welcome to."

"What do you mean? Are you saying that you think that I'm going to become unhappy with living at my Dad's?"

Ethan shook his head. "I'm afraid I'm not being very articulate. Chalk it up to doing sports news - all jargon, no feelings beyond joy and sorrow... Anyway, what I was trying to get at, and failing miserably to, was to tell you that nothing is going to change the fact that your mother and I are always happy to have you here."

"Uh, okay..." William gave his stepfather a puzzled look.

"Which is to say that we won't feel differently once your brother arrives."

"Oh." William finally understood the awkward message. "I'm glad to hear that."

Ethan looked relieved, and he clapped Will's shoulder. "I'm glad we got that out there. I think you need to rebait your hook. Looks like something took advantage of our distraction."

Given that his line was bobbing half-heartedly near some weeds, he couldn't argue with the observation.




New Mexico
August 30th, 2014

"…happy birthday to you, Happy dear Kyle, happy birthday to you!"

Kyle’s eyes sparkled as Cat lowered the cake down in front of him to a chorus of oohs and ahhs from the adults about how pretty it was. The six-year-old birthday boy was more concerned with having cake so he could open presents.

The only thing missing was his oldest brother. Kyle pouted a little when he thought about it. His Daddy had promised that William would be home for his party, but neither of them was there. While they waited for William and their father to come home, Cat had given him a watch, and helped him set it. He'd learned how to tell time in kindergarten last year, so he knew that it had been two whole hours since Mulder had left the house.

After Benji was sent to bring him and the guests out to the backyard, he'd heard his mother speaking to his uncle. She'd sighed and said that they couldn't wait forever, because all the kids were getting restless.

Not wanting his Mom to be upset, Kyle did his very best to pretend that he hardly noticed that they weren't there when his mother brought in the cake. Then someone had flashed a camera, making him look up.

"Took you long enough. I thought you were going to look at that cake all day," his father teased.

"Aww, Dad, you can't blame him, it's a really cool cake," William said.

"Will!" Kyle shouted. "You're home!"

"I told you I wasn't going to miss your birthday."

"Kyle," his mother interrupted. "Blow out candles before they get all over the cake."

"Oh yeah." Kyle took a deep breath and blew out all six candles at once. People cheered and told him he did a good job, but he barely heard them because he'd already slipped out of his chair and run to give William a hug.

"I really missed you, Will," Kyle confessed.

William looked a little surprised. "You did? I remember when you didn't like me."

Kyle looked embarrassed. "That was a long time ago. I missed you 'cause Benji and Owen are nicer to me when you're here."

His brother laughed very hard for a while, then said, "Good to know I'm useful."




After an hour or so of little kids shrieking and running around, William found himself wanting to hide. The months spent living with his mother and Ethan were a whole lot quieter, and he'd forgotten how loud his siblings and their friends could be.

"Yuck. Laney stinks," Avery remarked, wrinkling his nose.

"I forget," their sister said, looking a little woebegone.

"Um, I'll change her," William volunteered suddenly, surprising his father.

"Actually, Will, she's using pull-ups now," Mulder told him. "You just need to help her with her pants and she can do the rest," he added in a whisper, "I think the excitement made her forget to use the potty."

"Wow, Laney, you're getting to be a big girl, huh?" William found it hard to believe that she'd gotten close to being potty trained over the summer.

She giggled and then chirped, "Yup!"

Just as Mulder said, the toddler did a good job getting her wet pull up off, and putting a new one on by herself – even putting the dirty one in the trash and asking for help washing her hands. William helped her with her pants, then she was off like a shot.

He decided to linger upstairs a little longer, out of the fray. And that was how he ended up overhearing Cat talking to her friend Sue.

"Is it true?" Cat asked someone.

William wasn't sure who she was talking to until Sue answered. "Is what true?"

"That you're going to Asia on assignment in a week or so."

"Oh that. It is true. Why, are you jealous?" Sue's tone was teasing, but in a friendly way.

Cat laughed. "I don't think my two years of high school French would do me much good in Asia."

"I'm going to have an interpreter," Sue said airily. "If I like the area, I'll be sure to tell you all about it. Then you and Fox can go there on vacation."

"I'm not sure I can imagine getting him out of the country."

"Yeah, devoted family man. Sucks to be you." Both women laughed this time. "Do you think you could tear yourself away from the house long enough to pick me up in three weeks?"

"Oh, I think I can probably spare the time."

Although he grinned to himself, William was quick to go back downstairs. With Cat around her friends, you never knew when the subject might turn to weirder subjects, like bodily fluids involved in being female or ones produced by one's young offspring.

He was soon called on to marshal a game of tag. All in all it was good to be home.




Chapter three

September 22nd, 2014

The paper crinkled under William as he stared at his pediatrician, willing the man to go away. Why must doctors embarrass people by asking them about stuff from health class and the birds and the bees talks with you dad?

The doctor was giving him an expectant look. "My dad and stepmom bought a bunch of books, so I'm all set," William eventually mumbled.

"Okay. If you don't have any questions, you can get dressed while your stepmom sees the receptionist."

As soon as the doctor left the room William slid off the table and quickly got back into the jeans and long sleeve t-shirt he'd been wearing before he'd had to put on the stupid cloth johnny for the examine. Although he realized that a yearly physical was in his best interest, he hated them. Doctors never believed him when he explained that he almost never got sick - just a little cold every two or three years. It made him decide that doctors must not believe in good immune systems. Maybe it was because doctors couldn't even keep themselves from getting sick - like how his mother had had cancer before he was born.

The waiting room was noisy and crowded, but he soon spotted his sister playing with blocks while Cat spoke to the receptionist. He thought the two women must know each other outside of the setting of the doctor's office, because they were chatting.

Instead of hovering at Cat's elbow, he sat on the floor with Delaney. "Whatcha building?"

"House." His sister gave him a long suffering look. "We wait real big time."

"Yeah. I did a lot of waiting in the other room too." Looking up he saw that Cat was wrapping up her conversation, so he took his sister by the hand and walked to the counter. "Did you know they even call this room a 'waiting room'?"

Delaney's eyes sparkled as she regarded her older brother. "Yeah?"

"Yes." William smiled, but he hid a cringe. It seemed like Cat was right to complain that he and Benji had a detrimental effect on the younger kids' vocabularies. She hated slang.

Looking up, he noticed that Cat had stopped talking to the receptionist at last. "Time to go, guys."

"Yay!" the toddler cheered, clapping her hands until Cat bent down to pick her up.

"So, what did the doctor say?" Cat asked William as they were leaving the building.

"I'm healthy as a horse," William said with a grin. "Good thing that doesn't mean I have to see a vet, huh?"

"Right. That'd only fuel your brothers' desire to get a pet."

"You really don't like animals, huh?"

"Beyond your dad's fish, I don't. Especially cats."

"That's what Mr. Stevens would call ironic," William said, quoting his favorite teacher.

Cat smirked. "Don't think people let me forget that."

After buckling Delaney into her car seat, she gave both kids an apologetic smile. "Just a couple more stops, okay?"

"Sure," William said. His sister, on the other hand, looked annoyed, but hadn't started whining yet. She soon found a teddy bear stuffed under the seat, and was distracted by that, so the crisis was neatly adverted.

Not that Cat could tell because her eyes were firmly on the road ahead. "Sue is coming home from her trip today. It was supposed to be last week, but she extended her stay for some reason."

"Maybe she did something fun the extra week," William suggested.

"Could be. Or it could be that she couldn't get a flight out," Cat said. "I think we'll have to wait to hear what she has to say to solve the mystery."




Even though it was a weekday afternoon, the airport was crawling with people. It seemed to take forever for Sue to get to the car, but in reality less than ten minutes had passed while they waited in the passenger pick up area. William wasn't sure what he expected, but Sue didn't seem to have had a pleasant trip. Instead of bright eyed and smiling like she'd been at Kyle's party, she looked very tired. Even the grateful smile she gave Cat looked strained.

Apparently William wasn't the only one who noticed this, because the first words out of Cat's mouth were, "rough trip, huh? You look exhausted."

After slumping into the passenger seat, Sue nodded. "I thought I was doing myself a favor by scheduling my vacation immediately after my assignment, but it turns out that I was wrong. Thanks for picking me up, I don't think I'm up to renting a car like I'd considered doing a while ago."

"That's why you came back a week later than I expected." Cat sounded surprised. William was surprised that she'd backed up the conversation. "So where did you ended up spending your vacation?"

"London." Sue broke off with a cough. "I swear coming down with something."

"Promise not to cough on the kids," Cat warned her.

"I promise." It didn't seem to William that Sue realized that Cat had been joking.

"You plan to take it easy, don't you?"

Sue groaned. "To be honest, I feel like going to my mother's house and letting her baby me for a couple of days. But the paper would love that, me taking sick time immediately after an assignment away and a week's vacation."

In the driver's seat, Cat shrugged. "You've got to do what you've got to do."

"I guess." Sue's agreement was half-hearted at best.




Quantico
The Next Day

"…and that's why it's important to examine the deceased for signs of injections," Scully finished her lesson, and looked out at the sea of students. Most of them looked rather bored, much like Mulder had during a good portion of her scientific explanations to him. In a way she was glad that none of the students had so little respect for class as to whip out cell phones and strike up a conversation - at lunch two of her collogues had complained about cadets doing that earlier in the day. It made her sad that that was now the mark of how successful a lesson had been. Teaching was beginning to edge perilously close to entertaining, and she hadn't taken any drama classes while in college herself.

Two students hung back when she dismissed the class, and she couldn't help but smile faintly when she realized who they were. Though he was now stockier Gibson hadn't gotten a lot taller in the intervening years, but Kevin had. The little boy who'd once needed her rescuing was now a good seven or eight inches taller than her.

"It feels like old home week," Scully said, now smiling genuinely. "I was glad to hear that cadets Praise and Kryder would be in my class this semester."

Gibson smiled back, but Kevin looked surprised. "He said you'd recognize me." He pointed a thumb at the other young man.

"He's right," Scully agreed without explaining why Gibson could speak with such conviction. It wasn't her place to tell anyone about his abilities if he chose not to, and she had no idea how well the two knew each other. "You don't look so much different than you did as a small boy."

"From the way some of our female classmates were staring at him, I find that hard to believe," Gibson remarked, apparently embarrassing Kevin.

"You'd be surprised," Scully replied, this time making Kevin blush outright.

"I was right, back then," Kevin said. "You told me you thought you might see me again, and I said you would."

"So you did," Scully said, thinking about the last time she'd seen him. "You have a good memory."

Kevin shook his head. "It's you and your partner I remember clearly, not things in general." Pausing, he looked around. "But I guess he's not your partner now, huh?"

"No. He and his family live in New Mexico."

"Oh."

Gibson tapped Kevin on the shoulder, and then pointed to the clock. Kevin got the hint. "We've got to go. It's nice seeing you, Professor Scully."

"Bye," Gibson added before they both rushed out of the room.

It made Scully feel a bit depressed to see them walk out of the room, just like the rest of her students already had. Sighing, she firmly reminded herself that for the next several weeks they were her students, no different than any of the other young men or women who came and left the room. There could be no playing favorites while they were in her classroom.

Sharp footsteps in the hall made her think it was one of the boys, no young men, she reminded herself, returning to test her resolve already, but it was a young woman instead. "Professor Scully? There's a Lindsey on the phone for you."

"Thanks. I thought I gave her my cell phone number," Scully said, then remembered that she'd turned her own phone off just as she expected her students to. "Did she sound like something was wrong?"

"No. I think she said something about having to reschedule an appointment and wanting you and your husband to know before showing up for it."

"That's good. Thank you."

As she followed the secretary down the hall to speak with the woman carrying her unborn son, her thoughts turned to her first born. He wasn't much older than the boys she'd once helped save, but he seemed a lot less helpless. Not that she'd admit that to the two potential agents. She'd saved William's life as well, but then, once upon a time, he'd saved her and Mulder too.




New Mexico
later that week

The front door banged closed, making William look up from his homework in alarm. It was four, so it had to be Cat returning from dropping her column off at the paper. She rarely got angry, so William had half convinced himself that the door had just gotten away from her when he heard her raised, excited voice.

Making his steps quiet, he followed the sound of voices. His parents looked tense, but he didn't get the impression that they weren't having a fight.

"What's wrong?" he asked, unable to keep from sounding worried.

"Susie's in the hospital," Mulder explained.

"What? Did she have an accident?"

Cat shook her head. "No. Remember how she was feeling under the weather when we picked her up at the airport? She's gotten a lot sicker."

"With what?" William asked, imagining that she'd picked up an exotic bug. "Malaria or something?"

"The flu."

"The flu?" he asked blankly. "The flu doesn't make you sick enough to go into the hospital unless you're real old."

"That's not true, Will," His father told him. "What people claim is 'the flu' usually isn't. People call bad colds or even a virus that upsets their stomach or intestines the flu."

"What's the flu then?" Will asked, realizing that he was guilty of such generalizing.

"High fever, chills, achiness, headaches, a cough that usually doesn't bring anything up, and a complete lack of energy. Even after people are on the mend it usually takes them weeks before they get over being exhausted all the time."

"That sounds pretty bad, but why would it put someone like Sue in the hospital?"

Cat sighed. "The flu has a way of leading to complications, especially for people who have asthma or other breathing difficulties."

William repressed a shudder. He'd seen Cat have an asthma attack during the winter, and she'd gasp like a fish out of water until she'd spilled her purse to find her inhaler.

"But in some cases, like Sue's, they're not sure why people get so sick."

"She smokes," Mulder said with mild disdain. "That compromises lung function too."

"That's true," Cat admitted.

William shook his head. "I don't think it matters why she's sick, at least not as much as if she's going to get better or not. Is she going to get better?"

The expression on his stepmother's face was bleak. "I hope so, Will."

Frowning to himself, William turned away. She'd all but admitted that the woman wasn't going to make it. Sue seemed like a nice woman, but he didn't know her all that well. Still, it would be terrible if she died.

"I hope so too," Mulder added softly. "Do you need any help on that homework, Sport?"

"Um. Yeah," William answered, even though it wasn't true. Anything to get away from the sadness that suddenly permeated the room. "Maybe you could look over my math problems for me."

"Sure," Mulder agreed. On the way out of the room he stopped and said something to Cat so quietly that William couldn't hear what it was. All he knew was that it did nothing to lift the defeated look off of Cat's face.




September 30th, 2014

Sue died on a Tuesday. During the afternoon, with her parents and Cat in attendance.

Cat had come home with eyes rimmed an angry red, and had cried in Mulder's arms when she told him about how she'd waited and waited for Sue's parents to arrive, more than half sure that Sue would die before they got there. They lived in Vermont, so it was a long flight, and it was all Sue could do to hold on. She had, though, living two more hours after her parents rushed into her room.

"It was so terrible, Fox. She barely breathed, and you'd think she was eighty, or maybe a leaky radiator, from the sounds coming from her chest. Death really does rattle, it does, it does."

Then Mulder murmured something indistinct, and then there was silence except for their own, unlabored, breathing.

William listened. He wasn't supposed to have heard any of the exchange, but he'd clothed himself in shadows and squeezed between the doorframe and the wall to eavesdrop. It wasn't that he was willfully being disrespectful, but he had to know if it was as bad as everyone said.

The news claimed that it was an epidemic, running rampart in several countries, especially in Europe. Sue had been there, so that's how William figured she'd gotten sick. There were only a few hundred cases in the US, and only some of them had so far ended as badly as with Sue.

But he couldn't stop himself from thinking about that crowded airport, and how many people there must have been on Sue's flight, and a dozen other flights just like it.

Eventually Cat stopped crying, and William could hear her going up the stairs. He stepped out of the shadows and walked over to his father.

"You weren't supposed to be listening there."

"I know," William admitted. "Is Cat okay?"

"She just lost one of her closest friends, Will. I don't think she's anywhere in the neighborhood of okay."

"Yeah, poor Sue…is it going to be bad here, too, Dad?" Mulder gave him a puzzled look, so he rushed to clarify. "The flu. We saw a news story in school that said that like fifty thousand people in the UK have it. And lots of them have died. Like Sue."

Instead of ruffling his hair and telling him not to be silly, Mulder said, "It could be."

"But what about flu shots?" William asked. "We all get them every year, don't we? Did she forget to get her shot?"

The US began requiring yearly flu shots of all school-age children in 2009, and most adults also got them as well. William had watched as Mulder and Cat dutifully had gotten theirs just weeks earlier.

Mulder gave a small shake of his head. "She didn't forget. The paper wouldn't let her forget, especially since she was going to be going overseas for that story." Her last story, his expression reminded the boy.

"Why did Sue get the flu then?"

"I don't think you understand how flu shots work, Will. They make the shot for what the flu that they think will be the problem in the coming year, not all the flu variants there are out there."

"Why not? How come they don't vaccinate us against all of them?"

"Well, there's the money involved, of course. It would be prohibitively expensive to make a vaccine for every flu imaginable, especially when most of the strains will never bother many people. Then there's practicality. The flu likes to mutate, so it's not even possible to make a vaccine against everything. That's what happened here. They vaccinated us against the worst flu from last year, but another virus mutated and is attacking the populace."

"So we're screwed?" Noticing the unhappy look on his father's face, he mumbled. "Uh, sorry."

"They'll be able to make a vaccine in a few months, perhaps. But yes, until then, we're screwed."

"You're not making me feel any better!" William accused.

Mulder shrugged. "Part of being a parent of a teenager is teaching your children to accept reality instead of shielding them from it."

"Then I wish I was seven," William sighed.

"Don't think adults don't ever feel that way too," Mulder told him. "Help me find the takeout menus. I'm pretty sure Cat's in no mood to cook tonight."

"Don't blame her," he remarked, and headed to the drawer near the phone where the glossy menus were stored.




The next day

William was in a good mood when he got to Mister Stevens' first period class the next day. He'd finished reading their assigned book, Full Dark by Shannon Shepherd, a day early, so he was feeling good about the discussion that the class was bound to have about the second third of the book. But when he looked towards the front of the room, he didn't see his teacher, and there were three desks empty too.

Learning over to speak to Bailey, he asked, "Hey, where's mister Stevens?"

Bailey looked surprised. "You didn't hear?"

"Hear what?"

"A whole bunch of people are out sick today with that flu."

William's eyes widen. "Is Mister Stevens sick too?"

"Yeah. We're getting a sub, but she's not here yet," Bailey said, looking a tinge too gleeful about having a sub to torture.

"That's not good. One of my stepmom's friends died of the flu yesterday."

"No way. That sucks." Bailey sounded sincere. "But Mister Stevens isn't older or a baby or anything, so he'll probably be fine."

"Sue wasn't old either," William said under his breath. The sub arrived, and William couldn't help but thinking about his teacher and his three sick classmates instead of the instructions to take out their books and read.

Heaving a nearly inaudible sigh, he pulled out his book and wondered what to do given he was done the book. The sub didn't look like she would have any clue, so he opened the book up to the middle and looked for his favorite part.




Chapter four

Quantico
October 3rd, 2014
3:15 PM

A noise startled Scully, but she didn't lift her head from the exam she was correcting. "I'm sorry, but my office hours ended at two."

"Doctor Scully?"

Being referred to as doctor rather than professor got her attention, so when she looked up at last she wasn't surprised to see a dour looking man in a suit rather than one of the casually dressed young people she taught. "Can I help you?"

"That's what I'm here to find out," the man told her, without a hint of smile. "My name is Michael Thayer, and I work for the center for disease control."

"Oh." Scully was puzzled. "What do you think it is that I might be able to do for the CDC?"

"I'm sure you're aware that the current strain of influenza has reached epidemic proportions," Thayer said abruptly.

"Of course. It's hard not to hear the numbers being thrown at you by the news on an hourly basis."

"Nine thousand, seven hundred and fifty-three."

"Excuse me?"

"Nine thousand, seven hundred and fifty-three," Thayer repeated. "That's the number of known cases in the US to date, and those are merely the ones reported by the hospitals, which means that many more people have likely had it and were not treated. Eight hundred and twenty seven of those people admitted to the hospital have already died of it."

Scully looked startled. "That's a huge mortality rate!"

"I'm well aware of that, Doctor Scully."

"Of course, you would be," she mumbled before prompting. "You were going to explain the reason for your visit?"

"We'd like to enlist your help in containing this epidemic."

"My help? In what way am I qualified?"

The look Thayer gave her was mildly amused. "We're asking as many doctors as we can find to help us with this. Primarily doctors who are not practicing privately or in hospitals, so we're not drawing away people who might be helping already in other capacities."

"What exactly is it that you're rounding up doctors to do?" Scully asked.

"We're hoping to recruit doctors to work as part of our quarantine teams."

"These teams are to do, what, exactly?"

"This flu strain is proving to be very virulent, and highly contagious. Starting tomorrow, when a person is brought into a hospital to be treated for influenza, a quarantine team will be dispatched to their home, and will quarantine everyone who lives in the house for two weeks."

Scully balked. "Don't you think that's a little heavy handed?"

"Do you have any idea what sort of numbers Europe is looking at right now?" Thayer waited for her to shake her head. "A week ago there were fifty thousand known cases. Today there are one hundred and thirty thousand cases. Here in the US we've been averaging a thousand new cases a day, but closer to two thousand a day since the second of this month. It might very well seem like a fascist move to quarantine the families of victims, but I don't think any of us want to see there be a hundred thousand cases here by the middle of the month."

"No, I don't suppose anyone wants that," Scully said faintly. "If I do agree to help you-"

"We've already gotten Quantico to agree to give leaves of absence to any doctors who are willing to join us," Thayer said quickly.

"That's good to know, but it isn't what I was going to say. My husband and I are expecting a baby right before Thanksgiving-" She glowered at him when he gave her a disbelieving look. "-and I don't want to risk giving the flu to him or his surrogate mother, so I would need to stop assisting the CDC by the second week of November."

"Acceptable. It is our sincere hope that this epidemic will have passed by then, anyway."

"One can only hope," Scully agreed.

"So, can we count on your help?"

"I suppose so…"

"Very good," Thayer said happily. "We'll be collecting doctors from Quantico at 8am tomorrow, and assigning them to teams. Until tomorrow, Doctor Scully."

"Um…Good-bye," Scully said, wondering what she'd just gotten herself into.




5pm

The house was dark when Scully got home, so she assumed that she was home alone. However, when she hung her keys up she saw Ethan's car out the window.

"Ethan?" she called, but not too loudly, in case he was sleeping.

Her suspicion proved to be correct because she found him curled up in their bed. Not sleeping though.

He struggled to sit up when Scully opened the door a few inches. "Hey, Sweetie."

"Hey yourself. Not feeling well?"

"Just tired. Guess I didn't sleep very well last night, because I came home all tired out. I feel better now, though."

"That's good," Scully told him. She touched his forehead and it was cool.

He pulled away from her, but grinned. "I told you, I'm just tired. How was your day?"

"Strange."

"How so?" Ethan wanted to know.

"I was visited by someone from the CDC and recruited to help them with efforts to keep the flu from spreading. In a fit of insanity, I said that I'd do it."

"The feds don't mind?" Ethan asked.

"The CDC guy got their blessing before they approached us."

"Us?"

"Four other professors with medical degrees agreed to help out."

"What are you going to be doing?"

"Apparently we're going to be doing examinations of people who are to be quarantined."

This made Ethan raise his eyebrows. "Who are they planning to quarantine?"

"The families of people brought into hospitals to be treated for the flu."

"That's going to go over well."

"I'm sure it won't."

"Do you suppose it will really be effective at combating the flu?"

"Honestly? I have serious doubts that it will. It's more of the CDC making a show of doing something than anything else."

"So they'll make people endure being locked up in their houses for nothing?"

She shrugged. "They won't be coming in contact with anyone else who's ill, so maybe their risks of getting sick too will be reduced."

"Or maybe they're not sick already because they're immune," Ethan pointed out.

"Maybe," Scully said reluctantly. "But it's only for two weeks anyway."

Ethan gives her a tired smile that doesn't speak of good humor. "It's easier to say that when you're the one who's on the outside of the closed door."

"I suppose you'll have to report us to the ACLU then," Scully replied shortly.

"Don't be like that, Dana. I'm not myself today. Forgive me for misspeaking."

"All right." But she was not convinced that he was wrong. Even hours later she still had doubts about what she'd agreed to too.




Washington, DC
October 6th, 2014

The work was already beginning to wear Scully down, and it had only been a couple of full days. This was only early in the third day. She knew that part of her was worn down because Ethan's tiredness had progressed to "It's just a cold, Sweetie. Everyone at the paper has it," but the lion's share of stress was her new work. It made her miss teaching.

The van, which she thought was appropriately colored blood red, stopped in front of yet another house. She was already beginning to lose track of the number of places that they'd already visited. This one was already the third one that day.

She stared at the building with a heavy heart. Like most of the others, it was completely dark. People had begun to catch on after the first day, mostly because the news had taken it upon themselves to telegraph the CDC teams' every move.

One thing was clear: the CDC teams were as welcome as pestilence itself. No one wanted them there, and it made Scully as afraid as some of her cases made her. Some people threatened, some attempted to be violent, or run away.

Worst of all, some hid. As they poured out of the van, a sinking feeling filled her. That would be the case here as well. The grim faces around her said that her teammates recognized the signs too.

She stood back as someone knocked on the door, though everyone knew full well that no one would answer. Breaking down the door would be the next step. It had already happened to various teams so often that a new team had been created - one dedicated solely to bringing and replacing front doors.

As the thumps and bangs gave away to groans and splintering of wood, Scully was tempted to cover her ears. They'd recruited her as a doctor so she was there to aide the potentially ill, not provide the muscle, but it didn't make her feel any less like a member of the Gestapo.

It didn't take long to break the door down, and for the team leader to motion them in. Scully half wished that the family had fled, but that would only prolong her least favorite part: the search.

Once in the house, the hunt began. This struck not only her as dangerous; they'd been issued helmets and bulletproof vests as soon as the CDC realized that people would threaten violence. Neither thing did much to make her feel better, because bullets were only one form of harm.

It was a small consolation, but the CDC was not shy about turning on all the lights as they looked for people. Some team members loudly announced their presence, but Scully preferred a quieter approach. It seemed to her that all the noise would only serve to make the hidden even more frightened. So she never called out while looking.

"Found one!" Rent the air. "She won't say, but pictures make it look like there are two more people living here. Kids."

Nodding to herself, she continued to methodically search each room in the area she was assigned to. In closets, shower stalls, under beds...

Behind a bed that was not flush up against a wall, she saw a flicker of movement. It might only be a nervous pet, like it had been once before, but Scully didn't think so. "Hello? Is anyone there? I'm a doctor."

"Mom told us to hide," a young voice confessed. "She said we're going to get better."

"What's your name, sweetheart?" As she spoke she inched forward towards the bed. "My name is doctor Scully."

"Billy."

"Wow, that must make you a William. That's my son's name too."

"Yeah?"

She found herself face to face with a little boy about seven years old. Lying along the wall was another boy, a couple years older, and obviously ill. Billy's pale face was sweaty too, but, with his arms wrapped around the sicker boy, he seemed determined to protect his brother. "Billy, you and your brother don't look like you feel very well."

"Not really," Billy admitted. "I haven't felt too good for days."

"I'm going to move the bed so I can take a look at your brother. What's his name?"

Billy didn't let go of his brother. "Clint."

Scully moved the bed out of the way, and crouched down to examine the boys. Billy was obviously ill, and Clint was barely conscious. "Billy, Clint is really sick. Why hasn't your mom taken him to the hospital?"

Billy's expression faded until there was no life on his face except his in haunted eyes. "Mommy says people who go into the hospital never leave."

With a sudden surety, Scully realized that this must be the house someone mentioned in passing that they'd visit today - the hospitalized family member had died.

Looking away so the boy couldn't see the doubt on her face, she said, "You and your brother are going to be okay. You'll come home. I promise."

"Okay," the little boy said trustingly. He followed like a puppy as she carried Clint out to the rest of the team.

While everyone gathered outside the house and waited for the ambulances to come to take the boys to the hospital, Scully learned that the mother wasn't sick, which meant that she'd be quarantined, away from her sons.

The woman cried and wailed as her children were loaded into the ambulances. Scully felt herself tearing up too.




New Mexico
October 7th, 2014
5:30 pm

"What this is, is a breach of our civil liberties," a heavy-set gray haired man blustered on the screen. "The government, nor any of its agencies has any right to lock people up like criminals, or circus animals. This is a complete outrage. The public shouldn't stand for it."

A mediator sat between the man and woman, and he gave the debaters nervous looks, as if he thought it would come to blows. The woman was not cowed by her opponent's declarations. "Do you believe in marshal law?"

"What does that have to do with anything?"

"If there was a war on US soil, do you support the use of marshal law to protect the citizenry?"

"Of course I do," the man grumbled.

"This is a war, sir. This is a war against disease."

"That's a ridiculous comparison. Viruses don't come in armed and attack people."

"I think you'd find that that's exactly what happens on a cellular level," the woman said smugly. "This country is now under attack. The attackers might not be coming in with guns and tanks, but they're killing US citizens left and right."

"But-"

"More Americans have died of this flu than did in the first four years of the second Gulf war. How can you sit here and declare that the government shouldn't do all in its power to stop the spread of this disease?"

The man stopped blustering, and gave her a triumphant look. "You can't prove that quarantines are stopping the spread of the disease, though, can you?"

"Well, we have infection models that'd show how fast it would spread if there were no quarantines in place-"

"But you can't give us any absolute numbers."

"Of course not…"

Another voice added itself to the mix, but from another part of the house. "William!"

Standing up, William turned off the TV. "Coming Cat!"

He'd thought that the assignment to watch the debate would be boring, but it was pretty interesting after all. It was probably harder for him to be objective than his classmates, though, because unlike them, his mother had called to say that she was firmly entrenched on one side of the issue. Therefore, he rooted for that side too.

William didn't think that she'd do something like that if it was completely wrong, but the images earlier in the program that showed the houses with the red quarantine signs on houses lingered in his mind. So far the enforcement of quarantines was limited to heavily populated areas, but after they'd talked to Scully earlier in the week, their dad had warned them that it could happen in New Mexico too.

He hoped it wouldn't.

Cat was in the living room, crouched before the fire place that they almost never used. A few times she joked that you could tell where his father had grown up, just by his insistence that the house have one. Just then, though, she was wrapped in her bathrobe and shivering.

"Cat?"

"Oh, there you are." She looked up, but didn't smile. "Are you any good at starting a fire?"

"Hmm. Not too bad."

"Give it a shot, then, would you?" Cat thrust the book of matches into his hands. "I'm so cold I can't stand it."

"Okay," he agreed, but he shot her a worried look. The house had to be close to seventy, so she shouldn't be so cold.

Since he was being modest, the fire caught after just a few minutes of effort. "All set."

"Thanks, Will," Cat said, then crossed the room to take the chair closest to the fire.

"Are you sick or something?" William asked. "You don't look like you're feeling too good."

Cat waved her hand dismissively. "I haven't been sleeping very well, and I've been upset about Sue…those sort of things take a toll on how you feel too. I just wish we weren't having this cold spell on top of everything."

William nodded, but in his head he was trying to calculate how long it would be before his father got home from shopping with the other kids. It wasn't cold.

"Can I finish watching the debate in here?" he asked.

"Sure. You made the fire, so you should get to enjoy it too," Cat told him.

The fact that she thought that made him feel a little better; it didn't seem like she realized that he wanted to stay near because he was worried. She said absolutely nothing as the debate came back on, but he found himself distracted anyway.




Virginia
October 7th, 2014
Just before Midnight

"No no!"

Harry Tate woke abruptly with a racing heart. The words that had just been spoken seemed to echo in his head, and after a couple of seconds he realized what was going on, and groaned.

"No!"

Casting the far wall a grumpy look, he threw back his covers and got out of bed. His destination was the room to the opposite direction. Yawning a little, he knocked hard on the door until his even sleepier looking roommate opened the door.

"What's the matter?" Kevin asked, and yawned himself.

"The freak is screaming again. Deal with it."

"Why-"

"You're the one who wanted us to offer the guy the room," Harry reminded Kevin. "Now make him stop, okay? We've all got class in the morning, remember?"

"Yeah, I remember…"

Kevin probably said something else, but Harry had already tuned him out. He was climbing back into bed by the time he heard a muffled knock on the door to his left. Kevin was okay, but this Gibson guy had been a big mistake. He wished that they'd let the last room in the apartment to the guy with the tattoos and a guitar after all.

If they had, that guy probably wouldn't wake up screaming once a week. Harry didn't know what Gibson's damage was, and frankly, he didn't care. All he wanted was a few more hours sleep.




Kevin, on the other hand, did care, in a vague sort of way. When he'd first met Gibson, he'd been impressed by their previously unknown connection, and more than ready to believe he must be a good guy if Scully had tried to save him too, and more than once.

But the truth was he barely knew the other man, which is why he wished he was doing almost anything but putting his hand on Gibson's doorknob after knocking proved not to roust him from his screaming.

Since he wasn't Gibson's mother, or anyone else who thought he should be treated gently, Kevin did not go over to him and carefully shake his shoulder until he woke up. Instead, he flicked a switch and flooded the room with light.

"Gibson, wake up," he demanded.

After a moment Gibson's next vocalization cut out abruptly, and he opened his eyes.

"You were yelling in your sleep," Kevin informed him, then shivered. It was too cold to be wearing only pajama pants, but he hadn't thought he was getting out of bed. "Harry's ready to strangle you."

"Sorry." Gibson groped for his glasses, and slipped them on. "I was having a bad dream."

"Maybe you should take up drinking. I hear it kills your dreams." Gibson looked at him like he was being an ass, so he added. "It was a joke, lighten up. Nightmares suck, but they're not real."

"This one is," Gibson replied.

"Oh?" Kevin asked, humoring him.

"Yeah. You know that flu that's going around?"

"Sure."

"Hundreds of thousands are going to die, and there's not a damn thing we can do about it."

"You don't know that, Gibson," Kevin said uneasily.

"I do know," Gibson said heavily. "Sometimes I hate my fucking life."

"Uh, I guess. Hopefully that's the only nightmare you'll have tonight. Else you'll have to give the getting drunk thing a shot." He gave his roommate a weak smile, and shut off the bedroom light, plunging the room in darkness again.

Walking back to his room, Kevin shook his head. Maybe he wasn't a completely normal person, not with the stigmata he'd had as a kid, but Gibson could be scarily weird.




Washington, DC
October 8th, 2014

Ethan was wrong. It wasn't a simple cold. For a long while he thought that it was, but when he got up to pee one afternoon, TV snow ate the edges of his vision, and he found himself falling down a dark tunnel.

When he exited the tunnel, Dana was bending over him, pressing something soft against his head. This annoyed him, so he tried to bat her hand away. She pursed her lips and looked down at him with a stern look. "Stop that. You're bleeding."

"I'm bleeding?" he asked, surprised.

"Do you remember hitting your head?" she asked, looking a little less worried now that he'd spoken.

"Um…I got up to go to use the bathroom."

"We're in the bathroom."

For some reason this surprised him too, but looking out of the corner of his eyes, he could see both the toilet and the tub. Admitting that he hadn't realized where he was seemed like a really bad idea, so he said instead, "I think I passed out, maybe."

"That's pretty clear," Dana agreed. "There's a splash of blood on the track to the shower doors, so that's what you hit your head on."

"I guess. I don't remember that."

"The gash on your forehead is pretty bad, and it's going to require stitches. There's an ambulance on its way."

"What? It's just a cut." When Ethan tried to sit up the world moved and his stomach tried to follow. "It can't be that bad."

"Ethan, it's not the cut, though that's bad enough. You're sick. Really sick."

He wanted to protest that he wasn't, but a cough found him then, and it made his head ache like dull razors were behind his temples. "Flu, huh?"

"As far as I can tell," Dana agreed.

"Think I'll die?" he asked, giving her a weak grin.

Looking shocked, she swatted his arm. "Don't you even joke about something like that!"

"Sorry, sorry. Gallows humor, you know? That's all I feel up to right now."

"Just rest until the ambulance gets here. We'll sort you out at the hospital."

"My hero."




Yeah, some hero, she thought. This isn't something a gun or badge can protect anyone from.

Finally, a distant whine promised that the ambulance would be there soon. Listening to it, she couldn't help but think about the woman crying about her kids earlier in the week, and if she'd kept her promise to Billy that he and Clint would get better. She'd probably never see them again, so she had no way of knowing.

For all she knew, both boys could be dead. When the paramedics came to take Ethan away, it was her turn to cry over a loved one's uncertain future.




Chapter five

Saint Vincent's Hospital
Washington DC
October 8th, 2014

Later on after Ethan was admitted, she began to think about other things, like phone calls. Her first call us to her mother, and her second to William; both to check in on their health. Maggie was well, and William reported that his siblings and his father were all fine too, but Cat was sick as well. After reassuring her son that most adults would recover, and saying goodbye, she steeled herself for her last call.

"Hi, this is Doctor Scully. I need to speak to Mr. Thayer..." The receptionist promised to get him, and put her on hold. "Creep" by Radiohead had reached its final chorus by the time Thayer picked up. Trying not to sigh, she explained her situation. "My husband has just been admitted to the hospital with the flu. Am I going to be quarantined now?"

Thayer chuckled. "Oh no. I believe we can trust is doctor to segregate herself during potential incubation period."

"But my husband is in the hospital. I can't not visit him," Scully protested anxiously.

"I don't think anyone expects you to. Promised that you'll wear a facemask while visiting, and that will satisfy me."

"Of course."

"It seems like you ended your work with us sooner than planned. We won't expect you back, and I suggest you take at least a week off from work. It will give the time to prepare for that new baby you have coming. Though I guess you'll have to order online and wear a facemask when the delivery men show up."

Though the paternal seeming advice and grated on her a bit, Scully thanked him and hung up. At least she would be able to see Ethan whenever she could. Not that she expect it to take long before he could leave.




Memorial Hospital
New Mexico
October 14th, 2014
Mid-Day

William hung back while Cat took her time dying. His father sat by the bed, Delaney and Avery crowding his lap, holding Cat's hand and whispering to her. Benji, Owen and Kyle were on the other side of the bed, speaking to her too.

And William stood just inside the doorway.

He hadn't been pushed away, but had chosen his own spot. For the whole week he'd been hugging the sidelines, and hadn't really asked himself why, until now, when it was clear that Cat wasn't going to get better. Until that point in time, he'd been eager to say yes to multiple requests for "could you stay here with Laney and Avery while I bring the older boys to the hospital? It'd be scary there for them." And while the others were gone he'd played with his youngest siblings, so caught up in making them happy that he didn't have to think.

Not about if she'd get better. Not about if she didn't. Not about how his father would feel about losing his wife, or his siblings would feel about losing their mother. Not about what would happen afterwards…having times not to think about that was so appealing that he never said he wanted to visit, even when his father told him that he could arrange for someone else to watch the little ones.

The guilt of not coming to see her because not seeing her was easier caught up to him when the hospital called and told his father to bring all the kids so they could say good-bye. How could he say good-bye like he'd been there all the time? Wouldn't she hate him for not visiting her? She'd probably think that he didn't love her because she wasn't his real mother, and he didn't want to see that in her eyes because it wasn't true. He was not her child, but she'd treated him very well. Of course he loved her. How could he not?

"William." His father's head swung in his direction, and he used his free hand to motion the boy over. "Come here." Something in his eyes told William that he knew what he was thinking, and that it was okay.

Time seemed to slow as William made his way towards the bed, choosing to round the side where his brothers stood. After a moment he dared to look down, and Cat was smiling at him, like he hadn't been distant the whole week long. "There you are." Her voice was barely above a whisper.

His own was tight. "Here I am."

"I'm so glad you came home, Will. You're a bright spot for your father," she told him with a dreamy smile that made him glance quickly at the IV stand and wonder if she was being drugged comfortable. "And a good role models for the younger kids. You-" Her eyes moved towards her oldest son. "-and Benji are going to help your dad take care of everyone else, right?"

William said "of course," but didn't realize at first that anyone in the room was still in denial until Benji began to sob.

"No, Mommy, don't say that," Benji begged.

Mommy. In the more than two years that he'd known his brother, William had never heard the boy call Cat 'mommy' and hearing it now broke his heart a little more.

Cat's voice became suddenly firm. "Yes, Benji, I have to. Promise me."

Viciously scrubbing his tears out of his eyes, Benji took a stuttering breath and said "I promise."

After that Benji's tears became contagious, and William's memories became a numb blur, but he noticed that it was still light out when Cat died. It didn't seem right for the sun to pour into the windows and light up such a painful scene.




New Mexico
October 14th, 2014
8pm

The house was dark and silent but for the furnace kicking on every hour or two. There were no pets, so nothing at all in the house took notice when the phone rang three times.

Before the phone could ring a fourth time, the answering machine kicked on. It dutifully captured the message.

"William?" A pause. "Mulder? Please give me a call when you get in. Um...Ethan died. Of the flu. Call me soon. Please?"

The answering machine didn't notice that the message's leaver was crying at the end. But then, that fell outside its job description.




Saint Vincent's Hospital
Washington CD
October 14th, 2014
8:05pm

Scully hung up the black payphone after giving the receiver an accusing look. Why were cell phone still banned from hospitals in this day and age, she felt like screaming at a nurse or other convenient target. With all the technology the world now had, they still couldn't keep cell phones from endangering patients.

They couldn't keep people from dying of the flu.

She was just deciding to collapse on the floor for a good cry, when an uncertain voice behind her said, "Aunt Dana?" Turning she saw a tall dark-haired teenager staring at her with concern.

"Matt. Every time I see you, you've grown a foot."

Grinning shyly, he corrected her. "Not quite. Are you okay?" Then horror filled his eyes at his own words. "Not okay, I mean I know uncle Ethan just died, but-"

"Is there a reason I looked furious just now, you mean," Scully told him, and he looked a little less uncomfortable when she did. "I just tried to call your cousin, but no one's answering the phone."

"Oh." Matthew Scully stared off into space for a moment. "He must be pretty big, too."

"He's about an inch taller than me, but he's barely thirteen, so he's got plenty of time to grow."

"Does he look like you?" Matthew asked, reminding her that the cousins had never met.

"A little. When he was younger his hair was auburn, but it's lightening to a dark red…Maybe you'll meet him. I think that his father will bring him to the funeral."

"Okay. I hope you'll get in touch with him soon."

"Me too, but I'm a little worried. Not about your cousin, since he's disgustingly healthy, but last I heard Will's stepmom was in the hospital too."

"People, um, people who go into the hospital don't get better, do they?"

"Some do," Scully told him, but Matthew wasn't far off from being right. Thayer kept her up to date despite her early termination, and statistics currently suggested that 8 out of 10 people sick enough with the flu to enter the hospital would never leave. Looking around the hallway, she sought a new subject. "Where are your parents?"

"I think they're talking to Grandma in the parking lot still. I came in while they were distracted, because I figured you needed to talk to someone who wouldn't just cry on you or yell about the damn government not doing its job to take care of people."

"You're turning into quite the intuitive guy, Matthew."

"I know," he said without any false modesty. "I think I'm going to get a degree in psychology."

Standing there, Scully only half listened to her nephew's enthusiastic plans for college, she couldn't help but think that Bill Scully's vitriol might be just what she needed. Everyone could help her mourn Ethan's death, but only a select few would help her rail out against the forces that hadn't been able to keep him from dying.




New Mexico
Eleven PM

Delaney's arm was slung around Mulder's neck, which made it more difficult for him to search his pockets for his house keys.

Noticing the dilemma, Benji pulled a cartoon keychain out of his pocket. "I've got it, Dad."

"Thanks. I thought you needed me to make a new key because you lost yours."

"It was in my backpack."

Once inside, Mulder set his daughter on his feet, and turned to look at his sons. "Are you guys hungry? I could cook something-"

"I wanna go to bed," Avery said. He finally let go of William's hand, which he'd been holding tightly since they piled out of the car.

"Me too," Kyle said, and Owen nodded in agreement.

"Well, okay," Mulder told them, giving them a doubtful look. "If you wake up hungry, you'll have to make do with sandwiches or cereal if I'm not awake. No using the stove." He didn't bother noting that William knew the rule didn't apply to him, since the boy already knew.

"I hungry," Delaney whined.

"Me too," William told her. "We'll go in the kitchen, Dad."

"Yeah, sure. I'll find something to cook in a few minutes," Mulder replied absently.

It wasn't until after Mulder got the kids who wanted to sleep to bed, and everyone else some food, that he thought of checking the answering machine. It blinked to let him know that there was a message. Pushing play, he was startled to hear Scully's voice, and at first wondered how she'd known that Cat had died…but then he paid attention to the message.

"Hey, Scully? It's Mulder. I'm sorry I didn't get back to you sooner… Yeah, Cat died today too. Life's a bitch sometimes, isn't it?…I don't know, maybe if you can schedule it for the next day… I need to talk to them first…okay, I'll get back to you in the morning."




After Benji and Delaney headed up to bed, William escaped into their bathroom. He didn't really need to go, but it was quiet there. Lowering the toilet seat, he used it as a chair.

He stared at tiles on the bathroom floor. Last year during Christmas break, he and Benji had helped Cat tear up the linoleum and put hexagon tiles in instead. They would have let Owen help too, but he seemed more interested in playing with the little kids, so it had been just the three of them since they did it a day Mulder had gone into the school to catch up on paperwork.

William decided that he was one of the blue tiles, surrounded on six sides by white ones - one tile for his dad, one tile for his mom, two more for Cat and Ethan, one for the Van Dekamps, and the last one for his siblings. They'd all touch him, even if they hadn't touched each other. In the middle he was snuggly surrounded, held in place. Now it was if someone had dropped a big rock on the tiles and broken two of them into pieces that'd never fit again.

A knock on the door startled him out of his thoughts, so he climbed off the toilet seat and opened the door. Instead of a brother with an aching bladder, he found his father. If possible, he looked even more grim than he had most of the day.

"Will, I've got more bad news." The frown touched his eyes, which sent a thrill of fear down William's spine. "Your mom called. Ethan… he died today too."

"Oh no."

"Yeah. I'm sorry, I know he was a nice guy. She wants us to go to the funeral. I told her I'd ask you kids about it, since it would probably be the day after…anyway, I thought I'd wait to talk to them about it tomorrow, but you're still up."

"I want to go. I can go alone if-"

"she asked me to come too, if possible. We'll see what the other kids say tomorrow. Try to get some sleep, okay?"

"Okay."

"Good. I'm going to, too."

As they left the bathroom, both were sure they'd never sleep. And both were wrong. Exhaustion is its own mercy.




The discussion the next morning made Mulder wished that he drank. At the dinner table he carefully explained that Scully's (though he'd actually said 'Dana's' since that's who they knew her as) husband had died too, also of the flu. And that she'd like for William and himself to be there for the funeral. Whether they went or not would depend on if the other kids wanted to go.

Benji looked at his siblings, and said, "We don't want to go."

"Does that go for everyone?" Mulder asked, and the little heads all nodded. "Okay then. I'll call Dana and tell her that William can go, but I can't."

"You can go, Daddy," Kyle told him.

"I can't go if you're not going-"

"Uncle Brian," Benji said suddenly, and Mulder stared at him. "See if uncle Brian can come stay here with us."

"I don't know, Benji. Your mom just died yesterday, and-"

"We'll be okay."

"But-"

"We'll be okay," Owen repeated Benji's statement.

"Let me call your uncle…"

The kids scattered, and he got up to call his brother-in-law. Their uncle readily agreed to come and spend the thirty-six hours that Mulder and William would be gone. No one seemed to think it was upsetting that Mulder's children didn't think they needed him there. Except Mulder himself.




New Mexico
October 17th, 2014

After Cat's funeral, however, Delaney more than made up for her brothers' sanguinity. Brian had come home with them, so Mulder and William wouldn't need to wait for his arrival before leaving for their flight during the wee hours of the morning. Delaney, however, proved to be more wily than Cat's older brother, and escaped.

Mulder was reaching into his pants drawer when a small voice demanded attention. "What doing?"

"Packing some clothes."

Given that the child had a small suitcase of her own, Mulder wasn't surprised when her next question was, "Go where?"

"William and I are going to another funeral like today, because the man who married William's mommy died too."

"Why?"

"He got sick like Mommy did."

"How go long?"

"Um, just a couple of days. Uncle Brian will stay here while we're gone."

Then he found himself fighting for balance when a pair of tiny arms wrapped themselves around both legs. "No, Daddy, no! Laney no stay! Go wit you!"

"Laney, I don't know if that's a good idea…"

"No no no no!"

It rapidly became clear that she couldn't cope with her sole surviving parent leaving. Despite repeated assurances that "Daddy will be back soon" she remained unconvinced, and clung to Mulder like a terrified limpet.

"Calm down, I'll see if you can go…" Mulder told her, rubbing her back with one hand and reaching for the phone with the other. Rather than traumatize his youngest for life, he begged the airline to sell him another ticket, paying full fair for it in order to arrange for the three seats together; then he had to call Scully to let her know that his daughter would be coming too, and find out if that'd be a problem or if he should rent a hotel room. Then, he'd had to face his brother-in-law and explain the change of plans. And of course it took some doing to convince Delaney that she wasn't going to be left behind.

All in all, he wondered if he'd been better off before he'd felt needed.




Washington DC
October 18th, 2014

William looked over his shoulder when he realized that his father lagged behind. He supposed it was because Delaney was so fussy. The toddler had cried for most of the past two days, including on the plane. However, since she was given to silent tears rather than heartfelt wails, none of the other passengers had been disturbed.

Even as they left the airport, she continued to snuffle.

"Thank you both for coming," Scully said wearily.

"No problem," Mulder told her. "I just wish the rest of them would have come too."

"It's okay," Scully told him. "It would have been too much to ask of them, this soon after…"

Mulder gave her a rueful smile. "Maybe, maybe not. It feels like this one is the only one who really needs me." He pointed at his daughter with his chin.

"We all need you, Dad," William said quickly.

"They do need you, Mulder. If they're numb, they might not figure out how much they need you until everything sinks in in a few days. Which is a good thing that this visit will be short."

"Yeah…" Mulder agreed vaguely. William thought that he was probably thinking about the reason they were there.

To William's surprise, Scully held out her arms. "Can I hold her? It's been a while, and I could use the practice before Cole arrives."

Anxiety suddenly washed over William at the mention of his soon-to-be brother. "He's okay, right? His, um, surrogate isn't sick or anything?"

"They're fine. Lindsey has been worried about the flu, so she said she hasn't been going out much to minimize her exposure," Scully replied. To everyone's surprise, Delaney went to her willingly.

"That's conscientious," Mulder remarked.

"I think she's worried more about her own health than anything, to be honest," Scully replied.

"Whatever works to protect your baby."

By then they'd reached the car that would take them to the funeral, and conversation died, too.




Washington DC
Ten PM

It was a long day. After the funeral Maggie insisted, in traditional Catholic fashion, to have people come over to her house. She fed people and everyone said nice things about her dead son-in-law.

Skinner, Reyes and Doggett had attended the funeral, but hadn't gone to Maggie's which upset Mulder a little. He'd of been less lonely if they'd come. Mulder and Delaney spent most of the afternoon avoiding people the best they could, and watching William interact with his maternal family. Eventually the little girl fell asleep on Mulder's lap, so he'd felt all alone, despite Scully, Maggie and William trying to make him feel included.

The only time anyone else bothered to say anything was a terse greeting from Bill and an enthusiastic interrogation from Scully's nephew about what studying criminals was like. Mulder suspected that the boy was a lot like Scully had been at his age: intent and curious. Even he had to admit that Bill's kid turned out okay.

Eventually the day came to an end, so Mulder offered to take Scully to dinner since she was saving them the cost of a hotel room. Which she immediately refuted, reminding him that they'd only flown there for her. So she'd ended up paying for dinner, and it had taken forever to get a table. Predictably, Delaney was in tears again before the end of the meal, and demanding her mother.

Scully's front door was one of the most welcomed sights that Mulder had seen in a long while. After sending a yawning William to his room, Scully turned and looked at Mulder's toddler. "Someone's falling asleep. You can put her in the crib we set up for Cole."

"Thank you," Mulder said, feeling a genuine relief. Bringing his daughter with him had been so last minute that he hadn't even stopped to think of what he'd do with her at night.

Once the kids were settled into bed, the two adults set themselves on the living room furniture. Neither was particularly tired, physically, though they were weary mentally. For a time, neither of them spoke. They just sat their in silence, wrapped up in their personal misery.

After a long while, Scully looked up with red eyes. "There's something I've been wondering for a long time about you and Cat."

"What?"

"How did you end up with someone like her?" Her cheeks pinked a little. "I mean, she doesn't strike me as your usual type."

"I have a usual type?" he asked wryly." It was partly because of you that Cat caught my attention, actually."

"Me?" She looked surprised. "Are you saying it was a rebound thing?" It was something she'd long suspected, but never dared ask before.

"I don't mean anything like that. You've met Phoebe and Diana...Until I met you, I didn't know I could deal with a woman who wasn't cold and demanding. Working with you made me realize that I could tolerate having someone care about me, who'd hold me accountable for what I did but wouldn't dictate my every move... So I owe you some for the twelve happy years I had with a woman as warm and grounded as Cat."

"Oh."

"Daddy! Dadddddyyyy!!" He jumped up at the sound of his youngest child's terrified wail.

"I better go get her before she wakes William." Before Scully could agree he had already bolted in the direction of the future nursery.

Following more slowly, Scully joined him in time to see him pick the little girl up out of the crib. "It's okay, baby, Daddy's here. I'm here. You're okay."

After a couple minutes she calmed down, and Mulder carried her back out into Scully's living room. "She'll settle down and fall back to sleep."

"Little kids grieve too," Scully noted, retaking her seat on the couch.

"I'm sure they do," Mulder agreed. "But Laney's had nightmares twice or three times a week for the past couple of months, so I'm not sure which is her problem now."

Scully stared at the child, and tried to picture herself comforting her baby after a nightmare in a couple of years. It wasn't something that a mental picture of came easily. "That can't be easy," she said, echoing her thoughts.

"No. Cat was usually the one that got up with her. Not because I wouldn't, mind you, but because she wanted to be the one to." Mulder wrapped his arms around his sleepy daughter and rested his chin lightly on the top of her head. "Cat wanted a daughter very badly."

"The two of you kept trying until you got one?" Scully suggested.

His nod was almost imperceptible. "Don't get me wrong, she loved our sons. But when we found out that Kyle, then Avery were going to be boys, she was clearly disappointed. It made me wish that there was no such thing as an ultrasound, because learning the babies sexes muted her joy half way through the pregnancies."

"Ouch."

"The funny thing was that she didn't seem to realize that I knew. I guess she thought that joking about my sperm all being Ys distracted me from the wistfulness on her face."

"Not everyone can read people as well as someone trained in psychology. Maybe she couldn't and forgot you could."

"Maybe," he agreed. "But once they were here, real, she loved them, so it doesn't really matter."

It didn't take a degree to tell Scully that he was lying, and it did matter to him. "Speaking of little girls, I think she's asleep. Good thing Cole isn't here yet to fight over the crib."

"You still plan to call him that? It doesn't strike me as a choice you would have come up with."

She shrugged. "It's what Ethan wanted, and I'm too used to it now to pick something."

"There's nothing wrong with honoring the wishes of the dead," he backpedaled. Mostly he wished that he hadn't brought it up.

She stood up. "My father would probably think I returned to medicine because of him. But there's more to it than that, there always is."

Unsure how to respond to the sudden comment, he stood up too, to have something to do.

"Try to get some sleep," Scully dictated. "And really, thank you for coming. If not for you, Will and my mom, I'm not sure how I'd of gotten through the day."

Squeezing by him on the way to her room, she paused long enough to kiss both him and the little girl on the cheeks. "I'm sorry for your loss, too."

Mulder stared after her for a moment, then carried Delaney back to the nursery.




Chapter six

October 19th, 2014

Mulder was making the bed when a soft knock on the door got his attention. Opening it, he found Scully on the other side with a phone in her hand. "Oh good, you're awake. You have a phone call."

"Thanks."

When he took the phone he expected to hear one of his sons, so he was startled when his caller said, "It's Kersh. I heard about your wife, and I'm sorry for your loss."

"Thank you, sir," he said automatically, still confused as to why his former boss and nemesis would be calling to offer condolences.

"What do you have in New Mexico to keep you there?" Kersh asked abruptly.

Mulder shrugged, not that the man on the other end of the line could see it. "Nothing, really. The boys have their schools and I have my job, but nothing more compelling than that. We mostly lived there so Cat wouldn't feel like she was abandoning her parents like her brother and sister did. They both died over a year ago, so..."

"You should come back to DC."

"I'll keep that piece of advice in mind." Mulder laughed mirthlessly.

"I don't think you understand, Mulder. I'm offering to reinstate you at the FBI."

"No offence, but my days as a field agent are over. I'm too old and it's too dangerous for a single father of six."

Kersh sounded impatient. "We don't need another field agent. I'm shopping for a new AD for the X-Files because Skinner is retiring."

"Skinner's retiring?" Despite Skinner's age he found it hard to imagine him bowing out gracefully, rather than waiting until he was forced to give up the reins. "But what about Doggett? He's been keeping the division alive for the past twelve years, which is even longer-"

"John doesn't want it."

Mulder's eyes widened in surprise. "Why not?"

"He doesn't have the same concerns for how his well-being affects others that you do. I think his exact words were 'I'm not cut out to be a desk monkey. If I'm not on the front line, I don't want to be here at all.'"

Mulder gave the phone a wry look. "And you think I'm desk monkey material?"

"I think you could learn to dance to the organ grinder's tune."

"Can I have a few days to think about it?"

"You can have a week. I need to get someone into that spot by December, which is when Skinner plans to leave, and the new agents will be joining up."

It seemed like a lifetime ago that Scully had mentioned her students. "Gibson and Kryder?"

"Been trading tales with professor Scully, I take it."

"Yeah, a few," he admitted.

"Good, so you know the potential situation - two experienced agents and two green one," Kersh told him. "I hope you'll give the offer serious consideration, and I'll give you a call next weekend."

"Do you have my home number?" Kersh didn't, so he gave him it before hanging up.




A Little Later

Packing up to go home was not going well. As soon as Mulder put one of his daughter's possessions in her bag, she'd pull it out again. He was trying to be patient with her, considering what they'd all been through over the past week, but she was clearly doing it to be defiant. That made it hard not to snap at her, so he had resorted to closing his eyes and counting.

He was up to twenty-seven when someone came in the room.

"Let me give you hand with packing," Scully offered, and he opened his eyes. "I'll pack, and you distract."

"I guess it's worth a shot," Mulder said, but he sounded doubtful.

"You can get her d-r-e-s-s-e-d," Scully replied. She looked at the clothes the toddler had pulled out of her bag and picked up a lavender romper. "This is so pretty, Laney! I bet this is your favorite."

Mulder expected his daughter to disagree on principle, but she surprised him. "Yup."

"Maybe you can convince your dad to let you wear it today."

Delaney gave him a winning smile. "My wear, Daddy?"

"Sure."

While Mulder dressed the little girl, Scully got the rest of her things put away.

"I think I'll give this to Will to look after," Scully said, shouldering the bag.

"Good idea. You know, you're pretty good at this stuff," Mulder complimented.

"Thanks."

She started to walk away, but he spoke again, making her pause. "I was thinking about the holidays. If you want to ask William to come spend Christmas vacation with you and the baby, I don't mind, as long as his flight is late afternoon."

"I'll keep that in mind, Mulder." She tried to keep her voice even because she was torn between being touched that he was offering extra time with their son, and annoyed that the offer was probably born out of pity that she'd be lonelier over the holidays than he would be.




"I love you, Mom," William said, giving his mother a fierce hug. When he did, he was startled to realize that he was almost as tall as she was. Mulder was still a foot taller than him, and Cat had been fairly tall for a woman, so he still thought of adults as being bigger than him.

"I love you too, Kid. You help your dad out."

"Of course," William said quickly.

Scully gave Mulder, who was holding his daughter in his arms, an awkward hug too. "Thank you for coming. It means a lot to have a friend who'll fly across the country when you need him."

William thought that his father looked faintly uncomfortable so he wasn't surprised when his reply was something of a non-sequitur. "Take care of yourself, Scully."

"Sure. Will, e-mail me when your flight gets in."

Okay. I will Mom."

A heavy sorrow descended on William as he and his father walked towards the door. Both of his parents had just lost their spouses, but they were too far apart to comfort each other as friends should during hard times. He shivered a little, then offered up a desperate little prayer - let there be no other funerals for either to need someone to attend.

"Are you okay, Will?" Mulder asked as they approached their cab.

William shrugged. "Yeah. I just felt a chill." When he saw the concern on his father's face amplify, he hastily added. "I just didn't dress warm enough."

"We'll probably get to the airport early enough for you to change if you want."

"Nah. The plane will be warm."




Two Hours Later

"Dad."

"What, Will?" Mulder asked tiredly. The plane was crowded and noisy, so Delaney hasn't slept like he'd hoped, and dealing with her tears was wearing him down.

William twisted in his seat so he could look into Mulder's eyes. "Do you think this is a doomsday virus?"

"A what?"

"A Doomsday virus," William repeated. "Did you ever read The Stand by Stephen King?"

"A long time ago, when it was first published."

"So you know that in that book the government created a virus that wiped out ninety percent of people, then the survivors gathered on a farm and out west for a final show-down between good and evil."

"Yes."

"So do you think this is like that?" William asked.

"Do I think after they kill most of the people there's going to be a showdown between good and evil out in the middle of farm country?"

William sighed. "No. Do you think that the government, or maybe some other bad guys made the virus to kill most everyone?"

Mulder gave his son a wry look. "The government or *some other* bad guys, huh? You're definitely my son. But no. This virus wasn't made by anyone, and most people will survive it. There have been 'killer flus' many times before, Will. The one in 1918 killed a much higher percentage of people, since the population was lower, and there was another pretty bad one just a few years before I was born. And back in the late 1700s there was a flu a lot like this one. Until the last decade, there's been a bad flu every eleven or so years since that one in 1918, so we were overdue for a horrible one. No one made any of them. They just occurred naturally."

"Oh."

"You sound disappointed."

"It's just...If it's no one's fault, we can't punish anyone."

"That's right," Mulder agreed. "Why is that bad?"

"Some things deserve to for there to be someone punished," William muttered.

Mulder was inclined to agree with him, but William's next words kept him from voicing that sentiment.

"Me, maybe."

"What do you mean, you maybe?" Mulder demanded to know.

William shrugged. "Maybe this is all my fault."

"Explain."

"Maybe the aliens made this flu, to punish us for not letting them come and take over. If they did it, than it is my fault for thwarting their plans."

"No, Will, no." Mulder put his arm around his son's shoulders. "I thought you understood that flus just happen. It wasn't the aliens, and it's most definitely not your fault."

Far from getting a wan smile of comprehension, Mulder felt William's shoulders begin to shake as the boy cried. Instead of telling him to stop, Mulder let him cry himself out. Eventually the boy rubbed his eyes and gasped. "How can I stop aliens from enslaving us all, but not be able to save Cat and Ethan?"

"I don't know, Will. I think it's just that there are things beyond our control, and ones within our control, but no one lets us pick which is which."

"It isn't fair." William sniffled.

"No one said life would be," Mulder reminded him. "You know that no one blames you for not being able to save Cat and Ethan, don't you?"

"I guess."

"Don't guess, know it. You've been able to do extraordinary things, but no one expects you to be able to make anything perfect."

"I'm glad of that, Dad. I'd fail miserably if they did." He at last gave his father a crooked smile.

"Your mom and I, and everyone else, we just expect you to do the best you can, not perform miracles." Mulder nudged him in the ribs. "Not that we mind if you do perform one now and again."

"Ha."

Mulder glanced around. "I think we should talk about this more when there aren't as many people around to think we might be dangerously crazy."

To Mulder's surprise, William grinned at him. "Guess you had enough of that when you worked with Mom, huh?"

"Be quiet, you," Mulder grumbled obligingly. "Read your book."

William did, and Delaney finally fell asleep, so Mulder found himself free to reminisce about his work on the X-Files. Sooner than he imagined possible, the captain was announcing their imminent arrival at the airport.




New Mexico

When they got home the boys were excited to see them, and eager to help bring in their bags. They seemed to be in decent spirits, considering. Brian reported that there had been no big problems other than Avery and Kyle being teary at bedtime.

"How about you guys going to the playroom so your dad and I can talk about boring grown up stuff?" Brian suggested, and the kids took off. Even William had only hesitated for a few seconds before trailing after his siblings.

Mulder gave his brother-in-law an expectant look once they were alone.

"Fox, we need to talk." Mulder continued to stare at Brian McCarthy, and wondered why the younger man looked so dour. He began to become nervous as his brother-in-law peered about the room, apparently making sure none of the kids were around.

"What's on your mind, Brian?"

"Laura and I have been talking a lot over the past few days. Now that Cat's gone... what did you plan to do with the kids?"

"Do?" There were so many possible interpretations that he chose not to assume any one of them.

Brian looked away, obviously uncomfortable. When he looked back he didn't meet Mulder's eyes. "Six children are a lot of work for one man."

Mulder nodded warily. "Is this when I say that although children are a lot of work they're worth it?"

"Of course they are," Brian agreed flatly. "Which is why we're so concerned. If you sent the older boys to boarding school and got a nanny for little ones, we supposed to you'll manage on your own."

"And if I didn't choose to send some of my children away from home, to make things easier?" There was a note of challenge in Mulder's voice, and it clearly irritated Brian.

"If you proved incapable of making rational decision regarding the children's welfare, then I'm afraid we would be forced to seek custody of our nephews and niece. Except for Will of course," Brian added.

"Nice that you think I'm capable of parenting the one child who isn't your blood relative," Mulder replied bitterly.

Brian ignored the comment. "If it came to that, Laura and her husband have a bigger house, so they'd be willing to take in three of the children. Erica and I would take the other two."

"It's so nice to see siblings working things like that out on their own. When did you come up with this little plan? After the funeral? While Cat was still in the hospital? Next you'll be telling me of a late night visit to Cat, and her dying plea that you take my children away from me, and separate them."

His brother-in-law's face was red, but from anger or embarrassment he could not tell. Brian held up a hand. "I can tell that you're upset. Let's continue this conversation in a few days, after you've had time to think about it."

"Yes, let's," Mulder said through gritted teeth. His eyes suddenly widened in alarm as something terrible occurred to him. "Tell me that you haven't talked to my children about splitting them up like a litter of purebred puppies."

"What? No. Of course not!" Brian sputtered.

"Good. I guess you're not a complete asshole, then," Mulder said quietly. "I think it's time that you say goodbye to the kids and go home."

"Yeah, you're right," Brian said quickly.

"Brian." Mulder stopped the younger man before he hurried off. "Thank you for keeping the kids from burning the house down."

Brian shook his head sharply, then went to say his good-byes to his nephews.




Mulder let the conversation eat at him for an entire day. All day he kept expecting the phone to ring, and for Brian to call to say he and Laura were being foolish. The phone never rang, and there were no messages on his cell phone.

Over the course of the day he noticed William and Benji giving him concerned looks. He was on edge, and it obviously showed. As the day wore on, there seemed to only be one remotely plausible solution, but it still was insanely unlikely.

Thankful for the time zone difference, he waited until all of the children were in bed before he picked up the phone. Scully answered on the first ring. "Hello?"

"It's me."

"Mulder."

"How are you?" The tone of the question sound odd even to his own ears.

"From how you sound, better than you. I'm as about as well as you'd expect a new widow with a fatherless baby arriving in less than two months to be. Now what is wrong with you?"

"Would you marry me?" he blurted out. It was not the way he intended to broach the subject, but he'd panicked.

Her response was predictable. "What??"

"Brian and Laura, Cat's siblings, have thrown down the gauntlet. For the second time my life I'm being accused of being incapable of parenting alone. If I don't send the older boys away to boarding school, they plan to try to get custody of my children."

"How awful," Scully said in a politely sympathetic tone.

"And if they do get custody of them, they intend to split them up."

"No."

"I know I have no right to ask you something like this, but if I was remarried, on paper I mean, a judge would tell them to go fuck themselves..." A silence hung between them as he waited for her to respond. "I don't mean that I want any more than that, but if you needed help with your baby, and we could be the ones to move so you can stay at Quantico... Dammit, I don't know what the hell I'm saying." He let himself trail off miserably.

"I need some time to think this over," Scully said slowly. "I'll, uh, call you back tomorrow night. Okay?"

"Okay."

It wasn't until he heard the dial tone that he realized neither of them said goodbye.




The full impact of Mulder's unexpected request didn't hit Scully until the following morning. They were finally friends again, true, but his request went way beyond the bounds of an amicable relationship between two parents who'd long since split up.

She must be insane for not having turned him down flat the night before. Although she doubted that it had occurred to him, the request wasn't flattering, to either of them. To think that either of them should be okay in a sham marriage was as much as admitting that he didn't think either of them would ever love again. They were both fairly healthy people, which meant that they probably had another third of their lives yet to live. Twenty-five, if not more, years of lovelessness was hard to contemplate.

On the other hand, it would be tragic if Mulder's in-laws managed to take his kids away...

All stirred up with conflicting emotions, Scully turned to the one person she could count on to give her good advice: her mother. Maggie agreed to meet her for lunch in a little café both women liked.

Maggie arrived first, and she studied her daughter's face when she took her seat. "What are you in a tizzy about?" Maggie asked.

Scully grimaced, unhappy that her feelings were so transparent. "It's Mulder. I can't believe him!" she exclaimed, shaking her head with dazzled confusion.

"What did he do?"

"he asked me to marry him!"

"Well, that's abrupt. I didn't realize that the two of you-"

"She shook her head hard."It's nothing like that. His in-laws want to take his kids, and he thinks that if he remarries they won't be able to."

"It would be a lot to expect you to pull up stakes and move out west."

"Actually he offered to move here."

"I see. Maybe you should do it, then. It'd be good for everyone."

"What are you suggesting?" Scully's voice was a hiss. "That I take responsibility for six more children, five of whom aren't mine?"

Maggie shrugged. "Cole will need father. Those children need a mother."

"It's not that simple. Things have changed between us. You know that."

"I also know that you used to care more deeply for each other than anyone else on earth."

Righteous indignation made her forget her own musings about loving again. She blinked, looking incredulous. "Are you suggesting that the past twelve years have meant nothing to either of us? That Ethan and Cat were just diversions, or place-markers?"

Maggie's mouth was set in a hard line. "I'm not trying to disparage the dead, but they *are* dead. Neither of them is going to mind if you refind the happiness you had when neither of them was part of your lives. They loved you, they'd want you to be happy instead of making some sort of noble gesture that'd leave you both miserable."

"Mom!" Scully exclaimed. "It wouldn't be a real marriage anyway. He was talking about something for show, mostly on paper."

"Then you have even less reason to object," Maggie said mildly. "And it'd make you feel less guilty, anyway."

"Guilty for what?"

Maggie raised her eyebrows. "Helping the Van Dekamps keep William from Fox."

"I didn't do anything to help them!"

"You didn't do anything to help him," her mother corrected.

Scully grabbed her coat from the hook she'd hung it on. "I thought I could have a rational conversation with you about this, but it seems as though I was wrong."

Maggie didn't protest when Scully stood to leave. Instead she gave her daughter an inscrutable look and hailed a waitress after watching Scully storm out.




That Evening

When the phone rang, Scully nearly didn't answer it. She thought that it was probably her mother, or maybe Mulder, and she was in no mood to speak to either of them…she couldn't decide who she'd least like to speak to. After the third ring she sighed and grabbed the phone.

"Yes?" she asked impatiently and resigned.

"Mrs. Scully?"

"Yes." It took her a moment to place the voice. "Lindsey?"

"Yeah, hi. I was reading the paper… is it true that your husband died? I thought I saw his name. In the obituaries."

Something in Scully's chest began to ache at the mention of Ethan. "Unfortunately yes."

"Oh. I'm so sorry to hear that."

"Thank you."

"But this is a problem," Lindsey said.

"What's a problem?" She was puzzled by the surrogate's statement.

On the other end of the line, there was a loud sigh. "When I agreed to be a surrogate, the understanding was that I'd carry a baby for a couple who couldn't have a child, not a single mother."

"Well yes, but it not as though it was my idea to be a single mother," Scully said, feeling very tired.

"I'm going to have to give this some serious thought," Lindsey said.

"Give what some serious thought?" Scully was beginning to get a sinking feeling about where the conversation was headed.

"If I can give you this baby. It's against my beliefs that single women have children, which is why I've been very careful to only have babies for married couples."

"It is my baby, not yours," Scully reminded her angrily.

"There have been several cases where a surrogate has kept the child, because of breach of contract," Lindsey told her calmly. "And our contract has been broken due to the change in your martial status."

Scully fumed. If she could have reached through the phone and shaken the other woman until she realized that her becoming a widow was not her fault, she might have, if not for her fear what effect a violent act might have on her son. Instead she blurted out, "I won't be unmarried when my son is born."

"You won't?" It was Lindsey's turn to sound confused.

"No. My older son's father recently lost his wife. We didn't speak for a long long time, but over the past couple of years we've renewed our friendship. For our sons' sake we decided that it might be in everyone's best interest if we marry and raise our boys together, rather than both raise a child alone."

"I see. That sounds…nice."

"Yes."

"That does make a difference, but I'll need proof that this marriage actually takes place before I hand over the baby."

Scully couldn't believe the woman's nerve. "Proof like what, you want to be invited to the wedding?"

"A copy of the marriage license will do," Lindsey's still calm tone made it seem as though sarcasm rolled off her like water on a duck's back.

"Great. I'll send you one once we're married. You'll probably see the announcement in the paper too."

"Okay then, bye."

As she sat there, she found herself getting irrationally angry at Ethan. They were supposed to file the papers with a judge to get her put name put on the baby's birth certificate immediately in less than two weeks. If Ethan hadn't died before then, there would be almost no chance that Lindsey could go ahead with her threat.

Less than half a percent of surrogacies fail, and most of those were "traditional" surrogacies where the surrogate was the infant's biological mother. Gestational surrogacies almost never failed. She'd done all the research before concluding that Lindsey was a very safe bet. How could she be so unlucky?




Chapter seven

New Mexico
The Next Day

Though he'd never admit it, it came as a relief the next day when none of the kids begged to stay home from school. He was staying home from work himself, and he thought that dealing with the two youngest kids was as much as he was up for. Even Avery and Delaney played quietly, which left him a lot of time to stare into space and grieve for his wife.

"Daddy?" Mulder felt a tug on his pants, and looked down to see Avery staring up at him. The little boy's light brown hair was falling into his eyes.

After making a mental note to schedule haircuts, Mulder pulled his youngest son onto his lap. "What's up, Buddy?"

"When's Mommy coming home? I miss her."

Pain lanced Mulder's heart. "Avery, she died."

"I know." The little boy nodded his head. "How long does it last?"

"Forever."

Looking horrified, Avery tried to get off Mulder's lap, but his father held him there. "Can't be forever! Can't!"

The tears that had welled up in Mulder's eyes over flowed as he held his now sobbing son. "I'm sorry, Av, I'm so sorry that I thought you understood and didn't explain better. People who die don't come back to their lives because they can't."

"We need to let her out," Avery moaned.

"Out of where?"

"The ground! She's stuck down there...Mommy must be scared."

"She isn't scared, Buddy. She's not stuck either. When someone dies, all the parts of their body stop. They don't need to eat, or sleep, and they don't think any more either. The part of them that knows what is going on isn't there anymore, so they're not scared to be buried. Which is a very good thing, because we bury people who die so living people stay healthy."

Fortunately for Mulder's sake, the four-year-old didn't request a more detailed explanation of why corpses are cremated or buried for public health reasons. Instead Avery asked, "Where does the part that knows stuff go? The part that knows me?"

Once that would have been a difficult question, back before seeing Samantha in the starlight. "Remember how Mommy's friend Father David-" Though she and Mulder had decided against raising their children Catholic, Mulder and the kids had attended mass with her on occasion. "-said that good people go to heaven? That's where the soul, the part of the person who thought and remembered things, goes when they die."

Avery's tears were drying to streaks on his cheeks. "With God and the angels?"

"A lot of people think so," Mulder replied, not feeling up to explaining that other religions believe souls rested until a judgment day, or that there were people who didn't believe in any afterlife at all. Nor did he intend to encourage the belief that the dead in heaven were watching down on them.

"It sounds happy."

"It does to me too," Mulder told him.

"And auntie Samantha will take care of her, right, Daddy?" Avery asked expectantly.

"Right," Mulder agreed. For a moment he found that he could picture his sister leading Cat by the hand, showing her all the sights that the afterlife had to offer. Somehow, the thought made it hard for him to breathe.

A short while later it occurred to him to look at the clock to see if was near naptime for Avery and Delaney because the boy's lids were getting heavy. It was.

Mulder had just enough time to tuck his youngest kids into bed before the phone rang, catching him completely off guard.




On the other end of the line, Scully toyed with the cord to the phone while waiting to see if Mulder would pick up. She needed a cordless phone before Cole was able to crawl, because she worried about it being a strangle hazard.

The call connected. "Fox Mulder."

"Is that how you answer the phone these days?" she asked before thinking better of teasing.

"Scully."

"I've given your request some serious thought...I'll do it."

"You will?" he asked, and she thought he sounded wary.

"Yes. As a strictly legal arrangement, I think that it's in everyone's best interest..." After pausing a moment she told him about her problem with the surrogate since he had a right to full disclosure. "So this will benefit us all." She concluded.

"I agree. When do we want to do this?" Mulder asked.

"The baby is due in about a month, so...Do you think two weeks is enough notice for your job?"

"It will have to be. I'll need to call Kersh right away too."

"Why?"

"Didn't I tell you? He offered to make me an AD now that Skinner's retiring. The X-Files will be my chief responsibility."

"Wow."

"Yeah. I'll need some help with finding a house. The virtual tours online are a big improvement over blindly buying a house over the phone, but it'd better for someone's eyes to give the places a look through before deciding on one."

"I'll do that. But can you afford to buy another house before selling yours?" Scully blurted out.

"Yeah. Back when I was fighting the Van DeKamps for custody, I funneled a significant portion of the money I got from selling off my parents' properties into 'safe' stocks, which I cashed out a few years ago when the market peaked."

"Oh. Good," she said, feeling unaccountably surprised that she hadn't figured he'd of invested his inheritance.

"So I'll send you a short list of houses to check out?"

"Yes. Do you want me to look into arranging a church service for two weeks from tomorrow? Or-"

"That sounds fine. It will lend our 'marriage' more credibility than getting married by a justice of the peace would."

"Right. You sound a little funny, Mulder. Are you okay?"

She heard him heave a sigh. "I found out today that Avery didn't realize that death is permanent. he asked when Cat was coming back."

"Oh no."

"I need to talk to Kyle when he gets home from school to make sure that's he's not laboring under the same misconceptions. Laney is too little to understand at all, but I'm sure that the older kids get it."

"God, Mulder, you have your hands full."

"Yeah....but I'm happy that I do. Thanks to you I'll keep them all."

"It's best for me too." She reminded him.

"I'm going to tell William about our arrangement today. Don't be surprised if he calls."

"Thanks for the heads up. Talk to you later."




As soon as he hung up with Scully, Mulder made another call. "Director Kersh, please."

The call was transferred a minute later, and Kersh's voice sounded slightly nervous. "I didn't expect to hear from you so soon."

"Certain circumstances force my hand in regards to deciding my immediate future..." Mulder trailed off vaguely. "Anyway, I thought you'd like a few extra days, so you can make sure they put AD F. Mulder on my nameplate rather than Fox."

"You're accepting the position, then." Kersh actually sounded pleased. Mulder couldn't remember another time he did.

"I am. What can I say? I miss the Hoover building."

"Good. I think that agents Doggett and Reyes will be pleased, since the alternative would have been to pull in someone from the outside. I'll tell them immediately."

"Thank you, sir."

"No problem." Then Kersh said something that Mulder never dreamed that he would. "Welcome back, Mulder."




When the kids got home from school Mulder put a Disney movie on in the playroom. He knew that William couldn't stand the movie, so it hardly surprised him to see his eldest son fleeing to do something else. That had been his goal - give the younger kids something to do so he could speak to William alone.

Before his son made it to the stairs, Mulder called out to him. "Will, come here. I need to talk to you."

William gave him an uncertain look as he joined him on the couch. "About what?"

"We're moving to DC in a couple of weeks," he said quietly.

"What? Why?"

"There are lots of reasons. First, I was offered an AD position back in the X-Files. Second, it'd be good for you to be near your mother." He looked down at his hands. "But most of all, I want to move because Cat's family wants to take your siblings unless I send you boys all away to boarding school...Or get remarried. That's what I'm going to do. Marry."

"Married to who?" William demanded to know.

He blinked in surprise; he'd thought William would know. "To your mother. But just on paper, mind you."

"I don't understand what you're saying."

"It's all pretend, Will, the marriage is just a legal thing to keep you kids together, not to really make Scully their stepmother. She and the baby won't really live with us. It's all for the sake of appearance."

"Smoke and mirrors?"

"Exactly."

"Oh."

"You sound disappointed."

"Well, aren't kids supposed to want their parents together?" Will quipped before turning serious eyes on his father. "I thought... you used to love each other so..."

"Her husband just died. She doesn't feel that way about me, Will." He didn't look up to see if his son wondered about his own feelings, because he didn't want to confess that his heart had suffered too raw, too recent, a wound to feel anything that it didn't already by rote.




Things didn't go as smoothly when he informed everyone else after dinner that they'd be moving to DC for his new appointment. Most of them took it okay, but…

"No! You can't make me move! I won't go, I won't!"

Mulder silently counted to ten, before turning to face his screaming son. Of all the kids to give him grief over moving, this hadn't been the one he expected to.

"Sit down," Mulder snapped, and waited for his son to comply. "You do NOT shout at me. Civilized children do not shout at their parents, no matter how unhappy they are."

"Who says I'm civilized?" Came the muttered reply.

"Your mother, for one," Mulder said sternly. "Do you think she'd be pleased to know how you're acting right now?"

"How could she know? She's dead," Owen said flatly. "Not that you care."

"How can you say that?"

"How can you make us leave, and marry Will's mom?"

"I explained to you that we're not going to be married in the traditional sense-"

"I don't care. Mom wouldn't like it." Owen's defiance was marred by the fact that a tear had leaked out from under an eyelid and was sliding down his cheek.

Exasperated, Mulder decided that he'd have to tell the kids, at least Owen and Benji, the truth. William would probably tell them eventually, but it was better coming from him. "Would you rather live with your uncle Brian? Just you, Benji and Kyle. Laney and Avery would live with aunt Laura, and you'd probably not see Will very much, since he'd stay with me."

"Of course not!"

"How about boarding school? Would you like to go to a new school to live and only see me and your youngest siblings over the summer and at Christmas?"

"No…"

"Your aunt and uncle don't think I can take care of you kids alone, so those were their ideas. Moving to DC is the only way we can stay together as a family, Owen."

"You should arrest them!"

"Uncle Brian and aunt Laura?"

"Yes, because they're bad."

"It doesn't work that way, Owen. What they want to do is perfectly legal. You can't arrest someone for doing something that's not against the law."

"I hate them," Owen growled savagely.

For a second Mulder was happy that he was angry at them rather than at him, but he didn't really want to encourage a rift between his son and the boys only living extended family. "They just want what's best for you kids."

Unexpectedly, Owen threw himself at his father's waist. "You are."

Hugging him back, Mulder said, "I'm sorry that you boys have to leave your friends and your schools. It's not easy starting over, but you will get used to your new schools and make new friends."

"How do you know?"

"I moved when I was twelve, so I know what it's like."

"Okay."

It wasn't really okay, Mulder decided, but they'd manage, together.




Falls Church, Virginia
October 24th, 2014

An early twilight dimmed the views out of curtain-less windows. Fortunately the owners hadn't yet had the power turned off. Lights shone merrily in each of the nine bedrooms. It seemed excessive to Scully, even for Mulder's family, but comparing the price to the other houses with a more practical number of bedrooms in DC instead, the house was a bargain. He'd probably use the other two rooms as storage.

"So, what do you think?"

It took Scully several seconds to realize that she'd heard something other than the constant echoing click of shoes on the hardwood floors. The realtor, an eager young man in his thirties was giving her an expectant look that was beginning to fray to concern at the edges.

"Sorry," she apologized. "My mind was elsewhere. I think he'll like it."

"It is a beautiful house. How many kids did you say your friend has?"

"Six."

"You said he's a widower...the kids are older, I hope."

"Not really. Two to thirteen."

The realtor's face showed practiced concern. "Oh, that's unfortunate." Then it brightened. "Maybe he'll find himself a lady friend eager for a ready-made family."

Scully made no reply.

When the silence stretched out, the younger man began to look like he realized that he'd said the wrong thing. "Anyway, if you want to tell him about the house, it's best to put in a bid as soon as possible. This one will sell quickly."

She nodded. "Any murders committed here?"

"W-what?"

"It's reasonably priced. That usually means there's something hidden but wrong about it," she said, not really believing that. He'd irritated her, so she couldn't keep herself from deliberately flustering him.

"No, no." "To be honest with you, the former owner died about six months ago. In the hospital," the realtor added quickly, looking slightly worried. "There was a dispute between her kids over who should own it, and they decided to sell it as quickly as possible."

"Hence the bargain basement price," Scully remarked.

"Yes, exactly." Relief filled his voice.

"I'll call my friend tonight."

"Oh good." He paused for a moment, and Scully found herself convinced that she could read his mind - he hoped that he'd never have to deal with her again.




The Next Afternoon
Quantico

Scully had begun the period by announcing, "I'd like to see cadets Kryder and Praise immediately after class." This produced predictable titters from some of the other students. Kevin took the attention in stride, but Gibson steadfastly refused to meet the gaze of anyone else for the rest of the class.

After reminding her students about the reading they'd be discussing the next session, Scully watched the room empty. Three minutes later, just Gibson and Kevin were in the room with her.

She smiled, hoping to put them at ease. "I requested, and was granted, the privilege of sharing some new information about your upcoming placement with you. AD Skinner has announced his retirement, and will have left the FBI by the time you join the X-Files. His successor will be someone you both know - Fox Mulder."

Gibson's face lit up in a rare smile. "Excellent."

Kevin, on the other hand, looked more confused than anything else. "I thought he lived out west with his wife and kids."

"His wife," Gibson said. "She died."

Kevin looked to Scully for confirmation, and she nodded. "He accepted the position because his wife was the driving force behind staying out there."

"Offer him my condolences when you see him," Kevin told her.

"I will, but you'll see him soon enough yourself." Students from her next class began to file in. "I guess you'd better get to your next class."

It wasn't until she was five minutes into her new class that she realized that Kevin had offered no opinion about having Mulder as his AD.




Falls Church, Virginia
November 5th, 2014

Trying to maintain as much sense of normalcy as possible for his children, Mulder decided to put off moving until after Halloween. It had only taken three days to do the paperwork on the new house, but he thought the kids deserved one last night of trick or treating with kids they'd known since preschool.

By the time people conspired to visit two days after Mulder's family moved in, most of the unpacking was done. This impressed the ladies in attendance but none of the guys seemed to notice.

Things were a bit tense for Scully with both Kersh and Fowley there. So when Kyle took her hand and said, "Let me show you our rooms!" she went willingly.

Kyle was one of the kids she'd spent the least amount of time with, so it both surprised and pleased her that he was being so friendly. He giggled happily when they climbed over the baby-gate at the head of the stairs.

"So Laney don't get hurt," Kyle explained helpfully.

"That's a good idea. She'll be big enough to go downstairs herself soon though, huh?"

"Yup."

The hallway looked very different with some small furniture in it, and family portraits hung on the walls. All the doors had names spelled out on them. "I see your name."

"Yeah, that's 'cause it's my room. Will and Benji don't like theirs, but Avery cried and said they need to be the same, so they did it too. But I like my name on the door."

Scully thought it probably didn't take long before Will and Benji gave in, because they were of an entirely different sort of big brother than Bill Scully was. "I like your name there too."

Obviously enjoying the task of being tour director, Kyle showed her the insides of all their rooms, even Mulder's. He lingered longest over his own room, which she considered to be a natural thing for a six-year-old to do.

The second-to-last room on the tour came as an unpleasant surprise. There were only three things in the room: a white dresser, a half put together crib, and a set of wooden letters. She looked down at Kyle, hoping that he'd explain, but he didn't seem to notice how nonplused she was.

Instead of asking whose room it was, she smiled at him and said, "Can you get your daddy for me? I need to talk to him, alone, for a few minutes."

"Okay!"

"Kyle," she said as he turned to leave. "Thanks for the great tour."




Her smile had melted away by the time Mulder reached her. Taking one look at her face, he asked, "Is something wrong?"

"Yes there's something wrong," she replied coldly, and pointed into the room with the crib. "That."

"Scully-" He began placatingly, but she cut him off.

"Don't 'Scully' me, Mulder! What's going on here? We agreed that this wasn't going to really mean anything and you buy a crib? And letters to spell out his name too?!"

"It's just for show!"

"For show?"

"If Brian or Laura show up," he said softly.

"If they come over, what, you call me to bring the baby over?"

"If you want it that way. Or I can say you're visiting your mom," Mulder added when her glare didn't soften. "I mean, it just has to look like you and Cole live here."

"All right," she said at length. "You'll need some of my things. For your room."

"They wouldn't see my room," he protested.

Scully raised an eyebrow. "Kyle's tour for me included your room."

"Shit."

"My mom kept most of Missy's things. She'll let you have some of her clothes."

"You think so?"

"Trust me. I think I've kept you from the rest of your guests for long enough. You'd better get back to them," Scully said, giving him a little push.

"Yeah, I'm sure Monica and John are huddled around Skinner, hiding from Diana and Kersh," he said sourly before giving her a concerned look. "We're okay?"

"Yeah. We're okay. I wasn't mad enough that you should have worried that I was going to back out of getting married in a few days," she said, accurately voicing his unspoken fear.

"Scully, I..." Mulder began to deny, but decided to drop it.

"I'm going to use the restroom Kyle showed me. Don't wait for me."

He looked back at her one last time, then rejoined the house-warming party below.




Chapter eight

Falls Church, Virginia
November 6th, 2014

The next night Mulder was surprised to open the front door and find Gibson Praise standing on his steps. The younger man gave him a slight smile and held out his hand. "Assistant Director Mulder."

Mulder smirked. "That's a little premature, Gibson. Why don't you come in?" Gibson followed him into the house. "What do I owe the honor of your visit? It's also a little premature to be discussing the X-Files."

"Mostly, I wanted to see how you are doing," Gibson said, and Mulder was touched by his uncharacteristic display of empathy. In the entire year that he and Gibson had hid together in the desert, Gibson had only expressed any sympathy for Mulder's plight on two occasions. He looked up when Gibson continued to speak. "I heard that you recently lost your wife."

"To the flu, yes."

Gibson nodded. "There have been many deaths. Doctor Scully didn't think that the quarantines would do anything, and she was mostly right. It's slowing down, now, though."

Mulder felt himself becoming curious. "Why? Isn't winter the worst time of year for the flu?"

"Mass exposure. Nearly everyone has been exposed by it by now. Except the people who weren't born yet when the virus exploded onto the scene."

"Like Scully's baby." Mulder felt a chill.

"Yes," Gibson agreed, but then his turned a shrewd eye on Mulder. "You lost a wife but you're going to gain another soon."

"Don't pry into my mind," Mulder told him irritably. "Since you've mined that from my brain, I'm sure you've got an opinion on the knowledge you've peeked at."

He shrugged. "No."

"No?" Mulder gave him a disbelieving look. "That makes you the only person who doesn't care, then. Everyone else is sharply divided between thinking we're insane or doing what's best for our kids."

"You do what you have to do. You always have."

"Yeah..." The faint worry Mulder felt earlier in the conversation resurfaced and exploded off his tongue almost before he knew what he was going to say. "Gibson, do you know if Scully's baby is going to be susceptible to the flu?"

Gibson's expression was wry. "I read minds, not tea leaves or crystal balls. I hope he'll be fine, though."

"Me too. She's lost so much already..."

"But not you," Gibson told him. "It's late. I'll talk to you later."

"Uh, sure." Mulder walked him to the door.

It wasn't until he was on his way up to tuck in Delaney and Avery that he realized what Gibson's final remark meant. As he heard it, Mulder thought it was a strange declaration, given that he'd lost a spouse as well, but now he realized that Gibson didn't mean he'd lost less than Scully. Scully hadn't lost him. Mulder paused on the stairs, wondering if Scully felt remotely like that was true these days.




Washington, DC
November 8th, 2014

"Dana, are you almost ready?" Maggie asked from the other side of Scully's closed door.

In front of her mirror Scully grimaced at herself and sighed softly. She wasn't particularly fond of the tasteful cream colored dress she was wearing, but she though it would have been tacky to wear white give that she was a widow.

She'd worn white when she'd married Ethan. A blushing virgin no longer then but terribly innocence about the realities of marriage, so it hadn't struck her as overly inappropriate.

"Dana?"

Once she'd hoped that Mulder would be her first husband. It wasn't a thought she allowed herself to indulge in until after she and Mulder had finally consummated their relationship. However, once the idea was finally allowed to take root in her imagination, it was difficult to shake loose. It consoled her the long months that Mulder had been missing. It's okay. We'll find him. We'll get married and raise this baby together. Even when they found him and put him in the ground, even when she thought that she'd never have another cheerful thought, she still dreamed about a wedding. It was probably a strong factor in her ability to hope once he was disinterred. Why would she still dream if there was no hope for the future?

Reality kept them from getting married after Mulder left the hospital. It was a reason that she'd felt glad when word of Krycek's death reached her. He and his damn associates robbed them of their happily ever after the minute they put the baby at risk. But she never allowed herself to resent William. Not really. Not without crushing guilt.

During the two days between William's birth and Mulder's hasty departure, she almost suggested running to the nearest justice of the peace and getting married then and there, without preamble. But the look in his eyes when he watched her or William spoke already of incredible pain. She worried that making things legal before he fled might kill him.

While he was gone, she never suggested it in her half-frantic, half-passionate e-mails to him, but it was clearly in the subtext. Once returned to her by unexpected - unwanted - means, her dream of being his wife shattered for good.

Yet here she was, about to marry the man, not for love but to fulfill baser needs. Protection. The need to hold onto what was left. Reparation.

She smoothed her dress with one hand and thought about Cole. Summoned a mental image of Mulder soothing Delaney from her nightmare the night of Ethan's funeral. The feeling of Kyle's small hand in hers as he showed her the house. Those were her reasons.

"Dana?"

She swung the door open and hoped that her faint smile would hold. "I'm ready."




Saint Anthony's Church

The music played as Mulder made his way down the aisle. Skinner sat with the children, helping William keep younger kids quiet. The rest of the church was filled Scully's mother, agents they'd once worked with, a few other friends, and empty pews that served only to remind Mulder of people he desperately wished had been there. The gunmen and his sister, for example.

Eventually Scully joined him before the priest. A catholic wedding had been Maggie's idea, and Mulder thought that he could detect a faint note of disapproval on the priest's face. Perhaps he'd been filled in as to the unusual circumstances. Nonetheless, he began the ceremony in a timely manner.

Standing beside Scully, Mulder refused to look at her face. He was terrified that written there would be an indicator that she was not going to be able to go through with it, no matter what it would cost them both if they didn't leave the church married. Instead, he held his breath until she said "I do" and he was able to respond in kind.

Kissing his new bride was like playing kissing games with a stranger - brief, awkward and tentative. It startled him, because in their history they'd shared so many warmer kisses. Things had truly changed.

A heaviness settled in his chest. It wasn't until he pulled away first that he even realized that he'd secretly hoped that the words "I do" would magically erase all the hurt between them.

Not even time had yet done that work.

When he danced with his new bride for the first time, she still felt like someone else's.




He didn't know why, but during the reception Mulder looked out the window while filling a plastic cup half-full of punch for his daughter. Outside, across the street, a man stood by the parked cars. It was Cat's brother, Brian. He made no move to come near, but he was clearly watching. Eventually he realized that he was being watched in return, and raised a hand in a sardonic wave before getting in his car and slowly driving away.

A cool hand touched his back. "What are you looking at?"

He looked down at Scully. "A wedding crasher. Or make that reception crasher. Cat's brother apparently was too shy to come in and deliver his well-wishing in person."

"Scully's mouth folded into a frown. "I'm surprised he didn't give Lindsey a ride." Then she glanced around quickly, as if there were any place nearby that an eight-and-a-half months pregnant woman could hide and spy on them.

"I just can't believe that-"

"-that your former brother-in-law didn't realize you'd go to hell and back for the sake of your children?" Scully suggested.

"Well, I wouldn't equate marrying you to spending time in hell, but yeah."

Scully shrugged. "He just doesn't know you that well."

Mulder nodded, but didn't say what was on his mind. Brian had been his brother-in-law for longer than Scully had been his partner. But then, she'd had reason to know him much better.

Guests wandered off eventually, some with gentle encouragement, leaving the newlyweds and their children alone. After a few minutes of staring at each other, Scully nodded to herself. "Well, I guess we ought to be going too."

"Right. I made us dinner reservations."

"Mulder-"

"It's just a late dinner."

"Okay," she relented. It wasn't as though either of them had eaten anything much during the reception.




Lumina's Garden

Despite the attire of the bride and groom, not to mention the little boys dressed in suits and the tiny girl in a still pristine white frock, the dinner wasn't all that formal. And with the distinct lack of candles, it was definitely not romantic, either.

But it was calm, even happy. Mulder felt more or less at peace, because his children were now safe, and as he glanced at the way Scully laughed at Owen's silly joke, he thought she must be feeling something of the same. In two weeks her infant son would be safely in her arms, and they could both get on with their lives.

Eventually they ask for the check, and Scully cheerfully bids them goodnight.

Kyle looked puzzled when he watched Scully walk to her car. He tugged on Mulder's hand. "Daddy, where's she going?"

Mulder's face turned a bit red. "Um...She's going to her apartment."

"Why does she have a apartment? You and her got married!"

"Well, not everyone who is married lives together."

"They don't?"

"No, not always. Marriages can be funny that way."

"And yours is?"

Definitely, Mulder thought but didn't say. "We'll see her a lot, Kyle, don't worry."

"Oh, okay," Kyle replied, but Mulder could easily see that the six-year-old found the arrangement puzzling. On some level he could relate, since it puzzled him too.




O'Malley's
November 20th, 2014

To Mulder's surprise, Skinner asked him out for a drink. At first Mulder had worried that Fowley would come along, but when he arrived at the bar there sat his former boss, alone. Given that Skinner hadn't noticed him, Mulder felt free to study his profile for a moment. Skinner looked tired. His formerly dark had had given entirely away to gray, and there were permanent lines etched across his forehead that Mulder didn't remember being so deep before.

He slid himself onto the stool to Skinner's right. "I hope you haven't been waiting long."

"No, not too long." Skinner looked up at him with a genuine smile, and touched his grayed brow. "Time is all I have now, anyway."

"If you really feel that way, then why are you re-" The slow shake of Skinner's head aborted Mulder's sentence.

"I've had enough. One day, Mulder, you're going to wake up and look in the mirror and realize that you're old too. And it's going to happen sooner than you think."

"You're not that old," Mulder protested.

"Old enough for the grave? Not yet, and hopefully not for a long time coming. But I'm too old to put in long days at an office any longer. Diana and I are going to travel. I think we've earned that."

It was on the tip of Mulder's tongue to say at least one of them had, but he squashed the impulse to belittle his long-ago ex. "I should say so."

"Now you're going to take over the reins," Skinner told him.

"If this is an intervention, you should have staged it a little sooner..."

"Nothing like that. I just never thought you'd come back to DC."

"Frankly, it wasn't something I foresaw, either."

"Well," Skinner said heartily. "I'm sure it's where you're meant to be."

"You believe in Zen all of the sudden?"

"Old age changes a man," Skinner said, managing a straight face. "So, how's married life treating you?"

Mulder pulled a face. "Shouldn't you hook your fingers in the air for quotes when you say that?"

"That good, huh?"

"It's not a real marriage, you know that."

"Things can change..."

"What have you been doing, hanging out with Maggie Scully?" Mulder asked. "I don't see things changing in the foreseeable future. The kids are safe, so mission accomplished."

"Sure. Have you been following the Mets this season?" The rest of the conversation wandered off in the direction of sports, both men pretending that nothing more important had come up.




William Clinton Commemorative Hospital
November 23rd, 2014

The hospital waiting room, fortunately in a hospital different than the one where Ethan died, was nearly empty the night that Scully waited for her son to be born. When she called Mulder and William to tell them, they'd offered to come, but she declined. Not only would Mulder being there mean that his younger kids would probably come too, she wanted to keep her vigil alone. There had been many people around while Ethan died, and she felt an instinctual need to distance the two experiences from each other.

So in the quiet hush of the hospital she turned magazine pages and occasionally asked nurses about how Lindsey was progressing. There was a clause in their contract that gave her the right to be in the delivery room, but the woman had seemed uneasy about it. Having an unwelcome audience while giving birth was something she knew about, so she opted not to be there. She'd had a child, so it wasn't something she was desperate to witness, anyway, even if it wouldn't involve a crowd of replicants.

A mewling cry approaching the waiting room heralded the arrival of Cole Minnete Scully. When Scully looked up, a smiling nurse holding a blue blanket wrapped bundle was making a beeline for her. Scully held out her arms, and didn't breathe until her son filled them.

"You have a perfect little boy," the nurse told her. "Seven pounds, eleven ounces. Twenty-one inches. Both apagars nine." His form melted to conform to her arms. He only opened his eyes once, flashing a bit of deep blue, while she counted fingers and toes, and admired his shock of dark brown hair.

Scully thought that she might have remembered to say thank you to the nurse. When she could tear her eyes away from her son, she looked up at the nurse and asked, "How is Lindsey?"

"Couldn't be better. She should be out of here in a couple of days - maybe before you take this one home." Scully opened her mouth to ask a question, but before she did the nurse answered it. "She's already signed all the necessary paperwork."

"Great." Cole began to fuss.

"So, Mom, would you like to give him his first bottle?"

"Oh yes." As she stared down into his tiny face, the rest of the world melted away, inconsequential.




Falls Church, Virginia
One hour later

Mulder looked up when he realized that William was flying at him, phone in hand. "Something on fire?" he asked his oldest son.

"No, something good." William grinned at him. "The baby was born tonight. Mom said that he's perfect."

"And Lindsey didn't give her any problems?"

"Nope, the papers are already signed, so that's squared away."

"Then you should tell her congratulations for me."

"You do it, she's still on the phone." William thrust the cordless at him.

For a second Mulder hesitated. How do you congratulate your wife on the birth of a child that wasn't yours? Deciding that he was being stupid, he took the phone. "Hey, Scully, William told me the good news. Congratulations! Yeah, sure you can bring him over as soon as he can leave the hospital, Will and I would both love to see him..."




Chapter nine

November 26th, 2014

"Dad, do we have cranberry sauce?" William asked, looking over his shoulder at his father.

"What?" Mulder asked distractedly. "I don't know, Will. Why don't you look in the cabinet by the sink?"

"Yeah, okay." William abandoned the notepad and pen and went to check. He was supposed to be helping his father make a list of what they'd need for Thanksgiving, but so far it was a solo effort. Mulder was staring out the window, probably thinking about how tomorrow would be the first major holiday without Cat.

William tried not to sigh as he thought about that himself. It was clearly on everyone's minds, expect perhaps for his sister's since she wasn't old enough to remember the holidays the year before. He'd actually volunteered to be Mulder's helper with the list because the other boys were so cranky.

He looked on the shelf and spied three white labeled cans. "We've got enough. Are we going to make potatoes or buy them already done?" William asked.

"We get potatoes with the turkey. A pie too."

"Just one?"

"I was thinking of getting another," Mulder admitted. "It comes with pumpkin, so-"

"Apple," William said firmly. "Apple is Kyle and Owen's favorite."

"Right," Mulder agreed, but then his attention drifted back to the window. To William's surprise, he got to his feet quite suddenly, and walked to the door.

Before William could even follow him, Mulder was ushering Scully in. A puff of cold came out with her first breath, but it was warm in the house, so that didn't happen a second time. Without quite meaning to, William found himself remembering Mulder's offer when they'd come for Ethan's funeral. There was now no need for him to get on a plane to visit her over Thanksgiving break.

As he approached his parents, William could see that the baby was sleeping in the carrier she gripped in one hand. He peered into it, but Cole was well bundled up, so all he could see was part of a wrinkled, red, face.

A short time later, however, she took the baby out. All William could think was that his new half-brother was incredibly tiny. On the other hand, the only baby he spent any time with before was Delaney, and she'd been a few months old when he'd met her.

Mulder must have been thinking along the same lines, because he asked, "How long is he?"

When Scully told him, William gave her a shocked look. "He can't possibly be. That's nearly two feet!"

Both of his parents laughed softly. "Will, when they measure a baby, the stretch them out. We think of them as being so little because they feel safe all scrunched up," his mother explained.

Mulder gave him a fond smile. "I remember when you were this small." There was something wistful in his voice, and William realized that his father didn't have a lot of memories of him as a baby, so maybe that's what put it there.

"I don't think I was ever that small," he objected.

"You were," Scully told him. "Hold out your arms."

"Uh, okay…" William did as instructed, and tried not to wince as she settled the baby into his waiting arms. "Wow, he's a lot heavier than Laney's dolls."

"Just wait until he's about ten months old," his mother said with a snort. "We'll look back fondly on him being so easy to hold. So light."

"I guess," William agreed. He looked down and studied the baby. Cole didn't really look like Ethan or his mother, but then on teacher had told their class that all babies look like Winston Churchill, so maybe he wasn't supposed to yet. He decided not to tell his mother about the former Prime Minister, though.

"Can I hold him?" Mulder asked after a while. "Don't worry, I've had a lot of practice."

"Of course," she agreed, and William was relieved when she took the baby from him.

As soon as he was holding the baby, Mulder gave Scully a calculating look. "I talked to Gibson Praise a few days ago."

"Oh?"

"We got around to the topic of the flu. How most people have been exposed to it by now - except for the babies born after the initial outbreak."

William watched a sudden panicked look light up his mother's face, and he was sure that she'd never thought about the fact that Cole could get sick too. If his father noticed, he pretended not to, because he went on. "I have a theory about why none of my kids got sick. I think maybe they're immune."

"Why would they be immune?" Scully asked, sounding a bit agitated.

"We never really figured out what the purpose of that junk DNA you and I got after being experimented on was. I think it's possible I passed it along to them, and one benefit of it is that they didn't get sick."

"I don't know, Mulder."

"There has to be a reason that none of them, not one of the six, got sick despite being in contact with someone who died from it," Mulder insisted. "I had some blood tests done on them Monday."

"Would doctors even know where to look?" William asked, and they looked at him like they'd forgotten that he was still there. He hadn't even thought to ask why they'd gone to the doctor's earlier in the week. No one ever really explained the various shots and tests kids got every few years anyway.

"Yes, Will," Scully said, but she didn't sound happy to admit it. "You've probably heard about the human genome project at school, right? Well, they've gotten very good at mapping things out over the last five years or so. Especially if they've got a map, like films from your dad would provide."

"They said they could have the results in a week, Scully," Mulder told her. In his arms, Cole began to whimper, so he handed the baby back to her. "I'll let you know when I've got them."

"Um, okay," she replied, sounding confused.

"So if they do have the junk DNA like I think, you can have Cole tested too," Mulder explained. "If he's immune too, you won't have to worry at all."

"Right."

"Mom, are you going to come over tomorrow?" William blurted out, unsure why right then seemed like the best time to ask. It just seemed like the time to change the subject.

"I don't think so, Sweetie. I'm supposed to go to my mom's. Your uncle Charlie is coming for a change."

"Oh." He tried very hard not to sound disappointed. So much for his secret fantasy of having dinner together like a real family. Silently he berated himself for even half believing that his parents getting married meant that they'd ever be together again.

"Besides," she added. "You dad didn't invite me."

"You know you'd be welcomed," Mulder said quickly. "But if you have other plans…"

"If you want to do something on Friday, that'd be fun, Will. Maybe we could catch a movie."

With some effort, William forced enthusiasm into his voice. "Yeah, maybe we could see that new horror movie In the Gloaming."

Scully grimaced. "You know, that was the title of a nice novella once upon a time, too."

"Oh, okay," William muttered. As soon as his parents were not looking, he slipped out the back door.




The first thing he noticed was the way that the wind picked at the red hoodie that Benji was wearing. Their father kept telling him that it was cold in DC during November so that he ought to wear a coat, but William's brother rarely listened. Benji was looking down at the basketball in his hands, but he didn't look like he had any intention of throwing the ball at the hoop that hung from the garage.

"Hey," William said, making him look up.

"So, did you ask her?" Benji tossed the ball to him, and William caught it easily.

Stalling for time, William carefully lined up a shot and sunk the ball into the hoop. "Yeah. She said she's going to my grandma's."

Benji looked disappointed. "Oh."

When Benji looked away, William asked what had been on his mind all morning. "She's my mom, why do you care that she's got other plans?"

"He's so sad, Will," Benji said plaintively.

"You mean Dad?"

"Yeah, Dad. People think that just because I'm not even eleven yet that I don't understand what's going on, but I do. I know as well as you do."

"I'm not sure I know what you mean," William admitted, confused.

"He married your mom because of us," Benji stressed the last word. "And if they don't fall in love again, neither of them is gonna because of us."

"Well..." William felt slightly ashamed, because he too underestimated his little brother's understanding of their parents' situation.

"They'll just be alone, lonely and, um..."

"Broken."

"Yeah." Benji nodded. "Your mom is okay. Dad used to love her. If they're married they should be in love again, you know? It's like their last chance."

More than anything, William wanted to tell his brother that they just had to give them time. But he couldn't. "I don't know, Benji. They have a lot of bad things in their past too. Maybe they won't ever forgive each other enough to be in love again."

"Then they're doomed and it's our fault." Benji's voice was small.

"Hey, don't say that. I don't think that they're horribly unhappy. Yeah, they're sad, but that gets better. It's not like any of this is stuff we wanted to happen, and I know they don't blame us, so we shouldn't either."

"Maybe." Benji didn't sound convinced.

William threw the ball back to him. "Come on, let's play Horse."




Hoover Building

December 1st, 2014

Mulder's first day as AD didn't turn out as expected, but it wasn't the job that threw him for a loop.

Despite dropping Avery and Delaney off at daycare on his way to work, he still managed to get there before eight a.m. When he first arrived at the Hoover Building, he reflexively headed for the stairs, but then recalled that Skinner had never been banished to the basement like he and Scully had. Feeling sheepish, he went up to Skinner's office instead.

The plaque by the door said "Assistant Director F. Mulder" as requested.

A young woman, who barely looked out of high school but was probably closer to thirty, looked up when he opened the door. She smiled at him, showing toothpaste ad white teeth. "AD Mulder."

"Yup, that's me," he admitted.

"I'm your assistant, Stacy Keats." She held out her hand.

Mulder shook it. "Nice to meet you," he said, but he was really thinking that she was too damn young to be up here playing sectary.

"Is there anything you need?" she asked, sounding properly solicitous. At least her acting skills were decent enough.

"Coffee would be good. And could you show me how to call down to the basement and let my agents know I'm on my way down?"

"Certainly."




The basement space seemed bigger than he remembered, but just as dingy. "I see that the basement was skipped when the Hoover Building was remodeled." He remarked. Four faces turned his way when they heard him. Only two looked unbearably nervous.

Characteristically, Reyes was the first out of her seat, and she came over to give him a brief hug. "Mulder."

"Did Skinner get many hugs?" Mulder asked her wryly.

"A few," Doggett told him, with a frown that didn't quite reach his eyes. "You know how she is."

"John," she said warningly, but he just grinned at her.

"As long as she doesn't terrify the new recruits," Mulder said blandly, then turned to look at the sheepish young men standing to the side. Their suits were so new he half expected to see a tag hanging from one of their sleeves. "Congratulations on getting through Quantico. Now, is it true that you really requested this placement? Usually you have to piss someone off to end up down here."

Kevin seemed about to answer, but Gibson tapped him on the shoulder and shook his head. So he just gave Mulder an embarrassed smile instead.

"Why don't we sit down?" Mulder asked, and he noticed that for once the office had an abundance of chairs. They weren't fancy, but there were five of them. "Hopefully this will be a one-time occurrence, but I'd like you to fill me in on what cases you're working on. I'm sure that Kryder and Praise are eager to learn that information too." Both men nodded.

They spent the next couple of hours going through the three cases that they were in various states of completeness towards, and Mulder wasn't sure who paid more attention: him or the new recruits. A glance at Kevin told him that he was feeling more out of place than Gibson was, but he didn't have to read minds to know it was because Gibson had a past with all three of them, and Kevin only knew him. It made him want to take the boy under his wing, but it wouldn't be a good idea to show favoritism, so Kevin would have to learn to swim or sink on his own.

Eventually they broke for lunch, and Mulder asked Doggett if he could have a word with him before he went. Doggett gave him an expectant look once there was no one else in the office.

"You really turned down the AD position?" Mulder asked him. He'd meant to call him and talk about it, but there never seemed to be time for it.

"I did. Don't worry, I'm not jealous," Doggett assured him.

"But the money-"

"Money isn't everything," Doggett said firmly. "This is what I want to do, and I intend to until I'm too old to do it any more."

"Well, okay then," Mulder told him, feeling relieved.

The rest of the day passed quickly.




Falls Church, Virginia

5:30pm

He was still helping Avery get his boots off when William appeared at his elbow. "Hey Dad. You got mail."

"I have mail, you mean," Mulder told him, taking the thick envelope from him.

"Whatever," William replied, but his smile was good-natured.

A quick glance at the return address proved that the lab had been good to their word - exactly one week later and the results were in. Mulder brought them up to his desk and left them there for later. It was time to start dinner.

After dinner, after loading the dishwasher and doing a load of laundry, after cajoling his sons about picking up after themselves, after baths for his two youngest and after bedtime stories, Mulder was finally able to leave the older kids in the living room watching TV and go open his mail.

At first he was thrilled by the results. His hunch had proven to be correct. Every one of his sons had inherited what was referred to as a "gene abnormality" in the letter, an abnormality that was present in his own DNA. But reading on, the smile on his face faded away entirely.

Only his sons had inherited it.

His first thought, one that would leave him cursing himself mentally for weeks to come was to wonder if Delaney hadn't inherited it because she wasn't his. It was an unworthy thought, but when he allowed himself to remember how disappointed Cat had been that Kyle and Avery were boys, it made a strange sort of sense. Cat wasn't the type who would have an affair, he was sure of it, but she really wanted a girl...

On autopilot, Mulder walked into the little girl's room and stared down into her crib. It wouldn't be long before he bought her a "big girl bed". It was a big milestone for his daughter. If she was his daughter...

"Dad?" a voice interrupted his brooding, and he turned to see Owen standing behind him.

"What's up, Sport?"

"What are you doing?"

"Watching your sister sleep. I did it a lot when you were all little."

"Oh."

Before he could think better of it, Mulder decided to use his son. "Owen, who do you think Laney looks more like? Me or Mom?"

Owen flinched a little, and Mulder felt guilty for not talking about Cat more often. "You, Dad. She's got Mommy's hair color, but she looks like me, and everyone says I look like you."

"Yeah, I think you're right." Mulder bent down and straightened his daughter's blanket before joining the boys downstairs.




The Next Day

It was harder to call Scully than he thought it would be. "Hey Scully, I got the results back."

"Oh?" she asked in her own living room. Cole was stretched across her lap, and she used her free hand to rub tiny circles on his back.

"It wasn't entirely what I was expecting...the boys inherited the junk DNA as I expected."

"Just the boys?" she asked perceptively.

"Yeah. That's the unexpected part. Laney doesn't have it." He bit his tongue to keep from admitting that he'd ever had a moment of doubt about her paternity. "So that complicates things."

"How?"

"Well, we know that it's not one hundred percent sure that Cole got it from you, then. I guess it never was, but it's now crystal clear that there's a chance that he didn't. And of course I have to worry now that Laney might get the flu-"

"Even if she had that junk DNA too, we can't be sure that's what kept the boys from getting sick. And in fact, Mulder, if you think about it, that she didn't get sick either makes an argument for them just having good immune systems rather than magical gene protection."

"I guess," Mulder admitted.

"She's already been exposed, anyway, and didn't get sick. I don't think you really need to worry too much that she'll get the flu too."

"I'll try not to. Anyway, do you want William's films? So you can check Cole's DNA anyway? Even if you don't believe that having that DNA will keep him from being sick, doesn't it peak your scientific curiosity?"

"Yes, it does. It never occurred to me that the changes to our DNA from exposure to the black oil might have been something we could pass on. It'd be irresponsible not to have it checked out."

"Swing by and get them when you want." Mulder invited. "I can give you the name of the doctor who did the tests-"

"I'd rather have someone else do it. Double blind, you understand."

"Oh sure."

Scully picked up the films and arranged for Cole to be blood tested the following day.




Jayland Medical Building
December 7th, 2004

To Scully's surprise, the results didn't come in the mail like they had for Mulder's children. Instead the doctor asked her to come by the office so he could discuss the findings with her. After she signed in, everyone seemed to disappear off the face of the Earth.

Cole snuffled in Scully’s arms as she nervously paced the consultation room. It shouldn’t take this long for the doctor to interpret the results, so she was afraid that the news was bad.

When the doctor came in the room, his expression wasn’t hard to read; it was one of puzzlement.

"Well?" Scully asked anxiously.

"I’ve compared the sample to your other son’s…" He frowned a little, making Scully’s breath hitch in her chest. "Cole does have the gene mutation you asked me to look for. You can see here and here." He pointed to the films. "that the gene defect is the same."

"Oh, thank God." He looked surprised to hear her say that, and she decided that it was probably unusual for a parent to be pleased about a genetic abnormality. She tried to think of how she'd explain Mulder's theory, but he interrupted before she got very far.

"I’m confused about something, however, Ms. Scully."

"What’s that?"

The doctor looked down at her over his glasses. "I was sure you told me that your sons are half siblings."

"They are," Scully acknowledged.

The doctor’s frown deepened. "No, they’re not." He placed one film over the other, giving Scully a sense of déjà vu as she recalled doing the same in front of her mother years ago. "If you look at their DNA, it’s clear that they share two common parents, not one."

"That’s not, that’s not possible," Scully stammered.

"We can test again if you’d like, but I’m about 99% certain that Cole and your older boy have the same father."

"But…"

"Didn’t you say that both boys were conceived through artificial insemination?"

Scully didn’t feel like confiding that they weren’t entirely sure how William had been conceived. "Yes…"

"Perhaps the lab made a mistake and used one of the original embryos instead of ones created for you and your husband."

"I suppose," Scully agreed faintly, knowing it wasn't possible – all of the embryos from the first IVF attempt had been implanted.




Once at home, Scully expressed her doubts to her son as she changed him. Her light tone belied the words she was speaking, but the baby didn't seem to notice.

"That doctor has no idea what he's talking about, little one. He's obviously covering up some sort of mistake. That's a jerk thing to do, isn't it? Yes it is, yes it is! Don't worry, we'll had the test done over, this time by someone who knows what they're doing, unlike that crazy man. He's so crazy, oh yes he is, yes he is! Besides Cole, anyone looking at you would say you don't look like Mulder at all, you look-"

The color drained from her face as she stared at her now freshly diapered baby. "It can't be," she said in her normal tone of voice. "No. No..."

She put the baby in his crib, and then ran to her bedroom, engulfed by a feeling of dread.

Hands trembling, she yanked open the drawer to her nightstand and began pawing through the contents. She explosively released the breath she didn't know she'd been holding when her fingers closed around what she'd been looking for. A stack of photographs, given to her by Reyes.

It had been two years since she'd last looked at them, but they were still new-looking, unfaded, newest one on top. Her upset made her careless, and she let each discarded picture fall to her bedspread as she dismissed it. Not Delaney. Not Avery. Not Kyle. Owen. It was Owen.

She held up the photo of Mulder's third son, and began to cry. The picture of then three-day-old Owen Mulder seemed innocuous enough. Small wrinkled face crowned with dark brown hair. It was not the type of picture that normally made a woman like her sob, but then, most people looking at it wouldn't have seen it as shattering evidence that a child inexplicably had the wrong father.

Placed next to a recent photo of Cole Scully, Owen's picture would appear to have been of the same infant, or at the very least his look-alike fraternal twin.




Chapter ten
Two Hours Later

Mulder was bewildered when Scully unexpectedly stormed into his house and thrust Cole's diaper bag into his hands. "We need to talk. Now."

"Sure. Laney and Avery are down for a nap and everyone else is at school still for activities." He tried to read her face, but couldn't. At least he couldn't detect anything beyond unhappiness. "How did you know I'd be home in the middle of afternoon?" He'd taken a half day so he could get Avery registered for the January session of a private preschool.

"I called the Hoover building," she replied shortly. "As you suggested I had Cole tested to see if he has the same gene as Will and your boys. He does."

Why this upset her, Mulder couldn't begin to imagine. "That's good, isn't it? It means he won't get the flu either. Well, probably."

She gave him an icy stare that further confused him. "He won't get the flu because both of his parents are immune."

"But Ethan wasn't immune," Mulder protested automatically. "He got the flu. He died of it."

"According to the DNA test, William and Cole share a lot of the same genes. Because Cole is your son too," Scully said flatly.

"How could that be possible?" Mulder asked, giving the baby in Scully's arms a terrified glance.

"That's what I'd like to know."

"You aren't suggesting that I have something to do with this, are you?" he asked uneasily. "I didn't-"

Her look softened. A little. "I...No. I don't think you orchestrated this, but there have been times when they could have stolen DNA from you. When they did that barbaric brain surgery on you, for example."

If he hadn't been so shaken by her revelation, he might have smiled at her clinical description of what may have happened. Stolen his DNA instead of violated him without his knowledge. "Or Ellens airforce base. And there was that missing nine minutes."

"Don't bring aliens into this, Mulder," she warned. "We're done dealing with little gray men."

"I'm more concerned about why someone would have done this to us," Mulder said, reaching to take the baby from her.

She looked highly reluctant, but made no move to stop him. "We're being manipulated again. I want answers," she told him. "And I want them before I return to teaching in January."

"How do we get them?" Mulder asked, jiggling the baby in his arms.

Instead of answering him, she pulled out a phone.



That Afternoon

Although she was no longer an FBI agent, Scully still knew how to demand cooperation. As a result she and Mulder found themselves granted an audience with the director of the fertility clinic that very afternoon.

The three of them were not alone. The lab technician who had signed off as having performed procedures with Scully and Ethan's genetic material was also present. It wasn't long before he buckled and admitted that there had been problems. Ones he'd caused.

The lab tech's hands shook, which was not hard to understand considering the icy glare Scully had turned on him.

"Well, go on," the director commanded in a tone cold enough to match. "Explain the 'error.'"

The tech looked down at the beige carpet and seemed to be willing the floor to open up at his feet. "Um..." was as far as he got the first thirty seconds. He looked up, at Mulder, perhaps because his was the least angry face in the room. "There was an incident with the sample mister Minnette gave."

The director waved an impatient hand.

"I, uh, dropped it." the tech's face flushed scarlet. "But I found a second vial owned by Ms. Scully, so I used that. No harm, no foul, I thought. Why bother you nice folks with the inconvenience of procuring another sample?"

"Which, I assure you, is exactly what I would have advised him to do. Were I consulted." The director glowered at the younger man.

The tech wrung his hands. "It never occurred to me that the donors of the two samples might have been two different men. Not until the investigation into the, uh, mix-up began this afternoon."

"Naturally Mister Hall here tendered his resignation once the truth came out," the director informed them in a placating tone. "And we've reversed all charges, so your account ought to be refunded by the end of the day."

"Thank you," Scully replied tonelessly.

"It sorrows me greatly that your husband has passed on so we cannot rectify the problem." He actually looked sincere, to Mulder's great surprise. "And if you choose not to keep the child, this office would be more than willing to assist with arrangements-"

"Wait a minute!" Mulder protested. "Scully, if you're planning to give Cole up I think that I-"

"Of course I'm not planning to give him up," Scully said angrily. "What kind of mother do you think I am?"

"One whose trust has been betrayed. And heart broken," the director said astutely. "That you might give your son up is not my default assumption, but it's hard to gauge how people react to something like this. I just mentioned it as a possibility that I was prepared to help you with."

"Thank you, but I think I've had quite enough of your 'help,'" Scully said coldly. "I can assure you, that although this is an unpleasant surprise, either his father or I are prepared to take care of Cole."

There was a few minutes more of apologies and attempts to placate Scully, but she was having none of it. For Mulder's part, he was still too stunned to learn that he had another child to interpret how he felt about the situation. Scully muttered something about suing as they walked out of the clinic, but he didn't really pay attention to her.



This time. That's what Mulder was thinking about when they got back into his car. This time there was no discussion about giving up one of their sons for adoption. This time she seemed sure that things would work out. He gave her a sidelong glance.

How might the last 12 years have been different if she'd been sure the last time? He pushed the thought away. The circumstances the last time around were so far removed from the present reality that he didn't want to think about it anymore. Not now. Not after he and William had both gotten over things.

"What are you thinking about?" Scully asked, and he realized that he had never put the car and drive. They had just been sitting there.

"I'm sorry," he said automatically.

"For what?" Her expression was puzzled. "For once, it's not your fault."

"Right. Because every other evil that's ever befallen you has been all my fault," Mulder said with a frown.

"I didn't mean it like that. And I don't know what you're saying sorry for."

"Don't you? I got what I wanted and you didn't."

"I still have no idea what you're talking about."

"The happily ever after with kids. Even before I got William back I had pretty much the life I wanted. Loving spouse. Beautiful kids... you never said it, but I know that's what you wanted too. I'm just sorry that you never got it."

"What makes you think that I didn't? Granted, I didn't have a long time with Ethan, but times like this summer with William there, that's about as happily ever after as you can get," Scully told him.

He shook his head lightly. "It wasn't long enough, and it isn't fair."

"I think you ought to let me be the judge of what is or isn't fair or enough for me," Scully said coolly.

On that note he finally started the car.




Avery and Delaney ran to greet Mulder when they pulled into the yard. Mulder gave them hugs before settling up with the baby sitter that he'd hurriedly hired before he and Scully left for their appointment. It'd been the first time that he'd hired a babysitter in DC, but the young mother a neighbor recommended had seemed the responsible type, and all seemed well upon their return.

Mulder was just shutting the door behind the baby sitter when Scully appeared at his elbow, clutching a handle to Cole's carrier in her right hand. "Hey." He didn't like the look on her face.

"Do you want Cole?"

"What?" he asked uneasily. It'd only been hours since he found out that the boy was his, and he wasn't sure that he could stand such a conversation already.

"For the night," she said, sounding irritated. "We'll have to discuss custody arrangements later, but if you want him for the night, that's okay."

Except he didn't really think it was okay. Not from the tense way she held her shoulders, or the strained look on her face. It did not, however, seem wise to point that out. "Tonight? I... uh... I don't have formula or diapers that would fit him or anything."

"Fine." To his dismay, she looked even more upset. What would have been right thing to say? "Another night then."

He decided that maybe she thought he was rejecting the baby. And he wasn't, he was just in total and complete shock. Studying her face, he wished he could read minds again. "Is tomorrow okay? I could stop at the store on my way home."

"Okay. Do you have a notepad?"

Mulder pulled the magnetic shopping list off the front of the refrigerator and handed it to her with a pen. After minute or two she handed them back. "This is what you'll need for him. I can bring some stuff over, but you'll want to have some on hand too, so you don't run out of diapers in the middle of the night."

"Thanks."

"What time tomorrow, Mulder?" she asked, rocking the baby carrier slightly as Cole began to fuss.

"Is five okay?"

"Yes. Goodbye, Mulder."

As the door shut behind her he wished that he could convince himself that she had made a hasty exit because the baby was now crying, but he couldn't.



He was still staring at the door when William spoke to him. "Hey Dad, what's going on?"

Mulder turned, startled. It hadn't even occurred to him that the other kids had gotten home while he was gone. "William."

"Where were you?"

"Sit at the table." He sat down too. All of a sudden weariness caught up to him, coating him like a suit of lead. There had been too many times recently where he'd had to explain things to his children. It made him so tired.

Now William was the one who looked alarmed. "Is something wrong?"

Mulder shook his head slowly. "Not exactly. Your mom and I found out something today, Will."

"What?"

"Cole isn't Ethan's baby. There was some sort of accident with his, uh, sample at the lab, and the person who made the mistake compounded it by using another sample your mom still had there from years ago - mine."

William blinked, clearly trying to puzzle things out. "So...you're saying that Cole is your baby, too?"

"That's the long and short of it."

"Wow, you must feel really surprised."

"That's an understatement, Kid," Mulder told him.

"Is Mom pissed?"

"You better believe it."

"But why?" William protested. "It's not like Cole turned out to be some stranger's baby. She knows you."

"That doesn't matter, Will. Well, she'd be even more upset if he did turn out to have some stranger for a father, but... it's like this. She and Ethan wanted to have a baby together. They went through a lot of effort to get him. Before he's even born Ethan died. But she had Cole, so she was able to tell herself that she was able to hold onto a piece of him. That's what parents do. I feel that way about Cat and your siblings, you understand that, right?"

William doesn't say anything, but he gave Mulder a small smile to show that he was following the conversation.

"So today, today she finds out that she was wrong. Cole isn't a little piece of Ethan to hang onto. Instead he's my child. And I think you realize that I haven't been one of her favorite people in a long long time. Now do you understand why she's upset?"

"I guess so." The look on his eldest son's face was still dubious, but Mulder didn't have it in him to continue the conversation. "But it's better that it was a person's accident than someone doing it on purpose, isn't it?"

"I don't know," Mulder replied. "My first guess was that someone was trying to muck with our lives again, but I don't feel as relieved as I think I should. And I know that your mom doesn't either."

William shrugged. "She'll get over it."

"How can you be so sure?" Mulder asked curiously.

"She's Mom," William said, if that explained it all.



The Next Night

Picking Cole up from Scully's struck Mulder as very sad. She was clearly reluctant to hand him over, and how could he blame her? He and Cat had never had any of the kids away from them overnight before they were six months old, never mind two weeks old. A dozen times he thought about suggesting that they do it another night, but he could see in her the old steadfast determination to do things because they were right that had marked much of her half of their work relationship. So he settled for repeatedly reassuring her that they'd have a good night instead.

Having Cole there was a very different experience than any he'd fielded before. For one, he seemed to have forgotten quite a lot about newborns in the two years since he'd last had one. Besides that, he was the only parent, and didn't have another adult to hand the baby off to. William and Benji both offered to help, but he could see that they were only doing so because they felt it was expected of them, so he only took them up on it while cooking dinner.

Not to mention he kept expecting one of the boys to ask why "Dana's baby" was over their house for the night. That expectation felt like the sword of Damocles above his head, but they never asked. Maybe William had told them, he didn't know. It came as a relief when they went to bed and he no longer had to think of what he could tell them.

Just two hours after going to bed himself, Mulder woke up with his heart was pounding. At first he had no idea what he pulled out of sleep, but he soon realized that it was Cole over the baby monitor.

As he rocked the baby, he thought back to the conversation he and Cat had just after they got married. Having children hadn't been a topic they'd spent much time on, but that night she decided to press the issue.

"You do want children, don't you?" Cat asked him.

"I have a child." He reminded her, stalling for time.

"With me." She'd snapped back. "It's not that difficult a question."

"Yes it is." Mulder retorted. "I do want to have a family with you. I'm just not sure that it's a good idea."

"Why not?"

"You know why not. The date."

"That again!" During their courtship Cat hadn't been scared off by the explanations of what he learned at Mount Weather. But it was clear that she didn't quite believe their significance, either.

"Yes, that," he said touchily. "How can I bring kids into the world knowing that there's going to be an alien invasion in 2012?"

"So you think that they're going to win."

"What?" Mulder asked then, the line of thought he was preparing to support his argument completely derailed.

"These invaders. You think that they're going to win and make life not worth living," Cat explained calmly. "You firmly believe that, apparently."

"Well, it's a distinct possibility."

"I guess we should get a gun, then. Too bad you don't have your service piece anymore. Or maybe poison. Oh, I know. We can go hiking in the mountains this winter and not come back. Hypothermia is supposed to be easy, like falling asleep."

"Cat, what are you talking about?" Mulder asked slowly, giving her a confused look.

"Suicide, obviously," she told him. "If it's a foregone conclusion that we're going to lose, why bother living out the next decade with that hanging over our heads? We should just end it now, rather than subject ourselves to ten years of worrying about the inevitable."

"That's a little extreme!" Mulder protested.

The look in Cat's eyes told him that she wasn't serious, but she wasn't happy with him either. "Fox, maybe the aliens will come to enslave us in ten years. Maybe they won't, and someone planted that information you broke in to find. They knew your every move, so I'm sure that they could have predicted what you would do."

"Maybe," Mulder allowed.

"But say it's true. We don't know what would really happen, do we? I love you, Fox, but I'm not willing to spend a decade spooking at shadows. I'm not going to leave you if you truly don't want kids, but it can't be because of this. I can't live with a person who makes themselves a martyr to a possible future, and denies themselves the important things in life because of what might happen someday."

"But-"

"None of us has any guarantees," Cat told him. "If we did, you wouldn't hear stories about a father of four tragically falling off a girder at a construction site and leaving his family fatherless. The unthinkable happens. I think that's something all parents have to live with, don't they?"

"Sure, but this is different. I actually know what's going to happen."

"If you knew then what you know now, can you honestly tell me that you wouldn't have had your son anyway?" Cat pressed.

Mulder had to stop and think about that. "I don't think so. I don't think I could have been told anything that would have made me say no to her request. If things go badly, I'm going to find him no matter what and teach him to fight back."

"That's what I thought." Cat sounded a little smug to him. "If you can teach him, you can teach our kids too. I know you think that they'll be defenseless, but they won't be. Not if they're raised by you."

It was only the first of a series of discussions that they had in the months before conceiving Benji, but Mulder did walk away from it with one thing - a resolve not to be that guy he thought he might have become immediately after Scully broke him out of prison. The guy who hid under the covers, waiting for the monsters to come. Scully had been right. There still was hope.

Cat was right too. The unexpected things that happened in the world didn't mean that life should stop. Life went on, as long as there were people to live it.

Looking down at his unplanned for son, Mulder couldn't help but wonder what this child's life would hold. He could only hope that the good would far out-weight the bad. Cole was dead to the world, and didn't notice as Mulder wiped formula from the corner of his mouth.

Mulder felt a burst of protective instinct as he laid the baby in the bassinet he'd hastily put together earlier that night. Cole hadn't asked for him to be his father, but Mulder was the only one he had, so maybe he ought to start acting like it.




Chapter Eleven

Meanwhile

Scully found it hard to sleep that night. She woke up every two hours still, even without the baby there to cry. The first time she had forgotten that he was with Mulder until she found herself in the kitchen reaching for a bottle to fill formula.

Instead, she's sat at the table and rested her chin on her fist. Suggesting overnight visits had been a mistake. Or, she reflected, expecting Mulder to be eager for them had been the mistake. She'd expected him to react to discovering that Cole was his the same way she had to learning Emily Simms was hers.

Of course he hadn't. Unlike Emily had been to her at the time, Cole wasn't his only realistic shot at parenthood. So, in the hours retrospect, she worried that her offer had seemed pushy, rather than generous like she intended. And he wouldn't understand, either, that it felt like a significant self-sacrifice to make the offer.

He'd seemed slightly bewildered, but agreeable when he got into her house at five. She'd watched him put Cole's infant seat in the back of his vehicle, between Avery's booster seat and Delaney's toddler car seat, and had felt a curious mixture of resentment and relief. His healthy children proved that he was an experienced caregiver and that she needn't worry about him being responsible. But at the same time they served to highlight that her precious baby would feel much less unique to him than her. Not that she thought he loved his many children any less than she did her two, just that she imagined that a seventh child felt less wondrous than one that was a parent's sole focus.

Still, she managed to summon up a smile and waved as they drove away from her house. This time. It seemed like one of those things that would get harder with practice, not easier. Three mugs of warm milk later, time still crawled as she waited for it to be morning one of the times she woke up.




The Next Morning

In places far from Scully's DC home, roosters were still crowing about the early hour when Mulder arrived to drop off the baby. She'd been awake for over an hour at that point, so she was fully dressed rather than bleary-eyed and robe-clad like he worried she might be.

She met him in the driveway. She said nothing, but a definite air of expectation hung around her, reminding him of the smoking man's characteristic cloud of smoke.

"We don't have to do this," Mulder said as he pulled the diaper bag out of the car.

"What?"

"Shuffle him back and forth between us like a soccer ball." He was reaching into the car for the baby then.

Suddenly, Scully looked both grim and resigned. "I get it. You didn't ask for another child. I guess I shouldn't have assumed that you'd want to spend time with him-"

Straightening, the baby now in his arms, Mulder snapped back "Dammit, that's not what I mean!"

She stared at him, apparently waiting for him to elaborate.

He sighed. "In the eyes of the law we are married. They would be nothing wrong with you moving in."

"What would that accomplish?" she asked guardedly.

"I would end this pointless back and forth," Mulder said, wondering why he had to explain the obvious. "You wouldn't miss any time with your baby, and he would have the benefit of a live-in male role model."

"So you're altruistically suggesting this for good of me and the baby."

Her obvious cynicism bothered him. But instead of replying, he held out the baby like an offering. One quickly accepted.

"I should have known that this was a mistake," Scully said. "You're not really interested in your suggestions. I'm just making you feel obligated to problem solve."

"No, you're not," he objected automatically, but his heart wasn't in it. Scully and he'd been thrown a curve ball that he just wanted to recover from.

"All this is too soon," Scully declared.

Doubt-filled or not, Mulder wasn't ready to admit defeat. "We could try for just a couple of days. You and him at my place-"

"And then what, if that doesn't work out like we both know it won't?"

"Then I guess you'd come back here," Mulder said chagrined.

Scully shook her head. "Cole is way too young to know the difference, but the other kids are not. I think that we both can agree that they've already have had too many upsets in their young lives. This would just confuse them and probably make things worse for them."

It was his instinct to object, but he knew she was right. His sons were sensitive souls, and even though they may be able to tell him that they understood, he knew that deep down they would feel confused, and possibly think that it not working out was their faults. And since Delaney wouldn't understand it all, it would just be another disruption in her life.

Mulder sighed again. This would be so much easier if she could just fall in love with him again. Then it wouldn't be pretend. They really would be a happy family together. It was a ridiculous thought. His overreaction when she given up William had burned that bridge. Even if he could fall in love with her.

Scully apparently could not read minds. "We don't have to do this all at once. Like I said, he's a baby. He's never going to remember right now anyway. We can do this slowly. Take him maybe two evenings a week, for just a few hours at the time, and we can tell the kids you're babysitting for me. At least then they get used to the idea of having him around once in awhile. Then in a few months to try overnights again, if you want to."

"Okay," he agreed to the arrangement. Because what else could he say?

Scully looked relieved. "Good."

She was about to walk away when he stopped her. "What about Christmas?"

"Christmas?"

"You know, that holiday coming up towards the end of the month."

She began to look annoyed. "I know what Christmas is, Mulder. What about Christmas?"

"He won't tell you, but William wants you there. I just wondered if you were willing to come by. Maybe for just a few hours," he said, echoing her earlier statement.

Apparently she got the point, because she looked a little anxious. "I guess I could."

"Great. William will be pleased." For some reason, he felt pleased as well. It almost felt like a small victory.

"I'll be in touch," Scully said, and turned to walk into her house. He let her go.




December 11th, 2014

"What?" William asked without looking up from his homework.

He heard Benji whisper "I told you he's got good hearing like Dad" before Owen asked "Can we talk to you?"

"Sure." William closed his history book. He was sick of studying anyway.

The two younger boys sat on the floor and looked up at him. "We were wondering..." Owen began, but he trailed off without saying anything else.

Benji shot him an incredulous look, and turned a little pink. "Owen and I were wondering what it was like living with the Van DeKamps."

"Really?" William's brow wrinkled. "Uh, it wasn't too bad, I guess."

"But they didn't like you much," Owen insisted. "Didn't you say that?"

"Yeah, that's true. They didn't seem to love me, anyway."

"So that had to suck," Benji said, and his eyes guiltily darted towards the door. Mulder wasn't there.

"Well. It's not like they beat me or anything," William tried to explain. "They were just sort of distant."

"Oh. Cold, huh?" Benji asked.

"Sure."

"But what if you didn't come to live with us?" Owen asked. "Would you have had a real bad life?"

"It's hard to imagine staying with them. But no, I guess it won't have been really bad. Kind of lonely, though."

"There was only one of him," Owen said to Benji. "No other kids to play with."

William wondered why his brothers were now nodding to each other, but they got to their feet suddenly. "Thanks," Benji said. "I was, um, reading something for school about a girl who was adopted and wondered."

"Okay..."

Something seemed to occur to Owen, and he turned slightly pink as well. "I'll probably have the same teacher. And Benji's friends said she does the same stuff every year."

"Yeah, she repeats assignments."

"Right," William said, although he was becoming increasingly suspicious, rather than less so. "Anything else you wanted to ask?"

"Nope, that was it," Benji said quickly before they both dashed off.

Shaking his own head, William tried to study again. His brothers could be really strange some days. He paused his pen in sudden alarm - they weren't planning to write to the Van DeKamps and demand an apology, were they? Relaxing, he told himself that they wouldn't do something like that without consulting their father, and surely he'd set them right.




December 14th, 2014

"Dad, can I make a fire?" William asked. His voice disrupted the quiet in the room where Mulder had shut himself to pay bills.

Outside it was beginning to snow, and it was already getting dark despite only being four in the afternoon. Winter had come early and in earnest, making the weather people claim that it was going to be one for the record books.

Mulder looked over at him. "Have you ever done it before?"

"Yeah. Cat had me make them all the time," William claimed, but his bravo wilted under his father's unwavering gaze. "Well, sometimes, anyway."

"Okay. Make sure the flue's open, though."

"I know. Can I use the log that's supposed to be colorful?"

"Yes, you can use that 'log'. But if you do, it's your job to make sure that Laney doesn't get too close. You know how much she likes the display those chemicals produce."

"Okay."

William was scarcely out of the room when Mulder heard the sound of smaller feet. When he saw that it was Avery carrying a red marker and a sheaf of paper, Mulder smiled to himself. He had a good idea what his young son wanted.

"Daddy, will you write my letter to Santa?" Avery asked with a winning smile.

Mulder squinted his eyes. "Why don't you do it yourself?"

"I can't!"

"I thought you knew everything," Mulder replied.

"No..."

"But just yesterday I tried to tell you something, and you said 'Daddy, I know!' so I asked if you knew everything, and you said 'yes!'" Mulder reminded him with a smile. "So what happened to you knowing everything?"

"I know everything 'cept how to write!" Avery declared as he put the paper and marker on the table. "Write for me, please."

"Well, since you said please..." Mulder uncapped the marker. "I suppose you're going to want me to start by writing 'Dear Santa,' right?"

"Yup."

"Classic opening." He wrote the salutation. "What comes next?"

"I've been a very-" Avery looked up at his father. "-been a pretty good boy this year."

"Yes, you have. Santa must have you on the nice list," Mulder told him. "What should we ask for this year? Let me guess, Gilgamesh's Island, like your friend Payton has?" Although he found it utterly bizarre that the Epic of Gilgamesh had been made into a popular children's cartoon, he'd already bought the toys.

Avery shook his head. "I don't want any toys this year."

"You don't?" Mulder asked warily, already knowing what Avery would say next.

"I want Santa to bring Mommy back," Avery explained earnestly.

"Av, we talked about how dead is forever," Mulder reminded him gently. "Remember?"

"Yeah, but Santa's magical," Avery insisted.

Mulder sighed and got up. He went to his collection of Christmas CDs and found one that he almost never listened to. Years ago, one of the school secretaries had given copies of a mixed CD she'd created called "Carols to Cry To" to everyone. Mulder had thanked her and forgotten about it. He motioned his son over. "Come here, Champ. I want you to listen to a song."

"Okay."

Mulder put the song on, and picked Avery up, putting him on his lap. The little boy listened intently to a song about a cat saving a mouse on a cold night. Mulder eventually whispered in his ear. "This is the important part."

When Santa came by near the end of the night,
the reindeer started to cry.
They found the cat lying there in the snow,
and they could see that she had died.

They lifted her up from the frozen ground,
and placed her into the sleigh.
It was then they saw the little mouse wrapped up,
she had kept him warm in her fur.

"Oh thank you Santa for finding us!
"Dear cat wake up we are saved!"
..."I’m sorry mouse but your friend has died,
there’s nothing more we can do.*

"Santa couldn't bring the kitty back?" Avery asked, starting to look very sad and not about the fictional cat.

"He couldn't," Mulder agreed, feeling terrible himself. "Even though Santa is very special, even he can't bring the dead back to life."

"Can anyone?!" Avery cried.

"Just God."

"Then make God bring Mommy back!"

"I can't. God already has a plan about when to bring people back. We aren't going to change his mind. I'm sorry, Avery."

"Me too." It worried Mulder when his son didn't say anything for a few minutes. After a while the boy rubbed his eyes with his fist. "Can we ask Santa for a puppy?"

Mulder was startled by how quickly the little boy changed gears, but he remembered similar things from the older kids when they were that young. He didn't want a dog, but he couldn't say no, not right after confirming that Cat would never be back. "Sure. I'll write 'please bring us a puppy.'"

"Thanks," Avery said with a sniffle. "I don't mind sharing him."

* The Cat Carol by Meryn Cadell.



December 15th, 2014

The plan to have Cole at Mulder's a couple times a week seemed to be going well, as least as far as he could tell. Dana had given the younger boys the impression that she was doing lesson planning while Mulder "babysat" for her. They accepted this without question, and so far William hadn't been inclined to tell them differently.

It shouldn't have come as a surprise, but Delaney was far more interested in the baby than anyone else. "Don't pick him up," Mulder told her for the fourth time that afternoon.

She pouted. "But Laney want hold baby, Daddy!"

"You're too little." He glanced over at the boys who were playing some sort of board game. "Avery's too little too."

"Baby gonna go home soon?" she asked, apparently satisfied that she wasn't being singled out.

"Yup. Dana's going to be here very soon. But he'll be back in a few days." As he spoke to her he tucked a blanket around Cole.

"Why?"

"Why is he coming back in a few days?"

"Why go home?"

"Because he lives with Dana," Mulder patiently explained. It wasn't the first time they'd had that conversation.

"Okay," Delaney reluctantly replied. Then she ran to the window. "Car!"

"Wait!" Mulder called, but his daughter had already opened the door.

Scully bent down to greet the child. "Hi, Laney."

To everyone's surprise, the little girl threw her arms around Scully. "Hi, Dana!"

Not missing a beat, Scully picked her up. "I think your dad and I will trade."

"I think you have something of mine." Delaney giggled as Mulder took her from Scully.

"How was he?"

"Oh, you know. I had to keep him from sneaking out again. He had my keys this time. I think he was going to knock over a convenience store," Mulder said easily. He'd expected tension between them when they'd admitted that it was too soon for anything like join custody, but if anything interacting had been easier. He thought it was because they knew where they stood, now. "I'll bail him out of jail the first time, but after that it's on you."

"I'll have to give him a stern talking to," Scully deadpanned, but her eyes twinkled. "Maybe I'll have to withhold his allowance."

They heard an exasperated sigh behind them. "He's way too young to drive," Kyle pointed out.

Mulder nodded gravely. "He's right you know. Cole can't see over the steering wheel yet. He won't be driving for quite a while."

"Not until he's eight," Benji laughed. "I'll teach him then."

Before Owen could say anything, Mulder looked at him. "He was joking. I know you're eight but no one is going to teach anyone else to drive but me, so don't even ask."

"Aww, Dad!" Owen's heart wasn't in the protest, however. Although he was glad that his older brother had driven in an emergency, he'd told Mulder more than once that he was more than happy to wait until he turned sixteen to man a car himself.

"Maybe Dad'll let me teach Will," Benji said mischievously.

"I think I'd like to," Scully remarked.

"Well, Okay," Benji replied. "I guess you should, 'cause you're the Mom."

"My mom taught me to drive," Mulder told them. "My dad... wasn't up to it."

Scully shot him a knowing look. "Speaking of driving, I think we've got to go now. Traffic is supposed to be bad tonight."

"Bye Dana!" "Bye Mom!" The kids called as she left the house.

Mulder found himself in an explicably good mood. "I think you guys look bored of that game-"

"Bored game, get it?" Owen asked, making Will and Benji groan.

"-so do you want to order pizza tonight?"

"Pepperoni!"
"No, extra cheese!"

Always the diplomat, Kyle gave his father a beseeching look. "Dad, can we get both?"

"Maybe we can flip a coin," Mulder suggested, though he was already planning on getting two pizzas. The boys were occupied with trying to both locate a coin and agreeing on how to fairly flip it long after he called the order in.




December 16th, 2014
4:30pm

"Dad, we're going to play with Jay and Dale, okay?" Benji asked. Owen hovered behind him.

"Sure," Mulder told him. "Be home for dinner."

"We will!" Benji cried before he and his brother grabbed their coats and a basketball.

It was only a few minutes later that he wondered what Kyle was doing. He wasn't playing with the younger kids, and unlike the older boys, he never asked to play with the neighbors.

Cat would be very disappointed in him, he realized as he walked up the stairs. She'd been a middle child herself, and therefore found it easy to relate to their middle children. There'd only ever been him and Samantha, so he didn't even have the concept of a family with a middle child until he'd had three children himself. Kyle seemed to prefer to play by himself, and it was a something of a relief to Mulder that he wasn't as demanding as his younger siblings that it was easy to forget he needed attention and company too.

He found Kyle in his room, as usual. The little boy sat on the floor, playing with a castle that Cat had given them for sixth birthday. He hummed to himself as he moved a plastic dragon up the drawbridge. Kyle turned to look when Mulder entered the room.

Mulder smiled down at him. "Hey, Sport. How are you doing?"

"Good," Kyle said, fidgeting the dragon in his hands.

"Do you want some company? I bet Avery would like to play with you," Mulder suggested gently.

"Yeah he would... but I don't want him to. He doesn't play right." Kyle's serious brown eyes silently begged not to be forced to include his younger brother.

Mulder repressed a sigh. Then, however, he got another idea. "All right. Is it okay if we play a game, though?" he asked.

"Unh huh. You can be a knight." Kyle offered him a gray plastic figure on a horse.

Mulder took the toy. "Thanks. We can do this too, but I was thinking of a word game."

"Okay. How do we play?"

"The game is called The Best. One of us will ask the other to describe the best, most perfect example of something." He noticed that his little boy's face showed confusion, so he made up an example on the spot. "Like if you gave me the phrase 'ice cream sundae' I'd say the best would be chocolate ice cream with fluffy white whip cream, gooey, sweet, warm chocolate sauce, and a shiny, sour, red cherry. Topped with brown, crunchy, walnuts. Get it?"

"Think so," Kyle said confidently.

Can I give you a word first?" Mulder asked.

"Yup."

Okay... your first word is puppy. Unlike ice cream sundae's we don't eat puppies-" he paused until Kyle stopped giggling. "-so what does the perfect puppy look like?"

His son looked off in the distance, obviously gathering his thoughts. A couple seconds later a smile lit up his face. "The perfect puppy would be black. And furry. Soft fur. He'd have a pink tongue. And long ears."

"That does sound like a pretty good puppy. Would it grow up to be a big dog or a little dog?"

"Big!" Kyle spread his arms, miming a dog that would probably be rather big to a six-year old, but medium-sized to an adult. "But he'd be little first, until he grew up."

"Right. Like you," Mulder told him. "You're kind of small now, but one day you'll grow up to be a man like me."

The idea that he would someday grow up seemed to be a novel one to Kyle, at least judging from his expression. "But not for long time," he insisted.

"It sure seems like it, doesn't it? But when you get old like me, time seems to go quicker. Seems like just yesterday you were a baby, as little as Dana's baby Cole. But it wasn't yesterday."

"No," Kyle agreed, beginning to laugh.

"So, what's my word?" Mulder asked.

Mulder fully described his ideal train, and then listened to Kyle describe the ideal playground. The game continued for about half an hour, just long enough for Mulder to be convinced that Kyle would have no suspicions about the game. At least not before Christmas.




December 20th, 2014
Montgomery Mall

Although most people would consider it insanity to bring two children to the mall less than a week before Christmas, Scully thought it was sort of fun. This, however, was only because she'd done the bulk of her shopping already, and wasn't nearly as stressed as the frantic shoppers around them.

William seemed pleased to be out with her, and the baby was quiet. His bright blue eyes focused on the shiniest of gaudy nearby decorations.

"Mom, can you cook?" William asked suddenly.

Scully looked up from the cardigan she was considering buying for her mother. "Is that a hint that you'd like to have dinner at my house sometimes, rather than going out?"

"No. Well yeah, that'd be nice, but I was wondering if you knew how to make cookies."

"You want me to make you cookies?" Scully shot him a confused look. "Do you think your grandmother would like this sweater?"

"Yeah, she'd like it. I don't want you to make me cookies. I want someone to teach me how to make them myself," William told her.

Her first impulse was to suggest that Maggie teach him, but she sensed that he was more looking for something for them to do together than the perfect cookies. "I can teach you. We'll try something simple tonight, okay? Maybe chocolate chip and sugar cookies."

"Great. I have the recipes," he said, and then she figured out what he was really thinking about.

"You miss Cat, don't you," she asked softly. "I remember her cookies from a couple of years ago."

"I miss her. Everyone misses her. Like you and I and Grandma miss Ethan," William said pointedly. "And I bet we miss them more now than ever because of the holidays."

She smiled weakly. "Wow, I thought your cousin Matt was pretty perceptive for a teenage boy, and here you are too."

"How long did it take for Grandma to get better? After your dad died?"

"Oh, a while. I think it was three or four years after he died that she stopped spending most of December looking sad and started planning the holidays again."

"So it gets easier for people." William picked up another sweater and handed it to her. "I'm glad that you and Dad are friends."

"Where'd that come from? We were talking about Christmas being hard after you lose someone."

"I know. What I mean is, you and him can relate to each other, you know? It's not so bad for me since I didn't know Cat or Ethan as long, but I know that Benji and Owen feel like none of their friends knows what they feel about Cat. 'cause they all have their moms still. But you and Dad, you've got a friend who knows exactly what it's like."

"Will, I wouldn't say that your dad and I feel the exact same way about losing our spouses-"

"Okay, maybe not exactly, but close enough." He noticed the ornament Cole was staring at. "Hey, we should get this one. I think he likes it."

"Sure." She unhooked it from the artificial tree and put in her cart. "If we're going to get to the grocery story to get stuff to make cookies, we've got to get going."

"I'm all set," William declared before leading the way to the registers.

Scully found her feet slower than normal. Her thoughts were trying to focus on the image of herself three or four years into the future, but it was too difficult to picture.




Chapter Twelve

Hoover Building
December 22nd, 2014

"...and it does sound like the people reporting the poltergeist are generally well respected. Nothing in their background leaps out to say 'crackpot,'" Mulder said, but he began to become annoyed. Although Doggett and Reyes were fully attentive, the younger agents look a million miles away. "Is there something on your minds?" he asked. He assumed that they were thinking about Christmas, or perhaps pretty women.

Kevin's cheeks turned slightly pink, but Gibson looked him in the eye, obviously unflustered. "We heard something disquieting at lunch."

"What's that?" Doggett asked before Mulder could. Mulder didn't mind.

Kevin shrugged. "We had lunch with a couple of other agents-" Somehow, Mulder was certain that they had been female agents. "- and they told us about disturbing rumors they've been hearing."

"Rumors of what sort?" Mulder asked impatiently. He wanted to get back on task, but speaking to his young agents had the feel of pulling teeth to it.

"Jenny's brother is a field agent in North Carolina, and one of their tasks has been to keep an eye on a message board that they'd received a tip about. Apparently there's this guy who lost his wife and one of his kids to the flu, and he's been talking about killing the people who are responsible for their deaths."

"And?" Reyes asked, surprising Mulder with her uncharacteristic lack of empathy. "There are millions of people who make claims like that. Most of them are just mentally ill and would never follow through."

"The problem is, that someone has followed through," Gibson spoke up. "There have been two deaths in the past week, both of them fitting the profile of 'responsible' at least the guy's definition of it."

"So they'll track him down, and bring him in," Doggett declared. "People think that they're anonymous on the internet, but it's easy to find you through your ISP."

"That's the problem." Kevin sighed. "They tracked him down and brought him in - after the first murder. The second one happened while he was in custody. So now people are all scared that the idiot has convinced other people to do his dirty work."

"If there was another murder, it sounds like the fear was justified," Doggett pointed out.

Mulder waved his hands. "Enough. As interesting as all that is, it's not an X-File. It has nothing to do with what we're supposed to be spending our time on." The four of them gave him sheepish looks. "Now, as I was trying to tell you earlier, the Bentons seem like people who are in touch with reality. I'm going to want Kevin and Monica to go out there soon and talk to them."

This time his agents seemed to be trying to pay attention, which put him more at ease. With only three weeks experience at being the boss, he still didn't feel very comfortable telling them, Doggett and Reyes especially, what to do. Kevin and Gibson saw him as an authority figure, but the last time Mulder had worked with either of the others, he'd been their equal.

So far, he didn't think that he was letting his awkwardness show. Although he knew that Gibson could undoubtedly sense it. Still, the younger man was too polite to make issue of it.

Mulder sighed inwardly. It would get easier with time. He hoped. "I told them that agents would be by to speak to them on January 3rd. They weren't thrilled that they'll be haunted for the holidays, but they sounded understanding enough."

"Did you find a puppy?" Reyes asked, seeming happy to steer the conversation towards Christmas.

"Yeah. I'm supposed to pick it up before bedtime Christmas Eve." Mulder gave them all a look. "We're not going to get anything productive done this last half hour, are we."

"Nope," Doggett agreed cheerfully. "If you and Scully hadn't been so single-minded all those years, you'd of realized this is what offices are like right before Christmas."

"And 4th of July," Reyes added.

"Right. Oh what the hell, is anyone doing anything unusual this year?" Mulder asked, giving in to the festive air in the office.




December 24th, 2014

"Can you tie this ribbon for me?" Benji looked up expectantly at William.

"Uh, sure." William put aside the book he was reading and gave his brother a hand. "There you go."

"Thanks." Benji grinned at him. "It was nice of your mom to help us order Dad's gifts online."

"Yeah, that was actually kind of funny. She looked all worried for a minute and asked me 'how are your brothers going to buy your dad presents?!' and then looked horrified when I suggested that we take a bus to the mall. Like we'd get into trouble, or something." William laughed. "Dad would kill you if you misbehaved. 'Course she worried that things wouldn't come in the mail on time, too, even though she helped you order stuff before Cole was born."

William thought it was very nice of his mother to be concerned about his father getting presents, but he tried not to make too big of a deal about it. She could get kind of touchy when talking about Mulder. He thought she might be embarrassed, for some reason.

"It kind of sucks for Dad, though, getting presents from us," Benji said, making William look up.

"Why?"

"Well, it's his money to start with, isn't it? It's not like we have jobs. So he gets whatever weird stuff Owen and Kyle want to give him, rather than buying something he would like better in the first place," Benji explained. "And jeez, Avery and Laney's presents for him.... those are really weird."

William picked up another present to tie a bow on. "You know, I think grown-ups like the surprises. I mean look at married people, it's the same thing unless they have separate checking accounts, right?"

"I didn't think of that. People are weird."

"Yup."

"Will, you ever watch the Parent Trap?"

"Sure. It was Mrs. Van DeKamp's favorite movie. She liked the really old one, not the one with that girl who got into all that legal trouble in 2009. She said it made her too sad to see that cute little girl grow up to be a... well, Dad would be mad if I used her exact phrasing. But anyway, I've seen it, why?"

"We saw it at school a few days ago," Benji quickly replied. "I couldn't believe that the parents were that dumb. Ava and Emma in my class are identical, and even us kids can tell them apart, so how could parents mix up twins like that?" Benji looked scandalized.

"Dunno, I got the impression that the parents were kind of self-centered, so they didn't pay as much attention as they should," William guessed.

"Dad would never mix us up, even if we were all the same age and looked the same," Benji said firmly.

"Not all parents are as smart as he is," William told him. "Weren't you and Owen going to help me with the cookies when you were done wrapping presents?"

"Sure."

"Got any more presents to wrap?"

"Nope!"

"If we want to have cookies before bed, we better get cracking."

"Cracking. Ha. Can I crack the eggs?" Benji bound to the door.

"As long as you pick out the pieces of shell. This time."

"Aww, come on, Will. Crunchy eggs once and you think I can't be trusted," his little brother complained. "What do you think our Christmas Eve presents will be?"

"Pajamas?"

"Oh man!" The boys collected Owen and headed down to the kitchen, still wondering what they'll open before they go to bed.




11:30pm

Snow was blowing across the yard when Mulder opened the front door. He stepped out onto the porch as quietly as he could, saying a silent prayer that no one woke up. It had taken until after ten to get everyone to bed. Unbeknownst to his kids, it had been a rough afternoon for Mulder, but someone had come to his rescue.

Scully was already getting out of the car. She smiled at him, and opened the back door. There, resting on the seat beside Cole's car seat, was a small plastic pet carrier. A wet tongue darted towards his hand as he reached for the handle.

"Thank you so much for doing this." Mulder impulsively hugged her with the arm not occupied by his burden.

She looked a bit surprised, but her expression quickly smoothed. "You're welcome."

"No really, I mean it. I thought I was sunk when the seller called to tell me that she was going to have to leave town hours ahead of schedule. If it wasn't for you, the surprise would have been ruined."

"Well, it's snowing. She probably has family she's headed to," Scully reasoned. "And he was good, so it wasn't a big deal. He was a much better house guest than a lot of humans I've had the misfortune of spending a few hours with."

"But still, thanks." He peered into the car and looked at Cole. The infant was sleeping soundly, with a thick blue blanket tucked around him. Very little of his dark brown hair showed beneath a matching hat. "What about you? You're on your way to midnight mass. The snow doesn't make you nervous?"

"No. Some of the places I lived as a kid got a lot more snow than this. Some of the places you lived, too."

"Sure, but that was a damn long time ago." Mulder shivered. "I never got used to snowy driving again."

"We'll be fine. The service isn't that long," Scully told him. "Ten tomorrow, right?"

"Right." Until Scully pulled away to get back into her car, he'd forgotten that he'd left his arm around her. His side quickly chilled, with nothing keeping it warm any longer. He waved his free hand and called "See you in the morning!" as loudly as he dared.

Inside the car she nodded, so he must have been heard. He could still hear her car when he turned to go inside. The puppy whimpered softly, and Mulder brought it up stairs as quickly as he could. It would be spending the next few hours in his bathroom, so he was glad to remember to grab a newspaper out of the recycling on his way up.




Christmas Morning

Scully and Cole arrived with a chill wind that had Mulder hurrying everyone inside.

He held out his arms as soon as Scully freed the baby from his carrier. "I'll take him while you get your coat off."

"Thanks."

Even though he was sleepy enough to mold to Mulder's arms as though he were made of memory foam, Cole opened his eyes and peered up at Mulder. "I think he'll be smiling soon. Don't let your mother convince you that it's just gas."

"She told me Will had gas every time he smiled - until he was six months old," Scully remarked as she hung her coat on the coat tree. "Even after I showed her baby books that proved otherwise."

"Cat's mother was like that too," Mulder remarked. "She was sure she knew everything to be known about babies, Doctor Spock be damned."

A small boy nearly bowled her over seconds later. She staggered back and grabbed Avery by the shoulders before he did a header into the door. "Oof!"

"Dana! Come see what Santa brought us!" Avery said as he smiled up at her.

"It's really cool," Kyle declared as he joined them.

Scully let herself be lead into the living room. The older boys sat on the floor, amongst a battalion of unwrapped gifts. Cradled on Delaney's lap was a small black puppy. She was being surprisingly gentle with it.

"Baby dog, Dana!" She told her stepmother in way of greeting. "Laney nice to baby."

"You are nice to babies," Scully told her, thinking of Mulder's reported efforts to convince her that her infant half-brother wasn't a doll.

"His name is Chester," Kyle informed her. "Like from some old books."

"'cept in the books Chester was a cat, and the dog was Harold," Avery added.

Owen shrugged. "We don't think he'll mind, because he looks more like a Chester than a Harold."

She didn't ask what a Harold looked like since she vaguely recalled reading Matthew the Bunnicula books when he'd been Owen's age.




Beyond having to talk Avery out of feeding the puppy turkey, dinner went very well. So well that Scully hadn't given Mulder a hard time for ordering from a caterer, rather than attempting to cook himself. She had, however, given him a cook book for Christmas in hopes of bolstering his self-sufficiency in the kitchen, so she thought that the message had been received. William described too much fast-food for her liking.

"So did you guys get what you wanted for Christmas?" Scully asked the kids as they regrouped in the living room.

Most of the small heads nodded, but not Owen's. He looked like he was giving the question serious contemplation. "We got lots of neat things, but there was one more thing I wanted."

"What's that?" she asked indulgently. And soon regretted it.

"I wanted you and Cole to live here," Owen said earnestly. "So we could see you every day."

"Oh."

"Owen-" Mulder started to say something, but Benji grabbed Owen's arm and tried to haul him out of the room.

Undeterred, Owen elaborated. "I want you to live here like my friends' stepmoms do their houses."

"Um..." Scully stammered. Mercifully, Owen was dragged off before she had to think of an answer. Instead she looked at Kyle and Avery, but both little boys were so engrossed with playing with the puppy, they didn't even seem to have heard their brother's comments, much less have an opinion of their own on the matter.

"Boy!" Mulder exclaimed, looking a bit abashed himself. "You know I didn't put him up to it, right?"

"No, of course you didn't. Kids just come out with these things," she said, though it had been on her mind to wonder. It seemed rather unlikely, so she decided that she believed him.

She noticed William wandering off, but didn't try to inquire as to what he was up to. Instead she peered down at the baby lying across her lap. "Kyle, could you hand me the diaper bag?"

"Uh huh!" It only took him a moment to bring it to her. She was thankful to have something useful to do, rather than attempt to continue the conversation with Mulder.




William rounded the corner and paused when he overheard Benji and Owen having a heated conversation.

"Why did you have to say that?" Benji hissed.

"I didn't mean to!"

"Great. She's never gonna want to live here now that she thinks you're so weird."

"Shut up," Owen muttered.

"We were just supposed to show Dad that we like her okay so he can fall in love with her again-" Benji lectured, but he was soon cut off.

"Maybe you ought to have wrote down what I was supposed to say, then."

"I should have, but you don't read that good."

"Because I'm eight! You didn't read that good at eight either," Owen retorted. There was a pause. "Do you really think I ruined everything?"

Benji sounded deflated. "No. I don't think it was working anyway."

Owen stamped a foot. "It has to work. Avery and Laney need a mom."

This statement surprised William. Didn't Owen think he needed a mother, too? Even his mom seemed to need Maggie still. Did Owen think he'd outgrown needing a mother already? Maybe, William decided, it hurt less to pretend that he didn't need the same things.

"I know," Benji told him.

"Are you sure we shouldn't have had Will help us? He's smarter than us. He could have come up with a good plan."

"I told you, if it didn't work, his mom would be mad at him. He's the one who sees her all the time, not us, so it wouldn't be fair if he got into trouble helping us."

"Yeah..."

William squelched the impulse to invade their conversation and headed back down stairs. Apparently the subject of The Parent Trap had a subtler meaning than he'd figured out the previous day. It struck his as vaguely disturbing that they'd looked to an ancient Disney movie for inspiration, but it could have been worse.

Before he reached the living room, Mulder appeared and steered him into the kitchen. "They okay?"

"Sure, Dad. There weren't any punches being thrown or anything."

"Good. Owen sure has a knack for stirring things up, doesn't he?" Mulder asked, looking a bit frazzled.

William stared at him, curious as to where his parents' conversation had gone in his absence. "Uh huh. Cat always said he got it from you."

"Ha, probably true. Why don't we bring some of these great cookies you made into the living room and call the brats back down?"

William grabbed a couple of plates and followed his father. With Benji's help help - and Owen's help not withstanding - he managed to make way too many cookies, and didn't burn any. There was nothing to be done with them but eat them, not that anyone seemed too sad about that.




Mulder sighed as he turned off the last light in the house. The boys had begged him to leave the Christmas lights on, but the tree was 'live' and drying out, so he worried about the possibility of a house fire more than the certainty that he'd disappoint his sons. They'd moaned over the decision, but had finally resigned themselves to it.

Cat wouldn't have let them keep the lights on overnight, either, he decided. As he thought it, a flood of guilt washed over him. The day had gone pretty well, Owen's gaff not withstanding. That made him feel disloyal to his wife. He missed her desperately, of course, but life did in fact go on. Without her.

When she'd first died, he'd had a grim fantasy about how the day would go when the holiday finally arrived. The kids would be teary, he'd spend most of the day in a dark depression. Maybe they'd tone down the holiday all together, unable to cope without the woman who had spent years making Christmases merry.

But they'd been so busy there hadn't been a lot of time for sorrowful reflection. Not that Cat would have wanted that, he realized. If she'd been capable of seeing them, she'd probably would have been pleased by how well they'd gone on without her.

He hoped.



Chapter Thirteen

December 27th, 2014

Though he'd initially been relieved that Owen's awkward scene had quickly blown over, Mulder was soon to realize that it really hadn't when William gave him the cold shoulder the next morning. At first he chalked up his unusual sullenness after that to be a normal passing teenage thing about nothing, but he soon noticed that his son's glowering was directed solely at him. It was puzzling and seemed unfair, because he couldn't figure out why William might be mad at him.

Eventually he bit the bullet and asked point-blank on the second day of being frozen out.

"Sit," Mulder commanded, and the boy did so, slouching in his chair. "What's got you so pissed off at me?"

"You don't want to know," William muttered.

"Yeah, I do. Spill it."

William avoided his gaze. "Okay, so, I finally figured it out after mom left."

"Figured what out, exactly?"

Now William lifted his chin and stared at him. "That you both are liars."

Though part of him was glad that Scully shared their child's wrath, the rest of him was indignant. "When have we lied to you?" Mulder demanded to know.

"All the friggin' time! You're not friends. You just wanted me to believe that. I mean, Jesus, back when Mom and Ethan decided to have Cole, you talked on the phone like you were old friends. Now I know that's just a bunch of crap. You had me fooled, though and Cat too."

Mulder decided that making an issue of William's language would only make him moodier, and let it go. The rest however... "That isn't true. We are friends."

"The kind of friends who would never be in the same room together if it wasn't for me," William scoffed. "I thought that things were going to be different once you told me that Cole is your baby too. I should have known, though. I wasn't enough to keep you together either. I guess he and I have that in common," William concluded bitterly.

"That's not fair!"

"I don't care. You only married her so you wouldn't ever have to worry about meeting someone else and falling in love again."

"You know that's not true," Mulder shot back. "Cat's siblings wanted to take the other kids from me."

"Wasn't that convenient." William got up.

As the boy stormed off, Mulder found himself wishing that his own father was alive to talk to about coping with a belligerent adolescent son. Their relationship had been tumultuous during Mulder's teens, and Mulder had leveled a lot of accusations at Bill, too. Though in his case, the accusations had been true.




January 3rd, 2015

When Mulder came in with coffee and donuts, people took them gratefully. Reyes, however, looked him up and down. "You don't look like vacation agreed with you."

"No. I think I'm suffering from PTHD."

"What's that?"

"Post traumatic holidays disorder."

"The holidays didn't go well, I take it?"

"They actually went a lot better than I thought they would, considering how recently Cat died. But Will blew something that happened way out of proportion and has been in a snit about it since."

"So what you're saying is that he's acting like a thirteen-year-old boy," Doggett remarked.

"I guess. I just didn't expect this because he's never been grumpy and totally unreasonable before."

"Like hell," Reyes surprised him by saying.

"What?"

She rolled her eyes. "Oh, come on. He couldn't have been a bigger brat towards Dana a couple of years ago if he tried."

"That was different!" Mulder found himself protesting.

"You just don't like being the object of his anger."

"Well, who does like that sort of thing? But I'm sure he can't stay this way much longer." Mulder couldn't fail to notice that no one would meet his eyes. "Right?"

"Do you have directions to the poltergeist house?" Kevin asked, looking desperate to change the subject.




January 23rd, 2015
7:20am

Mulder's naïve assumption that William's foul mood would be a fleeting thing was sorely disappointed. Every time Scully brought Cole over, the two of them were subjected to scornful looks, which only served to intensify the awkwardness they already felt.

Eager to share the wealth with Scully, he demanded that she put up with him on one of his days off from school. She reluctantly agreed to do so, mostly because she'd heard Mulder complain about his recent behavior several times.

"I'm sure this will blow over," Mulder told her as William brushed by them and stomped out to her car. His mind was already on leaving himself. As it was, he was running late.

"We can only hope." She watched William try to get into her locked car, vaguely wondering if it would cause a temper tantrum. "I suppose I ought to get going."

"Thanks for taking him," Mulder told her, and she just nodded.

To her surprise William didn't complain when she reached the car. He just looked relieved to be able to get in.

"Do you have your homework?" Scully asked while she strapped Cole into his car seat.

"Yup." William patted his backpack. "I don't know why they had to give us homework on a day off, though."

"I don't know why you have a teachers' workshop day this week when you just had Martin Luther King day off."

"Don't knock it." William grinned unexpectedly. A couple of miles later, however, his smile faded when he realized that they weren't headed towards his mother's home. "Mom, where are we going?"

"Cole has his two-month check up this morning," Scully told him.

"No one told me that we were going to waste the morning at the doctor's."

"Making sure your brother is healthy is not a waste of time," Scully replied testily.

"Well, not for you or him, obviously, but it is me. Can't I stay at your apartment while you bring him to the doctor?" William asked plaintively. "I don't even have my Gameboy Omni with me so I'm going to be totally bored. I could stay home and watch movies at least."

"I don't want you there for hours on your own."

"I'm almost fourteen," William protested sulkily. "Dad lets me babysit, so I'm old enough to look after myself for a while!"

"That's true. But I also don't have time to drive you there," Scully admitted, half amused that his irritation had let him forget that Mulder was supposedly the bad guy of the moment. "It won't be that long, I promise."

"Sure." William leaned his head against the seat. "Doctor's appointments are always quick."




Jayland Medical Building
9am

"Cole Scully?" a voice eventually called from the receptionist's desk. Scully stood and took the sleeping baby out of his carrier. Then she turned to William.

"We shouldn't be too long," she told him as she put Cole against her shoulder.

"Okay." William sighed. He suddenly wished that it had been a school day. There had only been a couple of people before them, yet it still took forever for them to even call his mother into the office.

Bored, he scanned the titles of the magazines. They were all parenting magazines, except for a few tattered issues of Highlights For Children that he was several years too old for. He picked up one of the parenting magazines and flipped through the pages. The articles were of no particular interest to him, but he imagined a grandmother coming in and being shocked by such a young "dad" in the waiting room. Inexplicably this made him feel guilty, so he put it aside.

Sighing again, he turned his attention to the news that blathered from a small wall mounted TV set. It was too bad that he could no longer manipulate objects with his mind so he could change the station to something more interesting like MTV4. A cheerful blonde anchor-woman was recapping the hour's top stories. "...and a sonar scan revealed that the weapons of mass destruction had been buried in the desert for years. Democratic Senator Kingsley insisted that they'd likely been planted by the Bush administration, but an independent forensic archeologist said all the evidence points to the weapons having been there since 2000."

William rolled his eyes, already anticipating his father's reaction to the revelation.

The anchor switched gears with dizzying rapidity. "Here in the US a group calling themselves Herod's Army is issuing threats and claiming responsibility for murders all over the country. They've stated that they will continue to 'hunt down' the people responsible for allowing the flu epidemic to spread unchecked."

The story concluded abruptly, switching to a car commercial. The segment that followed was about the latest celebrity to get busted for using an eye implant camera while driving, so that held his interest for a while.

He looked around at the sound of footsteps and almost smiling when he saw his mother approaching a while later.

"Mom, you ever hear of a group called Herod's Army?" William asked her.

"No, why?" She looked up from putting Cole in his snowsuit.

"It was on the news. They've been killing people over the flu. Scary stuff, huh?" William asked. "I guess they're on the FBI's most wanted list."

"That sounds like something your dad might know about, Kiddo. I'm sort of out of the loop these days," Scully reminded him.

"Yeah, I guess," William said. "I thought maybe you talked about that sort of stuff with him." Even that sentence held an unspoken accusation 'even though you don't talk to him about important stuff.'

"Not very often," she admitted. "We're working on very different things these days."

"I know, it's just..." He sighed. This time she couldn't tell what else he meant to convey.




They were almost to the elevator when they heard a commotion at the other end of the floor. At first there was just the sound of things breaking, but then there was an unmistakable scream. William gave her a questioning look, and the news brief he told her about flashed through her mind.

Almost without thinking, Scully put Cole into his arms. She gave him a brittle smile as she fished in her pockets for her keys. "Will, I want you to bring Cole out to the car for me, okay? Go out the side door, not the front entrance. I'll be right out."

The look on his face spoke of indecisiveness and anguish. She could tell that he knew she wasn't going to be following on his heels. "But Mom, why won't you come too?"

Someone else screamed before she could answer. How could she explain the deep sense of duty that had haunted most of her adult life? "I'll be out as soon as I can. I just need to check on people." She paused for a moment, giving her sons a longing look; if only she could abandon the helpless and go with them... instead she gave William a gentle push towards the side stairs.

"I thought you left this sort of stuff to Dad now. Isn't that what you just said?"

"He's not here," she said simply, trying to ignore his pleading tone. "Go on now. I love you both."

Though he still looked unbearably anxious, he nodded, and carried his brother away. Watching them leave, she silently prayed she'd see them both, safe and sound, soon.




As soon as he got out of his mother's sight, William began to pray under his breath. Although he believed that silent prayers were heard too, it made him feel better to create a sound that kept him from hearing the thump of his panicked heart. He was only halfway down the stairs when he heard a distant staccato, which made him pray harder.

Once he reached the bottom of the stairs he came to a dead stop. For a second he was consumed by the surety that armed men under Emanuel's direction were lurking just outside the door, eager to capture him for a third time in the name of alien invasion. Cole whimpered, breaking the horrified imagining. Those people had been dead for two years and the invasion had never happened. Whatever this was, it had nothing to do with him.

There was no one outside when he threw the door open. Just to be sure he scanned the lot as he ran as fast as he could while clutching the baby.

William looked back over his shoulder as a he reached his mother's car. Still no Mom. The baby, unhappy to be jammed into the crook of his arm, fussed and William's hands shook as he tried to fit the key into the lock. It seemed to take forever, but he eventually got the door open. He carefully strapped Cole into the infant car seat, but paused halfway through, wondering why he was bothering to. He wasn't going to be moving the car. He was pretty sure it wasn't going to be that sort of emergency. After a look out the car window he said a quick prayer that it wouldn't come to that.

"Come on, Mom, what's keeping you?" It wasn't just his mother, he realized. The expected crowd of people hadn't poured out of the building after him, so it wasn't just his mom and the bad guys in the building. The two women they'd heard scream were still in there too - if they weren't dead. Who knew how many other people were in there too.

He rummaged through Cole's diaper bag and pulled out two things: a pacifier and his mother's cell phone. The latter of which he stared at with faint horror, because it meant that his mother didn't have it with her. After reaching over the back seat to pop the pacifier into Cole's mouth, he picked up the phone and dialed one of the few DC numbers he knew by heart. He got the answering machine and waited impatiently for it to beep so he could begin leaving his message. "Dad, pick up. There's something wrong."




In his office, Mulder answered the phone before the message was completely out of his son's mouth. Anxiety twisted in his gut as he spoke. "What's wrong, Will?"

"I don't know exactly. Mom told me to bring Cole out to the car, and she hasn't come out," William said in a breathless rush.

All of this made little sense to Mulder. He took a deep breath and reminded himself that being impatient with a scared child wouldn't help anything. "I'm not following, Will. Back up some. Where are you, and why are you upset that she hasn't come out?"

"The clinic. Mom brought Cole to do a baby check up?" William went on. "So I was in the waiting room, and on the news there was this story about some people calling themselves 'Herod's army'-"

Mulder paled. The implication the name suggested was a frightening one. So much so that he interrupted his son's story. "This is important, do you remember what the news said they wanted?" He had a sinking feeling that he already knew.

"It was confusing. First he said that he wanted to kill the people who 'made' the flu. And that he was looking for a baby that survived the flu. The thing is, though, a lot of people were on screen when he said it, and it sounded like they were cheering for him!" Mulder thought his son sounded outraged.

Mulder himself was horrified by the dots his mind was connecting, and he forced himself to continue to speak calmly so he could get William's full story. "There are a lot of disturbed people out there, Will. What happened after you heard the news?"

"Mom came back to the waiting room, and we started to leave. When we got to the elevator there was a lot of shouting somewhere on the floor. Mom made me bring Cole out through the back stairs. She stayed, though. She promised that she'd be right out... then I heard something like gun shots."

William's voice dropped as he said the last part.

"Look out the window," Mulder said. "Do you see any people?"

"A couple of old ladies are crossing the street but that's it."

Mulder mulled this over and then decided that they probably weren't part of the so-called army. "Are there any stores nearby?"

"There's a grocery store is across the street."

"Listen. I want you to take Cole over to the store right now. Do it as quick as you can." He hated to say the next thing, but he had to. "If you hear any gun shots, drop to the ground and make yourself as small as possible, and try to roll behind a car."

"Okay. These are bad guys, huh?" William asked shakily.

"They might be. As soon as you get to the store, call me back."

"What about Mom?" William asked. "And the other people? Dad, no one's come out!"

"I'm going to make sure help gets to her soon. Be very careful."

"I will, Dad."

Since he didn't want to miss his son's next call, Mulder used his own cell phone instead of the office landline to call the DCPD. "Hello, this is Assistant Director Fox Mulder of the FBI. I just received word from my oldest son that the group calling themselves 'Herod's army' might be targeting the Jayland medical building. There was a disturbance there before his mother sent my sons out to the car while she investigated. Neither she, nor anyone else, has exited the building since. Okay. I'll meet you there."




Fifteen Minutes Later

Several police officers were huddled around parked cruisers when Mulder arrived at the medical building. It was not difficult to pick out the police chief, as everyone around him was acting differential. So he was the man that Mulder strode up to.

The chief offered him a grim smile when he flashed his badge in way of introduction. Mulder immediately made efforts to smooth his feathers. "The only reason this is an FBI matter is because I'm an AD and my wife is involved in the situation."

"She's a civilian?"

"I suppose, technically. She is a former FBI agent and currently a professor at Quantico, however."

At this, the chief seemed to relax a little. "So she knows how to handle herself."

"No doubt," Mulder said. "Have you heard any demands?"

He looked grim once again. "We have had word with someone inside. From what we gather, it's not a hostage situation. At the very least, there have been no demands."

Fear tightened around Mulder's heart. If it wasn't a hostage situation, then revenge could be the only motive. That was a much more chilling prognosis. "Do we know what's going on inside? Has anyone had any direct contact with the assailants?"

"They're not talking. As for the situation inside... the woman we spoke to identified herself as a nurse. She said that people are hiding. No one has come out of the building in the last ten minutes." He looked up at Mulder. "It sounds as though your boys were lucky to get out when they did."

Mulder didn't react the revelation that police chief knew more about him than he was letting on. "Yes, I expect they were."




Meanwhile

When William had called Mulder from the store all his father said before hanging up was to stay where he was, so William paced the small store's floor waiting to hear from him again. There wasn't a lot to look at in the small store but William tried to make the best of it. He was browsing comic books when a tap on his shoulder made him gasp in alarm. And he instinctively drew Cole closer to his chest.

"William?" a voice asked behind him.

The voice confused him. He didn't recognize it, but he couldn't think of a reason why the men hijacking the clinic would know his name. His mother wouldn't have sold him out, even if they tortured her, he was sure of it. Still he was hesitant to turn around.

When he finally did, he saw a young man in a somber black suit. "Who are you?" William demanded to know. "Why do you know my name?"

To his surprise, the man held out his hand. "My name's Kevin. Kevin Kryder. I'm one of the agents under your dad."

"You work with my dad?"

"Yeah. He sent me to find you," Kevin told him. "Do you know Gibson Praise? He's waiting out in the car for us."

"Sort of," William said. Cole began to whine so he loosened his grip a little. "Where's my dad?"

"He's over at the clinic."

"Then I want to go there too."

Kevin suddenly looked a lot more serious, and older. "He said that you'd want to and to tell you that you can't. He needs to be able to put his full concentration on getting your mom and the others out safely, and he can't do that if he's worried that you and the baby might be in danger."

"Oh."

"I told him that I thought you would understand, and that he didn't have to worry about you giving us a hard time. I'm right, aren't I?"

William knew when he was beaten. "Yeah, you're right."

"Good. Gibson is going to drive us to your mom's house, and then he's going to come back here to help your dad out."

"Are you staying with us?" William asked, not realizing until then that he didn't want to be alone at home with Cole.

"Sure," Kevin said, and then poked some holes into William's newfound peace of mind. "The odds that anyone noticed you leave the building are small, and that they'd follow you home are even smaller, but your dad thought it best if one of us stayed with you kids."

William stopped short. "What about the other kids? They went to a fieldtrip thing. What if Dad's not home before they are? And Avery and Laney are at daycare."

"Will, don't worry," Kevin said softly. "If it comes to that you'll help us collect them at the proper times."

"Okay." William allowed Kevin to steer him towards Gibson and the waiting car.




Chapter fourteen

Inside

As far as Scully was concerned the only good thing about treating a shooting victim in a medical building was that there were most of the necessary supplies at hand. And having a knowledgeable assistant helped.

"Put more pressure on the wound," Scully ordered the nurse helping her. She wouldn't normally be so gruff with a stranger, but the young blonde was looking sickly and pale green. Scully couldn't really blame her considering they'd both seen two dead bodies before they looked for a place to hide, but none of them could afford for her to fall apart.

"But I don't want to hurt him!" the woman whimpered.

Before Scully could say anything their patient looked up at the nurse and snapped "For God's sake, Rita, you can't hurt me any worse of the bullet has!"

Perhaps embarrassed, or angry for being scolded like a child, the nurse applied more pressure than even Scully could have hoped for. The guard grunted, but didn't say anything. Maybe he considered himself lucky to be alive; one of the dead was the building's other security guard. Unfortunately the other body belonged to an unarmed file clerk who hadn't stood a chance against men with guns.

After they'd seen two people killed right before their eyes, she and the nurse had acted without thought when the guard had been injured immediately after. They'd each grabbed one of his arms, and dragged him away from the gunmen as fast as they could. In retrospect, Scully was stunned that none of them had been shot in the back. Rita had directed Scully to an abandoned exam room, and they'd been hiding there for the past several minutes.

Scully glanced at the barricade door. The first thing she and the nurse had done after dragging the guard into the exam room with them was to block off the door. They'd ripped down a curtain and shoved it into the bottom of the door frame to keep light from escaping into the hallway. Scully had wanted to keep the lights off, but they couldn't treat the bullet wound in the dark. So far it looked like their luck was holding.

"Where did you say the thread for sutures was?" She was beginning to become impatient. The bullet had gone straight through the guard's leg, so digging it out wasn't something the women had worry about, but she was beginning to worry about blood loss. It would be next to impossible to do a blood transfusion there. If either of the women even matched his blood type.

"Um... they should be in the, uh, third drawer down," Rita stammered.

Trying not to lose her temper, Scully tried the third drawer from the top again. Suddenly inspired, she tried third drawer from the bottom. "Found it."

It only took them a short time to stitch up the bullet wound. Scully wished they had something to give the guard for pain, but the nurse told her that sort of medication was kept in another room, locked up.

She glanced at the barricade again, and then looked back at the nurse. "Do you think that you could push that stuff back by yourself?"

"Yeah, why?"

Without answering, Scully began to shove things aside. She ignored the nurse's protest and reached down for the guard's gun. "Sorry, but I think I'm going to need this. Someone needs to find out if we're still in danger, and of the three of us, I'm the best able to right now."

He nodded resignedly and whispered through gritted teeth, "Try not to get yourself killed."

"I'll do my best," Scully replied. "When this is all over, I'll come back or send someone for you. Don't open the door unless you hear me, or someone who identifies themselves as law enforcement."

Rita swallowed hard, but put on a brave face. "Randal and I will be waiting."

Scully moved things just far enough to cautiously crack the door open. When there wasn't any immediate gunfire, she pressed her face to the opening, desperately hoping that her exposed eye wouldn't be the pathway for a bullet to enter her brain. The hallway was deserted and semi-dark, lit only by emergency lights powered by a generator that the men who had stormed the building hadn't been able to disengage when they'd cut the electricity. Before she slipped through, she flashed them a reassuring look and took a second to note the room number.

As she pressed against a wall she heard the soft reassuring sounds of boxes being slid back into place. If she could have, she would've left the guard with his gun, but she considered herself much more likely to run into the armed assailants than the two people she left behind.




She was only half way down the hall when she stumbled. The emergency power just cut out suddenly, leaving her in relative darkness. Now the only light at all was provided by windows at either end of the hallway, and it was still a gray winter morning.

A figure materialized out of the gloom, and for a second she was sure that her number was up. As it moved towards the windows she saw that it wasn't a crazy man with a high-power rifle, but another woman.

She spoke before Scully did. "Oh my God, I thought you were one of them. I still can't believe they haven't found me."

"The gunmen, they're still here?" Scully asked quickly.

"Yeah. They're at the other end of this floor."

Scully's heart sank. When it had been quiet for a while, she hoped they might have left so she could go back for the others immediately. "How many people are still in the building?" she demanded to know.

"Not too many." The woman lowered her voice. "Poor doctor Rickman is dead. He's my daughter's pediatrician. Or was."

At first Scully wanted to know how the parent, a person with no obvious medical training considering her civilian outfit, was so certain that the man was dead. Then the woman showed her where he lay in the adjoining hallway she just appeared from. It only took a glance at the fallen figure to understand. The mangled corpse had no less than eight entry wounds, and one had been a head shot.

"There's a set of stairs back there. He held the door closed," the woman told her in a shaken voice. "He held it closed as long as he could."

Scully nodded, thinking about the long ago shootings at Virginia Tech. An elderly professor had sacrificed himself in a similar manner to give students in his class the chance to jump out a window. But this dead man was young.

"Did anyone get away?" she asked.

"Some did. One took my daughter." The expression on the woman's face spoke volumes. Clearly she was terrified for her child's safety. Scully felt a similar twinge and prayed that William and Cole had gotten to safety. If she'd been able to go with them in good conscience, she would have, but a lifetime of civil service kept her there.

But what had kept this other woman? "Why didn't you leave too?" Scully asked. A horrifying suspicion was beginning to take form in her mind. Had the group included any women? If would be easy for a woman to act as a decoy, to lure others who mistook her as being as helpless as they were...

She nearly pulled the trigger when the woman revealed herself to be armed. In any case, Scully did raise one of the guns and train it on the other woman. Who did a credible job of looking both shocked and frightened. Unfortunately for her, Scully had seen similar guile from suspects before, which made her a hard sell.

"I... I've been taking lessons at a firing range. I thought I could help," the woman stammered.

Scully didn't relax. "You carry a gun when your daughter is with you?"

"So must you! This is a pediatrician's office, you couldn't have come alone."

That almost made Scully explain that she was employed by the FBI and that the piece was borrowed, but it seemed unwise to reveal that. "Fair enough," she said at last. "The question I have, however, is are you willing to use a gun against another person?"

The woman shot her suspicious look, as if it were a trick question. "Have you?"

Scully decided not to mince words. "Yes. I've shot men. I've even killed."

The glint of fear in the woman's eyes looked genuine, so Scully began to believe she was just a misguided do-gooder, not a plant. "You must be law-enforcement. Or military."

"Something like that," Scully agreed flatly. Her voice did not invite the questions she was unwilling to answer. "I stayed because I know without a doubt that I can get the job done-" Her companion swallowed hard, clearly catching her drift. "-if you're not sure, you're a liability."

Emotions played across the woman's face, but Scully could actually see her resolve hardening. "I can kill if I have to."

"Why?"

"For the greater good. These are the guys who been all over the news. If we don't stop them today, who will? And when?" The woman shook her head. "I couldn't leave and ever feel safe again."

"Good enough," Scully decided aloud. It was the best deal she could hope for. She looked at her companion "What's your name?"

"Jennifer."

Scully nodded. She looked just old enough to have been born at height of that name's popularity. "I'm Dana."

"Right."

"Jennifer? Things are going to get worse from this point on. I think you need to know that before you commit yourself to helping me."

"W-why are they going to get worse?" Jennifer's face looked pale in the dim light.

"It's been half an hour since this all started. I don't think they're going to let people hide much longer. Pretty soon they're going to start finding the people they haven't killed yet. And we'll have to be ready for them." Scully tried to keep her tone from getting too ominous, but the words were grim despite an unemotional inflection.

"What do we do first?"




Outside

Trying not to let his irritation show, Mulder put on his blankest face while he gently questioned people who poured out of the building. His only consolation was that Gibson was talking to people too, and might have some "insights" if it turned out that no one was capable of giving useful information.

Most of them were too panicky to be much help but he had hopes for the woman who stood in front of him. She had apple cheeks and silver hair, but she seemed in more in control of herself than most of the people there half her age. "Could you please tell me what you saw?"

"I, um. I was at the reception desk when I heard someone at the back stairs. Well there are actually four staircases..."

When she seemed permanently stalled, he tried to encourage her. "You heard someone on stairs?"

"Yes. Patients rarely use those stairs, so it came as a surprise when the door burst open. And when I saw that they had guns, well, I nearly wet myself."

"How many men?"

"Four." She gave a firm nod of her head. "And one of them is dead."

"What? You're sure?" None of the other witnesses mentioned it.

"Positive. They burst in shouting a bunch of gibberish about how they'd tracked down doctor Grant and how he'd pay... Janice was terrified beyond reason and ran off. One of the men shot her." She dabbed at her eyes. "So Felix, one of our security guards, returned fire. He took one of them out before they got him too. He was a good man."

"I'm sorry," Mulder said and meant it. At the same time he worked through the timeline. It seemed that the first shots were fired almost immediately after Scully left the boys, given William's admission that he'd heard gunfire as he exited the building.

"Me too. We took advantage of the confusion and scattered while they bawled over the bastard Felix shot. I'm only sorry that not everyone got out."

"Did you..." Mulder felt his stomach quiver anxiously. "Did you see a woman with red hair?"

"I did. She and Rita helped Randal get away from the shooters. He was hurt." She paused and looked around. "They're not here, none of them."

"No. Thank you, Ms. Wheeler, you've been very helpful. If you think of anything, please tell an officer."

"Of course. I hope this turns out well."

"As do we all," Mulder assured her.

After what seemed to him to be an eternity, he was able to speak to the police chief, who had eventually deigned to identify himself as Thomas Winters. "How many are still unaccounted for?"

The chief's expression instantly darkened. "About a dozen. Your wife, that girl's mother-" He pointed to a crying child around Avery's age who refused to be comforted by the officer trying to calm her. "Doctors. A couple nurses and security guards, maybe a patient or two."

"Children?" Mulder asked quietly. The office was primarily a pediatric practice.

"No. Just parents and OB patients. Somehow they managed to get all the kids out." His expression darkened further. "They're saying there are a couple dead, maybe three. All employees but one." Winters unknowingly alerted Mulder that at least one other witness was as coherent as Margery Wheeler.

"None of them are my wife, then." The flair of relief that he felt immediately made him feel guilty. Scully might not be dead, but two people were. Detached compassion had never come easily to him, and now was no exception.

A ghost of a smile hung on the chief's lips. "She's just unaccounted for."

People milled around after statements were taken, but no one seemed to be doing anything productive, as least as far as Mulder could tell. His relief gave way to agitation. "When do you think you'll get people in there?"

"As I said before, this is a delicate situation-" Winters began to spool out the same excuses he had the three previous times Mulder had asked.

"Look," Mulder began to lose his grip on his temper. "I realize that you don't want to be responsible if this thing goes south like Waco-"

"Are you insinuating that I'm a coward?" Winters shot back angrily.

"Maybe I am. We need to get in there and control the situation! Up until this point I've been a good sport and have let you run the show, rather than pull rank. It wouldn't take me long to get this declared an official FBI matter-"

"Then why don't you do that, then." His challenge was accompanied by a hateful stare.

Mulder pulled out his cell phone and began to dial.




Scully Apartment

The place wasn't as neat as Kevin expected. It wasn't untidy, but it felt more lived in than he expected. For some reason he anticipated precisely folded cloth diapers, not a torn open bag of disposables. Little things like that and a door opening to William's messy room proved that an ordinary woman and one point two-five children resided there.

And that really bothered the young FBI agent.

It had been easier to reassure William before they got there, while he still had his larger than life mental image of her untainted by reality. Ever since he was a small boy, he'd unconsciously regarded his childhood savior as indestructible. It was the only good reason he could come up with back then to explain why she'd come after him, and thrown herself into harm's way. Somehow she wasn't as fragile as the rest of them, and therefore hadn't risked herself at all.

It wasn't until they stepped inside and he saw the breakfast dishes in the sink and the diapers on the changing table that he began to realize that she was all too human. And had likely been all along.

When William walked past him unexpectedly he jumped, making the baby that he was still awkwardly holding cry. "Where are you going?" he asked, suddenly uneasy about letting either child out of his sight. Not that he thought Cole might wander off on his own.

"Tomorrow is trash day. I take it out for Mom when I'm here."

"Oh. Okay." Kevin had to bite his tongue to keep from telling him to come right back. He didn't know a lot about kids, but he considered a teenager not wanting to be treated like a preschooler to be a given.

As soon as the door slammed shut Kevin fished his phone out of his pocket and tried to call Mulder. All he got was a busy signal.

The issue of the stigma had poisoned him against religion, even though he'd only been William's age the last time it reoccurred, but he suddenly found himself eager to pray. Please don't take the woman who saved me away from her own little boys.

He didn't realize that he'd said the words out loud until he noticed that William had returned much more quietly than he'd left. The boy was staring at him.

William walked forward and took Cole from him before saying anything. "Is my mom hurt?"

"No."

"Then why-"

"I can't get through to your dad. I'm sorry for letting my worry get the best of me for a moment."

"So we don't know anything about what's happening still."

"Not yet," Kevin admitted.

William studied his face, apparently looking for telltale signs that he was being dishonest. "It's okay, you know. I'm worried too."

The best Kevin could do was summon up a weak smile. "Is there anything you want to do?"

"Well... My mom told me about you when you were in her class. Dad did too. But if it's okay, can you tell me your side of the story? We never get to hear how it was for anyone else. I mean, only if you don't mind," William added anxiously.

"Sure..." Grateful for the distraction, Kevin sank into the story he knew by heart. At least he knew how that one ended.




Meanwhile...

Mulder wasn't the only one who was annoyed. Jennifer turned out to be one of those people who tried to distract themselves from panic by talking about every thought that passed through their minds.

"How did you get here?" Jennifer asked, apparently bored of the earlier line of questioning that revealed that Scully had two sons and five step-children. "I mean, what happened before I met you?"

Scully was tempted to begin with "well, my folks met at a high school dance" or "by car" but she forced down the impulse. "After sending my boys out I decided to investigate the shouting I heard, and arrived just in time for the shooting. A nurse and I dragged off a security guard who'd been wounded. I left them behind to see if the coast was clear."

"They're hiding? The nurse and the guard?" Jennifer asked.

Scully gave her a suspicious look. "Yes."

"Why did you have them hide and not me?"

"You seem like you have the potential to be useful, and I need someone on my side."

"Oh." The other woman gave her a small smile. "Thanks."

"You're welcome," Scully said tersely before holding a finger to her lips. Jennifer's expression said that she too heard the faint rumble of voices coming from the other end of the floor.

The two women inched their way down the dark hallway, taking care to keep low. The time that Scully had been in the building had only served to disorient Scully, so it came as a surprise to her when she realized that they were headed towards the reception desk. Until right then she hadn't been aware that the layout of the hallways served to create a circle.

Gesturing to Jennifer, she indicated that they ought to get behind the desk. Jennifer nodded and squeezed in beside Scully. Both of them had crawled through a tacky pool of blood to accomplish that aim, and Scully found herself feeling a grudging respect for a civilian who had crossed through blood and by bodies. Maybe she'd prove to be more than a liability after all.

Unable to save itself as Scully and Rita had, the reception desk had been caught in the crossfire. There were a few fist-sized holes punched into its front, and Scully peered through one of the splintered holes. The view wasn't the clearest, but despite the relative darkness she could see into the room directly across from the desk.

Two of the three men stood blocking the doorway. Her heart seized when one the armed men announced his opinion that "it's about time we root out the ones hiding" just as she and Jennifer settled under the desk.

"No," a second man snapped. "They're not important. We have the prize right here."

As he spoke the other man walked deeper into the room revealing a figure kneeling on the floor. Scully thought that she could see three or four other people huddled on the floor and her heart sank. She'd incorrectly assumed that the others had successfully hidden as well.

"Please!" the kneeling man whimpered. "I'm not the man you're looking for! There are several men named doctor Jonathan Grant. I wasn't even the only one in my med school class!"

"You're a fine liar, but I don't believe you," the gunman who seemed to be in charge said coldly. "We've done our homework. My daughter was seen here before she was transferred to the hospital."

"So what if she was?" his victim asked. Apparently he'd given up the guise of mistaken identity. "I sent a lot of sick children to the hospital during the epidemic."

"I sent my girl up here to my parents because I was busy tending to her dying mother," the gunman said so quietly that Scully had to strain her ears to hear him. "She took sick too and you sent her on to the hospital. While she was in there my folks caught it too. They didn't make it. When my girl got better they sent her to a foster home. No one knows where."

Unexpectedly, Scully felt a pang of sympathy for the gunman. Not knowing where one's child was hurt horribly. At times it could be a festering wound on one's soul.

But that feeling of kinship didn't stop her from jumping to her feet when he brought his shotgun down and put doctor Grant in his sights.

"Freeze! FBI!"

Things happened very quickly after that.

Unbidden, Jennifer sprang up from behind the desk as well. As a shot roared in that confined space, Scully belatedly decided that she was wrong to trust the other woman to keep a cool head.

One of the gunmen went down with a scream. A rose of blood bloomed on his thigh. Taking advantage of the confusion Jennifer's unexpected assault caused, Scully fired at one of the two men who remained on their feet. To her disappointment she caught him in the shoulder rather than some place more incapacitating. Since she sensed that these men would sooner die than surrender, she was resigned to helping them achieve their goal of exiting the place in body bags.

She thought that she had the drop on the last man standing and spun towards him ready to fire.

When she did nothing happened.




The sound of gunfire made Mulder's heart skip a couple of beats. Ignoring chief Winters' angry shout, Mulder pushed past him and ran towards the building. When no one ran after him to make him stop, he flung open the door, half expecting to meet opposition immediately. The stairwell was deserted, but he could hear a commotion coming from the floor above.

He took the stairs two at a time.




Once upon a time, back when she'd carried a gun on a daily basis, Scully had methodically cleaned her service weapon once a week. She suddenly realized that although Randal and Felix might have carried weapons, they probably didn't think they'd ever use them.

Without looking, Scully knew that Jennifer was in the waiting room still; she'd taken her ill-fated shot from the doorway before diving out of way. Scully couldn't even hear her over the captives' screaming. Jennifer could have run off as far as she could tell.

As the gunman lined her up in his sights she gave the screamers an apologetic look. It didn't seem likely that they'd long survive her. Her mind raced a mile a minute, trying to come up with a ploy to save herself. To think of some way to see her sons again.

The man staring her down began to squeeze the trigger.

To Scully's shock, he suddenly dropped his gun to the floor. Looking puzzled, he toppled forward. When he landed Scully immediately noticed two things. The first was that there was a gaping wound in the back of his head. The second was that Mulder was standing several yards away with a gun in his own hand.




Mulder rolled his eyes when DC's finest burst onto the scene a minute and a half later.

He'd taken his shot as soon as he could, thankful that there was enough noise to disguise the sounds of his entry, and it had been the kill shot he'd been hoping for. Between him, Scully, and an irritatingly apologetic woman named Jennifer, they'd managed to cover the two gunmen who were still alive.

Jennifer had bolted as soon as an officer had taken her statement, and had nearly tripped over the paramedics tending to both the criminals and the hidden security guard Scully had directed help towards. He was pissed when he learned that it had been this woman's fault that Scully had nearly been killed, but he could understand her desire to be with her child.

Especially since the first words Scully said to him were, "Are William and Cole okay?" He'd immediately reassured her that they were both safe.

When his verbal reassurances didn't seem to work, he drew her into his arms. She went willingly. "Oh my God, Scully. I thought I'd lost you today." Mulder spoke into her hair.

She pulled away and looked up at him with terrified eyes. "But I thought you said that Will and Cole are okay."

"They are. I told you, Kevin just called me five minutes ago," he reminded her patiently.

"Then why were you so worried?" Scully sagged against him, obviously relieved.

Stunned, he could only gape at her. "You could have died!"

"I know, but..." she trailed off, and looked up at him with a surprised look. "Me? You were worried about me?"

"Of course I was! How could things ever work out between us if you up and died on me?" After he blurted that out, he nearly gave into the impulse to smack himself on the forehead. He was afraid to look at her after that.

"Mulder?" When he dared to look her in the eyes, he didn't find disgust there. "Do you think there's a chance we could successfully make a go of it again?"

"When we put our minds to something, we usually get it done," he told her with a crooked smile.

When she smiled back he felt a weight lift that he didn't even know he'd been burdened with. He considered them both too old to believe in a magical fairytale romance, but a slow and steady reconciliation that ended with them growing old together... that he could picture. He had a feeling that she could too.

The End




Epilogue

August 17th, 2015

Just outside the bathroom stall Scully could hear the sound of someone walking in flip flops. The bathroom didn't have entrance doors, just cleverly placed walls, so the scent of saltwater wafted in to compete with the less pleasant smells that were common to unmaintained ladies rooms. Both of them wrinkled their noses.

"All right, you're all set," Scully said after she helped Delaney into her swim suit.

Her stepdaughter placed a small, trusting hand in hers, and led the way out to the entry-way that separated the facilities by gender. Benji stood there with Cole in his arms.

Giving them a sheepish look, he said "Everyone else is being pokey. I think Will is just so I'd get stuck holding C." Both Benji and Owen insisted on shortening the baby's name, saying C was "cooler." William had muttered something about street cred the first time they'd done it, but she'd told him not to give them a hard time and he complied. At least when there were witnesses.

Scully smiled, amused by the guess at what her oldest son's motion might be. "Will has to be more careful to use sunscreen than you since he doesn't tan. I can take Cole, if you want."

"Naw, it's okay. I just said that in case Will was listening," Benji admitted.

A few seconds later Avery and Kyle ran out to join them, trailed by the others.

Mulder smiled at his wife and daughter. "Wow, you guys look great!"

"I know," Delaney told him earnestly, but remembered her manners after a stern look. "Thank you."

"You're welcome." Mulder looked at Scully. "I can carry Laney down to the beach-"

The three-year-old's face immediately crumpled. "I want to stay with Mommy!"

Besides William, the boys called her Dana still, which was okay with her. It had only been a handful of months since she and Cole had moved into the house, after all. They weren't the Brady Bunch but she thought it was going well.

"I can take her," Scully said, hoping to ward off tears. Delaney looked relieved.

"You can carry me," Avery offered, apparently in effort to console his father.

Mulder pretended to think the offer over. "Well, if you're sure you don't mind. I know you're getting pretty big-"

"Not that big," Avery denied.

Mulder held out his arms and Avery ran to him.

After that drama was over, Owen shot William a conspiratory look. "I bet we can beat Benji down to the beach."

"I bet we can, too."

Both boys took off running, leaving their baby-laden brother behind. Benji yelled at them, but they didn't slow down much, just enough to let Kyle catch up with them. This display pleased Cole so much that he widened his blue eyes and attempted to clap.

Scully gave Benji a look that reminded him that she had offered to take Cole from him. Message received, he grumbled "Guess I'm the slow poke now."

"Sometimes slow works out better," Mulder told him as his free hand reached for Scully's. "Life's not a race, it's a journey."

Benji nodded solemnly. "That's really deep, Dad. Are you gonna quote song lyrics from some of those Stone Age bands you like now?"

"Hey! You try to instill a respect for philosophy in your kids, and see what happens?" Mulder complained to Scully.

"I think it might be a matter of you instilling a respect for sarcasm in them," Scully corrected.

"That's not entirely my fault," he protested, making her raise her eyebrows in disbelief. "Cat had them watch a lot of sitcoms on the BBC-America."

"So your defense is to blame the British?" Scully asked. She soon wished that she'd put on flip flops too because her shoes were slowly filling with sand.

"Basically."

Eventually the sandy path brought them down to the beach. Avery and Delaney soon clamored to be put down, so their parents obliged. Scully relieved Benji of Cole as well. William waved until they trudged over to them. "What took you so long?"

"We took the long way," Scully told him mildly, glancing at Mulder. "Who's ready to swim?"

A chorus of "Me!"s dissolved giggles and shouts once they got close enough for the ocean rushed up to meet their toes.




That's it. All done. Bye-bye.


I'm sure you wonder who the people in the pictures are... with the exception of the two youngest kids, they are the same actors that were in the art for Only Because He Needed Us. You can see what they've been up to lately at www.imdb.com

Alec Medlock - William Mulder
Jake Thomas - Benji Mulder
Soren Fulton - Owen Mulder
Malkolm Alburquenque - Kyle Mulder
Dominic Scott Kay - Avery Mulder
Random toddler from photo site - Delaney Mulder
Jennifer Jason Leigh - Cat Mulder
Scott Jones (model) - Ethan Minette
Shannon Hile & Adam Nelson - Mr & Mrs Van DeKamp

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