The Family G-Man: Confessions and Connections

Chapter One Chapter Two Chapter Three Chapter Four Chapter Five
Chapter Six Chapter Seven Chapter Eight Chapter Nine Chapter Ten
Chapter Eleven Chapter Twelve



Title: The Family G-Man: Confessions and Connections
Authors: Neoxphile and FelineFemme

Feedback: neoxphile@aol.com, be8opcat1013@yahoo.com

Series: The Family G-Man and The Family G-Man: One Fine Summer sequel

Summary: During the final month of winter in 2006 the past catches up to people in unexpected ways - an old friend brings a case to the X-Files, William's new playmate may be more than she seems, and Emily learns family secrets that leave her shaken.

Authors' Note: If you're wondering if this story can be read as a stand-alone, the answer is that it probably won't make a lot of sense to you that way. You'll have missed a lot of births, deaths, and adverted disasters/deaths (plus a major career change) that are vital to understanding what the heck is going on here. We won't stop you if you want to try to read this without reading The Family G-Man and The Family G-Man: One Fine Summer first, though =)

click here to be reminded how old the kids are in March of 2006

Last Updated: 4/19/2014 -> story now completely posted



Chapter One

The Law Offices of Dunkirk, Scott, and Johnson
Norfolk, VA
March 6, 2006
11:36 p.m.

The young black woman in the stylish clothes and hairstyle behind the tasteful mahogany desk is yawning and stretching, feeling free to do so now that everyone is finally gone for the day. It's not the first time she's stayed in late for work, but it feels like she's been working overtime on a case based on nothing but the pleas of guilty men and a gut feeling. Nothing solid's come up yet to clear them, and she's getting frustrated with the lack of progress or evidence to prove their innocence. Everything says that there's no reason for a retrial on any of these cases, nothing except the prisoners themselves.

The phone on her desk rings, and she brightens, thinking perhaps it's one of her law enforcement contacts. But she recognizes the number, and her expression dims due to guilt. "I'm sorry, honey," she apologizes, and puts a hand to her mouth to smother another yawn, "but I won't be home for another hour or so."

"I guess I'll see you Friday," the man on the other end sighs.

"I hope so." She makes a face. "I'm sorry, Stan."

"Me, too," he says.

"Love you."

"Love you, too," he says, then hangs up.

She puts her face in her hands. Of course, Stan would call my office line to get me to pick up, she thinks, just like I know to ask for "Mr. Stanford Delgado" at his job to get a hold of him. How long will we stay together like this?

Well, that's another mystery. She sighs, then gathers all the files together and starts putting them into her briefcase. She can stare at the damn things tomorrow, after she's gotten a good amount of sleep in her system. And a shower. Definitely a shower.

And on that note, Amy Penda Harrison walks out of her law office, shutting off lights as she goes and intending to call her half-sister, who she can count on to be awake despite the hour. Because if anyone is into mysteries enough not to mind the very late night phone call, especially weird mysteries based on hunches and guesses, it's her half-sister Leyla.


March 7
12:33 p.m.

It's been a good day on the set of "Jose Chung" but one wouldn't know it by the hushed conversation between two of the four stars in the hallway during a break in filming. Aldous Reed has been surprisingly well-tempered today, possibly because his latest book is in the top five on the bestseller's list, which has led to a more pleasant discussion on-air rather than the usual acrimonious debate.

Once cameras stop rolling, Reed pulls out his cell phone to talk with his agent about daytime talk show interviews, while Mary Green waves at Mulder and Scully before pulling out her own phone to chat with one of her colleagues about his work on advanced cases of dementia in young patients, trying not to look at Reed as she does so.

Mulder and Scully, however, have their own private agenda that doesn't need airing in front of their cohosts. "Maybe we should check on the new nanny again," Scully suggests as they headed down the hall to their separate dressing rooms.

Mulder sighs, even though he, too, has his misgivings. "I told you, the Gunmen would let us know if anything was hinky."

His wife gives him a look. "I can't believe we're letting the Gunmen spy on our new nanny," she mutters. "And trusting them to give us an accurate report."

"If anything, we should trust Frohike." Mulder smiles a little. "He'd be the first to squeal."

Both Scully's eyebrows are raised. "I would think that would be Byers."

"Yeah, but Byers tries to be impartial. Frohike wants to get on your good side no matter what, Ms. Dana," he drawls and waggles his eyebrows.

"Ugh." She rolls her eyes. "One would think that his fiancée would keep him busy enough."

It's still difficult for either of them to wrap their heads around the fact that a confirmed bachelor like Frohike is getting married. To a woman with two half-grown children no less. But still, he and Steph seem happy… "Yeah, well, like I said, we should trust Frohike if anything about our new nanny sets off his sensors. And there's a backup plan in case something does happen, remember?"

Now Scully stops. "That really doesn't make me feel any better, Mulder."

He puts his hands up in surrender. "So far, we haven't heard a peep from the guys, and our kids haven't bugged us. It's a safe assumption to say that everything's okay, right?" he says in a placating tone.

There's another look. "Right," she finally says, and Mulder breathes easier. "See you in five."

"Okay." He smiles at her, and they disappear into their respective dressing rooms.

Once their doors are locked behind them, they grab their cell phones and hit speed dial. And are frustrated to get a voice mail, but only because they've dialed at the same time, not that they'd know that.


Meanwhile, now that he's picked them up from their preschool, the new nanny's rather busy taking care of Zoe and Brianna, while making sure that William is playing nicely with the cats who are now getting crotchety in their older age. Any and all surveillance devices around the house (none in the bathrooms, for privacy's sake) haven't been detected by the new nanny, thanks to the Lone Gunmen's years of extensive stalking, er, training.

If anything, it looks like a boring, unedited home video of babysitting. There was a mass exodus of children and parents leaving earlier that morning, giving the nanny a short list of errands for the half of his day without any kids to look after as well as the usual last-minute instructions by said parents about their youngest children, but all in all, nothing too extreme. After all, William's a big boy at nearly five, and Brianna and Zoe are just a year and a half younger than their brother, so they're old enough to walk, talk, and feed themselves.

No, wait, that's an excellent way to get into trouble. Fortunately, their new nanny is well acquainted with how kids get into trouble, and has taken precautions, verbal and physical, to prevent most of that from happening. "Most" that is, because any trouble that happens will be caused by him. At least, that's what Alan Carruthers plans, and his plans usually work out, especially since he's got the physique of a linebacker, the face of a scarred bouncer, and the mind of a prankster.

Alan grins a gap-toothed grin down at the three kids, then says, "Hey, wanna go outside?"

The twin girls look at each other, then nod at him seriously, while William grins with the equally gap-toothed grin of a mischievous little boy. "Where're we goin'?" he asks.

Alan narrows his eyes at the windows, then nods to himself. "We're going to the park," he says, "it's a great day to go wandering."

"What's wanerin?" Zoe asks as Alan finds their jackets.

"Wandering means walking around, looking at stuff, and maybe bringing something back home," he answers. "Okay, Big Will, can you put this on?"

William nods, shrugging into the coat, more than a little pleased to be called "big." His sisters, however, need help with putting on their jackets, so he waits as Alan does that. "Don' worry, I can put on my shoes all by myself, too."

"Cool," the nanny says, "I knew I could count on you."

The little red-headed boy grins at the man who reminds him of his Uncle Charlie in smile, if not looks. "Alan?" he asks, when his pull-on shoes are firmly on his feet.

"Yeah?" The man looks up from fastening Brianna's right shoe.

"Are you gonna sleep over, too? Michelle used to sleep over. Erin didn't, though." Erin had only been a temporary nanny, staying just long enough for the kids' parents to find someone who was interested in sticking around.

Before they'd engaged Erin as a temp, Teena had volunteered to look after the three littlest kids when they weren't in their half day preschool/kindergarten classes, but Mulder and his wife had nearly tripped over their own tongues in the haste to say that wouldn't be necessary. Teena has become far more involved in the kids' lives, but Mulder didn't want to tax that and possibly damage their improved relationship with her. He'd thought she'd actually looked a little relieved when they'd declined.

Alan smiles, and fastens on Brianna's shoes. "I have my own home to sleep in," he says, "besides, the beds are too small here." And he stretches out to demonstrate his point, to the giggles of his audience. "Okay, Zoe, your turn for shoes."

"I don't wanna go shoes," she says, kicking her feet at him.

"Your mean you don't want to wear shoes," he corrects her and fastens on her shoes just as easily. "Too bad. I don't want to explain to your parents why you came home with dirty feet."

As she stomps around with her shoes, the new nanny easily picks up the three stacked child seats, then holds out his hand. "Okay, Will, I need you to do a big favor for me. Can you do that?"

"Okay," the little boy says.

"We're gonna make a kid sandwich," he says, "I'm gonna hold Zoe's hand, Zoe, you hold Brianna's hand, and Will, you're gonna hold Brianna's hand. So it's boy, girl, girl, boy. A kid sandwich," he grins. "Got it?"

William grins back, proud to be considered a big boy rather than just part of the kid sandwich. "Got it."

"Here we go," their new nanny says, and leads them outside, away from the tons of surveillance set up especially for them, and into his car, which hadn't been bugged at all.


Shirlington Park
1:30 p.m.

It really is a beautiful day, and there are a number of people out walking their dogs, since it's a dog-friendly park. More than once, families with very small children have nearly walked away with a four-legged friend, but fortunately for the dog owners, that hasn't happened yet. It's rather quiet for a Tuesday, especially since it's a school day, except for the occasional dog barks.

A red-headed boy and two brunette girls emerge from walking through the Four Mile Run path, their hands and feet dirty, tired but in good spirits. The lone adult with them is likewise dirty in his hooded sweatshirt, but in fairly good spirits himself, and continues to be so, until he's tackled by a man wearing a black jacket. "Stay back!" the man in the black jacket yells, but is then punched in the face by his would-be victim.

"What the hell?" The giant man in the dirty hoodie glares, getting to his feet, but keeping an eye on the kids he came with. To his surprise, there's another child with them, and they seem friendly enough with him. "Kids, stay back!"

"Uncle Alex!" the red-headed boy shouts. "Don't hurt Alan!" The girls are also screaming, but less intelligibly.

"Uncle?" Alan frowns, then does his best to adopt a defensive rather than offensive posture, since he seems to be related. "Uncle Alex," however, has no problems not holding back, however, so Alan sighs, let the guy try to do his worst (which wasn't bad, really), before pinning him down, his arms behind his back, when Will, the girls, and the little strawberry blond boy runs up to them. To Alan's shock, he ends up with an arm in his hand and nearly screams before he realizes he hasn't maimed the guy. Someone has obviously beaten him to that.

"Stay back, he's dangerous," Alan warns them, still giving the detached arm a semi-incredulous look. "Call 911."

Leather-jacket guy twists his head up with a disbelieving look of his own, then starts laughing. "Kids, your parents are so narrow-minded," he wheezes, as the other little boy's face goes from worried to relieved. "Lemme up, big guy, you passed."

What the hell? Alan thinks, as the Mulder kids rush up and also jump on the guy's back. "Why'dja have to hurt him, Uncle Alex?" Will asks. "Alan's our new nanny."

"I know," Uncle Alex says in a strangled tone from being sat on by several bodies, "but you panicked everyone when you left the house without notifying anyone."

"That's 'cause we're wandering," Will explains. "We saw all sortsa cool stuff, stuff you can't get inside the house."

"I bet," Uncle Alex says. "Hey, big guy, mind getting the hell off me now? I promise not to move if you promise to reattach my arm."

The new nanny narrows his eyes, but when he sees all four kids looking up at him with puppy dog eyes, he sighs. "Fine, for the kids, not for you," he says, and gets up carefully, letting go of the fake arm last. "You fight like a thug, but you look like ex-CIA or military. What do you really do?"

The man in the leather jacket raises his eyebrows. "Wow, the recommendations do not do you justice," he said. "Let's just say I'm an ex and leave it at that. Why are you a nanny?"

Alan blinks, then smiles. "I like kids," he says, "if I'm lucky, I'll have some of my own someday."

"And if you're not lucky?" Alex prompts, as the boy who isn't Will runs over and grabs his fake hand like it's real.

The huge nanny sits down on his haunches and made a parody of an old man's face. "Then I'll live alone with a thousand cats," he says in a creaky voice, making the girls giggle. "Or maybe five. Yeah, five sounds about right."

Alex gives him a look Alan was used to getting, then shrugs. "Man, you're just as weird as Mulder," he mutters, "figures. Sorry about that," he says, holding out a hand to shake, "I'm Alex Krycek, father of this awesome boy and two little girls, and uncle to these troublemakers and their big siblings. Welcome to the crazy family of ex-FBI agents Mulder and Scully."

"Alan Carruthers, but you knew that," the brown-haired guy takes his hand with a wry grin. "I didn't realize I needed to run every decision past the parents. So, should I nix the extra field trip to McDonalds?"

The uncle smirks as his nieces and nephew wait with baited breath. "Normally, no," he says, "but I'm sure you must've realized something was up when you went through more security checks than an airport. McDonalds should be fine."

"I'm used to people being weirded out because not only am I a guy, I look like a big goon." Alan shrugs. "But yeah, it seemed a little over-the-top for people not in Congress or making seven figures."

Alex snorts. "Okay, now I'm not surprised by the nanny business. What I am surprised by is why you're working for a couple who's had more than their fair share of death threats and kidnappings, but none of the political pull or financial lure that you're used to dealing with."

The big guy shakes his head. "I always did like a challenge," he says, the scars on his face seeming to underscore that fact. "Besides, it's funny to see how people react when they see me after being introduced as 'the new nanny'. I usually get a less violent reaction, though."

"I'll bet," the uncle mutters. "Well, see you around, big guy. Hope the next person you meet doesn't take you out."

"As long as the kids are fine, it doesn't matter." Alan shrugs with an easygoing smile. "See you later, Mr. Krycek." As his charges wave to their uncle and cousin, he bends down again. "So, you ready for some Happy Meals?"

"Yeah!" the cheer goes out, and they all troop back through the tree-lined path to Alan's car.

Yeah, Alan Carruthers had had interesting first days on the job before, but he'd honestly expected it to be more low-key since they were stated to be ex-FBI. Oh well, guess the rumors about kidnappings and other kinds of crazy stuff about this family are true, he thinks, although he'd initially chalked it up to them being part of the TV show crowd aura.


The basement of the FBI
1:55 p.m.

It's been interesting, working not only with John, but with Leyla Harrison, Reyes muses, especially since her partner for life has been on a kick to find successors. She supposes it's a good idea to look out for the future of the X-Files division, since it's been shut down before, but she usually likes to take things as they come. John's using his "lunch break" for some time with Rebecca upstairs, as they're using the FBI's childcare service in lieu of a nanny given they only have one non-school age child between them. That, and it's a good excuse to visit their little girl when things get slow, like they have today.

"So, how'd your lunch meeting go?" Reyes asks Leyla when the blonde agent walks in. No, scratch that, she practically bounces in. If it wasn't for Harrison's self-proclaimed klutziness and being on the math team, Reyes would've sworn she was a cheerleader in high school.

"It was awesome!" the younger agent chirps, her blue eyes shining. "I've got a case!"

"Oh?" Reyes raises her eyebrows. "What's it about?"

"It could be anything!" Harrison shakes her head. "I'm not sure whether to classify it as 'hypnosis', or 'possession', or even 'voodoo', but it's something, I know it!"

The brunette frowns, wondering if she should tell her about the case that earned her Mulder and Scully's acquaintance. Maybe later, she decides. "And now I'm confused. You said you were going out to have lunch with your sister, and you come back with a case that could be any number of things. What exactly did she tell you?"

"Here, have a mocha latte." Harrison plunks down a rather full and sweet-smelling paper cup with a plastic lid onto the desk. "My sister Amy, well, half-sister, actually, she's a prosecutor, and a very good one, too. But lately, her firm has been getting complaints from various criminals they've put away, people who were obviously guilty and even confessed to their crimes. The weird thing is, though, is that about a week into their prison stay, they suddenly snap and act like they were framed or want a retrial."

"Well, that's no surprise," Reyes says patiently, "most people do have a rude awakening when they go through more than a day of prison life."

"Yeah, but that's not the really weird part," Harrison goes on. "The weird part is that all of them, five so far, had all personally confessed to their crimes. And when they 'woke up', they all claimed to have seen an old woman shaking her head at them. Her ethnicity varies with theirs, but they've all seen her."

"Does she say anything to them?" Reyes leans forward, interested.

"Not that I know of," Harrison answers. "But once they see her, it's like they've woken up to jail suddenly. They said they felt like from the time they 'supposedly committed their crime'," she states and she puts her fingers up like quotation marks, "until the time they woke up, it was like sleepwalking or living underwater. But when they saw the old woman, that was like some kind of cue to wake up, so they did."

Reyes takes a sip of the mocha latte. Boy, was it sweet, but it sure beat the mud posing as coffee upstairs. "Did they see her in a dream, or did she seem present to them as part of their prison life?"

Now Harrison frowns. "I guess it was more like a vision. Like, she was suddenly in front of them, shaking her head, and then they woke up." Then she brightens considerably. "Weird, huh?"

"Yeah, definitely weird," Reyes says, already racking her brain for some kind of explanation. Harrison, quick as she is, managed to come up with quite a few theories, but Reyes isn't sure if any of them fit, or if there's another explanation altogether. Then she smiles. "I can't wait until John gets back. We're going to need everyone on this to talk to prisoners, the initial investigators, family members, see if there's any link between them."

"Well, that's part of what drove Amy up the wall." Harrison shrugs. "There seems to be no links between them. One was a child molester, another a car thief, two of them serial killers, and the last killed his grandmother for money. Three of them are Caucasian, one Puerto Rican and one African-American. The only thing they have in common is that they live in Virginia, but even then--"

"Different cities or types of neighborhoods, too," Reyes filled in, making her companion nod. "Same prison?"

Harrison shakes her head. "Amy thought of that, too, but no. She thought if that were the case, there would probably be more people jumping on the 'I've been hypnotized' bandwagon. Her words, not mine."

The brunette smiles. "No obvious connection, aside from the confession, sleepwalking and strange sighting. This is gonna be good."

"What's gonna be good?" Doggett asks as he walks in, a bounce in his step, although for a much different reason than Harrison's.

"I've got a case!" Harrison cheerfully declares, in the same way some women would say they have new shoes.

The smile on his face slides into something more like surprise, or perhaps shock. "You don't say," he says guardedly, glancing over at Reyes. She only lifts a shoulder and smiles, which doesn't help. "Okay, mind telling me what this is all about?"

So Agent Harrison launches into her second explanation of the case, with no less enthusiasm than she showed the first time around. That impresses Reyes, if not Doggett. "So, what do you think?" she asks, her eyes shining.

Reyes can almost read "Dear God, remind me why I'm training this girl" on his forehead, and smirks. He knew what he was getting himself into, honestly. It's not like he hadn't had a preview when Leyla had covered her maternity leave. Still, she is curious about Leyla's sister, or half-sister, and if she's a "very good prosecutor" as claimed.



Chapter Two

The Mulder-Scully Home
9:12 p.m.

It had been mortifying for Mulder and Scully to come home to their new nanny, who was surprisingly good-natured about the whole thing. Mortifying, because not only had they nearly come home from their filming after getting frantic calls from the Gunmen during their break, but they found that the godfathers had also sicced Krycek on the guy. Alan had explained that everything was cool between himself and "Uncle Alex," but hoped that there would be no future surprises like that. Mulder expressed similar sentiments, and was surprised that the big guy said he'd stay on. It's a good thing he had a good sense of humor about the whole thing, so Mulder resolved to re-read the guy's resume, since at the time it seemed more hyperbole than truth, even if a couple of the senators he knew had recommended him personally.

Scully, however, had felt more guilt than anything, even offered to bake him something to take home, but Alan had politely declined, saying he had a date. The three youngest were disappointed, but looked happy to see him the next day, while the others expressed varying degrees of envy and enthusiasm for William, Brianna and Zoe.

She resolves to herself that she'll take extra care of her babies while they're home, and waits after everyone was tucked in to do a full check while Mulder's re-reading Alan's resume.

That was why Scully is surprised to find William bouncing around past his bedtime, enthusiastically talking to an empty corner. "An' we were gonna take home the rocks, but Alan says the stream needed 'um more than we did. Don't worry, tho I'm gonna bring one rock for you, too," the little redheaded boy says.

"William, who are you talking to?" Scully asks gently, but curious all the same.

"Huh? Oh, no one." He jumps, almost guiltily. "I'm sorry, I'll go to sleep right now!" And he practically throws himself into bed and pulled the blanket over his head.

She smiles, shaking her head. "It's okay," she says, pulling his blanket down and kissing him on the head. "Just be sure to save playtime for when you're awake, not bedtime."

"Okay," William says, and shuts his eyes tightly.

His mother giggles, and goes to check on her baby girls. They weren't as excited as their older brother about their new nanny, as they were practically sleeping at the dinner table earlier. She smiles, then kisses both their sleepy little heads before rejoining her husband in bed.

"You should read this," Mulder says, handing a small sheaf of papers at her. "It makes for some interesting bedtime stories."

Scully smiles briefly, putting it in the bedside desk drawer. "William seems quite taken with Alan," she says, "he was practically bouncing around before."

Mulder raises his eyebrows, then groans. "Great, Will's best hero isn't his daddy anymore, it's Big Al." He pouts.

She snorts. "Big Al? Really?"

The pout stays on his face. "Well, he is big."

She smiles and kisses him on the nose. "You're being silly," she says, "You know that William's always going to go to you first."

He looks barely mollified, but agrees only after she showers the rest of his face with kisses.


March 9, 2006

The next couple of days go more smoothly for the Mulders' new nanny, mostly because he makes a point to check before leaving the house. Mulder still isn't entirely sure he trusts him, but he has a niggling feeling that part of it is low-level jealousy over the big guy making such a big impression on his youngest son. Deep down he knows that Scully's right, but still…

He figures that she's also right about spending extra time with the smallest kids when they get home from work, if only for the benefit of their own feelings more than the kids'. So he seeks them out as soon as they get home.

"How was school?" Mulder makes a point of asking William as soon as he sees him, not minding that Scully has snagged their small, muddy twins and is already marshaling the girls towards the bathroom for a dunking as they tell her about the mud pies they made.

Considerably less dirty than his younger sisters, the small red-haired boy sighs. "Okay."

It's all Mulder can do to keep from sighing himself. The school had surprised him and Scully back before Thanksgiving by asking if they could move William into the morning kindergarten class at New Year's. At first they objected, Scully more strenuously, because they didn't like the idea of him starting first grade in the fall when he'd barely be five years old, and therefore he'd be just a month past his seventeenth birthday when he graduated from high school. The school heard their concerns but expressed their own concerns that he wasn't getting much out of the pre-k curriculum. Then they suggested a compromise: a year and a half in the kindergarten program, where he'd get more stimulation. This compromised pleased everyone.

Except William.

Unfortunately, when all the grown up where concerned about how he was doing academically, none of them really stopped to consider how he was doing socially. So when they pulled him out of the class with the kids he'd gone to school with for a year and a half of his short life, it came as a surprise when he wasn't happy to be put with a new class of kids who were slightly older. Mulder and Scully hadn't worried about it because there was a fair amount of interaction between the threes and fours classes, which they'd always known considering how many times they'd had kids in those classes at the same times, but they hadn't stopped to consider that all of William's friends were the same age as him, even if the kids in his new class weren't complete strangers because they'd interacted some the year before.

But all the same, William has spent the last three months of school more or less miserable. He's an average size kid for his age, but being not quite yet five, that means that he's quite a bit smaller than the kids in his class who will soon be six. He doesn't talk about it much, but Mulder suspects that being the smallest kid in the class, even compared to the girls, is a big issue for him.

He and Scully have talked quite a bit about whether or not they should declare the attempt a failure and put William back in the class he started out in. However, they do think that school has the valid point, and hope that he will adjust.

At the moment, Mulder reacts by picking William up. This used to make him giggle, but now he looks affronted. "Daddy, I'm too big."

Mulder gives him a surprised look. "Too big for what?"

"To be picked up like a baby," William insists.

"Like a baby?" Mulder asks, feigning puzzlement. To William's shock, Mulder lays him across his arms, one arm under his knees now, making him gasp. "I think that you hold a baby like this," he tells him.

"You do!" William says breathlessly.

"And you rock them like this," Mulder asks, demonstrating a technique that he hasn't had the chance to employ with any of his offspring for about three years. "Don't you?"

William is not amused. "Put me down!"

Mulder continues to rock him, hoping to get a laugh out of him. He does eventually get a smile, but then William begins to look queasy. So he stops, and sets his youngest boy back on his feet. "So…?"

William rolls his eyes in a way that would make Scully and Page proud. "You didn't pick me up like you do a baby, but I'm still too big to get picked up."

"Are you sure?" Mulder asks doubtfully. "What about when we let you stay up late to watch a movie, and you fall asleep. Should I wake you up and make you go upstairs?"

For a moment his son looks torn. Eventually he nods, but reluctantly. "Yeah, because big kids have to do that. You don't pick up Page or Sammy or April, you make them go upstairs by walking."

Mulder wants to tell him that it's different, because all three of them are so much older, but he doesn't. Usually, and maybe because he looks a little bit more like him than the other boys, Mulder thinks that William reminds him of Sammy the most. But right now, he's thinking about a conversation he had when David and Jared were about his age. Jared had gone through a phase of wanting to be different from his twin, and this strikes Mulder as somewhat similar. But instead of wanting to be different from them William wants to be more like his older siblings. And of course less like his two younger ones.

If it was Scully and William who were having the conversation, Mulder suspects that she would ask if he was being picked on at school, specifically if anybody had told him that he's a baby. And maybe if William continues to seem to have so many bad days at school he'll suggest that they have that conversation, but right now he doesn't want to be the one who brings it up.

So he says, "You're right, we make them go upstairs themselves. Spares our backs, you know." For half a second he wonders if he has just set himself up for a comment about how old he has to be, but William doesn't suggest anything like that.

"Then you don't need to take aspirin, right?" William asks earnestly instead.

"That's right." Because, really that is one positive effect of not lugging medium-sized sleeping humans around the house. Not really the point of making the older kids go up to bed on their own two feet, but nonetheless still true.

"So I would be kind of helping if I go to bed on my own, right?"

"Sure."

"Okay, good."

Mulder looks at him, wondering if he should suggest… Something. Growing up he had been fairly popular in school, at least until the year Samantha disappeared and he himself disappeared into depression. And none of their older kids, even the quiet ones, have ever expressed concern about not being able to make friends. So he's not sure how he should advise William to get the bigger kids to play with him.

"Dad, can we watch a movie tonight?" William wheedles.

This at least, makes Mulder smile. He reaches down and ruffles his son's hair, somewhat gratified when he doesn't get a scowl in return. "I'll ask mom."

"Oh. Good. You're good at making her want to do what you want to do," William says, before dashing out of the room on some sort of mission.

Mulder stares down the hall as he disappears. That sounded a lot like a very elementary way of saying that William thinks he manipulates Scully. But it isn't really like that, is it? he wonders. As far as he could always tell, she's been a willing party to his madness. Maybe the validity of that belief is something he should think about too.


Later that night Mulder is the one to tuck in Christopher and William. Since William is younger, he's put to bed first. His earlier bad mood has dissipated, and he's almost cheerful as he dresses after his bath.

"All done," he declares, wearing his favorite flannel pajamas. Most of his older siblings favored cartoons on their pjs at that age, but William likes a style that reminds Mulder of his grandfather's.

"Hey, oh, you missed a few buttons, kiddo," he points out.

William looks down. "Oops." Then he unbuttons the shirt and redoes it right. He's a lot better at it than his father would've predicted given he refused to dress himself even with help until he was three and a half.

"Much better," Mulder acknowledges. After William hops onto his bed, he asks, ''How was school?"

Since this is a bit of a loaded question, it's not surprising when William deflects. "It was school. How was work?"

This question charms Mulder so much he answers truthfully. "Pretty good. Reed's getting a lot of nice reviews for his new book so he was in a good mood. That made taping go better than usual this week."

"That's good."

"Yeah."

"But he's gonna be mad when he gets a bad one," William says as Mulder pulls up the covers.

"He's going to get a bad review?"

"Yup, a real bad one."

"Oh, are you going to write it?" he teases.

William takes the bait. "No! I can't read that good."

"But he's going to get a real bad review, huh. When?"

William yawns." Pretty soon."

"Oh, okay. Night, kiddo."

"Night, Daddy." William's head is on his pillow by the time Mulder turns off the light.

As Mulder walks down the hall, he hears a noise that makes him turn around: giggling. When he pushes open the door to his baby girls' room, he sees them in the glow of their night light. Both girls look up, surprised.

They look up at him because they're sitting on the floor in their night gowns (Zoe's is pink, Brianna's purple) with their tea set out, in the dark. Each girl has the stuffed bunny Monica gave them last Easter on her lap.

"What are you doing?" he asks, shaking his head.

Zoe gives him a bright smile, either oblivious to the fact they're doing something wrong or not caring about it. "Our bunnies aren't scareded of the dark neither!"

Wow, this is oddly unexpected, he groans silently. "Un uh, back in bed."

''Aww..." they complain as he picks them up and deposits them in their beds. Then he gathers the tea setup, deciding to take it with him.

"Go to sleep," he says firmly.

"Ok."

When he leaves he hopes that's the end of it.

This time he makes it all the way to Christopher's room without any more interruptions. Christopher is sitting at his desk and has his finger between the pages of a book when Mulder enters the room, so he must have been reading.

"Hi, Christopher," he greets his boy. He has the urge to apologize for taking so long, but he knows that none of the kids ever mind staying up a little later than usual.

"What's in the bag?" Christopher asks, giving the pink bag his father is holding a slightly apprehensive look.

"Oh. Your sisters' tea set."

"Why??"

After a moment Mulder realizes Christopher is afraid he'll be asked to play with it: he is the twins' most frequent, reluctant, human party guest. Somehow William manages not to hang around for that particular game, but Christopher never has the heart to deny them.

"Oh, I just needed to take it out of their room. So, how was school?"

"Good! Me and Addy and Timmy and Isabelle are going to start a club at recess."

"What kind of club?" None of the older kids were into them but Mulder's aware of the existence of things like Pokemon and Pogs so that's where his mind goes. Pogs might not be in any more, he reflects.

"Pictionary! That's cool, right?" The little blond boy looks to him for confirmation.

"Very." Selfishly, he's pleased that it doesn't involve the headaches of collecting or trading things.

"We hadda fill out a form and get the principal to approve it, but he did so we can start tomorrow."

They had to petition? Mulder thinks, blinking. And they did it without help? Wow. "That's great."

Christopher climbs into bed. "I can't wait until recess. Maybe I'll dream about it."

"Maybe you will. Good night, Christopher,"

'See you in the morning," his son replies with a sleepy grin.

Mulder just barely remembers to take the tea set with him, but he does, bringing it to the playroom before he does anything else. For half a second he imagines the toys, bravely playing in the dark, but of course nothing's happening there.


Buckminster Fuller School of Design and Technology
March 10

It's Friday night, which means it's packed in the computer lab. Fortunately, Luke and Gibson are reading their feedback emails in Gibson's room, which currently is roommate-less and therefore free for the guys to wail, laugh, and complain at some of the responses their test game has been getting.

" 'Game play too clunky, too much lag time.' Duh." Luke rolls his eyes, "We're just starting on this thing, don't expect us to be Capcom or anything right off the bat."

"Pretty sure even 'Doom' had its detractors in its development stages," Gibson mutters as he scrolls down. " 'Could do with more character design and development. Not sure if this is supposed to be RPG or action/FPS.' Damn, they got us."

Luke groans, his eyes roaming the ceiling. "It's hard enough putting the damn thing together with semi-decent graphics, we have to worry about character development and junk, too? Who wrote that, a girl?"

"Says Mr. Unlucky With the Ladies," Gibson intones sotto voce, ducking the half-joking punch his brother aims at his shoulder. In a normal tone, he continues, "Yes, she's a girl, and she has a good point. If we're making this our main game, then we should at least figure out which genre it is before wasting any more time and energy."

"And brain cells," Luke agrees morosely, then leans forward to look at the screen name. "Huh. And people say gamer girls are a myth." He glances at Gibson. "Your girlfriend excluded, of course. But she's… special."

"Jerk." Gibson snorts. "For the most part gamers are guys, yeah, but this college has more women going into the tech side of things than I figured at first, either."

"Okay, sociology lesson over, we gotta get an angle on this so our players are happy, which means Professor Greg is happy." Luke scratches the back of his head. "If we're going for multi-player, FPS is probably easier to do, since there doesn't have to be much of a storyline, but it can get boring fast. On the other hand, if we do an RPG, we're gonna be stuck writing code for character designs, different storylines, scenery and all that junk for ages. Too bad we can't farm that stuff out."

"I wish," Gibson sighs, and they both look depressed. They'd heard horror stories about people who'd tried to farm their work out to other students, hell, even Russians or Chinese, and they'd all got caught sooner or later. "I don't wanna chance it. Besides, if we want to market it eventually, we can't half-ass it at the beginning."

"Yeah, yeah," Luke waves a hand, then yawned. "Okay, how about this? We can fake an RPG based on our folks, so there's a combat level, kinda like an FPS, but not as boring. We can ask Dad and Monica about their latest cases, use the general stuff but nothing specific that can get us killed or sued, and that way, there's playability for a guy character and girl character."

Gibson blinks. "That's a pretty good idea. Why didn't I think of that?"

Luke smirks. "Because you've been thinking about dinner with Katie all day, and it's about fifteen minutes away. Doesn't take a mind reader to figure out what that goofy face means."

"Shut up," Gibson tries to growl as he slugs his brother, but ends up cracking up instead. "Shut up! I mean it!"

Luke is laughing, too. "Awwww, wuv, twu wuv," he imitates the priest on that movie Hannah likes to watch, his voice cracking as he does so.

"You're such an idiot," Gibson finally says, getting up to get his face cleaned up.

"Says the googly-eyed idiot." Luke grins as he leaves for his shift. Being a waiter in a dinky restaurant isn't glamorous, but it does give him a little extra spending money on actual video games. "See you tomorrow?"

"Sure," Gibson calls from the bathroom. "We can call Mon and Dad and see what their plans are for spring break."

"Will do," Luke says, locking the door behind him. He yawns again, then resolves to get some Red Bull in his system before he starts work. Last time he yawned in front of a customer, he lost a tip and got yelled at by his boss. Good times, he thinks sarcastically.



Chapter Three

March 13, 2006

It had been a rough day on the set - Reed has finally gotten a bad review on his book, and his response has been to make everyone who knows him miserable - so Scully wants nothing more than to curl up with a good book and a mug of hot coca. But as soon as she steps into the house, she realizes this won't be in her near future.

Sammy barely lets her take her coat off before seeking her out. "Mom, we have a problem," he solemnly informs her. He's as given to jokes as his father, but he's not definitely joking now.

"What kind of problem?"

"I don't know!" he blurts out, frustrated. "All I know is April wouldn't say anything on the bus, and now she won't come out of her room."

We have a problem? she thinks, making a mental note to make sure she and Mulder privately commend him on taking being a big brother and looking out for his siblings so seriously. Bill junior took it seriously too, she muses, but he was a lot more obnoxious about it.

Looking down at him, which she realizes she won't need to do much longer, she says, "Thanks for the heads up."

"Yeah...Can I get a cookie?"

Normally sweets between meals are off limits, but... "Just one."

"Thanks!" he calls over his shoulder, already headed for the cookie jar he no longer has to climb on a chair to reach.

Scully shakes her head before scaling the stairs so she can check on April.


When she reaches her middle daughter's room, she gently wraps on the door. And when this gets no response, she knocks more forcefully and says "April? It's Mom."

She's trying to decide how to express her unhappiness at being ignored when she hears a faint sigh and the door opens. April's cheeks are red but she doesn't exactly look sad like Scully expects.

"Hi Mom," April says, an improvement over Page's occasional sullen "what?"

"Can we talk?"

April sits on her bed, motioning to her chair. "Who squealed, Sammy or Page?"

"He worries about you."

"I thought it'd be Page." April looks faintly surprised. "She seemed more bothered when I didn't talk on the ride home."

"You want to tell me what's wrong?"

"No," April predictably says. "But I will." That's a pleasant surprise. "Coach Miller came to talk to Jenna, Lydia and me at lunch."

The thought that a random adult could show up at the school to talk to kids does not fill Scully's heart with joy. Upon a moment's reflection it occurs to her how out of character the school allowing that would be, so she decides he must have cleared his visit with the office. When she notices April's frown she stops over-thinking it and asks "What for?"

All of the sudden April seems like she's about to cry. She manages to pull herself together, though. "He said we're all really good players." Jenna and Lydia are on April's little league team too. "And... and we should start thinking about playing softball."

Uh oh, Scully thinks. I knew this was coming, but so soon? "Oh."

"I don't want to play softball! That's for girls. Only for girls," she adds in case her mother is tempted to point out that she is a girl. Scully's not tempted because she understands what her daughter means. "I mean... I like some girly things, like my garden, but softball isn't baseball."

Rather than remind April that some of their neighborhood's best gardeners are men, Scully decides not to derail the conversation. "Did Coach Miller say you have to play softball instead of baseball?"

He daughter frowns up at her. "No. He 'strongly suggests it' but said he's not gonna kick us off the team for being girls. Maybe."

Scully raises her eyebrows. "Maybe?"

"Yeah. That's why I'm mad."

She hardly blames her. What an infuriatingly imprecise thing to say. "That's..."

"It sucks!" April cries. When she calms a little, she says, "If we said no, and I did Mom, he said he's gotta talk to our parents."

To bully them into taking their little girls off the team, she realizes angrily. That's not happening, she vows. "If he brings it up, tell him Daddy and I would love to speak to him." About being a sexist jerk, she adds to herself.

"Okay."

Scully is about to give April a hug and tell her to wash up for dinner when a thought gives her pause. "What do Lydia and Jenna think?"

This elicits a huge sigh from April, cueing Scully to believe her hunch that there's even more to the story is correct. "Lydia didn't say it's unfair," April confides. "Jenna and I think she's just gonna go play softball."

Scully nods, seeing how this could be a blow. Not only will they lose a teammate if Lydia leaves the team, her defecting will weaken April and Jenna's arguments for staying. Already Scully can imagine Miller cajoling them for making a stink instead of rolling over like Lydia. "I'm sorry."

"Me too."

"Daddy and I will support you, okay?" Scully tells her, prodding her to get up. "We know how much you love baseball."

"Thanks."

"That's what we're here for. Wash up and help David and Jared set the table, please."

"Okay."


Mulder and Scully's Home
March 15

It's a surprisingly nice late afternoon, which is why all of the kids, and Hannah and Rebecca Doggett as well, are playing outside. Page has surprised the adults by volunteering herself and Sammy to look after the younger kids, though the three smallest come in for parental attention now and then, especially two-year-old Rebecca. She's alternated her time between running around and dozing on her mother's lap.

It's during one of these times, while the dark-haired toddler 'recharges' according to her father, that her parents' current caseload comes up. Reyes, sitting in an armchair with her little one, looks at Mulder and asks, "Did you ever have a case where people seemed to be seeing someone who wasn't really there?"

"Of course," Scully says before he gets a chance to reply. "Most of those instances didn't make it into our files, though," she adds with a glance at Doggett. He doesn't say he's read all the case files, to her relief.

Reyes looks puzzled, however. "They're in secret files, then?"

Mulder laughs. "The X-files are the secret files," he proclaims after a moment. "You know that."

"Then-"

"Most of the time it turned out not to be an X-file," Scully says, shrugging. "Often mental illness, or drug abuse."

"Or severe sleep disturbances," Mulder adds. "Although there was something to that once..."

"Sleep disturbances?" Doggett asks. "Like a hag sitting on your chest, you mean?"

"Sure. There are types of hallucinations associated with both falling asleep and waking up," Scully agrees.

Turning to Reyes, Doggett begins, "Mon-"

She shakes her head. "I really don't feel like that's what's going on," she says, frustrated.

"What exactly is the case?" Scully asks, hoping to cut to the chase.

"Leyla found this one case-"

"You're letting Leyla find cases?!" Mulder crows in disbelief. "Seriously?"

"Only because she has ties to the law firm whose clients are having issues," Doggett is quick to explain. He probably only does so they don't question his judgment further.

"What firm?"

"Dunkirk, Scott, and Johnson," Reyes tells him. "Her sister is a lawyer there-"

"No," Scully intercepts, earning surprised looks from the FBI agents. "There's only one female lawyer at that firm."

Doggett goggles at her. "How could you possibly know that?"

"She's psychic," Mulder deadpans.

"So that's where April gets it," Reyes says, disturbing Scully by sounding sincere.

"Funny, Mulder," she complains before looking at Reyes. "One of our former nannies is the lawyer in question."

"Amy," Reyes says, surprising her in return.

"Right. Amy Penda."

"Amy Penda Harrison," Reyes corrects her. "Leyla's sister."

Scully and Mulder stare at each other. "No way!"

Doggett begins to laugh so hard he snorts. After a few seconds he waves his hands and pulls himself together. "I get it now. I totally get it now," he says when he can speak.

"You get what?" Mulder asks suspiciously.

"Her complete and total hero worship of you two," he explains. "She claims she knows about your cases through the billing department, but if her sister was your nanny she probably knew your names while she was still in school, long before she made it to the Hoover Building."

Mulder looks a little green and Scully imagines that she looks ill too. "Uh, Scully... Rachel and Michelle are both only children, aren't they?"

She wants to shrug and ask how they can know for sure since Amy had never mentioned Leyla that she recalled. And really, if a person was inclined to blab to someone about what she'd overheard them say about their cases, she could tell anyone. But he looked so uncomfortable that she just says, "They are."

"Maybe it's just a coincidence, anyway," Mulder says halfheartedly.

She doubts that, but... "Could be."

"They don't look much alike," Mulder still sounds dazed.

Reyes gets what he means. "I should say half-sister. I didn't quite get why she was so specific until we met Amy."

Scully nods, remembering a conversation Amy had with her once, and how frustrating it could be at her college to listen to people argue about whether it was 'better' to be dark or light-skinned like it mattered. If she shares a parent with Leyla, Scully can see how it might be particularly sensitive an issue. Brandon Scully can be touchy about the topic too, although Charlie has been reporting that the worst of his son's teenage moodiness seemed to have passed a few months ago.

Mulder looks moderately desperate to change the subject. "So, what exactly is going on? And is Amy in any danger?"

"I don't think she is," Reyes attempts to reassure him, clearly picking up on how important that in particular is to him. "From what she and Leyla say..."


Virginia County Correctional Facility
Saturday
11:41 p.m.

Inmate 401224018 is sleeping deeply, so deeply he doesn't hear his cellmate below him grumble, for the nineteenth time that night, about his snoring. The other two cellmates are too busy sleeping quietly to pay attention, and the evening wears on in its predictability as Inmate 400076014 tries desperately to fall asleep, in spite of his bunkmate's irritating snores.

Suddenly, the man above him shouts, thrashing around so wildly that he almost falls off his bunk. "Where--? Where'd that old lady go?" Inmate 401224018 yells, his eyes straining to see in the barely-lit darkness.

"What the fuck are you talkin' about?" the irritated man below grumbles, squeezing his eyes shut, like it would make him sleep faster. "This is a mens' only prison, idiot."

"No, there was…" and now the other man falters. "Where am I?"

"Prison," the inmate below repeats. "You retarded or somethin'?"

"What? No. I'm not supposed to be here," the man is working himself not into awareness, but into a frenzy. "I'm not supposed to be here!" He flails and stumbles around, nearly falling headfirst as he leaves his bunk. He grabs the bars of the cell door. "I'm not supposed to be here!"

"Shut up!" Inmate 401124735 snaps sleepily, turning over so that his back faces the room.

"Get me out!" Nestor Garcia, currently known as Inmate 401224018, cries out. He tries to shake the bars as if they would bend in his hands like Samson's, but they don't budge. "I want my lawyer!"

Inmate 400076014 now cracks an eye at the quiet man who's finally snapped. "Oh, shit," he muttered. Lawyers were never good for anything once you were behind bars.


Sunday

A car door slams, then another closes more gently before girlish voices call "Bye!" Then the car drives off. Page and April are halfway up the walk before Scully opens the front door.

"Did you have a good time?" she asks as they come in.

Mulder and Samantha have conspired to trade off getting their daughters - at least the oldest two in his case - together once a month. Little Drew comes over more often than that, but small boys require less planning for happily received co-activities than a group of older girls who range in age from nine to sixteen do. On this particular afternoon the girls have gone roller skating.

"Yeah. I fell down twice, though," April admits. "I think the floor is lumpy."

Scully waits, wondering if this is going to be one of the times Page teases her sister, or if she'll be supportive. Lately it could go either way. The wait is in vain, however, because Page says nothing. It's only as she's asking "what about you, did you have a good time too?" when she notices Page's glum expression.

"Hey." She puts an arm around her oldest. "Did something happen?"

"It's what hasn't," Page mutters, but she doesn't push away.

Scully frowns, trying to decide if she should push the matter or not. "Let's talk about it."

Page doesn't refuse, but she does look over to where two of her brothers are coming into the foyer. "Okay, but privately."

"Sure, we can talk in my room," Scully tells her. "I'll have your dad keep everyone else out."

Page nods, and then looks at April. "You can come too. It is girl stuff, any you're a girl too."

"Okay." April's tone is neutral enough, but Scully can tell that she's pleased to be included.

"Go on up," Scully tells them, and then goes to find Mulder.

He nods thoughtfully as she explains, and she's pretty sure that he's just happy that she's handling... whatever it is.

She's still trying to predict what's up as she opens her bedroom door in time to hear April say "…Alyssa was just being a brat."

It's Scully's immediately instinct to demand to know what her niece did, but she forces herself to hold her tongue; Page and Emily are still close, but as they get older, Page and Samantha's youngest girl clash more and more often. She's not sure if it's because they were much older when they met or due to incompatible personalities, but either way, it's not their first conflict by any means.

Both of her girls are on the king-sized bed, but there's still plenty of room so she climbs on too to their open amusement. Once she settles crossed-legged between them she asks "So... what are we talking about?"

Page looks at her sister before looking back at Scully. "Boobs."

"Boobs?" she repeats blankly.

This has Page guiltily correcting herself, "Breasts." She glances at April who nods encouragingly. "Is that okay?"

"Of course," Scully says quickly. She was just startled, not disapproving. "You know you can tell Dad and me anything."

April covers her face and then groans through her fingers, "We can't talk to Daddy about boobs!"

Scully wants to say that they really can, but decides that the comment wouldn't be very productive right then. "Well, you can always talk to me about this sort of thing."

"Good." April lowers her hands.

"What did you want to talk about specifically?" Scully prompts Page.

Page looks at a loss for words and just says "I..." before shrugging helplessly.

April just says, "Alyssa has 'em."

"Oh," Scully murmurs, thinking. Has Alyssa been bragging? Or teasing?

"It's not fair," Page tells her. "She's the youngest girl in her family and Auntie Samantha is going to take her bra shopping tomorrow. I'm the oldest and I'm not ready for a bra... or other stuff," she mumbles, blushing. "Not even close."

Although Scully knows what her daughter means by other stuff, she decides not to bring it up then, and focuses on the main concern instead. "Page, there's a whole range of time for a girl's development that's considered normal. It's too soon to worry that you'll be outside of it. I'm sure that there are a lot of girls in your grade who haven't started wearing training bras yet."

Even as she says that she becomes distracted by the memory of a conversation she'd had with Missy about the possible things a bra could train you to do. Missy had some hysterical suggestions.

"There are," Page acknowledges.

"So-"

"But they're not related to me!" Page exclaims.

"Emily is," April corrects.

"But the rest aren't," Page continues. "Shouldn't the girls in the same family be alike?"

"They can be, but aren't always. And when you compare cousins, it's more common for the daughters of sisters to be alike than of a brother and sister, like your dad and Samantha."

"Oh," Page says glumly.

"Emily's flat too," April states, and it's not quite clear if she's commiserating or just pointing out the obvious.

"And I have to be honest, neither Aunt Missy nor I were wearing a bra at eleven and a half, either."

"Twelve?" Page asks hopefully.

Scully shakes her head.

"Twelve and a half?" April asks. She's never been in as a hurry to grow up at as Page, but her tone suggests that 12.5 is about the limit she finds acceptable.

Both girls look disappointed when she shakes her head again. "Thirteen."

"Thirteen!" Page cries like their mother has just said thirty.

It makes Scully glad she didn't admit that it was more like thirteen and a half. Trying to convince them that it's not so bad, she says, "Up to sixteen is perfectly normal..." They don't take comfort from this, and frown alike instead.

Looking at April, Page says, "Mom must be right about it not necessarily being the same in families: look at Adrianna." It's only been within the last few months that their oldest same-sex cousin has grown past moaning about a perceived inadequacy in the same area of concern.

"That's true," April notes.

"Sixteen to begin developing, not finish developing," their mother can't help herself from clarifying. When she does, she nearly slaps her forehead, figuring that this will further alarm them. But they actually look relieved.

"Well, no girl in our family was that old," Page says. But looking right at Scully, she asks, "Right?"

"Right." It probably isn't the time to mention that one of their great-grandmothers was flat-chested all her life.

The girls exchange a look, then scramble off the bed, leaving their mother wondering if this means that they're through talking. Page's "Thanks, Mom" confirms it.

"You're welcome. And don't forget, you can talk to me about anything. Even that 'other stuff' too."

"Someday..." Page's cheeks are pink when she ducks out of the room.



Chapter Four

Scully eventually finds her husband, who is supervising their youngest children as they tidy up the playroom. William is cheerful enough as he puts back the cars he'd played with, but Zoe and Brianna are all scowls while being cajoled into storing dolls and stuffed animals in bins. Their mother enters the room just in time to hear Mulder's "what's the problem, here?" be answered by Zoe.

"Daddy, the cubby's dark. They don't like that," she explains, surprising Scully, who had honestly assumed they were just being resistant because they don't particularly like the new demands their parents have placed on them lately, not just letting them continue to let everyone else do things for them, in effort to keep the tiny girls from becoming spoiled.

"Maybe they like the dark," Mulder suggests, a hopeful note to his voice. "Your bunnies do, right?" he adds, thinking of busting them while playing in the middle of the night.

Predictably, Zoe shakes her head. "Bunnies do, but they don't."

He looks to Brianna, probably in hopes of convincing her to see it his way, but she shakes her head too. "They don't."

Kids, even his, make no sense sometimes. There's no rational reason the girls would believe some of their toys are afraid of the dark and others aren't, especially since they themselves aren't overly afraid of the dark, but they're little and logic isn't a preschooler's strong suit. Giving Scully a helpless look, he says, "Maybe a night lig-"

"No." She shakes her head just as insistently as her daughters. There's no reason for nightlight in a room the kids aren't supposed to be in after lights out. Putting one in for the comfort of toys would be the sort of coddling of the babies of the family that they're trying to avoid.

She sits on the floor and pulls the twin girls on to her lap. "I know that you care a lot about your dolls and stuffed animals, but their eyes aren't real like ours." She would like to convince them that their toys don't really have any feelings, but three and a half is still too young for that lesson. "They don't know that the cubbies are dark, so it can't bother them."

Brianna's expression is suspicious. "They can't see dark?"

"That's right," Scully agrees.

The twins look like they're on the verge of succumbing to Scully's logic… At least until William dropped the toys he was holding, resulting in a tremendous crash that echoes in the room. Everyone looks at him, startled.

"It's not true!" His face is almost as red as his hair. "You don't need real eyes to see stuff."

"Will-" Scully starts to say, unsure where to go with his odd declaration.

"What do you mean?" Mulder asks, staring at their youngest son like William had just announced he's an alien.

"Nothing," Williams says stubbornly. Rather than explain, he quickly picks up the things he dropped and put them away. Then, without saying anything else, he walks away.

For a moment Scully wonders if one of them should go after him, but she decides not to. Walking away from a conflict to cool off rather than continuing to exacerbate it is something kids need to learn, so forcing him to stay might not be the wisest thing they can do. Mulder gives her a wan smile, signaling that he doesn't plan to run after him, either.

"Well," she says to the wide-eyed little girls. "William might have a point, but he didn't mean these guys." She uses a hand to indicate their toys.

"He didn't?" Zoe sounds uncertain.

"Nope," Mulder declares. "He would've said."

"Oh."

This seems to satisfy the girls, making Scully glad that she didn't bring up things like plantain jellyfish, which probably just would've confuse them, even if they can see to an extent without any eyes.

"I'll tell you what," Mulder apparently decides out loud. "Tonight we'll put everyone in the cubbies, and I'll check on them later on. I'll let you know if they're not okay. But I've seen the sort of adventures they've had with you, and they all seem pretty brave to me."

"They are!" Zoe declares, nodding.

"No scaredy cats?" he goads them gently.

"Nope!" Brianna says decisively, and her twin agrees.

"Well then-" He bends down and sweeps them off Scully's lap and into his arms. They giggle until he hugs them and puts them on their feet. "We can't keep these brave ladies and gentlemen from having adventures in the dark, can we?"

"No!" they chorus. He begins to casually place a few of the toys in a cubby, then steps back when they follow suit.

After a couple of minutes all the toys are stowed away. "Good night, Toys," he says solemnly.

The girls say good night as well but use the names they're given the toys at the moment. "Good job," Mulder tells them. "Have Sammy help you find your robes in the laundry room, please. It's almost bath time."

"Okay!" With that they scamper out of the room.

As soon as they're alone, Mulder smirks and bows.

"Masterful," Scully says, giving a golf clap.

"I didn't sleep through all my child psych classes," he explains.

"It shows."

His smile fades. "I just wish I knew what William's problem was."

Inside she squirms a little, not sure she wants to open a new can of worms. "I've heard him talking to nothing, a couple of times," she admits. "At least nothing there that I could see, anyway."

"Oh." He nods thoughtfully. "The ghosts have been pretty quiet lately, but I guess they've picked a new playmate."

It's all she can do not to sigh herself. After a decade of co-existing with their non-corporal roommates, it's no longer in her to deny their existence, but she's still not comfortable when they do something that forces herself to think about them. "Or he's pretending to see them," she says, but her heart's not really in it.

"If it comes up again, I'll talk to him," Mulder promises. "I know you're still not a big fan of the ghosts." He gives her a sidelong glance. "Even though they saved our lives that one time."

"I thanked them for that," she retorts before saying "oops" and covering her mouth.

He looks delighted. "You didn't!"

Now she does sigh. "The next night."

"After you and Bill declared war on Alex?"

"Later that night," she agrees, thinking briefly of Alex's first Scully family gathering. If anyone had asked her then if Missy would have actually made it to the altar with her former double agent before one of her siblings offed him, she would have laughed in the asker's face. It still amazes her a little that his fierceness in the field translates so well into being a good husband and protective father. And uncle, she remembers with a tiny smile. At least Alan has seemed to forgive him.

Completely unaware of her line of thinking, Mulder drags her back to the topic of ghosts. Grinning, he asks, "And as you secretly thanked them during the dead of night, did they say you're welcome?"

"Mulder, you know they don't speak," she complains.

"Did you see them, though?" It's clear that he expects her to say no.

But she did.

She'd felt stupid trying to find them that night, especially when she'd checked all the kids' rooms. She'd nearly given up, deciding it was dumb to have even tried considering how infrequently Mulder and Page had claimed to have seen them, but something had convinced her to go back downstairs.

The ghosts that had come to their rescue (she'd only realize there were more years later when one let Albert Holstein into the house) had been gathered around the Christmas tree, apparently enthralled by the lights that she and an equally exhausted Mulder had forgotten to shut off.

At first she was reluctant to disturb them, but she thought that she'd better because lights on the tree while everyone was in bed could present a fire hazard.

"Sorry," she'd whispered, leaning past one small ghost to unplug the lights, taking care not to touch the ghost as she did. They looked disappointed, so she promised to turn them back on the next day. While they nodded in apparent comprehension, she found herself thinking that maybe a timer for the lights could be purchased in the morning: an hour of lights on while everyone was in bed probably would be okay. And she'd check the fire alarm too.

"Hey," she'd said then. They looked at her even as she could see through them. "Thanks for your help tonight. We really needed it." Her hand had gone to her belly then, even though it was much too soon to really feel the baby they'd one day name Christopher.

Their response was to rush to her, which she'd only had a moment to be alarmed by before they gave her the briefest of hugs. Their wispy arms around her had felt like a light breeze, then the winked out like they usually did when they'd had enough attention from the living. She'd stood these, dumbfounded for a moment, before heading up to bed. She would have told Mulder then, but he'd been sound asleep. By the morning it had seemed too surreal to explain.

"Yes, Mulder, I did," she admitted. "They accepted the thanks."

'"Wow..." Mulder drawls. "I can't believe you've kept that from me all these years."

"Well, Mulder, a girl's got to keep a few secrets, or the romance might keel over and die."

"Oh, that's why we're still in love," he says with a goofy grin. "Good thinking."

"One of us had to plan for the long haul," she teases.

"Speaking of secrets, what was the secret girls-only powwow about? If you don't mind me asking."

"Of course I don't mind. And they were asking me about puberty."

"Puberty?" he asks skeptically. It's clear that he sees his eldest daughters as still very much his little girls.

"Or lack thereof," she clarifies.

"What brought that on?" he wants to know.

"Your sister is taking Alyssa shopping for a training bra tomorrow."

"Oh." He winces. "I can see how that might have brought the subject up."

"I explained that everyone develops at their own pace and they seemed to get it. I told them that they could come to either of us with their questions, but I think they'll probably ask me more often when they're biological questions." But then Scully does imagine that April could ask him a specific question... If ever her curiosity about breast development and sports collide. "Promise me you won't remind April of the Amazons if she ever complains about breasts affecting her pitching," she blurts her thoughts out.

Mulder gives her an odd look, but says, "Duly noted."

"Um... Thanks. I suppose you'll have your work cut out for you too when the boys begin to come to you with questions."

He surprises her by saying, "Sammy already has, actually."

"You're kidding!" Sammy will still be ten for another five months, so she can't imagine what might already be on his mind. Especially considering he still believes girls are icky. "What did he ask you?"

"Remember how the school had them do a project with seventh graders last month?" he asks. When she indicates that she does, he goes on. "At one point they had to write on the board, and Sammy thought it was odd that one of the older boys brought his book up to the board with him," he stopped with a suggestive look.

"Held in front of him about here?" Scully asks, miming what she means.

"Exactly like that," Mulder agrees.

"Poor kid."

"When Sammy got home he asked me why I thought the kid was acting so strange. So I explained."

"How'd he take it?"

"Probably as well as the girls did if you told them Scullys tend to be late bloomers." He gives her a knowing look; after too much wine one night Missy had entertained him and Alex by sharing the details of their training bra discussion.

She shakes her head. "Why did we foolishly think it would get easier once everyone was out of diapers?" They'd happily trashed the family's last potty back in July.

Mulder slings an arm around her. "I don't think this is necessarily harder. Just new and completely different. Besides, this is the most rewarding adventure you and I have ever gone on."

He looks surprised when she throws her arms around him, engulfing him in a huge hug. "You're right. This has been a pretty grand adventure so far."

"Dear diary," Mulder intones. "It's finally happened. Dana has become a sappy as I am. I don't know what we'll tell the neighbors."

He only stops laughing when she punches him in the shoulder. But not the one she shot him in, so he doesn't have a ready-made comeback when she says "Jerk."

"Come on. You know you love it."

"Even if it's true, picking on the crazy is a terrible thing to do."

"You're crazy? I seem to recall admitting that I'm crazy on our first anniversary," he says in a musing tone.

Scully just shrugs. "And now you've infected me."

"Oh really?" He wags his eyebrows at her. "Just wait until the kids are in bed. I'll infect you with something else."

"Promise?" she asks, standing on her tippy toes to reach up to kiss him.

Mulder pulls her back against him, earning a pleased chuckle from her. "Count on it."

"I will be counting the hours," she promises, verging on a giggle.

"See? I told you things would get better when we no longer had any infants in the house to get up for."

Once that might've hurt, even if he didn't mean for it to, but after more than three years she's okay with being reminded that their family has stopped growing. At least until their kids grow up and add to the family themselves. "What can I say? You were right."

"Oh," he says. "That's one for my diary too."

"Mulder," she sighs, but it turns into a laugh soon enough.


The FBI Basement Office
Monday
10:03 a.m.

"It's up to six now," Amy Penda Harrison says without preamble as she walks in, putting a stuffed folder on the X-Files' head's desk.

"Good morning to you, too," Doggett drawls, looking down at her dubious gift.

The dark complected young woman pulls the corners of her mouth up into a brief, professional smile, and promptly drops it. Doggett still can't get over how this woman and Agent Harrison are related - and that's almost entirely due to their personalities, rather than looks, as surprising is that might be - at least until he thinks of Dana and Melissa Scully and their differences of attitude and careers. Those two might look a lot more alike than the Harrison siblings do, but their mindsets are even more divergent.

Amy gives him a long-suffering look. "Agent Doggett, I've spent four hours this morning trying to talk a hysterical man down from the ledge so to speak, two hours trying to convince the firm that the prisoner in question was and still is actually guilty, and the last hour and a half in traffic. It hasn't been a good morning in a long time."

Doggett sighs. "I see," he says, and he does. "Agents Reyes and Harrison are out talking with Randy Johnson, the car thief. I was about to talk with his family. Wanna come with?"

She shakes her head. "No, thank you. I just wanted to let you all know that Nestor Garcia, Inmate 400076014 at the Virginia County Correctional Facility, saw an old woman in his dream and woke up." She sighs. "Who then woke up everyone around him asking for a lawyer, and when his court-appointed lawyer showed up, Garcia nearly tore his head off. Billie Joe Charles is a decent defense lawyer, but a rookie, and he was practically in tears, threatening to kill himself this morning because of Garcia." She looks both disgusted and fatigued by her younger colleague, and Doggett wonders if he ever has that expression around the prosecutor's younger sister. If he has, he feels a little bad about that now.

Then her lips purse in a manner reminiscent of her younger sister's (or perhaps they both are mirroring someone else?), and she says, "I just wanted to make sure Leyla was all right. Reopening closed cases is a nightmare, especially ones where prisoners insist on their so-called 'innocence', and my sister's more likely than others to be susceptible to alternative ways of thinking."

A corner of Doggett's mouth turns up. "You don't say," he half-grins. "Well, thanks for the heads' up, Ms. Harrison. And you're right, reopening closed cases are a nightmare, both for the cops and lawyers." He stands up, buttoning his jacket, and holds a hand out. "Thanks for stopping by."

Amy Harrison gives his hand a good, firm shake. "I really hope you come up with some answers," she says, sincerely. "Because if this doesn't stop, I've got a bad feeling the domino effect would wreak havoc on the firm."

And, by extension, her job, Doggett continues her line of thought. He doesn't answer her, but merely nods, and they leave the office in different directions. When the elevator doors close, he calls his partner. "Mon," he says, "we got another one."

"Crap," Reyes sighs on the other end. "Well, Johnson was a wash. He's definitely guilty, but also definitely confused about how he got imprisoned. Dreamed there was a scolding old lady and woke up in jail. Same story as the others. Who's the new one?"

"Nestor Garcia," Doggett says, glancing through the folder, "locked up in VCCF, looking at 25-life for armed robbery and multiple homicides. Kinda hard to prove his innocence, what with the security cameras clearly catching everything on tape, multiple witnesses, his fingerprints on the murder weapon, and more than a few spent casings found on his clothes. Guy was stupid and sloppy to pull off something like that, especially at a national chain bank."

Reyes groans, and Doggett echoes the sentiment. "I'd rather take him than the child molester," she says, and Doggett makes a face. He was about to offer the opposite, but mumbles agreement. He just hoped he would have a better hold on his temper than his wife, which was probably what she was counting on, but just barely when it came to scum like that. "Thanks, John," she says warmly, and he really can't argue with her there.

"Sure thing," he says. "How's Leyla holdin' up?"

"She's fine." Reyes probably smiles. And Doggett can almost see the blonde woman smile back at his girlfriend - that's the kind of woman Monica's like. "Don't worry about us, you're going to need all your strength to tackle Johnson's family. Oh, if any of them spit, I think it's normal."

"Oh, God," Doggett groans. "Don't stereotype."

"You, too, dear," Reyes says, but he can practically hear her smirking. Dammit.



Chapter Five

Copley Square Complex
4:47 p.m.

While Luke spends his free afternoons or evenings working at a restaurant, Gibson spends some afternoons volunteering at an after-school program. It was Katie's idea, really, since she's part of the college community outreach program, and figured that it would be a good idea to show the city that Bucky College wasn't just about video games. "Granted, the fact that it's made of 90% gamers is pretty obvious," Gibson had argued, and she'd rolled her eyes.

"Duh," she said, "but another thing is, hardly anyone outside the gamer community knows about our college. There's Cambridge, MIT, Harvard – hell, my parents knew what Berklee College of Music was before they knew of 'the Buckminster Fuller School of Design and Technology'," she deepened her voice to sound like her father. "Besides, it'll give kids something to shoot for other than just be game testers, game reviewers, and fast-food worker when they grow up gamer."

"When you put it that way," Gibson had trailed off, then smiled, shaking his head. "Okay. But just to warn you ahead of time, I'm not really a kid-friendly type of guy."

"You have younger siblings, you're a natural," Katie had argued.

He'd tried to bring up the whole mind-reading thing without really doing so. "Kids are so energetic," he said lamely, "they're kinda overwhelming if they're not related."

"Oh yeah, because having a kid sister and a baby sister are so mellow and quiet," Katie had snorted. "Come on, they won't bite." Then she'd paused. "Much."

And with that ringing endorsement (and the fact that community service would be counted for his scholarship), he'd joined Katie on her ill-fated outreach.

Actually, it isn't so bad. They'd started this in January, after Winter Break, and although they'd dropped from fifteen well-meaning tutors to just five, the kids really appreciate having newer equipment at the center. That, and the unintended actual help with homework and computers from friendly teens doesn't hurt, either. Gibson has found that he likes helping the girls out more than the boys, probably because they actually listen to him, while Katie is better with both genders under the age of eight than over. Thomas, Melody, and Shon are the other three rounding out their team, and together, "We're like the geek version of 'Sesame Street'," Melody occasionally claims.

It's true, Melody being American-born Chinese, Shon (nobody can really say either his full first or last name) is from Sri Lanka, and Thomas is Boston-born and bred and black. With Gibson and Katie being the token white kids, they meshed together with the likewise mixed group of kids pretty well, minus the singing and dancing, of course.

That is, when Shon isn't making trouble with the older boys like he is today. Gibson is actually looking forward to the end of the day, for once, because that will mean he'll get to throttle the idiot when the kids are gone. Thomas is no help because he's snapping pictures under Melody's instruction, and obvious to the kids' (and Shon's) antics.

At least he's gotten distracted by helping out first-graders Julie and Alice on their homework, and before he knows it, parents, guardians, and older siblings are picking up the kids.

"Thanks for helping my sister, Mister…" an older girl speaking behind him pauses, not sure how to address Gibson.

Gibson turns around, to see a large pair of dark brown eyes staring at him. Then he looks at Alice, who possesses the same pair. "Gibson," he says. "Just Gibson."

"Charlotte!" Alice beams, then blinks when the flash of Thomas's camera gets her in the eyes. "How come Uncle Johnny isn't picking me up?"

"Because I have an early day off, thanks to exams." Charlotte smiles down at her younger sister. Then she frowns and looks at Gibson like she's trying to figure something out. "Gibson… Praise?"

"Uh, yeah." He blinks.

She grins and shakes his hand. "I'm one of the beta testers, Hellokitty710," she says. "You and your partner have an interesting game, if it ever comes together."

Oh yeah, the gamer girl with the sharp critique. "Well, thanks to you, we're reworking it to be better." He smiles. "Good luck on your finals."

"You, too!" She waves. As they leave, he can hear Alice saying, "You go to school together? Cool."

The smile's still on his face when his girlfriend joins him. "New friend?" she asks.

He shakes his head. "Nah, one of the beta testers for me and Luke's game," he explains. "Alice's older sister."

"I didn't know she had an older sister," Katie looks thoughtfully at the door. Then she sticks her tongue out at Thomas when he snaps a picture of her. Thomas grins, then goes to snap a few more before all the kids leave with their guardians.

"Me, neither," Gibson says, but her stray thought pings him before he can shut it out. "Are you jealous?"

She blinks, then blushes a little. "No, why?"

He stares at her for a bit, glad that she hadn't deflected by asking why she would be jealous that Alice has an older sister, and then smiles. "I never thought I'd get my girlfriend jealous," he says honestly. "It's kinda cute."

Katie folds her arms and pouts. "What if I was crazy jealous? Would that be cute, then?"

"Nope," he says, putting an arm around her shoulder. "That would just be creepy. I'll stick with a little jealous. It's good for my ego."

"Jerk," she mutters, elbowing him a little.

He kisses her on the cheek. "You do realize you're my girlfriend," he says, "and I'm your boyfriend. Besides, I'm usually the one embarrassed to see guys ask you out, it's nice to know that even you think there's someone else who might be interested in me."

She sighs, then leans against him. "It's a game of numbers," she mutters, "there are more guys than girls at Bucky. And there's a chance that some random girl would ask you out. It sucks that she goes to our college, though."

He chuckles, then kisses her again. "Come on," he says, giving her a quick squeeze before starting to tidy up the place after Shon and the others have nearly trashed it. "Help me clean up, and then we can pretend to study while actually complaining about finals."

She tries to keep her frown on, really, but she ends up chuckling in spite of herself. "Fine," she says, pushing in chairs. "Have it your way."

He shakes his head, mock sadly. "No, if I really had it my way, we'd be doing something else other than studying or complaining."

Her head whips up so fast he worries that she just gave herself whiplash. "Gibson!" She blushes, but laughs.

"Like I said," he says and grins back. "We're gonna be reasonable tonight."

This seems to depress her a little. "I can't wait until midterms are over."

"Me, too," he says, and for more than one reason.


Meanwhile

Because it's not the dinner rush at the moment, Luke finds himself with enough time to actually look at his customers this evening. The middle-aged couple who are talking over dessert and coffee don't interest him very much, although he suspects they will leave a decent tip. But the raven haired woman who keeps looking at him, and not even sneakily, does grab his attention.

Her boldness when it comes to checking him out has him mildly concerned, and he's not all that surprised when she decides to talk to him when he brings her check to her. She blatantly studies his name tag for a moment before saying "Luke? That's not a name you hear very often."

"You hear it a lot more often than my brother's name." He shrugs.

He waits for her to ask what his brother's name is like most people would, but it's clear she doesn't care. "Luke, what's a boy like you doing waiting tables in a restaurant like this?"

Luke has to force himself not to smile. It sounds a lot like dialogue from one of the dopey black and white movies Hannah and Monica have forced him and Gibson to sit through. He guesses that would make her Bogart. "Oh, you know. It pays the bills while I finish my degree."

This has her looking interested. "Oh, a college student? What are you studying?"

"Game design," he says, hoping that she will find it just as boring as most girls do.

Unfortunately, she doesn't. "Really? You going to make video games when you grow up?"

Inside, he can't help but bristling a little bit. He is grown up. It offends him on some level that people don't seem to respect the fact that virtually all college students are legally adults. But, lecturing the young woman, who is probably all of three or four years older than him, would likely cost him his tip, so he keeps his mouth shut. And he doesn't talk to her about the plans that he and Gibson have for the future, their hopes about starting their own videogame company once they're out of school. It would only give her more to talk about if he did. "Hey, we'll see right?"

She nods. "Actually, I'm more interested in knowing what you're doing this weekend."

Luke gives her a puzzled smile. It's not as though he hasn't heard of patrons in the restaurant trying to pick up the wait staff, but almost always it's the girls who have problems with men trying to talk them into dating them. He glances over at where Benny and Tim are cleaning tables, and over to where Maria is talking to people she is going to get a table for, and realizes that if it gets out that a patron has tried to pick him up, he's going to be a subject of fun for at least the rest of the night.

"Well?" the woman asks, but she actually expects him to answer.

"Um…" Luke stammers. There really isn't a safe answer to that. Maybe he should say he's going to be babysitting his siblings over the weekend, but is afraid that it might be tempting fate to do that. What if something goes wrong with Dad or Monica, and he really does have to babysit, and it's partly his fault because karma thought you should be telling the truth to this random crazy stranger? Oh God, I've been spending way too much time listening to Monica, he tells himself.

She looks disappointed. "Girlfriend?"

Luke attempts to give her a confused smile, and nods slightly. He knows for a fact that it'd common enough to invent a significant other to put off somebody who is acting like a creeper. Although, it does come as somewhat of a surprise to him that there are women like that too, not just fat or balding men who think way too much of themselves.

"Too bad," she says, snagging the bill off of the small plate it rests on.

He just watches her go, no longer even hoping for a tip. If she doesn't come back and pester him again, it would be worth at least a hundred dollars to him.

Shaking his head, he returns to the older couple, and sees if they want a refill for their coffee. They do, by the time he looks up again, the woman is gone.

At least nobody seems to have noticed the awkward exchange. And he sure as hell isn't going to tell Gibson. Gibson would only ask him why he isn't interested in at least seeing what she wants, and he doesn't really feel like having to evoke their father's advice about strangers in order to get him to back off.


The FBI Basement Office
9:02 p.m.

"This sucks," Agent Harrison says succinctly.

Doggett gives her a mirthless grin. "Ya don't say," he mutters, mindful of his partner's gaze.

Satisfied he won't bite Leyla's head off, Reyes allowed herself a sigh. "I wish there were some other sign or clue," she purses her lips. "There's the fact that your sister's firm is involved," she holds up a finger, "and that several successfully prosecuted perps are imprisoned," and another one flies up, "but there's no rhyme or reason saying which one will snap. Or that there are other prisoners out there who are snapping, but nobody's noticed."

Doggett's face scrunches up like he's just sucked a super lemon. "Please don't jinx us," he says.

"Oh, you believe in jinxes?" Leyla's eyes widened.

He groans, and Reyes feels a little sorry for him. He's actually had a worse day than they did, since the people he'd talked to made theirs seem like Sunday school teachers. "John, you know as well as I do that things are going to get worse before they get better," she says, in as reasonable tone as possible, "especially since we have no other clues or leads."

"Yeah, we do," he says, surprising both her and Leyla.

"We do?" the blonde woman asks, but his partner's eyebrows are also up.

He nods tiredly. "There's someone behind the scenes," he says, "someone pulling their strings, or at least, flippin' on and off the control switch." He gives Reyes a look. "And how do you profile a shadow?"

"It's an old woman," Leyla interjects.

"You mean, because that's the image the cons see before they 'wake up'?" Doggett says, his tone suggesting the quotation marks. "I doubt it. But the fact that there is one, in spite of how different she appears according to ethnicity, means that an old woman means a lot to our suspect, probably someone who influenced them into their vigilante tendencies."

"Vigilante?" Reyes frowns.

"Yeah," he says. "They're obviously not working with law enforcement, or we'da heard of them by now. I don't know if it's hypnotism, or drugs, or what, but this old woman has somehow shaped our suspect into someone who pushes the guilty into their punishment like somebody would sacrifice pawns…" his voice trails off, a frown deepening the lines in his brow. "I may not be as good as Gibson when it comes to chess, but even I know playing people like pawns, even if they're guilty, isn't the best move." He exhales.

Reyes' frown, like her partner's, has deepened. "It's too bad we don't know who this old woman is. We could try to lean on her to make our suspect turn him or herself in."

"So you think our suspect could be a woman?" Leyla says carefully.

"It could be," the brunette agrees. "But what triggered these episodes in the first place? Injustice happens all the time, what made this particular person snap? Did the old woman's influence escalate, telling them to do something about it? Or did someone take them away from the old woman's care, causing them to react?"

"What if the old woman died?" Leyla chimes in. The two senior agents look at her. "It's a reasonable assumption."

"Yeah, it is," Doggett says, a little sorry to sound surprised. "Following that, what if the old woman isn't the trigger, but she is the safety? What if our suspect had the capability to do-" He shakes his head slightly. "-whatever it is they do, and the old woman kept them from doing it? Once she died, nobody could tell our suspect 'no' or 'stop', somehow, this old woman had the emotional capability to keep our suspect from doing anything."

"But for how long?" Reyes picks up the thread. "This person could be anywhere from their teens to their sixties, there's no telling if our suspect's activities will escalate as time goes on."

"So far, all they've done is confess, then wake up." Leyla nods. "Nothing violent, at least towards the criminals."

"Yet," Doggett stresses. "Our suspect has this ability, who's to say that they won't step it up?"

Reyes walks over to the desk and picks up the files. "The timeline," she murmurs.

"Timeline of what?" Doggett asks, but subsides when he sees her trying to put something together.

After a few minutes, she looks up. "I didn't notice it before, because we were too busy looking for patterns among the victims themselves," she says, "but there's a pattern of timing. Each new arrest coincides with a 'wake up', like our suspect can only juggle so many people at a time. It looks like three people is their limit," she has the files lined up on the desk so that Doggett and Leyla can see what she is talking about. "That's pretty impressive, especially since the suspect seems to have complete control from arrest to denial. I'm pretty sure we can cross voodoo off the list." She looks at Leyla. "Since they were all checked for drugs and came out clean for anything like tetrodotoxins or dissociative drugs like datura." She smiles at the younger agent's rare skepticism. "Trust me, if anything odd shows up on drug test, they'll retest until they come up with something that fits."

The blonde woman pouts for a bit. "But it could be something like hypnotism or possession, right?"

"Or it could be someone like Robert Modell with psychokinetic ability," Doggett notes. Both women stare at him, making him a little uncomfortable. "I am the head of this division, remember? I'm pretty sure I've read most of the files around here, too."

After a moment, Reyes smiles slowly at her partner, making him blush. "You never fail to surprise me," she says affectionately, making Leyla giggle.

How does she make me feel like a ten-year-old with a crush in the middle of a frustrating investigation? Doggett wonders, then gives up. He may know a lot about the X-Files, and he may know a lot about women, but he'll never really know everything about Monica Reyes, and he found he's fine with that. "Enough of that," he grumbles, trying, and failing, to hide the pinkish tinge on his cheeks. "We got bigger fish to fry."


Tuesday
12:39 p.m.

Alan gives a quick glance at the scene the kitchen windows gives him. It is another gloomy, blustery day, and while he doesn't mind walking out that kind of D.C. weather, he knows the kids probably would. "Change of plans, gang," he says to the trio, already bundled up in their coats and shoes.

"Awwww." William pouts, and his little sisters do the same.

Their larger-than-life nanny snorts. "You know us nannies have the super-power to resist cute little kid eyes, don't you?" he asks.

The redheaded boy immediately drops his expression in favor of a regular scowl, while his sisters tried to keep it up, but quickly tire of going against the scarred granite face that is Alan Carruthers.

"Fine," the little boy says. "So now what are we gonna do?" he whines.

"Hold on," Alan puts a hand out when he sees the kids starting to take off their coats. They look up at him in confusion. "Just because I said 'change of plans' doesn't mean we're not going out today."

"But it's all gray and yucky," William complains, and while Brianna nods, Zoe looks mildly confused.

Alan smiles. "We can go into the car, where I'll drive us to someplace fun," he says. "First, let me call your parents first to see if it's okay."

They nod, remembering the last time Alan got big-time scolded by Uncle Alex when they went out without asking first. At least, that's how Alan put it.

When he comes back, there's a big smile on his face. "Okay, we're going to the museum!"

All three Scully-Mulderlings stare at him in confusion. "That's boring," William says simply.

"Not this museum." Alan grins.


Half an hour later, they're walking to the museum from the street parking William squints up from his end of the kid sandwich, he stared at the plain face of the building. "This looks boring."

"That's part of the plan." The big nanny nods. "Spies are never what you expect."

"Spies?" the twin girls chorus.

Alan nods as they walk into the International Spy Museum. "Yup. A friend of mine works here, she's funny."

"Your friend is a spy?" William asks as their nanny pays his own entrance fee.

The large man chuckled as they walk inside. "No, better than that. She's my best friend."

Now all three children are frowning, but before they can figure out what he's talking about, he throws himself to the ground, followed by a flying metal rod hitting the wall. "Not bad," a woman's voice says from behind, and they spin around.

Whatever they were expecting, spy or otherwise, they're dreadfully disappointed. She looks, as William said earlier about everything, boring. With short brown hair, thick glasses, gray sweater, a long skirt, she looks nothing like the spies in the movies and more like a librarian. "Not bad," the librarian-like lady repeats in a sarcastic tone. "Good thing I wasn't a real bad guy, huh?"

Alan picks himself up off the floor easily and hands her the cane back. "You don't go after kids," he says, and she smiles a little. "Kids, this is Joanie Nakasone, my best friend. Joanie, this is William, Brianna, and Zoe. They're my newbies."

"Do best friends throw things at each other?" William frowns.

His nanny shakes his head. "Only this one," Alan answers, "she only gets to do that because she's good at it."

She rolls her eyes. "And because Alan was once my newbie. Admit it, big guy, Baghdad would've been a lot scarier for you if I wasn't your boss."

"You were his boss?" Brianna's now the one squinting up. The lady looks as tiny to Alan as her mommy does to her daddy. Then again, Mommy sometimes bosses Daddy around, so maybe that's not too surprising.

The woman smiles briefly, and William thinks it's the same kind of smile his mom gives to people when they don't call her "doctor". "I was a captain," she answers, "this big lunk here was a staff sergeant, which, technically, meant I was his boss."

"So you guys were in the mill-tree?" William asks.

Alan leans down and whispers, "She still is, but it's a secret." And he puts a finger to his lips.

"Oh yeah," William whispers back and nods. This is a spy place after all, he thinks, even though Joanie-the-librarian-looking lady is rolling her eyes.

"Anyways, I think you're all here for the official tour?" she says, tilting her head slightly, but her tone less a question and more like an order.

Alan straightens up and nods, and so do the three children. And, in spite of themselves, the children are entertained, especially when Joanie takes her legs off (apparently, only special captains get to have fake legs from the knees down and use them for all sorts of things) and they crawl through the ducts in the ceiling, spying on various people below them. Alan, however, is the only one who can not only tell that he's being spied on, but exactly who is above his head. Well, everyone except Joanie, which, to William's mind, is totally unfair, even if she doesn't have any feet to scrape along the ductwork.



Chapter Six

Saturday

One weekend morning Emily wakes up early and realizes that her parents have company. Or scratch that, looking out the window she can see that Missy's car is gone, so it must be that her mother has already gone to the post office to mail out packages to her customers like she said she would. Addy and Ryan are still in bed as she makes her way down the hallway.

Curious about who might be visiting her father, Emily sneaks forward, coming down the stairs just enough to see into the kitchen. Her father is sitting at the table having coffee with a blonde woman that she vaguely recognizes. After a moment she places her: the last time she saw the woman was about the time when her cousins' grandfather died. Emily didn't think that she, Page, or Sammy were supposed to realize then that this woman had been keeping an eye on their family while the grown-ups were concerned that somebody might bother the kids, but Emily had noticed her back then. The woman didn't ever do anything too suspicious but Emily had made a game of looking for her at the time. Then her father and Uncle Mulder were back, and the woman went away.

Now, years later, Emily wonders why she's around again. A nervous worry that there might be something else wrong with the family springs up in her mind, but she tries hard to damp it down. Her father looks calm. If there was a problem…well, her dad isn't known for keeping his calm when it comes to threats to his kids. Or their mother, either.

"I'm just saying, Alex, you could be useful," the woman is explaining.

"And I told you, I'm not interested in being of use," Alex replies in a way that suggests that Emily has missed quite a lot of their conversation already.

"Alex…"

The woman reaches for his good hand, but he yanks it away with a hiss. "Don't," he says sharply.

Emily supposes that she shouldn't be amused, but she is. Her mother might be pleased to see that sort of reaction to another woman, especially one as pretty as the one sitting in the kitchen. Emily may not have any idea what's going on, but she is 100% positive that there's nothing funny going on between her father and his visitor.

The woman's response is to give him a reproachful look. "I'm surprised at you."

Alex narrows his eyes at her. "Marita, how on earth could you be surprised that I'm not interested in getting back into…this?"

The blonde shrugs elegantly. "After what you suffered at the hands of the Russians, I thought you'd still be eager for settling old scores."

Russians? Emily finds herself thinking. She was very young when it happened, but she knows that her father lost his arm when he was on a trip to Russia. It sounds like the woman is implying that it wasn't an accident like she always assumed. Hadn't her mother said there had been a car accident? Or had she just made up an explanation that made sense on her own?

"Spare me," Alex snaps. "They've already taken one whack at me, I can't imagine what you're thinking now. Why on earth would I try to tangle with them again, after what happened the last time?"

Marita sighs. "Alex, Alex. I'm afraid you been playing for the white team for far longer than is good for you."

"It's over," Alex growls, making Emily, still unseen, wince. "That part of my life is over. Completely over. I have no interest in ever revisiting it."

"Too much to lose these days?" the woman asks, tone sardonic.

"Yes." He glares at her. "I do have too much to lose. Why don't you go find a nice, unassuming man who has no idea about what sort of person you really are and have a baby or two before it's too late, Marita? I think you'll find your taste for spying and intrigue will be lost if you do."

Emily begins to gasp, but stops herself by putting a hand over her mouth before any sound escapes. It can't be true, can it? Her father, spying? Spies are bad, aren't they?

"Funny," the woman hisses. "I suppose you have the right sort of guy in mind for me even."

He shrugs. "Too late. If you had asked for a fix-up a couple of years ago I could have set you up with one of Mulder's geek friends. But one of them's engaged, and the other two seem to have found women willing to put up with them as well. However, if you would like some help filling out an online dating application, I'd be happy to help you edit it." He pauses for a second, looking thoughtful. "Although… What are your feelings on famous but completely obnoxious authors? Mulder's cohost might be less of the unbearable jerk if he ever got laid."

Pink spots appear on the woman's cheeks, and that's the only way that Emily knows for certain that she is upset. She doesn't move in a way that betrays her lack of emotional control, but very calmly stands up and pushes in the chair. Looking back at Alex, she says, "Mark the calendar, Alex. This is the day you could have done something about what's going to come. And you decided not to."

His only response is to waive dismissively, and cast a glance towards the door he hopes she will exit from. She does. Alex finishes his coffee, then washes both mugs. When he makes a move to leave the kitchen, Emily scrambles back up the stairs. If her father saw the look on her face, and all the questions there, he'd ask her about it. And that's not a conversation she wants to have right then.


JCTTIOT Film Studio

To Mulder's surprise, they don't immediately come back from one of the last commercial breaks of the day. Instead, the studio lights dim, and Wayne comes over to speak to them. Looking directly at Scully he says "Dana, you have a phone call. It's your nanny."

She looks surprised, but mutters thanks before hurrying away. Mulder looks at their producer, and the shorter man shrugs. "I think your littlest ones are sick."

"Oh," he says, beginning to worry. Alan is reliable and they have faith in him that he can handle a lot of situations, but if he's calling because the twins are that sick…

Wayne gives him a weak smile. "I think we may call it a day early today."

"You do?" he asks, raising an eyebrow in a way that would make Scully proud.

Their hyperactive producer shrugs. "You and Dana are very professional, but even professionals don't make very good arguments for TV if they're worried sick about their kids."

The conversation that Scully and the nanny have is brief, and Scully looks worried when she returns to the stage. "Wayne, I hate to ask-" she starts to say but he cuts her off.

Pulling out the megaphone that he enjoys very much carrying around, Wayne puts it to his mouth. "Okay, people. We're going to call it a night. Enjoy your paid time off."

As he had started his statement the crew looked a bit more upset than Mulder and Scully's fellow cast members, but knowing that they were getting off work two hours early with pay made that apprehension disappear.

"What's wrong?" Mulder asks his wife as soon as she is comes close enough to speak to without yelling.

She frowns. "Zoe and Brianna have high fevers and are throwing up. Alan was able to call and get an appointment for about an hour from now. He asked that one of us take them to it, though."

"Of course," he says quickly. It's wonderful to have somebody looking up to the kids, but he doesn't actually expect the nanny to shuttle them to and from doctors' appointments. Not when he knows that Scully always wants one of them to hear what the doctor has to say firsthand.


It doesn't take long for everything to start to shut down for the night. By the time that Mulder has changed in his dressing room and scrubbed off the makeup he still doesn't enjoy wearing, the lights are down, and the crew is beginning to file out. Mary Green has already left, but Reed is still hanging around. It does not surprise, nor delight Mulder when he is approached by the skeptic.

He fully expects to get a ration of crap from Reed, but the irritable author looks strangely sympathetic when he asks, "Your kids are sick?"

"Just the youngest two of them," Mulder says, before quickly adding "so far, and only them altogether God willing."

Reed nods. "I hope they get better quickly." Mulder looks at him, astonished, waiting for him to snidely add something about resuming their taping schedule, but Reed goes on. "I'm beginning to worry about my father's health too. Mom died about ten years ago, and I do what I can for him but he insisted that he's happier in an assisted-living complex than he would be if he had moved in with me like I suggested." Fortunately, the author takes this moment to rub his face, so he doesn't see the utterly shocked look on Mulder's face. The fact that someone like Reed might've asked a parent to move in with him is practically beyond comprehension. "So unfortunately, I only tend to hear about his various illnesses after he gets better. And lately, he's been getting sicker more often."

"That's rough," Mulder manages to get out. "Both my mother and Dana's are doing okay so far, but I know that eventually…" He has never told anybody, especially not Scully, but for a while now he has harbored the vague fantasy that someday maybe they can convince Teena and Maggie to move in together if and when they both get to the point where living alone is no longer feasible. It would be much easier to hire help for them if the help only had to go to one place. Somehow he doesn't think that either of their mothers would find that to be as ingenious an idea as he does.

Reed returns a grim smile. "Well, at least this job pays enough to make helping out our folks easy on the wallet."

Mulder has never spoken to the author about their compensation before, but even he has to admit that being a quasi-TV celebrity pays quite a bit better than being an FBI agent did. It certainly makes the task of raising nine children a lot more manageable than it is for many big families. "That's true," he says at last.

Both men can see that Scully is headed towards him, so Reed nods, and mutters "good luck" before wandering out the door after one of the cameramen.

"Did Alan call back?" Scully asks, looking concerned.

"No, why?" He asked in return, puzzled by her question.

She relaxes. "You just had the strangest look on your face. Made me worry that something happened."

"Oh, something happened all right. I'm beginning to get the strangest feeling the Reed might be human after all."

"Okay…"

Mulder shakes his head. "I guess you had to be there."

Scully loops her arm through his. "Come on Mulder, we have sick babies waiting for us."

He nods, and they start off, but he wonders if he should correct her. Zoe and Brianna might be their babies, but they're not babies any longer. Maybe it's too soon to start on that, especially knowing that she has taken the completion of their family harder than he has. As long as she doesn't infantilize the girls it probably doesn't harm anything to call them their babies.


Since no one is actually bleeding or dying, Mulder curbs the impulse to speed home, and instead keeps car within a few miles of the speed limit. They wouldn't help anybody if they managed to get into a fender bender before they could take the kids in to see their pediatrician. As he drives, however, he sneaks glances at his wife's face, and isn't at all surprised that she looks extremely apprehensive. Their kids have not gotten sick nearly as often as most peoples seem to do, so perhaps they don't have as much experience with childhood illness as they could. Especially considering how many kids they have who have managed to avoid so many of their classmates' illnesses.

"They're going to be okay," Mulder says quietly at a stop sign.

"I know." She's looking pinched and worried.

"Do you?" he presses gently.

Scully sighs. "I don't know how my sister did it."

"Did it?" he repeats, initially uncertain about what she means.

She waves a hand. "I think that most people would agree that Missy and I don't have the same temperament. But still, she managed to do a good job looking after Emily at the beginning, when she was still so sick. I mean, it's a miracle that she is no longer as ill as she was when she was tiny, but for a while there…" Scully closes her eyes. "You know, I wasn't sure that Emily was going to make it."

This surprises him so much that he doesn't leave the stop sign until someone behind them beeps their horn. Scully has never once admitted that she worried that Emily would die, too. He of course worried than Emily would die because in another when she did. Scully didn't know that, at least not until Elsbeth arrived that Christmas Eve years later to tell her and Doggett everything. "Oh."

She opens her eyes to give him a weak smile. "And you, you must've been scared to death."

If anything, he's even more astonished. The subject of the other timeline he lived through almost never comes up. "I was. And I hope you don't hate me for saying this, but I worried even more for her when I realized that she was going to be in your sister's care instead of yours. I'm not saying that I thought Missy was a flake but…"

"But you did?" she asks, smiling a little instead of frowning like he worried she would.

"Well…"

"She really stepped up though, didn't she?"

"She sure as hell did. These days, thanks to her precise and careful adherence to doctor's orders you would hardly know that Emily was ever a sick kid," he says, allowing admiration to seep into his voice. Because he really does admire how well Missy handled everything. And then, later she had Addy to deal with too, and in a way that was probably even harder. One spectacular temper tantrum aside, Missy kept things together in both cases a lot better than he ever would've given her credit for.

"It's too bad that Emily still needs to get shots on a monthly basis, but it beats heck out of being in the hospital like when she was little."

Or being dead, Mulder silently adds. When she drifts off into silence too, he reaches for her with his free hand. "It just sounds like they have a bad cold."

"I know." But then she sighs. "What do you think the Sims thought when Emily first got sick?" she asks quietly. "I know that Emily wasn't sick from birth, not quite."

"Scully…"

She shakes her head. "I know, don't borrow trouble."

As much as he wants to tell her that she is being silly, he finds that he can't. So far they have been extremely lucky when it comes to the health of their children. But he can't promise her that they always will be. And now, now that she and John Doggett know the truth of what he did, there are no more do overs. So like everyone else, they just have to muddle through and make the best of anything that gets thrown at them. Right then, sitting in traffic, he feels less equipped to handle that than he usually does.


A Short Time Later

"Sorry to get you out of work like this," Alan says, wringing his hands. "They're just sicker than any of the other kids I've worked before."

Scully nods. "Are they younger too?"

Alan looks confused for a moment. "Actually, they are. Before this the youngest kids I've worked with were Will's age."

"It seems to me that the younger the sick kid is, the more alarming their symptoms seen," she tells him, thinking back to when one of their older brothers had gotten a terrible cold when he was much younger than the girls. Although, at that point Mulder was still missing, so it probably felt harder to deal with than it normally would have been if only for that reason.

"Okay…"

Scully snags Mulder by the arm. "Don't worry, Alan, we'll go up and get them."

It doesn't take very long to understand why Alan found it necessary to call them. The small twins are decidedly not well. As soon as they see their parents they begin to cry and hold out their arms like they might have when they were upset and half the age they are now.

Mulder reaches for Zoe and hugs her. "It's okay. Daddy is going to bring you to see the doctor, and we'll make sure you're feeling better really soon."

Usually mentioning the doctor is not met with tearful nods, or pitiful whines of agreement, so Scully is sure that they don't just look awful. She picks up Brianna and bundles her up while Mulder does the same for Zoe. Heat pours off of Brianna's skin as Scully struggles to get her into her coat, and she feels bad about putting winter outerwear on somebody who is already that hot. But, she realizes it's still necessary.

After they carry the kids out to the car she asks, "Are you sure that you want to be the one to bring them to the pediatrician?" of her husband as they buckled the little ones into their booster seats.

"Yes," he says simply, as he closes the door behind Zoe. "I think that you'll do a better job figuring out if any of the other kids are sick when they get home. And William, of course."

"Of course," she says, startled a little bit to think that she hadn't already wondered if William is going to come down with this virus too. She quickly kisses Mulder's cheek and says "thanks."

Mulder nods, and goes to the driver side of the car. "If there is anything really wrong, worse than cold, I'll be sure to call you immediately."

"I know you will."

He nods again, and then slipped behind the wheel of the car. Before he closes the driver side door, she can hear the girls coughing again. They truly sound awful.

Inside, Alan looks fretful, which on some level amuses her. She'd seen that look before, but on Rachel's face the time that the three oldest kids all came down with chickenpox at once. Seems very strange to see an almost identical expression on the big man's face as had been on their very young nanny's years earlier.

It doesn't surprise her at all when he sounds both nervous and apologetic. "Sorry I had to get you out of work, but…"

She shakes her head. "Don't worry about it. Kids get sick. And you're right, it is easier for the doctor's office to speak to us directly rather than have you try to wrangle two sick kids, as well as one well one, and take notes."

"Still…"

"So," she says, hoping that she can jolly him out of being guilt-ridden. "How does William seem?"

Alan looks up sharply, apparently startled. She clearly is not the only one who forgot to wonder if William has brought home the same virus from their preschool/kindergarten. The school is big on sharing, and like all programs that are full of very small children, one of the first things that the kids learn to share is their germs. She can't really blame the school since the very natures of small boys and girls makes it happen.

"Will? The big guy seems to be doing good. I took his temperature too but it was normal. And, unlike his little sisters, he hasn't thrown up anywhere."

Scully suppresses a cringe. Apparently the poor nanny has had to do cleanup too, not just comfort the sickies. "That's good."

"He can be quite the reasonable kid when necessary," Alan adds. "When I got them from school and saw how sick the girls were I told him that they were going to need him to be quiet so they could get some rest. And, he's been quietly playing in his room ever since."

"It's sort of fortunate that he has the ability to entertain himself," Scully agrees. "Not all children with so many older siblings do."

"I hear you. He and his imaginary friend seemed to be having a good old time, at least whenever I've looked in on him."

"Oh. I didn't realize he was still playing with his invisible friend." Scully feels annoyed at herself for not having realized that this was still going on. Mulder had explained that psychologically healthy to have an imaginary playmate that William's age, but it still strikes her as a little bit hard to accept. She supposes that it makes sense, considering that his sisters aren't always up for his games and the older kids are at school for hours after the three youngest come home for the day.

"Yup. It's kind of cute actually. Whenever I walk by the room I can hear him saying 'Angel, let's do this' or 'no, it's your turn to be the boss' like he can actually see somebody there." Alan has been smiling, but his expression quickly turns to alarm when Scully sits down abruptly. "Are you all right?"

"Are you sure about the name?" she asks shakily.

"Am I sure that he calls his imaginary friend Angel?" Alan asks, looking like he's not sure that's what she's getting at. She must look nauseous because he mutters, "Maybe I should get you a bucket, I think you might be getting with the girls have."

Scully shakes her head. "No, I'm not sick."

"But…"

Sighing, she looks down at her hands. "If you didn't tell me the name of his imaginary friend, I probably wouldn't be telling you this…" Looking up at the nanny she says, "We lost a baby before we had William."

"I'm so sorry," Alan quickly exclaims.

"I was broadsided at a traffic light when somebody ran the red. I wasn't hurt too badly, but the baby was only twenty weeks gestationally, and, and she didn't make it." She can tell that this story doesn't really make that much sense to him from looking at his face. So, looking him in the eyes she adds, "Mulder and I named her Angel."

Alan looks floored. "Oh."

"It was hard. Sometimes, it still is. But, maybe we wouldn't have William if we had her. At least not the same William, I think." She shrugs, unable to articulate whether or not she feels that a conception put off a few more months would have made William a completely different boy. On the very rare occasions that the topic has come up Mulder has insisted that their William is the same William as the one she can't remember. She's not sure she's so accepting of that herself, but it matters much more to him than it does her considering he knew William before and she didn't.

Frowning at Alan, she goes on, "William doesn't know. Sammy and Page were old enough at the time to sort of remember what happened, but they don't talk about it either. I think Mulder actually asked them not to talk about it to the younger kids. So, William coming up with the name Angel on his own…"

"I can see how that would be unsettling, him just thinking of the same name," he says, looking uncomfortable.

But is that it? she finds herself wondering. Did William come up with the name all on his own? Or did the girl they can't see somehow tell him that her name is Angel? It strikes her as ridiculous, but once upon a time, back before William himself was born a very small ghost wrenched her back in time so that she could meet Mulder's late uncle. If a ghost could do that, and she was still convinced that it had actually happened, how could she deny that Angel might still be around and speaking to her younger brother?

Oh God, I'm going to be committed, she finds herself thinking furiously as Alan looks at her. "I think that Mulder and I will have to have a discussion about this. Don't worry about it. Just let him continue to play with whoever he wants, even if we can't see them ourselves."

Alan looks a little more relaxed now. "You know, I did work with this one little boy, Felix, whose imaginary friend was one of those giant tube balloons that waved back and forth outside of car dealerships. That one was hard to deal with. Because those things creep me the hell out."

Scully tries to summon up a smile for him. She isn't sure that having an animated balloon as your imaginary friend is any more alarming than possibly seeing your dead sister.

Fortunately, before she has to respond, the front door opens and the older kids let themselves in. The conversation between herself and Alan has been so intent that she didn't realize that the bus had dropped them off.

"Mom! You're home early!" Page says, looking pleased.

Scully holds out her arms. "Come here, all of you. Dad is taking Zoe and Brianna to the doctor's and I'm going to take everyone else's temperature to make sure that they are the only ones who are sick." Eventually she is going to have to go up to see William, and it bothers her a little that she feels apprehensive about doing so. Hopefully he won't be talking to anyone, ghost or imaginary friend, when she sees him.

"I'm good," April tells her and Page nods in agreement.

"Me too," David insists. And Jared speaks over him "I'm not sick either."

"I'm not sick either, Mommy," Christopher adds, much more quietly than the twins.

But Sammy looks a little green and it hardly surprises her when he says, "Mom? I don't feel so good," before running into the bathroom to throw up. Thank God most of the kids are big enough to have the presence of mind to at least try to make it to the bathroom rather than simply throw up wherever they are.

Mulder calls her from the doctor's office and lets her know that the pediatrician thinks that it is just a case of gastroenteritis, somewhat worse than typical but nothing much to worry about, which she sort of expected considering the entire family gets flu shots every year. She finds this good considering that they only have three down for the count.



Chapter Seven

Between the time that Sammy throws up and Mulder comes home with the girls, Scully has taken everybody else's temperature. No one else has a fever, and she gets her oldest son settled into bed. He's happy for the help for once, and doesn't protest that he is too big to have somebody help him put on his pajamas.

Not only does Sammy feel like he has even less energy than when they've gone swimming and he feels all logging, he's not sure why he's sick and most of the other kids aren't. He's too tired to ask his mother for an explanation about that, because he knows that it will probably take a lot more words than he is able to stand listening to right then.

Instead, when she tucks him in he uses up his final allotment of words for the day by asking "I don't have to go to school tomorrow, do I?"

"Nope," his mother tells him. "I talked to Alan, and he's going to make sure that you're comfortable tomorrow too."

"But I thought Alan was just here for the little kids," Sammy says, finding he has a few more words in him after all.

"Mostly, he is mostly here for the little ones, but he's going to be here when you bigger kids have vacation too, remember?"

"Oh yeah." Their vacation in mid-April is far off, and the summer is even farther off than that. Without quite intending to, his eyes drift shut.

"Sammy?" his mother asks, making him open his eyes again. "Did you share the last of the brownies on Tuesday with your little sisters?"

"Hmm?" He tries hard to remember Tuesday, finding it difficult. "Yeah. They didn't want to finish theirs, so I did."

"And you didn't cut off the parts they had bit into?"

"Nope," he sleepily agrees. "Just ate 'em."

"Uh huh," his mother says standing and patting his blanket. "That's why you're sick too and the rest of your brothers and sisters aren't, kiddo."

"Oh." Just before he falls asleep Sammy decides that his mother is trying to tell him something important about sharing food. He hopes he remembers what it is before the next time comes around.


Several Hours Later

The house is very quiet, but it currently contains ten sleeping humans and two sleeping cats. There aren't even any sighs or groans that you would expect from a house that age settling, although the sole awake person in the house thinks that perhaps the house is pretty settled as it is.

Scully didn't intend to get out of bed, but after laying beside Mulder for what seemed like forever, unable to sleep because she was brooding over her conversation with Alan, she gave sleep up as a lost cause. First, she checked on Sammy and the little girls, making sure that all three were sleeping as comfortably as possible. Then, she wandered down to the foyer, and there she sits now.

The bottom stair feels very hard under her buttocks and thighs, but she doesn't move from her spot. This location is probably where she has seen the ghosts the most often. And, she hopes to see them tonight.

More than a little part of her finds it ridiculous that she is sitting there, planning to interrogate the first ghost that she sees. They have never spoken, at least not to her, so how does she hope to get any answers from them? An elaborate pantomime, American sign language? Maybe they'll use interpretive shadow puppets.

But still, even chiding herself for thinking about going through with it, she admits to herself that she's hungry for answers. If the entity that William is playing with is her long-lost daughter, she has to know. There is some bizarre logic to wanting to ask the dead about the dead. Because who else would know the answers?

Down the hallway, the grandfather clock ticks. It makes her think of how much David enjoys being allowed to be the one to wind it. And how long she has been sitting here, hoping to see a ghost who might tell her something. The longer she sits here the more uncomfortable she becomes, and not just physically, although by now she's aching.

If one of the small ghosts is to suddenly obey her whim and materialize in front of her, what would she ask it? It's not as though she could give the ghost a description of Angel. From Allen's depiction it's clear that Angel is a child as far as William is concerned, not a tiny, twenty-week fetus. There was no way of knowing if Angel would have been blond, a redhead, or a brunette like the youngest of her sisters, so how could she even describe the girl to the ghost?

Despair washes over her, and she puts her face in her hands. Of all the kids, why does it have to be William? She has never told Mulder, but in the few years since Elsbeth crashed their Christmas Eve party and told her and John all about Mulder's journey through the past to save them both, she's longed for the strange young woman to come back.

It's probably selfish that she doesn't really think to save Bill Mulder or warn her father to improve his diet and exercise more, but there's only one thing she would really change: she'd never have left the house the first day of June in 2000. Thinking about it, she's fully aware that she wouldn't have William if her pregnancy with Angel had gone all the way to term, but all she wants is a few more weeks. Six weeks might have made the difference between Angel having a reasonable chance of survival and none at all, even if getting pregnant a month or so after giving birth wouldn't have been ideal for her own health.

The idea of having a very premature baby in the hospital to worry over and still managing to get pregnant the day in August that William was conceived strikes her as wearying and stressful, but it's something she gladly would have lived through if only it meant that she got to have Angel and William both.

Of course, the fantasy, as morbid as it is, doesn't logically explain how she'd ensure that Angel was born early, later than she had been but still very early, if the car accident hadn't happened. Nor does it suggest a way to convince Mulder that they should ignore conventional advice about waiting to resume relations in order to have babies even closer in age than Page and Sammy.

It slowly occurs to her that she's punishing herself by sitting there. There really isn't anything she can do to change the past, and what happened to Angel isn't her fault. It's guilt that has her wanting to see what William does so badly.

When this realization seeps in, she takes her hands out of her face, and goes back up to bed.


Later in the Week

Mulder, Scully, and the kids have barely sat down to eat when David and Jared look at each other and begin to whisper. Scully only catches "no, you do it" before Jared looks up at her and Mulder.

"Can we, um, have a family meeting after dinner?" he asks nervously.

"Uh oh, trouble," Sammy says before coughing into his napkin.

"Nothing bad," David insists. "We just…we want to talk to everyone."

"That's all," Jared adds. When he turns to his twin for support, David nods.

"Sure…"

Dinner is eaten a bit more quickly than usual, probably because everyone, including Mulder and Scully, feels like they'll die of curiosity before the twins tell them what's on their minds.

Scully insists that they all put their dishes in the dishwasher before everyone convenes to the living room, which is where they typically have family meetings. There's a bit of grumbling, but she's able to turn it on before long.

In the living room Zoe and Brianna both insist on sitting in her lap, and she gets the sense that not only do they still not feel terrific, they're also worried. So, she lets them climb on her, as big as they're getting to both do that at once.

William also looks a bit apprehensive, and it doesn't surprise her much when he crawls onto his father's lap. He doesn't do it very often any more, but his brothers have unintentionally spooked all the littlest kids, so it makes sense that he does so now.

"So why have you convened this meeting?" Mulder asks his middle sons, trying to sound serious and mostly succeeding.

Jared gives David a quick look before he answers for them. "We've talked a whole lot, and we've made up our minds about something."

"What?" Sammy asks listlessly from the couch. He's wrapped in a throw blanket, and Scully pretends not to notice that Page has just tucked it around him.

"Yeah, what?" April asks, looking like she's more interested than worried. Christopher's crowded against her, and he looks curious too.

"Um…"

"Jared!" Page exclaims. He turns pink and ducks his face, earning her sigh.

"We want to have our own rooms," David blurts out.

"Yeah," Jared agrees, looking relieved that someone else came out with it. "We do."

All the kids look at her and Mulder. He shrugs. "Okay."

"Okay?" Jared and David both repeat. They can't seem to believe that it's that easy.

"Correct," Scully says, trying not to jostle the little ones on her lap. "Daddy and I told you that you could when you decided it was time to separate."

"We don't wanna separate," Jared sounds a little alarmed. "We just want our own rooms."

"You don't need to separate," Sammy tell them with a grotesque expression. "You weren't Siamese twins after all."

"Conjoined," April tells him.

"Whatever."

"We still want to be in the same class and stuff," David says anxiously. No wonder Jared had sounded alarmed at the word 'separate.' "Okay? Please?"

"We won't change anything about school," Scully promises. "Just your bedrooms."

"Thanks."

"So who gets one of the rooms we're not using?" Page asks, looking from one twin brother to the other.

David shrugs. "You pick," he tells Jared.

"I'll take the new room," he suggests. His brother nods.

"When?" April asks. "Everyone's gotta help move stuff out of the room and into the attic, right?"

"April vacation," Scully decides. "Okay? Everyone will be home then."

"And I'll be able to move stuff by then," Sammy says before groaning. "Oh boy, I sure hope so."

"Sounds good," Mulder agrees. Looking at the boys he asks, "That timeline good with you?"

"Yup, thanks." Jared smiles. "Meeting adjourned?"

"Seems like it."

"April, Page, can you bring your sisters up to bed?" Mulder asks, alerting Scully that he wants to talk to her.

"Sure," they agree, each plucking one of the girls off Scully's lap. They're too sleepy to protest much. Sammy follows them, trailing the throw blanket and David and Jared race upstairs, intent on looking at the other room. Christopher wanders off towards the kitchen, and Scully hears the sink a few seconds later.

William seems happy to stay on Mulder's lap, so Scully doesn't have the heart to demand he leave too. Looking at her husband, she asks, "So what do you think?"

"I think it's about time. I'm actually surprised they haven't wanted their own rooms before now."

"It'll be good for them," she replies, feeling like she means it. More or less.

"Yeah."

"We should think about separate bedrooms for Zoe and Brianna too-" she starts to say, but William interrupts her.

"No. Don't do that."

"Why not?" Mulder asks, humoring him.

William shrugs. "You just shouldn't."

"Uh huh. Well, we'll take that under advisement," Mulder says drily.

"Whatzit when you feel bad you did something?" William asks.

"Regret?"

"Yeah. You'd regret it," he promises. Then he slips off Mulder's lap and wanders off.

"What was that about?" Mulder asks her.

"I don't know," she admits. But then she gets an idea. "Maybe he thinks Alan might come live with us like other nannies have?"

"Hmm. Maybe."

As much as she loves all of her kids, she can't claim to understand them 100% of the time. Apparently this is just one of those times.


The Next Day

When Reyes and Doggett clock out, officially, that is, they go upstairs to pick up Rebecca from daycare. "Nice to know our kid rates a higher floor than we do." Doggett grins at his de facto wife, who rolls her eyes. It's a tired joke between them, but it's a sign that the day's gone better than the past couple of weeks have.

They've ruled out prior connections, drugs, and curses (well, the ones they were familiar with, and they were familiar with a good number), so that leaves some kind of mind control, whether it's hypnosis or some other Pusher-like method is yet to be determined.

Another bit of good news: there are no new "victims" of the old woman. At the same time, however, that's also bad news, because it leads them no closer to the suspect. Still, they figure the suspect will slip up sooner or later, since he or she does leave some kind of calling card with the appearance of the old woman.

And so they're both in a good mood when they walk into the daycare, only to find Rebecca in a horde of rugrats running around the room, while the manager (as she calls herself) is on the phone arguing with either her boyfriend or husband about something. Doggett's about to snap when his partner puts her hand on his arm, smiles, and whistles loudly.

Everyone in the room stops what they're doing. The small children who have been running around topple over since their control over motor coordination isn't precise just yet, and those already sitting on the floor simply stare up at the two adults. The manager ends her call abruptly and shoves her phone into her pocket. "I, ah, can explain," she says, striving to regain her usual composure and failing miserably.

"I'm sure you can," Doggett says, feeling a vein in his forehead starting to throb, "but we're here to pick up our little girl. Afternoon." And, with admirable restraint, all he did was just that, literally pick up his two-year-old girl, swing her onto his shoulders, and walk out. Reyes, for her part, smiles briefly, then shook her head at the manager behind his back before following him out.

Rebecca, for her part, is alternating between giggling and mumbling excitedly, but Reyes can pick out a clear phrase here and there, like, "pirrrrate go arrrr" and "run run run!" We are never giving her sugar tonight, she thinks. But seeing her daughter's bubbly enthusiasm, albeit at the cost of the childcare manager's sanity, made her smile.

"What's so funny?" Doggett asks, smiling at his partner.

Reyes turns her smile to him. "Not funny, just happy," she answers. "I hope she'll be this energetic when she gets older."

He shifts his ice-blue eyes to the little girl in the child seat and smirks a little. "You won't be sayin' that when she gets old enough to understand Christmas."

Reyes was about to retort that she was thinking more along the lines of Doggett's age, but since he was already depressed about Luke and Gibson being away, she thought she'd avoid that correction. Instead, she shrugs. "Well, if Hannah is anything to go by, it shouldn't be too bad."

He made a face. "I say this year, we teach Hannah to jump on you instead," he mutters, "then you'll rethink that statement."

She laughs, her mouth stretched from ear to ear. "Why, John Doggett, are you being bullied by a little girl?"

He snorts. "Heck no, just sayin' that Christmas wake-ups are better when they don't drop on your head at five in the morning. How you manage to sleep through Hannah crushing my ribs is amazing. Or kinda worrying, take your pick."

"I'll go with amazing," Reyes lifts her chin, then turns to wink at their youngest. Rebecca does her best to wink back, but ends up scrunching her face to look something like a mini-pirate. "Arrrr," she says to their little girl, who "arrrr"s right back.


Copley Square Complex

It's the last time that they'll be tutoring the kids before spring break, which comes as both a relief and a slight sadness to the tutors. They do enjoy being around the children and watching them make progress, but it does remind the college students of school, and every one of them is eager to put that aside for a week.

When the kids come in Gibson smiles at them, but Alice freaks him out a little before very long. "Watch out!" she calls to one of the boys in the group who are working on a game that teaches typing skills.

The kid she hailed, an eight-year-old named Trevor, looks up and says "What?" just a second before a stack of heavy books on a shelf overhead seems to jump off the shelf and tumbles onto him. "oww," he manages to howl before he's swept off his feet by the rain of books.

All of the tutors, as well as most of the older children run to Trevor. Katie reaches him first and pulls the little boy out of the sea of reading material. "Are you okay?" she starts to ask, but then she gets a look at his face. Looking over her shoulder, she yells, "Someone bring tissues!" As soon as Melody obliges, she plucks a couple out of the box, and instructs Trevor to pinch his nose with them. The tissues turn red before very long.

"Eww," one of the little girls mutters, but she clams up when another kid hisses to be nice. Most of the other little kids, and all of the college students seem concerned that Trevor not only has a spectacularly bloody nose, his eyelid is a shockingly dark pink that promises to turn into a black eye before much longer.

Katie and Shon talk quietly to each other, deciding which one of them is going to call the injured child's parents, which leaves Gibson and the two other tutors to supervise. He gets the other kids to stack up the books, and most of them take the task very seriously.

But when he glances over to see why Alice isn't helping, he notices that she looks excited, and more than a little happy. As soon as she realizes that he's looking her way, she giggles and shrugs. "He shoulda looked out."

This chills him, but not so much that he's merely aghast at her words, though he is, but because he realizes that he can't read her at all when he tries to see if she just doesn't understand how badly Trevor could have been hurt.


Later, over dinner, Gibson asks Katie her opinion about what happened. "It's weird how pleased she seemed to be about the whole thing," he says unhappily.

"Kids can be weird," Katie tells him. "Case in point, my brother. You can't have forgotten how we met."

This has him smirking. "No, I haven't forgotten that I saw your underwear before I knew your name."

"Funny," she says before sticking her tongue out at him. Turning to their fellow dinners, she explains, "I wasn't wearing that bra at the time. My idiot brother sprayed it with shaving cream."

He nods but says, "This is different."

"Sure. Alice didn't knock the books on Trevor."

Gibson opens his mouth to insist that maybe she did, but closes it when he realizes how ridiculous that would sound to the people that they're eating with. Luke would have given the theory real consideration if he wasn't stuck at work right then, but his friends? They didn't know that there were people who could knock down books from across the room if they really wanted to, and he'd done his level best to make sure that none of them knew that there were people who could read their minds, either.

Sighing, he stuck a fork into his potatoes. When he'd been young he'd been able to relate to the X-Men wanting to keep everyone from knowing mutants existed, and he'd fully supported their attempts to keep things under wraps as he devoured the comics. But now he was old enough to realize that there were drawbacks to keeping everything a secret. Not being able to be honest with most people about the real him.

"Maybe not," Melody says suddenly, making Gibson look up from his food. "But there's something about that girl that's more than a little off."

"What do you mean?" he asks carefully, eagerly wondering if Melody will claim that she's seen Alice move things with her mind.

Fat chance. The other tutor shrugs. "I don't know… is it possible to be a sociopath before you've lost all your baby teeth?"

"She's not that bad!" Katie automatically protests.

"She's not that good, either," Melody retorts. "Alice never seems to think about anyone else's feelings at all."

"Little kids are self-centered," Katie says.

Melody shakes her head. "She thought it was funny that Trevor got hurt. I noticed that too, not just Gibson. You were too busy talking to Trevor's dad to notice it."

"So I guess this is your way of saying that you want me to work with Alice for now on," Katie says, and a sigh betrays the fact that she's not particularly fond of the little girl either.

"No, I will," Gibson blurts out.

"You will?" Katie eyes him.

Melody snorts. "He wants to protect you from her."

He just blushes in response.



Chapter Eight

The next evening, Mulder is on the phone with his mother, canceling the weekend visit. "I don't want you to get sick," he tells her after her third insistence that she'd be fine. The kids aren't bouncing back as soon as they hoped, and it's a miracle that none of the others have gotten sick yet. Maybe they won't.

She might not be thinking about the illness that might have taken her from them again if the smoking man hadn't intervened this time, but he is. One of the reasons Scully long insisted everyone get flu shots is because it reduces the spread of the virus to older people, and like it or not Teena qualifies as one. He doesn't want her to deal with the illness that has laid three of the kids low.

Her heavy sigh says more than enough, although that doesn't stop her from talking further. "All right," she says at last, "but could you do me a favor?"

"Sure, Mom." He blinks.

"Can you apologize to William for me? I promised him I'd play with his imaginary friend with him when I came over."

"Okay," he says, frowning.

The sigh after that response was that of relief, instead of pouting, like the previous one. After a beat, she adds, "And Fox?"

"Yes?"

"I'm sorry about this imaginary friend thing."

Mulder's frown gets just a teensy bit deeper. "Why?"

"I think it's my fault she exists in his mind. Because I told William about his older sister…the one who didn't make it. I didn't mean for him to invent a playmate modeled after her, but it came up when he seemed a little, I don't know, lonely? unsure? with his older classmates in school, and he thinks he's too old to ask his teacher for help getting the other kids to play with him or some such thing.

"It's awful to feel like that, and I only wanted to help him feel less lonely…So I told him his older sister was looking out for him because her name was Angel, and that they'd have such fun." She pauses, and Mulder can almost see her pursing her lips, worried, looking like Samantha, like April. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to–"

"It's okay, Mom," Mulder says swiftly. At least they know how William named his imaginary friend now, and why. "You were worried about him, that's all."

"Yes, I was," she says, verbally agreeing with him, but tonally thanking him for understanding. "I hope you'll let Dana know I meant no harm."

"I will." Mulder nods. One minor mystery solved, he thinks, although a small part of him is disappointed that William doesn't have anything like supernatural ability to communicate with their ghosts. "Good night, Mom."

"Good night, dear," she says, hanging up.

He walks over to his wife, who's smiling at Page trying to help David and Jared with their math homework. They aren't taking correction too well, and she looks up at her husband, who raises his eyebrows. "This reminds me of Bill Jr. when he tried to help Melissa with her geography – it never went well," she says.

He snorts. "I think your sister took care of learning that outside of school, so it all balances out."

She giggles, and he put a hand on her shoulder, smiling. "Mulder."

"Scully," he shoots right back, then kisses her on her forehead.

"Ewwwww, gross," their twin sons chorus.

"No, it's kinda cute." Page glares at them.

"Ewwww, cute," Mulder says, then coughs when his beloved wife elbows him sharply. "Owww…"

It's April, however, who provides incentive for her younger brothers to learn multiplication when she reminds them that it helps them count faster when getting things like candy, shiny pencils, or toys at Mrs. Leonard's school store.

With that in mind, Page rewrites the word problems to deal with such things, underlining the numbers, and making Jared and David race against each other to see who can find the answer the fastest.

April and Christopher, once they see their brothers roped into studying again, go back to their comic books, and Mulder nudges his wife to check on their sick children upstairs.

She nods, and they go into the twin girls' room first, making sure they've got their sippy cups full and close by when they wake, and then they go to Sammy's room.

He's awake and miserable. "Mo-oom," he moans, and Scully rushes to his side.

"Are you hungry? Thirsty?" she asks.

"Jus' thirsty," he says, and she checks his cup. Empty. She hands it to Mulder, who refills it and comes back. "Thanks, Dad."

"You're welcome." Mulder smiles. "Small sips, okay, buddy?"

His little boy nods, and does so. "Dad?"

"Yeah?"

"Am I gonna die?"

Scully's eyes just about pop out of her head, and Mulder isn't sure whether to laugh or cry. He settles for neither, instead, he joins Scully at the side of the bed. "You're gonna be okay," he answers, "just like Brianna and Zoe. Right now, though, you're the sickest you've ever felt in your life, and I know that feels really, really awful."

The redheaded boy nods, wincing. "Yeah."

Scully strokes his forehead. "Do you want a bedtime story?"

"Yeah," he says again, and settles in when she gently launches into a story about how she and Charlie, a long, long time ago, tried to climb a rotted tree during a rainstorm. Charlie fell and broke his leg, while she caught a very bad cold, but Sammy falls asleep just as she's telling him about the magical chicken soup her mother made.

"Love you," she whispers as they leave his side.

"Sleep tight, Slugger," Mulder murmurs.

As they make their way down the hallway, he turns to his wife and put a hand on her arm. "Scully, Mom says that she was the one who told William about Angel," he says in a low voice. "That's where he got the idea to call an imaginary friend that, not some other way," he adds, hoping that she'll understand that he means that Angel's ghost isn't haunting the house.

For the second time that night, Scully's light eyes are wide. "Why?" she asks, voice trembly.

"She said she saw how nervous he was about school, and wanted to make him feel better," he answers, "but she also knows that his choice of name might bring up, you know, bad feelings."

"I see," she murmurs, looking at the floor.

"And she asked a favor, since she can't visit this weekend," he adds. "She wanted us to apologize to William since she can't play with Angel. But I thought, um, maybe you could play with William and Angel in my mom's place. So, can you?"

Her face is averted long enough to make him nervous, but when she looks up, there are tears in her eyes. "Of course," she says in a choked voice, "I'd love to."

"Thanks," he says, relieved, and is surprised when she hugs him fiercely.

"Thank your mom for me," she says into his chest, "because I'll get a chance to play with our daughter."

And Mulder hugs her right back, speechless.


Saturday
Ronald Reagan Airport

Two college students wearily drag themselves and their luggage to the curbside, hoping to maybe get a Pepsi at home before falling asleep on their feet. Luke only perks up when he sees his brother's eyebrows raise.

"Wow, I didn't expect everybody," Gibson remarks as Doggett's minivan opens up.

"Thank God mind readers can't listen in over long distances, huh." Doggett smirks as his sons throw their bags in the trunk space.

Hannah's in the middle seat with Rebecca in the baby seat, and Hannah's peering over her little sister for someone she's not seeing. "Where's Katie?"

Gibson smiles as he scoots to the back seat, joined by Luke, who is grumbling about having to smash himself to fit. "She's got her own family, including a younger brother to hassle, remember?"

"Ohhhh," the curly-haired girl sighs in disappointment.

Reyes smiles, twisting in the front passenger seat. "Don't worry, I think she really misses you two," she says.

"Uh-huh." Luke rolls his eyes, "I think she just wants another girl to play with instead of her big brothers."

"No-wah," their younger sister denies, but it's obvious by her expression that Luke guessed right. "Besides, Becca's happy to see you, she likes playing pirates."

Gibson blinks, then laughs. "Cool," he says, leaning forward, "are you Captain Hook or Captain Blackbeard?"

"Cap'n Bec-arrrrr," their youngest sister answers, scowling as hard as she can. It doesn't work - she's still very, very cute, and Gibson has to work to keep a straight face, even if Luke is chuckling.

"Oh, a REAL pirate," the bespectacled boy nods. "Okay."

"Oh, boy," Hannah sighs, while Reyes smiles, Luke smirks, and both Doggett and Rebecca scowl, although the latter really isn't as good at it as the former.

"Welcome back," Reyes says as she turns to face forward.

Luke pokes Hannah with his elbow. She looks up, surprised. "Hey, do you remember when we played pirates with Mister and Mrs. Mulder?"

"We did?" Hannah answers doubtfully.

"Oh, yeah. It was awesome. The Mulder kids had this pirate ship play structure that their parents picked up on some sort of case, and they brought it home with them. Of course, it was plastic, so it wore out in a few years, way before we moved to nearby."

"So I was really little then," she concludes.

"Yeah, I guess you were about three back then."

Gibson suddenly smirks. "They really let you make people walk the plank?"

"Hey!" Luke yelps. "Out of my head, now."

Gibson shrugs, unrepentant. "Sorry, but that came through loud and clear. And it's pretty funny, everyone wearing pirate hats, playing with swords." Gibson looks that their sister. "You, too. You chased Sammy around with the plastic sword."

"I did?" she asks, eyes wide.

"I think I have some pictures of that," Doggett says. "Now that I think about it."

"Then I want to see them," Hannah says, looking like she's trying very hard to remember. Who knows, maybe the pictures will help her do so.


After the sophomores unload their things into their rooms, Doggett grills them on their exams, Reyes asks them about their part-time jobs, and their younger sisters promptly go to the living room to watch a children's show with rubberized-looking people and puppets. The adults ignore them, including Luke and Gibson, because they're busy catching up, when the youngest girl bursts into the room. "Look, look!" she yells, and runs back to the living room.

Bemused, they follow her, to find color-coded people singing and dancing, and Rebecca joins in as best she can:

"You are a pirate! Yarrr!" She can't dance as fast or as precisely as the pink-haired girl onscreen, but the youngest Doggett does her level best to jump around and yell the words.

Meanwhile, Hannah is making a face. "We've seen this episode so many times, I almost know the song as well as she does," she mutters.

This time, Gibson doesn't hold back his laughter, and neither does Luke.


Meanwhile

It's too chilly for the garden center to have stock outside, but Home Depot has followed corporate orders to do so anyway. Mulder shivers as he pushes the carriage towards bags of mulch and dirt, and glances anxiously at April, wondering if she's warm enough. His little girl's cheeks are red but she doesn't act bothered by the cold. Noticing that he's looking at her, she smiles faintly. Then she points at a stack of bags. "Can we buy black mulch instead of red, this year?"

"Whatever you want."

April looks pleased. "Awesome. The black should look like good dirt, huh?"

"Probably," he agrees. They'll buy dirt too. He sort of wishes she was strong enough to help him lift the bags into the cart. It's too bad that Sammy still isn't well enough to have come even if he is feeling a little better as of today, finally. After they stack all the bags in the cart, April looks at him like there's something she wants to say.

"Something on your mind?" he prompts.

April shrugs. "I think coach is going to try to convince us to do softball after our first practice next month," she tells him.

"You saw him again?"

She squirms a little. "No. I just feel it."

"Oh." Over the years he's learned not to dismiss April's feelings, even though it would be easier at times. Occasionally he finds himself wondering if they might have found Addy sooner if they'd understood that April was dreaming about her cousin. They hadn't even known that Missy and Alex's middle child existed at the time so he tries not to be too hard on himself and Scully.

"I don't know, maybe I'm wrong," she says when he's been lost in his thoughts too long.

"But maybe you're not." She looks up at him then, clearly surprised. He puts his hand on her shoulder. "I think Mom and I ought to talk to him, just in case."

"Thanks." she smiles but it quickly wilts. "Do you think it will make a difference, though?"

For a moment Mulder indulges in a daydream about shouting at the idiot until he's a groveling mess. "I sure hope so."

"Me too."

They move down the aisle before Mulder speaks again. "Is this the right dirt?"

''Yup."

As Mulder works to move bags into the cart, his thoughts turn to William too. He's glad that his little boy's imaginary friend has proven to be just that - imaginary - but he's still a bit concerned about his youngest son. He and Scully haven't talked about it much, but William is like April in many ways, and he can't shake the suspicion that time will prove that William too 'just knows' things.

April began to show signs of her...difference when she was a couple of years younger, but maybe it had been easier to notice with half as many kids to think about.

He has the sudden impulse to ask April if she thinks her baby brother has inherited the Scully gift, but he fights it down. A discussion like that would tread too near the topic of the prophecy that his father lost his life over. Just after he and Alex eliminated that particular threat to their family he privately wondered if the prophecy didn't have some skewed basis in reality-and maybe they'd just been off the mark about gender. Now he was beginning to wonder if it hadn't been right all along.

"What are you thinking about?" April asks, reminding him of Alex complaining that's her aunt's favorite question.

Oh, you know, I'm just wondering if your not quite five-year-old brother is the psychic that was predicted when your mother was a baby... Instead he points to a row of black slotted tables that has nothing on them. "Those look awfully lonely. Too bad it's too early for flowers."

"They'd freeze," April points out.

Just then it begins to snow again." So they would."


Sunday

Maggie has managed to convince Missy to go to church with her, and even more than her younger sister she considers this an ordeal. This is what makes it a good thing that Maggie is too busy to visit after church.

Mulder's not sure if the service has gotten over earlier than Scully thought, or if Missy managed to escape early, but either way they're just finishing washing the breakfast dishes when Missy and the kids arrive.

"Come on in," Mulder greets them, holding the door open. Looking at Drew and Addy, he says, "Your cousins are in the playroom. Why don't you go say hi?"

Ryan gives him a mischievous look and holds up his hand about shoulder height. "This high?"

"No, he meant h-i!" Addy insists, taking her younger brother's hand.

"I know," Ryan groans as she drags him away. "It was funny."

"No, it wasn't."

Missy doesn't even seem to notice that they're bickering.

"That bad?" Scully hugs her sister as soon as she takes off her coat.

"Church with Mom is always an experience." Missy shakes her head. "It's too early to drink, right?"

"A bit," Scully tells her, and Mulder smirks at them both.

"Damn."

"Hey, I have a book to lend you," Scully tells her. "That should make you feel less stressed."

"Is it a book about saying no to your mother's requests that you accompany her to church?" Missy asks hopefully, already following Scully out of the room.

"No, it's a sequel to Guarding Her Heart…"

Following neither her younger siblings nor her mother and aunt out of the room, Emily hangs back. It's only when Mulder notices the look she gives him out of the corner of her eye and he realizes that she wants to talk to him.

Eventually she seems to get over her shyness and looks directly at him. "Uncle Fox, can I ask you a question?"

This has him immediately thinking about the party they had for William and Ryan on their first birthday. She had sought him out to ask the exact same question that day, too. "Sure, kiddo. What's on your mind?"

Looking slightly apprehensive, Emily sits at the kitchen table. He takes this as a cue to do so as well. She frowns down at the table surface. "Do you know how my dad lost his arm?"

This has him blinking. "Um…"

"Yeah, I was afraid of that. I don't want to ask mom, or dad, because I'm afraid that they're not going to tell me the truth."

"Why do you think they would lie to you?" he asks, more to stall for time than because he actually wants to hear her reasoning.

She waves her hand halfheartedly. "A woman came to see my dad a few days ago. I know that eavesdropping is wrong, but I…" Emily shakes her head. "I heard them anyway."

"What woman?" he asks, wracking his brain to try to come up with the identity of a woman who might have said something about Alex's arm. Other than Scully and Missy, can't think of too many women who have any idea about what actually happened to Alex's late appendage.

"I think dad said her name was Marita," Emily says, looking uncertain.

"Oh." He hadn't thought of Marita, and now that he knows it was her, he's beginning to feel a lot more alarmed about the conversation he's having with his niece.

"Do you know her?" Emily asks, giving him an interested look. Apparently she's read that into his tone.

"I do," he admits carefully. "Though not very well."

Emily leans forward on her elbows. "Who is she?"

"She used to work for the UN," he tells her. "You've heard of the United Nations, haven't you?"

"Yeah. Dad says they they're pretty useless when it comes to fixing problems in the Middle East."

"Well…She was able to help on a few cases that your aunt and I had back a long time ago."

"Did my dad work with you on those cases?"

"No." Worked against them, actually, he doesn't tell her. "The cases he worked with me on were different ones."

"He also said that she was a spy. Does the UN do spy stuff?"

For a moment he nearly seizes on this, ready and willing to tell her that yes, yes they do. But he knows that Emily is a clever kid, clever enough to look up the UN online and discover that the UN doesn't do any officially sanctioned spy stuff. "No, the UN does not approve of spying." Before she can say anything else, he asks "what does having Marita come see your father have anything to do with your question about his arm?"

Emily looks thoughtful for a moment. "She said something about getting revenge on the Russians for what they did to him. And I don't know what that means." Frowning she adds, "But the things she said made it sound like she and my dad were spies."

Oh boy, he thinks. Standing up, he gives Emily a weak smile. "Hey, um, I'll be back in a minute."

"Okay…"


Mulder ducks into the downstairs bathroom, and pulls out his cell phone. He dials a number that he never would have believed he'd know by heart someday, and waits impatiently for the phone on the other end he picked up. "What?" is the predictable opening remark.

Scowling, Mulder says, "You have a big problem, and you don't even know it."

"Oh? What's that?" Alex sounds amused, and it's clear that he thinks that Mulder's just yanking his chain.

"Did Marita come see you lately?"

This gets Alex's attention. "How could you possibly know that?" he demands to know.

"Emily overheard part of your conversation. Now she's in my kitchen, wanting to know how you lost your arm, and if you and Marita are spies."

"Shit!" Alex exclaims. "What did you tell her?"

"That I'd be right back? Look, she's your kid. I don't know what you want to tell her. I just think you should come over here and have that conversation."

"Oh, right. Because that's just what I wanted to do with my day, explain to my eleven-year-old that I used to work for evil people, and that's what lost me my arm," Alex says sarcastically.

"I didn't say you'd want to," Mulder corrects. "I said I thought you should. Not going to be easy, I understand that. The lying to her, that's not going to make anything better in the long run."

On the other end of the line Alex sighs. "I know. Missy's going to kill me, and Emily may never speak to me again, but you're right, not telling her the truth is likely to make things even worse. I'll be over soon."

Feeling insane for even thinking it, Mulder asks, "Do you think that it would make it easier if I was there during this conversation? You know, I can provide a character witness as to how you've changed."

The other man seems to think about this for a moment. "Maybe that is a good idea. We'll see what Missy thinks."

"Okay."



Chapter Nine

Rather than face either Emily's questions or Missy, Mulder goes outside to wait for Alex to arrive. The chill makes him shiver, and he stares out at road. How is it that none of them had ever anticipated this day would come? Alex is a changed man, and no one knows that better than Mulder, but he still has a past.

A hand on his shoulder makes him jump a foot. Missy gives him a wry look before asking, "What are you doing out here?"

He doesn't get a chance to answer before Alex's new SUV pulls into the driveway next to Missy's sedan and his van.

"Alex?" she asks the second her husband opens his door. "What are you doing here?"

For a second Alex gives her a helpless look, but then his eyes become downcast. "Emily is asking questions."

"What sort of questions?" Missy asks, seeming more confused than wary. This leaves both men wincing.

"About my past," he tells her. "About the sort of man I was…before you and the kids."

Because he can see the look in her eyes and Alex can't, Mulder is able to grab her wrist before she punches her husband hard. "Missy, don't," he says tiredly.

"They weren't supposed to know!" She shakes off his grip. "We said they'd never know!"

Mulder stares at the angry woman, wondering how that was supposed to have worked out. Emily is quite bright, and although Addy and Ryan are still very young he has no doubt that they too will prove to be intelligent. Maybe she's just been in denial, he decides. Maybe it's one of those things that's too hard to imagine having to explain, so she has decided that, as improbable as it is, she'll be able to keep the truth from them forever.

This has him imagining briefly the kids finding evidence someday, long after Alex and Missy and he and Scully have all passed on. The adult Krycek children in this imagining of his do not wear happy expressions.

"That's how we wanted it to be," Alex agrees soberly. "But she overheard my conversation with Marita, apparently."

"That bi-"

"It's not her fault," Alex corrects her, surprising her and Mulder too. "I should have sent her away immediately, or chosen my words more carefully. Either way, this is on me."

"Of course it is, it's your past we're talking about!"

The door slams behind them, making them all jump. When they turn around, Emily is staring at them. "Stop fighting," she says shortly. "I know you're fighting about me."

"Emily…" Missy says weakly.

Alex doesn't look like he has any better ideas, so Mulder prods them back towards where Emily stands. "We'll go talk in the den," he says, his tone leaving no room for argument.

Emily looks like she might argue anyway, but her parents meekly go where they are instructed to.

As the take their seats, looking uncomfortable in a way that he realizes is not physical, Mulder finds himself grateful that his own offspring are watching TV in the living room instead. The den is kind of cozy, but there is enough seating, and more importantly, the door shuts. He shuts it now.

Looking at Emily, Mulder asks, "Are you ready to ask them what you asked me?"

For a second Emily bites her lip, but then she nods. "Dad. Were you a spy?"

Alex squirms uncomfortably. "No."

Mulder shoots him a pointed look. After their discussion, he had assumed that Alex was ready to tell her the truth. Not to lie like he just has.

But Alex surprises him again. "No. A spy is somebody who works for a government, either their own, or somebody else's. I didn't work for the government. I worked for someone else." Alex sighs. "The most accurate label for a person who was in the position that I was is a mercenary."

Emily's expression is hard to read. "I don't know any good things about mercenaries," she says slowly. "Mostly they're the bad guys in the comic books that I sometimes read with Sammy, or the same in movies."

"Not all mercenaries are bad," Alex tells her. "But the kind I was, was bad."

If somebody had asked him if someday he would find himself pitying Alex Krycek for anything other than him being on the verge of dying of cancer, Mulder would have laughed. But he's not laughing now. Not now that the other man has basically confessed to his preadolescent daughter that he was one of the bad guys that everybody has warned her about.

And he really, really wouldn't have believed it if someone had told him that he'd want to yell out "but he's changed!" But he does want to.

"You were a bad guy?"

To his credit, Alex's voice doesn't shake. "I did a lot of things I'm not proud of."

"And that's how you lost your arm," Emily accuses. "Doing bad stuff."

Alex just nods.

It's more complicated than that, Mulder realizes, but Alex probably knows that it's not going to go well if he tries to explain that he might not have been doing the right thing, but he's still a victim of someone else. Maybe in a few years Emily will be old enough to understand the shades of gray, but from interacting with Page and Sammy, he's sure she's not yet.

"What sort of things did you do that you're not proud of? Did you lie to people?" Emily demands to know, clearly thinking of what she has observed mercenaries doing in those comics and movies that she mentioned.

"Yes."

"Did you hurt people?"

"Yes."

Emily hesitates for a moment. "Did you kill people?"

"Emily!" Missy snaps.

Her daughter shakes her head, not being put off by a sharp word. "Did you kill people, Dad?"

Now Alex looks like someone kicked him in the gut. "Yes."

"Wait," Missy insists, grabbing Emily by the wrist when the girl starts to turn away. "You know that your uncle and aunt have killed people too. Your uncle Bill has too, although he'll probably never talk about it in front of you. It was part of their jobs."

Emily does not look impressed by this statement. Turning to Mulder she asks, "Uncle Fox, did you ever kill anybody who wasn't a criminal? Did you ever kill anybody that wasn't doing terrible things to hurt people?"

For a second Mulder has the impulse to tell her that if things in Mexico hadn't turned out better for Alex, he would have been guilty of murdering somebody off the job, or at least causing their death. But the look on his niece's face keeps him from doing it. "No. I have never killed anybody who wasn't involved in one of the cases your aunt and I investigated in the FBI."

"And her?"

"No." Although, he does wonder briefly if he and Scully are guilty of something for letting the smoking man die in his clay house when the black helicopters arrived.

Turning to Missy, Emily asks, "And has Uncle Bill ever killed anybody who wasn't a soldier?"

"No," Missy admits, looking pained to do so.

Emily says nothing for a moment, thinking. Eventually she focuses on her father again. "Did you ever kill anybody who wasn't a bad guy too?"

Alex winces. Mulder knows why: he has just been lumped in with bad guys in his daughter's mind. "Yes," he says brokenly.

And that's when Emily bolts out of the room.

By the time that any of the adults can react, the front door has slammed.

"She won't go far," Alex says, tired.

But a cursory hunt on the Mulders' property proves otherwise. Before long, Mulder, Scully, Alex, and Missy are all out combing the neighborhood for Emily. Page promises to keep an eye on the younger kids, and to call them if Emily comes back. Somehow, Mulder doesn't picture Emily running home on her own.


After an hour, it's beginning to get a lot scarier that no one has found Emily yet. At first everyone assumed that she was just having a fit of temper, but it's beginning to feel a lot more serious. What if she has actually run away from home? Alex and Missy have always been overly generous with allowance, so it's remotely possible that she has enough money to buy a bus ticket, even though she might need to talk an adult into making the purchase for her: when they thought it over, they realized that given her talent for acting she could probably concoct a believable story about wanting to buy a ticket to see a grandmother or estranged parent. But what would she do after that? Even a resourceful eleven-year-old is still very young, too young to look after herself. That is why Missy is headed to the bus station now.

As for him, Mulder has decided to check out the park where the kids play in nice weather. It's only about a mile from the house, and from his own memories of being Emily's age and wanting to avoid people, he knows that the distance is not insurmountable for kids that age.

Although the park had been free of snow earlier in the week, a few last minute inches have made the place unappealing again, and there's no one in sight. But the snow is churned enough to make it clear that several people have braved it today anyway. Unfortunately there isn't a clear trail of childish footprints which might make it easier.

There's a hint of movement in one of the play structures, and Mulder hones in on it. April, David, and Jared had wandered enough, back when they were too small to remember instructions about not going out of sight, for him to train himself to notice tiny disturbances in the force caused by children who couldn't be completely still to save their lives. This time he's rewarded by being the one to finally find his wayward niece, who hasn't yet noticed him.

She's crouched inside a long concrete tunnel, the kind that kids a third her age delight in crawling through on hands and knees. Being as gangly as Page, she barely can sit upright in it, and her arms are wrapped around her knees.

Emily looks startled when he bends down and looks in. "Tight fit," he comments. "You want to come out of there?"

"No," she says shortly.

"Ah." Rather than antagonize both the girl and his back, he stands back up. She can still hear him just fine he knows. "I know how you feel," he offers. "About what you learned today."

"How could you?" Emily asks resentfully, sounding like you'd expect a kid that age to when she thought a well-meaning but clueless adult was insisting he could relate.

He sighs when he realizes how tired she sounds. The subject has been weighing on her for a while. That's clear enough. "How much do you know about my sister?" he asks.

This seems to throw her. "Not too much. She got kidnapped when you were a kid. And it was a big deal when she came back a few years ago."

"That's it?"

"Pretty much," she agrees. "Mom just said it was sad, but never told me much more than that. Everyone was so glad when Samantha found you again, I never really wanted to ask Mom what she meant before that."

Mulder leans against the tunnel, trying to absorb the last few rays of sunlight before the day gives into night. Then, pulling out his cellphone, he sends a quick text to Alex, Missy, and everyone else, letting them know that he's with Emily so they can stop looking. That done, he picks up the conversation's thread. "I was only a year older than you that night, you know. And when she first went missing, I actually thought it was going to be okay."

"You did?" Emily sounds a little surprised. Apparently she doesn't think his optimism was warranted.

"Sure. My dad worked for the same people that yours used to, and they could do some pretty powerful things. So I was sure that my dad would just demand that they give her back, and they would."

"But they didn't."

"Nope. And as far as I know, he never even asked."

"How could you not hate him then?" Emily demands to know. "I know you didn't. Everyone was sad when he died. Even you. Especially you."

"That's a good question. I guess I eventually accepted that he wasn't a super-hero."

"A super hero?" she repeats, sounding uncertain.

"Oh, you know, able to do whatever he wanted, without needing to worry about the consequences. I mean, he could have made all sorts of demands, but he didn't. For a long time I thought he was selfish and weak for not doing that sort of thing, but then when I got older I figured it out."

"Figured what out?"

"That he was a real person, and real people have to worry about things like 'if I go off half-cocked and make the wrong people angry, what are they going to do to my family?'" Mulder pauses, letting her think about this. "Because that's the sort of people we're talking about, Emily. The kind that would not feel at all bad about killing someone who crossed them or hurting the rest of their family. They were pretty much as bad as any movie villain and just as ruthless."

"But your dad didn't need to get involved with them in the first place," she mutters. "Mine didn't either."

"Yeah, you're right. But I don't think they knew what they were getting into."

"Right," she scoffs.

"They were both really young when they got pulled in," Mulder says patiently, remembering what it's like to be her age and seething over a parental betrayal. "Too young to have really thought about the potential costs when someone offered them a better life than they thought they were going to have otherwise."

"Because my dad was poor, you mean."

"Poor and alone," he corrects. "You know that he was young when your grandparents died. It's not easy to be on your own that young, and doubly hard when you're still trying to assimilate to a new country."

"He wasn't that young."

"He wasn't eighteen yet," Mulder reminds her. "Most kids would've ended up in foster care if their parents died when they were that young, not taking care of themselves like he did." Mulder's never been clear if Krycek was 15, 16, or 17 when his folks died, but he knows that he was heartbreakingly young for an immigrant child trying to survive on his own in a country he never stepped foot in until he was 13.

"Oh. But he could have…he could have…um." Whatever she's thinking of never makes it out of her mouth.

"There are probably other things he could have done, sure. But he once he got involved with them, there were a lot of things that they made him do that he probably wishes never happened." He bends down and peers into the tunnel again. "There are countless other things he never did do, because he had the strength to defy them. I loved my dad, but it took him a lot longer to break free of the consortium than Alex did."

Emily says nothing in reply.

"To be honest, I think meeting your mother was probably the best thing that ever happened to him."

"You do?"

"Sure. It took a few years, until after you were in the picture before they became a couple, but if he never met your mother I have a pretty good idea how his life would've turned out."

"What do you think would have happened to him?" Emily demands to know.

It's easy. All he has to do is tell her what happened when Alex didn't meet his wife's lively sister. After all, once upon a time he didn't. "Instead of getting out because he had a woman he loved and a child he adored, he would've stayed in. They would have had him do foolish, dangerous things, and people who don't have anyone anchoring them are more willing to take stupid risks. Eventually the risks would've piled up and he would be in so deep that there was no hope of ever escaping. So he wouldn't have. Eventually one of those dangerous assignments would have killed him young. And without your mom, you, Addy and Ryan, no one would have really cared."

"You wouldn't have cared?" Emily asks, looking mortified.

Mulder shakes his head. "No. He would have become as soulless and ruthless as the rest of them, and if he were on the wrong side still…people don't tend to mourn their enemies, Emily. They just feel relief that they're no longer actively trying to harm them."

"I'm glad he got out when he did then," Emily admits.

"Me too. Are you getting achy being in there yet?"

"Kinda. But I don't really want to talk to Mom and Dad yet, though."

"I'm thirsty. Want to walk over to the store to get some drinks?" he asks. "That'll buy you a little more time."

Emily thinks this over. She's more than smart enough to realize that she can only put off talking to her parents for so long, so she accepts this reprieve, as brief as it's likely to be. "Okay, thanks."

Mulder waits for her to crawl out, then they make their way across the street, neither of them hurrying.


Mulder holds open the door to Kit's Konvenience and allows Emily to walk in ahead of him. Gary's at his usual spot behind the counter, and waves to them. Mulder waves back, wondering how long Gary intends to man his post. He was gray when Mulder moved his family onto the block, and he's even more careworn now, although he looks happy every time he sees him.

"Afternoon, Mr. Mulder. I've missed you since you've stopped coming in for diapers."

Mulder grins wryly. "I've missed you too, but everyone's potty trained now."

"Kind of sad, though, but I guess everyone's kids grow up." Only then does Gary seem to notice that Mulder isn't alone. "Hi Pa-" he cuts himself off mid-sentence. "Oops. Sorry, sweetie, I thought you were Mr. Mulder's oldest daughter."

"She's my niece," Mulder supplies.

Gary gives Emily an intent look, then seems surprised which makes Mulder feel oddly nervous, like he's going to be harassed for spending time with a child Emily's age who isn't his own. But Gary says, "Wait…are you Alex's little girl?"

"One of them," Emily acknowledges a little shyly, which is out of character for the normally outgoing child. Mulder supposes she has the right to be a bit off, though. "I have a little sister too. And a little brother."

"You momma was carrying your brother back when you and your daddy stayed with your aunt, right?" Emily nods, and Gary goes on. "Wow, you sure have grown. When your dad used to bring you in here, you couldn't see over the counter, so he had to pick you up so you could. Remember that?"

"Um…" Emily looks uncertain.

"He'd do it every time so you could pick out a treat. Great dad, your father. I always thought so," Gary tells her.

Mulder tries not to look suspicious as he sees Emily's anger beginning to crack. Gary couldn't be a friend of Elsbeth's, could he?

Eventually Emily says "Thanks" and looks away. From her expression Mulder can tell she's thinking about what Gary has just said, and probably trying to remember the months when she and Alex were installed in the Mulder home, half a lifetime ago for her.


The Krycek Home

When Mulder drives up to the house, he can tell by their stiff postures that Missy and Alex' heart-to-heart needs at least a few more hours, but Emily is here now. He'd like to roll down the window and crack a bad joke, but doesn't. Why kill an awkward mood with something worse?

Instead, he pats Emily's shoulder. "You're a good kid, Emily. You come from good people."

"Including my dad?"

He nods, and she makes a face. Then she looks away from her parents, and Mulder's heart sinks. They all stay where they are, Mulder and Emily in the car, Alex and Missy standing outside their own home in the snow.

After what feels like forever to the adults, but probably no longer than a couple of minutes, the blonde girl breaks the silence. "Yeah, I know."

Mulder keeps the sigh inside. You think you know the whole story now. This is just the tip of the iceberg, kid, he thinks. I hope you remember how much your parents love you, how far they were willing to go to give you a future. He walks out and opens the door.

"Thanks for talking with me," he says, then nods at her parents. Missy's lips tremble slightly, while only Alex's eyes flicker a bit. "Give 'em a hug," he says, sotto voce, low enough so only she can hear him. "They look like they need it more than you do."

She gives him a Scully-eye roll, but smiles afterwards. Then she walks towards them, her expression still a little wary towards her dad. It's clear her father is hurt by this, and Missy's face droops. The slim blonde girl pauses, then gamely holds her arms out, surprising Mulder by actually doing what he told her.

Before she can close the gap between them, Krycek swoops down and hugs her tightly. "Don't scare me like that, devotchka moya," he says fiercely, "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry." He buries his face against her hair, a sorry blind for the tears he's trying to hide from the other adults.

Emily's obviously surprised by the emotion. "Daddy," she says, wrapping her arms around his neck. "Uncle Mulder was right. You did need a hug more than me."

Krycek steps back in surprise, blinking against the tears. His red nose now looks comical with his new expression. "He said that?" Then he rubs at his face, and tried to glare at his brother-in-law, who tries his best not to look touched by the scene. They both failed miserably at their attempts.

A corner of Missy's lips quirks up without anyone noticing, and she joins her husband and daughter. Taking out a handkerchief (one of only two people Mulder knows who HAS a handkerchief, the other being Byers), she wipes off Krycek's face patiently as he continues to pretend he hasn't just cried, and smoothes Emily's hair. "Come inside, you two," she says, shaking her head with a smile, "it's cold."

Mulder sees this as his cue to leave, and he waves before getting into his car. Krycek and Emily go inside the house, but Melissa runs up to the car. "Mulder," she says, and he doesn't start the car. It's rare for her not to fall back on calling him Fox. "I know Alex is too embarrassed to say this, but I just want to say thank you," she says, with the same straightforward tone as her sister.

"We're family," he smiles a little, and she smiles back, then goes inside her home, joining hers.

Mulder closes his eyes and leans back, exhaling. He really, really doesn't envy the talks Alex and Missy will have with their kids (or with each other), but then again, it's obvious by the questions Emily brought up that he won't exactly be getting off scot-free, either.

Then he opens his eyes, sits up, and pulls out his cell phone. "Scully?" he asks when she answers.

"Yeah?"

"Thank you," he says, "I love you."

There's a pause, and a soft sigh. "I love you, too," she says, "come home."

"Always," he says, "see you."

He smiles as he hangs up. How on earth did he get to be so damn lucky this time around? Hell, even Krycek got luckier than the last time, as he'd obliquely told Emily. "Thank God for Elsbeth," he whispers and shakes his head, "or none of us would be in this wonderful mess." And, in spite of the sick kids, the looming meeting with April's coach, and other minor problems in his life, he knows he would never trade this life for the previous one.



Chapter Ten

The X-Files Office
4:36 p.m.
Monday

While it may be Spring Break for their boys, there's no rest for Doggett or Reyes. In fact, they're busy looking up any sort of connection old women might have to the "awakened" inmates. They're going over their interview notes to see if there's any relation, while Leyla is going over her half-sister's case files to see if there are any witnesses, lawyers or the like in common.

So far, nothing. "Well, this is ridiculous." Doggett sighs, pinching the bridge of his nose.

"Mm," Reyes murmurs, depressed at how many lines she's drawn through on her notepad.

There's no answer from Harrison, because she's face-planted firmly on her yellow notepad, thick-rimmed glasses and all.

Doggett glances at the blonde woman when there's too long of a pause, then at his partner, who's amused enough to lift a corner of her mouth, tired as she is. "How's about drawin' stuff on her forehead?" he says.

Reyes stares at him, then laughs loudly, waking Harrison from her slumber. "Oh, John," she sighs fondly.

"Just sayin'." He shrugs as the blonde woman tries to rub her eyes only to smear her glasses. "Might even be an improvement."

"Huh, what?" Leyla asks sleepily.

"Nothing," Reyes says swiftly, to prevent her partner saying anything regrettable to her face. Still, she finds she has to work at keeping a straight face, since the youngest member of the X-Files currently has dents on her face vaguely in the shape of her glasses.

Leyla finally takes off her glasses, wiping at them with cloth. "Maybe we should just focus on the old woman," she mumbles.

"What?" Doggett says while Reyes asks, "Which one?"

Leyla squints, then shakes her head. "Well, whoever shows some signs of ESP, precog, that sort of thing. You know?"

"Somehow, I don't think a lotta senior centers will look kindly at us grilling old ladies, and then again, we're not quite sure it is an old woman at the bottom of this," Doggett reminds her.

"Yes, but it's a clue, right? And nothing else matches up," Leyla says.

As he sighs heavily, Reyes finds herself saying, "She's right. Aside from her sister's firm prosecuting the cases, nothing else links them. There's no indication that the lawyers are at the bottom of this, John Grisham novels aside." She gives Leyla a look, "and none of the inmates' family or friends seem to have any clue about telepathy or precognition."

"I wish they had telepathy, then they'd know how oogie some of them were," Leyla says darkly.

Reyes chuckles, but Doggett only sighs again. "Look, while that's a nice thought, we don't have anywhere to narrow the search."

"Yeah, we do," Leyla says.

"Oh?"

"The Virginia, Maryland, and D.C. areas," the blonde agent says, straightforward.

Doggett wants to slam his head into his desk, while his partner looks like she's not far behind in that sentiment. "A much narrower focus would be nice," Reyes tries to say peaceably.

"That's not narrow enough?" Leyla blinks. "Well, Mulder and Scully–"

"Aaaand we'll call it a day." Doggett stands up abruptly. "See you both back here tomorrow."

"See you." Leyla smiles briefly, then gathers the files together and heads out, before either of her senior agents can tell her about her face.

Doggett shakes his head, then flattens his mouth. "Shall we?"

Reyes nods, then smiles, walking out of the basement room with her partner.


Later that night, Luke and Gibson bring up their idea of basing their video game on their parents' jobs. Instead of the agents being gung-ho about it, to their surprise, they find themselves shouted down. "You know you can't do anything with ongoing cases," Doggett argues with Luke.

"Yeah, but Dad," he tries.

"Luke, our privacy, our family's privacy, is important," Reyes interjects. "It's not just about the FBI, although that's a big part of it, too. Change the names, jobs, case details, just make sure it's not a complete rip-off."

"And don't make Mulder the hero," Doggett adds.

Gibson snorts, while Luke blinks. "Um, no, we won't," Luke says, confused into a promise.

"Yeah, what he said." Gibson grins. "Come on, I got an idea." He drags his brother to his room, and starts sketching out a general idea to revamp their game. "They said no ongoing cases, right? Well, how about previous ones? And we can throw in aliens for good measure, gotta have the players shooting the crap out of something."

Luke raises his eyebrows, then grins back. "You're nuts, you know that?"

"Yeah, runs in the family," his brother shoots back.

Luke rolls his eyes, then leans over the paper. "Okay, what if we renamed it 'The 13th Division'," he says, "and give the player the option of playing a male or female MC? It'll take longer, yeah, but at least it won't be completely the same as the X-Files. And we can use the cases to build up their XP, and their ammo supply depends on their XP level and if they actually solve the case." He stops, frowning, then leans back. "You think we could force an FPS into an RPG without the betas throwing their controls?"

Gibson shrugs. "I think the Japanese or Koreans are doing something like that, but it's been a while since I've peeked at their game play. Besides, I'm more used to FPS, you can write up the stories and junk."

"For a guy who can read minds, I'm surprised at how easily you get into the brain-dead stuff," Luke snorts.

"That's exactly why." Gibson grins. "Besides, I can't be the brawn in real life, might as well be the tank online."

Luke scowls. "So what am I, the wizard or something?"

"Something like that, yeah." Gibson nods, his mind already trying to work out the mechanics of a shoot-'em-up in Luke's storylines. "Don't forget to pick cases where they actually use their guns," he says.

"Duh," Luke says, "don't forget to ask your girlfriend to work on the character designs. Can you ask her to use some ethnic types? So far, the agents have been white, but we should make some kind of distinction."

"Ha, ha." Gibson rolls his eyes, but grins anyways. "I'm sure the X-Files is less about affirmative action and more about people who can handle weird crap, no matter who walks in the door."

"Speak for yourself," Luke shrugs, using a phrase his father likes to borrow, "I'm just sayin'."

"Uh-huh," Gibson says, but makes a note. "So, mutants? Aliens?"

Luke nods. "We can make the big boss the Smoking Man, since he's out of the picture, according to Mr. Mulder. About five cases total, with cut scenes for storyline, and get the theater crowd to do voiceovers…" He pauses. "It's not gonna be pretty, but it could work."

"That's the point." Gibson nods, then purses his lips. "You sure five cases will be enough? From what I remember, RPGs take more time to develop the character."

"Well, five cases are all we have time for," Luke argues, "besides, agents who go through more than a couple of cases in the X-Files tend to level up pretty quickly in character development." Then he made a face. "Well, except for Mr. Mulder, he's still kinda goofy."

Gibson snorts, because he's seen more of the agent in action than Luke has. "He's a lot more capable than you think, but I get where you're coming from," he says. "So, no character mods or ability to change the character's features and clothes, then?"

"Hell, no." Luke shakes his head saying "we'll have to stay at Bucky forever. Actually, you know what? When they go to the next case, we can change up their outfits a little, that sorta thing, along with weapons, but no crazy 'Men in Black' guns, okay?"

"Yeah, yeah." Gibson nods, his eyes on the paper, scribbling away. "Appearance change happens only with new cases. Should we put in time change, too? So it's not too abrupt with the leveling up and appearance change?"

Luke shrugs. "Sure. One more graphic isn't gonna kill us."

"Okay, time stamp," Gibson notes, then looks up. "Anything else?"

"Nope," Luke says, "you hungry?"

Gibson's stomach rumbles in answer. "Duh." He smiles, putting the notes away.

"Man, I hope they've got extra chicken left over," Luke mutters, "or we're gonna have to do takeout."

"I think the fridge has been restocked for us," Gibson says and grins, "race you?"

Luke snorts, but starts running. Unfortunately, his brother's read his mind and has a ten-second head start, so they're pounding into the kitchen before Reyes can wrap up the leftovers.


Midtown Senior Clinic
Boston
Wednesday

Two girls, one blonde and obviously in elementary school, the other a teenagerish brunette, are quietly working on word puzzles in the hallway. There aren't too many people there, just the occasional health professional or family member on their way in or out of the building to make it seem less like a sallow-painted government building. Charlotte and Alice are the longest to have stayed in the hallway, and the youngest.

"Uncle Johnny?" Alice asks, when a gaunt, bearded man bursts into the hallway.

"She wants to see you," he answers in a broken voice, and they follow him quickly into Room 201.

"Ma, the girls are here," he says, as Charlotte and Alice put their hands on the wrinkled hand not pierced by an IV.

The old woman, who bears the unidentifiable ethnicities granted to the extremely elderly, opens her eyes wearily. "Be strong," she says in a hoarse voice, "don't be scared."

Alice buries her face in the blanket-covered side, weeping, while her older sister nods, pinching her lips together to hold back any sort of emotion. "We will," Charlotte finally says, her voice steady, although her eyes are suspiciously shiny.

The old woman then looks at her son, and her eyes look surprisingly sharp. "Be strong," she tells him, squeezing his hand with her pierced one.

While he looks like a shipwrecked man, he somehow gathers some kind of composure, his eyes as sharp as hers. "Will do," he says, in a tone reminiscent of time spent in the military, and squeezes her hand back.

Then the old woman smiles briefly, closes her eyes, and exhales her last breath.

And that's when every single inmate who saw an old woman in his dream kills himself.


The FBI Basement Office
Wednesday Night

"I don't understand it, either," Doggett shakes his head, as his team, plus Amy Penda-Harrison, gather together. "No reason for them to give themselves up, no reason for them to shake off whatever it was, and no reason for them to kill themselves. None of this makes sense."

"Maybe it does," Reyes says, giving her partner a look, who sighs. "You said before there was a puppet master, right? Well, what if this puppet master decided to cut all the strings, anything tying these inmates to him or her?"

"So, what if the old woman actually died, then?" Agent Harrison chimes in.

Amy only shakes her head. "Say whatever you want," she sighs, "for me, it's case closed. Unless any of their families want to sue the state, well, Dunkirk, Scott, and Johnson officially have washed their hands of this."

"And you, too?" Leyla asks her sister.

Amy sighs. "Yeah," she says, "hard to keep going when everything is literally at a dead end. Feel free to find whoever might've set up their deaths, but it made things a helluva lot easier to prosecute when they confessed." Then her cell phone rang, and she excuses herself.

"This sucks," Agent Harrison glares at the files, now closed, on Doggett's desk.

"You said that before," Doggett says, "but she's right. And since we don't have any other leads or connections, it seems the puppet master's gone for good."

Reyes frowns, looking at the basement window. "I hope so," she says, "because otherwise, someone's gotten away with murder. And a lot of it."

They are all startled when Amy Penda-Harrison comes back in with a smile. "Leyla," she says, "can you come to Mom and Dad's tonight?"

The blonde woman blinks, then nods. "Sure."

Amy's smile deepens. "Stan said he's coming over."

"Omigosh, that's great!" she squeals, hugging her sister. Then she looks at the senior agents. "Um, if that's okay."

Doggett snorts. "We just shelved a case you brought in," he says, "have fun."

"Will do!" she says, and both sisters beam and practically sashay out in their high heels. The last thing they hear as the sisters walk down the hallway is Leyla asking "Do you think Mom and Dad would mind if I bring Gabe?" and a good-natured groan from Amy.

Reyes looks at her partner, who now looks more serious as he opens the laptop. "Something's coming," she says, sitting on the edge of the desk.

"Something big, yeah," he says quietly, looking at the monitor. "I just hope we can keep the kids out of it."

"Yeah," she agrees, then texts both their sons to lock up, because they wouldn't be coming home that night.


Friday, Early Afternoon

Although both Mulder and Scully agree that it's okay for William to have his imaginary friend as long as he needs to, they also think he needs to play with more kids his own age, so they arrange for Alan to pick him and Ryan Krycek up once a week after school. Alan is still a bit shaken about the whole "Angel" situation, so he probably agrees to this sooner than he should. He gets a healthy pay bump as compensation for having an additional kid to watch, though, so he doesn't regret it too much.

On the first of these Fridays he's got a letter signed by Alex and Missy with him. They'd spoken to Ryan's teacher, but he insists that he gets something in writing too, given he knows that a lot of educators would be reluctant to hand a child over to a man who looks like him, even if the parents gave verbal consent. Now, if Ryan and William were still in the same class, he might not have bothered because William's teacher is used to seeing him around.

As it is, Ryan's teacher gives him an uneasy smile. At least until she notices William run up and stand next to the nanny. She must decide he's legitimate if the other little boy isn't wary of him. So she turns and calls, "Ryan?"

One of the little kids pulling on their coats looks over his shoulder. "Hi, Will, hi, Alan!"

"You're going home with William's nanny today," the teacher reminds the other little redheaded boy.

"I know," Ryan says, rolling his eyes.

"Well."

"We about ready to go, fellas?" Alan asks them.

"Yup," William agrees.

"Uh huh." Ryan looks up at him. "But you're not going to beat up my dad any more, right?" Ryan asks earnestly.

Alan finds himself turning red. "Um, no, I won't. You know that was just a misunderstanding, right?" he asks nervously, trying desperately to resist looking at the teacher who is clearly still listening despite helping a small brunette girl pull on her boots.

To his chagrin, the little boy smiles broadly. "I know. My dad said to ask you that and see what color your face turned."

"It's red," William points out.

"Maybe it's more purple," Ryan suggests. "Hey, the boys' room has a mirror-"

"Come on, we need to go get Zoe and Brianna so we can go home," Alan mutters, giving the teacher, who is trying hard not to snigger, a weak smile as the boys bound out of the room just ahead of him.



Chapter Eleven

Late the Same Afternoon

Twenty minutes after saying "I'll get her, Dad" Gibson finds himself regretting that he volunteered to walk to the Mulders' house to get Hannah, who had been invited over by April as soon as the girls got home from school. He honestly thinks his ten-year-old sister is old enough to walk a couple of blocks by herself but their father has always put his foot down about that sort of thing: Gibson is pretty sure Luke was a high school freshman before he was allowed to walk home from school. The few times it has come up Luke has always shrugged it off as just being how their dad is; nothing bad or scary ever happened in NY, at least not to him. One of Dad's cases in New York must've just shook him pretty bad.

Gibson sighs and pulls out his laptop from his backpack, glad he'd been bringing it to the library, where he's promised to take Hannah to on the way home. It's not really their father's fault he's sitting there bored. It's David and Jared Mulder's. Hannah was almost ready to go ten minutes ago, and that's when disaster had struck: the twin boys were excitedly showing off the model volcano they'd just finished testing out to make sure that it would work properly for their science fair the next Monday, stopping to show him and Hannah how they'd decorated it with trees intended for creating scenery for miniature trains and just as Hannah reached them to see better, one of the boys tripped on his own untied shoelace. They'd added a lot of food coloring to its "lava" and a great deal of the foamy mixture was still in the cavity of the volcano... at least until it drenched Hannah, leaving her clothes wet and a patchy red.

Being a mom, Ms. Scully jumped into action as soon as she saw what happened, sheepherding the damp little girl upstairs to find something dry to wear. It's probably not something the TV personality wants to deal with within minutes of getting home, but Gibson senses that she feels she ought to.

So that's why Gibson is sitting on the couch, sorting through the photos Katie and Melody want to make a collage of for the website Shon is putting together. A lot of the pictures that Thomas had taken before break are unusable, mostly just random body parts when some of the kids moved at the wrong time, but he's got about a dozen decent ones open.

''Hey... You seen Ryan?" a voice asks, startling him. He must've been thinking pretty hard to have someone come in without him noticing.

After a second he recognizes the man as one of the Mulder kids' uncles. Alex, he remembers, and Ryan is his youngest child. "Oh. No. I didn't even know he was here. He must have gone upstairs before my sister's mishap."

"So you're on pickup duty too, huh?" Alex asks with an easy smile.

"I volunteered."

"Gunning for sainthood?" Alex raises his eyebrows, but his tone isn't really mocking.

Gibson shrugs. "Nope. I've just missed my little sisters."

"College going well?"

"Pretty well."

Alex gestures at Gibson's laptop with his good hand. "Homework over break? That sucks."

Gibson's somewhat amused by the sentiment but he shakes his head. "Nah. My girlfriend and I are part of a tutoring project. I'm editing some of the pictures that got taken this month, so they can be put on our new website."

"You sure you want to recruit more little kids to tutor?"

"Actually, we're hoping for more college students getting involved," he says, thinking of how much the tutor pool has shrunken. "What do you think, if you were 18 to 22 does this look like enough fun that you'd consider joining us?" he asks, turning the laptop screen towards Alex.

Alex glances at the photos, and Gibson hears his startled thought, that's Jessie, before he quickly says "Uh, sure."

Gibson looks up sharply. Who is Jessie? There's no one in the tutoring group by that name, but the man seems very sure that he's looking at someone named that.

But Alex is already leaving the room, going to collect his son. Sitting with his laptop in his lap, Gibson frowns. Even if Alex had stuck around for an inquisition, how would he react to being questioned about a thought that had been plucked from his unsuspecting mind? He's sure that Ms. Scully's brother-in-law would be more open to the idea that there are mind readers than Katie is, but that could just cause different problems.

So he stares at the open pictures again, wondering which of the kids is the one Alex has met…and why he his thought had sounded so unhappy to recognize whoever she is. After a moment he realizes that there are a few people in the photos who had arrived to pick up kids, so maybe one of the mothers is named Jessie.

"Gibson, we can go," Hannah says, her voice preceding her down the stairs.

He glances up at her, forcing himself to smile. Until now he's wondered why it would take so long to find something for her to wear with two little girls in the house just a year older and younger than her, but he finally realizes that Hannah is shorter than either of the Mulder girls who are within six years of her age. He can't tell if the clothes she's now wearing are Page's or April's, but either way they hang off of her in a slightly endearing way.

Hannah gives him a suspicious look. "What are you thinking about?"

It's odd for someone to want to know what he's thinking. That I might not be the shortest one in the family after all doesn't sound kind, so he shrugs. "We'll have to make sure the clothes get back here later."

"Hannah…" His sister looks up, then takes the bag that Ms. Scully offers her. He can tell from the shape it's her wet clothes. This remind him dimly of a time when he had had an accident at preschool, long before anyone was impressed by his ability to play chess and were then just disappointed that he wasn't 100% reliably potty trained at that point.

"Oh, thanks."

"Ready to go?" Gibson asks, packing his laptop away.

"Yup. I'm gonna get so many books-" Hannah looks startled when he groans.

"And I'm going to carry them all home," he says unhappily.

"I don't have a backpack with me," she points out.

"Uh huh." But really, he doesn't mind that much. He sure wishes he'd thought to ask his dad to borrow the car, though.


The FBI Basement Office
Sunday Night

Agent Harrison, for once, is the only one in the office, frowning as she sits in front of the computer. For the most part, it was an open-and-shut case, or as much as one could hope from the X-Files. But then again, there was something about it that had her pursing her lips, dissatisfied. Once Agents Doggett and Reyes persuaded her that she should do the write-up, as she was the one who opened the case, she felt like she'd been given a bigger responsibility.

"But it's not entirely closed," she sighed, then looked at the various files she'd dutifully attached to her report. Sure, the fact that Mrs. Anita Koslowski Gerritson's death coincided with the inmates was a lucky stroke, so to speak, as was the fact that Amy had found that all of the inmates had formerly resided at Gerritson's Boston apartments, but there was no definite thread tying them all together. In fact, it felt to her more like she was rearranging the facts to fit the theory. While she appreciated Mulder's approach, she found that she was more prone to needing more meat on the facts side than theory, and she sighed again. Perhaps being mentored by Agent Doggett had its side effects, too, although she suspected that in the long run, hard facts would hold up in court, just like Amy said.

As for her sister Amy, there were no repercussions, other than the fact that her firm noted her diligence in the matter, and were looking to give her more high-profile cases, so at least it worked out for her there.

On the other hand, those who were related to or cared about the inmates who killed themselves had to deal with the permanent loss, and she didn't envy them that. She pulled her thick reading glasses from the top of her head and put them over her face, and decided to finish her report before she allowed temptation to keep it open. She murmured as she typed, "While there is no hard evidence linking Anita Gerritson's death to those of the inmates, the timing is too coincidental. It was possible that in her last stage before death, she was granted the ultimate power of justice, wielding on those she knew would never serve time willingly, and when she passed on, they could only follow her in death. This agent is not advocating that Gerritson served as a judicial supplement, only," she paused. Then she deleted the last word, and continued, "but she did act on her own code of ethics. It remains to be seen whether or not Gerritson's actions were for the better or worse in the long term." She saved her report, then sent it, before she had any further qualms.

As she leaned back, her cell phone rang, startling her. "Hi, Amy!" she said, brightening. "Yeah, I was just finishing my report," she answered. "What are you up to?" The blonde woman listened for a couple of minutes, then shrieked. "That's great! I can't wait to see you guys! Talk to you later!"

When she hung up, she texted both Doggett and Reyes that her report was turned in, then she turned off the computer, shoved her heels back on, and put the files away before doing a happy dance. "Omigosh, omigosh, omigosh!"

Stan had finally popped the question, and now they were all going to meet at her parents' place. Stan's mother would be flying in from Belgium, but she'd gotten the news first.

"Amy, Amy, Amy," Leyla chanted as she hit the elevator button, "you're so lucky!"


Buckminster Fuller School of Design and Technology
Meanwhile

Luke feels the nice thing about getting back to the college early on Sunday night is knowing that Gibson isn't going to have to whine about not seeing Katie. The two of them have gotten back early enough to have dinner with her.

And dinner has gone fairly well even though Gibson and Katie are being obnoxious about how eager they have been to see each other after a week apart. Good God, Luke thinks, watching them flirt, if I'm ever this embarrassing in public I hope somebody will mercy-kill me. Of the three of them he's the only one who is actually still eating. The other two have dishes of half eaten food on their trays. Luke doesn't suspect that they're going to actually finish anything they took.

Even though Gibson is clearly too preoccupied to read his mind, eventually Katie seems to realize that Luke is not thrilled with their overt displays of affection. Looking at him, she asks, "So, how did you enjoy vacation?"

"It wasn't too bad. It was nice to spend some time with Hannah and Rebecca, and of course dad and Mon. How about you?"

Katie nods, then grabs at her glasses before they slip off the bridge of her nose. "Besides seeing kids from home and having a few of them asked me what it's like to go to Buck U, it was pretty good. I only got into one screaming match with my brother."

"Buck U," Gibson mutters, shaking his head.

Luke believes that it's probably in self-defense that the students at Buckminster Fuller call the school Bucky. Nobody really thinks it's funny when people refer to it as Buck U instead. It had gotten old by the end of their freshman year.

"So," Katie says brightly. "We're thinking about going to see that movie, Art School Confidential, at the student union. Are you coming with us, Luke?"

Luke shakes his head. "Sorry. Can't." Then he finishes the last few bites of his mac & cheese.

"Oh," Katie replies, doing her best to look disappointed. He knows that she isn't, and has really only suggested that he come to be polite. She still doesn't understand how the two of them can be siblings and enjoy each other's company. "Big project coming up or something?"

Gibson smirks. "Or he just doesn't want to go see Art School Confidential. It's not exactly his type of movie."

Luke spreads out his hands. "Let's just say I do have stuff to do, but Gibson is also right. I don't think there's going to be any explosions or car chases in that one."

The three of them get up, picking up their trays to bus them. As soon as their trays are put away, Gibson cuffs him on the shoulder and looks a Katie. "Don't worry, my big brother can find something constructive to occupy his time while we watch the movie. Or don't," he suggests with a leer.

"You're terrible!" Katie exclaims, but she's smiling.

Just in case Katie really does feel guilty about him not joining them, Luke says "I can entertain myself. And I plan to."

Gibson nods. "Just don't do anything that will get you kicked out."

So Luke smirks. "Of course not, Da-ad."


March in Boston is a month that makes it impossible to predict how you should properly dress. Some Marches have days in the 90s, and others have blizzards. And occasionally there's a March that has both. On this particular day it started out in the 50s, but it began to get cold as soon as the sun set. Which is why Luke walks quickly as he makes his way from the dining hall to his dorm. The hoody that had kept him comfortable on the way back to Boston is now feeling like tissue paper as a cold wind pokes at him through it.

By the time he reaches the door of the dorm, he is stamping his feet and blowing on his hands to chafe them. So the very first thing he does when he reaches his room is to reach for the heater and turn it up, which is something that he has avoided doing all semester. Since kids don't pay for utilities in the dorm it tends to be warm all of the time, because there is no disincentive to turning the heat up to eighty. But the dorm has been closed for a week, and it's chilly for the first time he can remember.

One nice thing about being a sophomore is that they were allowed to choose their dorms this year. That means that he and Gibson are just a couple floors away from each other now, and Katie's floor is in between theirs. The dorm had a lottery for single rooms, and Luke and Gibson both lucked out. Katie wasn't so fortunate since there were fewer girls moving out of that dorm at the end of last year, but at least one half of the couple has a room without a roommate, so she spends more time in Gibson's room than Luke is comfortable thinking about.

Another thing that he's not terribly comfortable thinking about is remembering that their father had sat them down during spring break the previous year and had given them a supplemental safe sex and relationship talk once everyone realized that Gibson actually had a girlfriend. That hadn't been a comfortable conversation, and mostly it was not so much the subject matter as knowing that the information was only of immediate use to Gibson then and still is.

Or, at least as far as their father knows.

Luke glances at his clock, and boots up his computer. A fair amount of the money that he had earned during the summer, the money above and beyond what was left for him to pay after his scholarship went towards his tuition that is, went into upgrading his computer. Another kid might have had to justify spending that sort of money on a really nice computer, but, when you were going to school for something computer-related, your parents just accepted the fact that you needed the proper tools. And if that meant you had a computer that booted up really quickly so you could get online and do something other than schoolwork, then so be it.

It was a good thing that they hadn't lingered over their food in the dining hall any longer, because he's only gotten back with five minutes to spare. As it is, he has barely sat down at his computer desk when the video chat box pops up.

After a moment of pixilation, the box reveals a girl with long blonde hair, who is smiling at him. "Luke!"

"Hey," he says, smiling back. "No one's around?"

This isn't an idle question. "No, they're out to do the grocery shopping, they shouldn't be back for a couple of hours."

"Good," he says, relaxing a little bit.

"So, are you glad to be back at school?"

"Of course, I get to talk to you, don't I?"

Adrianna's cheeks pink a little bit. "Yes. But I wish that you could have come and see me while you were on break."

"I do too," he says, sighing. "But I'm not sure how your parents would've reacted to that."

"Summer was better," Adrianna comments. "At least nobody thought it was strange about how often we each went places 'on our own' then." He agrees, no one had said anything about how often he took off for the day then, unsurprisingly, and her parents hadn't either though he never did ask her what she told them about how she was spending her time when they were really together.

"Well, Gibson and I get home for the summer in two and a half months," he tells her, trying to sound cheerful. He really would have liked to have found a way to have seen her while he was at home, but it would have been a lot more complicated. They had been pretty lucky that they had managed to see each other twice over winter break without arousing suspicions.

To his disappointment, she frowns. "Great…Another summer of sneaking around."

"Just one more summer," he reminds her. "In November you'll be eighteen."

"Yeah. And they can't really tell me who I can date why can't then, can they?"

"Nope."

"Good," she says. "Because I'll be really glad to be able to finally tell people about my handsome boyfriend."

"And I'll be happy to be able to tell people about my ridiculously cute girlfriend without anybody threatening to beat me up," Luke says with a grin.

"I don't think Daddy would literally beat you up if he knew," Adrianna objects mildly.

"And your uncle?"

She thinks about this for a moment. "Yeah… It's probably best not to let someone who still has connections to the FBI know that you're dating somebody underage."

Luke blushes. "You're not that under age. And technically, the age of consent is sixteen in DC, so legally we're not doing anything wrong."

She looks amused. "Well, even if I was under the age of consent, we still have wouldn't have done anything illegal yet."

If anything, his face becomes even redder. Mostly because her tone says 'but we're going to'. "Um…"

"Oh, I see I have given you something to think about," she teases, obviously enjoying making him turn red.

"We don't want you to make me think too hard about it," he cautions. "It's already been difficult keeping Gibson from figuring it out. I'm good at putting up mental walls, but not that good," he says, squirming.

"How good a mind reader can he possibly be if he hasn't figured out that we've been dating for nine months?" Adrianna asks.

"Good," Luke says firmly. "If he didn't make an effort to keep out of my thoughts as often as he can, I'm sure we would've been found out by now."

She thinks this over. "And what do you think would happen if he did know?"

Luke sighs. "I think he'd feel guilty about not telling anybody, but he wouldn't."

"I guess I better stop teasing you, then." She looks resigned. "I don't want him to have to feel bad about something that isn't his issue."

"Right," Luke says, relieved.

"So, how do you keep the other girls away when they naturally think you're single?" she asks.

"It's not that hard," Luke replies with a snort. "Although, there was this one older chick who hit on me…"



Chapter Twelve

March 28, 2006

Mulder and Scully rarely have pre-production appointments, but when they do, they take them seriously. They look at each other, and straighten their shoulders before walking into the boys' side of the elementary gym.

"Coach Miller, glad you could meet with us." Scully smiles, hoping to start things off on the right foot.

Their children's coach isn't as big as David likes to pretend, but he does have a sizable spare tire around the middle, as opposed to the lack of hair on top that he covers with an ever-present baseball cap. "Good to meet with you, Mr. and Mrs. Mulder," he says, shaking their hands. He's also the gym teacher, and has agreed to speak with them during his free period which is fortuitously in the morning.

"I'm Scully, he's Mulder," Scully automatically corrects him, as she's done since their children first signed up on his little league teams. "We wanted to talk to you about April."

"Same here. We all want what's best for her, long term, right?" The coach looks at her and her husband, and they nod. "So do I. She's got a good arm, good reflexes, and as long as she keeps healthy, she'll probably get to college on an athletic scholarship."

There's some pride in Mulder's eyes as he answered, "I thought so."

"But here's the thing," Coach Miller says, leaning forward. "Our little league team only goes up to a certain grade, and then they're off to whatever teams their school has, junior varsity, varsity, and so on. She says she wants to stay on the team, and I want her to, too, honest, I do, but the reality is, once they hit fifteen, varsity teams have more clout for colleges than little league does."

"Sixteen is the cut-off age for little league," Mulder says, carefully not looking at his wife's suddenly-furious eyes. "And as long as she wants to play, that's when April's going to be on your team."

"Really?" The coach blinks at him. "Even if it might cost her a scholarship?"

Scully's voice and expression are perfectly composed as she says, "If she's as good as you say she is, that's not going to hurt her chances. Besides, wouldn't you want to keep a good player on the team as long as possible, so others can learn from her example?"

"Ye-yeah, well, when you put it that way," the coach stammers slightly, and while it's still a cool a morning, Mulder thinks he sees the other man sweat a little. "Sure. It'll be hard, but if she really wants to stay on, we'll keep her on."

"I hope you show the same amount of understanding with the other girls and their parents, too." Mulder smiles, doing his best not to bare his teeth, and knowing that they're the first ones to talk to the coach about this. "Because if the girls have been pressured to leave the team, the other parents might make a stink about it. We wouldn't, but there are a few lawyers in the bunch, and you know how they are." His smile deepens, and so does Scully's, as they pick up their things. "Have a nice day."

"You, too," the coach says, a little faintly, to their backs.


Mulder Home
March 30, 2006

It's not typical for someone to knock on the door after nine o'clock on a weeknight, but Mulder hears it just as he's walking down the stairs after sending all but the three oldest children to bed.

"Hold your horses," he mutters at the door as he reaches for the door knob. When he swings the door open, he's somewhat startled. "Frohike?"

"Hi Mulder," he says, sounding sheepish. "Hope I'm not disturbing anyone by dropping by at this hour."

"No, it's okay. Most of the kids are in bed, and those who aren't are watching a show." He glances over his shoulder. "No idea what Scully's up to."

"Oh. Do you think you could find her?" Frohike asks nervously.

Mulder frowns, beginning to get worried. "Fro, is something wrong?"

Frohike blinks and looks started. "Uh, no! I just have something I want to ask the two of you about."

"Okay…I'll go see if I can find her."

"Thanks."

Mulder shakes his head, and leaves Frohike standing in the foyer. Page, Sammy and April are in the den, watching an episode of Ghost Whisper that Scully has grudgingly agreed that they're mature enough to view. Mulder had argued that given two of the three kids have lived in a house that's haunted all their lives, nothing in the show should give them nightmares. And so far he's been right. "You guys seen Mom lately?" he asks, poking his head in. On screen the eponymous ghost whisperer is trying to convince a dead man's son that racism is wrong.

"I think she said something about laundry," Sammy volunteers.

Mulder thinks he hears April mutter something about how no one should need a ghost to tell them that racism isn't okay.

"Okay, thanks."

Scully's not in the laundry room, but there are several stacks of clean linen folded up neatly, so Mulder can see that Sammy had heard her correctly. There are more towels than he can carry at once without dropping, so he only takes half of them with him as he continues to search for his wife.

Eventually he locates Scully putting sheets in the linen closet. He hands her the stack of towels that he's holding, and she looks pleased that she will have one less trip up and down the stairs for them herself. "Hey, Frohike's here," Mulder tells her. "There's something he wants to talk to us about, but he won't say what it is."

She gives him a look like she doesn't think that Frohike acting oddly is odd, but says, "I guess we should talk to him, then."

Scully marches down the stairs, and makes poor Frohike jump when she and Mulder appear behind them. "What's up?" she asks, then without waiting for a reply, suggests, "Let's go in the kitchen."

Frohike trails behind her, looking shyer than Mulder has ever seen him. It makes him really wonder what's on his old friend's mind.

Without saying anything, Mulder pulls out the pound cake left over from dessert and cuts them pieces. Scully smiles as he puts a piece in front of her. Then she turns her gaze on Frohike, who wilts. "Well?"

"Right," he stammers, playing with the fork Mulder has just handed him. "As you know, Steph and I are still making our wedding plans."

"Uh huh," Mulder says, relaxing a little. If anything is truly wrong, Frohike wouldn't be wasting their time on talking about his upcoming wedding. Unless of course he was infected with some sort of brain worm, the sort of parasite that eats all of your good sense.

"Well, Steph thinks that Zoe and Brianna would make wonderful flower girls." Frohike doesn't look either of them in the eye. "And you know I love the little buggers. They're both very smart and cute as hell."

Scully raises an eyebrow. "You came over tonight to ask us if our youngest daughters can be in your wedding party?"

Frohike's face flushes. "Actually, the twins and William."

Mulder turns and looks at Frohike. "I'm all for kids trying things out to see if they like them, regardless of whether or not there the 'correct' gender for that thing, but I can tell you now but there's no way in hell you're going to get William to throw flowers for your wedding guests." He considers for a second. "Unless of course he is allowed to literally throw flowers at people, really assault them with them."

Looking miserable, Frohike just shakes his head. Eventually he's able to say, "As the ring bearer, Mulder."

"Oh." Upon reflection, that actually does seem like a far more reasonable request. Especially of a rough-and-tumble little boy. "Don't you worry that he could lose the rings?"

"Yes…"

Scully waves a hand. "Wait, let's get back to the idea of my baby girls being flower girls. Steph has a little girl. Wouldn't she be a better choice for her own mother's wedding?"

Frohike looks surprised. "Cordelia? She's twelve. I don't think we could bribe her with anything that would make her agree."

Mulder perks up. "Frohike, are you planning to bribe my children? My youngest, most impressionable, children?"

"Steph thought we could have a special cake made for them."

Scully groans. "That would do the trick."

"Well, can they be in the wedding?" Frohike asks, sounding a little desperate. Mulder reads between the lines, realizing that Frohike's fiancée must be pushing for it really hard.

Turning to Scully, Mulder asks, "Well, when you say?"

"I say…" she trails off, and something in her eyes makes him think that she's enjoying toying with Frohike. "Sure."

Frohike stands up so fast that the chair he was sitting in wobbles behind him. He doesn't notice though, because he has engulfed Scully in a giant hug. Mulder grabs the chair just before it topples. "Thank you."

"You're welcome."

Letting her go, Frohike shakes his head rapidly. "You don't understand, I was going to have to sleep on the couch if you refused. I think that Oliver is doing some sort of Manhattan project science experiment under there," he says, referencing Steph's nearly ten-year-old son. Generally speaking, Frohike really enjoys spending time with his soon-to-be stepchildren, so, whatever Oliver has under the couch must be truly horrific.

Scully gives him a long look. "You're saying that we saved you from having to sleep alone?"

This time when Frohike blushes, his face is nearly purple. "Um… Uh…" He stammers for a moment, but then the old Frohike resurfaces. "Nah, you're just making sure that she isn't deprived of my company tonight."

"Incorrigible," Scully mutters. But she doesn't take back her agreement that the kids can be in the wedding.

"Well, thanks a lot," Frohike says quickly. "I'm going to go tell Steph the good news."

"Okay…" Scully says, sounding doubtful as their friend rushes out of the house.

As soon as the door closes, Mulder turns towards his wife. "You know, he only left that quickly because he was terrified that sticking around would make us change our minds."

She nods thoughtfully. "I almost expected him to say 'no take backsies' and slam the door behind him."

"Hey, me too."

Scully suddenly snorts. Then she looks apologetic when he stares at her. "Sorry, it's just so hard to believe that Frohike of all people is getting married."

"Scully, do you know that expression 'it takes all kinds'?"

"Yes Mulder."

"Well, Steph must be all kinds," Mulder says solemnly.

And then they both laugh so hard that the kids up watching TV come down to see what's the matter. "Is something on fire?" Sammy asks, wide-eyed as he skids into the kitchen in socked feet.

"No, no," their mother tells him. "We were just amused by our conversation about your Uncle Frohike's wedding."

"I can't believe that guy is getting married," Page mutters, and Scully shrugs helplessly.

"It's kind of nice," April offers loyally. "I mean…"

"I think it's awesome," Sammy declares.

Mulder gives him a look. "How come?"

"If he can find a nice woman to marry him, and he's him, imagine how cool the woman I marry's gonna be," Sammy tells him.

That's my boy, Mulder thinks, trying not to sigh. His kids are pretty awesome, though, so he expects them to bring lovely people into their family someday. And Sammy's right, he thinks glancing at his wife who is exchanging smirks with their daughters, if even guys like him and Frohike eventually get it right, his kids have nothing to worry about.

The End


Authors' end notes:
So, by our count there were three big events in the next three stories foreshadowed in One Fine Summer and here in Confessions and Connections: one in a conversation Scully had, one in a conversation Mulder had (neither with each other,) and one instance of foreshadowing in a scene that didn't involve anyone talking. Any guesses what they were and what we'll be tossing your way in fics to come? Come on, you know you want to guess

Well? What did you think? neoxphile@aol.com, be8opcat1013@yahoo.com

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