Chapters 01-22 Chapter 23 Chapter 24 Chapter 25 Chapter 26 Chapter 27 Chapter 28 Chapter 29 Chapter 30 Chapter 31
Chapter 32 Chapter 33 Chapter 34 Chapter 35 Chapter 36 Chapter 37 Chapter 38 Chapter 39 Chapter 40 Chapter 41
Chapter 42 Chapter 43 Chapter 44 Chapter 45 Chapter 46 Chapter 47 Chapter 48 Chapter 49+
Manips by NeoX. Found in chapters: 16;24;25;27;29; 44; 47


Title: The Family G-Man

Authors: Neoxphile and FelineFemme

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

Written: November 18, 2003 to December 25, 2009 (yes, it's all posted now)

Archive: Link only please, using the url www.mulderscreek.com/familygman.html

Rating: R, and in spots we're shooting for NC-17, ya'll better take cover

Spoilers: Seasons 1-9

Category: Alternate Reality; Snark, plus a dollop Angst for the beginning; Babyfic

Disclaimer: So yeah, we're going to be borrowing CC's characters, and the idea behind "The Family Man," which put a twist on "It's a Wonderful Life"which blatantly copied "A Christmas Carol." We hope the print doesn't get blurry from being a copy of a copy of...

Summary: A double tragedy strikes Mulder the week before Christmas in 2003. What if he could go back and change things, save the son one lost and give the other the family she wanted? Could it keep them safe?

Visit the Title page for latest progress updates and an episode list by chapter.

Plain text up through chapter 127 here

Authors' Notes: The sections that look like this were written by Felinefemme and the ones that look like this were written by Neoxphile. We think it's neat to be able to see who wrote what...but you might not.




Chapter Twenty-Three

Navajo Reservation

Moments after the smoking man leaves, Scully arrives, and is horrified to see Albert's son tending to the older man's wounds.

"What happened?"

"There were men," Hosteen says simply. "They were looking for your husband."

"Where is he?"

Albert shakes his head. Scully runs down to find the boxcar Mulder called her from with smoke still pouring out of the opening. She looks around.

"Mulder!"

Seeing no one, she looks ready to cry.


Navajo Reservation Northwest Of Los Alamos
New Mexico

Scully is driving along when a bright light approaches from behind her. A helicopter circles in front of her and flies along beside her, shining the searchlight in her face. Scully stops the car, unable to see. The helicopter lands and three troopers get out. One points her gun at Scully while another opens the door and pulls her out.

"Out of the car! Come on! Hands on top, spread your legs!" a trooper barks at her.

He forces her to do so while a female trooper gets in the car. She looks back at him while he frisks her.

Even though she's frightened, they give her hope. "Where's Agent Mulder?"

"Turn and face away!" The man takes her gun. "Where are the files?"

"In the trunk." Scully is very thankful that Page is with her mother. The baby would be terrified by the shouting.

He motions to the female trooper, who gets out of the car and goes to the trunk. She opens her bag and finds a file but no tape. She shakes her head and puts the file in her jacket.

"We need the DAT copy," the trooper growls at her.

"I don't have it!"

"Who has it?"

"Agent Mulder."

He motions to the female and the troopers run back to the helicopter. "Let's go!" The troops file back in and the helicopter takes off.

Watching them leave, her hopes slip away. They don't know where Mulder is either. She fights tears, knowing that crying will only make her a danger on the roads. Sniffing, she decides she has to be strong, if not for her own sake, but their children's sake.


The night of her suspension, Scully twists and turns in bed, unable to sleep. Not only is she worried sick about Mulder, she couldn't find the digital tape everyone thinks that Mulder died for. Everyone but her, that is. Though she outwardly agrees with those who say he's dead, she has a firm conviction that Mulder will be fine. He has more lives than a cat.

As she stares at the ceiling, the doorbell rings twice. She turns on the lights and looks through the peephole. Perplexed, she unlocks her door and looks at Frohike.

"Frohike?"

"I know it's late but I heard the news." She looks down at the bottle of wine in his hand. "Maybe I should go. Pardon my presumptuousness."

"How much have you had to drink?"

He holds up the near-empty bottle. "Do you recycle?"

She smiles. Afterwards, he sits at her table. She pours him a cup of coffee.

"He was a good friend. A redwood among sprouts." He takes a sip of his coffee as she pours herself a cup. "I guess this means he's passing you the torch." She knows that it's as close as he can bear to admit she's been widowed.

She sits down and looks at him. "Uh, I'm afraid not. I'm soon to be out of a job."

"Those sons of bitches. They're rigging the game." He looks furious.

"And like rats, they just scatter back into the woodpile."

She takes a sip as he pulls a newspaper article out of his jacket. He hands it to her. The headline reads: "Homicide Victim's Body Discovered at City Dump."

"The rats that killed the cat."

"What's this?"

"A news item about Kenneth Soona, a.k.a. 'The Thinker.' The man who hacked the MJ files. The ones he gave to Mulder."

"'Kenneth J. Soona was killed execution style in what appears to be a professional murder. His body found in the Trenton City landfill.' What's the date on this?" She scans down the page and comes across 'The body was discovered April 16.' This was the day before yesterday. This is after Mulder disappeared. Could they be so stupid?"


Mulder drifts, imagining that he sees people in the shadows, but they're too far away for him to see. Until one steps out towards him and stands over him. Deep Throat.

"I was first struck by the absence of time, having depended on it so completely as a measure of myself and my life. Moving backwards into the perpetual night that consumes purpose and deed, all passion and will. I come to you, old friend, with the dull clarity of the dead not to beckon you but to feel the fire and intensity that still live in you... and the heavy weight of your burdens which I had once borne. There is truth here, old friend, if that's all you seek but there's no justice or judgment without which truth is a vast, dead hollow. Go back. Do not look into the abyss or let the abyss look into you. Awaken the sleep of reason and fight the monsters within and without."

Somehow Mulder sees something. It's some time ago. Aliens run inside the boxcar screaming as canisters of hydrogen cyanide are thrown in. They pound against the walls, desperately trying to find a way out of their damnation as the lid is closed and they are being slowly killed by the gas. One can make out small words.

Hybrids beg, "Help me, please! Let me out! Please, let me out!"

Soon everything fades, the scene and Deep Throat both. He's not alone long, another man steps out to him. Mulder doesn't know him.

"Who are you?" Mulder croaks, his voice weak.

"I'm your great-uncle Saul," the man tells him. All Mulder knows is that he looks like his father would have, if he'd seen a century.

"I didn't know I had family other than my parents."

Saul just gives him a gentle look, and changes the subject. "The lies your father told are a pox and poison to his soul and now you are here because of them. Lies he thought he might bury forever, a truth he could not live with. He confided in me, Fox. He's ashamed of the choices he made so long ago, when you were just a boy. You are the memory, Fox. It lives in you. If you were to die now, the truth will die, because your father is too weak to act, too broken. And only the lies would survive us."

Mulder looks about, frantic. "My sister? Is she here?"

"No. You must find the truth Fox, for both your sakes."

Saul winks out, and Mulder looks back up at the stars.


Washington, D.C.

Baby on lap, Scully distractedly pets Page's thin blond hair. At seven months, the girl no longer looks bald as a cue ball. Tears prickle the corners of her eyes as she thinks about how Mulder said they should teach their daughter to play pool.

"Ummm, mumumum," Page whines fretfully, and not even at her most imaginative can Scully convince herself that the noises are meant to mean "Mama." She picks Page up and puts her on the couch, which she can now perch on unaided, given it's not too long.

"It's ok, baby," Scully calls, going to the freezer. Maggie swears that frozen waffles soothe sore gums, but this is the first time that teething seems to give Page any trouble.

"Here you go." Page snatches the waffle from Scully even before she's back on Scully's lap, and stuffs it into her own mouth with both fists. "That's better. It's too bad your Daddy isn't here right now. An April heat wave in DC? He'd never believe it." She picks up a magazine off the coffee table and fans them both. Page laughs, which sounds odd since the waffle muffles the sound.

Just then there's a knock at the door. Figuring it's Frohike or one of the other gunmen, she calls, "Just a second." Holding the baby, who is holding the waffle with a death grip, she goes to the answer.

To her surprise, it's Skinner at the door. "You said you needed to see me concerning the investigation?"

She blinks. "Yes sir. But I thought that I'd be stopping by the office."

"I was in the neighborhood-" Skinner's voice trails off and his eyes drop to her waist. It's only then that she realizes how revealing the thin white t-shirt she's wearing is. With nothing to disguise her five-months-pregnant belly, she can nearly predict his next words. "Is there something you and Mulder have neglected to tell me?"

His stern voice makes her blush. "I guess it slipped our minds," she answers defiantly.

"When?"

"Late August."

Skinner nods, then dismisses the subject without further comment, which makes her nervous. "Your message said you have something to show me?"

"Yes, sir. I came across a news article. A man's body was found in New Jersey and I have reason to believe that he was killed by the same man responsible for Agent Mulder."

"Can I see it?"

She unfolds the article and hands it to him. "The date of death postdates Agent Mulder's disappearance. Now, you already have the ballistics data from Agent Mulder's father on file. I would like you to run it against the ballistics from this man's case."

"Trying to prove what?" Skinner asks.

"Well, if both men were killed by the same weapon, we could prove that Agent Mulder didn't kill his father and it could also help us find the man who did."

"You've been relieved of your investigative function."

"Yes, I know that, sir. I just thought this might be helpful."

Skinner tears up the article. "I'm afraid not." She stares at him in disbelief and takes back the crumpled and torn article. "This case would have been handled by the Trenton P.D. They're on our drugfire ballistics database. If there was a match in the two slugs, all the bells and whistles would have gone off by now."

"You don't want to check?"

"Agent Scully, I think you underestimate the duties and responsibilities of my position as assistant director."

"I was just trying to cooperate with your investigation, sir."

"To mitigate your situation and then add to your chances of reinstatement, isn't that right? I suppose that's more important now that you're a single mother." He sneers and she wants to slap him.

"No. I just want answers. I love him, you know I need to know what happened."

"And so do I." Scully looks at him, and he looks slightly embarrassed. He hurries to clarify his answer. "I want to know what happened too. I want to know why I was asked to execute a search warrant on your apartment to look for a digital cassette." He throws the warrant down on the kitchen counter.

"I don't have it," Scully insists.

"Is this tape what Agent Mulder died for?" Skinner barks.

She wants to scream at him that Mulder isn't dead, but she doesn't. "I believe so."

"You want to bring me a smoking gun, Scully? You bring me this tape. Otherwise, I would ask you stay home, sit tight and let us do our job."

She looks wounded. "If you think it's best, sir."

"I do."

Skinner leaves then, leaving Scully to watch him go. Once he's out of sight, she closes the door. "Don't worry, sweetie, Daddy's fine, no matter what the mean man said."

Page's only response is to stuff her fist into her own mouth.


The Cigarette-Smoking Man walks up to Skinner's car and takes out a cigarette and puts it in his mouth.

"Did you ask her about the tape?"

"She says she doesn't have it."

"Is that what she says?" He lights the cigarette.

"Yes, that's what she says."

"Well, that's unfortunate for everyone."


Navajo Reservation
Two Grey Hills, New Mexico

Mulder sits in a congregation of the Navajo. He is still draped in the blanket. Albert walks over and sits down across from him.

"You must be careful now to end the ceremony properly. If you leave, you must not do any work, change clothes or bathe for four days."

"That's really going to cut into my love life." Everyone laughs.

"The boys have a gift for you."

The youngest boy walks up to Mulder and hands him a small pouch. Mulder opens it and pours out sunflower seeds. He smiles.

"You asked for them during your worst fevers."

"During my fever, I... I left here and traveled to a place."

"This place. You carry it with you. It is inside of you. It is the origin place."

"It wasn't a dream?" Mulder asks.

"Yes." Mulder stares at him, perplexed. A man stands and wipes out the design on the board that had been drawn on before. Albert stands. "We are done now."

Everyone else stands and starts to leave, except Mulder, who remains seated as the morning sounds ring in.


Boston General Hospital

To distract herself, Scully brings Page to see her grandfather in the hospital. Just as she's arriving, she sees Mrs. Mulder leaving Bill's room. It surprises her a little, since she knows they're divorced.

"Mrs. Mulder?"

"Dana, hello." Mrs. Scully musters up a faint smile for Page, but the baby twists away.

"Um... I know what you may have heard from the F.B.I. but I have a very strong feeling that Mulder is going to be found."

"You call him Mulder." She looks as surprised by that as the news that he might be alive.

"Force of habit," Scully explains. "I think he's still alive."

"How do you know?" Mrs. Scully demands to know.

"I just have a very strong feeling." She shrugs. "I don't feel like he's gone."

The Well-Manicured Man walks down the hall towards them.

"I promise I'll let you know as soon as I do," Scully tells her mother-in-law.

"Thank you. Thank you very much." Teena gives her an awkward hug, one that makes her feel bad for Mulder. Did the woman have no idea how to show affection? Teena hurries away.

Scully is about to go to Bill's room, but the Well-Manicured Man is standing there, staring at her.

"Hello. I see you know Bill Mulder. So do I. Do you think we might find a moment to speak?"

"About?" Scully tries to shift Page to a more comfortable position. She and Mulder have talked about getting one of those backpack carriers now that the baby is getting too big for a chest one - or maybe it's Scully who is getting too big- but they haven't bought one yet.

"A very serious matter. Please... can we find someplace quiet?" They start to walk away. "I couldn't help overhearing your conversation. You think the son is still alive?"

Scully gives him a suspicious look. "Who are you?"

"I'm a member of a kind of consortium. We represent certain global interests."

"What kind of interests?"

"Interests that would be extremely threatened by the digital tape that you are no longer in possession of."

They stop.

"Threatened enough to murder?" she asks, feeling dread.

"Oh, my, yes."

"What do you know about my..." she trails off, suddenly wary. "Mulder?"

"That he is dead. Quid pro quo."

"You're lying."

"I'm not here to tell you lies."

"What are you here for?"

"To tell you your life is in danger too." He pauses, giving Page a pointed look. "Yours and hers."

She stares at him, then starts off. "Leave me alone."

"They'll kill you one of two ways."

She turns back and looks at him. He walks back up to her.

"They'll send someone, possibly two men. They'll kill you in your home or in a parking garage with an unregistered weapon which will be left at the scene. Using false documents supplied by associates of mine, they'll be out of the country in less than two hours."

"You said there were two ways."

"Yes. He or she will be someone close to you. Someone you trust. They'll arrange a meeting or come to your house unexpectedly. They might spare the child, they might not. I'm sure her fate won't be pleasant one way or the other. Do you have someplace else you might stay?"

"Why, why kill me?"

"You want something they don't. Justice. And because they are now quite certain you don't have the computer copy of the files they're looking for, just close ties to the one who does."

"Why are you protecting me?"

"You daughter reminds me of my grandchildren." When he sees that she doesn't buy it, he goes on. "I feel my colleagues are acting... impulsively and your death will draw unnecessary attention to our group."

"You're not protecting me, you're protecting yourself," she accuses.

"Why should that surprise you? Motives are rarely unselfish."

"What kind of business are you in?"

"We predict the future and the best way to predict the future is to invent it."

Scully stares at him, a look of both disdain and respect on her face.

"Good day, young lady." He walks away.


The Following Day

Bill Mulder almost chokes on his water when he sees who's at the door this time. "A lot of people came to see me, but I never thought I'd see a ghost," he says, his baggy eyes bugging.

Mulder shifts his feet self-consciously at the doorway, "Well, I used to be dead. Does that count?" He's just so relieved to see his father is alive, he doesn't mind giving the old man a little scare. Well, he figures it's just a little scare compared to the other stuff his dad used to be involved with.

"Come here, Fox," the elder Mulder says, reaching out an arm connected to an IV drip.

Mulder walks over and holds his father's arm reassuringly. "So, aside from a dead man walking, who else stopped by?"

"Your mother, your wife with my granddaughter, too many doctors and nurses," and he squeezes Mulder's hand on his arm, "and now my son, who was dead and now is alive again."

"They must give you a lot of meds if you're quoting the Bible, Dad," Mulder half-grins, then his brow furrows. "Mom came by?"

"I was just as surprised seeing her here as I am seeing you here," Bill chuckles, then coughs. After taking a sip from the cup his son hands him, he goes on, "She's a good woman, your mother. She raised you right." He nods, fighting the sleepiness of the sedatives kicking in.

"Dad, you mentioned something about merchandise," Mulder says, seeing the medication taking effect, "what did you mean?"

"Merchandise," Bill repeats, "yes." He starts to reach into a nonexistent pants pocket, and remembers where he is. "I was going to give," he frowns, trying to concentrate and stay awake. "My wallet," he finally says.

"Right here, Dad," Mulder says, picking up the plain-looking black leather wallet from his father's overnight bag. Guess his mom did stop by after all.

"1973," Bill sighs, "the photo."

Mulder pulls out a familiar photo folded up between the dollar bills. "This?"

The elder Mulder nods. "Answers are there," he says, yawning mightily. "Fox."

"Yes?" Mulder asks. Odd how, after all these years, he still wants to please his father somehow, despite what he knows now.

Bill smiles, about to say something, then yawns. "Damn meds," he sighs, his eyes drooping despite his best efforts.

"It's okay, Dad," his son says, pulling up the bedsheets. "Get some rest. You need it."

Bill Mulder watches his son leave, wondering if this was all a dream, wondering if he's doing the right thing. But Fox will always do the right thing, he thinks sleepily, he will do what his mother and I never had the guts to. Just like his Uncle Saul. And with that thought, he falls asleep, sleeping the thoughtless sleep of the heavily sedated.


Washington, D.C.

Scully walks in. Her phone is ringing. She picks it up.

"Hello?"

"Dana? It's your sister."

"Hi Missy."

"Hi, where've you been?"

"Mulder's dad is in the hospital in Boston. Page and I were just visiting him."

"Oh, well, I was worried about you."

"Why?"

"Because I haven't heard from you since Mom told me Fox is missing."

"Missy, something strange happened to me today. I'm... I'm a bit freaked out by it."

"Okay, well, I, I want to come over. I want to talk to you. Are you going to be there for a while?"

"Yeah, yeah, I will."

"I'll see you in a bit," Melissa promises.


Washington, D.C.
Hertz Rent-A-Car

Glancing at the wall clock in car rental place, while waiting for the keys to his rental, Mulder pulls out his cell phone, hoping it's not too late. He has to get through in time.

"Hello?"

"Hi, Melissa, it's- Fox." He grimaces, remembering her instance on calling him Fox.

"You're home." She sounds very surprised.

"Yeah, just got back this very minute, and I was hoping to catch you. Listen, Scully said you were going to come over. Do you mind waiting until tomorrow? She and I have a little catching up to do..." He lets his voice trail off suggestively.

"Oh, no problem. Thanks for calling before I left."

"You're welcome. I guess we'll see you tomorrow."

And he guesses that she's really going to see another tomorrow now.


Meanwhile...

Scully hangs up and walks off. The phone rings and Scully walks back over and picks it up. "Hi."

The person on the other end hangs up. She hangs up and thinks. Scully realizes that her killers wanted to make sure she was in the apartment and frantically calls Melissa. The phone rings.

"Come on, come on, come on..."

The busy signal howls in her ear. Sighing, she hopes to see Missy on the way over, and flag her down.

She hangs up and is about to rush out the door when she thinks of something. Going to her drawer, she pulls out her gun and checks the clip. She pockets it, turns off the lamp and leaves. Outside, a car pulls up, nearly hitting her. Skinner swings the passenger side door open as Scully looks at him warily.

"Scully, get in the car. I need to talk to you, it's very important."

"I was just going over to my sister's."

"I'll drop you by there, right now, I need for you to come with me."

"Where are we going?"

"To a place we can talk in private." Scully stares at him, not trusting him. She zippers her purse and gets in the car.


Mulder spots Skinner's car a long ways off, and realizes he must have already picked up Scully. Since they don't have separate apartments this time around, Mulder can think of only one other place Skinner and Scully might talk. He figures a short cut will save time, given he knows where they're going. He doesn't notice a car entering the parking lot to the apartment complex as he drives off.


The Basement Office

"After you." Skinner walks in and Scully cocks her gun. Skinner looks back slightly. "Eyes forward. Put your hands where I can see them. Don't turn around or I'll blow your head off." She turns on the lights. "Don't think I won't do it, you son of a bitch."

"No, I believe you. Just stay cool, I'm with you."

"Take two steps forward." They do, allowing Scully to step inside the office. She closes the door. "Now move slowly towards the chairs."

Skinner, hands clearly visible extended at his sides, walks towards a chair. Scully follows him tightly and turns on the lights. She is breathing heavily. Page, not thrilled to be in the baby carrier, whimpers.

"Turn around and sit down on your hands."

He does so very slowly. She throws down her purse and stands across from him. "Are you going to let me tell you why I'm here?" he asks.

"I know why you're here. I want to know who sent you. Whose errand boy you are."

"No one sent me."

She glares at him and sits down in the other chair slowly, gun still aimed. "You got the rest of your life to give me answers."

"How high does it go, Skinner? Who's pulling the strings?"

"You can kill me, Scully, but you'll only be doing their work for them. Forget about your job and family. You'll spend the rest of your life behind bars, there isn't a federal judge that they couldn't persuade."

"What's the alternative? Let you kill me and Page now?"

"I didn't come here to kill either of you. I came here to give you something. I've got the digital tape."

"You're lying."

"I've got it in my pocket. I took it out of Mulder's desk."

Scully hears footsteps approaching and turns to see a shadow covering the light shining under the door. Skinner looks back at her and pulls out his gun. She looks back at him quickly and they both have their guns fixed on one another. Neither member of the stand-off is willing to flinch.


Chapter Twenty-Four

Skinner sits with his hands on the armrests of his chair. Scully sits across from him in a chair, gun aimed directly at him still.

"I've got the digital tape."

"You're lying."

"I've got it in my pocket. I took it out of Mulder's desk."

Scully hears footsteps approaching and turns to see a shadow covering the light shining under the door. Skinner looks back at her and pulls out his gun. She looks back at him quickly and they both have their guns fixed on one another. Neither member of the stand-off is willing to flinch. They stand up.

"Drop your weapon! Put it down, Scully!" he demands.

"No way."

"I said put it down!"

"I said no! You're setting me up!" Scully shouts. Page begins to cry.

"I'm trying to help you."

"Then put your weapon down and sit down."

"Not a chance."

"You said you weren't here to kill me, Skinner, now prove it."

"I didn't come here to have a gun shoved in my face by a pregnant woman either."

"Damn it, Skinner!"

Mulder kicks the door open and aims his gun at Skinner. "Drop your weapon!"

Skinner is shocked, Scully is even more so. Skinner points his gun at Mulder.

"Drop your weapon! I said-" Mulder warns Skinner.

"Back off!"

"I said put it down!"

"What the hell is this? What are you pulling here?"

"You okay, Scully?" Mulder's stomach lurches when he realizes that Scully brought their daughter with her, but he supposes that things happened too fast to do anything else with her.

"Yeah. We're both fine."

"Get his gun." She reaches out for his gun. "Give her the gun. Give it to her!"

"All right." Faced with no other choice, Skinner hands her the gun. Mulder lowers his weapon.

"Now, I want an explanation."

Scully keeps her own gun trained on Skinner. "I was warned that somebody would kill me... someone I trusted."

"I'm going to reach into my coat pocket and end this charade... all right?" Mulder nods. Skinner pulls out the DAT tape. "I assume you both know what this is? Now, I want an explanation."

"Your cigarette-smoking friend tried to kill my father for that tape, and then he killed me."

"What are you talking about?"

"I was a dead man. Now, I'm back."

"What is on this tape?" Skinner asked, ignoring Mulder's nonsensical response.

"Defense department files that weren't supposed to exist. The truth about our government's involvement in a global conspiracy of silence about the existence of extraterrestrial life."

Scully reaches out for the tape. "Give me the tape."

"Uh-uh, this tape stays with me."

Mulder cocks his gun and aims it." Give her the tape."

"If what you say is true, the information on this tape is valuable enough to kill for. Then it's the only leverage we've got to bring these men to justice. It's not going to do us any good if it falls back into their hands!"

"Then you better make sure it doesn't." Mulder uncocks his gun and lowers it. "Come on, Scully, let's go."

"Where?"

"There are truths out there that aren't on that tape."

He walks out. She glares at Skinner, then puts his gun on the desk and walks out. Skinner looks at the tape and puts it in his pocket. Down the hall, Mulder presses the down button for the elevator and looks at Scully, who walks up to him. She stares at him for a second, then looks down, smiling.

"Mulder, I am..."

"Scully, whatever you're going to say..." His arm goes around her waist reflexively. At least as much as it can.

"I saw your mom at the hospital. I told your mother that you were going to be okay. "

"How did you know?"

The elevator dings. "I just knew." The door opens and Scully walks past him, carrying Page into the elevator. He follows and presses a button. The door closes.


Scully clutches his arm while they watch the number for the floors change. "Oh my God, Missy!"

"What about her?" Mulder tries to sound nonchalant, partly to keep Page from busting into tears again now that she's settled down, and mostly to keep Scully from getting suspicious. "I called when I got in to tell her that I was home."

"Why'd you do that?" Scully's face relaxes, and takes on a curious air.

"I know your sister. I figured her strong sense of karmic justice would spill over onto me if I didn't call and tell her not to come over, she'd be on her way to keep you company. It's not wrong to want to spend some time alone with my wife and daughter, is it?" He gives her a puppy dog look.

"Of course not." To his glee she seems too keyed up to ask him why he thinks that Missy coming over is a possibility.

"But now that you've had this little confrontation with Skinner, I'm betting we're not going to be doing anything we wouldn't want your sister to interrupt. Why were you pointing a gun at our boss, exactly? I know you said that you thought someone you trusted was going to kill you, but...How exactly did you reach that theory?"

"An associate of the cancer man claimed that there were assassins after me. And Page. He said that they were going to strike soon, probably at the apartment, which is why I was worried, because you were right about Missy coming over. But he also was sure that you were dead, so..." She shrugs. "I think that I'm going to call Missy, just in case."

"If it makes you feel better, go ahead. I need to think of what we do next anyway."

A minute or so later Scully turns off her phone with a scowl. "There's a recording on her machine. 'I'm not home right now, I made some last minute plans. Call me back in the morning. No make it the afternoon.' I guess she didn't waste any time making other plans."

"Ha. Looks like one Scully inherited the impulsiveness gene, anyway." Mulder smirks, and wonders if Melissa has scared up a date at the last minute, or has gone out with friends.

"What do you mean, I can be impulsive," Scully protests.

A gentleman, Mulder refrains from commenting. "I think the guys might know something about a picture my dad gave me. You up for visiting them?"

"If I said I'd rather be shot, would you let me go home instead?" she asks.

"No."

"Sure, I'm up for it then." She sighs heavily.


The Lone Gunmen's Office
Washington, D.C.

Byers is making a CD catch light, spilling rainbows for Page's amusement. She gurgles happily. Langly, Scully and Mulder are all looking at the consortium photograph under a magnifying glass. From left to right, the men lined up are the Cigarette-Smoking Man, William Mulder, Victor Klemper, the 1st Elder, Deep Throat, the 3rd Elder, the 2nd Elder and the Well-Manicured Man.

"That's my father on the left there."

"This was taken when?" Byers asks, glancing over at the photo.

"About 1973."

"Amazing. Langly, take a look." Byers walks around Mulder as Langly walks over to the magnifying glass.

"Do you recognize any of these men?"

"Are you familiar with a post-World War II project known as Operation Paper Clip?"

"Our deal with the devil. The U.S. government provided safe haven for certain Nazi war criminals in exchange for their scientific knowledge."

Langly points out Klemper. "I know who this man is. Victor Klemper."

Mulder looks through the magnifying glass.

"The man standing next to your father is one of those criminals, though not the most famous of the bunch. Wernher von Braun, designer of the V-2 rockets that leveled London, may be the most notorious, but Victor Klemper certainly takes the prize for the most... evil Nazi to escape the Nuremburg trials," Byers explains.

"What did he do?"

"He experimented on the Jews... drowned them, suffocated them, put them in pressure chambers. All in the name of science," Langly says.

"Together with Von Braun, Klemper helped us win the space race. Using his scientific data on the effects of high-altitude flying, we were able to put astronauts on the moon before the Soviets."

Langly sounds sardonic. "One giant step for mankind."

"What would he be doing in a photo with your father?" Scully asks Mulder.

"I don't know. Do you guys recognize anybody else in the photograph?"

Langly shakes his head.

"No. Operation Paper Clip was supposed to have been scrapped in the 1950s but if this is 1973..." Byers trails off.

"Whatever happened to Klemper?" Scully asks.

"He's still here, living very well at the expense of the American taxpayer."

The door opens and they turn to see Frohike, who stands in the doorway and looks at Mulder. "Unbelievable! We thought you were history." They hug.

"You're going to have to wait a little longer for my video collection, Frohike."


The Next Day
Rural West Virginia

Mulder and Scully walk down a long cavern, shining their flashlights as they go.

"Mulder, look at this." On the walls, she can make out various file cabinets. "It looks like they're storing records."

"Of what?"

Scully pulls open a drawer and looks at the various folders. "Of medical files, by the look of it. Got names... alphabetized."

Mulder goes to a switch in the wall and flips it. The hallway lights up, revealing thousands upon thousands of file cabinets lined up, ceiling to floor. "Lots of files."

"Lots and lots of files," she agrees.

He runs back over to her. "What's in these files?"

"Standard medical forms. These are birth certificates, small pox vaccination certificate and then there's this." She points to a small container in a bag that is marked "Sterile, do not tamper." He looks at it.

"What is this?"

"It's an old tissue collection cassette, the new ones are plastic."

"Do all these files contain the same materials? "

"Yes, exactly." She puts the file back.

"What year was this person born?"

"1955. All of these files are 1955."

"Let's go find 1964." They run down the hallway and find 1964. Mulder pulls the drawer open. "You're looking for a file on me?"

He finds it and pulls it out. "Dana Katherine Scully."

"What?" Scully runs her fingers down the bag with the tissue collection box. The vaccination sheet on her reads: "SMALL POX VACC. No. 29510 Int. Scully, Dana Katherine 3170 W. 53 Road Indianapolis, Maryland."

He almost cries tears of relief when he sees that it's just one of the old-style samples. It'd be nice to check Krycek's file to see if his is one of the newer samples, but he doesn't know Krycek's real birth date, just the several approximations he found in the man's paperwork when he looked up his address.

He puts it back and runs down the hallway to another drawer. He pulls it open and pulls out another file.

"That's your sister's file," Scully notes.

"Yeah." He scans down the page.

"What are you looking for?"

"I don't know."

He looks at the file name, which reads: "SUBJECT Na.m.E: MULDER, Samantha Ann BIRTH DATE: 11/21/65 ID 378671"

"Take a look at this, Scully."

He pulls it back to reveal another sticker which reads: "SUBJECT Na.m.E: MULDER, Fox William BIRTH DATE: 10/13/61 ID 292544"

"This file was originally mine."

"I don't understand."

He does, though. His mother must have picked him, and his father vetoed the decision at the last minute. Or maybe the other way around.

The lights turn off and a loud rumbling emanates from outside. Mulder turns on his flashlight." Wait here, Scully."

"Mulder, where are you going?" Mulder starts off, running quickly past the file cabinets. He opens the door to the main room and a bright light shines through the bottom windows.

"Mulder?"

She continues to search the area. A hissing sound comes from behind her. "Mulder!"

Suddenly, a number of small alien-shaped organisms run past Scully. The flashlight swings around wildly, the light catching small parts of the alien hybrids. Scully drops her flashlight. She picks it up and starts after them. The light through the windows in front of Mulder rises up to the higher windows as he stands in awe. It keeps gaining height until it is directly in front of Mulder. He runs up the stairs and outside to see a large unidentified flying object moving over him. The light is intense, almost blinding, but Mulder's eyes do not move from the spaceship. It disappears over a ridge. Scully continues down the hallway until she comes to a mining cart rail. At the end of the tunnel, the bright light from the UFO shines through. She sees a small hybrid-shaped silhouette standing at the end of the tunnel. The silhouette grows larger and taller as the light grows stronger. The silhouette is incredibly defined and looks human before the light disappears. A number of black fleet sedans pull up and Mulder spins around to look at them. He quickly runs back inside as men file out of the cars, cocking shotguns.

Men shout. "Come on, let's go!"

The men run inside as Mulder runs down stairs. They see each other at the same time and Mulder begins running down the catwalk.

"There!"

Sparks fly off of the metal bars behind Mulder as they fire at him. The bullets ricochet off as Mulder runs down more stairs and keeps going. The men stop firing as Mulder is gone from their field of vision. A few run off in that direction.

"Find the woman too."

Mulder speeds across the catwalk and down more stairs. A man fires at him and he crouches on the steps to avoid the fire. He then jumps over the railing and falls to the ground. Grunting, he obtains cover by hiding behind a box. He makes a break for the door and runs inside as gunfire rattles off behind him. He slams the door shut and the red keypad flashes back on. The men run over and one of them enters the access code. The lights turn green and they fling open the door. Mulder shines his flashlight down the dark tunnel. His voice echoes.

"Scully!"

"Mulder!"

He follows the sound of her voice. "Scully!"

The hit squad are gaining on him but begin to get lost in the system of tunnels.

"Mulder, I'm down here!" She shines her flashlight around wildly and Mulder heads towards it. They meet each other halfway.

"You okay, Scully?"

"I heard gunshots."

"I've been looking for you."

"What happened to you?"

"They got a small army outside. I think they got us trapped."

"I think there's a way out, down here."

They run in the direction Scully was coming from. Running past more filing cabinets, they find a back door and Mulder slams the door behind them as they run off.


Route 320a
Craiger, Maryland
Morning

Skinner pulls up to a local diner and walks in, putting his keys in his pocket. The room is bright and relatively quiet. He sits down at a table against the wall where Mulder and Scully are seated. The two agents have food in front of them.

"This place isn't even on the map. How'd you get here?" Skinner asks.

"You'd be surprised what's not on the map in this country and what our government will do to keep it that way."

"How's that?"

"Last night, we were chased by some kind of hit squad driving what looked an awful lot like C.I.A. fleet sedans."

Skinner stays silent for a few seconds. "Well, I may be able to negotiate a deal that would guarantee your safety."

"What kind of deal?"

"I'll turn over the digital tape in return for your reinstatement..."

"No, sir. I need that tape. I need those files." Mulder shakes his head as he speaks.

"I'm talking about a way to save your lives," Skinner insists.

"And I'm talking about an elaborate conspiracy against the American public. Do you know what we found last night?"

"What?"

"An extremely elaborate filing system of medical records," Scully says.

"Locked inside a mountain vault," Mulder adds.

"For the purpose of?"

"I don't know. But the answer's got to be on that tape, in those files."

"Is that answer worth your lives?" Skinner asks.

"It's obviously worth killing us for."

"In your wildest dreams what do you possibly hope to find, Agent Mulder?"

"Why they shot my father...and what happened to my sister... "

"I think we should let him make the deal, Mulder." He looks at her in shock. "Look... those answers mean nothing if we're going to be hunted down like animals. We are operating so far outside of the law right now, we've given up on the very notion of justice. We've turned ourselves into outsiders. We have lost our access and our protection, probably putting Page in danger in the process."

"What makes you think there's any such thing as justice, Scully?"

"Then what good are those answers to anybody but you, Mulder?"

"What we found last night..."

"Look, I want exactly what you want. But I need to go to our baby."

They stare at each other for a few seconds until Scully looks away. Mulder looks at Skinner.

"I suppose you already tried to make a backup of the tape?" Mulder asks Skinner.

"Whoever downloaded those files put a copy protector on them. I couldn't get a hard copy to print either."

"What makes you think they'll even honor this deal?"

"Because, if they don't...I'll go state's evidence and testify...or they'll have to kill me too."

Mulder looks back at Scully and stares at her for a second. "It's up to you, Scully."

He gets up and leaves. A short time later, Scully and Skinner walk out. Mulder is standing near the doorway and Scully goes to him. Skinner gets in his car.

"I told Skinner to make the deal. But not to hand over the tape until you agree to it."

In the end, he has no choice but to call Skinner and agree to let him make the deal. It might be worth his life, but not his family's.


Three Hours Later

At the open-air part of the restaurant, the handsome young man sighs, listening to the smoking man on the other end of the cell phone verbally tear a new hole in his ass. Most times, he would take it personally, especially since the old man practically said he messed up on purpose. Yeah, right. Krycek never makes mistakes on purpose, but neither will he admit to making a mistake, period. And hasn't he suffered enough, being abducted by that nutcase Barry and then being alien-probed? Jeez. So he lets the old man rant and rave, then hangs up when the other man slams down the phone.

He really should be more worried about his job security, except there's a woman with lipstick-red hair in a demure but dramatic black dress. It seems she's intently studying the people around her, as if she's an actress or a psychologist, or perhaps an author. Every so often, he watches her mouth turn up in a smile, and it isn't long before he realizes he wants her to smile like that at him. Since confidence isn't a problem with him, he approaches her.

"Is this seat taken?" he asks, smiling when she looks up at him.

She smiles back, and he's pleased that, with all the things the aliens have taken from him, his pretty looks aren't one of those. "No," she says, waving her red fingernails at him. Then she frowns slightly. "Do I know you?"

Krycek shakes his head. "I was about to ask you the same thing. I know, bad pickup line," he says, self-deprecatingly. But there is something strangely familiar about her, not that he'll let that get in the way of a good lay.

"No, it's not that, at least, not this time," the red-haired woman says. "It's like déjà vu." She pauses, and leans back, the light catching the crystal on her black choker. "Just so we know for sure, I'm Melissa," she says, putting out her hand.

Krycek takes it, but rather than shaking it, he kisses it. "Alex," he says above her hand.

She laughs, but doesn't look displeased by his actions. "Okay, now I *know* we haven't met before. But you do seem familiar somehow." A half-smile lingers on her lips as she muses.

He smiles back. "Then we should get to know each other all over again, Melissa," he says, "are you free today?" Of course, he fully intends on lying through his pearly whites about everything.

She nods. "You've got a very restless aura, Alex, are you sure you're free?" she asks, like this is a game to her, nothing serious. Or maybe she really is into all that New Age junk.

Do I know how to pick 'em or what, he thinks, as he smiles and leans back. "I've heard I've got some Romany blood," he lies easily. "What about you?"

She pauses, as if actually measuring his words against his aura, or something like that. "I come from wanderers, too, although nothing as glamorous as gypsies," she says, her hands folding over her arms very like a gypsy herself.

Yes, it's very clear to both that they consider each other a mutual diversion, something to while away the time pleasantly, nothing more. Surely, today is a good day to be young and alive, with no thought to the future or to worldwide conspiracies that involve certain FBI agents. Too bad a certain Nicaraguan soldier-for-hire is taking pictures of the would-be harmless chance meeting.


The Following Day

When Mulder and Scully get home, their jaws drop in shock. The place looks like it's been hit by a cyclone. There is clothing and paper strewn everywhere, and even Page's things have been pawed though.

"Oh God..." Scully moans. "They must have broken in looking for that tape."

Mulder nods, but he's not so sure. Maybe the mess is the result of a murderous impulse thwarted.

Page is looking around wide-eyed, obviously fascinated by the wreckage. Mulder wishes he could be fascinated too. Instead he's merely horrified.

"Scully... I think we better start looking for a new place to live. Soon."

"It's just a mess, we can clean it up," she insists.

He shakes his head. "Maybe it's a warning."


With a still healing gunshot wound and Scully's new and awkward center of gravity, Mulder doesn't think that they're up to the task of righting the apartment, so he calls in the Merry Maids and takes his wife and daughter out to lunch.

Scully, however, obsesses over that decision. "What are they going to think?" She frets over lunch. Page doesn't seem to notice her parents' tension, and instead systematically crumbles the crackers a waitress had foolishly given her.

Mulder doesn't notice the ring of crumbs growing around his daughter's high chair. Curbing the impulse to ask Scully why she cares what complete strangers think, he shrugs. "That we invited Ted Nugent to stay the weekend?"

"I'm being serious." Scully frowns at him.

"They'll think that we've got a baby, you're pregnant, and I'm hurt-" He taps on the bandages on his shoulder. "- and that we need some help with the housework. They deal with messes every day, I don't think they'll spend much time pondering how ours happened."

"Maybe..."

"C'mon, Scully, do you think your average Merry Maids employee is as suspicious of people as I am?" he teases.

"Okay, you've got a point."

Mulder is not sure he should be pleased by this victory.


Chapter Twenty-Five

Second week of May 1995

When Scully gets up one Saturday morning, the house is blissfully quiet. It worries her a little, since her muzzy mind panics that Page hasn't woken her up for a feeding, until she remembers that Page is oh-so-recently weaned, so Mulder can feed her just as well as she can. The realization of that gives her a pang of regret, but it had to be done before the new baby arrives.

She finds Mulder and Page in the kitchen. Page is amusing herself by picking up her rice cereal with her chubby little hands and using it to paint the tray of her high chair. This goes unnoticed by Mulder, who is intent on something he's reading.

Sighing, she grabs a wash cloth and begins to clean Page's hands, much to her daughter's squealing protest. "Um, Mulder? What are you reading? Must be very engrossing for you not to have noticed the mess here."

He gives her a sheepish grin, and wordlessly offers to finish the clean up. Once she's busy pouring herself juice, he tells her what's going on. "My great-uncle Saul recently died."

"I didn't know you had an Uncle Saul," she remarks, taking a seat at the table.

"You are going to eat something, aren't you?" he asks pointedly, and she shoots him a dirty look. "I didn't know I had an Uncle Saul either. But apparently he knew about me because he remembered me in his will."

"Remembered you how well?"

He gets up to make her toast. "Quite well. According to that paperwork there." He points at the pile on the table with his chin. "I've inherited a house, and some money for its upkeep. A real nice upkeep in fact."

"Really?" She looks interested. "Where's the house?"

"Right here in DC, actually. I'm not familiar with the street, though. There is, however, a catch."

"Of course."

"If we want the house, we have to live there for five years before selling it. And if we don't, it'll be sold and the proceeds donated to charity. Along with the money he left for its upkeep."

Scully nods thoughtfully. "I wonder why he'd think we wouldn't keep it."

Mulder wonders that too, he's nearly as curious about that as about where this mystery uncle came from. He must have always had an unknown great-uncle, but did Bill Mulder not dying prompt the inclusion in the will? Bill couldn't have been close to his uncle if he'd never mentioned him, but then Saul seemed to know Bill's secrets... "Maybe he's one of those old cynics who think that young people aren't likely to appreciate their desire to keep a home in the family, and this clause is to prevent someone from just selling it for quick cash."

"I don't see why someone would. Unless they already had a house they liked better. Unlike us." The expression on her face suggests that she recalls the state of their apartment after that incident the month before.

"You do want to check it out, then?" he asks, keeping his voice light.

"You bet your ass."

Mulder widens his eyes in mock horror and makes a show of covering Page's ears. "Language, Scully!"

"Bite me."

He gives her a leer. "Maybe later."


Two Days Later

"Are you sure this is it?" Scully asks, peering out the passenger side window. She'd offered to drive, but he knew that the steering wheel dug into her these days, so he did the gentlemanly thing and never asked who was going to drive. Usually, she didn't seem to mind his presumptuousness.

"That number there." He points to the wrought-iron numerals nailed to the door. "Matches the ones in the paperwork the lawyer gave me. Why, do you hate it? And where is the lawyer, anyway? He's the one with the key."

"No, it's not that I don't like it, Mulder, it's just...wow. I never expected to find a house like this in Washington, D.C.." She looks around at the other houses on the street. "This is like the neighborhood time forgot."

Following her glance, Mulder is inclined to agree. The houses on each side of the street are huge relics of another time. When the old buildings were torn down all in cities all over the country to make way for cheap apartments, this street escaped the wrecking ball's notice.

"I think it's kind of nice," he ventures. "It looks like it could use some fixing up, but the money Saul left me could make over the house top to bottom six times, with enough left over for a couple dozen college educations."

The house does look like it could use some TLC, he admits to himself. It could use new paint, a new porch, and some landscaping. He only hopes that it looks no worse on the inside than the out.

Before Scully can reply, another car pulls into the driveway. The lawyer beats them to the front door because he isn't hindered by pregnancy, or the need to remove a protesting infant from her car seat.

Page is still saying her first and favorite out-loud word, "no", when Scully and Mulder join the lawyer on the porch.

"What a cutie!" the lawyer, one Roger Lavine III, crows and Page scowls at him over Mulder's arm. "How old is she?"

"She'll be one at the end of September," Mulder tells him.

"That's great. My grandkids are two and four which is fun too, but you miss the baby stage."

"I don't think that will be a problem," Scully says dryly as Page's soon-to-be brother or sister gives a fierce kick that makes her wince.

"This is exciting, isn't it?" the lawyer asks as he pushes the door open. All the curtains are drawn, so it's hard to see much as they step into the entryway. The lawyer gropes for a light switch, and sudden illumination fills the room.

"Wow." Mulder can't believe the size of the house. The living room they're now standing in is half the size of their entire apartment.

The lawyer consults a folder he's holding. "Ok, the specs here say four bathrooms, ten bedrooms, two offices, full kitchen- whatever that means- living room, den, formal dining room, entry room - I guess this is that - a playroom and a library. I bet you won't be filling up a house like this any time soon." He glances at Scully. "Well, probably not, anyway."

Scully does not look amused.

"Did my great-uncle have a big family?" Mulder wonders aloud. ::And if he did, why leave this to me instead of one of his kids?::

"Your great-uncle never married or had any children. Apparently your father spent a fair amount of time with him as a boy, but he didn't have other family besides your grandparents."

"I wonder why he had such a big house, then," Scully remarks.

The lawyer shrugs. "For some people a big house is a symbol of status, something they felt they must have whether they truly needed the space or not."

"I guess it doesn't really matter," Mulder murmurs.

Scully and the Lawyer continue to talk about the house's aspects, but Mulder only half-hears them. Page is waving to...nothing. He thinks she really sees something, since he's never known his daughter to display much imagination so far, and she's far too young for an imaginary friend yet. But what could she be waving at?

"Mulder?"

"Wha?"

"Mister Lavine asked if we'd like a tour of the house."

"Oh, sure."

The house isn't so bad on the inside either, though all the sheets covering the furniture remind him uncomfortably of the movie "The Others," which he can't say anything about given it's nineteen ninty-five and the movie doesn't come out until two thousand and one.

Thinking about Page's mysterious waving, he wonders if perhaps the shrouded objects aren't the only thing that the house has in common with the movie. He finds the idea sort of exciting, so he's buoyant as they wander through the house.

"So, Scully, what do you think of the house?" he asks, as they stand in the middle of a room that the lawyer has just said would be a great nursery.

"I think it's great, when do we moved in?" she says, giving the place a hungry glance.

"You really like it? You're not just saying that?"

"It's free and it's in DC, what more could we want? At this point I'd move into a house that had to share bathroom with the neighbors across a street," she says looking at least half-serious.

Mulder wonders if he should share his theory about the house possibly being haunted. He decides against it. Page could just be looking at anything or nothing at all, who knows what goes on in very young minds? He certainly didn't.

Besides, a few ghosts are a small price to pay to have their own home. The syndicate would never think of looking for them here. Fox Mulder, in suburbia? It's to laugh.

"You know, Mulder, the lawyers right. This room would make a nice nursery. New paint, new furniture, and it will be great. You did mention having money to remodel right?"

Mulder grins at her, knowing her it will still be a few months before they move into their new home. Although, he's not sure that it's wise to let pregnant woman be in charge remodeling their home. Hopefully, she will still like her choices after the baby is born.

He scoops Page up off the floor, from where she been playing quietly while her parents talked. "What do you think, Kiddo? Are you gonna like your new room?" Page doesn't say anything, instead she grabs his hair. He takes that has being a affirmative. "Boy, you sure are easier to please than your Mommy."

Scully just glares at him. ::whoops::


Last week of July 1995

He is right. It takes almost two months of remodeling before Scully declares the house livable. And white. The outside is a gleaming white which makes him wonder how often it'll need to be repainted. Worse, all of Saul's interesting belongings have been banished to the attic. He supposes that this is for the best, but the little boy in him wishes he had time to go through all of it in see if there any treasures.

Alas, three-fourths of their boxes are still packed when the next big case springs up to take over their life. Or, his life more accurately, given that Scully is on maternity leave. Although, taking care of Page doesn't seem like much of a break. Of course, she's not really taking much of a break from work, either: every time he comes home with a new case she wants to know all about it. Hoping to avoid repeat of the circumstances the proceeded Page's birth, he tries to subtly convince her to stay at home as much as possible, preferably with Maggie around.

This is slightly easier than the tasks assigned to Hercules.

Fortunately, however, he is able to convince her that they ought to go with professional movers. Actually, it might have been the way he framed "Shall we get movers, or see if your brother Bill can help us move?" either way, she was quick to say movers were a great idea. At the moment it's mainly their job to stay out from underfoot while the big burly men tote the boxes and furniture that they hadn't gotten to the night before.

Still, Scully quickly, and rather ungainly though he would never say that, rushes upstairs to show the movers where the master bedroom, Page's bedroom, and the nursery are. Although, Page's room is more or less a nursery too. Mulder's more than happy to let Scully direct. It makes her happy, and it's one less thing to do before getting ready for work. Not that he really wants to leave her alone with the boxes in the morning. He's half scared he's going to come home and find everything put away.


It's a good day for Mulder, which means, for him, he gets to go home early. Which is weird, because he used to dread going home back when he was single and childless. But then again, he never used to come home to Scully. Or Page. Or that house he inherited from his late great-uncle Saul. Yeah, just thinking about exploring all those rooms puts a smile on his face. Not to mention the equipment he's hauling, courtesy of the Lone Gunmen, that's going to help him explore.

Page gurgles as he sweeps her off the floor. "Have you been overworking your Mommy again?" he asks, mock sternly. His baby girl merely grins and flails her arms happily. "I'll take that as a yes."

Now that he knows Scully's out for the count, it'll make sneaking in ghost-hunting equipment easier. He hopes. With Page in his arms, he has to make twice the trips down and up the stairs. "Okay," he tells his daughter, "Daddy's gonna track some ghosts. So be very, very quiet."

She gives him a look like he's nuts, and he grimaces. "You've been spending way too much time with Mommy. Look," he says, as if reasoning with Scully, "You and I have both seen some pretty unusual things around the house lately. Shadows where there shouldn't be, furniture moved around, figures walking just out of the corner of your eye -- and I *know* you've been talking to some invisible playpals," he grins at her. "Don't play innocent with me, Page, Daddy sees all."

She snorts, not unlike her mom, and he sighs. "Fine," he huffs, "don't believe me. But once we get the thermal imaging cams, motion detectors, thermometers, and enhanced audio systems set up, this is gonna be a very cherry setup for ghost detecting. And your daddy's gonna have proof for your very skeptical Mommy, right?" he bounces her against his shoulder, her head facing behind him.

She giggles, and he grins. He doesn't see the object of his technological surveillance standing right behind him.


"Mulder, what are you doing?" a groggy voice interrupts his sleep.

He looks up, sees he's still in Page's room, and glances at his watch. Two hours he's been asleep, but five since his unofficial ghost-hunting started. "Scully," he says, sitting up. "I was just," he pauses, and finds Page asleep in his arms, "getting her to sleep."

His wife folds her arms over her impressive stomach. "That's what she has a crib for," she says reasonably. Then she looks around the room. "What's all this for?" There's no mistaking all the equipment in the child's room that isn't for educational fun, and Mulder groans inwardly.

"All what?" Mulder tries for an innocent look, but fails under the withering glare from the redhead. "Um, security system. Can't be too careful, you know."

Scully gives him another look. "Mulder," she says in a warning tone.

He sighs. "I was ghost-hunting," he mumbles.

"What?" Both eyebrows have shot up. Is this a good sign or a bad one?

"Ghost-hunting," he says, clearer but still in a low voice, so as not to wake up Page. Or so he tells himself. "Haven't you noticed anything unusual about this house-"

"Mul-der!" Scully draws out both syllables in frustration, waking her daughter. "Dammit."

He raises his hands in protesting his innocence, then returns them to hold his daughter, patting her on the back. "Hey, she was doing fine," he says, "this equipment is non-invasive."

Scully tilts her head to the side, her arms still crossed. Ooh, definitely not a good sign. "Mulder, you have fifteen minutes to drag this, these things out of this house! Our house is not haunted!"

Just then, the lights flicker and die out. "You were saying?" he drawls over Page's fresh round of crying.

"Just get to the circuit breaker and turn the lights back on," she mutters, taking Page from him. "This is probably just a localized blackout."

"Very localized," Mulder notes as he heads out the room, flashlight in hand, "We're the only ones on the block without power."

He's pretty sure the flying teddy bear that hit his head was from a non-supernatural entity, rather than evidence of poltergeist activity, but he won't argue that point right now.


"See, lights are on, nothing paranormal about it," Scully says once he returns.

"I didn't do anything," Mulder protests, "the lights came on before I even got to the circuit breaker."

The corners of her mouth twist up. "So what are you saying, that ghosts are playing with the lights?"

He shrugs a little. "Well, yeah."

She sighs heavily, shifting her daughter from one shoulder to the other. "You need to get some sleep. And maybe get a therapist. Everything is fine, Mulder."

"Fine. Sure," he says, as she walks out of the room with their sleeping daughter, "Mind if I ghost-proof our house?"

Scully stops, turns around, and looks like she's composing herself. "If you're going to be hanging chicken feet in doorways, you're sleeping on the couch."

"No, no, nothing like that," Mulder says quickly, thinking, ::Damn, there goes the gris-gris,:: "just making sure nobody gets hurt. For Page's sake. And yours." He grins hopefully.

She looks at him, then says, in a tone that clearly says she's just humoring him, "Okay, all right. Do whatever you have to. But if Page or I get hurt..." she threatens, her jaw setting.

He holds his hands up. Is it him, or does she get scarier when she's pregnant? Maybe he'll ask Skinner if he's noticed. "I get it," he says, placating her, "really, don't worry. You won't even notice it." Not that you've noticed the ghosts, he argues, but I'll get incontrovertible proof. And then you can't deny what's right under your nose. He watches as she waddles out of the room and down the hall, grinning a little as if he didn't care about the death threat she's handed him.

Once she closes the door of their bedroom, he exhales. Then he looks around the empty room. "Okay, I know you're out there," he says to nothing in particular, squinting like a cowboy in a spaghetti western, "you're gonna get recorded sooner or later, and when you do, I'll be there." He sweeps the room again, then sighs, and picks up one of the thermal cams. "Just make sure you hang around these hidden cameras, okay?"


"Ah-ha!" Mulder says, dancing around their bedroom.

"Mulder, what is it?" Scully says, wiping the sleep boogers from her eyes. It was the first time in as many as five hours that her bladder didn't wake her up, and she's glaring at the interruption.

"Proof, Scully, I got proof!" he says, his large nose very much in her face. The grin on his face takes up the rest of the space. "Oh, how they laughed! Oh, how they scoffed! Yes, they mocked! And they doubted! But I got it, Scully!"

"Mulder," she sits up, more awake and less forgiving, "What the hell are you talking about?"

He leans into what's left of his wife's personal space. In a low voice, he says, "We are not alone."

She gives up being reasonable. "Duh. We've got Page, and another on the way."

"No!" he cries, grabbing hold of her shoulders in his enthusiasm. "We've got ghosts!"

"What?" Scully blinks her large blue eyes at him, not in a ditzy way, but disbelieving. "I'm sorry, did you say we've got guests?"

He practically bounces on the bed like a kid at Christmas, jolting her at the same time, since he's still holding her shoulders. "Of the incorporeal type, yeah. Look!"

Before she can retort, he clicks the VCR remote and the TV displays the interior of Page's room in a grainy black and fluorescent green. Scully glares at her husband as she remembers her threat for him to toss out the silly equipment, and as the words come to her mouth, something appears onscreen. It's child-sized, but bigger than Page, and certainly smaller than either Mulder or herself.

"Mulder," she says, "what did I say about the Gunmen pranking us?" Another child-sized figure joins it, and it looks like they're playing ring-around-the-rosy.

"Honest, Scully, we were the only ones home," he protests on behalf of his dubious friends. "Besides, I don't think Frohike's the type to wear a dress, even if it was a prank."

"I don't know about that," she mutters, but her eyes are glued to the screen as various objects float around the room. "I'm checking for wires." She shakes off his hands and gets out of bed.

"There aren't any," he says to her back, "and the equipment hasn't been tampered with."

She gives him a "yeah, right" look over her shoulder before staggering out the door. In the meantime, Mulder's amusing himself before Page wakes up by replaying the floating objects section over and over again.


That evening, dinner is somewhat strained. Scully looks suspiciously at the food Mulder made before eating it, and even then, doesn't say anything to her husband. Even Page notices the tension and is unnaturally quiet. Finally, Mulder sighs. "I'm sorry," he says, trying to put some contrition into his voice, despite his usual nature of crowing over things. "I just thought you'd be happy."

Ooh, wrong move. Immediately, the redhead's blue eyes snap with something dangerously similar to lightning. "What made you think proving this house was haunted would make me happy?" Scully says, her voice dangerously even.

"Uh," he says, wondering where all his smooth words went. "Um..."

"Exactly," she says, "you didn't think. I was honestly enjoying this place, Mulder, before it got stuck in one of your X-Files. I liked the fact that it was roomy," she says, trying to make him understand with simple words, "I liked that it was pretty much free, that there was no excessive mortgage, or down payment that would include our firstborn. I liked the fact that we would be close to work, and have a nice home without sacrificing for it. I liked having our cake and eating it. And now you've proven that our cake is full of ghosts, Mulder!"

"You say that like it's a bad thing," he mumbles.

She sighs. "I just thought having a normal home would be a nice contrast, but I guess that would be too much to ask for. You want an Addams Family house as well as aliens at work." Her expression is worse than angry, it's disappointed, and now he wonders if marrying a Catholic, even a lapsed Catholic, is a good idea for a lapsed Jew.

"I'm really, really sorry, Scully," he says, meaning it. He walks over and kneels beside her. "I'll try to get rid of them as soon as I can."

She looks at him, and something like a smile tugs at her mouth. "We were doing just fine before you got them on tape," she says, "and they haven't hurt us or scared Page. I say we leave them alone." He blinks, and she giggles. "Besides, you could always sell your tape to that Fox network or something."

He smiles back. "Always knew you were my one in five billion," he says, relieved.

"I'd say one in five googleplex," she retorts. "Five billion's too easy."

Page takes that as her cue to start tossing food around. Mulder looks at his wife. "Well, better Page throwing things around than poltergeists, right?"

Her smile is indulgent, but her eyes are mischievous. "Either way, you'll have to deal with the mess."

Ouch, he thinks, going over to coach Page's food into her mouth, rather than the floor or his face. He's thankful that it's blown over for now, but he doubts that, in a bona fide haunted house, the ghosts are willing to live and let live. Or something like that.


Chapter Twenty-Six

August 10th, 1995

He doesn't want to get out of bed. Instead, he'd like to spoon with Scully all day, and skip the case he'd been assigned just now over the phone. Scully, however, ruins the moment by struggling away from him. "It's too hot, Mulder. We're too sticky for skin to skin."

Instead of pointing out that he's in boxers and she has a short night gown on, he throws himself out of bed. Leaning down, he plants a kiss on her forehead. "Take it easy, huh? It's hot-"

"-and I'm huge." Her right hand flops gently onto her belly.

"-and that saps everyone of energy. If Page wears you out, call Missy to come take her off your hands."

"I don't even know where Missy is," Scully replies sleepily. "She said she was going away for a few days."

He resists the urge to roll his eyes. Barely. It's almost as though Missy knows that she's living on borrowed time, since she's been living it up since she got back from wherever she'd been on the West Coast. "Your mom, then."

She nods then says, "I want you to keep me informed about the case."

"Why?"

"Just because I'm home doesn't mean I can't provide some insight."

"Okay, yeah."

"Mulder, I mean it. If you don't, I'll call you every twenty minutes until you come home."

:: Maybe I wouldn't come home then.:: he thinks petulantly. "All right!"

"Good," she says, closing her eyes.

Mulder walks down the hall, and stops two doors down. Page is lying on her back, wide-awake but playing quietly in her crib. "Hey kid, take it easy on your mom, huh?"

She doesn't say anything, she just grabs his dangling tie instead and gives it a yank.

"Gak! Guess it serves me right for wearing a noose to work." He trades her a stuffed bunny for his tie and goes on his grumpy way. He really hates this case. So much so that a small part of him wishes that even Krycek or Spender was around so he didn't have to work on it alone.


Trying to follow orders, Mulder calls the house, but only gets the answering machine. ::Great, now she'll think I'm "ditching" her. I can't win.::

His phone rings just after he leaves the crime scene, and it strikes him as eerie, since it's just about the same time they'd had a face to face conversation the last time they dealt with the case. "Mulder."

"Your message said something about a kidnapping?"

"Yeah, 15 year old girl, Amy Jacobs was taken from her bedroom last night, 10:00."

"Did they find her?"

" No. They haven't found her yet."

"Then what did they call you in for?" Her voice sounds slightly annoyed, and he can hear Page chattering to herself in the background. :: It's not as if I could have stayed home today even if I didn't have this case.:: he thinks morosely.

"A 30-year-old woman named Lucy Householder was admitted here shortly after 10:00. She collapsed at work suffering from some kind of seizure and what her doctors are calling glossolalia."

"Incoherent speech," she instantly replies. The terms apparently burned into her brain after all those cram sessions in college and med school.

He hits the elevator button before answering. "Technically, but whether she knew it or not, she was repeating the exact words spoken by Amy's abductor the exact same time 20 miles across town."

"Well, that's spooky."

"That's my name, isn't it? Turns out, Lucy Householder knows a little something about kidnapping herself. When she was eight years old she was taken from her bedroom while her parents were asleep. She was missing for five years until she escaped and someone found her by the side of the road. Apparently, her abductor had kept her locked in a basement the entire time. They never caught him."


He gets in the elevator and takes it up to the floor Lucy is staying on. When he enters the room, she's staring out the window.

"Lucy? I'm Fox Mulder. I'd like to ask you a few questions." He hears a squawk of protest from the cell phone. "My partner is indisposed, but she'd like me to relay some questions as well, I'm sure."

She barely looks interested. "I'd like a cigarette. They won't let me smoke in here."

Mulder gives her an apologetic shrug. "A young girl was kidnapped last night. Have you heard anything about that?"

"What are you asking me for?" Lucy asks defensively.

"Do you remember what you were saying last night when you collapsed at work?"

"Of course not, I was unconscious. Or just about."

"You were saying "'Nobody's going to spoil us'." Mulder pauses as Scully orders him to add onto the question. "Does that mean anything to you?"

"No."

Scully is half way through another demand when he cuts her off. "Scully, this isn't working. Why don't you call the phone here in the room, and I can put you on speaker phone?"

After a couple minutes grumbling, she does, and they wait for her to call back. Mulder wishes he had a cigarette to give Lucy, since she seems tense. Scully's question, as soon as she's connected, doesn't help relax the woman.

"Can you think of any reason why you might have said it?"

"What did I just say?" Lucy glares angrily at the white plastic phone.

"Those were the exact words spoken by the kidnapper to the little girl when he took her last night," Mulder explains. "So you can see, that under the circumstances, it might seem strange that you..."

"So what's your point? All of us kidnap victims gotta stick together?"

"No. We just want to find the little girl any way we can, and if you know anything ..."

"Look, what I've been through all my life I wouldn't wish on anybody. It doesn't mean I can make it any better for me or anyone else."

"All right, well thanks for talking to us, Lucy. You can hang up the phone now," Mulder tells her.

"Yeah." Her hand reaches for the phone as Mulder starts to leave. "Hey! When do I get out of here?"

"I'm sure as soon as your doctors feel it's okay for you to go," Scully disembodied voice declares.

"No. They say it's up to you," Lucy shoots back grumpily.

"No, we can't hold you here. You're free to go," Mulder tells her, and Lucy runs to the bathroom.

He picks up the phone, and tells Scully what just happened. "I guess she's not too big on confined spaces." He listens to her for a moment. "Yeah. I'll call you later when I know more."


That night, in the spirit of keeping her involved in the case, Mulder brings home videotape and puts it in their VCR.

"What's the tape of?" Scully asks, dropping Page onto his lap as she takes a seat on the couch next to him.

"It's not Jurassic Park, and I didn't get it at Block Busters."

The video cues up suddenly. On the screen there's a woman trying to get a girl to come to her. The girl is trying to hide in the corner of the room. "You don't want to talk to me, Lucy? You don't want to come sit by me?"

"Is that Lucy Householder?" Scully asks.

::No, it's some other traumatized kid named Lucy I just happened to find a video of.:: "Yeah. Taken in 1978, the week she was found. She'd been held in the dark so long her eyes were hypersensitive to the light. Whoever held her captive wasn't very big on conversation, either. She's 13 years old and can barely string two words together. It's amazing she's gotten anywhere in life."

"Well, by most yardsticks, she hasn't, Mulder."

Mulder mutes the TV. "Look, I think I've got a break in the case. A big one." It feels slightly odd that he's telling her instead of the other way around, but he decides that changing the past is like that.

"What is it?"

"School pictures were mailed out this week to everyone in Amy's class except Amy. One of Eubanks's men discovered it."

"Who's the photographer?"

"I'll only tell you if you promise not to go snooping yourself." She glares at him, so he backpedals. "It's an outfit called Larken Scholastic. Now, the photographer checked out but his assistant was fired the day after the shoot - a man named Carl Wade."

"What have you got on him?"

"DMV's, and old address, but he spent the good part of the past 15 years institutionalized for a bipolar condition. The only thing current we have on him is this photo taken by his employer trying out a new camera."

"Have you shown this picture to Amy's little sister?"

" They're doing it right now, and I'm going to take it and show it to Lucy."

Scully pats him on the shoulder. "Good job. But do you think you could get Jurassic Park next time? That movie isn't half bad. I wonder if they'll ever make another one."

::They will, and it won't be very good.:: "I could go get it now, if you want."

She swallows a yawn. "Maybe tomorrow. I'm beat."

When she lumbers off, Mulder glares at their daughter. "I said to take it easy on mom!" Page just stares at him in wide-eyed wonder, and makes another grab for his tie. ::Gotta stop wearing these things.::


Just as before, Mulder has to chase Lucy down to get her to look at the picture of Wade. And also like before, she becomes Agent Eubanks prime suspect.

Mulder paces as Eubanks prepares to continue his plan of arresting Lucy for her connection to the kidnapping. "You're going to drive her away with this."

Agent Eubanks looks grim. "She's been driven away, Agent Mulder. I'm trying to find her."

"A half a dozen witnesses placed her across town at the time of the kidnapping."

"I'm well aware of the facts."

"Well, then trust me on this. She's not working with Wade," Mulder declares.

"How did she get the blood on her?"

"She may have bled it."

The other man gives him an astonished look. "She bled Amy Jacobs' blood?"

"Yes. It may explain why there was so little of it on the carpet in Amy's bedroom."

Another agent interrupts to tell Eubanks he has another call. "I don't have time for this nonsense, Agent Mulder. We've got a young girl's life at stake."

Mulder takes the time then to call Scully, less out of duty than the desire to have someone believe him. Alas, that's not to be. "I hate to say this, Mulder, but I think you just ran out of credibility."

"He's wrong, Scully."

"You are protecting her beyond the point of reason."

" I'm protecting her because I think she's connected to Amy Jacobs, just not the way everybody else thinks she is."

"Did you consider for one minute that the person she's connected to is Carl Wade?"

"Carl Wade? Why would she be connected with Carl Wade?"

"For the same twisted reason that abused children crave their parents' love-" She pauses dramatically, making him think of his mother. "Or hostages develop sympathy for their captors. I mean, maybe Lucy developed some kind of emotional dependency. "

"After five years in a dark pit, I'm sure she developed some kind of connection with Wade, just not the kind that you're suggesting."

"It makes a lot more sense than the notion that she's bleeding Amy Jacobs' blood. "

"As if our cases ever make any sense," he grumbles. "I don't know how to explain it, but I think that Wade's abduction of Amy triggered some kind of physical response in Lucy...some kind of empathic transference. "

"Mulder, you can't -" She sounds frustrated, and he knows he getting close to pissing her off. Which isn't something he really wants to do.

"That's how I account for what Lucy's going through. That's how I account for the identical words that corresponded to Amy, and the spontaneous wounds and blood, as well."

"Then why did she run? If she's innocent, what was she running from?"

"Because she's afraid. "::God knows I've done some running myself.::

"You don't see what you're doing, do you, Mulder? You are so close to this that you just don't see it."

Despite his desire not to upset her, he's getting irritated. "What don't I see?"

"The extreme rationalization that's going on. Your personal identification with the victim, or in this case, the suspect. You're becoming an empath yourself, Mulder. You are so sympathetic to Lucy as a victim like *your sister* that you can't see her as a person who's capable of committing this crime."

"You don't think I've thought of that? I have. And not everything I do, say, think, and feel goes back to my sister. You, of all people should realize that sometimes motivations for behavior can be more complex and mysterious than tracing them back to one single childhood experience."

Agent Eubanks returns at that moment, so Mulder says good-bye and hangs up on his wife. "Agent Mulder. We've got a man on the way in who's spotted Wade."

After they question the driver, and pin point a possible location, Eubanks drives, giving Mulder plenty of time to brood. :: So what if I worry about Lucy because she reminds me of my sister? Is it so wrong to want to protect an innocent person? All I want is a happy outcome for Amy and Lucy both, and I already know that I'm not likely to get one. I wish I could talk to Elsbeth, or maybe God, and ask why some people are able to be saved and others can't. Is Lucy too damaged to want to be saved?::

"We're here," Eubanks announces what seems like seconds later.


It doesn't take Mulder very long to find Lucy, mostly because he knows where she is. It also doesn't take long for the interrogation to begin.

Agent Eubanks' is harsh and impatient, which makes Mulder want to punch him. "Where are they, Lucy? Tell us where Wade took Amy."

"I don't know." Lucy's voice is dead.

"Anything happens to that girl and you'll be tried as an accomplice. Were they here when you arrived?"

"No."

"You haven't seen them? You haven't spoken with them?" Eubanks demands to know.

"I said no." Her voice has a little more life to it now.

"Then why are you here?"

"I don't know. "

"Just showed up for no reason in particular? That's what you ask us to believe?"

"I've been here before. A long time ago. That was where he kept me."

"So why are you here now?" Lucy doesn't answer. Looking at an agent Mulder doesn't know Eubanks says, "Take her outside and place her in custody."

"No. I'll take her. Come on, Lucy." Mulder takes Lucy's arm and leads her out and down the front steps. Mulder is about to put her in the car, but she stops.

"He hasn't touched her. Not yet. He wants to, but he can't. That's why he takes the pictures."

"What else, Lucy? Tell me what else?"

"If he can't have her all to himself that's when he's dangerous. That's when he'll start hurting her."

"Lucy, you came here to help her," Mulder suggests.

"No." She shakes her head.

"Why else would you come back here if not for Amy? You're sharing her pain."

"I can't ..."

"You're the survivor. You're the strong one. Now Amy needs some of your strength." ::Is this what kills her? My suggestion? Should I take it back?:: Something tells him it doesn't matter, it's what she was meant to do all along, suggestion or no.

"She's not going to make it." Lucy's voice is soft.

"She has to make it and you have to help her." :: So you don't die for no reason::

"She's cold. She's cold and, and wet," Lucy declares, shivering and beginning to cough.

"Lucy, Lucy, sit down. Sit down." He helps her on to the backseat of the car.

One of the agents, Mulder doesn't remember his name, calls to him. "Mulder. They found Wade's car north of here."

"They're in the water," Mulder tells the agent. "There's a river near here. I think that's where they are."

"But the river's east and they found Wade's car a mile north."

"Wade lives here. He knows these woods. He could be doubling back."

"Did she tell you that?" the agent asks.

"No, but I think that's what she's trying to do." He begins running.


Despite tripping over several branches, Mulder reaches the river. Wade is holding Amy under the water. Mulder runs along the bank and aims his gun at wade.

"Wade! Federal Officer! Hold it right there!"

Wade looks up in desperation at Mulder, then back to Amy trying to make her drown faster. Mulder shoots wade. Wade falls, and Amy floats to the surface. Mulder runs into the river and carries Amy to the shore She's not breathing and has no pulse.

His mind goes blank, and he can't remember CPR. So in desperation he calls Scully. She picks up on the first ring.

"Scully, she's not breathing."

"Who isn't?" she asks, sound properly freaked out.

"Lucy. I mean Amy. I had to shoot Wade, he was trying to drown Amy. I think he has drown her... and I don't remember how to do CPR," he babbles in misery.

"It's ok Mulder. You do four heart compressions and then a breath. Pinch her nose when you do the breath, ok? Do you remember how to position your hands for the compression?"

Her rational tone calms him. "Yeah, it's coming back to me." He crouches down beside the girl's still form.

"I'll count for you." Scully's voice is faint, since the cell phone is on the ground. "One ... two... three.... four...."

"Come on, Amy, breathe," Mulder begs quietly, before he breathes into her mouth again.

It seems like hours pass, but it's only been minutes. Scully continues to coach him. "One ...two... three.... Four... Mulder does she have a pulse yet?"

He's startled that she's broken the rhythm. "No, she doesn't. Yet."

She's quiet for a moment waiting for him to give Amy the next breath. "Mulder... if she hasn't come around by now, I don't think she's going to. I'm sorry."

"Damn it, Amy, come on!" he half shouts.

"Mulder, stop. You can't help her. Mulder. It's no use."

"I'm going to keep trying. I think I hear the ambulance coming," he lies. As far as he knows no one called one. But then he thinks he does hear something.

He hears someone else breathing. Amy turns her head and coughing up water.

"I did it Scully, she's breathing."

Eubanks and the other agents seem to materialize out of thin air. "Have you got her? Is that her?"

"She's alive," Mulder tells them. "I thought I heard an ambulance. She needs one."

"They're close. We've got them up at Wade's place right now. They're working on Lucy Householder."

Mulder begins running back to the house. ::Not again.::

Mulder slowly walks over to the gurney with Lucy's sheet covered body. He pulls the sheet back and touches her cheek, then kneels down beside her and cries. :: I'm so sorry. I wanted to save you this time. Why wouldn't you let yourself be saved? Why did you come back here? Maybe we could have found Amy without you the first time, so this time too without letting on I knew what I did....::


As soon as he walks into the house, Scully throws both arms around him. "I'm sorry, Mulder. Eubanks called me and told me what happened after your phone went dead."

"I'm sorry too."

"How's Amy?"

"She's exhausted, but it looks like she's going to be fine. The doctors want to keep her for a day or two just to be sure."

"Mulder, how serious were her injuries?" she asks, not quite meeting his eyes. He knows exactly what she's implying.

"Wade must have left her alone. There were no injuries. Even though he must have dragged her through the woods for at least a mile. I can't explain it. She didn't have a cut on her and nobody wants to talk about that right now. Everyone's just relieved to have her back again - to have her safe."

"What about Lucy. I hate to ask, but...Did they determine what killed her?"

"They found five liters of water in her lungs, in a bone dry car. She saved Amy's life."

"Mulder...Whatever there was between them, you were part of that connection. Did you think about that? Lucy may have died for Amy, but without you, they never would have found her."

"I think she died for more than Amy," he says heavily.

"What do you mean?"

"I think finally, it was ... the only way she could escape. The only way she could forget what happened 17 years ago. Finally, the only way she could outrun Carl Wade."

She hugs him even tighter, then draws away in surprise. "You've got something hard in your pocket - not that," she adds when he smirks.

"Jurassic Park." He pulls out the tape. "I kind of thought after a day like today we could both use something mindless to entertain us." ::Because I just don't want to think any more today.::


Chapter Twenty-Seven

August 13th 1995
8 p.m.

As it turns out, Mulder doesn't have too much time to agonize over Lucy Householder's death before a pressing matter of a more personal nature captures his attention.

"Hey Scully, watch," Mulder calls.

They have both declared it 'too hot to cook' and it's her turn to keep an eye out for the delivery man.

She turns her head and sees that Mulder has Page up on wobbly legs. "You better not let her go," she cautions. She's not sure if Page can support herself yet, although the baby has gotten to the cruising stage of clinging upright to furniture.

"I won't. But watch, with a little help from dear old dad, our brilliant baby can walk." He demonstrates, and is too excited to care that he looks foolish as he hunches over low enough for Page to dangle from his hands and take a few steps. The look on Page' s face-one of intense concentration as she holds onto her daddy's fingers with a death grip-is even more amusing. But Scully doesn't laugh.

Still looking down at Page, Mulder adds, "I bet it will only be only be a month or two before we've got a walker. My mom said I'd just turned one-"

"Uh oh."

"I don't think Page walking is as bad as that." He looks up, expecting a chuckle, but sees Scully's suddenly pale face instead. Done playing, he gently lowers Page to the floor before going to Scully's side. "Are you ok?"

"Remember how when Page was born you said' Next time let's do this in the hospital'? We ought to begin thinking about heading there and an hour or two."

"An hour or two? I don't know if we ought to wait that long. Don't get me wrong, I don't regret delivering Page, but it's not something I want to make a habit of."

"Call my mom to come for Page. We definitely have enough time for that."


Maggie arrives fifteen minutes later like a dark-haired whirlwind.

"Just let me get Page's bag." She dashes up the stairs. "It was a good idea to pack it in advance, Fox," she praises as she reappears as with the diaper bag, Page's blankie, and her favorite stuffed bear.

"Um, thanks."

"Come to grandma, Pagie," she says reaching to lift Page out of Mulder's arms. "You drive carefully! And I expect a call the minute my new grandchild is born."

"Well, maybe not the minute..." Mulder murmurs.

Maggie Pat him on the back before kissing Scully on the cheek. "I love you, dear."

"Bye mom!" Scully calls to her disappearing form

"Can we go now?" Mulder begs shouldering Scully's overnight bag.

"Sure."

They're walking out to the car when another, strange, vehicle pulls into the driveway.

"What the hell?" Mulder exclaims, thinking of how Krycek rescued them from the super soldier in another life.

"The take out!" Scully exclaims. Or actually gasps, since another contraction hits her.

A teenage boy, 18 if he's a day, rushes up the path towards them with a large paper bag in hand. "I'm here to deliver the order..." They begin to walk past him. "Hey, where you going?"

"Hospital," Scully says shortly, clinging to Mulder's arm.

The kid stares at her belly with a blush, and it's plain that he's embarrassed not to have figured out the problem on his own. "Ok, um... what about the food?"

"We don't want it," Mulder is impatient to leave. Maggie doesn't like it, or he'd suggest the kid give her their order.

"I'm gonna get in trouble with my boss!" the kid wails.

Mulder pulls out a ten and a twenty out of his wallet. "Here. Have dinner on us... but could I have the chicken fingers?"

The kid quickly digs through the bag and hands them over.

"Sorry, Scully but I'm starving."

"Fine, whatever," she says through gritted teeth, and it takes him a second to realize it's not him that's the cause of the gritting.

"Thanks!" the delivery boy hollers as they drive past them.


Seven Hours Later

"Hi Maggie, it's Fox."

"Is everything ok?" She sounds more worried than when she picked up Page.

"Everything is great. I think you should tell Page that she is a big sister, though."

"Oh!! Boy or girl?"

"Boy. Eight pounds, three ounces and 20 inches long. He and Scully are doing wonderfully," Mulder boasts, then adds, "We haven't decided on a name yet, before you ask. Hopefully we'll come to a decision before he has his first visitors."

"That's great. I'll bring Page by later in the morning so we can meet him. Another grandson..." she trails off fondly.

This gives Mulder a jolt of surprise, since he has almost entirely forgotten that Charlie has a young son of his own. Scully barely mentions Charlie's family, and the only time he can really remember her mentioning that nephew is when they worked on the case involving that inbred family but that hasn't happened again yet. ::Maybe it won't happen again at all if we're really lucky:: he muses.

"Yeah... do think I'll ever meet your son Charlie?" he wonders aloud.

"Stranger things have happened." Page calls to Maggie demanding juice, alerting Mulder that his daughter is still up despite the late hour. "Give Dana and the baby my love."

"Will do."


August 14th 1995
4 a.m.

"Index."

"No!"

"Chapter."

"No."

"Verse."

"Verse Mulder. Do you want our son to get beaten up all twelve years of school?" she asks cuddling their newborn son to her chest. The tiny boy's reddish hair catches the light.

"Awww come on, you don't want to keep up the literary theme?" Mulder pouts playfully as he leans on mattress of hospital bed so he can gaze at the baby. "You don't like any my suggestions, do you have any that are better?"

She doesn't say anything for a minute, just looks down at the baby. "I was thinking about naming him for your sister."

He decides to play off his surprise with a joke. "A little boy named Samantha? He'll really get beaten up."

"Samuel Mulder. What do you think?" Scully asks.

"I don't know what to say... I sort of thought you'd want to name him after your father."

She shrugs. "Maybe next time."

It's on the tip of this tongue to tease her about this next time child, but for once he restraints himself. There's an idea forming at the back of his mind but he doesn't have time to mull it over yet.


9 a.m.

"Mommy?" his little girl's voice breaks into his thoughts.

He's in the bedroom, poring over a stack of files related to poltergeist activities to see if there's any evidence of people getting along with their ghostly co-residents. So far, no luck. "Page, honey, Mommy's still in the hospital with your little brother," Mulder explains, picking his daughter up off the plastic-covered bed.

Rather than reassure her, his daughter's face screws up into a massive wrinkle, then her mouth opens into a huge wail. "Mommieeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee," she cries, louder than anyone her size ought to be, her face red and tears rolling down her cheeks.

Mulder's sure he's gone temporarily deaf, then realizes Page is taking a breath for another huge scream. "Shhhhh, shhhh, it's okay," he murmurs repeatedly, hugging her to himself and patting her back, hoping she can hear him above her cries. It's not working, since Page is still wailing at the top of her little lungs, and he sighs inwardly. He regrets not leaving her with her loving and more experienced grandmother, but wants to do the best he can. Pulling the screaming girl away from his chest, he tries to bribe her. "Hey, hey, hey, you hungry?" he asks, wishing his voice didn't sound so panicky.

She's at the point where she's hiccupping for breath, and it looks like she's debating whether to scream some more or go along with him. She opts for scream.

Wondering if it's too late to stick earplugs in, Mulder winces, then grabs a towel for his shoulder before picking her up. ::Hope you're coming home soon::, Scully, he thinks, ::I love our little girl, but she's as loud and red as a fire engine right now::. He bounces Page against his supporting arm like he's seen Scully do it against her hip, and it's calmed her down enough to merely hiccup, even though her face is still pretty pink. I guess I'd better get used to this or I'll end up a nervous wreck whenever I'm left alone with the kids, he muses, heck, I've faced aliens and mutants, how bad could this be? "Okay," he huffs, walking into the hallway, "let's see what we've got. And whatever special drugs Mommy uses to get you to mellow out," he says in a friendly tone, wiping off her face.

Whatever he said, it was a mistake, and Page starts to cry again. "Oh, no," Mulder groans, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry!"

His apology is not helping, as she cries even louder. "Scul-lay!" Mulder joins his daughter's wail with his own.


After he calms down a bit, well, a tiny smidgen, really, Mulder decides to run through his options. She could be hungry, or need a diaper change, or scared, or sick, or... how the hell was he supposed to know? He sighs, still rocking his daughter absentmindedly. Okay, first thing, diaper check. Might as well get the big horror over with. A cursory sniff check reveals nothing amiss, and her bottom's dry, thank goodness. He can't tell if she's scared, as opposed to angry, but he can check her temperature.

"All right, where does she put that thermometer?" he muses aloud, walking to the bathroom. Page is still crying loudly, and he wonders how on earth Scully manages not to be deaf when he comes home. Quickly, he rummages through the medicine cabinet, looking for anything that resembles a thermometer. "Ah-ha!" he crows, and sets off a fresh round of tears from his daughter. "Oh boy, okay, Page, let's see if you're sick." He's about to stick it in her mouth, when he remembers that that's usually not where they stick thermometers in kids. "Sorry, honey," he says, washing the thermometer off first, then wiping it off with a tissue. "Daddy's a little new with this here."

This doesn't reassure her, and she continues to wail, as well as put up a good deal of flailing as he attempts to take her temperature. The operative word being "attempts", since she's got some force behind her chubby limbs. "Page!" he says, exasperated. "A little help here?"

No such luck, so he's forced to take it by force. "Well, you're not sick," he says with some relief. He wishes she came with a manual, or maybe some directions tattooed on her back. Worse comes to worst, he'll call Scully, but right now, this is a challenge he can handle.

"All right, we've ruled out everything else, how about some food? Yeah, food!" he exclaims, when it seems she's not crying not quite so much. Or maybe there's a limit on how much tears she can squeeze out. Yeah, right. Still, a little more optimistic, he heads into the kitchen and roots for some pureed food. "Aw, yeah, Daddy's got it under control," he says more brightly than he feels, sitting her in the high chair, "Daddy's got it going on."

Page looks at him like he's lost his mind. He pretends not to see that expression, and pulls out a couple of bowls and spoons. "Yep, it's breakfast time for Page," he continues in the same bright voice, grabbing some cereal and milk, "and maybe a little breakfast for Daddy, too. Yeah, I'm hungry, too." Might as well make it a family affair. "Think you can eat without decorating the place with your food?"

Her expression is blank, but it seems to his residual paranoia that it is a deliberate blankness. "Nice try," he says, putting away the refrigerated stuff, "guess I'll have to take turns feeding us both." He's about to sit down, when he remembers something. He goes over to one of the drawers and takes out a bib. "Here you go," he says, tying it around her neck. As a precautionary measure, he takes one out for himself. "Maybe I should get some CDC suits for feeding time," he says, sitting down and digging in for Page's first spoonful.


August 17th, 1995
2:30 a.m.

The nursery. Mulder likes the ring to that, since it makes him think of Peter Pan and royal children, things that he had really liked reading about as a young boy. Oh, he'd said he only read the ones about princes and princesses to Samantha because she liked them, but deep down he'd like them too. He could relate to having distant parents like the kings and queens in those stories inevitably were. Parents like he was determined they will never to be.

At first they'd toyed with the idea of moving Page into her new room before they brought Sammy home earlier that day -everyone is already calling him that, so it's probably going to stick- but then they reconsidered. First, she'd probably be lonely farther from her parents' room. Second, it'd be a pain in the butt to have to go to two different rooms in the middle of the night. And lastly, their biggest concern was that Sammy would wake her up at night, but they knew from bringing her on several cases that she could sleep through anything.

So for a while, she and her newborn brother will be sharing the royal nursery, which is where Mulder is at the moment. It's a big room, which is good since both of their cribs are in there, although Sammy is too small for his, according to Scully, so he's in a bassinet. Or he would be, if Mulder wasn't in the middle of changing his diaper.

After the surprising pee fountain the first time he changed his son while still at the hospital - Page never did that! - he's learned to hold the front of the dirty diaper like a shield while attempting to take it off. He asked Scully if exposure to air made baby boys pee, but she just shuffled off muttering that he had that equipment himself, so shouldn't he know? He retorted that she's the one who has the doctor at the end of her name, not him, and she countered that she worked with dead people, not babies, and hadn't he forgotten things from college? He hasn't, but it didn't seem wise to aggravate her, so he just said yes. So now he wonders if he ought to invest in a nice pair of goggles like the ones Scully uses during autopsies.

It doesn't take long to put a clean diaper on Sammy, and surprisingly, he doesn't seem to mind the undressing part. Page howled like a banshee when she was undressed as a newborn, but Sammy seems fine with it. Mulder hopes his already apparent differences will mean he won't get colic too, but it's too soon to tell, since it can take up to three weeks to show up. As he's lowering Sammy back into the bassinet, a small voice clearly says "Baby!" behind him.

Turning around with a smile, he sees that Page is standing in her crib, craning her neck in attempt to see her brother. He scoops her out and brings her over. "Yes, Mommy and Daddy's baby. Page's baby brother, Sammy."

"Sammy?" she mimics perfectly, looking a little puzzled as Sammy waves a fist. Maybe she didn't expect that he'd still be there.

"Yup. Do you like Sammy?" He feels nervous, and doesn't quite know why. She might not even understand the question. "I hope so, since we're keeping him. Mom and I love both you and Sammy lots and lots."

"Love!" she squeals, planting a slobbery kiss on his cheek.

"Thanks, Page," he says dryly, thinking that whoever wrote that butterfly kisses song about getting sweet kisses from one's child must not have had baby kisses in mind. He eyed the changing table. "Are you wet?"

She just smiles. There's no pee fountain, but she does grab the baby powder from him, making him glad that it's not open, since she's got quite a grip on it. All he needs is a blizzard of power to clean up before going to bed. He doesn't mind sharing night duties, since Scully desperately needs sleep, but he'd rather not have to do any more clean up than necessary.

When he peers into the bassinet Sammy is already sleeping again, but Page looks bright eyed, so he pulls out a picture book and settles into the rocking chair. It's nice having a room big enough for a rocking chair, unlike when Page was a small as her brother. A lot has changed in a short time.

"One evening, after thinking it over for some time, Harold decided to go for a walk in the moonlight. There wasn't any moon, and Harold needed a moon for a walk in the moonlight."

Page settles against his chest, peering at the pictures that illustrate Harold's adventure with his purple crayon. A book on child psychology suggests that babies don't really begin to understand that drawings represent real objects until they're about fourteen months old, but Page seems to at eleven months, so maybe she's gifted. Given how smart he thinks her Mommy is, it wouldn't surprise him.

He knows the story by heart now, so he says the lines without really thinking about them, allowing his mind to be occupied by other things. Someday, he would like to see Elsbeth again, to thank her. This being a dad thing- really being one, not like with poor William, whom he only got to see for two days- is great. There is nothing in the world he would trade his kids for, and he knows that Scully feels the same way.

"And he needed something to walk on. He made a long straight path so he wouldn't get lost. And he set off on his walk, taking his big purple crayon with him...."

Mulder wonders about William, though. Does Page and Sammy's existence cancel out his? :: Well, we could still have him. He wouldn't be a miracle baby, but we could still have him. And this time we'd keep him, so he'd be better off. It'd just be a matter of timing his conception properly.::

"But he didn't seem to be getting anywhere on the long straight path. So he left the path for a short cut across a field. And the moon went with him."

Thinking of timing gives him a start. The fledgling idea that he'd had a couple of nights before, right after he and Scully discussed names for their son, swims to the forefront of his brain and begins to take shape. It's what he'd thought when he'd found out that they were expecting Sammy - being pregnant with Page kept Scully safe from Duane Barry.

"It turned out to be an apple tree. The apples would be very tasty, Harold thought, when they got red."

And being pregnant with Sammy had forced her to take fewer risks too, since she had not only their daughter to think about, but their unborn child too. :: I know she wants more kids, but would it be wrong for me to orchestrate when again? Women do that sort of thing all the time for less noble reasons... or maybe I'm just rationalizing. Even if I am just rationalizing, there's nothing wrong with nudging the circumstances of when we add to our family to convenient ones, instead of random ones.::

"So he put a frightening dragon under the tree to guard the apples. It was a terribly frightening dragon. It even frightened Harold. He backed away. His hand holding the purple crayon shook. "

Love and the desire to keep Scully safe at all costs over power his conscience and strengthen his resolve. :: We wouldn't have inherited this big house if we weren't meant to fill it. It's fate. If she's pregnant by October of next year, maybe things will go better with Gerald Schnaus. He had the same sort of mindset about good and evil as Duane Barry did. Surely he wouldn't harm a pregnant woman.::

"Suddenly he realized what was happening. But by then Harold was over his head in an ocean. He came up thinking fast. And in no time he was climbing aboard a trim little boat. He quickly set sail. And the moon sailed along with him."

When Mulder feels a wet spot on his shirt, he realizes that Page is asleep and drooling on him. Letting the book fall onto the chair, he carries her to the crib and pulls a thin blanket over her. She barely stirs as she's settled onto the mattress. After he replaces the book he checks on Sammy one last time before turning off the light.

:: Night guys. If Daddy plays his cards right, there might be another baby for this nursery in a couple of years. Just don't tell Mommy.::

Excerpts from Harold and The Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson


Chapter Twenty-Eight

Sept. 19-21, 1995.

In St. Paul, Minnesota, Mulder and Scully find themselves in a quaint room filled with dolls. Not Barbie dolls, but old-fashioned china dolls, the type Scully used to get scolded for breaking when she was a child. As Mulder says something about Satanists and eyeballs, Scully's own eyes quickly take in the room filled with various law enforcement personnel. She realizes it won't be long until the media and other sensationalists will invade this same room, simply because of the type of victim. She snaps out of her ruminations when Det. Cline asks, "He's gouging eyes for no reason?"

"No, nobody does anything without a reason. We've already composed a profile of the killer," she says briskly, handing over a folder. "We offer possible explanations for the nature of his attacks and also his choice of victims."

When Mulder decided they'd take the case, she made sure her mom was free to take care of not only Page, but also little Sammy. Her heart aches to hold her sweet boy to herself, but she knows this is no place for children. With half an ear, she listens to Mulder put forth his somewhat reasonable theories to the detectives, putting in her two cents to make it seem like she's paying attention. Wonder if Mom ever spaced out like this, Scully muses, then again, she didn't have to work when she had us. For a second, the redhead envies stay-at-home moms, then remembers how her kids (kids! Plural!) drive her nuts over the weekend or between cases, even if she does love them to pieces.

The dramatic entrance of a quirky newcomer and his entourage shakes her from her reverie. As the Stupendous Yappi does his dog-and-pony show, Scully glances over at her husband, who's barely keeping his mirth in check. She, on the other hand, isn't sure whether to toss the would-be Karnac on his ear, or laugh her butt off. Then the melodramatic psychic declares, "It's gone. I lost the vision. Someone is blocking me. I am picking up negative energy." No shit, Sherlock, she thinks, hoping he reads minds as well as he stares hard at her, then at her partner. To her surprise, it's to Mulder he says, "Please leave this room."

She hopes her mouth isn't twitching as her husband and the psychic go back and forth, Mulder going even so far as to say he believes in psychic ability. What *won't* you believe, she snorts inwardly, although if this Yappi's really psychic, he'd kick me out, not Mulder. "Wanna get a refund from the Believer's Club?" she asks in a low voice as he finally capitulates.

Mulder grins. "Bet you ten to one he brings up a white male, with or without a beard, maybe a tattoo." He waggles his eyebrows like the Stupendous Yappi. "Or maybe not."


Scully is perplexed. Or confused. Or frustrated. Or maybe all of the above. She knows it's just the result of going along with one of Mulder's cockamamie theories, but honestly, she doesn't think this Clyde Bruckman's psychic. He's been somewhat helpful, but in a vague way, more like a material witness than say, a paranormal prognosticator as Mulder thinks he is. Still, she doesn't believe he's the killer anymore, but neither will she go so far as to agree with Mulder.

At the Le Dampino Hotel, where they're protecting this supposedly endangered witness, she helps herself to some of the cake Bruckman offers her. Screw the post-pregnancy diet, she thinks, I deserve something sweet for putting up with this insanity. As she pores over the folders containing background checks, she answers perfunctorily about what she's doing, to see the interest quickly fading from the old man's face. Yeah, I'd like to see you go through a marathon of this, she thinks sourly, better yet, I'd like to see Mulder go through all this crap.

About an hour later, she gives up, having found nothing useful and not hearing anything useful from Mulder's end. Finally, she forces herself to ask, "It's something you haven't explained. Can you see your own end?"

"I see our end," the old man says, somewhat pleased. "We end up in bed together." She doesn't bother hiding the look of disbelief, joined by what-the-hell -am-I-doing-here. "I'm, I'm, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that, I, I, I don't mean to offend you or scare you, but, uh, not here, not this bed. I, I just mean I, I see us quite clearly in bed together. You're holding me hand, uh... very tenderly and then... you're looking at me with such compassion and I feel... tears are streaming down my face. I feel so grateful. It's just a... very special moment neither of us will ever forget."

Uh, yeahhhhhhhhhhh, she thinks, in your dreams, Mr. Psychic. Aloud, she says, "Mister Bruckman... there are hits and there are misses. And then there are *misses*."

"I just call 'em as I see 'em." He smiles, unashamed.

Rather than rolling her eyes, she merely smiles back. Some men are incorrigible, she thinks, and is reminded of her husband.


They wind up playing poker and discussing self-fulfilling prophecies and fate, albeit of fictional characters. Scully refuses to believe in something as huge and heartless as fate, but neither is she up for the mental gymnastics required to believe in psychics. Besides, Bruckman's been on a losing streak, even if she's only a so-so poker player. Unless Mulder's right and the only psychic ability he has regards people's death... no, not going there.

"Still, you're not the least bit curious?" he asks.

She's about to answer when there's a knock at the door. Holding a hand dramatically to her forehead a la the Stupendous Yappi, she says, "That must be Mulder." Putting down her cards, she stands up to get the door. As he puts his cards down, she realizes this last game, he would've won. Fine, then, she thinks. "Okay, how do I die?"

He stares at her for a moment. "You already did," he frowns, seeing her pale, blue-tinged body washed up against a cold shore, her hair longer but it's certainly the same woman and it's certainly the past, not the future. "You don't remember?"

She shakes her head briefly, not understanding, then checks the peephole before opening the door. Well, here's someone who makes even Bruckman seem sane. Sometimes. She smiles as he holds up a folder, with what promises to hold some hard evidence, some real clues to this case, not some mind-reading silliness.


Mulder is speeding through "The Joys of Parenthood," his near-photographic memory retaining helpful tips that will hopefully get him on equal footing with his wife when it comes to dealing with their kids. He's already called Maggie earlier while waiting for the lab results to let her know how things are going. It was nice to hear Page's half-coherent ramblings and that "Samuel misses his Dad and Mommy, don't you, Sammy?" Oh my God, it's gonna be Page's birthday soon, he realizes with a start, and puts the book down. He pulls out his cell, then remembers that Scully will most likely kill him if he wakes her up for no good reason. Birthday plans can wait, he thinks.

"Forgot something?" Bruckman asks, amused.

Mulder smiles. "Yeah, that my wife would kill me if I woke her up." Note to self, now that we've got kids, don't *ever* call Scully in the middle of the night without good reason, like an alien invasion or something. How she put up with me all those years doing that to her is a mystery. "Speaking of which," he asks, curious, "how do I die? I'm hoping it's not autoerotic asphyxiation, like you mentioned earlier."

Bruckman laughs, almost barking. "I hope not, for your wife's sake." He's about to add more, when his eyes have that familiar half-glaze. "My God," he murmurs, "oh my God."

"What?" Mulder asks, concerned. Please, please let me be alive to take care of Scully, Page and Sammy. It's weird, but he doesn't remember being this worried about his mortality back when he first rose from the dead.

The trance is broken, and the old man stares at the younger man. "What are you, Wile E. Coyote? You've got more lives than a cat. I'd hate to sell you insurance, that's for sure."

Mulder laughs, but it's uneasy. What exactly did Bruckman see? His other life, as well as this one?


The next night, they're back at home, snuggled on the couch, joined by a new pet. Mulder's eyes are facing the TV, but they're not watching. He's still depressed Bruckman chose to end his own life, rather than taking advantage of having escaped a serial killer to live a fuller life. As the credits for the somewhat macabre Laurel and Hardy show roll, Scully looks up at her husband. "So, did he tell you when you were going to die?" she asks.

He blinks, and the small dog barks, startling him a little. Half-grinning, he says, "He said I'm Wile E. Coyote." A little worried, he asks, "What about you?"

She frowns a little, making his heart race. "I'm not sure. He said I already died. Maybe he mixed us up."

"So that would make you Wile E. Coyote," Mulder nods, "I see. Do I get to be Bugs Bunny, then?"

"Daffy Duck," she counters. "I don't think you're cool enough to be Bugs Bunny."

He pouts, mock-hurt. "Not cool enough? I'm so cool we don't need air conditioning. I'm so cool milk turns into ice cream in my hands. I'm so cool," he leans close, dislodging the small dog, "I've got a hot FBI doctor to marry me." He starts to nuzzle her, half-hoping she'll take him up on his offer.

She giggles, but pushes him away gently, her voice regretful. "Mulder. We can't stay up too late, Page's birthday party is tomorrow, remember?"

He sighs dramatically. "I know." A familiar face on the TV screen catches his attention. "Oh, brother."

Scully turns to see the Stupendous Yappi and his excitable eyebrows. Just to tease him, she says, "Now *there's* Bugs Bunny."

The TV remote flies across the room, knocking the power off.


September 21st 1995

"Happy birthday to you..."

Page looks rather puzzled as Maggie brings out a birthday cake and places it just out of reach. The single candle, shaped like the number one, burns merrily.

"Time to blow out the candle, Page," Mulder tells her, holding her in front of the cake. "Daddy will help you."

She sort of gets the idea of blowing, but it's really Mulder who puts it out. Everyone claps anyway, and tells her that she did a good job. She smiles, showing her sharp little front teeth.

Mulder glances over at Scully, who is doing a decent job of clapping without dumping Sammy on the floor. Mulder finds it hard to believe an entire year has passed since Page's unusual entrance into the world; and harder to believe she's already the big sister of a five-week-old baby.

"Cake! Cake!" Page crows, reaching out for it. Luckily it's still just out of reach.

Maggie quickly cuts a piece of the cake, and gives it to the birthday girl, who enthusiastically puts a fistful of it into her mouth.

"Little disturbing that that the word cake is part of her vocabulary," Mulder comments to Scully.

"At least it's not sunflower seeds. Those are a choking hazard."

Noticing that Scully looks tired, Mulder takes their son from her, for once remembering to drape a burping cloth over his shoulder first. "Hard to believe we've been doing this parenting thing an entire year, huh?"

She gives him a nonplused look. "Sometimes it seems like just yesterday that we brought her home, but other times it feels like she's always been part of our lives."

"I think we're getting good at this," Mulder confides, watching Page lick frosting off her fingers. "If I'd have known parenting was like this, I would have had kids sooner."

"With who, Phoebe Green?" Scully asks archly.

"Nah. I don't think that I could deal with living with any woman but you, so I would have had to get one of those surrogates."

"Thanks. I think."

"You ever think of having more? Kids, I mean, not surrogates."

"Sure, but this time... let's wait a lot longer than seven weeks to conceive the next kid," she tells him with a grin.

"Oh, of course." ::Let's wait until next year.::

Scully jumps up when Sammy cries and takes him from Mulder, leaving him to watch Page smear cake all over herself. A tap on his shoulder startles him. "Fox? I don't think wax is good for dogs." Missy's voice is grave, but her eyes sparkle merrily. Looking past her, he sees that that Queequeg has somehow gotten ahold of the birthday candle, and is holding it between both paws as he gnaws on it. Instead of being traumatized that her candle is being eaten, Page giggles.

::How the hell did he get that?! Damn Pomeranian...why couldn't Scully have been left a real dog?:: "Bad dog! Stop chewing on that, you miserable rat!"

"Don't let my sister hear you call him that," Missy cautions. "Dana seems quite taken with him."

"I wish something would take him," he says sourly, as he bends to scoop up the slobbered on crumbles of wax. :: Well, there is that Big Blue case...:: "Maybe I could offer him to a fisherman for bait."

Missy cuffs him lightly on the shoulder. "That'd go over big."

"Yeah, you're right. So tell me, World Traveler, have you meet anyone interesting on your wanders?" :: And am I ever glad you've gotten to take them.::

"Oh, I don't know..." She looks away, and he realizes that means yes. He's certain of it when she changes the subject. "Before I forget, I have something for the kids." Digging through her pocket, she pulls out two flat slivers of polished stone. "This is rose quartz. If you keep it under a pillow, or a crib mattress in a baby's case, it keep you from having bad dreams."

:: What, no dream catchers?::

"Thanks."

"Dana had bad dreams a lot when she was young. "

"Really?" Mulder fingers the quartz, and finds that it has no sharp edges, and that it's too big to be swallowed, so he decides to honor the auntie's wishes. "I'll put these under their mattresses and be right back."

When he goes into the nursery Scully doesn't even ask why he's putting quartz under the crib mattresses. She must know all about her sister's quirky beliefs in the power of inanimate objects.

"Bumpa! Bumpa!" As he walks down the stairs he hears Page's voice. His father must be here, since that's what she insists on calling him. Bill Mulder has Page in his arms and is talking to Missy about something he can't hear. It's a little strange seeing them both here, but strange in a good way. ::This party was a good idea.::


Late October 1995

After being forewarned, or perhaps forearmed by Mulder's theory about a Russian sub being a UFO, she's prepared to deal with his flights of fancy, and, having sent the kids off with a babysitter, she's also prepared to deal with whatever is thrown at them on this case without worrying about her little ones' health. Bad enough she's walking into the burn section of the San Diego Naval Hospital with her husband, but the fact that they're checking into the cause of those radiation burns makes her super-glad the kids aren't along for the ride. As Mulder makes their introductions, a knot builds in her stomach as she looks around the room.

"It's been difficult to determine a proper course of treatment, because there's an air of secrecy around what happened. he source of their exposure is still undetermined," Dr. Seizer says, catching her attention.

"These symptoms, would you characterize then as acute or somatic?" she asks. Judging by the confused look on his face, she clarifies, "I'm a medical doctor." Geez, like they think FBI agents have no brains, she sighs inwardly

Recovering quickly, the doctor says, "They're somatic, although I don't think we've seen the worst of it. The effects are degrading rapidly, spontaneous internal bleeding in the mouths and intestinal tracts, blood in the urine. All these men are suffering severe delirium, the pre-advanced stages of coma."

Oh, hell, she thinks. We're definitely not going to be getting anything useful from these men save for radiation evidence. "What kind of exposure are we talking about here?"

"200, maybe 400 Roentgens, with a high rate of absorption."

The conversation is going over Mulder's head, she can tell, but the knot in her stomach's gotten that much bigger. Again, she's very glad the kids are at home and not here. "That's verging on the levels suffered by the Hiroshima victims," she says to clarify for her husband

"Whatever these men came in contact with, it was man-made, levels like this just don't appear in nature," Dr. Seizer says grimly.

"Not on this planet," Mulder adds, sotto voce.

Restraining her urge to sock him, she asks, "Did you get a chance to talk to any of them?" Considering the sailors' condition, it's a slim hope, but the hope is there.

"No, they were in pretty bad shape by the time they got to me, except for one man, and this was strange because he's the only one who seems to be completely unaffected. I held him for the first day, but I detected none of the symptoms of the others. His leukocytes and erythocytes were high. Actually, he was in very good health."

As Scully's eyebrows go up, Mulder asks, "How could that be? With that level of radiation, how could one man not be exposed?" Unfortunately, he knows the answer to that question, but he's not about to share with the rest of the class.

The doctor shakes his head. "Doesn't make any sense, but it's lucky for these men because he was the one who piloted the boat in. And none of these men could've done that in their condition."

Yeah, lucky, Mulder thinks, for a certain body-jumping oilien, not these poor guys in the beds. "Could we talk with this man?" he asks, already itching to track down Mr. Black Slime.

"You could if he was still here, but he discharged himself this morning." Scully looks up at him, surprised. "He's a Frenchman, has a San Francisco address, his name is Gauthier."

Party time, Mulder thinks grimly, let's hope we get it before it gets to Krycek this time around.


On board the Piper Maru, after the radiation crew has left, Mulder walks over with a flashlight and checks out the diver's suit covered in oil. He refrains from running a finger over it as Scully looks at a charted map with "Zeus Faber" written in magic marker on the bottom. As the lights flicker on, Wayne Morgan with the Naval investigative unit calls out, "Generator's back, is that better?"

"Yeah, thanks," she answers as Morgan joins her in the room. Damn, looks like Mulder's old apartment. "Is this the way you found the room?"

"Nothing's been touched, not since you've been tied up here anyway." He turns to see Mulder entering the room. "It's a mess, huh?"

"Feels like home," Mulder answers, to meet Scully's withering glare. "Well, not our home," he amends quickly, "more like somebody looking for something." He pauses, his eyes searching, then says, "Ah-ha," and switches on the VCR monitor before hitting play

Scully looks at him, then up at the screen. "What the hell is that?" Morgan says next to her.

"Looks like the fuselage of a plane," Mulder remarks, just waiting for Scully to surprise the Navy man.

And she doesn't disappoint. "It's a North American P-51 Mustang," she says, as sure of her answer as if it were a medical diagnosis.

Morgan blinks, then grudgingly acknowledges, "Yeah, it is."

Mulder leans closer to her and leers, "I just got very turned on."

She nudges him with her elbow, wanting to slap his head, "It's the shape of the canopy. I used to watch my father and brothers put together World War II model planes as a kid." And, like an adult, refrains from sticking her tongue out at both men.

"Would it have been carrying anything radioactive?" Mulder asks, as he pauses the tape on the call numbers JTT0-11470.

She frowns. "No, it was just a fighter."

"Then what was it those men were exposed to?"

Relieved that his mind's back on business and out of his pants, Scully answers, "I don't know, but I know someone I can ask."


Later, while he's sitting at the airport, Mulder answers his cell. "Mulder."

"Mulder, it's me," Scully says, "where are you?"

"San Francisco airport, where are you?" he counters, keeping an eye on Jeraldine "With a J. Kallenchuk."

"Miramar Airbase. I think I've just found out what those men were exposed to, what the Piper Maru was out there looking for." Her voice trembles slightly with excitement.

::Hoo boy. Wonder if I should tell her to keep an eye on Skinner. ::"What?"

"That P-51 Mustang was part of an escort for a B-20 carrying an atomic bomb, just like the one we dropped on Hiroshima. Only this one never reached its target."

That's what you think, Mulder's about to retort, but says instead, "Says who?"

"Says one of the men originally sent to find it, on a submarine called the Zeus Faber," she replies triumphantly. "It all makes sense Mulder, why would they build a nuclear weapon when they can salvage one?"

You think all the pieces fit, but they just keep making more puzzles, Mulder sighs inwardly. "Why if they knew about it, why wait fifty years to try to recover it? And why was the only person not exposed, the diver, sent down to find it?"

She sighs aloud. "I don't know."

"Why don't you try to find out," Mulder suggests as the clock ticks down to boarding time.

"What about you?" Scully frowns.

"I gotta go to Hong Kong," he says, standing up, still keeping an eye on Kallenchuk.

"Hong Kong?" Scully blinks. What the hell?

"Not to turn this into a long-distance relationship, but, uh, I'll call you back okay?" he says before shutting off his cell. He hands his ticket over, and a thought occurs to him. I hope the kids are okay, he thinks, then smothers the worry as a new worry, Joan Gauthier, appears in the overhead mirror. Oh boy.


Scully yawns as she unlocks the door. Home, sweet home, she thinks, opening the door. The babysitter, a no-nonsense Hawaiian woman with a soft heart, smiles widely. "Sammy sleeps like an angel," she says, standing with the aid of a metal cane, "and Page finally went to sleep after running all over the house."

"Thanks, Mrs. K.," she says, then pauses. "Running?" Scully blinks.

Mrs. Kahaiali`i nods. "Yeah, she said her friends were playing with her. Keiki have such great imagination, yeah?"

"Uh, yeah," Scully plasters a smile on her face. Pulling out her purse, she counts out the bills. "I'm glad they weren't too much of a hassle."

"Oh, no," Mrs. K. replies, "you might if I wait little while? My husband's going to pick me up, but he's still at work."

Scully nods, and is in the process of joining Mrs. K. on the couch in front of the TV when her cell rings. "Scully," she answers, recognizing the numbers as somewhere in the FBI office. Oh, no.

"Agent Scully, this is Kim Cook from the director's office," a woman's voice says on the other end.

"Yes?" the redhead answers, thinking, I just got home! Please don't tell me Mulder got arrested in Hong Kong!

"We've just got some bad news, A.D. Skinner has just been shot."

Mulder's okay, but Skinner's not. Dammit. "When?" Scully says, shrugging her coat back on, to Mrs. K.'s curiosity.

"About an hour ago, he's been taken to Northeast Georgetown."

"I'll be right there," she says, hanging up. Then she looks at the heavyset Hawaiian woman. "I'm so sorry, would you mind staying maybe another hour or so?"

Thankfully, the babysitter is accommodating. "Sammy needs to be fed in a couple hours, yeah?" Mrs. K. asks. Scully nods. "Don't worry. Page should still be sleeping when you come back."

Relieved, Scully squeezes the woman's hand. "You'll definitely be getting overtime for this."

"You should, too," Mrs. Kahaiali`i answers as the smaller woman flies out the door.


At the Hong Kong airport, Mulder punches Krycek in the face. It's no less satisfying than the first time around. "That's for your partner," he snarls, then kicks the double-crosser in the crotch, "that's for me," and pulls Krycek's gun on him. "And this is for my father."

"I swear I didn't do it," Krycek gasps. "Besides, he's still alive."

"No thanks to you," Mulder glares, forcing himself not to pull the trigger. "I want that digital tape, you rat bastard."

Krycek's eyes look around wildly. There's no one he can turn to, and Mulder's holding the gun close enough to his stomach to make it almost invisible under his jacket. "I, I don't have it," he lies easily.

Mulder's not buying it. "Like hell you don't, it contains the secrets you were selling as well as everything else our government knows about the existence of extraterrestrial life."

Krycek hisses, "Like I could sell anything? The tape's encrypted."

"Obviously you found a way," Mulder says between his teeth.

"I'll give it to you if you let me go," the younger man bargains.

Yeah, right, Mulder thinks. "Where is it?"

"D.C., in a locker." He takes out a key, then puts it back in his pocket. "If you let me go, I'll tell you."

::Maybe I should just kill him here and now::, the FBI agent reasons, ::nobody will know. I could just take the key, leave the bastard here for CSM or some other syndicate flunky to find, and get the tape.:: Then he reconsiders. ::Dammit. Fine.:: "You put that tape in my hands and we'll talk about it. Why don't you go to the bathrooms and clean yourself off?" He follows Krycek in the bathroom, ignoring the other man's kissy face, and keeps guard over the rat while waiting for Joan Gauthier.

Bingo, he thinks, as the woman walks inside. And, to his shock, instead of reaching out to Krycek, she reaches for him. "No!" he cries out as the black oil invades his body and his mind.


Chapter Twenty-Nine

As Mulder reels back, the body of Joan Gauthier slumps to the tile floor of the bathroom, covered in the same glistening black oil her husband was earlier. Possessed, Mulder doesn't really give a damn right now, and pulls Krycek to him. "Give me the key."

Krycek's about to bluff him, when he sees something like black cataracts swim across Mulder's eyes, and his mouth drops open. His hand fumbles for the key, which he hands over without protest.

The possessed man looks blankly at the yellow key marked "C.I. 517." "Let's go," he says, handcuffing Krycek. He doesn't answer the other man when he dares to yelp, "What do you want with me," and hauls him over to the gate.


Scully hates when things go like the movies, but she's got a bad feeling about this. She hasn't heard from Mulder, and when she dials out for the fifth time, she gets the voice mail recording right off the bat. And even having guards posted at Skinner's door doesn't make her feel quite safe, so she goes home to make sure her kids are all right. Having paid Mrs. K. an exorbitant amount, she stays up feeding Sammy, then goes over the paperwork on Skinner. "Where are you," she asks no one in particular, and wonders where her husband is. She's dialing the Hong Kong embassy, when her cell phone rings. Picking it up quickly, she answers, "Scully." It's from the FBI building, but she hopes it's good news this time. Maybe even something about her errant husband.

"Agent Scully, this is Agent Pendrell," the man on the other end says. "I knew you wanted the results on the shooter ASAP."

"What is it?" she asks, fighting her frustration. She knows she needs her sleep, but is fighting the urge.

"The partial prints we pulled out of the cash register didn't add up to anything. We found saliva on Skinner's shirt that wasn't his. The analysis of the secretors and other hemofactors says that we're looking for a male, probably in his 40s with blood type B positive."

"Short of cutting open every other forty-ish male, is there anything else?" Scully asks archly. "Sorry," she adds belatedly, "between this case and my baby boy, I haven't been able to get much sleep."

"Uh, well," Pendrell says in a more subdued tone, "We were able to chromosome-stain some of the hair fibers we picked up last night. We can still run those indicators against all the suspects arrested in the DC area in the last couple of years

"Thank you, Agent Pendrell," she says sincerely, then a thought occurs to her. "Narrow that search to suspects within this past year, specifically in regards to suspects on the X-Files." It's a leap, but Mulder isn't the only one to trust hunches.

"Oh, okay," she can almost hear the other redhead blink. "You got it."

"Thanks again," Scully says before hanging up. A monster yawn escapes her mouth, and she debates whether more coffee or simply sleep would do the trick. A few moments later, the debate is rendered moot as she passes out at the desk.


Around the same time, on Country Road 512, the passenger in the rental car is growing increasingly agitated. "Um, in case you haven't noticed with that weird black goo in your eyes, we're being followed," Krycek says, his green eyes dark with worry about both the driver and the dark sedan behind them.

"I know," is all Mulder says, and the dull monotone does nothing to reassure Krycek. He speeds up, but the rental, being a crappy old American model, doesn't have enough power to escape being hit by the sedan. His face shows no emotion as the car careens off the road, and Krycek futilely puts his handcuffed hands up to shield himself. When the car comes to a stop, two men exit the dark sedan, obviously armed. Mulder looks up with no expression as one of the men tells him, "Get out." Mulder does so, leaving behind the double-agent bleeding from a concussion in the passenger seat.

"Where's the digital tape?" the first man in black asks as the second man pins his arms behind him.

"I don't have it," Mulder says simply, and is punched for his answer. He doesn't seem to feel it, though, and a bright flash of light emanates from his body, incinerating both men. Kicking the horribly burned corpse of the man who'd held him, Mulder steps over the man who punched him, and walks over to the car. He opens the passenger door and lifts Krycek's head.

"Oh," Krycek groans, feeling a pounding headache bring him to the point of nausea, and his eyes widen when they see the other man's face. "Oh, no."

Mulder puts his other hand around Krycek's neck, squeezing as the black oil glazes his eyes. When he passes out, his body covered in black slime, Krycek steps over him and walks over to the dark sedan.


November 1st, 1995

"Oh, ow," Mulder groans as consciousness hits like a ton of bricks, only less soft. "I feel like hell." He slowly opens his eyes and sees Scully's red hair, which is almost too much. "What happened?" She's okay and doesn't look too pissed off, which means the body-jumping oilien didn't make him kill his family. He hopes.

"The State police found you unconscious," she says in a low voice, as if aware of how much like a hangover he feels like. "You were covered in the same goo that Gauthier was found in and lying near a rental car that had been run off the road."

"What about Krycek?" he asks.

"Krycek was there?" she asks, her brow furrowing.

"He was in Hong Kong, selling information off the digital tape he's got," he says, and coughs. After sipping the water Scully gives him, he asks, "So I'm in the U.S.? I don't remember anything after handcuffing him."

She blinks, and decides not to pry. "Actually, you're not the only one in the hospital," she says, relieved that her husband's home, even if he was found covered in that nasty oil-type thing. "Skinner's been shot."

"What happened?" he asks, but the memory comes back, even as she answers.

"A bullet perforated his small intestine. The doctor seems to think he'll be fine." She seems to share the doctor's opinion, so he feels somewhat better.

"Who shot him?"

A smart aleck remark comes to mind, but she holds it back as she opens the folder. She really didn't have as much sleep as she wanted or needed. "PCR results, says this one belongs to the man who shot Skinner," she says, handing the folder over to him.

"And this one is?" he asks, holding up the other sheet.

"The one who stole the digital tape in the first place," she says, "the same man who pushed Skinner down a stairwell for it."

"Boy, Skinner really knows how to piss people off," Mulder remarks, getting out of bed. "What?"

"Mulder, you should really stay in bed," Scully admonishes him.

"Are you gonna make me?" he asks hopefully, pulling her to him. "Otherwise, we've got a digital tape to find, Skinner's shooter to hunt down, Krycek's ass to track, and the radiation source of the Piper Maru's crew to discover."

She sighs, then kisses him. "When you put it that way," she says, handing him his clothes before walking out, "you'd better get dressed."

He grins lopsided at her. "I think this is the first time I wish you'd won." He watches her shake her head, then waltz out the door. He sighs, then pulls off his hospital gown in exchange for a button-down shirt.


Byers is strapping Page onto his chest, doubting her unsteady legs would be ready for skating just yet. He wishes Mulder had picked Frohike or Langly, but when the FBI agent said, "Would you imagine either of those guys with small children? I didn't think so," he'd reluctantly acquiesced. So, being the dutiful de facto uncle, he puts a lesser-loved necktie into her hands and says brightly, "Ready?" When she nods, he steps onto the ice, his eyes scanning the rink at Capitol Ice. Bending his knees slightly to balance the extra weight, he passes a number of people, but nobody that stands out as much as himself, or so he thinks.

Then Langly takes a spin on the ice and changes the conservatively-dressed man's opinion. For one thing, he's skating in the opposite direction, and for another, he hasn't bothered to brush his long blond hair, opting to tuck it awkwardly under a ski cap. Byers' mouth purses, but says nothing to the D & D master of their group. Langly grins widely and continues to swoop through the circling skaters, nearly knocking over a would-be figure skater in the process.

As Byers gets off the ice, he watches Langly flail a little and sighs, then sees their other compatriot step onto the ice. Frohike pretends he doesn't see the blond man nearly bowl over a small group of kids and gets off the ice, waddling over to the lockers in his skates. He opens the locker marked "517"with the yellow key, retrieving a brown packet. "Bingo," he says, shoving it into his black leather vest, and all three Lone Gunmen hustle over to Mulder's car.

"Look, Sammy, the Three Stooges," Mulder says before they get into his car.

Sammy gurgles happily at the three men, who mistake his enthusiasm. "Hey, kid," Frohike grins at the almost bald little boy before handing over the packet. "No sweat."

"We show a talent for G-man activities," Langly brags as Byers struggles to detach Page from himself. "Hey, man, need some help?" Byers nods helplessly as Langly soon finds his long hair the object of Page's affection. "Ow, ow, ow! Mulder, tell your kid to leggo!"

"Leggo," Mulder deadpans, opening the packet. Damn. Empty again. Sighing, he hands Sammy over to Frohike, who he slightly resembles in the bald man department. Twisting in his seat, Mulder decides to try something he can actually do something about, like freeing two out of three Lone Gunmen from his daughter's clutches. "Wow, Page, you've got them wrapped around your finger," he grins.

"That's my hair," Langly grumbles, while Byers sighs with relief at being released.


Meanwhile, back at the FBI, Scully's looking at a slideshow. Nothing like Mulder's, she thinks, but is relieved not to be facing a mutant sewer monster or teens with suspicious mosquito bites on their backs. Agent Fuller states, "His name is Luis Cardinal, native of Nicaragua, school of the America's alumni, career mercenary, apparently impressed a lot of people with his marksmanship during the Iran contra deal." He pauses while his partner takes up the slack.

"That's actually the good news," Agent Caleca says, her brown eyes practically black. "The bad news is that he entered the country without a visa or papers. As far as we can tell we can't find anything on him, address, phone number, financials, nothing. And none of his aliases have been tagged as either entering or exiting the country. In all likelihood, he's probably long gone."

Scully sighs. They had Krycek, who'd managed to escape, and now evidence and the identity of Skinner's shooter, who's probably also skipped out of town. Dammit. Why can't criminals stay in one place? Guess that's why they put the "I" in FBI, the sardonic voice in her head tells her. Shut up, Mulder, she retorts inwardly. "Keep looking," she says tersely.

Fuller is taken aback. "We, we've pretty much exhausted all our avenues," he says.

Scully looks at him. "He shot an Assistant Director of the FBI," she says, wondering where the loyalty went. "What's it gonna take?" A cap in your ass, she adds mentally.

Caleca blinks. "At this point? Other than a sign from God?" she asks.

The redhead raises an eyebrow. "I've seen stranger things, believe me," she says, hustling out of the room, hoping for better news from her partner.


Meanwhile, Mulder, having called and met the Well-Manicured Man in Central Park and plays out the fact that both are looking for Krycek, sighs. It's a nice place in the day time, but he wishes he didn't have to repeat certain things for the sake of appearance. Besides, now that the body-jumping alien has landed in Krycek again, he's fairly certain the thing's headed to North Dakota. If some things haven't changed, that would be it, he thinks.

Then he remembers something else and pulls out his cell phone. "Scully, it's me," he says urgently, checking his watch. "The two guards you had posted in front of Skinner's room, are they still there?"

"They should be, why?" she asks, and he can almost see her frown.

"I, I want you to double-check for me, okay?" he asks.

"Okay," she says, and he hangs up with a sigh.

Okay, saved Skinner's ass for the time being. Now, to save his own. "Guys?" he asks, hearing the hiss of the reel-to-reel tape recording the conversation. He doesn't care. "How's the kids?"

"Oh, just peachy," Frohike says sourly over what sounds like a ruckus in the background. "Why don't they come with volume control?"

"Echolocation," Mulder repeats what his wife told him.

"Mulder says it's echolocation," Frohike tells his harried friends, "smother one, Langly."

"The formula should last until tomorrow," Mulder grins, "I love you."

"Shut up," the short man replies. "You're not gonna leave 'em with us overnight, are you? Come on, man, you can't be that hard-hearted."

"They're your godchildren, too," he says, and a beeping interrupts him. "Oops, got another call. Give Sammy and Page my love!"

"Mulder, kiss my," Frohike replies but is cut short.

"Mulder, your instincts were right about Skinner," Scully says over the phone, the police sirens and hubbub filling the background. "We've just arrested a man for attempted murder."

"That's great," Mulder says, and another weight is lifted off his shoulders. He's thwarted Cardinal twice, and so far, all's right with the world.

"Mulder, he said he knows where Krycek is. I don't know if this makes any sense to you, he says he's headed towards an abandoned missile site somewhere in North Dakota," she says, feeling an odd sense of triumph over having caught the man. She isn't sure why, but it seems there's something more important about the man than simply having shot Skinner. Missy would say it was déjà vu, and quickly, she smothers the thought.

"I want you to meet me at the DC airport in an hour, I want you to get two tickets on the first flight for North Dakota," he says, hailing a taxi.

"What's in North Dakota?" she wonders.

He grins. "Proof of this wild goose chase, Scully," he replies as the taxi driver breaks all the laws of physics getting him to the airport, "the salvaged UFO."


Like clockwork, they find the abandoned missile silo out of all the hundreds of silos out there, mainly because of Mulder's "instinct," and end up being escorted from the premises courtesy of the Cigarette Smoking Man and a good number of armed military types. Scully looks at the men with loathing, as if they shouldn't be wearing their uniforms, and Mulder twists around to confront the smoking man. "The UFO's here. That's what Krycek's after, isn't it?" he yells.

The smoking man calmly exhales a puff of smoke. "Alex Krycek disappeared five months ago," he says, as if stating that the earth revolves around the sun.

Scully digs her considerable heels in the ground. "We saw bodies in there. Men with radiation burns! Men like you!"

The smoking man looks at them with some measure of pity. "You saw nothing," he says, tapping his cigarette to get rid of the ash.

"You won't get away with this! You can't bury the truth!" Mulder hollers before he's shoved into the blue van with the feisty redhead.

Inside the van, Mulder looks at his wife. "I'm sorry," he says as he's being manacled.

She shakes her head. "We've come close before," she says, "we'll get proof."

He smiles a little. "Does that mean you believe there was a UFO in there, Scully?"

She gives him a look. "I believe there was something in there that killed those soldiers," she says, looking pointedly at their captors, "the same thing that sickened the men from the Piper Maru." Scully puts a shackled hand on her husband's. "How are you feeling?"

"I'm fine," he says, and adds quickly, "really. I'm just hoping the Lone Gunmen won't kill our kids before we get back."

Her eyes blaze, and even the military men scoot away. "You did what?"

::Forget the body-jumping, radiation-inducing oilien,:: Mulder thinks, ::the wrath of Scully is enough to put a whole gallon of that stuff to shame.:: And he endures it without CDC protection for the rest of their journey back to D.C.


Washington, D.C.
November 10th, 1995

The house seems too quiet to Scully. Mulder took both babies with him to look for pumpkin pie, a turkey and other Thanksgiving supplies. Despite her protest that neither child is old enough to have any idea what will be going on in a couple of weeks, he insisted that an appreciation for the holidays must be instilled in children when they are very young. Rather than argue about it, she humors him, knowing that anything they do for the holidays will really be for him. That's okay with her, she likes the way his eyes light up when they arrive each year.

The ring of the doorbell shatters the quiet, and makes her smile broadly. Her own plans for the afternoon can now get under way

"Thanks for coming over, Mom," Scully says, giving her mother a hug when the older woman walks into the house.

"No problem." Maggie smiles. "Is the stuff you wanted to move still in the nursery?"

"Yes. I packed most of their out-grown clothes up into zippered bag and put them in the bassinette. I should only take one trip if we both grab an end." They head up the stairs. "I can't believe Sammy is big enough for a crib already. It seems like it was only days ago that we called you to come get Page before rushing off to the hospital."

"August wasn't so many days ago, really. Are you sure you want to store these things instead of giving them away?" Maggie asks innocently.

Knowing that her mother is fishing, Scully hides her smile. "Yes, I'm sure, Mom. I'd like to have another baby someday."

"And Fox wants another baby too?"

"He loves being a Dad. I'm sure that he'd like more kids too."

Maggie nods. "He's a great Dad, the kind of father that I hope your brother Bill, when he and Tara have children."

"Is she pregnant?" Scully asks curiously, looking up from making sure the bags aren't sticking out of the bassinette.

Maggie sighs. "Not yet. Their specialist thinks that it's just a matter of time, though."

"I hope things work out for them. Having a kid might ground Bill. I hope."

"Part of his prickliness towards you and Charlie stems from jealousy, Dana. He's the oldest, and his youngest siblings already have kids of their own. It hurts his pride a little, you must know that."

"I do know that, Mom. But I'm pretty sure it annoys him that we've had kids with no effort. Charlie's son was as much of a surprise as Page was, after all."

"There's that," Maggie agrees.

They each pick up an end of the laden bassinette and begin to crab walk their way towards the attic stairs. "Your father and I would have liked more kids, you know."

Scully looks at her with surprise. "No, I didn't know."

"It's not like your brother's problem, we could have had them if we wanted to, but it with your father gone so often, four kids was as many as I could handle on my own. "The conversation comes to a halt until they've managed to man-handle their burden up the stairs. The effort makes Scully glad that there's an actual staircase to the attic, not one of those pull down ladders that are so common place. "You four kept me jumping."

"Sorry?" Scully's voice is uncertain.

"There's nothing to be sorry about. I'm just glad that work doesn't separate you and Fox very often, and that you can afford to hire someone to look after my grandchildren when necessary."

"I actually feel a little guilty about that..." Scully admits.

"Don't. Children should be a parent's priority, but they shouldn't be their whole life. That sort of thing isn't healthy for anyone involved, parents or children."

Maggie pats her arm as they leave the attic. "I think I heard a car, maybe it's Fox."

"Oh good, then you can help haul in a turkey too." Scully grins. "And when people ask you how you're such good shape at your age, you can thank me."

Her mother's only reply to raise her eyebrows.


November 13th, 1995

"Mulder! If we don't get this food inside, it's all going to spoil!" Scully calls, looking at the bags in the car in dismay. She can bring in the kids, or the groceries, not both. It seems to her that this is an issue almost every day...who knew that a family of four would need so many groceries?

"What, are you expecting a sudden heat-wave? It's forty degrees out, which is very close to the temperature in the refrigerator," Mulder says, reappearing. "You should know the temperature, you're the one who made me put a hat on Sammy." Even though Sammy had more hair than his sister did at his age, Scully was still fanatical, insisting that most body heat is lost through the head. Not, she insisted, a good thing for their three-month-old. And no, Mulder, fiery red hair doesn't provide any additional warmth.

She doesn't find his reasoning amusing. "What were you doing?"

"Getting the mail. We've got something from John Doggett," he says, waving something card-shaped.

"A little early for a Christmas card, don't you think?" Scully remarks, grabbing the bags, and leaving the kids for Mulder to haul in.

"Maybe it's a thanksgiving card. They have those at Hallmark."

After they put everything away, and remove everyone's coats, which takes quite a while, Mulder remembers the mail. He uses a letter opener to slice it open; not because it's quicker, but because it's cooler.

"Oh oh. Looks like we're not the only family that's growing." He hands Scully the picture and accompanying letter.

"Hannah's a pretty name," Scully says, studying the picture. "They look so happy...but it must be kind of strange having kids ten years apart in age."

"As opposed to having a new kid every year?" Mulder asks with a smirk.

Scully gives an unladylike snort. "That trend will not be continuing."

"Aww, come on Scully, you could go back to the church and I could convert, then we could have one every year just like they did in the old days."

"Yeah right. As much as I like to make my mom happy, I'm not going back to the church."

"Damn, and here I was getting all hot over the thought of having fish every Friday. Sensuous salmon... "

Scully pushes his shoulder. "Jerk."

Later on, his mind wanders as he's supposed to be working on a case report. Hannah Doggett, born three weeks earlier. She hadn't been part of the plan when he went back to repair things, but Scully was right. They did look happy in the picture. Still, he wonders what that means for what would have been for Doggett and Reyes. Shrugging, he reminds himself that he'd originally thought it would be better that Doggett and Reyes never met than for Doggett and his son to die too young. It's out of his hands.


Chapter Thirty

November 28th, 1995

Mulder is still in the office, reading the file on their new case, a boy named Kevin Kryder who is exhibiting the stigmata. He knows that he could have gone home with Scully, and still know more than he would from reading the file, but he stays to keep up appearances.

As he's shutting the folder, the phone rings.

"Mulder, I have terrible news." Scully's voice sounds upset.

For a moment terrible images flash through his mind- Page getting by the baby gate and falling down the stairs; Sammy cold in his crib a victim of SIDS... before he can get himself too panicked, he croaks out, "What?"

"It's Mrs. K."

"Is she dead?" Mulder blurts out before he can stop himself.

"No, she's not dead." Scully doesn't sound happy. "She and her husband won the lottery. They're retiring in Hawaii."

At first Mulder can't see why this is so tragic, but then he realizes why she's so upset. "When are they leaving?"

"In three days."

"Uh oh."

"You don't know the half of it. We're supposed to leave on that case tomorrow, and my mom is visiting Charlie. And Mulder, before you even suggest it, we are NOT leaving Sammy and Page with your lunatic friends."

That hurts him a little. How can she call them lunatics when she thinks of them as useful? "We need to get a nanny."

"We're not going to get one by tomorrow." The level of agitation in her voice goes up a notch.

Mulder drags a hand across his face. "I'll call my Mom."

"Your mother?" Scully's noise of disbelief is not flattering either. "Mulder, does she even like children?"

"She liked them enough to have two of them."

"That proves nothing."

Unfortunately, he's inclined to agree, but what other choice do they have? As much as the kids love his dad, he doesn't think his father's drinking is under control enough to feel comfortable leaving two helpless babies with him, and if he doesn't feel comfortable Scully definitely wouldn't. "I'll give her a call, Scully."

"Fine. We're going to look into a nanny as soon as we're done with this case."

"Yes, yes we are."


Their case does not start off easily, mostly because of Teena Mulder. To Mulder's vast relief, she doesn't refuse, but when they get there with the kids, she makes no effort to hid her reluctance to take care of her grandchildren. He can tell that this upsets Scully, almost as much as the way Teena holds Sammy like he's a time-bomb waiting to go off. It's always hard to leave the kids, but this is much harder than usual.

That the case involves a young child doesn't make them think about their own children any less, since they're thankful that Page and Sammy are far better off than the poor little boy that the case centers around.

This in mind after they speak to the boy's teacher, Mulder wonders if he ought to suggest that they bring Kevin home with them, rather than put him in the as-it-turns-out-not-very-safe house. In the end, he decides that Scully wouldn't go for it, and would find the remark too uncharacteristic of him. Sighing, he hopes there's another way to keep Kevin's mother safe, but he can't help but think of Spiney and Householder...

Scully must notice Mulder's lack of focus as they speak to the boy's father, because she nudges him with her elbow.

"He's bleeding again, isn't he?" Kevin's father is so calm as he asks the question, so very calm.

"Yes. How did you know that?" Scully asks him. Mulder wonders if she means for her voice to be that sharp.

"Because the faithful know."

"Mr. Kryder, the claims you've made for your son may have put him in danger. Do you know that?" ::If you'd kept your mouth shut, maybe he could have gone his whole life unnoticed. Do you have any idea what you've done?:: Mulder keeps his frustrated thoughts to himself.

"The child was in danger long before I ever made the claims. Since the day he was born, they've been watching him."

"Don't we all fear that?" Scully asks. "That we've put our children in danger merely by having them?"

Mulder shoots her a look; her remarks would be less chilling if she knew about William too. Banishing the thought, he turns back to mister Kryder. "They?"

"The forces of darkness. They will come in the form of a powerful and respected man."

::Don't they always?:: "These forces. What do they want?" he asks instead.

"To claim all souls. You must understand, this is the great war between good and evil."

Scully raises an eyebrow." Armageddon?"

"God will find someone to stop it. Someone who is strong enough to make the sacrifice."

The man's faith is so powerful that Mulder envies him. "He's chosen you?"

"I'm merely a messenger."

"Let's go."

Mister Kryder speaks to Scully as she gets up to leave. "You must come full circle to find the truth."

"Excuse me?" Mulder asks, bristling.

"Full circle to find the truth? I don't know what that means," Scully says.

"You will."


Mulder feels out of control as he leads the charge to retrieve Kevin from Jarvis. It doesn't feel like the outcome of this case is going to be any different from the first time around." Federal agents! Put down your weapon! Put it down right here! Down, now! Put it down!" Jarvis complies. "Where's the boy? Where's the boy?"

Jarvis doesn't answer. Scully goes around him to search through the house. Jarvis speaks to Scully as she passes him. "Don't hurt him. Please?"

As she climbs up the latter to the attic, Mulder can't help but wonder if she knows who Jarvis means.

"Where's the boy? What have you done with Kevin?" Mulder asks.

"He can't go home. It's not safe there. I told him that."

Mulder picks up and shoves a bloodstained towel in Jarvis' face. "Is this Kevin Kryder's blood?"

"Yes."

"Did you hurt him?" Mulder asks, knowing that the man didn't.

"No. I'm not the one that wants to hurt him," Jarvis says just as Scully rejoins them.

"If it's not you, then who is it?" she asks.

"I was only asked to protect the boy."

"By who? Who asked you to protect him?" Mulder demands to know.

"God."

"God! That's quite a long distance call, isn't it?"

"You don't understand, unless someone protects Kevin ..."

"It's the end of the world as we know it, right?" Mulder asks sarcastically. For some reason he wants to punish the man for what's going to happen soon. For deliberately being a martyr when he could have helped the boy in another way.

"He who has ears, let him hear."

"And he that has a tongue, let him speak. Now tell me where he is!"

Jarvis turns to Scully instead, and looks at her cross. "You believe me, don't you? I mean, you must wear that as a reminder."

"Mr. Jarvis, my religious convictions are hardly the issue here," she protests.

"But they are. How can you help Kevin, if you don't believe? Even the killer, he believes."

"And townsfolk wonder why I sleep in on Sunday," Mulder says with a smirk.

"Mass on Christmas, fish on Friday. You think that makes you a good Christian. Just because you don't understand the sacrifice, because you're unwilling, don't think for a moment that you set the rules for me. I don't question His word. Whatever He asks of me, I'll do." Jarvis stands up, his hands still bound behind him in the chair.

"Sit down, Mr. Jarvis."

"I just want to go to heaven." Despite having to bend over because of his bonds, runs toward the window. Before Mulder can stop him, he's jumped out the window.

Twenty minutes later, they find Kevin. Jarvis is dead on the floor and there are new blood stains on the bandages on the back side of Kevin's hands.

Mulder's heart aches as he watches his wife try to comfort the frighten child. "You'll be OK. You'll be OK."

Kevin's eyes are huge as he looks up at her. "Are you the one who was sent to protect me?"


Mulder's remarks about religion come back to bite him in the ass later, and he wonders if things won't be worse this time since he's been the one teasing her about it.

"Well, what do you think this is?" she asks, after telling him how Jarvis' body isn't decomposing normally.

"This man? He was rather abnormal in life, maybe he's decomposing abnormally."

"Well, isn't a saint or a holy person just another term for someone who's abnormal?"

::I've been called abnormal many times, but never a saint.:: He thinks grumpily. "Do you really believe that?"

"I ... believe in the idea that God's hand can be witnessed. I believe He can create miracles, yes."

"Even if science can't explain them?"

"Maybe that's just what faith is." Even though he's heard it once before, her simple statement still surprises him. It's hard to reconcile his image of her being coolly logical with another of someone who has strong faith in god.

"Well, I wouldn't let faith overwhelm your judgment here. These people are simply fanatics behaving fanatically using religion as a justification. They give bona fide paranoiacs like myself a bad name. They're no more divine or holy than that ketchup we saw on the murdered preacher. And I think once you've finished your autopsy, you'll come to the same conclusion. St. Owen."


As Mulder had feared, Kevin's mother cannot be saved yet again.

When they reach the scene of the accident Kevin is unhurt, and wrapped in a blanket and sitting in the back seat of their car. Scully immediately goes to speak to him, leaving Mulder to watch from a distance. He lets them talk for a couple of minutes before joining them.

"Is he ready to go?

"I want to keep him with us, Mulder, until Gates is apprehended." Mulder stares at her, realizing that she's got something on her mind that she hadn't last time. "Look, I know about getting personally involved and I'm not," she says, belying his new theory.

"Did he ID Gates?"

"Yes."

"That'll help. A man fitting Gates' description rented a car, under the name Forau. That's one of the Devil's disciples."


The Westward Inn

Mulder talks to his mother on the hotel room phone as Scully draws a bath for Kevin.

"Mom, it's me," Mulder says, hoping for some good news on her end. "How's everyone?"

Fat chance. Even before she answers, he can hear wailing in the background. "Fox," she says in a strained voice, "we're, we're fine."

Oh no, she's using Scully's "fine", he groans inwardly. "As long as nobody's had sugar, it should be cool." There's a silence at the other end, and, swallowing hard, he forces his tone to be positive. "Mom, if they're fed and changed, just read to Page, she'll be okay once she's in bed. It'll take a while, but she'll fall asleep eventually. And Sammy, when you stand up and hold him, you can sing him to sleep."

"You know I can't sing," she protests half-heartedly, interrupting herself with, "No, Sammy, don't eat that!"

He grins at the memory as well as the image of Sammy sticking God knows what into his drooling mouth, and is surprised to find it's not a forced smile. "I know, but neither can I. Somehow, the sound of tone-deaf singing knocks the kid out. Guess it's hereditary," he quips, looking at the bathroom door where his equally tone-deaf wife is.

She chuckles, and it's a welcome sound. "Would you like to talk to them?" she asks.

"Sure," he says, "thanks, Mom."

She makes a smiling "hmph"sound before putting the receiver down. Distantly, he hears, "Page, your daddy wants to talk to you."

"Daddy!" he hears his little girl say. Somehow, despite this case and the horrible things he knows are going to happen, things seem somewhat better. "Hi, Daddy!"

"Hi, Page," he says, a goofy grin plastered on his face. "I miss you. Are you and Sammy behaving for Grandma?"

She giggles, which doesn't bode well for Grandma, and the phone is dropped. Wincing, he rubs his ear until a gurgling sound catches his attention. "Sammy? Be nice to Grandma, okay? Daddy loves you."

There is a shifting of sound, and his mother's voice comes back on. "Fox, be careful," she says, and a startled "oof!" escapes her lips.

Uh-oh, sounds like they're a long way from sleep. "You, too," he says, wondering if placing bets on his mother's chances would be unfair. "See you soon."

A sigh escapes her lips. "Not soon enough," she says before hanging up.

::Maybe I should place bets on how soon we find a nanny::, he also sighs, taking out the briefcase with the casefile inside. ::I love my mom, but I'm not sure she's kid-friendly or child-safe.:: Then he thinks of Gates and figures it could be worse.


By the time Scully's done in the bathroom, Mulder is sitting on the bed reviewing the case file.

"You never draw my bath," Mulder jokes, but she's not in a joking mood.

"Kevin has a cut under his ribs."

"He was in an accident."

"No, I ... I was with the paramedics when they were looking at him. It wasn't there."

"Maybe you missed it."

"No, Mulder, I was paying close attention."

"What do you think it is?"

"Yesterday, I saw Kevin's hands. They were bleeding from identical wounds on the top as on the bottom ... just like in the crucifixion."

"Scully ..."

"There have been other signs. I haven't said anything until now, because I haven't been sure ... and I'm still not sure."

"Sure of what exactly?"

"How Kevin was able to be in two places at once ... "

"He's got an evil twin?"

"...just like St. Ignatius was able to do in the Bible," Scully finishes her statement despite the interruption.

"That was in the Bible. It's a parable, it's a metaphor for the truth, not the truth itself. Why didn't Kevin conveniently bi-locate when Owen Jarvis abducted him from the shelter?"

Scully is beginning to become angry. Or maybe defensive. He can't tell which." How is it that you're able to go out on a limb whenever you see a light in the sky, but you're unwilling to accept the possibility of a miracle? Even when it's right in front of you."

"I wait for a miracle every day. But what I've seen here has only tested my patience, not my faith." :: I know I'm wrong. Every day I relive is a miracle, but in penance I'm unable to say a word about it to anyone, especially you."

"Well, what about what I've seen?"

Before they can continue their conversation there is a thumping noise. Scully walks toward the bathroom door.

"Kevin? You OK?" She tries the door but it's locked. "I didn't lock it."

Mulder breaks open the door. Kevin is gone and the window is broken. The bars on the outside of the window are bent and glowing red.

"I'll call the police," he promises.


The Next Day

Mulder's cell phone rings. Scully walks out into the hallway while Mulder lags behind to take the call. He hangs up and runs to catch up with her.

"Scully. They had a sighting of Gates. He tried to rent another car at the airport, under the name Forau again. Did you hear what I said?" ::Don't listen to me.::

Scully is looking past him at a waste container against the wall. The container has a recycling symbol on it.

"Mulder, look. Arrows that form a circle. Full circle to find the truth. Gates' company owns a recycling plant near here. That's where he's taken Kevin."

"You think it's you, don't you? You think you're the one who's been chosen to protect Kevin."

"I don't know. Look, if I'm wrong, I'll meet you out at the airport. OK?"

He hangs up the phone in frustration, frustration that has nothing to do with being proven wrong. :: I know what you're thinking, Scully, and it won't work. They'd never let you.::


The Shelter
Two Days Later

Fortunately, Scully was no more inclined to listen to his protests this time around than last, so she is able to save Kevin, like she believes she is meant to. They go to the shelter to say good-bye to Kevin, before they catch a flight home to relieve a frantic Teena Mulder.

While Mulder paces, Kevin and Scully are in one of the shelter bedrooms. Kevin has just finished packing his belongings.

"You all set?" Scully asks him.

"Thanks."

He reaches out to shake hands with Scully. She turns his hand over and sees no sign of a wound on his palm, then shakes it. Kevin starts to leave.

"Maybe I'll see you again sometime," Scully says with a brittle smile.

"You will."

"You all ready, Kevin?" a social worker calls from the hallway.

"Yeah."

Kevin leaves. Scully turns away from the door and looks down as Mulder enters. She brings a hand to her eyes to wipe away a tear, as Mulder picks up her coat and helps her into it.

"You OK?"

"Yeah, I think so."

"We have a couple of hours before our flight. I told the sheriff we'd go down and make a formal statement about Gates' death."

"Okay."

He puts his arm around her shoulder. "I know what you've been thinking, and I'm sorry that it couldn't work out that way."

She gives him a wobbly smile. "Oh? What have I been thinking?"

"You've been thinking that we ought to take him home with us, where he'll always have people who can protect him."

"Is that so wrong?"

"No, it's not wrong. It's just not realistic."

"Sometimes...sometimes it's good for a person to be unrealistic. Other wise, we'd never feel hope."

He nods and holds her close. There's nothing he can put into words; he just knows how she feels.


Chapter Thirty-One

December 5th, 1995

Miller's Grove, Massachusetts

Parked on the side of the road, Mulder is looking up at the stars, which twinkle brightly in the clear sky. A white cockroach jumps on his windshield and Mulder turns on the wiper, brushing it off. The phone rings and he takes it out.

"Mulder."

"Mulder, I thought you were going to give me a call when you got to your mom's house." Scully reminds him. Her free hand is trying to get a spoonful of carrots into Page's reluctant mouth, but Page purses her lips and shakes her head.

"I would have, if I made it that far. I got a call about 20 minutes ago telling me that she had a 'last minute engagement' so we're not having dinner after all. See what happens when I try to make things up to her? Although, I don't think that Page and Sammy could have been THAT bad..."

Scully gives her daughter a measured look, and wonders if Mulder is being honest with himself. "Are you on your way home, then?"

"No, just, uh... sitting and thinking at the moment. Widespread accounts of unidentified colored lights hovering in the skies were reported last night. Look, Scully, I know it's not your inclination but... did you ever look up into the night sky and feel certain that... not only was something up there but... it was looking down on you at that exact same moment and was just as curious about you as you are about it?"

She puts down the spoon when it becomes obvious that Page is ready to start shrieking about her dislike of carrots. The last thing she needs is for Page to wake the baby. Her defeat makes her less than enthused by Mulder's question. "Mulder, I think the only thing more fortuitous than the emergence of life on this planet is that, through purely random laws of biological evolution, an intelligence as complex as ours ever emanated from it. Uh, the, the very idea...of intelligent alien life is not only... astronomically improbable but at it's most basic level, downright anti-Darwinian."

"Scully...what are you wearing?"

She laughs. "A t-shirt artfully decorated with carrot."

"I told you she hates carrots." Mulder snorts. "I understand what you're saying but the improbability, but I, I, I just need to keep looking."

"Yeah, well, don't look too hard. You might not like what you find."

"Isn't that what, uh, Doctor Zaius said to Charlton Heston at the end of "Planet of the Apes?" "

"And look what happened." Scully reaches for a jar of apple sauce, and is greeted by an enthusiastic reception from Page. She reminds herself that rolling her eyes at her toddler isn't going to teach the girl anything she wants her to know.

"Scully, I got to go. I'll call you in a little bit. Something's come up."

Mulder squirms when a sheriff approaches his car and looks inside. Some things never change.

"How you doing?" sheriff Frass asks as Mulder rolls down the window. Mulder shrugs. "What are you doing?"

"Just sitting, thinking."

"Sitting and thinking?" Mulder nods. "And talking on the phone? Who with, your drug dealer?" Mulder is unable to keep himself from laughing. Frass frowns at him. "Let me see some I.D." Mulder reaches into his pocket and hands him his badge." The bureau? You on a case?"

"I heard reports of several UFO sightings in this area last night. You see anything?" Mulder asks by way of a reply.

"No, sir, not personally. But we did receive a lot of telephone calls."

"Any more calls tonight?"

"No, sir. The F.B.I. keeps tabs on these things?"

"No," Mulder admits. "I was supposed to be having dinner with my mother, and I heard about the sightings on the radio."

The sheriff looks puzzled. "Excuse me, sir, I don't like to pry, but why are you sitting here with your wiper blades on?"

"Oh, I was just knocking off some bugs that landed on my..." Frass grabs his gun in panic. Mulder looks at him strangely. "Landed on my windshield."

"Cockroaches?" Frass asks quickly, still looking panicked.

"Maybe, maybe beetles. I dunno, I'm not really good with bugs."

Just then there's a squawk on the sheriff's radio, which they both hear through the open window. "...send dispatch unit, over."

Frass looks over to his car, then motions for Mulder to wait a second and goes to his car. As the woman continues to talk, Frass gets in his car and pulls up to Mulder's window, handing back his badge. "Sorry to disturb you, sir."

"What's the matter?"

"Another roach attack."


Washington, D.C.

Scully, who has finally gotten Page to bed is sitting in front of her television set, eating a salad. The phone rings and she picks up

"Hello? Mulder? I thought you were going to call right back."

"I know it's late to get a sitter, but I think you better get up here." ::Hope I'm not any more convincing than the last time around.::

"What is it?"

"It appears that cockroaches are mortally attacking people."

"I'm not going to ask you if you just said what I think you just said because I know it's what you just said."

"I'm crouching over a bug exterminator whose recently deceased body was discovered with cockroaches crawling all over him. The local sheriff says that two other bodies were found in the same condition this afternoon."

"Where are you again?" Scully asks, sticking her fork into her salad with a sigh.

"Miller's Grove. It has a large science constituency. The other incidents involved a molecular biologist and an astrophysicist and the witness to this case is an alternative fuel researcher. These reports are not coming from yahoos out in the boondock."

"Were there insect bites on the body?"

She waits while Mulder asks if there were any bites on the bodies. "No."

"'Cause you know, Mulder, millions of people are actually allergic to cockroaches. There have been reported cases of fatal reactions. It's called, uh, anaphylactic shock. Like the kid in that movie 'My Girl'."

"That you made me watch..." he mutters. "So the roaches could have killed them with anaphylactic shock?"

"Mm-hmm. Many such reactions have occurred to entomologists or exterminators."

"Okay, we'll check that out."

"You still want me to come up?"

"No, no, no, it's late, there's no reason to get the kids up for this. I'm sure you're right. Thanks, Scully."

Shrugging, she reaches for her salad, hoping it's not too wilted.


Mulder hangs up.

Frass asks, "Who was that?"

"My drug dealer." Mulder smirks. "My wife is an FBI agent too, my partner at the bureau."

"How'd you manage to swing that?"

"It's a long story. Too long for tonight."


Scully is in the middle of pouring the contents of a bottle called "Die! Flea! Die!" onto Queequeg and starts to run it through his fu rwhen phone rings. She towel-dries her hands and grabs the phone.

"Stay!" she commands and Queequeg whimpers.

"Hello?"

"I take it back, Scully, I think you better get up here." :: I kind of like this. I bet being able to 'prove me wrong' feels good. Maybe I'll be rewarded tomorrow...::

"Another roach attack?" Scully asks, which snaps him out of his daydream about the possibilities for the following day.

"Yeah, and this was no allergic reaction. Two witnesses claim they saw the victim screaming about cockroaches burrowing into him."

Scully continues to dry her hands. The flea product has a nasty texture to it, so she wants to hang up and wash her hands properly. "Are there still insects in the body?"

"We haven't located any yet, but there are wounds all over the body."

"From the cockroaches?"

"Well... the victim did attempt to extract the insects using a razor blade, but we're not sure all of the incisions are self-inflicted, except for the severed artery."

"Well, was there any evidence of drug use at the crime scene?" She uses one hand to hold her whining dog down.

"Uh, well, he did have a homemade lab set up, but I'm not sure what he was producing." Scully hears him pick something up, then call to someone in the same room as him. "Aw, man, smells like a septic tank! Would you make sure this gets analyzed, here?"

"You know, Mulder, there's a psychotic disorder associated with some forms..." Queequeg makes another break for it and she thwarts him again. "...of drug abuse where the abuser suffers from delusions that insects are infesting their epidermis. It's called Ekbom's Syndrome."

"Ekbom's Syndrome?" Mulder repeats.

"The victim cuts himself in, in an attempt to extract the imaginary insect. Still want me to come up?"

"No, uh, you're probably right. I'm sorry to bother you. See you in the morning."

"You better be home in the morning, Mulder," she threatens playfully. She hangs up and turns around to see that Queequeg has run off. She looks for the dog and hears a yelping. "Hey!" He's quicker than her, mostly because she's trying not to make too much noise.


Frass walks in and informs them that there's an autopsy waiting to be done while Newton examines the cut on Mulder's hand that was caused by catching the metallic insect he found a moment after getting off the phone with Scully. Frass's tone suggests that examining cuts is a frivolous waste of time.

Newton doesn't look excited about the prospect of cutting up a body. "Uh, after talking with Agent Mulder here, I suddenly feel slightly constipated," Newton says. He glares at Mulder and walks out. Mulder has the urge to tell him not to strain himself, but he doesn't think it would make any difference so he decides not to piss the sick man off any further.

"What's his problem?" Frass asks.

"He's upset that I don't know what's going on here."

"So what the hell is going on here?"

"We're stuck in a bad B movie?" Mulder guesses. Now Frass is glaring at him too. "I see the correlation, but just because I work for the federal government doesn't mean I'm an expert on cockroaches."

"So you're saying you don't know anything about the government's experiments being conducted here?"

"Experiments?"

"A couple of months ago, an agent claiming to be from the department of agriculture sets up base on a couple of acres across town. Nobody knows exactly what's going on out there. It's top secret, very hush-hush."

"What are you suggesting?"

"Killer bees were a genetic experiment gone awry, let loose on an unsuspecting populace. Who's to say the government hasn't created a new breed of killer cockroaches?"

"You might want to keep that theory to yourself, sheriff. No need to create a panic," Mulder advises, knowing that the panic is inevitable anyway.

"Oh! Oh, my God! Somebody help, help, hey!"

Mulder and Frass run into the bathroom to see a man kneeling, checking Newton's pulse.

Frass looks down at the man hovering over Newton. "What the hell happened?"

"Cockroaches. He was covered in cockroaches."

"There's one!" Mulder exclaims, looking instinctively at the sink.

Once again the cockroach escapes his grasp and scurries down the sink.

"Next time, let me handle the roaches," Frass grumbles as the cockroach's back legs disappear from sight.


Washington, D.C

Scully is sitting on the couch, reading Breakfast at Tiffany's when the phone rings again. She puts the book aside with a sigh- it had been her hope that she'd have enough peace and quiet to finish the novella before one of the kids needed something.

"Who died now?"

"The medical examiner. His body was found next to a toilet, covered in roaches. I really think you should come..."

"A toilet? Check his eyes. Is one of them bloodshot with a dilated pupil?"

"Yeah."

"It's probably a brain aneurysm," Scully says, giving her book a longing look.

"Brain aneurysm?"

"Straining too forcefully is very common causation for bursting a brain aneurysm."

"Well, how do you explain the roaches, though?"

"Did you catch any?"

": Almost."

"I don't know what to tell you, Mulder. I just hope you're not implying you've come across an infestation of killer cockroaches."


Usda Base
Miller's Grove, Massachusetts

Mulder scales the fence and lands just as his phone rings. He answers it. "Mulder."

"Mulder? I've been doing some research. Back in the mid-'80s, there was a cockroach species previously only found in Asia. And since then, it's made an appearance in Florida. They've now completely established themselves in this country."

"Do they attack people?" Mulder asks as he approaches the building.

"No, but they do exhibit behavior different than our domestic breeds. They, they fly for long distances and they're attracted to light."

"But do they attack people?"

"I'm suggesting that what's happening out there might be the introduction to this country of a new species of cockroach... One that is attracted to people."

"Well, that all makes perfect sense, Scully. I don't like it at all. Did you know that the federal government, under the guise as the department of agriculture, as been conducting secret experiments up here?"

"Mulder, you're not thinking about trespassing onto government property again, are you?" Mulder takes out his lockpick gun. "I know that you've done it in the past, but I don't think that this case warrants..."

"It's too late, I'm already inside."

Scully sighs loudly. "Well, what's going on? What do you see?"

"I'm in a house. It's apparently empty."

"What does the place look like?"

"It's a, uh... typical two-story suburban house. Nice big living room, sparsely furnished...Nice carpets... fireplace... Nice kitchen. Modern appliances." He looks at the wallpaper and sees bumps crawling underneath. "Moving walls."

"Moving walls?"

"Yeah. They're rippling." He pokes the wallpaper with his flashlight and cockroaches pour out." Oh! Cockroaches!" Even knowing that it was going to happen doesn't make it any less disgusting.

"What?!"

"Cockroaches. They're everywhere." Cockroaches cover the walls and appliances on the counters. They run all over the floor and on his feet. "Ah, I'm surrounded."

"Mulder, you've got to get out of there right now!" Mulder screams. "Are you all right? What happened?"

Cut to Mulder shakes the flashlight. "Flashlight went out..."

The light turns on. "Mulder, what's going on?"

"I'm okay, but I've got to go."


Bambi Berenbaum gives Mulder a hostile look. "May I ask why you're trespassing on government property?"

"I'm a federal agent."

"So am I."

Mulder shows her his badge. "Agent Mulder, F.B.I."

Berenbaum shows him her badge." Doctor Berenbaum, U.S.D.A. Agricultural research service."

"Doctor Berenbaum, I'm going to have to ask you a few questions."

"For instance?"

"Why is a nice house like this filled with cockroaches?"


Mulder and Berenbaum walk into a room much like Mulder's office. There is a terrarium with cockroaches on a desk.

"By studying how insects respond to changes in light, temperature, air currents, food availability, we can determine the best ways to eradicate them," Bambi says.

"That's kind of cold, getting to know them only to exploit their weaknesses... Why all the secrecy about your research? You've got some of the good townspeople suspicious."

"You expect us to advertise that we've intentionally infested a house in their neighborhood with thousands of cockroaches?"

"I suppose that would put a damper on neighboring property values." He points out of the room. "Those cockroaches... are they, uh, a normal species?"

"They're a common one."

"Have you ever come across a type of cockroach that is attracted to people?" They sit down. "That gravitates towards them, I mean."

"Most cockroaches have been known to actually wash themselves after being touched by humans."

"Really. So, you've never seen an instance where a cockroach actually attacks a human being?"

"Well, there have been cases where a cockroach has crawled into a person's ear or nose."

"Nose?" He unconsciously touches his nose. He then points to a strange looking device. An orange cone holds a lid on top with a cockroach in it. "What is that there? A roach torturing device?"

"Oh, it's just a pet project of mine. Since an insect's exoskeleton is a dielectric surrounding the conductive medium of its body fluid, when introduced into an electrical field, a brushed discharge will result in a colored flare." She presses a big red button and the exoskeleton glows blue.

"What is that supposed to prove?"

"Well, it's my theory that UFOs are actually insect swarms." He stares at her. "I don't know if you know anything about UFOs, but all the characteristics of a typical sighting are shared with nocturnal insects swarming through an electrical air field... the sudden appearance of a colored, glowing light hovering in the night sky, moving in a non-mechanical matter, possibly humming. Creating interference with radio and television signals. Then suddenly disappearing."

"UFO sightings as nocturnal insect swarms? That's absurd. Do you honestly think that people couldn't tell the difference between a craft and a swarm of bugs?"

Bambi glares at him. "Insects don't have the delusions we suffer under. They are truly remarkable creatures. So beautiful, and so honest."

"Honest?"

"Eat, sleep... defecate, procreate. That's all they do. That's all we do, but at least insects don't kid themselves that it's anything more than that."

"I have two babies," Mulder blurts out.

For some reason Bambi looks more annoyed by this revelation, but she quickly masks her feelings. "Twins?" she asks.

"No. My daughter Page is fourteen months old and my son Sammy is three and a half months old," Mulder tells her, trying not to sound defensive. So many people make a big deal about their ages.

Bambi is no exception. "Wow. The insects would admire your waste no time attitude." She sounds oddly impressed.

Mulder blushes. "Our son was a surprise." :: Well if you asked Scully she'd say they both were... but I know otherwise, of course::

"Imagine if you were a roach. All your children would come as a surprise."

"Perish the thought."


As soon as Mulder checks into a hotel room, he calls Scully.

"Mulder, are you okay?"

"I told you I was when I hung up."

"What happened at the U.S.D.A. site?"

"They're conducting legitimate experiments. If you can call trying to prove that UFO sightings are caused by insects legitimate. I met an entomologist, Doctor Berenbaum, who agrees with your theory of an accidental importation of a new cockroach species."

"Did he give you any idea of how to catch them?"

"No. But she did tell me everything else there is to know about insects. In great and boring detail."

"She?"

"Yeah, did you know that the ancient Egyptians worshipped the scarab beetle and possibly erected the pyramids to honor them, which may be just giant symbolic dung heaps?"

"Did you know the inventor of the flush toilet was named Thomas Crapper?"

Mulder laughs a little. "Bambi also has this theory I've never come acro-"

"Who?"

"Doctor Berenbaum. Anyway, her theory is-"

"Her name is Bambi?"

"Yeah, you'd expect her to be an exotic dancer with that name but she's a scientist. Both her parents were naturalists. Her theory is-"

"Her name is Bambi?"

Mulder rubs his forehead and decides to give up on explaining her UFO theory. "Scully, can I confess something to you?"

"Yeah, sure, okay."

"I hate insects."

"You know, lots of people are afraid of insects, Mulder. It's just a... it's a natural, instinctive."

"No, no, I'm not afraid of them. I hate them. One day back when I was a kid, I, uh... I was climbing this tree when I noticed this leaf walking towards me. It took forever for me to realize that it was no leaf."

"A praying mantis?"

"Yeah, I had a praying mantis epiphany and, as a result, I screamed. No, not... not a girlie scream, but the scream of someone being confronted by some before unknown monster that had no right existing on the same planet I inhabited. Did you ever notice how a praying mantis' head resembles an alien's head? I mean, the mysteries of the natural world were revealed to me that day, but instead of being astounded, I was... repulsed."

"Mulder... Are you sure it wasn't a girlie scream?"

Just then there's a real scream from another room.

"What was that?"

"Oh, I got to go. I'll bet there's been another death." He hangs up.

After the body is removed, Mulder captures a cockroach and brings it first to Bambi then to the institute for robotics to be examined. He tries to talk Scully out of coming up, but she calls to let him know that she's on her way. At least she doesn't have the kids with her.


Miller's Grove, Massachusetts

Scully feels like she's walked into a mad house when she stops for a map. The town is in mass hysteria, and no evidence of that is more evident than in a convenience store

"Excuse me, do you sell road maps?" Scully asks a clerk behind the counter. He nods. "Could you tell me where they are?"

"Come on, hurry up!" a woman in the next line demands rudely. That clerk gives the woman a long-suffering look, and doesn't ring any faster.

"What's going on here?" Scully asks.

"Haven't you heard about the roaches? They're devouring people whole." She ignores Scully's disbelieving look. "Everybody's getting the hell out of here."

"Have you seen any of cockroaches yourself?"

"No, but they're everywhere," the woman insists before running off as soon her purchases are bagged.

The next man in the next line goes to the counter. "Roaches aren't attacking people, lady. They're spreading the Ebola virus." He throws a fifty on the counter and picks up his stuff. "Look, keep the change." He looks back at Scully as he leaves the store. "We're all going to be bleeding from our nipples!" Then he runs out.

"All right!" she screams holding up her badge. "All right, listen up!"

Everyone shuts up.

"I'm Agent Dana Scully from the Federal Bureau of Investigation. I am assuring you that you are not in any danger. Everything is going to be okay if you just calm down, and start acting rationally. Now, where the hell are those road maps?"

She looks at the clerk. A woman looks at another one and they both reach for the last can of "Die! Bug! Die!" They both grab it and pull at it.

"Hey! This last can is mine!"

The other woman yanks her around and knocks her backwards into a store display loaded with Choco Droppings. The small, brown pebbles fall out onto the floor, rolling everywhere. An especially frightened man looks down.

"Roaches!"

Everyone, even the clerks, scream and leave, except for Scully. Outside, car engines start and cars honk, people screaming. Scully slowly makes her way over to the spilled candy. She bends down and picks up a half-empty box, then eats a piece, looking around. "These people are insane," she mutters before grabbing her phone.


"Mulder."

"Mulder, this town is insane. They're going to be burning people at the stake any minute now, you can tell."

"Where are you?"

"I'm in a convenience store on the outskirts of, uh..." She gives the map a puzzled look. "Civilization. Look, I think I may have a lead. Remember that Doctor Eckerle who was the alternative fuel researcher that witnessed the exterminator's death? Well, the fuel that he's researching is methane gas... methane derived from manure."

"Manure?"

"He has an import license...to bring in animal dung samples from outside the country. Now, maybe you can confirm this with your Doctor Bambi-"

"She's not my doctor Bambi," Mulder mutters quietly enough so that Bambi can't make out what he's saying.

Scully ignores his interruption. "-but I think that cockroaches are dung-eaters, and if so, some of them may have been shipped accidentally in some of the samples. This fuel research facility could be ground zero for the infestation." She eats another Choco Dropping.

"Scully, if an alien civilization were technologically advanced enough to build and send artificially intelligent robotic probes to the farthest reaches of space, might they not have also been able to perfect the extraction of methane fuel from manure? An abundant and replenishing energy source filled on a planet with dung-producing creatures."

"Mulder, I think you've been in this town too long."

"Where's the research facility located?"


Alt Fuels
Miller's Grove, Massachusetts

The ugly building has an ugly sign, which reads "ALT FUELS Inc.: Waste is a Terrible Thing to Waste."

"Wait, Bambi. You better wait here until I make sure it's safe. An unarmed person could be a liability in a situation like this."

"Thanks. I think. Be careful. We still don't know what these cockroaches are capable of, if they're even cockroaches."

"Well, I'm not so much worried about the cockroaches than I am about the human element. I think even an unarmed doctor could hold her own against some bugs."

"Never under estimate insects, Agent Mulder."

"Um yeah..." He shakes his head as he walks towards the building.

He gets out of the car. Doctor Eckerle peers out of his window through his blinds, frightened, breathing heavily. Outside his window, he sees rows of dung sitting on long tables, cockroaches crawling over them and chirping. He sits down and clutches the can of bug spray to his chest. He looks at a cockroach sitting on the desk and sprays it with the "Die! Bug! Die!" The bug is immune to the spray and crawls down the desk. Eckerle keeps spraying at it, almost crying. He throws the can at the desk. Mulder walks through the dark facility and into the room full of dung. He walks past, looking at all of the cockroaches. He reaches down to pull one off of a pile when a gunshot rings out. Mulder ducks as the bullet strikes the dung heap he was reaching to. He looks up to see Eckerle aiming his gun at him.

Mulder sees the man and calls out. "Doctor Eckerle?" He stands, holding his hands out in a non-threatening manner.

"They're after me. First at my house, then at the motel, and then I came here to get away... but... they're following me," Eckerle babbles. They both walk to their left. Eckerle seems to have completely broken down, holding his gun on Mulder.

"You're not in any danger, these insects won't harm you."

"I've seen them kill two men!" Eckerle insists.

"They weren't responsible for those deaths... but they might be responsible for ours if you continue firing your gun in a plant full of methane gas."

"Don't you understand? The bugs... they drive me crazy!" he cries, and the gun in his hand shakes.


Outside, Scully drives up next to Mulder's car and looks at Bambi.

"Let me guess... Bambi," Scully says through the window.

"Mulder told me to wait out here while he checked inside first." Scully unbuckles her seatbelt and gets out of her car. "Should I come along with you?"

"No... this is no place for an entomologist."

"That's what Mulder seemed to think. Actually, I think he implied I'd be a hindrance..."

"I'm sure my husband meant that in a diplomatic way." She takes out her gun, loads the clip and walks towards the building.

Bambi just stares after her, apparently surprised that this is the mother of Mulder's two babies.

Mulder tries to remain calm as Eckerle watches the cockroaches crawl over the dung heaps and chirp. "Why are these roaches making those weird noises?"

He shrugs. "It's just the sound they make. In Madagascar, they have roaches that hiss by blowing air through the holes in their upper thorax."

"Really? How, how do you know so much about them?"

"I don't. That's why we shouldn't kill these, but capture them for further study. Now, please... put the gun down."

Eckerle looks at the gun and takes a deep, jagged breath. "Have I lost my mind?"

"No. You've just had a very stressful day that's affected your ability to think clearly. Your judgment is a little clouded right now."

"It is?"

Mulder nods, reaching for the gun. Eckerle points it at him and Mulder straightens back up. "Then how do I know... that you're not a cockroach?" He approaches him, Mulder backing away.

Scully walks through the dark facility. "Mulder? Mulder!"

Scully sighs and pulls out her cellular phone. She starts dialing.

Mulder is still trying to calm Eckerle down. "I assure you, Doctor Eckerle, I'm just as human as you are... if not more so." His phone rings, sounding much like the chirping emitted by the strange roaches. They look at it. ::Oh crap, I was sure I turned the ringer off this time!::

"You are one of them!"

Eckerle fires at Mulder, but Mulder ducks. The bullet strikes a valve and fire sprays out. Mulder runs off as Eckerle shoots at him again and hits a canister, which also lights on fire. All over the building, valves shoot out fire. Mulder runs up the stairs and towards Scully.

"Mulder!"

"Get out, Scully! This whole place could blow!"

They run outside. Mulder looks over at Bambi. "Get down!"

She puts her head between her knees as Mulder and Scully run for cover. They duck behind Mulder's car as the inside of the facility explodes in fire, flames bursting out of the windows and spraying everything with manure. Bambi looks back at the agents, who are covered in the feces.

"Crap."


In the early morning, it is raining. Firemen are hard at work trying to put out the fire when Frass walks towards them, wearing a raincoat. The agents are sharing an umbrella.

"It's like a crematorium in there, I don't think we're going to locate the doctor's remains."

"Or anything else, for that matter."

"Still, it's not as bad as some of the other fires we had last night," Frass says.

"There were others?" Scully asks.

"Four, to be exact. Plus eighteen auto accidents, thirteen assault and batteries, two stores were looted, thirty-six injuries all total, half of them from insecticide poisoning... but, we didn't receive reports on cockroaches or otherwise for the last couple of hours. Maybe this town's finally come to its senses. You two ought to go home and get some rest. You look pooped."

He walks away. Mulder smiles. Ivanov rolls up to them, an umbrella attached to his wheelchair. Bambi, also holding an umbrella, watches him intently.

"Agent Mulder? They told me I could locate you here. Those, uh, segments you showed me earlier... may I examine them again?"

Mulder shrugs and reaches into his pocket. "Well, they're completely desiccated... just like the molted exoskeleton." He hands the bag to Ivanov. Ivanov looks stricken.

"You know, many insects don't develop wings until their last molting stage. Perhaps whatever these things were, they had their final molt and have flown off back to wherever they originated."

"Yeah, that would explain everything," Scully says sarcastically.

Mulder looks at her and is about to say something when Ivanov cuts him off. "May I borrow this, Agent Mulder, for further study?"

"Well, I've already had a similar sample analyzed, it's nothing but common metals. What do you hope to find from it?"

"His destiny," Bambi says.

Isn't that what Doctor Zaius said to Zira at the end of "The Planet of the Apes?" Ivanov asks.

She nods, smiling. "It's one of my favorite movies."

"Mine too. I love science fiction."

Mulder looks at them strangely.

"I'm also fascinated by your research." Bambi and the doctor start off. "Have you ever considered programming the robots to mimic the behavior of social insects like ants or bees?"

"As a matter of fact, I have."

The two continue to speak as they walk off. Mulder hides a smile.

"Smart is sexy," Scully tells him.

Mulder looks at her fondly. ::No kidding.::

"Well, think of it this way, Mulder. By the time there's another invasion of artificially-intelligent, dung-eating robotic probes from outer space, maybe their uber-children will have devised a way to save our planet. If ours haven't first."

"You know, I never thought I'd say this to you, Scully ... but you smell bad." He smirks and walks away, taking the umbrella with him.

"My husband the romantic," Scully says with a sigh.


Washington, D.C.

Mulder sits at his desk, typing up his report. He is also eating a rather large piece of cake that resembles a dung heap. He proofreads aloud, looking for mistakes, because Skinner accused him of sloppiness recently.

"The development of our cerebral cortex has been the greatest achievement of the evolutionary processes. Big deal. While allowing us the thrills of intellect and the pangs of self-consciousness, it is all too often overruled by our inner, instinctive brain, the one that tells us to react, not reflect, to run rather than ruminate." He takes a bite of the cake.

"Maybe we have gone as far as we can go, and the next advance, whatever that may be, will be made by beings we create ourselves using our own tech..." It beeps as he presses the first key to the word. He tries it again." Tech..." It beeps. He smacks the screen and it beeps three times. He continues typing. "Technology, lifeforms we can design and program not to be ultimately governed and constricted by the rules of survival.

"Or perhaps that step forward has already been achieved on another planet by organisms that had a billion years head start on us. If these beings ever visited us, would we recognize what we were seeing? And upon catching sight of us, would they react in anything but horror at seeing such mindless, primitive, hideous creatures?"

He goes to take another piece of cake but sees a white cockroach on the plate. He picks up a stack of files, including the X-File for the case, number "667366," and goes to hit it. It crawls to the front of his plate and he watches its head move, lowering the papers. It crawls out onto the desk and he slams the papers down onto it.

Scully comes into the room at the sign. "Mulder, Ivanov and Bambi sent you one of the early prototype of their new cockroach robot. Did you find it okay?"

"Oops."


December 23rd, 1995

The house has several fireplaces, but Scully thinks that they're unsafe now that Page is able to walk pretty well, and is determined to get into everything, so the only one that is ever used is the one at the far end of the master bedroom. Mulder is sitting in front of it, staring into the fire he started a half hour earlier. Something about his fixed expression makes Scully nervous, so she goes to him and puts a hand on his left shoulder.

He looks up at her with a questioning look, which makes her feel better because she'd been afraid he'd ignore her. "What's up?"

"That's what I came to ask you, Mulder." She tries to keep her tone light.

"I was thinking about Pusher," he admits.

"What about him? The doctor said that he's still unconscious."

"For now. What if he wakes up? He could hurt more people. Maybe I ought to have-" he breaks off, shaking his head.

Scully shrugs. "If he wakes up he's still dying of a brain tumor."

"I just keep thinking about what happened..." Mulder mutters. What happened was that for the very first time he was able to save someone other than the people he cared about. He dove at officer Collins as he tried to set himself on fire, and he'd disrupted the man's aim with the gasoline. None got on the man's upper body, but even as Mulder tried to get the lighter away from him, he'd lit it. The man would probably be okay, but he still had nasty burns all over his legs. And later Mulder had fallen under Pusher's sway again, and things had worked themselves out the way they had before. That's what's got him reeling still, even a day and a half later. He was able to change one thing, but not anything else. It scares him.

Worse, he worries about the things he has been able to change - Luke's death, Scully's cancer, his children's births... has what he's done been so very different from what Pusher did? Different things motivated the manipulations, malice vs. a desire to help, but still, he had no idea that this case would have him feeling this way. Confused and a little guilty.

"Stop that," Scully says abruptly. "I order you to stop thinking about our cases. We're off for the holidays, and you're going to enjoy the next week if it kills you."

"Aww, I love it when you talk so romantically, Scully." Mulder gives her a grin.

"I know you do, that's why I don't do it too often."

"That's not very nice." He pouts.

"You know what they say, variety keeps a marriage lively."

"I don't think they had ours in mind when they coined the phrase 'variety is the spice of life.'" He snorts.

"C'mon, Mulder, let's go torture the kids with Christmas music." Scully tugs at his hand, trying to get him to stand.

"Ohhh...nothing says holidays like damage inflicted by parental holiday traditions. I'll race you to the CD player."

"If I get there first we're not listening to Elvis. I want to listen to Bing Crosby." She's three steps behind him.

"Scully, there's time enough for Elvis and Bing," Mulder calls back.


December 28th, 1995

The first thing they do when they have a second to breathe is to call Guardian Angels for Little Angels to arrange for a nanny. Ever since Teena's grim demeanor when they picked up the kids - and she rushed them out, practically slamming the door in their faces - things have become more tense at every hint of out-of-town assignments. So tense that Mulder hadn't dared to ask Scully who she'd left Page and Sammy with when she'd come to rescue him from the cockroaches. It was only Missy's appearance at the door when they got home that clued him in.

The situation being what it is, they are very eager to have a permanent arrangement put into place as soon as possible. They don't really like the agency's policy of "matching" a nanny to a family rather than have the parents interview the prospective nanny but beggars can't be choosers. They *are* that desperate. Mulder feels guilty that they're willing to accept anyone that the agency sends over, but the agency has a lot of experience with this sort of thing; the ad says they have been in business for fifteen years.

Despite the literature's - and the yellow page's ad - promise of immediate placement, it takes time for the company to match them to the "right" person. The agency sends a nanny to them, finally, the twenty-eighth of December.

She seems shockingly young to Mulder- she'd only graduated from Spelman College the year before - but then he has to keep reminding himself that he's years younger than he thinks he is. Amy seems to be good with the kids, though, despite only being in her early twenties, and by the end of her first week it's clear that Page finds her greatly amusing.

"'me!" She shrieks as soon as the doorbell rings. Watching her daughter reach up and scrabble for the doorknob, Scully wonders if she should reprimand Page for trying to open the door without permission. Ultimately she decides to shelve the lecture until the girl can really open the door. Instead, she quickly drains her glass of orange juice and lets the young woman in. Within two minutes Page and Amy were chatting in the family room. Scully wanders back to the kitchen.

Her look is a little sour when Mulder joins her, with a newly changed Sammy in his arms. They can both hear Page giggle in the other room." Jealous?" He teases lightly. Sammy hiccups loudly.

"Am I jealous that someone else gets to stay home all day with my babies? You bet your-" She bites off the last word when she notices that Page has toddled away from the nanny and is now ignoring Amy's call. Page is looking very interested in her parents' conversation. "- life."

Mulder gives a helpless shrug that startles his son into kicking his cheek. He winces, but is grateful that baby feet are small and not capable of much force." If you're that unhappy we could afford it if you wanted to cut back your hours..." he trails off pensively.

"And give them another excuse for shutting us down?" Scully sighs. "I'm fine, Mulder. I was just engaging in a moment of wishful thinking, that's all."

"I'm sure such a boring case doesn't help you rocket up the enthusiasm." Mulder sighs as they put on their coats.

"You, bored?" Scully stops dead, her coat hanging half off. "I never thought I'd live to hear you say something like that."

"I know that I usually flip over bisected cows, but Scully, the magic is gone," Mulder says with sparkling eyes.

"Don't say that, Mulder. Maybe if you go into counseling you can regain your love of dead cows." Scully sniggers.

"Well, someone from Human Resources does keep sending me memos explaining that our health insurance does cover counseling. If I didn't have a healthy self-esteem, I'd worry that they were trying to tell me something. Do you think this sort of topic can be addressed by your average mental health professional?"

"Average? No. But I can ask some of the people I went to med school with and see if they know of someone who works with coroners a lot."

"That'd be perfect." Mulder laughs as they head out the door.


Chapter Thirty-Two

February 1996

"What made you decide to write a book about an alien abduction if you're not that interested in the subject yourself?" Scully asks, wishing Mulder hadn't taken the day off to "spend time with the kids," since he's the quote-unquote expert. If it were anyone else, he'd race over, no matter where the meeting place is, and spill whatever insanity he happened to be on that day. She bites back a sigh as she sits across from the spritely old man, wondering if they'll ever have anything in common other than kids and a shared level of curiosity.

Jose Chung raises his shoulders a little. "Actually? It was my publisher's idea. At first I was reluctant, until I realized that I had an opportunity here to create an entirely new literary genre... a non-fiction science fiction. Now, see, that gimmick alone will guarantee its landing on the best-seller list. In short, to answer your question? Money," the blustery old man, who looks neither Chinese nor Hispanic, but wholly Caucasian, answers her.

She raises her eyebrows. "Well, as long as you're attempting to record the truth," she says, seeing the figure on the pedestal wobble dangerously.

"Oh, God, no," Chung chuckles. "How could I possibly do that?"

Now she frowns. This is the Klass County case they were talking about, right? What's so hard about getting to the truth? "What do you mean?"

Like a college professor, including the patches-at-the-elbow jacket, Chung paces, waving his hands. "I spent three months in Klass County and everybody there has a different version of what truly happened. Truth is as subjective as reality. That will help explain why when people talk about their 'UFO experiences, they always start off with, 'well, now, I know how crazy this is going to sound... but.' "

Oh boy. "So you're here to get my version of the truth?" she says, folding her arms. She'd like to think her truth is The Truth, but spending too much time with Mulder is slowly eroding her inviolable faith in what she used to think was unquestionable. But she still thinks she's right, most of the time, and that her husband, brilliant as he is, is a bit of a nut.

"Exactly," the old man nods with a brisk grin. Picking up a pen and notepad, he asks, "Now, when did you first find out about the case?"

Scully purses her lips as she leans back a little. "Well... not right away, of course. Um... not enough time had elapsed for it to be considered a missing person's case before the girl was found the following morning."


As the case unfolds, Scully wonders why it sounds fantastic even to her own ears. That Chung is jotting things down, as if matter-of-factly, seems the incredible thing. Then again, there are so many times on their cases that things seem so bizarre that she's come to naturally suppress the urge to run screaming for a psyche ward pickup, especially when it comes to her husband. The girl's testimony sounds like a credible, simple case of date rape to her, which was only complicated when the suspected rapist, Harold, visited her home. Not to mention Mulder's insistence on hypnosis, which she never felt was a trustworthy recall method to begin with, which leads to Chrissy telling what appears to be a classic alien abduction, rather than rape, story. When she comes to Det. Manners, she feels a grin dancing on the edges of her lips. "Well, of course, he didn't actually say 'bleeped'," she says, accustomed to censoring herself in front of the children and professional people. "He actually said-"

Chung smiles briskly. "I'm, uh, familiar with, uh, Detective Manners' *colorful* phraseology."

As she continues to talk about the case, she notices things she hadn't previously realized. Neither Chrissy nor Harold seem to be awake in the other's recollections, at least while under hypnosis. Chrissy's scenario is more like the science fiction pulp that seems to fill tabloids, while Harold's is closer to a POW's capture. Still, she managed to get at the heart of the matter after Mulder's insane questions.

"Harold... did you and Chrissy engage in consensual sexual intercourse that night?" she'd asked.

The boy looked away. She hopes she never has to find out the hard way about her own children, and vows to talk openly with them about sex. "If her father finds out, I'm a dead man," Harold finally said.

Later, she tried to make Mulder see reason, if possible, and keep the investigation on a more prurient track. Of course, as usual, he refused to go her way. "He said it happened before the abduction. So what if they had sex?"

God, give me strength, she'd prayed. "So we know that it wasn't an alien who probed her," she'd said slowly, as if that would make it more obvious. "Mulder, you've got two kids having sex before they're mature enough to know how to handle it."

"So you're saying that all this is just a case of sexual trauma?" he'd restated.

Duh, she'd thought. Aloud, Scully said, "It's a lot more plausible than an alien abduction, especially in light of their contradictory stories."

Just when she thought she'd gotten through to him, the detective shot it all to hell. "Hey! I just got a call from some crazy bleep-head saying he was an eyewitness to this alien abduction. Do you feel like talking to this blank-hole?"

NO! she wanted to scream, while her partner and husband was already leaping up in a nonverbal but clear YES! It was one of the few times she wanted to spout more than a few "bleeps" in front of local law enforcement.


They went to the bleep-head's, that is, Roky Crikenson's, place and Scully wasn't surprised to see Roky was a freelance artist, along with his Grizzly Adams look. "I know how crazy all this sounds, but I don't care. What I have to say has to be said," the bearlike man said through his beard and moustache.

Of course it's gonna sound crazy, even if you look normal, Scully wanted to say, but instead snaps, "Why did you wait till now to tell us this information? Two kids' lives may be affected by it."

He didn't seem put off by her brusqueness. "Well, it, it's bigger than a couple of kids. It has to do with the entire planet... the universe and who knows what else!"

Oh, no, she thought, as Mulder's eyes practically glowed. "Why don't you tell us what happened that night?" he'd asked, ready to swallow the big fish story, hook, line and sinker.

Roky held up a thick stack of papers. "It's all here. After seeing what I saw that night, I rushed right home and wrote it all down. Forty-eight hours straight. I didn't want to forget a single detail."

I'll bet, Scully thought, which is as much time as it takes for the drugs to leave your system. Mulder, however, reached for the document. Good thing the guy held it away, because she was just about to smack his hand.

"But I feel that I should warn you, I don't want to be overly dramatic here, but by looking at this, you're putting your lives in danger."

Dammit, why'd you have to say something like that? she'd almost yelled. "Why is that?" Mulder asked, but by the shifting of his eyes, she could tell that he smelled something suspicious.

The pale-faced man paused dramatically. Or asthmatically, she wasn't quite sure. "Because last night, the weirdest thing happened."

As Scully tells of his MIB visitation, Chung breaks in to interject something about fairy tales, which she doesn't think helps Roky's sanity case much. Not like she ever did, but she's not saying that out loud. She thought it was rather funny when he brought up the fact that he was a Republican. Sure he is. And she believes in aliens. Right.

He'd finally handed over the manuscript to Mulder, declaring that he'd make himself scarce. Apparently, he *did* take the MIB's threats seriously, enough to make him want to leave. That, or he didn't want his natural source of glaucoma medicine to be found, she'd thought more cynically.


When reading the manuscript aloud in their motel room, Mulder'd used a Darth Vader-like tone, making her laugh. They hadn't gotten very far, however, since he'd taken the opportunity to amuse her in other ways. To the author, Scully tries to be diplomatic. "In short, Roky showed signs of being what is known as a fantasy-prone personality," she says, shrugging helplessly.

The little man puts a hand on his heart, tilting his head like a kindly grandfather. "Agent Scully, you are so kindhearted. He's a nut! I just read his manifesto!"

She frowns. "How did you get a copy?" A sinking feeling tells her that Roky, threatened though he might've been, was rather resourceful.

Chung pulls out a familiar thick document. "One was sent to my publishers. I don't know what was more disturbing... his description of the inner core reincarnated souls sex orgy... or the fact that the whole thing is written in screenplay format."

Ooh, we didn't get as far as the sex orgy, she thinks, but holds back. "It definitely was peculiar," she admits, wondering if Mulder kept their copy. She knows if she had it, it would be lining the floors for Queequeg.

"Well, surely, your partner didn't believe any of it?" Chung asks, his thick eyebrows darting over his glasses.

She wants to cover her face. "Well," she says slowly, trying to figure out what's safe to say, "Mulder's had his share of peculiar notions. He's not inclined to dismiss anything outright."

Of course, when she flashes back to their motel room, she conveniently edits out a good couple of hours. "Mulder, you're nuts!" she'd said bluntly when he'd brought up the possibility. Sometimes she wished he'd just leave good sex alone.

"I'm not saying he isn't delusional, I'm just suggesting that his delusional state was triggered by something he actually witnessed that night. And the first part of his story verifies the boy's version. In fact, the only version that doesn't add up is the girl's."

I'm saying you're delusional, too, Scully had wanted to say. Instead, she sighed as he picked up the phone. "Who are you calling?" she asked, already picking up her clothes. It was going to be a long night.

"I'm going to arrange to have her re-hypnotized," Mulder said, sounding about as excited as when he lifted her legs over his head. Not that she's going to tell Chung that.

Damn you, she thought, and dropped her clothes. "Re-hypnotized? What for?" As if Chrissy wasn't spewing enough conflicting stories, you have to muddy up the waters again!

"To see if what she remembers is really what she remembers," Mulder says simply.

His wife hit her head against the wall repeatedly. God, she felt like doing what that crazy alien in Harold's story, take a good long smoke and mutter, "This is not happening," over and over.

But it did. Well, maybe not the part about the kids getting abducted or Roky seeing some weird underground orgy, but the re-hypnosis session. As she'd inwardly predicted, the girl changed her story yet again, making it sound closer to Mulder's own conspiracy theories. She'd tried to warn him afterwards, that his interference was making the situation worse, not clearer. "Mulder, I think you and the hypnotherapist were leading her and I think there was more confabulation in the second version than in the first," she'd said, looking up at him. It's not a look of love, it's of judging his sanity, his motives.

He'd shaken his head, sure he was doing the right thing, as usual. "No, I think you're wrong about that, Scully. But I do think you're right about one thing, that this case might not have anything to do with aliens."

Finally! She was ready to throw up her hands, kiss his cheeks, and drag him home right then and there. And maybe we get to see the kids again at a decent hour, and not prolong Mom's last-minute grandma-grandkids bonding session. Thank you, God!

And then the good, if foul-mouthed, detective came in with another message of hope and goodwill. "Hey, I just got a call from some crazy blankety-blank claiming he found a real live dead alien body."

As the FBI agents looked at each other, Scully thought, Ah, bleep.


Blaine Faulkner's Room

Jose Chung picks up a transcript of an interview and begins reading it to Scully.

"The first thing Blaine Faulkner said to me was 'I know how crazy this is going to sound, but... I want to be abducted by aliens.' Of course my own response was 'Why? Whatever for?'"

Scully nods her head. It's crossed her mind more than once to wonder if her husband has similar hidden desires.

"So the boy responded ' I hate this town. I hate... people. I just want to be taken away to someplace where I... I don't have to worry about finding a job.' Then we established that he was out looking for a UFO to pick him up that night. He told me that he'd heard of some sightings in the area. Then he went on to tell me that he'd read every book ever written on UFOS. I found that sad."

"That is sad. Even my husband can't claim that distinction."

"Well. The boy then said that getting his video camera would have been a brighter idea than notifying the proper authorities. When I asked him why he said ' Because the proper authorities showed up with a couple of men in black.'"

"Meaning Mulder and I," Scully says without a trace of humor.

"Indeed. He went on to say 'One of them was disguised as a woman, but wasn't pulling it off. Like, her hair was red but it was a little too red, you know? And the other one... the tall, lanky one... his face was so blank and expressionless. He didn't even seem human. I, I think he was a mandroid. The only time he reacted was when he saw the dead body.'"

"It wasn't that girly of a yell."

"Then he said you told him' You never saw this. This didn't happen. You tell anyone, you're a dead man.' And pushed him."

"He said I said what?" she sputters.

"When I interviewed him, he claimed you threatened him."

"That's ridiculous! I'm... and besides, we allowed him to view the autopsy." She grimaces and presses play on a VCR, showing the whole autopsy tape, which clearly shows that Blaine is in the room while it's going on."

"So this is footage of the actual autopsy you performed," Chung says with a nod towards the monitor.

Scully groans "It's so embarrassing." She holds up a case to another video. "Dead Alien! Truth or Humbug" the title boldly proclaims. A picture of Yappi is in the lower corner. Then she switches tapes and Yappi appears on the screen.

"Who is that mysterious man who seems to be overseeing the proceedings?" The camera does not show Mulder's face as it goes around the body, then zooms in on Scully. "And what secret government agency does this autopsy doctor work for?"

"But see? Whoever got ahold of this footage edited it in such a way as to delete all the significant findings. The deceased wasn't an alien at all, but Air Force Major Robert Vallee." She gives him a sad smirk. "Of course, the air force came and claimed the body before we were able to do anything else with it."

"Of course. That's how government types work," Chung says sagely.

"Excuse me?"

"Present company excluded, of course," the author mumbles.

"After not recovering the tape, Mulder was heading back to the motel and that's when his account of things gets a little... odd. He claims that he was driving down the road when he saw the other missing airforceman, lieutenant Jack Schaffer wandering down the road, naked as a jay bird."

"And how did agent Mulder respond to this situation?" Chung asks.

Scully shrugs. "He stopped the car, lent the guy some clothes and took him to a dinner to talk about how the government was faking UFO sightings and kidnaps people and brainwashes them to uphold some sort of charade to divert attention away from the government's true motives. Before they could conclude their conversation, Schaffer was dragged away by what looked to be MPs."

Chung raises his eyebrows. "That is odd. Because almost every day I was there, I ate lunch at that diner and became dear friends with the cook. He told me a story about the night you're talking about. A man came into his place sat down, ordered sweet potato pie, identified himself as F.B.I. Agent Mulder. He then questioned my friend, ordering piece after piece of sweet potato pie, each time asking another question. He ate a whole pie in that fashion, then got up and left. My friend never saw him again. The cook never mentioned Lieutenant Schaffer, let alone any other Air Force personnel."

"You seem non-nonplused by these contradictions?"

Scully's shaking her head. "The man might be a dear friend, but I doubt the veracity of his claim. Mulder hates sweet potato pie. Not to mention what happened when Mulder left the diner and got back to the motel was as strange as Mulder's version of earlier events."

"Which was what?"

She sighs. "Mulder got back to our hotel room and discovered that I wasn't in the room, but two men were. Men in black. When he drew a gun on them and demanded to know where I was, they calmly told him that I'd gone for some ice. Before he shot them, I returned with a bucket of ice. Which is odd, because I hate ice in my drinks."

"Perhaps you had some other purpose in mind for the ice, involving your partner," Chung suggests with a grin.

"I'm going to ignore the implication that we acted less than professionally while on this case," she says coolly. "I informed him that the men had something to tell him, and one of them said 'Some alien encounters are hoaxes perpetrated by your government to manipulate the public. Some of these hoaxes are intentionally revealed to manipulate the truth-seekers who become discredited if they disclose the deliberately absurd deception.' To which Mulder replied 'Similar things are said about the men in black. That they purposely dress and behave strangely so that if anyone tries to describe an encounter with them, they come off sounding like a lunatic.'"

" I myself said nothing, and held onto the ice bucket, trying to remember what I'd gotten it for. The man smirked at Mulder and retorted 'I find absolutely no reason why anyone would think you crazy if you described this meeting of ours.' Then the other man, the one who looked like Alex Trebek, according to Mulder tried to hypnotize Mulder."

"Alex Trebek?! The game show host?!" Chung squawks.

"Mulder didn't say that it was Alex Trebek. It was just someone that looked incredibly like him. I myself didn't really see the resemblance."

"Oh..." He looks disappointed.

"Then we both went to bed, and were woken the next morning when Detective Manners called to tell us that he'd found Mulder's bleeping UFO."

"Mulder, of course, was livid when we got to the wreak site. The body of Robert Vallee, a man we'd seen with our own eyes dead on an autopsy table was carted past us. Then, even more upsettingly to Mulder, the body of Jack Schaffer. Manners wrote the events of the three days we'd worked with him off as an attempt to keep us from assisting in a way that would hinder a cover up attempt."

"I'm betting that Mulder saw things differently," Chung guesses.

"He did. His claim was that they did want our help - as witnesses to their alibi "

Chung glares at Scully.

"I know it probably doesn't have the sense of closure that you want... but it has more than some of our other cases."

Chung closes his notebook with a slam, and mutters to himself as Scully leaves the room.


The Next Day
Jose Chung's Office

Chung is typing on the typewriter. He hears murmuring outside and sees a silhouette of two people in his window. He takes out his gun and slowly makes his way to the door. He opens it to see Mulder and a janitor talking. Mulder isn't alone.

"Agent Mulder?" Chung asks as Mulder pulls the door open. He motions for him to come in. Mulder looks at him.

"Thanks." Mulder continues to stand in the doorway.

"What can I do for you, Agent Mulder?" Chung asks in a decidedly uncooperative tone of voice.

"Don't write this book," Mulder replies. "You'll perform a disservice through a field of inquiry that has always struggled for respectability. You're a gifted writer, but no amount of talent could describe the events that occurred in any realistic vein because they deal with alternative realities that we're yet to comprehend. And when presented in the wrong way, in the wrong context, the incidents and the people involved in them can appear foolish, if not downright psychotic." Mulder edges his way into the room. "I also know that your publishing house is owned by Warden White, Incorporated... a subsidiary of MacDougall-Kesler, which makes me suspect a covert agenda for your book on the part of the military-industrial-entertainment complex."

"Agent Mulder, this book will be written." Chung peers at Mulder, who is still in the dim light. "What are those things?"

Mulder is holding Sammy, and Page is clinging to his leg. "Children. I'm sure you've seen some before."

"Oh, I see, a pint sized hit squad, is it? That's a rather strange strong-arm tactic. What is it that you plan for them to do, drool on my manuscript and have them blur the pages? Perhaps smear them with the contents of their pampers?"

Mulder gives him a puzzled look. "Are you on medication? If not, you might consider it."

"I'm in perfect mental health," Chung says with a miffed sniff. "If you don't plan for these children to be instrumental in destroying my work, why have you brought them with you?" The look he gives Page when she reaches for a shiny paperweight on his desk suggests he has little liking or experience with children. As a good will gesture, Mulder hands Page his keys instead. She jangles them merrily, making the writer wince - after he's snatched up the paperweight.

Mulder considers the author's question and shrugs. "I wanted to show you that there's more to agent Scully and I then as fodder for your book. By turning the spotlight on us, you turn it on them, and that's not something most parents want for their children - especially parents who deal with potentially dangerous criminals who might see small helpless children as an easy path towards revenge for a perceived wrong after they're received the justice they richly deserve."

Chung's sallow skin pales noticeably and he swallows loudly. "I can assure you that I have no desire to put babies in harm's way, Agent Mulder."

"Then don't write this book," Mulder repeats.

"Agent Mulder, this book will be written. But perhaps we can come to a compromise." Chung sneaks another look at Sammy, who is lying placidly in Mulder's arms. "If you give me the last puzzle piece I need to finish this book, I'll change names to make it impossible for the average person to trace the story's truth to you and agent Scully."

"What's the 'piece' that you're missing?" Mulder asks the older man.

"What really happened to those kids on that night?"

To Chung's apparent surprise, Mulder drops his son into the man's lap. "This might take a while. If you fear drool, you'd best keep him clear of your pages."

That said, Mulder scoops up Page, sits down, and begins telling the man his version of the story.


To his surprise, Mulder is invited to watch while the author records the audio version of his book. Mulder declines, but receives an advanced copy in the mail several months before the printing anyway. The only thing that accompanies it is a note saying "Even in fiction, there is truth."

Mulder puts the last disk into the cd player and skips chapters until the last, then presses play.

Page giggles when the older man's voice pours out of the speakers, making Mulder wonder if his young daughter can remember the visit they paid to the man. He doesn't think so, but his daughter keeps surprising him, so he merely shrugs and sits on the floor with her to listen.

"Evidence of extraterrestrial existence remains as elusive as ever... but the skies will continue to be searched by the likes of Darren Joyce, hoping to someday find not only proof of alien life, but also contentment on a new world. Until then, he must be content with his new job.

"Others search for answers from within. York relocated to El Cajon, California, preaching to the lost and desperate. Seeking the truth about aliens means a perfunctory nine-to-five job to some. For although Agent Gillian Bart is noble of spirit and pure in heart, she remains, nevertheless, a federal employee.

"As for her partner, David Kane... that ticking timebomb of insanity... his quest into the unknown has so warped his psyche, one shudders to think how he receives any pleasures from life.

"Bessy Armani has come to believe her alien visitation was a message to improve the condition of her own world, and she has devoted herself to this goal wholeheartedly.

"Then there are those who care not about extraterrestrials, searching for meaning in other human beings. Rare or lucky are those who find it. For although we may not be alone in the universe, in our own separate ways on this planet, we are all... alone."

As the CD runs out, Mulder looks down at his toddler. "Some people really don't get it, Page. You'll see, there are people who miss the point everywhere. I hope you get through kindergarten before you meet any, though."

Page points two fingers at him. "Silly Daddy."

"Oh great, I see your mom has been telling stories about me too."

Sammy, who has been trapped in his baby swing looks at Mulder. "'illy."

Mulder groans and covers his face. "Until you get the S sound down, that doesn't count as your first word, little man." Then his face brightens. "Can either of you say 'clever'? Say 'Clever daddy.'" There's a noticeable silence . "Or maybe ' Misunderstood Daddy.'"

Sammy and Page just stare at him.

"I'm going to get a parrot," Mulder mumbles petulantly to himself.


Chapter Thirty-Three

March 1996

"Again!" Page crows as the car speeds through Rigdon, Georgia.

"Not again," Mulder groans. Maybe this is the reason why his family didn't take too many family vacations -- the kids driving the parents nuts in the car, while the parents are attempting to drive, period. Or perhaps he's being too hard on the kids, especially since it's not their fault this case seemed to jump out of nowhere again, with little notice.

"We're definitely investing in a nanny that takes care of kids and pets and does weekends," Scully says in an I-told-you so voice from the backseat. She's got a leash on the Pomeranian, but she's wondering if she should invest in another for her daughter. She stares at a sign reading "What's Bigger Than the Sky?" and wonders what kind of missing persons case he's dragging them to.

"Good luck," Mulder sighs. "The King's definitely spinning in his grave."

His wife raises an eyebrow, even while nursing Sammy. "You mean you don't believe all those Elvis sightings?"

He grins, "I want to believe." His concentration's jolted when his daughter pounds the back of his seat. "What?"

"Again!" Page demands. "Sing it a gain!"

As Mulder massacres "You Ain't Nuthin' But A Hound Dog" for the umpteenth time, he sees a welcome sign reading "Big Blue. The Southern Serpent. Spot Him at Heuvelmans Lake."

"Mul-DER!" Scully glares at him through the rear view mirror.


After the interview in the ecology lab with Dr. Farraday, who makes even Scully look like a believer, Mulder's ready to take a break at the souvenir shop, commune with like-minded folk. Hey, he knows he saw it the last time, and this time, he's even getting a camera. "We're looking for the Lake View Cabins. Flipper Road?" he asks, putting the camera on the counter.

The old man shakes his head as he rings up the purchase. "You passed the turnoff a few miles back. It's uh, pretty tough to find. Uh, a map might help." He pulls out a map. Mulder reaches out for it, but the old man holds it away. "That'll be nine-fifty, plus Uncle Sam."

"All right." Mulder sighs, wondering why every small tourist spot believes in inflation. His daughter continues to run around, and he finds himself saying something he never thought he would, "Page, don't touch, okay?"

The clerk grins. "You folks here to see Big Blue?" Mulder nods, while Scully summons a half-enthusiastic smile, hefting Sammy on to her other hip. "Yeah, ever since those folks disappeared, everybody's been wantin' a look-see." He chuckles as the little girl plasters her face against the glass displays. "When I was ten years old, I was fishing with my daddy, and I heard a... big commotion. Clear across the lake. A wailing sound, the likes of which I had never heard before, never heard since. My daddy told me later that a cow had escaped from the Rockdale ranch and was drinking by the lake. Well, old Big Blue came right up and snatched her from the bank."

Scully looks disapproving as her daughter seems to swallow the story wholesale like her father. "That's some story," she says, and looks outside when Queequeg barks.

"Do you believe those stories?" Mulder asks, and ignores his wife's eye-rolling.

The old man chuckles again. "Well, a man's got to look at the evidence, decide for himself." The dog continues to bark as a lanky man enters the shop. "But if you want to ask a real expert, should probably talk to Ansel here. He's out there practically every day." He leans in and whispers conspiratorially. "It was his daddy's cow that got eaten."

Ignoring the chitchat, the photographer puts a pile of camera films on the table. "Can you get these developed by tomorrow, Ted? And another five rolls while I'm in town?"

Ted grins widely. "These folks wanna take a look at Big Blue, Ansel. See what et up those poor souls." Mulder nods while Scully pastes a polite look on her face.

"Have you actually seen it?" Scully wonders, bouncing Sammy on her hip.

Ansel shakes his head, but there's a determined look in his eyes. "Not directly, no. But I aim to. Someday, I'll be in the right place at the right time, and I will snap a shot of that monster."

As he leaves, Scully mutters to her husband, "'Not directly'? How direct does one have to be to catch Georgia's version of Nessie?"

Mulder shrugs and grins, grabbing the camera, the map, and his daughter while nodding his thanks to the old man. As Scully unties the Pomeranian, he wonders idly whether Queequeg's luck will change this time around. When the little dog continues to yap incessantly, Mulder hopes not.


In the motel room that night, after the sheriff panics and shuts down the lake, Mulder frowns. It still took three missing-slash-dead people and a little touchy-feely on Big Blue's part to close the water to the public, but he doubts that's gonna stop the true believers. Or skeptics, he thinks, remembering the scientist. Meanwhile, he and Scully are going through the late Ansel's photos, hundreds and hundreds of them, with some dubious help from their kids.

"Look, Daddy, monster!" Page holds up one blurry photo.

Sammy giggles and drools on another stack. Scully sighs when Mulder says, "This could be a tooth."

"Tooth!" Page yells happily, and plows into another stack of photos.

The dog barks, and Scully looks at the dog with some hope. "It could be a lot of things," she says, in a tone that says I doubt it. "I'm taking Queequeg for a walk."

"Doggie!" Page squeals, and Mulder catches her before she can go off the bed.

"Whoa, whoa, whoa," he says, looking up at his wife. "Safety in numbers," he says hopefully.

Scully shakes her head. "I'm fine," she says, showing off her gun, "you watch over the kids. And your," she smirks, "evidence."

"I love you!" Mulder says desperately, but it's no use. She blows them a kiss and walks out the door.

He looks at his kids, who are currently making a Big Blue-sized mess out of the photos. "I love you, too, but sometimes, you really drive me nuts!" He grabs and tickles his daughter, who giggles loudly. Sammy scootches over, not wanting to miss out on the fun. "Nuts, nuts, nuts!" Mulder declares, then lifts his son over his head, blowing a raspberry on his round tummy. Both his kids are laughing now, and he joins in, throwing the photos up into the air.


It seems like mere moments later, but Scully blows through the door, cradling the small dog in her arms. "Something's out there," she says breathlessly, then looks around. It appears like a localized hurricane went through their motel room. "Mulder," she says slowly, "what happened here?"

Mulder grins, feeling only a little better that the little beast didn't meet its demise just yet. But the night's still young. "Your genius kids found something!" he crows, holding up a batch of photos. Then he pauses. "What's out there?"

She sets her lips. "Something attacked Queequeg," she says, and now everyone can see the dog's missing its tail. "What did they find in those photos?"

"A pattern," Mulder says eagerly, "locations where the fish has been sighted over the past several years. Look, five years ago, all the sightings occurred in the center of the lake. But progressively the sightings have moved closer and closer to shore, until this year, they're practically on the shore." He picks up his jacket.

"Where are you going?" Scully asks, frowning.

"Big Blue hunting." He grins, kissing the tops of both his children's heads, then his wife's. "Out there be monsters."

"Good luck, Mulder," Scully sighs, then looks around the room again. "In here, be monsters, too." She looks at her children like an interrogator to witnesses. "Now, what did you and Daddy do here when I was gone?"

Her children smile angelically.


Later that night, her cell phone rings. "Scully," she says automatically, covering her mouth to yawn, her eyes still closed.

"Hey, Scully, it's me," Mulder says. "My five hundred dollar deposit just sank."

Scully nods sleepily. "Mulder, where are you?" she says, as Sammy mumbles in his sleep.

"On a rock in the lake," he replies. "Don't worry, Big Blue is keeping me company."

"That's nice," she murmurs, "what are you hoping to accomplish out there?"

He's somewhat miffed that she isn't wide awake and worried. At the same time, he's relieved she isn't herding the kids and the dog in the car to chase him down, since he took the car. "You're a scientist, why do you ask that question? I mean, finding Big Blue would be a marvelous discovery, it could revolutionize our evolutionary biological thinking," he says, hoping neither the alligator nor the near-mythical monster would find him alone out there. A splash nearby startles him and he attempts to draw his gun without dropping the cell. So far, so good, he thinks, nearly dropping the gun. Just to keep himself from going insane before Farraday finds him, he babbles on. "Hey Scully, why did you name that dog Queequeg?"

She turns over, patting the amputated dog absently on the bed. "It was the name of the harpoonist in 'Moby Dick.' My father used to read to me from 'Moby Dick' when I was a little girl, I called him Ahab and he called me Starbuck. So I named my dog Queequeg. It's funny, I just realized something," she giggles.

"That that's a weird name for a dog?" he quips, rubbing his free hand up and down his arm.

"No, silly," she mutters, "how much you're like Ahab. You're so consumed by your personal vengeance against life, whether it be its inherent cruelties or mysteries, everything takes on a warped significance to fit your megalomaniacal cosmology."

"'Megalomaniacal'?" he repeats in a mock-hurt tone. Then he grins. "You want me, don't you?"

She snorts, feeling almost lightheaded talking about philosophical outlooks this late at night. By the way her mind is drifting, she knows it's later than 2 a.m. "It's the truth or a white whale. What difference does it make? I mean, both obsessions are impossible to capture, and trying to do so will only leave you dead along with everyone else you bring with you. You know Mulder, you are Ahab," she finishes solemnly.

"You know, it's interesting you should say that, because I've always wanted a peg leg," he says, staring up at the black, black night. "It's a boyhood thing I never grew out of. I'm not being flippant, I've given this a lot of thought. I mean, if you have a peg leg or hooks for hands, then maybe it's enough to simply keep on living. You know, braving facing life with your disability. But without these things you're actually meant to make something of your life, achieve something earn a raise, wear a necktie. So if anything I'm actually the antithesis of Ahab, because if I did have a peg leg I'd quite possibly be more happy and more content not to be chasing after these creatures of the unknown." A noise startles him, and he points his gun. Lowering his phone, he sees it's Farraday. He's never been so relieved to see that curmudgeonly skeptic, and he shouts his greetings.

"Mulder, what happened?" Scully asks, a little more awake.

"It's okay," he says into the phone. "It's Dr. Farraday. I'll talk to you later, Scully."

She nods and hangs up, then rolls over, nearly smashing the Pomeranian in the process.


The next morning, with Sammy fastened firmly to her back, Scully socks her husband's arm. "You should have woken me up," she scolds him after the sheriff leaves. The lake is still closed, but the place is swarming with forensics, so it doesn't feel so deserted.

"I did," he protests, "don't you remember our chat about Ahab and peg legs?" He picks up his daughter and puts her on his shoulders. "Mommy's mean, isn't she?"

Scully glares. "You could've been killed!" she says. "By an alligator, no less!"

Mulder shrugs, and his daughter kicks her feet into his chest. After coughing a little, he answers, "I didn't get the white whale, or Big Blue, or even a peg leg for that matter."

She shakes her head and puts her arms around him. "I'm just glad you're all right," she admits, "but next time you're whale hunting, Ahab, drag me along."

He smiles. "Does that mean we get to use Queequeg as bait next time?" She punches his other arm, and he winces. "Ow," he mutters, rubbing it gingerly. Seeing some of the forensic team snap crime scene shots reminds him that he didn't even get a chance to use his camera, having sorted through thousands of Ansel's photos sort of putting him off on the idea. Now he pulls out his camera and says, "Well, one photo before we hit the road?"

Scully nods gamely, and unfastens Sammy from her back so he can be in the photo. As she's repositioning her son, Mulder tries to fasten his daughter's feet down with his free hand while holding out the camera at an acceptable angle. "Okay, no kicking," he says, "you're going to make the picture shaky."

"Isn't that your favorite type?" Scully says, finally holding Sammy in her arms. "Or am I forgetting certain anti-gravity aspects?"

He makes a face, and once Page calms down enough, he says, "Ready? Cheeeeeeeese!" As they all chorus the dairy word, none of them see the distant dark shape of a creature behind them moving through the water. "Ow!" Mulder snaps the photo after Page kicks him again, which turns out to be a blurry shot of his and Scully's torso. Other photos are blurry images of their feet and parts of their heads, with the only clear picture being taken by Scully with their faces squished together for a close shot. "Who says you can't have Kodak moments anymore?" Mulder wonders, and Scully looks like she's ready to kick him, too.


Chapter Thirty-Four

Location Undisclosed
April 27th, 1996
11:30 p.m.

Propping himself up on an elbow, Krycek stares at the woman in his bed. Sound asleep, she's untroubled by the studious looks.

It's taken months, but he's finally figured out why she seemed familiar to him when they first meet. When he'd learned her relation to a thorn in his ass, he'd chalked up the feeling to having subconsciously realizing a fraternal resemblance, but the memory his mind conjured up while drowsy from good sex pointed out that he'd seen her before she'd seen him, and that it'd had little to do with her sister.

The first glimpse he'd ever had of Melissa Scully was not in the flesh, but staring back at him from a glossy page, a candid picture taken without her knowledge in a stark setting.

It had been just two days after he'd been released from the hospital into his 'father's' care when the old man had brought him the photo album. Right then he'd been too sick and too weak to really comprehend the message that the photos had been meant to convey, and most of the conversation that had accompanied the show and tell had fallen out of his memory, leaving only the haziest of imprints behind; it had only been through later conversations that he'd really gotten the gist of what the old bastard had been telling him.

But now that he thinks about it, he can remember her picture, but only because of the smoking man's comment about it.

He'd taken the cigarette out of his mouth and pointed at the photograph with a nicotine stained finger. "This one is the biggest triumph of all, Alex, and it couldn't have been easier if I'd spent months planning it. In fact, the do-gooder fool came to us, as innocent as a fly going to tea at a spider's. They say that God smiles on some plans, but it's things like this that make me think that fallen angels meddle handily in the affairs of men, too."

At the time the statement made no sense to him, but now he understands all too well. It makes him wonder if he should wake her and tell her, but he decides that it would be of no advantage to him, and therefore of no purpose.


Washington, D.C.
Food Lion Parking Lot
April 28th, 1996

7:59 p.m.

Mulder sits in his car, watching two men talk. One of the men walks off. The other comes to his car and lets himself in, sitting on the passenger seat. He doesn't close the door all the way, as if planning for a quick get away.

Mulder turns and frowns at him. "Our blind date's not off to a good start. I've been waiting here nearly half an hour. My wife will kill me if the frozen foods defrost."

"I was asked to make sure you weren't followed," the plain clothed man says.

"It's just you, me, the ladies of the night and the drug dealers."

"This area's always been known for its criminal element."

"Especially when Congress is in session." Mulder's comment doesn't elicit a smile.

Instead the man hands Mulder a newspaper with an article on the front with the headline "Braddock Heights Man Kills Wife, Four Others." Underneath is a picture of Joseph Patnik in a prison photo.

"What's this?"

"Something you'll want to follow."

"Follow where?"

"That's all I have for you."

"What do you mean, that's all you have for me? I get an anonymous email to come meet you here in the middle of the night, I don't know who you are or what you want. This is more frustrating than egg hunting with my toddler." And Egg hunting with Page at Maggie's house had been pretty frustrated, he remembers with a rueful look.

"I don't have any obligation or desire to give you any answers. I'm not one of your sources," the man says coldly.

"Then you're just a messenger boy?"

"It's late, Agent Mulder. Go home, play with that toddler you mention. Get some sleep."

"Who told you to contact me? How do I know I'm not being played?"

"I guess you don't."

But Mulder does know. He knows exactly what's going on, which gives him an advantage over the thugs like the one sitting next to him.

The man gets out without saying another word. Mulder crumples up the newspaper and throws it at him. "Well, then you can go ahead and recycle that, then."

"I've been asked to tell you... you walk away from this, more people will die."

Mulder sighs and leans back in his seat. People are going to die either way.


Twenty Minutes Later

Mulder opens the front door, and walks into the house. He's carrying two bags of groceries that obscure his vision, so he doesn't see what bumps into his shins. He shifts the bags so he can look down, and is surprised to see that he'd been head-butted by his son.

"Scully?" He calls when his son tries to go through his shins again. "A little help please?"

Instead of an immediate rescue, a half-dressed Page runs into the room. "Hi, Dad-ee."

"Uh, Hi Page." After wondering for a second where her pants were, Mulder wonders instead if he daughter would be any help distracting her brother from his ankle assault. He'd just decided the answer was no when Scully comes into the room and trades him a small purple item of clothing for the bags.

That frees up his arms so he can grab his squirmy offspring. "Mulder, do you think you could put Page's pants back on? She escaped her potty training lesson as soon as I got her diaper back on."

"I can see that. So, um, has Sammy been doing this crawling thing long?" As soon as Mulder sets him on the floor, Sammy is off again. "I'd hate to think I'd been that unobservant..."

"Just since this afternoon. Amy told me about it when I got home. Apparently he just pulled himself onto all fours and started crawling, just like that. I wish Page would toilet train herself that quickly..."She sighs and blows her bangs off her forehead.

"Well, she isn't even two yet, so you have to expect that it's going to take her a while to get the hang of it," Mulder says as he patiently wrestles Page into her pants. She apparently prefers to just wear a diaper and shirt, so she puts up a fuss. "Sammy's crawling...They grow up so fast, don't they?"

Scully gives an unladylike snort. "Let's see if you think so when it's your turn to change diapers next. Speaking of which..."She points to Sammy. Mulder shakes his head as he lets a fully dressed Page go and reaches for his son. But he's still smiling.


The Next Morning
Frederick County Psychiatric Hospital
Braddock Heights, Maryland

Joseph Patnik sits in a basically empty room, staring blankly at the television hung from the ceiling. Mulder watches him through the room's window.

"Sorry, I would've gotten here sooner but the Beltway was a parking lot. What's going on?" Scully says as she joins him at the window, peering in at the man of interest.

"Multiple homicide, a bizarre one. That's Joseph Patnik. He murdered five people, all of whom he insists was the same man."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, he claims to have been killing the same man over and over again, that he wouldn't die."

"Does he have a history of mental illness?" Scully asks.

"Not that I know, but I only just got this case yesterday."

She gives him a sidelong glance." Someday you're going to tell me how you manage to get ahold of so many case files before I hear word one of them... So, what's the X-File?"

"In Patnik's neighborhood two weeks ago, a babysitter attacked the two children she was minding. She told the police she thought they were wolves. Even when the kids behave like little animals, most people don't think they actually are animals." He smiles. "But sometimes it's hard to tell at dinner."

Scully ignores the dig at their kids' table manners. "And police found no other motive for either of these attacks?"

"Not so far, no." Just then a man in a lab coat walks up to them.

"Agent Mulder? Hi, I'm Doctor Stroman."

Mulder turns around and shakes his hand. "Doctor Stroman, this is my partner, Special Agent Scully." ::And she's taken.:: He mentally growls when he note the man's appreciative glance. The message telegraphs clearly.

Unaware of the silent exchange, Scully shakes hands with him." You're the physician in charge?"

"Yeah, they called me in from D.C. to try and develop a clear diagnosis for the court."

"Have you?" Mulder asks abruptly.

"I wish I could say 'yes,'" the doctor admits. "This case is puzzling."

Scully's attention is focused on the man in front of the tv. "Has he been sedated?"

"I've got him on heavy thorazine, but it only seemed to knock him back a notch or two."

"He should be unconscious," Scully notes.

::Hey, it didn't work on me either. Won't work on me, whatever.:: Mulder thinks. "He seems pretty manageable to me."

The doctor gives Patnik a brief, dispassionate glance. "It may be some form of organic delusional syndrome, possibly due to chronic metamphetamine abuse. I don't know, but, uh, he is prone to outbursts."

"Who called you down on this case?"

"A Doctor Kahn from the, uh, Department of Social Health Services."

"Could we speak to him?"

"I don't think he's in today, but I can certainly check for you."

As if on cue Patnik screams loudly.

"Orderly!" Stroman shouts, making Mulder flinch. If he were crazy, the doctor shouting wouldn't calm him, he decides. Nor would the doctor running into the room.

Patnik screams again and throws over his chair, then throws over a chair in the corner and sits down as Stroman runs in with two orderlies, who grab him and tell him to calm down. Mulder and Scully enter as quietly as possible to keep from upsetting him, and the orderlies repeat their requests for calmness.

Patnik isn't having it. "No! No! No, no, no! He's here!"

The agents look up at the screen. A bright-eyed newscaster is speaking. "...Miriskovic personally ordered the rape and murder of thousands of innocent civilians in wartorn regions of the former Yugoslavia. Reporting..." On the screen is a dictator named Miriskovic. He is also the man that Patnik thought he was killing.

"That can't be a coincidence," Mulder can't help telling Scully. She merely raises an eyebrow.


Joseph Patnik's House

Mulder and Scully pull up to Patnik's house. A cable van drives by as they make their way to the house.

"You said you got this case last night, where did it come from? And how did you get it? You said you were just going to the store," Scully accuses.

"The came from an outside source...I was accosted in the parking lot, so it's not like I lied to you."

"Who is this source?" Mulder does not answer, looking down at the floor as he walks. "And Mulder, what's his interest in this case? What does he want us to uncover?"

"I don't know."

"And you're not suspicious that we're being used?" She gives him a look of disbelief.

"We've got dead bodies and confessed murderers. If we're being used, it's to find out the connection. That's what I'm interested in."

When they enter the house they hear the tv on, but Mulder waves for Scully not to pull her gun. There are two kids on the couch.

Using his best "dad" voice, Mulder scolds the boys and sends them on their way. They both look sheepish, so Mulder hopes that the voice will eventually work on his own kids.

He hopes.

"Mulder." Scully is standing in front of something, but he doesn't need to look to know what. "Look at this, there must be hundreds of videos here."

"Anything good?" he asks with a suggestive smile.

"No, not really. Nothing you'd be interested in anyway. All I see are recordings of cable news shows. They're all dated and in chronological order. You know, that's what Patnik was watching at the hospital when he went all wiggy." Mulder nods." What if there's some connection?"

"Between what he saw and what he recorded and what he did?"

"You're the one who's interested," she tells him, handing him a tape.

"If there is a connection, are you going to keep the kids from watching TV?" he asks, thumbing the tape's case.

"What makes you think I'd let them watch TV even if there wasn't a connection?"

"No TV? I'm warning you, if they grow up socially awkward, it's on your head."


That Night
Washington, D.C.

Sometimes having kids is handy, since they got Skinner to allow them to work at home without any protest. Mulder is watching a videotape in fast forward of a trial. Pausing it, he joins Scully in the kitchen so they can throw something together to eat. The tapes aren't exactly his idea of dinner and a show, but he supposes it's better than staying in a crummy hotel...

He decides that he wants to make a sandwich, so he rummages through the fridge as she finishes making a salad. "I just watched thirty six hours of Bernard Shaw and Bobbie Batista. I'm about ready to kill somebody too," Mulder tells her.

"Grab your food, Mulder. I'm going to show you something."

In the den she puts her hand on a pile of tapes. On the floor, there are more stacks, as well as another stack on top of the television. Another tape is playing as well. "These tapes are dated April nineteenth, April twenty-first and April twenty-third. Each corresponds to a night that Patnik committed a murder."

"What's on the tapes?"

Scully sits on the couch and pulls her feet under her butt. Innocent as the gesture is, Mulder wishes they weren't on the clock. "Among other things, a one hour special report on the atrocities in Bosnia, a report that prominently features Lladoslav Miriskovic."

"The same guy that started Patnik screaming in the psych ward?"

She nods. "And my guess is that once I review the tapes for the night that Patnik killed his wife, that I'll find that report there as well."

Mulder hides a wince at the idea of her watching more of the tapes. "So you think that because Patnik saw this war criminal on television, he was somehow inspired to go out and murder these people?"

"Well, recent studies have linked violence on television to violent behavior."

"Yeah, but those studies are based on the assumption that Americans are just empty vessels ready to be filled with any idea or image that's fed to them like a bunch of Pavlov dogs and go out and act on it."

"But they believe that the causal connections are there, Mulder." Her look suggests that she's thinking about their conversation regarding their kids and TV.

"They, studies have also shown causal connections between cow flatulence and the depletion of the ozone layer. What you're talking about is pseudoscience used to make political book."

"All I'm saying is that I think it's clear that, that the programs that Patnik watched somehow triggered his violent behavior."

"How?"

"The doctor suggested amphetamine abuse. Maybe that coupled with, with the disturbing images he was watching, pushed him over the edge."

"All I know is television does not make a previously sane man go out and kill five people, thinking they're all the same guy. Not even 'Must See TV' could do that to you."

"Okay, then how do you explain it?" she challenges.

"I can't. Not yet." He pulls on her hand. "Turn off the TV. It's after ten, I'm going to get some sleep. Looks like you could use some too."

"No, I'm going to... watch the rest of these tapes. Just out of curiosity."

"Un Uh, it's time for bed," he tells her, grabbing the remote and turning the tv off. When she still doesn't make a move to leave the room, he sweeps her off her feet and into his arms. "I guess we'll do this the hard way."

"Mulder! Put me down!" she demands as he carries her out of the room. But she's laughing. He's feeling pretty good too, because he's kept her from watching those tapes.


Unfortunately, he doesn't count on her getting out of bed in the middle of the night. Once he's sound asleep she crawls out of bed and returns to the den, intent on studying the tapes more to see if there's any validity to the theory.

A noise outside distracts her from the tapes, and she wanders to the window. Mulder is sitting in their car, talking to someone cloaked in shadows. The car window is cracked, so she can hear snatches of the conversation. "No, I can't choose which one....well then, take them both!" Mulder shouts angrily. "Yes I mean it. If that's what it takes to keep you out of our lives, it's worth it. We can have more."

Mulder gets out of the car a minute later, and she soon hears the back door opening, so she drifts back to the TV and continues to watch the current tape as it fast forwards.


7 a.m.

When Mulder wakes up to a ringing phone, he finds himself alone in bed, and experiences a sinking feeling. Despite the trouble he'd taken to tuck her in last night, she'd still watched more. He knows that even before he hangs up the phone and finds her in the den.

"I just got a call. There's been another murder."

"Yeah, I'll be right there," she says, rubbing her tired eyes. Mulder refrains from asking if she got any sleep at all, because he's afraid to know the answer.

"It happened just less than an hour ago. It seems to match our pattern, a housewife gone berserk." He gives her a sidelong glance, suddenly glad that she's not the stay-at-home mom type.

"Yeah..."

Mulder kisses her on the cheek. "Do you think you could start the car? I forgot something up stairs. I'll be right out."

He does go upstairs, but to find Amy, not to look for anything. Amy, who just arrived, is in the nursery helping Page get dressed. She looks up when he begins speaking to her. "I know this is last minute, but do you think you could stay late tonight? Until around midnight, unfortunately. I'll call in to work the next day so you could have the day off."

Amy looks like she's going to say no, but the offer of an unexpected day off sways her. "Okay, sure. As long as you don't mind me bringing the book I'm reading so I have something to do while the kids are sleeping."

"That's fine. Sammy will probably be up at least once before we get home, though," he warns. "He seems to have inherited his Dad's night owl genes."

"Really? How old were you when you started sleeping through the night?"

Mulder quickly does the math in his head, accounting for how things have changed. "Thirty-two."

Amy gives him a quizzical look before chuckling. ::Don't laugh, in my last life I was thirty-eight:: he thinks.

"So, you have a case that's going into the wee hours?"

Mulder pulls a face and splays his hands in a gesture of helplessness. "Stakeouts."

The nanny makes a sympathetic sound. "That sounds boring yet stressful."

"It is," he agrees, then thinks of something else. "Would you do me a favor and not mention the stakeout to Dana? It blackens her mood every time it comes up." Despite two years of marriage, it still feels weird to refer to her by first name.

"Oh, no problem. A lot of people don't like thinking about work when they're at home."

Milder smiles a little. "You excluded, I hope."

Amy's cheeks flushed. "Oh, of course. Your kids are angels."

"Yeah...they're got everyone fooled for now, but wait until they can string more than two words together. Then we'll all be in trouble."

From the look on the young woman's face, she has no idea what a safe reaction to that would be. It gives Mulder a little jolt of guilty pleasure to know he hasn't lost his ability to throw people off balance.

"Did you find what you were looking for?" Scully asks as he slides onto the seat.

Her question startles him, but he recovers quickly and pats his jacket pocket. "Yup."


Helen Riddock's House

Officials have swarmed the backyard and the man in the hammock, who no longer has a beard and whose facial features are different, is now a bloody mess on the hammock. Scully walks over and looks at the body.

Mulder walks over to Scully, carrying an umbrella since the sky is threatening rain.

A detective approaches them. "I just talked to the detective in charge. The shooter is Helene Riddock, age forty-two. They took her to lockup."

"What happened?" Scully asks Mulder. He begins to lead her to a key spot at the scene.

"She looked out the window and claims she saw her husband in the hammock... with a blonde." They stop as he points over to a dog barking at them with blondish fur.

"That blonde?"

"Yeah, apparently, he was only taking a nap with his dog..." They start walking again. "But Mrs. Riddock swears she looked out the window and saw her husband in the hammock with a blonde woman."

They stop walking on the other side of the hammock." So, this woman killed her husband because she thought he was cheating on her?"

"This is not even her husband. Her husband's a long haul trucker. He's been out of town for the last ten days. Mister John Gillness, it's her next door neighbor. She didn't even have the right backyard. Helene Riddock lives over here."

He points to the house and starts walking as Scully stares at the body. Scully watches Mulder suspiciously as Mulder looks back at her. "Scully?"

"Yeah, let's check it out."

Inside the house, the television still plays. This show is part of the "The Home Value Network." A porcelain knickknack is being showcased. The statue is also sitting on the table next to the couch.

"One of my favorites, he is so cute. 'The Little Traveler,' normally a hundred and twenty nine and that's what you're going to pay at the department stores, but here at Home Value Network..." an announcer gushes.

Mulder picks up the porcelain statuette and starts to walk to the back. "A thing of beauty is a joy forever...what do you think, Scully?"

"I think television plays a large part in both of these murderers' lives." She walks over and picks up a picture off the mantle.

"As it does in almost every American home, but television does not equal violence. I don't care what anybody says..." He points a thumb at the ugly statuette. "Unless you consider bad taste an act of violence."

Scully pulls open a drawer and finds many more videotapes. "More tapes."

"Shucks, and if she was taping the home value channel, we won't be able to buy any of these lovely items since the offers have expired. Mulder walks over to her as she puts a videotape into the VCR. "Hang on a second."

He walks to the window and looks outside. The cable van pulls up and the technician gets out. "I'll be right back."

As Scully flips through the tape, Mulder runs out the door. He runs towards the cable van.

"Hey! Hey!" Mulder shouts. The technician gets in the van and drives off as Mulder runs after him. "Hey!"

Shrugging, Mulder begins to scale the pole, going after the transmitter he knows was just installed.

Scully has come out in the meantime, and her expression isn't pleased. "Mulder, what are you doing?"

"I'm coming down." He starts to climb down.

"What is it?"

"I found a cable trapper scrambler running from the pole into the house."

"Maybe it's a job for Special Agent Pendrell and the SciCrime lab."

::Oh! Or maybe for batman:: Mulder jumps down onto a car. Scully reaches for the device.

"You want it analyzed?" she asks.

"Yeah, but I'll do it."

He starts off. This time he notices that Scully is dismayed. "It makes more sense for you to go down and interview Helene Riddock, since you're...less abrasive when it comes to upset people. Get her version of the story. Maybe she knows what this thing is." Scully gives him a suspicious look. "Is there a problem with that?" ::besides you watching crazy tapes, that is.::

"No, that's, that's fine, I'm..."

"I'll stay in touch. Call you as soon as I know something," he promises.

She nods distractedly, and he's thrilled that he'd thought to ask Amy to stay. Things don't seem like they're going to go any smoother this time, but as long as they're not at Maggie's he thinks he can handle it.


A Few Hours Later

Mulder is driving down the road when his phone begins to ring. "Mulder."

"Where are you?" she asks sharply.

"I was just about to call you. Look, I'm on my way back. You may have been right, Scully, at least partly. I think there is a foreign signal being introduced into these people's homes through the television set." There's silence on the other end of the line. "Scully, are you there?"

"I'm here. One of the officers lent me an office," she tells him. "Come here, okay."

"Okay. I think they may be running some kind of test." There's no answer. "Scully, did you hear what I just said?"

"So, you had it analyzed?"

"Yeah."

"I just talked to Agent Pendrell, he said that you never showed up."

"I didn't take it over to Pendrell."

"Then where were you?"

"I had the guys do it. I'd rather talk about it when we get on the landline, okay? We've dealt with these kind of people before. We know what they're capable of," Mulder says, deciding that she ought to know who "the guys" are and be less wigged out.

"What was that?"

"What was what?" His surety melts away.

"There, that noise."

"Scully, is there something wrong?"

"Mulder... Mulder, who's listening to..." she trails off and is silent.

::crap.:: "Scully, look, I'm going to be right there, okay? Don't go anywhere. Don't..."

As soon as the line goes dead, he dials the number the detective gave him for the station.


By some stroke of luck, it turns out that the office Scully mentioned isn't in the station, it's in the adjoining office building that the precinct has been renting cheaply for overflow since it was dilapidated and unrentable to anyone else. "Here, she's in here. Ready?" Mulder whispers to the officer who has come to assist.

The officer unlocks the door. "Ready. On the count..." Scully chain locks the door.

"Wait..." He's not sure if he's talking to Scully or the cop.

He bangs on the door and Scully stumbles back, startled. Breathing heavily, she walks over, picks up her gun and aims it at the door. As the officer opens the door, he is stopped by the chain lock. Scully fires six shots at him. She then runs the other way as Mulder kicks open the door.

"Get back, call for backup," he growls to the officer, who runs off to do so. Mulder looks around the disheveled motel room.

"Scully! Scully!"

He kicks open another door to find that the back door is wide open and Scully is nowhere to be found. ::Again! At least I know where she's going to end up.::

Knowing that it'll take a while for her to end up holed up at her mother's, he goes through the motions talking to the gunmen. Since he's essentially given them a busywork assignment, it's the least he can do to at least listen to their findings.


Margaret Scully's House
9:30 p.m.

Mulder taps the knocker three times, waits, then does it again louder. Having no response, he looks at the window, peers in, then bangs the knocker four times. Margaret answers the door, but only enough so that her face is shown.

Mulder decides to get directly to the point. "Maggie, is she here?"

"Uh, no," the older woman stammers.

"You haven't been answering your phone."

"Well, when I hear from her, I'll call you, okay?" She tries to close the door, but Mulder holds it open.

"I need to see her."

"Fox, please, go away..."

"I can't, she's my wife," he says simply and pushes his way past her. Maggie doesn't resist.

"Please leave Fox, please leave," she begs.

Scully steps out from behind the wall in the main room, aiming her gun at Mulder. Mulder turns around.

"Dana, put down the gun!" her mother shouts.

"Scully?" he asks uncertainly. Margaret walks over and stands next to Mulder, shielding him. Mulder wants to cry.

"I told you, Mom. He's done it, Mom. He's here to gloat."

"Gloat about what?" His puzzlement is genuine, because he has no idea what she's talking about. The last time around she thought he was going to kill her, but that doesn't seem to be the case now.

"Put it down, Dana," Maggie urges.

"He's given away our babies," Scully spits out. "Just like his bastard father did to his sister."

"Scully?" He takes a step forward.

"Just step back," she warns. "I could kill you for this, even though I'll get them back, damn you."

"Sammy and Page are with Amy, at home. I asked her to stay late."

"Lies." She cocks the hammer of her gun and Mulder nearly wets himself. She seems even more determined now, the mother's instance he supposed.

Margaret steps up next to Mulder. "Dana, you're not yourself. He's telling you the truth."

"It's not the truth, Mom. He's lied to me from the beginning."

Mulder shakes his head slightly. "I haven't-"

"He's just used me for leverage. Giving him the babies will keep him safe, but they'll hurt them."

"I could never do that to them, Scully. I love them. I love you. I'd rather die than have any harm come to any of you," Mulder pleads. The accusation that he's used her comes to close to the truth, even though he believes he's acted in her best interest, and his mind shrinks away from it. He's never even contemplated being found out before.

Scully looks like she is about to cry. "I heard you say it, Mulder. That they could have them both and we could have more, just as long as they left you alone. You used them as pawns in a game."

"That's not true, Dana. I'm sure it's not," Maggie protests.

"It is."

Margaret steps in front of Mulder. "I want you to listen to me..."

"Mom, just get out of the way!"

"You trust me, don't you?"

Scully is fighting back tears, her gun trained on her mother now. "You know that I would never hurt you. That I would never let anybody hurt you. That's why you came here, isn't it? You're safe here. Put the gun down, Dana. I'd never let anyone do anything bad to my grandchildren, and I know there own father would never do something like that. Deep down, you know it too."

Scully stares at them, very distraught. Margaret steps towards her daughter. "Put it down. Put the gun down, Dana. Put it down."

Scully points her gun away as she and her mother press their foreheads against one another. Scully falls into her mother's arms, sobbing. Margaret and Scully kneel down to the floor as Scully cries.

Looking over her daughter's shoulder, Maggie speaks to Mulder. "Call your nanny and get her to give Page the phone. Then she'll know that I'm right."

White-faced, Mulder pulls his cell phone out and does as he's told.


Northeast Georgetown Medical Center
May 2nd, 1996
1:43 p.m.

Mulder gets to the door to a hospital room, knocks and opens it. Maggie smiles encouragingly as he enters the room. He puts his hands up as if having a gun pointed at him and smiles. Margaret walks past him, smiling.

On the TV a newscaster drones "...runway 12H. The runway generally reserved for..."

Mulder turns off the television and sits down in a chair next to Scully. "How you feeling?" he asks. Maggie asked him not to come the first day that she was in the hospital, and he agreed, even though he didn't want to. Page and Sammy had already been by with Maggie for a brief visit to reassure her.

"Ashamed. I was so sure, Mulder. I saw things and I heard things, and... it was just like the world was turned upside down. Everybody was out to get me. "

"Now you know how I feel most of the time."

"I thought you gave them our children."

Mulder nods. "I'm not surprised."

She gives him a confused look. I did some checking. Joseph Patnik thought he was murdering a Bosnian war criminal, a man the media described as a modern-day Hitler. It turns out both Patnik's parents were Holocaust survivors."

"I'm not following."

"Helen Riddock was scared her husband was going to be unfaithful to her. You see a pattern developing here? What if this, this video signal somehow turned these people's anxieties into some kind of dementia? Yeah, a, a virtual reality of their own worst nightmares?"

"Like me thinking that you'd betray our family. I was so far gone, Mulder, I thought that you had gone to the other side.'

"What do you mean?"

"That Cancer Man, the man who smokes all those cigarettes, I was sure that I saw the two of you sitting in your car out in the yard. You were arguing with him, about Page and Sammy. I thought you were going to give him one of the kids. It's a crazy idea now, but it didn't seem so then."

"Ah, maybe not so crazy."

"What do you mean? You're not your father, you'd never give our kids away. "

"Well, somebody's behind this, we just don't know who."

"You think it could be him?"

"I don't know." They look at each other for a second.

"Why don't you try to get some rest?" He leans down and kisses her cheek. "I'll bring the kids by tonight."


He stands and walks out. Looking around outside the room, he sees Doctor Lorenz at the nurse's desk and starts over.

"Doctor Lorenz?"

"Agent Mulder. I was just about to check in on your partner."

"My wife," he corrects. "What, uh, course of treatment have you outlined for her?"

"At this point, nothing more than bed rest. We still haven't been able to determine what brought this on. As far as I can tell, there's nothing medically wrong with her."

"That didn't seem to be the case the night before last."

"No, it wasn't," the doctor agrees. "It's got me puzzled. Her M.R.I. was negative, but the spinal tap revealed high levels of serotonin in her brain."

"You think that would account for her strange behavior?"

"High serotonin levels have been associated with mania. But the good news is, as of this afternoon, her levels are pretty much back to normal."

She smiles and walks past him. Mulder thinks for a second, then turns around. "Doctor Lorenz- "She stops and turns around. "Would you have made a diagnosis of amphetamine abuse for someone in Agent Scully's condition?"

"Not given her serotonin levels, no. That wouldn't make any sense."

"Thank you." Mulder turns and starts walking as he pulls out his cellular, then dials. "Braddock Heights. Yeah, I need the number for Frederick County Psychiatric Hospital, please."

He stops walking when a voice answers, "Ward three."

"Yeah, this is Fox Mulder with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. I need to talk to Doctor Stroman, please."

"I'm sorry, Doctor Stroman's no longer here. I believe he's returned to Washington."

::Once a rat, always a rat.::

On the way to the meeting with X and the murders, Mulder can't but help compare the good Doctor to Lucy Householder. Some people choose the same actions all over again out of a sense of desperation and others do it for personal gain. Knowing that the man he's about to find dead falls into the later category makes his death a little less galling an hour later.


Hoover Building
Skinner's Office
May 10th, 1996

Mulder sits across from Skinner while the other man is reading over a document.

"This is your final report, Agent Mulder?"

"Yes, sir."

"I see more questions than I do answers. You don't know who manufactured the device you found or what its purpose was."

"No, sir."

Scully knocks on the door and walks in.

"Agent Scully, welcome back," Skinner greets her.

She walks over to the desk. "I'm sorry I'm late, I just got back from the document section."

"What did you find out about the two men Mulder found executed?"

"The cable company employee had no criminal record. In fact, there was nothing remarkable about him whatsoever. We found a medical license under the name "Doctor Stroman" in Falls Church, Virginia. He died in 1978."

"What about their killer?"

Scully shrugs and is about to speak when Mulder cuts her off. "He remains an unknown subject."

Skinner looks at him, slightly suspicious of Mulder's answer. Neither agent chooses to elaborate.


Chapter Thirty-Five

June 14th, 1996

Mulder and Scully barely have had time to put their things down when Kimberly calls and tells them that the AD wants to see them immediately. They exchange a look as they head for the door, both wondering if they've done something to annoy their boss.

"Good. You're finally in." Skinner's gruff tone increases their apprehension, especially Mulder's. ::I don't remember doing anything dumb last time around.::

"I need you to pack when you get home this evening and to arrange for childcare. You're going to be catching a flight to New Orleans on Sunday night and will be returning on Saturday afternoon."

"What's the case?" Scully asks.

"No case."

"I don't understand."

Skinner steeples his hands. "I'm sure it's not something that you're aware of, but the ADs have a monthly poker game. We had a game last week, and I won a trip to New Orleans airfare and hotel for two included -which is why I'm sending you."

"But sir, why wouldn't you take the trip yourself?"

"I'm not a leisure travel type of person... I saw enough exotic locales in the service to last a lifetime. The two of you are good agents, but other than maternity leave, it's been years since either of you took any time off. Even good agents get burned out, and I can't afford for that to happen in this office, so consider this vacation to be mandatory."

"Yes sir. Thank you, Sir."

"Go and have a good time. That's an order." Skinner's voice is still gruff, but there's a glint of humor in his eyes.

As they head back to the basement, Mulder casts a sidelong glance at his wife. He expects that as soon as they get behind closed doors she spout out a list of reasons why they can't leave for a week: Sammy is teething, the evil little dog needs to get his shots, she doesn't want to impose on her mother-

"Skinner is a nice man," she tells him instead with a dreamy look as soon as the door clicks shut.

"Huh?"

"It was so nice of him to think of sending us on a romantic getaway."

Mulder smirks. "I doubt that he had romance in mind. He was probably hoping that this will keep us from snapping and shooting up the Hoover building someday. "

"Even so, it's still really nice. This trip is going to be great."

"Yeah?"

"Yes. Even if you insist that we go looking for famous ghosts."

"Nope, I will only do what you want. I get my fill of ghosts at home."

"Funny, I hope that's not the only of your wants completely fulfilled at home," Scully says archly.

"You tease." Mulder's eyes widen in appreciation. "You know that the answer to that is a resounding yes."

"I do know, but it's nice to hear you say it."

Mulder gives her a hopeful look. "Do you suppose we could stop on the way home and shop for some sexy swimwear?"

"Okay, but if you want to pick out my suit, I get to pick out yours."

Mulder hesitates for a moment, visions of revealing Speedos in his head. "You drive a hard bargain, but you've got a deal." Smiling to himself, he wonders what adventures this unexpected trip will bring.


June 17th, 1996

"What's the matter, Scully?" Mulder asks. It's been a perfect day, hell, it's been a perfect everything so far in New Orleans. After waking up well rested from an overnight flight, they decided to do the tourist thing on this gorgeus day, first visiting the colorful French Quarters, now walking down a loud but not too crowded Bourbon Street, and working up an appetite for some seriously unhealthy crawdads and po'boys. On such a pleasant, balmy day, he can't understand why the love of his life has such a pensive expression on her face.

"You're going to think it's silly," she says, and it's apparent she thinks so.

"No, I won't," he argues, "you know I'll believe anything."

"That's what I'm afraid of," she shoots back, then sighs, stopping on the sidewalk. "I miss our kids. I miss working. I," she smiles a little, "I even miss our haunted house."

He blinks, then frowns, and checks her temperature by placing the back of his hand on her forehead. She swats it away, and he chuckles. "Hey, I feel a little weird leaving everyone behind, too. But it's either take a sanity break now, or the Bureau will force us away from chasing little green men."

"Gray," she corrects him, and he grins. Pouting, she says, "You made me do that."

He kisses her forehead and holds her hand. "I know. But remember, the kids are hanging out with your mom and brother Charlie's family, so they're in good hands. The bills have all been paid for and the ghosts are guarding the house. Heck, even the cases have slowed to a trickle that I can't even find anything worthwhile in the tabloids." He smiles as she shakes her head. "Consider this a well deserved vacation, G-woman."

Scully looks up at him with those amazing green-blue eyes. "Does that mean, God forbid, that if anything like an X-File rears its ugly head, you'll stay away?"

Mulder blinks. "Well, I don't know. If it had anything to do with supernatural attacks on adult videos stores, that could be a hard sell," and winces as she punches him.


The two of them enjoy a leisurely dinner at one of the many venues promising great edibles and great entertainment. So far, the music is a sassy, easy jazz ensemble providing tasty music that sticks to the diners' ears as the delicious food sticks to their stomachs.

"Mmm, this is nice," Scully sighs, leaning against Mulder in the dim lighting. "No Mardi Gras craziness, no buying voodoo charms," she gives him a sidelong look as the sax player wails onstage, "and no case or kids to keep us up all night."

Mulder smirks, wrapping his arms around her. "You mean we won't be up all night doing something else?"

She returns the smirk. "Only if you behave yourself," she says, "paying the bill would be nice."

He puts a hand to his heart. "You wound me, Scully," he says, mock-hurt, "as a gentleman, of course I'd treat my wife to dinner."

"Would you?" she asks, raising that infamous eyebrow. "Even without sex?"

He smiles, he can't help it. "Well, that's a really good bonus, but I promise," he says, raising his hand like an Indian Scout, "for the rest of this trip, I'm footing the bill."

Likewise, she raises her hand like a Girl Scout. "Then I promise," she says in a sultry voice low enough for only his ears, her hands doing things to him under the table that he'd never dream her capable of doing in public, "to be great in bed for the rest of this trip."

Mulder suddenly raises his head, looking for a waiter. "Check, please!"


Apparently, they're not the only couple infatuated with the sultry surroundings in the sinfully decadent mansion-turned-hotel they're staying in. However, neither FBI agent takes a second look at their hotel, preferring to practically tear each other's clothes off while trying to kiss and fondle the other as best they can. They barely make it to the bed as they continue to strip each other down without falling over, panting eagerly, hungrily for the main course. Scully makes good on her promise, and then some, causing Mulder to forget entirely about a little something called "protection"until after the fact. Groggily, he asks, "Scully?"

"Mm," she says, absently kissing his chest while her hands play over his hip.

God, he really, really hates to ask. "Are you on the pill?"

She stops, and he swallows a sigh. "No." She puts a finger on his lips. "Just because we've had sex doesn't guarantee a kid. Neither does a condom guarantee no kid," she reminds him.

He nods, feeling a slight twinge of guilt in that complicit act. "Well, yeah," he starts, but her finger returns to his lips.

"If it makes you feel any better, I've got some," she says, "unless you want to sleep." Her eyes, her voice, even her wandering hands say she's far from sleep.

Mulder smiles widely, his hands reclaiming her body. "No, these days, a redhead is causing my insomnia," and she giggles as he shows her just how awake he is.


In the morning, Mulder flips on the TV out of boredom, his thumb first hitting "mute"before the "up" button as he goes through channel after channel, not wanting to wake his wife. It does feel weird to be awake and not feeding any little ones, or changing them, or poring over a casefile while keeping evidence out of Page and Sammy's reach. He glances over at the sleeping redhead on the bed. Well, one thing hasn't changed, waking up to a dropdead gorgeous naked woman in the morning, and grins.

Tossing aside the remote, he decides the morning is too good not to share, even if he may risk the wrath of Scully. Besides, she's looking too damn sexy half-covered under the satin sheets, and there's no kids around to interrupt. Tentatively, he kisses her jaw, then works down her neck, his fingers stroking her silken skin on her favorite spots. As she moans, he gets bolder, and bigger, but waits until she's awake before even approaching the coveted zone.

"Mm, Mulder," she sighs, and smiles, her eyes opening sleepily. "Good morning."

"It will be," he smiles back, and continues to bring her slowly but surely into alertness. It isn't long before she takes control and thrusts her hips against his, demanding that he give her what she wants. "Scully," he groans, diving into her unbearable sweetness. As he strokes her, inside and out, she cries out, wanting more, and he gives it to her. A random thought hits him, What if this passion comes from some other source, but soon banishes it from his mind as the redhead beneath him demands more of him with her fingers clawing his back.

As he fills her with unimaginable pleasure, Scully isn't thinking of anything except this talented and imaginative wake-up call. "Mulder!" she gasps, shuddering as she hits her climax.

"Oh!" he breathes, also releasing the pent-up tension inside, and can't help but cover her open mouth with his own, despite their mutual morning breath. Neither says anything for a while, being too preoccupied with their mutual orgasms and french kissing.

As their hands begin exploring each other, ready for another tryst, Scully breaks away, hating to do so. "Mulder, look!" she says, pointing at the TV.

Surprised and a little disappointed, he gets off of her and turns around, then hits the "mute"button again. Onscreen, the unseen reporter declares, "Local authorities are baffled by these recent events." Footage of ritualistic symbols in blood are scattered throughout what appears to be the inside of a crackhouse, and chickens walk over several pale corpses. "Again, we apologize for such graphic images on the morning show, but if anyone has any clues as to who perpetrated such a grisly crime, please call the police or Crimestoppers at--," Mulder clicks the TV off.

"Sounds like an X-File to me," Scully says, resigned.

"Yeah," Mulder says, wondering if he's being disloyal to his wife getting almost as excited over a prospective case as he is in bed with her.


Outside, it looks like a crackhouse, even if the official story describes it as an abandoned building. The two agents look at each other, their hands briefly on where their weapons are hiding, before walking towards the eye of a small human tornado. A tall, bespectacled man lets them past the crime scene tape, but stops them at the doorway. "I didn't think this place would be crawling with feds," Det. Jeremy Harris says, shaking Mulder's and Scully's hands.

"Crawling?" Mulder repeats, as Scully gives the forensic team ample berth to work in. He can't see anyone else from the FBI, unless they all look like cops.

Well, save one. "Agent Monica Reyes, these are Special Agents Mulder and Scully," Det. Harris says, tapping the shoulder of a tall brunette.

She turns around, and her smile is warm, even in a grisly scene as this. It unnerves Scully, but to Mulder, the familiarity is welcome as they shake her hand. "I didn't realize this would warrant out-of-state attention this quickly," Reyes smiles pleasantly, her large dark eyes sizing them up just as fast.

"We were," Scully starts, but Mulder interrupts, "We specialize in the unexplained."

"Good," Reyes says, and turns her attention back to the crime scene. "What I don't understand is why someone would sacrifice people and not the animals. I mean, these days, everything is very above-board, so much so that a lot of the local churches don't want to jeopardize their nonprofit status in ritualistic sacrifice, much less human."

Mulder is peering at one of the walls with a flashlight. "And these symbols have nothing to do with sacrifice. These are pretty much benign."

Reyes nods, surprised and impressed. "Yeah, everything except this." She points down with her own flashlight to one of the bodies not yet carted away. "It appears the killer or killers were very by-the-book in terms of voudoun symbolism except here." The pentagram carved into the dead man's chest is apparent to the living.

"I'd like to autopsy the bodies," Scully says, already following the bodies out the door.

The tall woman waves her hand. "Be my guest," she says, and smiles back at Mulder. "I'd love to see how specialists in the unexplained handles this."


"Mulder, this is weird," Scully says a couple hours later over the phone.

"Define 'weird'," Mulder says, having just questioned the owners of the roaming chickens and wondering if the X-Files should relocate.

"Well, I was looking for traces of bufotoxin, like that last case of voodoo we dealt with, but there's nothing on the tox screens for anything like it. So, no zombies, no bad voodoo," she says, taking off the wraparound glasses.

"That's good, isn't it?" he asks, getting into his car.

"Kind of. All the wounds on each victim were in the same places, so it appears some kind of ritual was taking place, but that's not what killed them."

"No?" Mulder wonders, intrigued.

"No," she says heavily, "and here's the weird part. Agent Reyes has a theory that whoever killed these men did it by transferring their souls rather than by knifing them." Scully hears nothing for a moment, then says, "Mulder? Are you sure you don't have another sister in New Orleans?"

He laughs. Sounds like Reyes, all right. "Maybe she's right," he says, "but I'm pretty sure I don't have another sister." He pauses. "Unless you think I should call my parents and check."

"No, Mulder," she sighs, "I guess you're not the only agent with crazy theories."

"Makes me look sane in comparison, doesn't it?" he asks. There's nothing but silence at the end of the line, and then disconnection. He grins, putting away his cell phone. Who knows, maybe Reyes could join the team earlier and give him and Scully more vacation time. Yeah, right, and aliens will fly out of his butt.


The next morning, Mulder grabs his cell phone, his hand automatically hitting "answer" as he says, half-awake, "Mulder."

"Agent Mulder," Reyes' warm voice says, "hope I didn't wake you."

"What happened?" he asks, sitting up as Scully mumbles in her sleep.

"I think those autopsies were a mistake," she says.

"Why?" His curiosity's piqued now.

"I believe the souls of those bodies, whom we thought were dead, are possessing the chickens."

"What?" he squawks so loudly that Scully mutters herself awake.

"You and your wife had better come down here." She hangs up, and Mulder groans.

"Mulder?" Scully says sleepily. "What's wrong?"

"Better get dressed," he sighs, "it's going to be a long day."

The redhead looks at him with crusty eyes, then nods. She's learned to trust his judgment on this part of their cases, if nothing else.

Mulder watches his wife go to the bathroom by herself, and sighs longingly. So much for their vacation, making sweet sweet love morning, noon and night. Well, he'd like to think so, at least.


"So, what do you think?" the tall brunette asks the husband-and-wife team of agents. They are all standing in the barn, surrounded by poultry, feed, and dirt.

Scully, looking amazingly together despite being awake only half an hour before, is nonplussed. "It looks like chicken scratch."

Reyes' large dark eyes look from one agent to the other. "It doesn't look like something significant?"

Scully's eyebrows go up. "Like what?"

"Like," Reyes leans over and motions with her hand, "writing."

"Chicken scratch, writing, I get it," Mulder smirks.

Reyes straightens up and sighs, as if the brightest student in the class has turned out to be a dimwit. "No, as in writing writing," she smiles, as if to help him along.

Mulder squints, then hunkers down to squat among the clucking chickens. "Nope, still don't see it."

"Okay, maybe the angle's wrong," she says, and repositions Mulder and Scully. Then she stands at the far side of the barn, as if to place herself impartially. "See? S. O. S."

They both make faces trying to see what she seems to. "Maybe it's an optical illusion with red and green colored corn," Mulder murmurs, "I'm colorblind in one eye."

Scully frowns up at him. "How did you pass the eye exam?" she asks in an undertone.

He grins down at her. "Slept with the examiner -- ow!" Rubbing his arm, smiling innocently at the questioning Reyes, he answers in a low tone, "I made my good eye do double duty, jeez." In a louder voice, he says, "Sorry, we don't see it."

"Are you certain the farmers haven't tried to train their poultry?" Scully folds her arms.

The brunette shakes her head. "They're nice people, if a little nutty."

"They're not the only ones," Scully murmurs, her gaze going from the tall woman to her husband. She still thinks they're related, but perhaps in a mental institution kind of way.

"They have motive and opportunity," Mulder says, "and their business is poultry."

"You'd think so," Reyes says, "they do better with their cattle." She points outside to another barn and grassy acres beyond.


A stakeout, however, reveals the truth, and even Reyes shakes her head. "I can't believe it," she says, then laughs while the cops lead the farmers away in handcuffs. "That's not something I say very often."

"Sounds familiar," Scully grunts, looking at her husband.

He's still looking at the barn. "They take bird-brain to a whole new level," he says reverently. "To think the chickens were the ones responsible for the farm's success."

"Most people often underestimate animal intelligence," Scully counters, "numerous species have been trained to perform hundreds of tasks, bred for specific traits like hunting, performing, racing. Mulder, the first astronauts were monkeys, and they have communication skills, too." She remembers their case at the zoo a bit sadly.

"Yeah, but those were dogs, horses, four-legged types, and monkeys are even closer to us on the evolutionary scale, Scully," Mulder crows, "but these are chickens! Chickens! Do you know what this means?"

"No," Scully says flatly.

"Another reason for scientists to mess around with poultry?" Reyes asks. "They're already altering genes to make them healthier for human consumption, I wouldn't be surprised if that kind of tinkering with nature didn't also carry over some added benefits to the chickens themselves."

Mulder is taken aback, as if his own argument has been stolen. Dang, I keep forgetting she graduated with honors from a prestigious college, he thinks, I wonder how many people she's arrested who thought she was a complete flake. Then he nods. "Although usually genetic engineering brings very little positive benefits for those being manipulated."

"Genetic manipulation is one thing," Scully says, "running a farm is another. And," she pauses, as the barn seems to have gone silent, "so is murder. We still haven't figured out who murdered those people in that abandoned house."

Reyes opens her mouth, but her cell phone rings, and she smiles a brief apology as she answers it. She walks off, muttering into the phone and, in the semi-darkness, appears to be talking to herself.

Mulder takes the time to murmur into his wife's ear, "So, do dangling loose ends get you all hot and bothered?"

Scully glances down at the bulge in his pants. "That's a new nickname."

As they share knowing smiles, Agent Reyes joins them. "That was Ben Lee, one of the neighbors of the quote-unquote abandoned house. Apparently, he was getting tired of waiting for the cops to shut down the illegal activities going on next door and took matters into his own hands. He turned himself in not too long ago." She sighs. "I was so close."

"Cheer up," Mulder says, "some of our cases don't have such tidy answers."

Scully looks at him. "I never would've guessed genetically modified chickens, Mulder."

"I was hoping for more alien experimentation on animals, but this is cool, too," he agrees as she rolls her eyes. "And the bad guy turned himself in. If that isn't a happy ending, I don't know what is."

Scully looks at her husband, then at the patient, still-smiling agent. "You know, if you ever get bored, you can always apply for an opening in our division," she says, wondering why she's offering, proffering a hand.

Mulder looks similarly surprised, but smiles as Reyes takes his wife's hand and shakes it firmly. "Is that a hint for me to clean up the office, dear?" He, too, shakes Reyes' hand.

Scully snorts. "I wish. No, it would be nice having more help, we might actually have a real vacation for once."

"Well, thanks for taking the time out on your vacation to help out," Reyes smiles, "and if you ever think of coming over during Mardi Gras, look me up."

"Will do," Scully smiles back, and the two women wave at each other before Reyes walks off. "I like her, Mulder. She's a little weird, but I like her."

"You're a little weird, but I like you, too," Mulder murmurs, chuckling as she makes a face.


"I'm bushed," Scully sighs as they stumble into their room, practically zombies. It's been a long day and a long night, and now, as usual, everything from their unofficial case is hitting her at once. She yawns and stretches, then flops down on the bed.

Mulder flops down on the bed beside her, shaking her and the bed considerably. "You wanna shower first, or should I?" he mumbles.

"You first," she says, "I think I'll drown myself in a bath."

"Okay," he says, stripping off and wandering into the bathroom.

Not ten minutes later, he steps out, feeling somewhat more awake in his sweatpants and t-shirt, only to see his wife is sprawled on the bed, her eyes fluttering on the edges of sleep. "That's not fair," he grumbles, as she manages to take most of the space on the bed, despite her small size. Feeling more than a little selfish, he nudges his wife. "Scoot over, Scully," he says, "come on."

Jostled back into wakefulness, she blinks. "Is it my turn?" she yawns, tugging off her blouse.

"Uh, yeah," he says, following her to the bathroom. Once inside, he turns the water taps on, then pours in some of that bubbly stuff she seems to like. When the tub is reasonably filled with water and bubbles, he turns to his wife, who is now very, very naked. "Are you awake, Scully?" he asks, half-hoping she says no.

"I'm fine," she smiles, stepping into the tub, "thanks."

He drinks in the sight of his partner and wife, smiling as a blush creeps up her face. "I know you are," he says, stripping off his clothes.

"Mulder?" she asks, her quickening heartbeat telling her the answer, even as she sinks into the concealing bubbles.

"I'm wide awake, too," he says, joining her in the tub as the water sloshes over the sides.

"Mulder, you're splashing," she tries to scold him, "Mulder, come on, oh!" She gasps as her hands come in contact with something that definitely isn't the soap, and she giggles. "Mind if I play with this for a while?"

His eyes roll upwards and he moans as she strokes him expertly, kissing his Adam's apple. "Don't stop," he manages to groan, even as his hands blindly explore her wet body. As she guides him to the verge of release, lightly biting at his nipples, he pulls her to him, "Scully, please."

She accommodates him, lifting her hips onto his and hisses a little as he fills her so completely, thrust by unbearably delicious thrust. "Oh, Mulder," she gasps, her eyes and mouth wide, even as she clenches his eager manhood like a fist. "Oh!"

His hands firmly on her ass, he kisses that wide open mouth, probing it with his tongue. Finally, just as he's about to explode from holding back, he feels her shudder against him, and he comes in a rush, causing another minor orgasm. As he pulls away, he hears her breathing just as ragged as he is, and he chuckles.

"What?" she asks, smiling.

"Sometimes I keep forgetting you're as horny as me," he says, laughing when she splashes frothy bubbles at him. "Thanks for reminding me."

"As horny as I am," she corrects him primly, even as her body language is less than prim, the bubbles sliding off her glistening skin and revealing creamy perfection. In fact, if he doesn't know any better, she's looking downright predatory, leaning over him as if she might get kinky and bite his neck or something. Whatever she's got planned, he's got a hunch they'll enjoy it, judging by that gleam in her eyes.

And for the next several hours, in and out of the tub, Scully proves his hunch correct.


11:43 a.m.
July 4, 1996

"Okay, about where in Central Park did your brother say?" Mulder squints haplessly against the bright sunlight. It's a gorgeous summer day in New York, which means that all the vendors are swarming the place like flies, and the humidity combined with heat produces nothing less than brain damage in most people. He can see evidence of this brain damage by the drooping baggy pants the young men are wearing, and the frightening amount of tattoos some young women are sporting on their now-bare skin.

He blinks when someone's snapping their fingers at him. "Mulder," Scully says, carrrying Sammy in front, "you're not babe-watching, are you?"

"Heck, no," he says in a very unconvincing fashion, and she sighs. Page, riding piggyback on him, sighs also. "Hey, hey," he says, leaning towards Scully, "I'm a heterosexual male, I'm not blind, but I loooooove my wife and kids." He beams winningly at his redheaded wife, who merely shakes her head, but he does catch a small smile beginning to tug at the corners of her mouth.

"As I was saying," she says, walking ahead of him, "while you were, um, distracted, Charlie said he'd meet us by the tree facing a statue."

"And that narrows it down to maybe fifty spots," Mulder drones, shifting Page a little as he readjusts the diaper bag in one hand and the picnic basket in the other. He still can't believe they have a picnic basket. He also can't believe Scully didn't bean him for teaching Page to say "pic-a-nic basket" like Yogi Bear. "You know, for a guy who works on satellites, you'd think he'd be a bit more specific."

"He probably didn't think it would get this crowded," Scully says defensively, ignoring her husband's snort. "Anyway, I would think that you'd -- HEYYY!" It's a good thing Sammy's strapped to her, otherwise she'd accidentally drop her baby in her mad dash to try waving and running at the same time.

Sighing, Mulder tightens his grip on the bag and basket and hauls ass, making sure to keep his daughter from falling off. He's surprised that she can run so fast, given that her legs are shorter, but then again, she's not carrying two bags as well as a child. Huffing, he resolves to go back to doing laps again. He sees Scully enthusiastically throwing her arms around a tall man with hair even more red than her own, and can't help but smile. As he nears the Scullys, he trips over something and goes down. Hard. And the first thing he thinks is, Page! Is she okay?


Ow, ow, ow, Mulder thinks, his training having spared him nothing more painful than a bruised ego as he quickly sits up and looks around. His daughter is about a foot away, crying, and he rushes over to her. "I'm sorry, baby," he says, "Daddy tripped over something."

"Sorry about that," a man's voice says from behind.

Mulder turns around and is surprised to see Agent Doggett, that is, Detective Doggett, standing in front of him with a sheepish expression. "Mr. Doggett," he says, holding out his hand. "I'm Agent, I mean, Fox Mulder."

"Agent Moldah," Doggett mangles the name in his inimitable Southern version of a New York accent. "Hey. Me an' Luke were just playin' frisbee," he holds up the offending object.

"And I guess I slipped on that. Um, you've met my wife," he says, when the curious Scullys have joined them. "And this is her brother Charlie, and," he pauses, unsure what the etiquette is.

Scully smiles, taking up where he left off, as well as looking over her daughter. "And his wife Elaine, and their son Brandon." The Chinese-American woman is about as petite as she is, and their little boy is a handsome mix of Irish and Chinese. "Mr. Doggett, what a surprise."

Doggett shrugs as his son joins them. "Soonah or latah, you meet everyone in the City," and grins. "Hey, this is Luke," and he takes a little girl from the boy's arms, "and Hannah."

"Is your wife all right?" Scully asks, concerned.

"Huh? Oh yeah," Doggett says, "she had a business meetin' to go to." He shakes his head. "Don't see why private sector can't have a holiday like the rest of us." It sounds like an oft-told argument, and then he smiles guiltily. "I'm sorry I messed up your picnic."

"Hey, we never got started," Charlie grins. "Now this is starting to look like the kind of family picnics I remember. Lots of kids, lots of food, lots of sun, somebody getting hurt..."

"That wasn't fun," Scully makes a face at him.

"How was I supposed to know about jellyfish?" Charlie argues as they go to their picnic spot, the Doggetts and Mulders in tow. "Or when Bill dared you--"

"Don't," Scully interrupts him, then turns back sweetly to her husband. "If Charlie tells you anything about 'when Dana was little,' hit him."

"That's my older sister," the tall redhead grins, affectionately squeezing her and making her mock grimace.

Doggett chuckles as his son arbitrarily declares himself the leader of the other mobile kids, even as the grownups try and sort out the food and beach blankets. "Reminds me of my family picnics, too," he admits.

Mulder asks Doggett a question he's always wondered since the other man joined the X-Files. "So what brings a Southern gentleman like you up north to NYC?" he says.

Something crosses the man's eyes briefly, but is barely visible to Mulder, perhaps only because he's looking for it. "My wife," he says, "I met her when I first joined the force, and hell, despite what you see on TV, it's a great place to raise a kid."

Mulder nods, still slightly in awe that Luke's alive and now the older brother of a baby sister. "Well, kid plural," he says, gesturing at Hannah, "I can tell Luke's probably gonna beat up whoever's unlucky enough to ask Hannah out when the time comes."

"Her boyfriends would have ta get through me first," Doggett says, shaking his head. "I don' even wanna think that far ahead."

"Then don't," Scully says, giving her husband a look, "why don't you try Elaine's spring rolls before the flies eat them up?"

"Sure thing," he says, helping himself as the dark-haired woman beams.


"How long are you going to be in New York?" Scully asks her sister-in-law, even as she bottle-feeds Sammy. It's nice to be able to just hang out with another woman, under the shade of a leafy tree, and relax, she thinks idly.

The Chinese-American woman looks up at her husband, who is jawing with Mulder and Doggett about various sports teams and laughing at one or the other's favorite underdog as they pursue the manly art of barbeque. "The way things look, maybe a year," she says.

There's a slightly wistful tone that Scully recognizes from her mother. "He might as well have joined the military, the way you have to constantly relocate," she sympathizes.

"I've heard you and Fox do quite a bit of moving yourself," Elaine says, smiling as her son and the tow-headed boy slow down enough to include Page in their games. "I'm surprised you already have two kids."

Scully smiles back. Long ago, she would've freaked out had anyone told her she would be a mother of two on top of being a doctor and FBI agent at this point. But being with Mulder has made her loosen up on some things, both in her personal and professional life, not that she'd ever tell him that. "I'm surprised, too," she admits. "But then again, I never thought I'd be out in the field. I started out teaching at Quantico, and I was sure I'd simply climb the ladder there."

Elaine nods. "Life never seems to go the way you planned, does it?" she says. "I went to med school and ended up an editor's assistant for a big publishing firm, you went through med school and ended up an FBI agent."

The redhead nods. "Well, at least you get to read fiction. It seems like I'm living it," and she grins, knowing her job's reputation even among her family. "By the way, what did you think of the latest Kay Scarpetta?" And they end up peaceably discussing forensic techniques for a good while.

A sudden movement catches their attention, and Elaine turns her head to see her son tumbling around the grass with the other kids. "Pinch me," she says, and Scully looks at her strangely. She chuckles. "That boy's been glued to the TV so long, I thought Charlie would install a satellite dish on his head," and her redheaded sister-in-law laughs. "It's so nice to be with family," she says.

Scully nods. "Yeah, it is," she says, then nudges her sister-in-law with her free elbow towards the menfolk. "Look at them, I wonder if they've spent all this time talking baseball?"

Elaine laughs. "Oh God, Charlie's probably trying to convert them into Red Sox fans."


"Now what are they laughin' about?" Doggett wonders, shifting his baby girl on his hip as he flips another burger.

"Women," Mulder rolls his eyes. "God only knows." And continues munching his hot dog.

The tall redhead swallows the last of his burger before answering. "They've probably been talking about the latest forensic techniques," Charlie muses, then stops when the other two men look at him. "Elaine's a big mystery buff, and Dana's a pathologist," he says.

Mulder grins. "You officially win the award of Farthest-Jumped Conclusion," he says, ignoring the irony that it could easily have gone to him. "I can see how you and Scully are related."

"Why don't you call her by her first name?" Charlie wonders. "Besides, being a Scully myself, it just sounds weird."

Mulder shrugs. "Weird is what I do," he says, and now Doggett chuckles.

"Ya don't say," the Southern transplant says, and Mulder has a feeling of déjà vu. "Barbara would probably ignore me if I called her by her maiden name."

"Is it that bad?" Charlie grins.

Doggett grins back, but shakes his head. "Nah, but it's a guy's name. If I called her 'Patrick,' she wouldn't know I was talkin' to her."

"I see what you mean," Mulder says, picking up his Coke. "Yeah, she'd probably look at you funny."

"I hope you at least have some sickening nicknames for my sister," Charlie says, returning to his question from another angle. "If Elaine called me 'Scully' all the time, I'd at least hope for some variety."

"She calls me 'Mulder'," Mulder shrugs. "It beats 'Fox'."

"But Fox is a cool name," Charlie argues, "well, it kinda sounds Native American." He looks to Doggett for confirmation. The other man shrugs.

"Tell you what," Mulder says, "you tell me what kind of nicknames you gave Scully, I mean, Dana, when she was younger, and I'll call her Dana more often."

An evil grin spreads across the younger man's face. "You sure about that?"

Doggett gives the other man a worried look. "Moldah, maybe some things are bettah left unsaid," he says, "I come from a big family, too, and most of what we called each other ain't fit for mixed company."

Mulder brushes the other's man's worries aside. "Hey, I had a sister, too, and it's just us guys," he says, "how bad can it be?"


"Mulder," Scully frowns at him as they go through the semi-arduous task of buckling everyone in the car, "now can you tell me what you were all laughing about?"

A number of nicknames run through Mulder's excellent memory, and he clamps down on the snigger that's threatening to escape. If there's ever a time to exercise his cool exterior, now would be it. "Nothing," he mumbles quickly, starting the car.

"Mulder?" she tries again, but seeing she'll get nothing out of him for now, she sighs and leans back against the seat. "It was nice seeing Mr. Doggett and his son again," she says casually.

"Yeah, it was," Mulder answers, and the sobering reality of the consequences of his wish frees his mind of any hysterical sobriquets. "John and Charlie made plans to hang out again."

"That's nice," Scully says, hoping that Elaine would get along with the as-yet-unmet Mrs. Barbara Doggett. "We should do this more often."

"Do what?" Mulder asks, thinking she could be referring to anything from being in New York to having a barbeque.

"Leave home without being on a case," the redhead says, glancing at him. His eyes are still on the road, so she goes on. "It's actually relaxing once there's no worries about chasing monsters, interrogating delusional witnesses, or having to write a report about the whole mess."

"So," he says casually, guessing she's forgotten about his earlier evasive maneuver, "what were you and Elaine talking about?"

She's about to give him some inconsequential answer, but seeing as how he was somewhat pigheaded about her small question earlier, she changes her mind. "We were discussing forensic techniques," she says mildly.

Suddenly, Mulder erupts into a fit of laughter so hard, he has to pull to the side of the road.


Chapter Thirty-Six

Home, Pennsylvania
July 10th, 1996

Standing near the boys' baseball diamond, which had so recently been the site of a grisly discovery rather than just boyish pastime, Mulder bends down and reaches for the ball. His hand draws back empty, since he's of no mind to play this time around. Instead he goes to Scully and takes the tape measure from her, and gives her a rest while he writes down the rest of the particulars in a small notebook.

Scully looks down at the numbers when she notices his bemused look. "Compression marks indicate the shovel blade to be approximately six and three-quarters inches. Uh, the angle of movement and deeper indentation on the right side of the mark suggests a left-handed individual."

Though he nods absent-mindly, Mulder's gaze is fixed on the porch of the Peacock's house. ::I hate this fucking case.::

"I've collected soil specimens and, uh, although numerous shoe impressions were made from the sandlot game, I think a, uh, a couple of dental stone casts will prove invaluable to the investigation."

::should just pull out my gun and start shooting right now and get this over with.::

"Meanwhile, I've quit the F.B.I. and become a spokesperson for the Ab-roller," Scully says, apropos of nothing, which gets his attention.

"Look at that ball. In a couple of years we'll have to sign Sammy up for T-Ball," Mulder says, hoping to prolong this moment - the moment before they go to examine the hideously deformed little corpse.

"He can't even walk yet, don't you think you're jumping the gun a little?" Though her tone is arch, she's smiling at him.

"Page too, of course. I don't want to be sexist, since baseball is good for all growing kids. God, this brings back a lot of memories. My sister played too... all day pick-up games out on the vineyard, ride your bikes down to the beach, eat bologna sandwiches. Only place you had to be on time was home for dinner. Never had to lock your doors. No modems, no faxes, no cell phones."

"Mulder, if you had to do without a cell phone for two minutes, you'd lapse into catatonic schizophrenia."

"Scully, you don't know me as well as you think you do. You know, our work demands that we live in a big city, but if I had to relocate someday... it'd be to place like this."

"And leave our gigantic house for some small two story clapboard? It'd be like living in Mayberry."

After a rumble on the road a truck pulls up and a man gets out. It's all Mulder can do not to give him a hateful glare. This is the moment that the idyllic-ness of the scene evaporates and transforms from pastoral dream to genetic nightmare.

The man politely inclines his head in their direction. "Agents Mulder and Scully?"

Mulder reluctantly nods to him. The sheriff walks under the yellow tape and shakes Scully's hand. "Hi, I'm Sheriff Andy Taylor."

"For real?" Mulder asks with a smile in spite of himself. He offers the other man his hand.

"Can't thank you or the bureau enough for coming out. It's just me and my deputy, and... hell, we never had anything of this nature."

"Do you have any thoughts or, uh, suspects?" Scully asks. Mulder grimaces behinds their backs, his eyes looking for signs of his suspects again.

"The population of Home is only a few hundred. Everybody knows everybody, pretty much," The sheriff replies.

"Well, were there any local women who were pregnant and now suddenly aren't?" Looking back at her, he notices what seems to be a look of nausea cross her face. He doesn't blame her, since his stomach feels sick too. He could never do what had been done to the victim to his child, never no matter what was wrong with it.

"No. I just saw Mary Ellen and Nancy. They're both doing fine," Sheriff Taylor says, proving just how small a town it really is.

Eager to have the case done so they can leave, Mulder jabs a thumb in the air. "Hey, Sheriff, who lives in that house there?" Taylor's eyes follow his thumb, but the other man says nothing. "Did you question them?" Silence. "'Cause they've been watching us the entire time."

"That farm belongs to the Peacock family. Three boys now. Well, men. Guess you could call them human. Their folks were in a bad car wreck and we suppose they died." Taylor makes not attempt to disguise his distaste.

"You suppose?" Scully asks, raising an eyebrow.

"Well, we tried to administer medical attention, but the boys hauled the bodies away. Took them home. They haven't been seen in ten years, so... we suppose they died." The man shrugs.

"Have you questioned the men?" she persists.

::That's my girl, you ask the hard questions.:: Mulder thinks.

"The Peacocks built that farm during the Civil War. It still has no electricity, no running water, no heat... they grow their own food, they raise their own pigs, they breed their own cows... raise and breed their own stock... if you get my meaning."

::That's not putting too fine a point on it.::

"It is, however, the closest residence to the crime scene," Scully points out.

"Those boys are feeble, Agent Scully... and sad. They wouldn't have any idea what you were talking about."

"Well, they could've witnessed..."

"Look, this town is my home. I love it. It's quiet... peaceful. I don't even wear a gun." Mulder nods, but he can't help but wish that the man did. "I've seen and heard some of the sick and horrible things that go on outside my home. At the same time, I knew we couldn't stay hidden forever... that one day, the modern world would find us and... my home town would change forever. And when I saw... it... in the ground... I knew that day had come. Now, I want to find whoever did this... but in doing so, I'd like it if the way things are around here didn't have to change. I know this is iffy bureau jurisdiction... but I didn't know where else to turn. So I called the bureau in Pittsburgh, and when I described the victim... they said I should see you. "

"Well, maybe we should take a look at the victim then," Mulder tells him, his mouth tasting of ash.


Police Station
Home, Pennsylvania

The moment Mulder has been dreading arrives. The refrigerator door is pulled open, where the baby is sitting on a tray, a washcloth draped over it. Taylor pulls it out and walks over to Mulder and Scully.

"We don't have a lab or a morgue. I've got a room down here, might be a bit cleaner," Taylor says apologetically.

As he's leading them to the room, another man walks in. "By the way, this is my deputy, Barney."

"Fife?" Mulder says, anticipating the reaction.

The deputy grimaces. "Pastor!" He storms off before Mulder can say anything else.

The room is as tiny as Mulder remembers, so he finds himself fleetingly glad that Scully's her normal svelte self, since she never would have been able to do the autopsy while expecting their babies - their simply was no extra space for a round belly.

"Uh, I could use a little more elbow room," Scully complains as the men crowd behind her.

"Thing is, see, folks have been dropping in to ask about the case and I wouldn't want anybody to pop in and see this," is Taylor's nervous excuse.

"Well, you could just lock your door to the office," Mulder points out.

"Oh, folks know I never lock the door. They'd start rumors."

:: Rumors are the least of your worries, pal.::

Taylor backs out of the room and shuts the door behind him. Scully puts on rubber gloves and pulls up the covering, revealing the most deformed baby in history. Even though he's seen it once before, it's worse than he remembers so he gasps and looks away.

"Oh, my God... Mulder... it looks as if this child has been afflicted by every rare birth defect known to science. I mean, I, I'm going to have to order DNA typing from the crime lab, but... there appears to be abnormalities associated with Nev-Laxova Syndrome, Meckel-Gruber Syndrome, estrophy of the cloaca, I mean, I don't even know where to begin." Tears well up in her eyes which makes Mulder want to wrap his arms around her, but he knows that would only prolong the time they'd spend looking at the victim, so he keeps his arms to himself.

Swallowing hard, Mulder looks down at the bent pink body. "I guess we can rule out murder as the cause of death, huh?"

"Well, I don't know about that." She pulls out some tweezers and probes the baby's mouth with them. "There's evidence of occlusion due to dirt in the nose and mouth... indicating the dirt has been inhaled. This baby was born alive."

"There's something rotten in Mayberry," Mulder says, trying desperately to break the tension.

They walk outside. A baby is crying as it is pushed by in a stroller. A perfect baby, like theirs.

"Imagine all a woman's hopes and dreams for her child and then nature turns so cruel. What must a mother go through?" Scully asks as they settle on a bench and drink in the fresh air.

"Apparently not much in this case if she just threw it out with the trash."

"I, I guess I was just projecting on myself."

"Why do you say that? You'd never do anything like that to a child of yours, even if it was as damaged as our victim is."

"I'd like to think so," she tells him.

Mulder bumps her with his shoulder. "Nothing like that would ever happen to our kids anyway. You lucked out by finding yourself a husband with a spotless genetic make-up and a really high tolerance for being second-guessed and started pumping out the little Uber-Scullies. Or maybe it's Uber-Mulders."

"Spotless, huh?" she asks, leaning forward slightly when he makes a move to rub her back

"Hmm? Well, aside from the need for corrective lenses and a tendency to be abducted by extraterrestrials involved in an international governmental conspiracy, the Mulder family passes genetic muster. We'll just have to get those new microchips implanted into the kids so we can track them if they're ever picked up by the grays."

"Mulder, those are for pets," Scully protests.

The smile fades from Mulder's face when he realizes what he said about chips - at least that hasn't happened to her in this lifetime. He shakes his head slightly to clear it. "Now, Scully, that child inside is a tragedy. Some young parents, probably scared kids, disposed of an unwanted birth... in a very certain sense, infanticide is involved, but this is not an F.B.I. matter."

:: If I pretend to believe that, maybe we can go home and forget all about this.::

"But from what I know from about genetic defects, Mulder, it's unlikely that child is a result of a single polygenic mating."

"We should let local authorities investigate that." ::please please please::

"Those defects, Mulder, are autosomal dominant disorders, and from the degree, I'd say, mutations that go back many generations."

"Scully, uh, Sheriff Taylor, uh, implied that the boys in that family were not really the type that could easily get dates."

"But he also implied that they practice inbreeding. Now we all have a natural instinct to propagate..."

"Do we?"

"Yes, and not just you and I, even if that's what you're thinking of from the look on your face. "She says slyly. "There are theories which pose that our bodies are, are simply vehicles for genes needing to replicate."

"Yeah, yeah, but there's no sister. The mother's been dead for ten years."

"But if the instinct and the need is strong enough, they will answer it any way that they can. Now a woman gave birth to that child, Mulder, and my guess is, against her will."

He realizes his defeat. "And kidnapping is a bureau matter." Dragging his feet, he follows her as she goes to start the car.


Peacock Residence
Home, Pennsylvania

With Scully in the lead, they approach the front steps. Before they get to the front door they walk over to the white Cadillac sitting on the lawn. It has no license plate. Mulder skirts a pig's head with flies swarming sitting on the steps as they walk up them. Mulder knocks on the screen door, but there is no answer. He reaches for the door handle.

"No, there's no probable cause."

Frowning in frustration, Mulder takes out his flashlight and shines it around inside. More flies buzz and rusty tools and dirty dishes clutter the place, making it look like an agricultural frat house. Before long the beam of light lands on what they're looking for: blood on the floor. Taking out their guns, they step inside carefully and quietly. Mulder puts his hand in an evidence bag inside out, picks up the scissors in the pool of blood, then turns the bag inside out, enclosing the scissors. He shoves the bag in his pocket as they look at the bloody footprints on the floor. Scully takes out a picture of a footprint taken off the field.

"They match," Scully whispers.

Mulder looks for the shovel off to the side, it's where he thought it would be. He picks it up and they look at the blood on it.

"This room alone should convict them," she whispers again.

"Yeah, if we can find them. They probably bolted when they saw us coming." Mulder leads them cautiously down a hallway. "We'll alert Sheriff Taylor to issue a warrant for the brothers' arrest, put out a county-wide A.P.B."

"And check any prior missing-persons for a woman, and check the vehicle identification number on that Cadillac."

A sense of dread falls over Mulder as they begin to turn away from the hallway. :: This is the beginning of it. They know we're here, so tonight they'll murder the sheriff and his wife. Tomorrow they'll booby-trap this house, and that'll lead to Barney's death, which is a shame since he could probably go pretty far if he didn't have less than twenty-four hours to live. Tomorrow?::

Mulder impulsively points his flashlight down the hall, looking for the booby-traps that'll confront them tomorrow. There aren't any. :: They haven't done it yet, us being here now must be why they do it. They haven't done it yet...:: In three steps he catches up with Scully, who hasn't realized yet that he paused.

A hand on her shoulder stops Scully, and she gives Mulder an expectant look. "What Mulder?"

"Did you hear that?"

"Voices."

"You're hearing voices?" Her expression is half amused, half alarmed.

"Not like that. Actual human voices. Well, if you can call the Peacock brothers human."

"Saying what?"

"I'm not sure. It sounded like a threat, and there was a woman's voice too, calling for help," Mulder lies easily.

She turns, about to walk down the hall where Mulder is looking. "We have to go help her, Mulder."

"No. Not just the two of us. You saw all that blood, these men have no qualms about murder. Just you and I, we'd be outnumbered, and that could further endanger the victim as well as ourselves. Let's go outside and call for back up."


Although Home doesn't have much in the way of a police force, the nearest large city is only twenty miles away, so it only takes a few minutes for back up to arrive en mass. Mulder can't help but feel a sense of jubilation as he sees the officers arrive. Sheriff Taylor is there as well, and Mulder steps back to let the older man direct the attack.

Taylor looks at the men who surround him. "I've issued arrest warrants for George Raymond Peacock approximate age thirty, Sherman Nathaniel Peacock, approximately age twenty-six and Edmund Crieghton Peacock, forty-two. My deputy cautioned me that he's seen the men firing muskets, so they are to be considered possibly armed, and undoubtedly dangerous."

The officer who seems to have seniority nods to his men, all of whom are helmeted and wearing kevlar jackets. "You heard the sheriff, proceed with extreme caution. Let's move out."

Before they make a move, Mulder calls to them, "If you find the victim, send us word. Kidnapping is a bureau matter, not a local one." The men nod and begin creeping towards the home.

"I'm surprised you're not trying to lead the charge, Mulder," Scully says as they watch the men.

"If they need help we'll assist, but part of asking them to know their boundaries relies on demonstrating we know our own," he says with a shrug. "I was getting bored of ticking off the local authorities anyway."

She shoots him a look of disbelief before turning her attention to sheriff Taylor. "What about our victim, did you get any missing persons reports that point to her identity?"

"Deputy Pastor's on it right now."

"Sheriff Taylor, do you recall over the last eight to ten months any vehicles you found and considered to be abandoned, but which might actually belong to kidnap victims. We saw a white Cadillac in the Peacocks' front yard."

"We get so many of those, Agent Scully. A car breaks down, they move on. We'll probably find out from her who she is long before anyone could figure it out by tracking down the owner of the car."

Scully gives him a tight smile. "So long as she's in a condition to tell us who she is."


There are some shouts inside, but no screams and no sounds of gunfire, so the two agents and the sheriff are able to manage their anxiety, and none of them goes running into the house like a crazy person.

Scully points at the pen of pigs that takes up a lot of the yard near them. "Mom was telling me a couple of days ago about Charlie's little boy Brandon. She said it was hard to get my nephew's attention during our trip to New Orleans, and that she couldn't really get him too interested in playing with her or his cousins. Apparently this is because he watches "Babe" fifteen times a day. I'm surprised that he didn't have a fit on the 4th of July given Charlie didn't have the movie with him."

"And people call me 'Spooky.'" Mulder snorts. "I'm beginning to see the light regarding your dislike of TV for small children."

"Bah-ram-ewe!" she says and shrugs when Mulder give her a funny look. "Mom says he wandered around the whole time saying that."

"Charlie and Elaine should consider getting him counseling."

More shouting proceeds the front door of the house opening, and officers frog-marching the three Peacock brothers out of the house. All the fight has gone out of the ugly men, and they are almost docile as they're thrust into waiting police cars.

A young officer walks quickly towards Mulder and Scully. "The victim is still inside," he tells them breathlessly.

Mulder looks at the man's name badge before responding. "Thank you officer Morton. Does the woman need medical attention?"

The young officer frowns. "There's another officer with her now trying to figure that out. She's in rough shape, but I think she's been that way for a while. C'mon, I bring you to her."

Scully nods, but speaks to the Sheriff, "Call an ambulance anyway, please?"

"Of course."

Morton leads them through the dark corridors, and into a large, dimly lit room. Mulder spies something on a table, and reaches for it. He holds up a paper with the headline "Elvis Presley Dead at 42." There is a picture of Elvis under it. Mulder makes a sad face and Scully looks at him strangely. :: I guess convincing her to name one of our kids Elvis is going to be an uphill battle.::

Mulder drops the paper as the two hear the mummer of a male voice, and the frantic reply of a slightly more feminine one. As they walk in Scully looks at the pictures on the wall of past Peacocks, all deformed. They approach where the other officer is crouching and look down. A deformed woman looks away, screaming.

"No! Get out, get away!" She shrieks, making Scully jump.

Mulder is a little more sanguine, given he's not as shocked by her appearance. "It's all right, ma'am! We're federal agents here to help you." He nods towards the officers, indicating that they're free to go.

"Go! Get out of here! Go away!"

"They've got her strapped to some kind of board or something," Mulder says, shining the light down. It's very clear that the woman is a quadriplegic.

"Get away! Get away! Go!"

"Ma'am, we're here to help you. Calm down. Ma'am, we're here to help. We're from the F.B.I." The woman screams louder. "It's all right, it's all over."

He and Scully look at her amputated limbs, unsure of what they can say. "We're from the F.B.I., we're... we're here to help... we're going to make sure that you're safe. We're - we're going to make sure that you get home."

Scully looks back at the picture of the man and the woman on the porch. They are the same woman. The woman sobs. "Mulder, she already is home. It's Mrs. Peacock. She's their mother."

Mrs. Peacock looks at Mulder and hisses. "When the ambulance gets here we'll have them help us get her out of the building." He walks to the window and looks out at the three police cruisers that are already loaded. "They can give her a medical exam before they bring her to the station."

Scully looks faintly puzzled. "Why would they bring her to the station rather than taking her statement here?"

"To arrest her, Scully. I'm sure she's an accessory. At least she aided and abetted."

"We're only assuming. We can't prove anything."

Mulder shrugs slightly. "Whether she should be charged with anything or not is for the local PD to sort out. The way I think it goes here is that Edmund is the... the brother and father of the other two. Which means that when Edmund was a kid, he could ground the other two for playing with his things. She's guilty of something. Let her know that her sons are in custody, and that we'll be taking her in as well." He pulls out a walky-talky and begins to talk to Sheriff Taylor about the estimated arrival time of the ambulance.

His wife returns to the woman's side. "Mrs. Peacock? You are in immediate need of medical attention. Agent Mulder and I are here to help you." Scully's tone is gentle.

Mrs. Peacock looks at her. "This is our home. Why leave it?"

"Whatever pain you may be..."

"Don't feel pain. Runs in the family. Have to check the boys, see if they hurt themselves." The woman's voice is thick.

"They're in police custody now, but where not injured. What about you, are you in pain? Even after the accident?"

"Right arm was torn off. Saw it sitting there across my dead husband's lap. Boys took me home... sewed me up just like the family learnt in the War of Northern Aggression. Whole time, felt the same as if been making breakfast." Even over the staticy conversation he's having, Mulder can hear Scully make a faint sound of disgust. "They're such good boys."

"Mrs. Peacock, they murdered your baby. That has to be punished."

"They did what had to be done. A mother has to understand that."

Scully turns away just as the siren wails into the driveway. Sighing himself, Mulder goes to her and threads an arm around her waist. All he can do is be thankful that she has no idea how much worse things could have been.


Deputy Pastor nervously smokes a cigarette outside, obviously waiting for them. "Sheriff Taylor had to leave to supervise the transport of the prisoners." He holds something out to Scully. "This came from the federal crime lab overnight."

Scully looks through the contents of the package, oblivious to the shrieks as the paramedics exit the building with their angry charge. Mulder's just glad that the woman will be soon out of sight and hearing.

"Damn it. The lab screwed up the DNA test on the infant." Scully points to pages in her hand. "Multiple maldistribution, chromosomal breakage, maldivision of the centromere..."

"You suspected these abnormalities," Mulder reminds her.

"Yeah, but this shows far too many gene imbalances, even for inbreeding. It would have to be a lab error." She shows him two slides of the DNA strands. "This child's cells would have had to divide triple-fold in cell metaphase."

Instead of asking her to translate into English, he plays along. "Triple? Hey, Scully, what if... each of the Peacock brothers was the father of that child?"

She stares at him incredulously. "Mulder...I know the Peacocks epitomize 'keep it in the family' but only one sperm in thousands from a single individual can penetrate an ovum membrane, let alone from three separate males."

"What if generations of autosomal breeding could produce such a mutation? You saw their family pictures. These people have been into sanguinity for generations."

Scully shakes her head. "I don't think so, not even in a case like this."

"Don't discount it as impossible just because it's highly unlikely, Scully."

Her fingers tickle him, making him jump. "When you didn't want to go charging in there you had me worried, but here's the Fox Mulder I've come to know and love."

Mulder smiles wryly. "Are you saying I amuse you?"

"More than TV ever could."


That Night
Washington, D.C.

The kids are sleeping soundly, so the two tired agents decide to call it an early night themselves. For once Scully doesn't say anything when he strips off his clothes and leaves them puddled on the floor; in fact she does the same. Smiling to himself, he thinks it'll be leverage the next time they have a laundry argument.

Once they're in bed Scully burrows against his side and looks up at him. "Mulder, how many kids do you want?"

He thinks of his hopes of keeping her from danger in the coming months and of William. "Four."

"Just four?" She looks a little disappointed, which surprises him.

"Well, at least four," he amends, giving her a curious look. "How many kids do you want?"

Her cheeks pink a little. "I don't know."

"I can tell by the look on your face you've got a number in mind, sweetheart."

She shrugs against him. "It's not so much a number... When I was a young I read all the classics, and so many of them seemed to hold the idea that God gives you as many kids as you need in high esteem. And as dumb as it is, I've always liked the idea of leaving it to God. No doubt a side-effect of a catholic upbringing. I think I probably would have had more siblings than I do if my Dad hadn't been away so often."

"Or if your mother had fewer morals than she does," Mulder murmurs, getting punched in the shoulder for his gall. "So you want to stop using birth control?" Mulder can't help but feel deeply amused.

"I wouldn't ask you to do that, Mulder. Not just to satisfy some sort of silly wish left over from girlhood."

"Well, I don't know. I find the idea of this sort of experiment intriguing," he admits. "It's not as though we can't afford to have more kids if we wanted, not with uncle Saul's money invested as it is. They say the more educated people are the fewer kids they have, which I think is kind of selfish. The world needs smart babies to balance out all the dumb people reproducing like bunnies. And god knows we'd all be better off with more Mulders than Peacocks. You might be able to talk me into this grand experiment, but I have a couple of caveats."

"What would those be?" Scully asks lightly. It takes Mulder a few seconds to focus on her question because her fingers are wandering along one of his thighs.

He pouts. "You don't negotiate fairly. Those caveats would be: one that this experiment ends before your 40th birthday. Although I have no doubt whatsoever that you'll be as lovely in 2004 as you are right now, you know as well as I do that the risks of having a baby with problems goes up once the mother passes that age." He gulps hard. "I'll, uh, get a vasectomy as your birthday present that year."

"And? You said caveats, plural."

"We go back to using birth control if it becomes in our best interest to do so. If a doctor tells you to stop having babies, if we end up with as many kids as we can handle...we end the experiment."

"Of course. You really don't mind if we end up with five or six kids?"

He begins to get excited about the idea. "Three or four more kids as great as the two we have already? We're going to have the best family. And when they're old enough to play sports they're going to crush the opposition."

"Mulder!" Scully laughs. "You're a wonderful man."

"Nah, you're just deluded. Scully..." He looks down at her blissful smile, then becomes a little nervous. "Those books you read, Cheaper By The Dozen wasn't one of your favorites, was it?"

"Don't give me ideas, Mulder," she says with a laugh that doesn't reassure him. "I was more a fan of 'The Five Little Peppers And How They Grew'."

"Just checking. Maybe I should have added a third stipulation that the total number of kids we have remains a single digit."

"Too late now," Scully says primly.

"Scully!" Mulder's protest is cut short when Scully begins to distract him by rubbing up against his chest. "You really don't play fair."

Although most of his mind focuses on the interesting things his wife is doing to his body, the back of his mind is already plotting, trying to think of ways to use Scully's confession to the best advantage. She sure has gotten into a lot of trouble, so it's hard to think of the best times to conceive future Mulders. Of course, Scully's distractions soon obliterate all coherent thoughts from his mind.


Chapter Thirty-Seven

July 14th, 1996
5 p.m.

"Mulder, I'm going to walk over to the post office, okay?" Scully asks as soon as they pull into the driveway. "I got a card yesterday that said I had a certified letter, probably something to do with one of our cases."

"Sure it's not a package? I could drive you over if it's going to be something heavy," he says, thinking that it's a mile round trip.

"It said a letter. Be right back."

Mulder senses that there's something wrong as soon as he steps into the house. He looks around frantically, but instead of finding either of his children, he sees that Amy is staring at him, the fingers of one hand kneading the hem of her t-shirt. She's not covered in blood, and all her limbs look intact, so he takes a deep breath.

"Amy, what's wrong? Is there something wrong with Page or Sammy?"

"Oh, no. They're both down for naps. It's um, me."

"I see. If you're in some sort of trouble, Scully and I might - "

She shakes her head making her dark curls bounce. "It's not trouble exactly...I should have told you this sooner, but I just didn't know how to. Before I agreed to take this nanny position, I applied to grad school. I got waitlisted, which as you know is almost always the kiss of death. I didn't really think much more about it...until I got a letter a couple of weeks ago.

"I got accepted to the Harvard law program, full scholarship."

"Wow, that's great, Amy!" Mulder congratulates her. "It's quite an honor to be accepted into that school."

"I know. I just feel bad because I'm going to have to leave in about six weeks. Is that going to be enough time for you to get another nanny?" The look on her face is extremely apologetic.

::Yikes. Scully's going to have a fit because the kids really seem to like Amy.:: "Oh, sure. We'll just call the agency and let them know when you're leaving, and they'll find someone for us. Don't worry about it, we'll be fine."

"Are you sure? I really don't want to leave you in the lurch...I could start later."

"Don't you dare. This is far too important to put off just because you might temporarily inconvenience your employers. Worst comes to worse we'll ask their grandmothers to pitch in for a little while. They always complain that they don't get to see the kids enough anyway." ::Well, my mom would if she didn't have a heart of stone.::

"If you're sure, I'll call them tonight and accept."

"I'm sure. Who knows, maybe a few years from now you'll be a lawyer involved in trying some of the criminals Scully and I deal with."

"Yeah maybe, I do want to be a prosecutor. Do lawyers do that too?"

Mulder blinks. "Do what?"

"Well, I've always thought it was kind of strange that you and your wife call each other by last name. I know a lot of women keep their maiden names, but I've never heard any called by them before."

"Ah. I don't think lawyers do, but I know that many law officers and feds do all day every day while working, and off work too if they fraternize. It kind of becomes habit."

"Makes sense," Amy agrees. "And thank you so much for not being mad. I think I hear your wife, so I guess I better tell her what's going on."


Waldon's Medical building
Washington, D.C.
July 16th, 1996

As he walks down the hallway, Mulder unconsciously tugs on his belt, trying to make it lay flat again. His hands drop to his sides as Scully walks out of her doctor's waiting room. He smiles and takes her arm, leading them both out the exit. "Have we done something to really piss Skinner off?"

"I don't think that making us go to our required physicals falls into the realm of what Skinner would cook up if we really annoyed him," Scully tells him as they cross the parking lot. "This is more of the insurance company the government uses sticking it to us."

Mulder shudders. "It feels like a punishment. I don't mind most of the exam, but the whole turn your head and coughing thing is terrible. I really don't like having my genitals handled by a man I only see a few times a year."

"It's too bad you get a different doctor every time you injure yourself," Scully says with a straight face.

Mulder grins at her. "Yeah, at least if it was a steady doctor-patient relationship I could demand he buy me dinner first. Speaking of doctors, you're a doctor...how come you can't do my physical?"

"For one thing, I work exclusively with dead people, so I don't have much of a bedside manner." Mulder thinks fleetingly of her rough treatment of his cut years into the future. "And for another we'd never finish the exam once we got to the genital handling."

"Is that such a bad thing?" Mulder attempts a seductive look, but her amusement ruins it. "Your exams must be even worse than mine. The idea of an 'internal exam' is almost too horrifying to contemplate."

"They pretty much are horrible, but you learn to live with them." Mulder notices a subtle change to her expression. "During the exam I asked the doctor about having more kids because I think we agreed last month that we both want a larger family-"

"Yes, your feminine wiles swayed me to that opinion," Mulder teases.

"She said that it's fine." Scully gives Mulder an amused look. "Which is a good thing considering that you and I have always been over-achievers. Apparently we brought back a little reminder of our vacation without even realizing it."

"Really?" Mulder's eyes light up. "But you haven't even been sick."

"Amazing, isn't it? That's why I didn't realize it myself. I didn't even notice I was late until she asked me to tell her when my last period was."

Mulder nods, doing the math in his head. "So sometime in March, then?"

"Late March," she agrees, then smirks. "Skinner is going to love us."

"Skinner has no one but himself to blame," Mulder deadpans. "It was his idea for us to go on a romantic vacation, after all."

"That's your idea of romance? Jumping in to assist on a case and lots of sex?"

"Isn't it yours?" he asks innocently, ducking away from her.

"Maybe we can get Skinner to close down the X-Files office when it's convenient for us for a change," Scully shoots back.

Even though the closing of the office is a sore spot for him, he grins. "Stranger things have happened."


August 1996.

The doorbell rings, and Mulder races to answer it. It could be the answer to his, and Scully's, prayers, ever since Amy left for grad school. He opens the door to find a short bespectacled Asian girl in a t-shirt and jeans, stepping back to get a better look at him. "Hi, I'm Rachel from the Guardian Angels for Little Angels," the girl tells him as they shake hands. She has a surprisingly strong grip for someone even more petite than Scully, he thinks, and hopes his kids are in good hands.

Scully's already cutting up a melanin-deprived African-American male, and Mulder's raring to go, hoping to finish off a case that's managed to get itself a little under his skin the second time around. "Let me show you to the nursery," he says, as her owlish glasses take in everything. Rapidly, he makes the kids' introductions to their new nanny, feeling vaguely as if Mary Poppins should be blowing down the chimney or something. Or was that the reference letter? He really should pay more attention to the Disney movies, but this case has got him on a tight deadline with international aspects involved. "Page, Sammy, you behave," he says, kissing them on their heads, "and Rachel, our cell and other emergency numbers are on the fridge. Thanks!"

She nods, looking at Mulder's retreating back. "Nice to meet you," she shrugs, then looks at the kids, shifting her huge backpack. "This is gonna be fun," she says, looking from the little girl to the even littler boy. "I don't suppose your parents left feeding times for you, did they?" she asks Sammy, who is goggling up at her. "Didn't think so."

"Rach-all?" Page asks.

"Yeah?" the new nanny says, hefting Sammy up on her hip.

"Gotta go bathroom," she says, and is somewhat pleased to see a look of sheer panic cross Rachel's face.


When Mulder and Scully return to their home late one night, their case finished, filed, kaput, they find Rachel pacing back and forth in the living room, muttering to herself, biting her thumb. "Rachel?" Mulder asks, wondering if the ghosts harassed her or something.

"Wha--? Oh," she says, stopping her pacing, muttering and biting. "I'm so sorry!" she says, and bursts into tears.

Scully, clearly confused, goes over to comfort her. "What's wrong?" She pauses in mid-hug. "Are the kids okay?"

"Yeah," Rachel sniffles, rubbing her fingers under her glasses to wipe her eyes, "they're okay. But," she pulls out a tissue from her pocket and wipes her nose, "the dog..."

"What?" Scully asks, relieved about her children's safety but now worried about her dog's, and sits her down. "What happened?" Curious, Mulder sits down, too, wondering if Queequeg's luck finally ran out this time around.

"I was walking the dog, when it ran off the sidewalk to bark at a dog across the road," the nanny says in a ragged voice, "and then a car..." and then she bursts into another wail.

Scully is patting the girl, even though it's her own dog that got run over, not Rachel's. "Where's Queequeg?" she says in an admirably calm voice.

"At, at the vet's," Rachel says once she's recovered enough breath to answer. "I'm sorry, the, the damage, it was too much. They, they had to put him to sleep." She looks desperately at them. "I'm so sorry," she says again, "I understand if you want to fire me."

"What?" Mulder says, roused out of his post-case stupor. "No, no, it was an accident," he rushes to reassure her. Or maybe he's reassuring himself. Either way, it's obvious the girl's torn up about the whole thing, and God knows she doesn't need a Mulder-sized guilt complex. "Listen, if you want to take a couple of days off, that's fine. But we'd really appreciate if you'd still be our nanny." Scully looks at him, surprised, but doesn't argue.

"Really?" Rachel blinks behind her glasses, then looks at them both. "Thank you!" Impulsively, she hugs Scully, then Mulder. "Thank you so much!"


Bemused, the FBI couple watch as the small Asian girl grabs a black backpack about a third of her size, swing it onto her back, and rush out the door. There is a squeal of tires and her car disappears off into the night. "Maybe we should run a background check on her, just in case," Mulder says.

"How old is she?" Scully asks.

Mulder shrugs. "I guess I'll find out," he says, feeling a bit put out now that there's more work to be done, even if it's for a personal matter. His wife kisses him on the cheek, then walks upstairs to the nursery, probably to reassure herself of their children's health. He walks over to the in-house office and powers up the computer, sighing deeply.

It isn't long before he goes through the usual rounds of security, but bypasses them easily, having done so many bgc's for the bureau back when the FBI first shut down the X-Files, not to mention the second go-round. "Here we go," he mumbles, and calls up her files easily.

"Anything interesting?" his wife's tired voice says from behind.

"Not really," he says, as she wraps her arms around him. "She's older than she looks, but this is her first nannying job. In fact, she's working two other jobs on top of this one... According to her work records, she's pretty reliable, even if she specializes in working night shifts." Then a thought brightens his face. "Maybe she's a vampire."

"Mulder," she groans, "it's just possible that she's a night person. Please don't turn everything into an X-File. Amy was normal, and I'm sure Rachel is, too."

"Or maybe not," Mulder says, but wiggles his eyebrows and grins. "It's late, we just finished a case, and Queequeg is dead. I think that's enough on our plate for tonight."

Scully nods, and there's a slightly glazed look in her eyes. "Queequeg's dead," she repeats, and her eyes well up. "Oh, Mulder," she says in a wobbly voice, and now Mulder turns around to wrap his arms around his wife, feeling slightly guilty that he doesn't have the least bit of remorse over their late, little bit of a dog. "She told Page and Sammy that Queequeg's in heaven."

"Well, that's nice," Mulder says, for lack of anything better to say.

She looks down, remembering her sleepy babies and envying their innocence. "I hope she's right," she says, then opens her mouth for a monster yawn. "I want to put this whole night and wake up not having to deal with serial killers or dead dogs."

"Amen to that," he says, kissing her forehead. "Let's go to bed."

She smiles and leans against him, closing her eyes. "Sounds like a great plan."

Together, the two agents stumble sleepily upstairs, safe in each other's arms, and ready for nothing except the softness of their bed and the sweetness of dreams.


Fair Grounds
September 21st, 1996
12 p.m.

Although he promised himself that he'd never put a child on a leash, Mulder has to admit that he formed that opinion before he had to deal with two little children in a crowded place. Page will no longer endure being strapped into a carriage, and his back begged him not to be a pack mule, so Page is tethered around the waist. The birthday girl doesn't really seem to notice the loop of cloth that keeps within arm's reach, and she toddles happily in front of him.

::This was actually a good idea. If there are any monsters at the fair, at least they can't run off with her without taking my hand with them.::

"Daddy! A cow!" Page's excited shriek makes Mulder grin, and Sammy cranes his head over the side of the stroller to see what his older sister is yelling about.

Recalling that the baby has recently begun to imitate animal noises when listening to Page play with a Speak n Say, Mulder leans down. "Sammy, what sound does a cow make?"

"Moooo!"

"There's my smart boy!"

As Mulder stands up, an arm slings itself around his waist. He looks down at Scully and smiles. "You're sure you can eat that?" The funnel cake that she's holding looks good, so he wouldn't mind helping her dispose of it if necessary.

Scully nods. "Surprisingly yes. Just the smell of fried food set my stomach off with these two, but with this baby it seems to be all I crave."

"I think we need to buy a fryer then," Mulder tells her, sneaking a pinch of her funnel cake. "It was easy to get ice cream at two am, but I'm not sure there are any artery cloggers open at that time of night."

She shutters a little. "I never thought I'd own a fryer."

"I bet your mom didn't own one. She seems like the type that would have made you kids suffer through healthy foods whether you wanted to eat them or not."

"Actually, it was the captain that was the food tyrant. He was one of those 'stay until you clean your plate' parents. I guess that was pretty common of people who were born not long after the depression - their parents had food on their mind more than most and they passed it on to their kids."

"At least they made sure that you ate," Mulder says quietly. "My parents were kind of indifferent that way. I developed an unnatural fondness for Spaghetti Os since I could handle cooking them on my own."

Scully looks up at him and sees the faint pain in his eyes, and can readily imagine him as a twelve-year-old boy trying to get himself something to eat. She and her siblings could cook too, but in their case it was because they wanted to, not because Maggie wouldn't. "At least your cooking is more versatile now."

"So you're saying you wouldn't be thrilled if I bought an industrial size can of Spaghetti Os and made them for dinner tonight? They're nice and soft and pose no choking hazard for Sammy, as long as I don't spring for the deluxe ones with franks or meatballs."

The look she gives him, one that says 'you better be kidding', nearly makes Mulder laugh out loud. "I'd rather you didn't. But if you wanted to attempt to make homemade donuts after we buy the fryer, I'd have no objections."

He decides to tease her a little with information she'll think he's making up since the foods wouldn't be invented for years yet. "You know, I think I heard it's possible to fry a twinkie."

"Why would anyone fry a twinkie??"

He shrugs. "Why would anyone fry a turkey?"

"No one would fry a turkey, Mulder. Turkey is fairly healthy, as meats go, when cooked in the oven, so why would anyone want to make it as bad for you as fried chicken?"

"They're courting a heart attack?"

"Yeah, probably..." Her face takes on a contemplative look. "Do you think you could fry a pickle?"

His stomach gives a sudden roil. "Look woman, just because you've suddenly developed as cast iron stomach it doesn't mean that we all have. If I fried a pickle I'd probably be tried for war crimes."

Page, sick of listening to her parents' incomprehensible conversation, reaches up and tugs on Mulder's hand. "Wanna see baby chik'ns."


They go and see the chicks. And the ducklings. And the bunnies. And lambs. And piglets. And goats. Within two or so hours they've visited each and every one of the animal sheds, and both kids seemed to enjoy seeing all the creatures great and small that the fair offered for exhibit.

Except for the sheep. Mulder thought that the kids would enjoy watching the sheep being sheared, but when he glances down expecting to see a smile on Page's face, he is shocked to see that her face is crumpled and she's on the verge of tears. He scoops her up. "What's wrong sweetie? You don't like the sheep?"

She waves a small hand towards the sheep shearers. "Hurt sheeps!" she wails.

Mulder cuddles her. "No no, they're not hurting the sheep, Page. The sheep are just fine."

"They cryin'!" she insists, and he becomes more conscious of the bleats of the sheep. Before the sound had just blended into the background for him.

"You see what that woman is holding in her hand?" Page bravely looks where he's pointing and nods, bumping his chin with her head. After wincing, he continues. "Those are just a kind of scissors. All they're doing is giving the sheep haircuts."

"Haircuts?"

"Yup. Remember when Sammy got a haircut last week? He cried too just like the sheep. But he wasn't hurt and was fine when it was all over."

"Sammy long hair gone."

"It is." And that makes Mommy kind of sad, he adds to himself. "Soon as they're done the sheep with be fine too." He points to a calm, fully sheared lamb. "See that one? He's all done and he looks happy."

"Yeah," Page agrees, but her livestock worries have tired her out, so she puts her head on his shoulder.

"You tired?" Mulder asks, tickling her a little. "I thought we were going on rides when Mommy gets back from the bathroom." Scully's missed the sheep trauma because she's taken Sammy to the bathroom for a diaper change.

"Rides? Daddy, wanna go on rides." Page suddenly perks up.

"Oh, I see, you were only a little tired."

"A little," she agrees.


Scully leans back against Mulder as they watch the boat ride take their children around and around in slow circles. Sammy is strapped in next to his sister on a green boat, and his wide eyes are far bluer than the six inches of water that the ride's mechanism drags the "boats" through.

"He sure looks happy," Mulder murmurs into Scully's hair. He can already tell that he's going to be the only one awake on the drive home.

"There are no monsters here, right Mulder?" Scully asks with a yawn.

"Where here?"

"The fair."

"Not that I know of."

"That's nice."

"The fact that there are no monsters at the fair is nice?"

"Well yes, but the fact that we've come to the fair to enjoy ourselves, and see live cows, rather than to be looking at ones who have been killed by aliens is nice."

"You admit that aliens kill cows?" he can't resist teasing her.

"Oh sure. Why not."

Instead of commenting further he tightens his embrace on his wife and watches his smiling children go round and round.


Chapter Thirty-Eight

October 11th, 1996
Washington, D.C.
6:30 a.m.

"Hi, Mommy!"

Scully can't help but smile at the cheerful greeting. Unlike Mulder, Page seldom wakes up on the wrong side of the bed. Or crib more accurately. Buying their daughter a "big girl" bed is on her and Mulder's to-do list, but Scully is secretly reluctant to see that transition. Every morning she can't help but think that the kids grow so fast.

Eventually she notices her daughter's quizzical look and realizes she hasn't say anything in reply. "Morning, Page."

As soon as Scully picks her out of the crib, Page wiggles to get down. She does, however, patiently submit to being changed into jeans and a dark blue sweatshirt, and only whimpers a little as Scully brushes her shoulder length blonde hair.

"Mommy and Daddy no go work?" Page asks, giving Scully a hopefully look. The toddler has recently begun to realize that there are days her parents work, and days they don't, so they figure it's only a matter of time before she grasps the concept of weekends.

"Sorry, kiddo. We'll be home all day tomorrow, though." It's only because of the child's still iffy sense of time that Scully dares telling her that, since cases have a way of not respecting Saturdays.

"Okay."

The exaggerated hangdog look that Page gives her is almost enough to make Scully laugh, but she bites her lip instead. "You and your brother will have fun with Rachel today, Page."

"Un uh."

"Don't you like Rachel?"

Page's nose wrinkles. "Rach-all dumb."

"That's not very nice, Page."

"Mama! Mama!" Sammy's voice, along with the sounds of his hard shoes, carry into the room before he's even reached the doorway. Page doesn't seem to mind that she's in her own room, but her brother wakes up every morning still looking for her, so as soon as Mulder dresses him, he makes a beeline to Page's room.

The little boy's hair is sticking up in spikes on his head, but he looks completely dressed, so he didn't escape before Mulder got him clothed.

"Has anyone seen a little red-headed boy, about two feet tall?" Mulder asks, completing the family gathering.

"Our daughter just informed me that she thinks that the nanny is lacking in intelligence."

"Have you spoken to the woman, Scully? Page has a point," Mulder tells her. Scully just shakes her head.

"Daddy! Stay home tomorrow," Page demands.

"As you wish, your majesty."

"Silly daddy." Page giggles, which causes Sammy to giggle too.

"No no, say 'brilliant Daddy'." Mulder's protests fall on deaf ears.

"Well, I think you're brilliant, Mulder," Scully tells him as she slings an arm around his waist. When he does likewise, he feels a tiny kick under his hand. She just smiles at him and covers his hand with her own. He wonders if it's the first time she's felt this baby kick too.

"You have to say that, you're married to me," Mulder tells her.

"I don't recall that being in our vows."

"It was in there," he insists.

The nanny's arrival a few seconds later ends the conversation, but Mulder keeps thinking about it as they drive to the airport to travel to their newest case. ::Can a man be both brilliant and silly?::


Traverse City, Michigan
10 a.m.

For once the rental agency has had the car they need when they need it, so they're on the road earlier than either of them expected. Mulder is driving while reads the case file and looks at the photograph that the druggist took of Mary LeFante.

"Have the local police been contacted by this woman's abductor? No demand for ransom?" she asks.

"No, unfortunately. It's going on three days."

"Any additional leads?"

He shakes his head. "No, no hair and fiber evidence either. The rain washed it all away. The autopsy did come back on the dead boyfriend, though. It's a puncture wound through the left eardrum and into the brain, possibly from a long needle or awl."

"I'm still not sure how you and I figure into this investigation."

"Don't you see the photo?"

"I assume that was taken by whoever it was who abducted her."

"It was taken by a sixty-five year old druggist moments before she was abducted. That's a passport photo from a local drugstore. The druggist who took that photo is the last known person to have seen Mary LeFante. Only he claims that wasn't the photo he was taking. He says the photo he was taking was normal in every respect. He only came forward to the police when he heard the woman was missing."

"Well," She reasons aloud, "Whoever it was that took this photo was obviously privy to the woman's abduction."

"That is what you would think," Mulder teases her.

"And I'm sure you've got a more obvious theory, like she was abducted by aliens," she shoots back.

"Nah. In Michigan werewolves are the most likely suspects." When she doesn't reply, he gives her a quick look and sees that she's not smiling. "I was kidding, you know."

"Do I?" she asks with a sigh.


The Residence of Mary LeFante

Their visit to the drugstore is a carbon copy of the day that Mulder dreamed about for years, right down to the way that Officer Trott comes into to apologize for probably wasting their time. The fact that nothing has changed so far begins to worry Mulder, so he sticks close to Scully when they visit the missing woman's house.

The officer doesn't stick around after he briefly introduces him to the man leading the investigation. "Inspector Puett. These are agents Scully and Mulder."

The man nods in their direction. "I'm a United States Postal Inspector. My office is investigating a mail theft - one which we've traced to your missing person, Ms. Mary Louise LeFante."

"She was a postal employee?" Scully asks.

"She works as a sorter at the Kurland Hills Branch. Not coincidentally, a number of unsigned credit cards in transit through that branch never made it to their respective owners." Inspector Puett displays a bag of credit cards recovered at the scene.

"Mary LeFante was intercepting them," Mulder remarks.

"And her recently deceased boyfriend was signing them. We ran him, he was into forgery, check fraud, you name it."

Mulder's attention is drawn to a series of pictures held down by a magnet.

Scully, however is still mindful of the case. "Mary LeFante's passport photo. Do you know how soon she wanted to leave town?" Puett shakes his head no. "Did she know about your investigation?"

"Probably, though we didn't focus on her specifically until this week after she came up missing."

"And you think that she faked her own disappearance?" Scully asks.

"Well, it looks that way to me."

"Yeah, but why would she stab her boyfriend through the ear? The magic was gone? Did you find a camera anywhere here?" Mulder wants to know, and Puett shakes his head again.

Leaving the inspector to his own devices, Mulder and Scully go upstairs into Mary's bedroom.

"So you're thinking this woman planted that photo of herself in the drugstore?" Scully wants to know.

"What would be the point of that?"

She shrugs and watches him rummage through the bedroom's walk-in closet. When he backs out he's got a Polaroid camera in his hand. "Stand back, Scully, it's loaded."

After he takes a picture of her, he snaps several more pictures at random.

"What are you doing?"

"In the sixties, a bellhop named Ted Serios became kind of famous for taking what he called "thoughtographs". He claimed that by concentrating on an unexposed film negative, he could create a photographic representation of what he saw in his mind. He did landscapes, cathedrals, the Queen of England." ::And in a few years people will make a fairly unscary horror movie that rips off the concept.::

Scully raises an eyebrow, which makes him grin. "Thoughtographs?"

"Also known as 'skotographs.' The literature on thought photography dates back almost to Louis Daguerre."

"So that makes it legitimate?"

"Look at that," he says, pointing at the pictures he has laid out on the bed. The images on the prints are starting to emerge. Each one shows a distorted picture of a screaming Mary, not unlike the drugstore photograph. There are also several distorted skull-like images on each photo.

She takes a step back. "Oh my God!"

"I think he was here, Scully."

"Who was here?"

"Mary LeFante's abductor. I think he stalked her. (He walks out an exterior door onto a porch, toward the steps onto the porch and then to a window on the wall near the closet.) He could have come up right here. I think he came in here and he looked at her through the window, this close. Close enough to affect the film in that camera."

"Psychic photography? Mulder, I think that it's obvious that somebody doctored these images and planted them to be found here. Maybe as some kind of a smokescreen."

"Meant to conceal what? This isn't about mail fraud, Scully, that's just incidental. What if ... what if ... someone had this ability? An image like this would be a peak into that person's mind."

"Into their darkest fantasies."

"The fantasy of a killer, one who stalked his victim," he agrees.


Traverse City Hospital
An Hour Later

Mary LeFante is being wheeled through the hospital on a stretcher. A doctor, an orderly, and Mulder and Scully walk beside stretcher.

The doctor frowns and stares at the woman. "She's completely non-responsive. We did a preliminary tox screen on her found traces of morphine and scopolamine."

"Twilight sleep," Scully says.

"The dental anesthetic." Mulder nods. "I thought they stopped using that a long time ago."

"Twilight sleep isn't used very often, but it still is sold and a person who knows how could make it. It's basically a painkiller cocktail. It's also for women in labor. But it wouldn't account for her condition." The doctor's frown deepens as he and Scully discuss the necessity of a PET scan.


In the adjoining room, Mulder, Scully and the doctor watch as another technician operates a terminal that shows the results of a scan of Mary's brain. The scan shows the brain in blue, but there are large green areas and several red areas. Scully grimaces as she sees the results.

"Oh my God," Scully whispers.

"What is it?"

"She's been given what's called a transorbital lobotomy. It used to be known as an icepick lobotomy. It involves inserting a leucotome through the eye sockets."

"So we're looking for a doctor? Someone with training? Nurse Ratched?"

"Not judging by this," the doctor tells him.

"Whoever did this, Mulder, did it wrong."

Through the speaker, they hear Mary moaning from the examination room.

"un ... un ... unruhe ... unruhe ... "

Officer Trott comes in as Mulder is requesting that someone go get Mary. "We just got the call. There's been a second abduction."


The Midlothian Corporate Park

All too quickly they're standing over another body. "Charles Selchik, certified public accountant." Mulder motions to an outline of a body marked on the floor. "Dead from a stab wound through the ear ... cleaning crew found the body."

"What about the missing woman?"

"His secretary, Alice Brandt, age 32. Her family confirmed that she was working late last night."

"What's her connection to the first victim?"

Mulder shrugs. "Apparently none, but if the M.O. remains the same..."

"Yeah, the clock is running."

"Yeah. I keep thinking about that word that Mary LeFante was repeating - 'unruhe.' I checked the Michigan phone directory. It appears under three different spellings but none within 80 miles of here."

"It might be significant as a word."

"That's what I've been thinking. Apparently in German, it means trouble or strife."

"Unrest."

"You took German in high school, Scully?"

"College."

"Unrest, huh?"

"I'm working on these crime scene photos from the first abduction. If we're lucky, we're dealing with someone who gets a vicarious thrill from returning to the scene of a crime."

"He wasn't there, Scully."

"How do you know?"

"It would have affected the photos. Trott, what did you find?"

"Nothing much. There's no cameras or film here whatsoever. It's all just accountants' offices so I don't know why there would be."

"Is that what we're looking for here, Mulder?" Scully asks. "More evidence of psychic photography?"

"That may be the only evidence we get."

"I've got a bureau forensics team coming up from Detroit," Scully tells him.

"What's here for them to find? This guy is obviously very good at what he does. He's left behind no witnesses, no latent prints. The only thing he's left are those photos, which leads me to believe he doesn't even know that he has that ability."

"We haven't found any new psychic photos here either."

Scully sees something outside and looks down at a photo. "Wait a second." She then walks to the window for a better look. She is looking at a sign over the scaffolding that she went through earlier. "I want to show you something."

She and Mulder are walking back through the plastic-shrouded scaffolding. They approach a distinctive sign for the Iskendarian Construction company. "Right here. This." She shows him a photo from the first crime scene that shows the same sign in the area. "And look. It's the same company. What if the kidnapper was working construction at both sites? From these two vantage points, he would have been able to pick out the two women."

"You may be right, Scully, you should check it out. Let me know what you find."

"Where are you going to be?"

"I'll be back in DC. I want special photo to run this. I still think the answer is in here."

"What if it's not, Mulder? This woman's time is running out."

"Well, that's all the more reason to fully investigate the one and only hard piece of evidence we do have. I'll be in touch." He reaches into his pocket and pulls out a cell phone. "I noticed earlier that your battery wasn't charging correctly, so I got you a new phone."

"Thanks."

"Don't thank me, thank the government. I charged it to business expenses."

"Even better."

He leans down and kisses her on the forehead. "I'll be back in 3 or 4 hours, okay?"

"Okay."


While Mulder goes to the photo specialist in DC to get the information he already knows about and stops by the house to remind Rachel that they might have to stay the night on their case, Scully explores the area and discovers Gerald Schnauz, and brings him in for questioning when she finds the implement, a leucotome, that he used to injure his victims. Mulder flies back immediately and they begin the interrogation as soon as he arrives.

Scully takes point in the interrogation. "Alice Brandt. The second woman that you abducted. That's her name, Gerry. Where is Alice Brandt?"

Schnauz adopts an innocent expression. "I don't ... I have no earthly idea what you're talking about."

"Tell us where she is, Gerry."

"I'm sorry. This is a case of mistaken identity or something. I honestly ... honestly have no idea what you're talking about."

Looking angry, Scully shows him a plastic bag containing the leucotome. "Explain this."

"We're running sheetrock today. I use that to start the holes in the sheetrock, to keyhole in all the fixtures."

"No, you used this to kill the two men."

Schnauz keeps up his facade of innocence. "What two men?"

"You used this on Mary LeFante," Scully insists.

"Who? What? Wait, a minute ago it was Alice Brandt. I don't believe this, I do not believe this is happening."

Mulder notices his wife is about to boil over, so he jumps in. "You want to tell us about the first time you were arrested, Gerry? In 1980, you attacked your father with an axe handle. You beat him so severely that he spent the remainder of his life in a wheelchair."

"I was not jailed, I was institutionalized. I had a kind of chemical imbalance."

"Yeah, Gerald Thomas Schnauz, diagnosed and treated for a paranoid schizophrenic disorder six years in Melvoin Psychiatric Hospital, released 1986. So what you been up to since 1986, Gerry?" Mulder asks.

"Taking care of my father. Looking after him 24 hours a day. Making amends. He, uh, passed away January."

"Says here that you have a sister. Where is your sister, Gerry?" Mulder asks.

"She passed."

"Actually, it says here she committed suicide in 1980. That was a bad year. What else happened in 1980, Gerry?"

"Well, John Lennon got shot. Where the hell are you going with this? What are you, Sigmund Freud? Why don't you cut the BS?"

"Then why don't we get back to Alice Brandt. Where is she?" Scully demands to know.

Schnauz stares at Scully. "You look troubled."

"Hey, Gerry. This your father?" He shows Gerry the image of the thin watching man from the enhanced photograph.

The other man gasps. "Where'd you get that?"

"You left it for me. You left it like a fingerprint. Is this what you see when you close your eyes, Gerry?" He shows Gerry the complete photograph. Gerry studies it carefully. "Is that what you see? Gerry ... tell me where Alice Brandt is."

"She's safe from the howlers. She's all right now." Schnauz's voice is wooden.

"Gerry ... Tell me how I can find her."


Another hour later they've found Alice Brandt's body and called in to the station to have Trott formally book their suspect. When they get to the station themselves, they learn that Schnauz freaked out and hit Trott in the face, causing him to hit his head on a desk which knocked him out. Trott is just coming around and has no idea where Schnauz went after he lost consciousness.

Standing in the processing room, Mulder remembers when he saw Trott's blood on the floor. The disturbing thing about Trott's hale condition is that Mulder did nothing to cause it. It makes him wonder if his death was just a matter of chance the first time around.

Mulder is still trying to get answers out of Trott when Scully enters. He motions her over.

"Mulder. We just got a report of a strong-arm robbery. It's at the drugstore where the first victim disappeared."

The Drug Store

When they get there officers are still examining the scene, while a paramedic attends to a wound on the druggist's head.

Scully's voice is gentle when she leans over the injured man, which is surprising to Mulder since the man had been her first suspect. "What happened?"

Half listening, Mulder goes to an automatic photo booth and inserts some money.

Scully concludes her conversation with the druggist then walks over to Mulder. "It's Gerry."

"He took the passport camera and all the film in the store," Mulder remarks.

Scully nods. "He also took morphine, scopolamine, hydrobromide and insulin syringes. He's making more twilight sleep."

"He wants to continue his work." The camera in the photo booth beeps and a flash goes off.

"You know, that job site that I arrested him at, Mulder. What if he's ... what if he's already picked out his next victim? There were ... there were apartment buildings on all sides."

"You think you interrupted his stalking?" Mulder asks.

"Alright, I'll go bring the car around in a minute. I just want to wait for this. "

"Okay." She pulls a face. "This kid is lying on my bladder, so I'm going to use the restroom while you get the car."

Mulder nods, giving her a smile she doesn't understand and waits for his picture. When it's ready he frowns, since it looks exactly like it did the last time: Scully screaming, surrounded by grotesque beings. :: I don't get it. I'm getting the car, how could it be unchanged?::


Meanwhile

Scully is washing her hands when the restroom door swings open. She doesn't think much of it, since the drugstore was quite crowded, but she catches sight of Schnauz in the mirror. "What are you doing?"

The last thing she remembers is being thrown off balance and the sink coming at her.


Mulder drops the picture and runs towards the restrooms. The door to the ladies room is still swinging, and he spots a back exit to the store, that door is still in motion too. He throws it all the way open and runs out into the parking lot.

He runs out and around the building but doesn't see her. The Explorer pulls out from behind a truck and speeds away down an alley. Mulder chases on foot.

"Scully! Scully!" The Explorer turns at the end of the alley and speeds away. "Scully!"

Running behind, Mulder is soon panting, and realizes that it's useless to follow on foot, so he turns on his heel and goes back to the rental car. :: This isn't happening. It can't. I don't give a damn about blowing my cover, I'm going there right now before he hurts her.::


Schnauz's lair

Scully regains consciousness and looks around the room, which is a small area with padding on the walls. She is tied to a dentist's chair with duct tape around her wrists and ankles. There is a dentist's table next to her with the leucotome. She sees the figure of Schnauz, wearing his construction apron, at the other end, muttering. "Es ist alles in Ordnung."

She shakes her head to clear it, then has a horrifying thought. "Oh my god, did you drug me?" she asks in a high voice, fearful for her unborn baby.

"Shhhh...no drugs, you hit your head."

In a surprising move of compassion, Schnauz walks over toward the chair and frees one of her hands, bringing it to her forehead so she can feel the cut. . He then starts tearing off more pieces of duct tape, and clumsily refastens her hand to the chair.

"It's over, Gerry. Let me go right now."

"Ich werde dir helfen. Du wirst deine Unruhe bald vergessen. "

He starts to cover Scully's mouth with duct tape. She thrashes. "Aufhoeren! "[ Stop!] "Ich habe keine Unruhe." [ I have no unrest.] "Ich habe keine unruhe. (ch bin gar nicht unruhig. Ich brauche nicht gerettet zu werden." [ I don't need to be saved.]

He frowns at her. "Yes you do. Everybody does, but especially you."

"Why? Why me, Gerry? Do I remind you of your sister? Why did your sister kill herself, Gerry? What did your father do to her?"

"He didn't do anything. It was the howlers."

"OK, then let's talk about the howlers," she says quickly.

"They live inside your head. They make you do things and say things that you don't mean, and all your good thoughts can't wish them away. You need help. You've got them - right there." He touches Scully's face between her eyebrows. "Don't you feel them?"

"I don't have them, Gerry. My children took them away when they were born."

He gives her a surprised look. "Your children?"

"Yes. I have a little girl and a baby boy. They're innocent, and innocent things take away the bad things in people's lives."

"They are innocent." Schnauz's agreement sounds uncertain, which makes her more desperately hopeful.

"You wouldn't want to destroy something innocent, would you? I'm having another baby in March...if you hurt him or her then you'd be letting the howlers win."

"They made you say that, just now, because they know I'm going to kill them." He picks up the leucotome from the table.

"I'm not, I'm not." She shakes her head. "Put your hand on my belly, Gerry, then you'll see for yourself that I'm not lying."

Trying not to shudder, she feels him put his hand on her stomach, and the baby within gives an obliging kick that makes the man widen his eyes. "You're not lying."

"No, I'm not."

"The howlers wanted me to hurt you to destroy something innocent," he whispers.

"That's why you shouldn't listen to them."

Schnauz collapses against the wall, sobbing. He doesn't even notice when Scully works her hand free and quietly calls Mulder, who is already about halfway there.


Traverse City Hospital
An Hour Later

"What happens to Schnauz now?" Mulder asks as he pushes Scully's wheelchair out to the car. The nurse strong-armed her into it, scowling as she repeated hospital policy until Scully had got in, and glancing over his shoulder Mulder can see that the woman is still glowering. :: I guess there's something to doctor's making the worst patients. I shudder to think what might have happened between Scully and Nurse Ratched had there been anything more to this visit than a look over.::

She looks up at him and shrugs. "They took him up to psych. My guess is that he's going to be institutionalized or spend the rest of his life in a hospital for the criminally insane."

"At least he won't be able to hurt anyone else." ::And he should consider himself lucky that he's not dead.:: "Maybe he can make some money for candy by selling thoughtographs."

"Funny." She smirks. "It's sad, though, Mulder. This man's father abused his daughter, and the only way Gerry could cope with it was to create these howlers so he could remain loyal to his father."

"It's not as sad as those women's deaths," Mulder says soberly. "It could have been you."

"But it wasn't."

:: Not this time. Let's hope it continues to go that way.::

He stops the chair at the curb. "Out of the chair, woman. We've got two kids who are looking forward to spending all weekend climbing over us."

"Would you think I was crazy if I said I didn't think that sounded so bad?" she asks as he puts his arm around her waist and leads her towards their nearby car.

"No. There are a lot of reasons I'd say you're crazy, but that's not one of them. Owww." He lifts up his newly sore foot. "Well, at least you weren't wearing heels."


Chapter Thirty-Nine

Washington, D.C.
November 3rd, 1996
7 p.m.

The phone ringing shatters Scully's dream, and she bolts upright, grabbing at the receiver. Her mind is so foggy she's half-sure that it's Mulder calling about some trouble he's in, but as her fingers close around the hard plastic, she hears him reading to the kids down the hall and realizes his danger was only something in her dream.

Puzzled, she holds the phone up to her ear and croaks, "Hello?"

"Dana?"

The cool, collected voice is immediately recognizable. "Mrs. Mulder."

"I keep telling you, call me Teena."

Except she hasn't, she and Scully rarely speak so it's only come up twice at most. "Sure, I'll try to remember that. Let me go get Fox-"

"Actually Dana, it's you I called to speak to," Mrs. Mulder interrupts.

"Me?"

"Yes. I had a horrible thought earlier today. My granddaughter is two years old." Scully can't figure out what's horrible about that. She's settling on reassuring her mother-in-law that being a grandmother doesn't make her age faster, when the older woman begins to speak again. "Samuel's only one, so there's still time, if only just, but I'm not sure about little Page."

"Time for what?" Scully asks blankly.

"Preschool registration."

"But preschools don't accept children until they're three. Page won't be three until late next summer."

"I know when my granddaughter's birthday is," Mrs. Mulder says frostily. "Good schools have waiting lists that one should get on as soon as possible. Actually, you could probably sign the third child up now as well."

"Wouldn't not having a name or gender yet make that difficult?" She has a hard time resisting the urge to scream for Mulder to come and deal with his mother.

"I'm sure it's something they deal with, but you could have an ultrasound if it bothers you."

"Um...To be honest, Teena we haven't really thought about sending the children to the sort of preschool you're talking about. We want them to go to the preschool that many of our colleagues send their children to. It isn't as prestigious as the type of place you're talking about, but it has won many honors, and it would be good for them to spend time with children whose parents have similar careers, since they won't be the only children there who are occasionally separated from their parents when those parents are on cases."

"Yes, well, that all sounds very nice. But it wouldn't hurt if I sent you some brochures to look at would it?"

Scully balls her fists, but forces a polite tone. "Of course, send them and we'll give them a read."

"Wonderful. Have a good night, Dana."

"You too...Teena."

As she hangs up the phone, Scully can't help but think that her husband's neglected childhood might have been a blessing in disguise. Of course she immediately feels guilty for the thought.


November 5th, 1996
Temple Of The Seven Stage
Apison, Tennesse
5:15 a.m.

"Federal agents! We are armed!"

After the troops in riot gear storm the compound, Mulder and Scully enter at a distance, listening to the muted protests of adults being rounded up and the cries of scared children. The whole "temple" is disarray. One poster on the inside of a door reads "Behold I am ALIVE For evermore Rev 1.18." The room is otherwise empty.

Frowning, Mulder turns to his wife. "Somebody tipped Ephesian off. He knew we were coming."

"He's somewhere here on the compound." They hear some shouts, and Scully calls out to their unseen companions. "Did you find Ephesian?"

Agent Bates comes into the room shaking his head. "No. We've covered ninety percent of the compound...."

"We have to find him," Scully insists.

"There's no sign of the weapons, they've hid them somewhere."

Mulder walks out the door without a word to his wife or Bates.

"Mulder. Mulder!" Scully's face looks irritated, but she pauses to speak to Bates before following Mulder. "Tear this place apart."

She nearly has to run in order to catch up with Mulder, because his long strides have taken him far from the main building already. "Mulder? Mulder, where are you going?"

Instead of responding, Mulder looks out at the field. "Intelligence reported no hiding places beyond the yard."

Mulder picks up the pace, jogging, followed by Scully. He stops again, being led on by something. "Did you see someone?" Scully asks, and still receives no answer. She grows suspicious of the field as well and clutches her gun tighter, starting off. A small voice can be heard. Mulder looks around for the location and sees wood glinting out from the dead grass.

The low rumble of a voice comes up from the ground. "My God, in the name of the city. My God..." A woman's voice, getting louder as Mulder bends down to the hatch and Scully keeps his gun trained on it, having seen it as well.

"Amen." A male voice.

The woman again. "As in heaven..."

Mulder flings the door open and he and Scully stand over the dark hole, guns aimed at the man and six women inside. "F.B.I."

They are all holding glasses of red liquid. The woman who had been talking raises the cup to her lips.

"No!" Mulder dashes in and smacks the cup out of her hand. She gasps, then spits in his face. Mulder flinches, but stares at her, filled with a double sense of déjà vu over her familiarity.

Vernon attempts to sooth the agitated women, who are upset at their loss of heaven, staring in dismay as death seeps out of cups on the floor. None of them resist when handcuffs are placed upon their wrists.


Federal Command Center
Chattanooga, Tennessee
Interrogation Room

Given that he thinks that the charges they have Ephesian and his wives up on aren't going to stick, Skinner is letting more rough edges than usual show. He allows Mulder and Scully to interview Melissa after Mulder thinks that it's her voice on the tape that set the investigation in motion, but not before barking at them.

"We need to get this over with and soon. If this turns into another Waco the bureau will have all our heads, and none of us will be deemed fit to even wash the windows of the FBI fleet vehicles."

To ease the interrogation along, Scully is accommodating, and allows Melissa to smoke, even though both she and Mulder consider it a vile habit.

The cigarette in her hand trembles a little, betraying her nervousness. "My name is Melissa Riedal-Ephesian, I'm twenty-five."

"Melissa, do you understand your right to have an attorney present in this questioning?" Scully asks.

"It's okay."

Mulder, sitting across from her, stares at her. Seeing dead people alive is getting to him. "Where are you from?"

A confused look fills her face. "I, I don't know."

Scully nods sympathetically. "What about your family, where do they live?"

"My real family is here."

"How long have you lived there?"

"A year."

"How long have you been married to Ephesian?"

"A year."

"Does it bother you that he has other wives?" Mulder asks. "I know it'd bother my wife." He doesn't dare look at Scully, fearing her potential reaction. :: Not that there's anyone else I ever considered marrying.::

Melissa's response is to quote something, perhaps biblical, perhaps not. "And on that day, seven women shall take hold of one man, saying 'we shall eat our own bread, we shall wear our own apparel, only let us be called by thy name to take away our reproach.'"

"That's quite a faith you have in Vernon there, Melissa. Agent Mulder is right, I'd have a tough time if my husband had so many children with other women."

A tear starts to roll down Melissa's cheek. She shrugs, smirking.

"Do you have a child by Vernon?"

"Someday. Vernon has to wait until God tells him when the right soul is ready to be reincarnated. That's why Vernon's children are the most sacred members of the temple."

"We were told that Vernon's been hurting the children."

Melissa takes another slow drag off of her cigarette.

"Have you ever witnessed any child abuse at the temple, Melissa?" Scully asks.

Melissa drifts off as Scully and Mulder watch her intently, waiting to see what she says. Suddenly, she slams her fist down on the table, her face scrunched, her eyes narrow. Her voice is not only like Sidney's, but it is Sidney's.

"Lookit! I don't know where you two are getting that from! I mean, I saw a couple of things, I mean, you know, it, it, it could have been anything, right?"

Scully shoots her a shocked look. "Melissa?"

"Melissa? No. I don't know nobody called that."

"Sidney?" Mulder asks instead.

"What is this? The McCarthy hearings? No, no. Don't, don't know anybody by that name, no." Scully looks at her notes, aghast. Mulder isn't so surprised. Scully writes down "multiple personality" and shows it to Mulder. "I saw a couple of things. It could have been anything, right?"

Mulder swipes the notepad from Scully. "Sidney, can you tell me who the president of the United States is right now?"

"Who is the president of the United States? What the hell kind of dumb question is that?"

Mulder writes down "past life." Scully looks over at Mulder as if he's leaping to conclusions. "That is a stupid question. Harry Truman!"

Scully looks back at Melissa, wide-eyed. She leans into him lean, whispering. "You're claiming Sidney is her past life just because she mentioned Joe McCarthy?"

"It's not just that. Somehow I just knew."

They look back at Melissa, who calmly takes a drag from her cigarette, back to normal.


Federal Command Center
Chattanooga, Tennessee

Mulder is looking at a map of the bunkers when Skinner walks in, carrying a folder.

"Ephesian and his wives are being arraigned tomorrow morning. That's about fifteen hours to come up with something." He throws the folder down onto his borrowed desk.

Mulder gives him a disbelieving look. "Come up with something? We found 'Sidney.' Voice spectrogram confirms that Melissa Riedal's vocal pattern matches the A.T.F. 'Sidney' call."

"Melissa Riedal is not cooperating," Scully reminds him.

"But there is a personality in her that wants to. We need a psychological catalyst. I suggest we take her back to the compound. Maybe exposing her to that environment with Ephesian present will somehow enable Melissa to talk, or a personality inside her."

"Agent Scully, could this be some kind of a stall or a staged diversion? It's my understanding that multiple personalities are rare."

"They're extremely rare. In fact, many in the psychiatric community do not believe that dissociative identity disorder exists."

"What we witnessed meets the criteria established in the D.S.M.-IV. The presence of two distinct personality states that would currently take control over behavior, including the "protector"identity, Sidney. The inability to recall important personal information. She couldn't recall her own hometown. Transitions from one personality state to another are usually a matter of seconds and are often caused by psychosocial stress. Sidney appeared when we mentioned the children had been abused."

Skinner looks at Scully. "But you remain unconvinced?"

"I believe the disorder exists, but in this case, under these circumstances, I would have to know more."

"With all due respect, sir, Scully's background is a medical one, not a psychiatric one. I would think that my own education would put me in a better position to evaluate Melissa than Scully would be."

Skinner looks surprised for a moment, apparently having forgotten Mulder's seldom brought up specialty. "If Melissa has multiple personalities, would her... his... testimony even be admissible?"

"Judicial precedents have established that dissociative personalities are responsible."

"Yes, but we are responsible for Melissa Riedal," Scully says.

"What we are responsible for is the potential loss of fifty lives."

"Then do it," Skinner tells them, before walking out.

"You didn't even have the courage to tell Skinner what you really believe... that Melissa Riedal is being invaded by her past-life incarnations," Scully complains.

"Because he wouldn't believe me."

"I don't believe that you feel responsible for those fifty lives... or Melissa Riedal. You are only responsible to yourself, Mulder."

"That isn't true and you know it," Mulder says angrily. "You ought to know me better than that."

"Mulder..."

Before she can say whatever it was she had in mind, he's stormed off.


Temple Of The Seven Stars
4:27 p.m.

It makes Mulder feel a little badly to let Scully upset "Lily," a child personality of Melissa's but he doesn't intervene, since he knows it will bring back Sidney. Before long it does.

"Lookit, leave the kid alone. Hear me? She doesn't want to talk, right? No way. I'm sending her home."

Mulder gestures to Scully, indicating that he wants to speak to the woman. "Sidney, you can all go home. You can all be safe if you tell us where they hid the guns."

Melissa gets up and walks to the end of the room. As Mulder did the first time he was there, she looks through the window to the door on the other side. She walks through both doors, Mulder and Scully quick to follow. Scully shoots him a worried look, but keeps up with them.

"The weapons were placed in the bunker which they had built the night before."

Scully takes out her notepad and writes it down. "That's why they weren't on the A.T.F. reports."

"The federals would arrive in the morning, just before the sun." She walks out a little farther into the field. The agents follow, Scully taking notes. "Realizing the government's might and number, most believed they, indeed, would never again see the light of day... just as they had watched their brothers die days before on Missionary Ridge." Scully looks up at her, recognizing the name. Melissa walks slowly again.

"We had received word of General Cleburn's retreat from the Union army. As a nurse, I had been ordered from Hamilton County to meet the troops, but... in actuality, I was searching for him, knowing that he would attempt to remain in Tennessee rather than retreat to Dalton. I found him here amongst the others who had been lost as General Thomas pushed through the Confederate line. The federal troops would appear from that direction." Melissa points over to the treeline where the sun is setting.

"Rather than retreat any further, they fought them... hiding us in the bunker. Inside, I could smell the smoke, hear their rifles... feel their bodies as they dropped onto the ground above. Every last one. She fights back her tears, and fails. "Twenty-sixth of November. 1863. I was here." Scully puts her notepad away with a deep sigh, and Mulder looks at Melissa. "As were you. This is the field where I watched you die."


Tennessee Backroads

Mulder looks away from the road long enough to glance into the review mirror to confirm that Melissa is sleeping. When he sees that she is, he fishes his phone out of his jacket pocket.

Scully notices. "Who are you calling?"

"I'm arranging for a therapist trained in hypnosis to be at the command center."

"Because hypnosis is used in the treatment of dissociative identities to bring forth a patient's various personalities?" Her voice is challenging.

"She wants to talk, Scully. It's a matter of getting it out of her."

"No, it's about regressing her to a past life." Frowning, she pushes the phone down. "Don't do this to her, Mulder. This poor woman's mind, her life, is in shreds. Just being married to Ephesian indicates that, that she is susceptible to suggestion."

Mulder thumps on the steering wheel with one hand. "You, you were there, Scully! You saw it. You heard it. Why can't you feel it?" the look Scully gives him is half-ashamed, and half-worried. "How could I know about a bunker in a field where I've never been?" ::At least I'd never been there before the last time, anyway.:: He thinks.

"And why is it that Vernon Ephesian is, reported by you, a paranoid sociopath because he believes that he lived in Greece a hundred years ago, and you're not, even though you believe you died in that field?"

::Because I know there are different lives than these, and he doesn't. Of course, I can't tell you or you'll have me committed.:: Instead of saying anything, he looks back to the road and lets a stony silence build between them.


Federal Command Center
Chattanooga, Tennessee

Once they get to the center, Mulder has to cajole Melissa into cooperating. "It's for the best."

"No, I don't want to do this," she protests, giving the building distrustful looks.

"We just want to know if you saw anything to substantiate the charges against Vernon. If there's nothing at all that you've repressed about the bunker or child abuse, it'll help clear Vernon's name," Mulder lies glibly. He doesn't dare to look at Scully, knowing that she doesn't approve of his methods.

"There's nothing," Melissa mutters. "I won't tell them anything that'll make Vernon look guilty."

"Then you have nothing to lose and everything to gain."


a few minutes later Melissa is sitting in the therapist's chair, her eyes closed, and her fingers rubbing the armrest in an effort to calm herself.

The therapist's voice is low and soothing. "I'm talking to Melissa. In the last year, at the Temple of the Seven Stars, is there anything that happened that you thought was wrong that hurt you?"

Her voice is more confident than they've ever heard it to be. "Yes. There was a... woman who came to the temple. She and her son had been living on the street."

"What was her name?"

"Elizabeth. Her son was Scott. Vernon took a liking to the boy. He said that he was a prophet returning. He took the boy away from his mother."

"Took him away? How?"

"Vernon's children are the grandchildren of God, kept separate from the others. The mother's heart was broken. She was afraid. The mighty men... late... night... Liz sneaks in to see Scott. Oh, he was happy." She smiles briefly. "She bring, she brings him Butterfingers she stole from the kitchen."

Tears well up in Melissa's eyes suddenly. "Vernon... Vernon... Vernon catches them... the mighty men... they pull her away... and beat her in front of her son. The boy, 'no! No, mom...'" She sobs, remembering the little boy's anguish. "Vernon... Vernon... Vernon pulls him by... Vernon pulls him by his hair. Pulls down his pajamas, and he hit him. "you're not a child of God... garbage," he called him. Told him to sleep in the trash... with the rats. Oh, the mother... the mother cries... But Vernon beats him in front of her. "Uh, oh, no, no, no, no..."

Mulder knows what will happen next, but the therapist stops nodding, and Scully abandons her notes when Sidney reemerges. "Lookit! Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant move. What do you want to know? Just, just leave Melissa alone. She doesn't need to go through that anymore."

The therapist looks over to Scully, who mouths the words "ask her where the guns are."

"Where are the guns?"

"The... the bunkers, yeah. The, uh, uh... the Civil War bunkers, yeah. Vernon, Vernon, Vernon and his goons know, but I don't. I really don't."

Scully leans over to Mulder and speaks in a voice soft enough to keep from disturbing Melissa. "Maybe there's a map of the battlefield down in the records."

"You know how to find the other bunkers."

"Mulder..," Scully protests, obviously catching his idea of using himself and Melissa to find the answer.

"Melissa..," Mulder says, watching the woman tense up as she regains control of her mind. "It's me, Melissa. I want you to go back... back to the field."

She opens her eyes and looks over to him, studying hid face. "Oh... oh..." She reaches out to him, smiling. Her voice becomes brighter and a southern drawl seeps into it. "Your eyes may have changed shade, but it cannot color the soul behind them. We have come together in this life, this time. Only to meet in passing." She starts to cry, placing her hand over her heart. "It is so heartbreaking to wait. I miss you."

They stare at each other before Melissa leans back in her chair, that past life fading. Scully leans over to Mulder again as he rubs the tears out of his eyes.

"Mulder, this is a product of her illness. She couldn't answer the question of the battlefield. She gave us no specific names, no information to prove her validity. There is nothing we can do to prove that this is the truth," Scully admonishes.

"There is one way," he insists.

"Mulder, Ephesian's arraignment is in two hours. There is no time to be doing this."

"Wouldn't you, Scully? Wouldn't anybody? If the answer was in you, wouldn't you want to bring it out?"

"Yes..."she admits with a sigh.


"I want you to go into your past, beyond your life as Fox Mulder. What do you see?"

Mulder sighs and moans, not liking what he sees. "Ghetto streets... shattered glass... bodies of the dead... I'm a woman... a Jewish woman... Poland. My son is with me. He is Samantha."

The therapist gives him a surprised look, because he and Mulder are not strangers. "Samantha? I thought Samantha was your sister."

"In this life, she is my son." Mulder's eyes open, but what he sees is not in the room with them. "I see my father." He looks down, tearful. "He's dead in the street. He is Scully..." Scully's eyes widen slightly, as do the therapist's. "But now... he's gone on now... waiting for us. The souls... come back together... different... but always together... again and again... to learn. I can't go to my father."

Mulder shakes his head, almost crying. "Gestapo is standing next to him. An officer... he's Cancer Man... evil returns as evil... But love... love... souls mate eternal... my... husband... is taken away from me. To the camps. He is Melissa. We're always taken away."

He starts to cry, but then looks up, tears fading. "I'm rising... I'm rising now... I'm rising now... high above... my body. Above the field. My face is bloody. Near the bunker... the federals are gone... my sergeant is also dead. He is Scully.

"Sarah holds me. She is sad. She is Melissa. She lives... near... the battle... Hamilton County... her name is Kavanaugh. Sarah Kavanaugh..."

Scully reaches for her notepad and begins to scribble down the names.

"And my name... is Sullivan Biddle. She doesn't know... she doesn't know... that, that I'm waiting for her... that we will live again. We will live again. Oh, God... oh, my soul is tired."

Scully kneels down in front of him. "Mulder, it's Scully. Do you see any bunkers in the field?"

"My soul is tired. I want to rest." His eyes fly open. "But don't you. Don't let it happen again, not after all the effort..."

"Don't what let happen again?" Scully asks plaintively. "I don't know what you mean."

"Don't let them beat you. Don't give into that cold embrace...." Mulder's voice trails off, and his head slumps onto his chest. Eventually both Scully and the therapist realize that Mulder isn't going to say anything more.


Washington, D.C.
6:30 p.m.

"Yes you do have to eat this."

Page scowls and shakes her head, apparently convinced that her mother is trying to poison her with cooked carrots. "No no!"

"Yes."

When his daughter eyes him speculatively, Mulder decides that it's time for him to get up and go bring out the trash like he promised to. Bag in hand, he's approaching the can when he hears a rustle in the bushes.

"Who's there?" He wishes that he had his gun, but he and Scully locked them up as soon as they got home so the kids would be safe.

"Melissa." The woman steps out into the light, shading her eyes. "I need to talk to you."

It occurs to him to wonder how she got their address, but he decides that it's safe to assume that Vernon has no idea that she's there. "Yeah, come in."

She hesitates, but then follows him in.

"Hey Scully, we have a guest."

Scully raises an eyebrow when she sees the woman, but only says, "How are you?"

"Not too good." Melissa shivers, and then looks over at the kids who are still both in their highchairs. "I didn't know you had kids."

"Page and Sammy," Mulder tells her.

Sammy's eyes widen as he stares at Melissa. "Auntie, auntie!"

"No you goose," Scully tweaks him on the nose. "This is a friend of Mommy and Daddy's."

"Auntie, Sam?" Page asks, giving her brother a quizzical look.

"I'm not anyone's auntie," Melissa protests in a raspy voice.

"If you two don't mind, I'm going to bring the kids up for a bath while you talk. Unless you need me, Melissa?"

"No no." Melissa gives her a slight smile. "He'll tell you everything later, I'm sure."

As soon as Scully takes the kids upstairs, Mulder and Melissa go into the living room to talk. "I don't have anything against social visits, but I have a feeling that you didn't drop by to meet my kids."

"Yeah, I wanted to talk to you." She fixes him with an anxious look. "What if I told you what you wanted to know?"

"About where the weapons are?" he asks eagerly, surprised by this unexpected opportunity to save the walking dead.

"The weapons, sure."

"Then we'd go and find them and then bring Vernon up on weapons charges."

"He'd go to jail then," she says slowly. "That won't work."

"We could get you immunity in exchange for your testimony." Mulder begins to feel his last chance to change things slip through his fingers. "You wouldn't go to jail."

Melissa shakes her head violently. "Couldn't do that to Vernon, he'd hate me. Coming here was a stupid idea. Stupid!"

"Wait!"

Before he can get to his feet she's already running out the door. Scully reappears a moment later. "What did she want?"

"Not immunity to prosecution, apparently." He sighs. "She decided not to tell us anything useful when it became clear to her that doing so wasn't going to keep Vernon out of trouble."

"I'm sorry to hear that. I know you're disappointed."

"Yeah...did you put the kids to bed?"

"All tucked in."

"It's strange that Sammy seemed so convinced that she was family."

"He probably heard one of us say Melissa and thought we were talking about my sister."

"Could be," he agrees.

"I'm going to take a shower myself now," Scully informs him. "See you in a bit."

After she kisses him on the forehead and walks off, two things occur to Mulder. The first is that no one said Melissa's name until after Sammy called her auntie. The second thing takes his breath away. At the time he'd thought that Page had asked her brother if he was calling Melissa auntie. But she'd said "Sam," which she's never called her brother before, not "Sammy" so the question might have instead been "Auntie Sam?" A question of if it was their aunt, not what he'd said. He blinks, wondering how old Melissa is. She doesn't seem young enough to be his sister reincarnated, but hard living can age a person...and now he'll never even have a chance to ask her.

The realization makes him feel a little sick to his stomach, and look even less forward to a tomorrow destined to be hopeless all over again.


Hamilton County Hall Of Records
4:12 a.m.

The town clerk isn't thrilled to be gotten out of bed in what she considers to be the middle of the night, but when Scully barks at her that obstructing justice is a jailable offense, she hurries over to the hall of records and lets Scully and Mulder in. As soon as she's shown them the right section to look in, she scurries off.

"I think you've put the fear of God into her, Scully," Mulder says with a smirk as soon as the woman is out of earshot.

"No, just the fear of the FBI." Scully traces her finger over a map of the battlefield. She folds up the book, which is "Maps and Battle Plans; 1863-1865." She looks over to the county register, containing files from 1800-1900. Placing down a book, she flips through pages until she comes to the name she wants: "Biddle, Sullivan." Then she finds the next name: "Kavanaugh, Sarah." Gasping slightly, she pulls open a drawer containing photographs and digs through until she finds the picture that she wants. On the back, it reads "Sullivan Biddle, 1862." Scully looks at the picture for a second, then digs through and finds "Sarah Kavanaugh, 1858."

"I've found them, Mulder," Scully says, handing the pictures to him.

He stares down at them, trying to find a sense of familiarity, or to see himself in the man's face. Whatever Melissa saw, it escapes him.


Federal Command Center
Chattanooga, Tennessee

Slightly dazed, Mulder continues to stare at the two pictures placed in front of him.

"Ephesian's being taken down to his arraignment. He and Melissa are going to be released soon," Scully tells him. He realizes that she'd said other things, but he doesn't know what.

"Scully if, um... early in the four years we've been working together, the years we've been married... an event occurred that suggested or somebody told you that... we'd been friends together in other lifetimes... always... wouldn't it have changed some of the ways we looked at one another?"

"Even if I knew for certain, I wouldn't change a day." She heads for the door then looks back. "Well, maybe that Flukeman thing. I could've lived without that just fine." She smirks and walks out.

"And what if I told you that we've lived this life before, and I didn't save you? Would you look at me differently then?"

The empty room doesn't supply a response.

Before Melissa is released, Mulder plays back the tape that the therapist made. She listens to the entire thing without expression.

Once the tape runs out she speaks. "I don't believe in it."

"Why?" Mulder asks.

"Those tapes are saying that we chose the lives we live before we're born, and who we live with. It's a nice idea. It's a beautiful idea. I want to believe. And if I knew it were true, I'd want to start over. I'd want to end this pointless life."

Mulder is chilled by her choice of words. He didn't know it last time, but this provides the reason for her taking her life. Staring at her, he realizes that this is just another ghost before him that he has no chance of saving. Still, he tries. "Sarah... if it were true... no life would be pointless."

Melissa looks from Kavanaugh's picture to Mulder. The door opens and Vernon looks in, his followers behind him.

"Melissa... it's time to leave," Vernon tells her in his customarily arrogant tone.

Melissa rips up the picture of Kavanaugh and walks out with it. Mulder sighs and stands, then folds his arms against the cabinet and lays his head against it in defeat.

When Scully returns she looks at him. "I've reported to investigators on the site about the possible existence of other bunkers."


Temple Of The Seven Stars
45 Minutes Later

They're all dead, so many resurrected ghosts lying in Mulder's way as he tries to make it down the isle in time, this time. But he feels like his limbs won't move; dreamlike he staggers by the bodies of those who have already taken their poison.

"Behold... I am alive forevermore," Vernon finishes his prayer. He hands Melissa a fresh glass of poison as she sobs softly.

"Don't!" Mulder shouts, but it's too late. The cup is at Melissa's mouth, and she tips it back, swallowing its contents.

The poison works its evil magic almost immediately. Mulder reaches the woman and Vernon a mere minute later, but they're already dead. He looks down at Melissa who is clutching the ripped photograph of Sarah Kavanaugh in her wake. He starts to cry and takes the picture. Scully walks in with agents and stares at Mulder, who caresses Melissa's shoulder and looks out onto their field through the window.


November 7th, 1996

"At times, I almost dream.

I, too, have spent a life the sages' way and tread once more familiar paths. Perchance I perished in an arrogant self-reliance an age ago... and in that act, a prayer for one more chance went up so earnest, so... instinct with better light let in by death that life was blotted out not so completely... but scattered wrecks enough of it to remain dim memories... as now... when seems once more... the goal in sight again."

Mulder puts down his pen, and takes out two pictures. He carefully affixes them to the page, spreading out the halves of the ripped photo of the woman.

If his spirit went on, and lived again, which life would his future self recall? The one he's living now, or the one he rejected for being too painful? And which would Scully's future self drudge up under hypnosis? The thought sends a shiver down his spine, but he doesn't know why.

He closes the book when he senses another presence in the room. "What are you doing, Mulder?"

"Journaling."

Scully nods. "My mom does that, mostly family photos with stickers and captions. Can I see?"

"Would you mind if I said no?"

"I don't mind," she tells him. "If you're done, Page is requesting you tell her a bedtime story."

Leaving the book on his desk, he gets up to go to his daughter, but he glances back. It's far more pleasant to delve into the world of talking bunnies and magic than to dwell on the long ago past, yet still he's reluctant to put those thoughts aside.


Chapter Forty

November 12th, 1996

Scully tries not to trip over anything in the cramped, unlit warehouse that hosts the Lone Gunmen. She honestly can't imagine why anyone, even paranoid, delusional conspiracy theorists would suffer themselves to live like, well, computer equipment. Banging her shin into a plastic crate full of God knows what, she hisses a curse under her breath, trying to keep up with her husband carrying their daughter as well as balance her load of little Sammy. This better be good, she thinks grimly.

Ahead, the Gunmen are babbling excitedly. "It's insane, it's like an elaborate and dark conspiracy," Langly says, as they finally reach a blessed patch of light from a desk lamp.

Scully squints at him. "Look at you, you're shaking," she frowns slightly. Maybe it wasn't such a good idea to bring the kids along, but there was no way she was calling a sitter in the middle of the night, and the Gunmen are usually pretty handy with their tips. She holds Sammy close, and finds Mulder unconsciously mimicking her as he shuffles Page in his arms for a more protective embrace while juggling the baby bag.

His light tone belying his actions, he says, "Whoa, whoa, what's going on?"

The bespectacled long-haired blond looks around, the small fluorescent light bouncing off his glasses. "Frohike's around," he says impatiently.

"Don't say my name, stupid," the short man hisses. "Now I have to kill you!"

Scully rolls her eyes, in spite of the seemingly tense situation, even as the suit-wearing Byers tries to reassure the eldest Gunman. "Langly and I performed three sweeps," he says, but is interrupted.

"I don't care," Frohike mutters.

"With the CPM-seven-hundred and did not detect a single bug," Byers finishes patiently, as if the shorter man hadn't interrupted.

Frohike glares at them all. "The CPM-seven-hundred is a piece of crap!" he says, crossing his arms.

"The acoustic correlator is reading only passive sounds," Byers tries again, practically shoving the odd contraption in the skeptic's face.

Mulder's impatience is wearing thin, and as Page starts to sniffle from the tension, he snaps, "I've been here twenty minutes and I still don't know what the hell is wrong! No one would kill you, Frohike, you're just a little puppy-dog." Okay, maybe a pug or bulldog, but who's counting, the tall agent thinks.

"I don't utter another syllable until the CSM-twenty-five countermeasure filter is activated," Frohike says obstinately, his arms still crossed firmly over his leather-vested chest.

Scully wonders why she's tempted to laugh, until she sees he reminds her of Page in her more bull-headed moods. Oh dear. Biting her bottom lip to keep hysterical giggles down, she watches as Byers hands Langly the first doodad, only to fiddle with another one. Where do they get these things? she wonders, then remembers how borderline these men are and it would be wise not to question too deeply where they get their equipment or information.

"No electronic surveillance known can cut through the CSM-twenty-five," Byers says confidently as Langly sighs over the rejected piece of spyware detection.

Scully, seeing everyone's feathers are unruffled now, finds an empty chair and sits down, relieved to take a load off her high-heeled feet. "All right, now tell us what on earth you're so close to."

Frohike pauses. "Not a 'what.' A who. If you find the right starting point and follow it, not even secrets of the darkest of men are safe."

Mulder almost grins as his wife's eyebrow comes up, right on cue. "Cancer Man? Really?"

Frohike nods. "Pretty much everything," he says smugly. "Perhaps even his background." He pauses, as if listening for something, then continues. "Who he is, and who he wants to be." He smiles as Scully's eyebrow remains clocked at the upright position, while Mulder and the little girl sit forward with the same eager attention a storyteller craves from an audience. In an almost conversational tone, he starts off, "August twentieth, 1940, Mexico City. A Stalinist agent assassinated Leon Trotsky with an ice pick. At that same moment, a thousand miles north, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, he appears. The father was an ardent Communist activist. During the Nazi-Soviet pact, he kept the N.K.V.D. informed about American plans to enter World War II. He was executed under the Espionage Act of 1917... before his boy could walk."

Then he remembers little kids are listening. "Hey, the jellybeans can keep a secret, right?" Frohike asks.

Mulder snorts. "You're lucky Page hasn't gotten around to asking 'why' questions yet," he says, "go on." He ignores his wife's long-suffering sigh, even as he whispers to his daughter, "Uncle Frohike's telling the story of a very bad man."

"Ohhh," Page says, and is silent. She's too sleepy to bother with the details, and for that, Mulder and Scully are grateful.

Clearing his throat, Frohike goes on, but his tone is like that of adults reading a fairy tale to children. "The mother, a cigarette smoker, died of lung cancer... before her son uttered his first word. With no surviving family, he became a ward of the state, sent to various orphanages in the Midwest. Didn't make friends, spent all his time reading... alone... and then... he appears to have vanished... until a year and a half after the Bay of Pigs."

"Pigs," Page giggles, and Mulder grins back at her, bouncing her on his leg. What? he mouths silently to Scully, who indulges herself in another eye roll, but she isn't protesting just yet.


Once Frohike winds the story to a close, Scully stares at him in disbelief. "You're kidding, right?" she says. "You're saying the Cancer Man was the lone gunman?"

Langly holds up his hands. "Hey, our sources are legit," he says, "we wouldn't be taking these precautions, or dragging you out in the middle of the night, if they weren't."

"I'm sure," Scully says dryly, thankful that Sammy hasn't stirred awake yet. Unfortunately, it looks like Mulder's swallowed the damn theory whole.

"But that ain't all, kids," Frohike says, rubbing his hands.

"Before you go on," Scully says, "I need to warm up a bottle for Sammy," she says, "he'll probably be hungry in about an hour." She's got a sinking feeling they'll be sticking around for that time period, if not longer.

"Oh," Byers says, "of course. This way." And, as if he's a butler, he leads Scully to the kitchen.

Once they're there, it gives her some relief and worry at the same time. She's relieved that Sammy has something to drink and that the Gunmen actually have a decent kitchen, but worried that three bachelors keep it so tidy. Looking at them, she'd guess that only Byers would be neat, but can't see how he'd prevail over the other two to clean it. It's hard enough cleaning up after the kids and Mulder, too. "Byers, this is a lovely kitchen," she says, gingerly taking the heated bottle from the boiling pot of water.

He nods, understanding. "Actually, Frohike's in charge of the kitchen," he says, "he's really a fine cook, and doesn't let anyone get away with anything in here." He smiles. "One of these days, you should try his quesadillas."

She raises her eyebrows but smiles. "If he won't mind our family adding to the hungry mouths," she says.

"Oh, no, he'd do anything for you," and adds hastily, "all."

Her smile widens. "Of course," she says, and pretends not to notice the sigh of relief that escapes the primly-dressed man. "I think we should get some snacks for everyone else, too, since it seems we're going to be here for a while."

Byers blinks, then nods, grabbing snacks from a higher-than-she-can-reach cupboard, then pulling a six-pack of soda from the fridge. Duly armed, he leads her back out into the unofficial conference room.

They, and the food and drinks, are greeted with a muffled cheer, since Page has just fallen asleep. Settling down with a burrito in one hand and a can of Coke in the other, Frohike grins and resumes his story in a hushed tone. "As the man we now know and loathe as the Cancer Man listens to Martin Luther King junior on the radio, he's busy typing away on a pulp story."

Scully shakes her head, taking a judicious sip of soda. JFK, and now MLK. Maybe somebody's getting ambitious in the conspiracy theory set.


Mulder frowns. "He hates the Buffalo Bills?"

Scully looks at him, a little stunned. "Mulder, I don't think that's what's important," she mutters.

Mulder's shaking his head. "I can't believe he hates the Bills," he repeats, then a thought comes to him. There's one Bill he dislikes in particular, which reminds him of -- his father. Oh. *That* Bill. Damn. Not like he's gonna share it with the rest of the class.

Frohike sighs, exasperated. "I'm not done yet," he says, "can I continue?"

Mulder puts a hand up. "Sorry, guys, nature's calling," he says, "um, one of you mind taking her?" Page is a dead weight in his arms, but he's not about to saddle Scully with two sleeping kids.

Langly shakes his head quickly, and Byers scoots back nervously, leaving only Frohike. "All right, all right," he says ungraciously, taking the sleeping girl in his arms. "Don't take too long."

Mulder grins. "You don't want me to wash my hands?" He exits before Scully can think of an appropriate retort at this ungodly hour.

When he returns, Scully is having a semi-hushed debate with the Gunmen about microwaving versus boiling water to heat bottled milk. Now Mulder raises his eyebrows as he reclaims his daughter, but none of the guys bother to defend themselves on this seemingly matriarchal issue, only underlining their positions on the heating bottles battle.

"Um," Mulder says, shifting his daughter for a more comfortable position without giving her a stiff neck, "could we get back to the Cancer Man thing?"

"Sure," Frohike says, "all I'm saying is that it makes more sense to do it on the stove," he finishes off his argument.

"You're just sayin' that 'cause Agent Scully says so," Langly whines.

"Guys," Mulder says in a warning tone. "You're gonna wake the kids." And you're acting like 'em, too, he wants to add.

"Okay, so at this point, I'm guessing Ol' Smokey and his friends might have been desperate," Frohike says, "like a certain blond acquaintance of mine."

"Frohike," Scully sighs, absently patting Sammy's back.

He takes her warning more seriously. "At that point, Mulder's work in the basement was getting attention on the top floor. That's why you were brought in," he tells her. Then he warms to his story again, retelling of Mulder and Scully's first meeting, reminding her afresh of the Smoking Man's presence even then, and she shudders, Sammy stirring a little in her arms.

Mulder, for his part, doesn't appreciate his life being turned into a chapter, much less a footnote, in that bastard's story, but he knows he's a part of it all the same, more than Scully or the others realize. He sighs, hoping and praying that none of his children will ever be touched by the tainted hand of that sick, twisted old man who would sacrifice his wife and daughter to unfeeling aliens and warped human scientists. And swears again that he will not be like either of his fathers when it comes to their families, never. He doesn't realize he's practically squeezing Page until she struggles against him, and guiltily eases his grip.

The snacks are gone, but nobody's making a move to refill. Frohike leans back against the computer-filled desk. "Henry David Thoreau wrote, 'The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.' "He smiles, but it doesn't quite reach his tired eyes. "His life has been anything but quiet, yet I believe nothing but desperate. He's the most dangerous man alive, not so much because he believes in his actions, but because he believes his actions are all which life allows him." He pauses, taking a sip of Coke. "And yet... the only person that can never escape him... is himself."


"So that's it?" Scully asks, an unchecked yawn escaping her mouth as she continues to bottle-feed Sammy.

Frohike nods, not insulted by her monster yawn. "So far, this is based only on a story I read in one of my weekly subscriptions that rang a bell. I'm going out to check on the private hacker source that has been working on tracking a few leads that can produce definitive proof, and then we'll have him nailed." He stretches and absently checks his watch. His demeanor changes into one of slight alarm. "Speaking of which, we have a source to check," he says, "could you leave by the front door?" The federal couple blink at him. "That's a door you can lock, this back door, well, we need to lock it up. Grab your gear, guys, it's funky poaching time." The other two Gunmen do just that, leaving the small family alone.

Scully across at her husband, who is picking up the baby bag in a tired, almost mechanical fashion. "Well, that was bizarre," she says dryly. "And almost a sad story," the redhead muses, "but then I remember what an asshole he is, and I don't feel so bad."

Mulder grins. "That's what I love about you, Scully," he says, "always putting things in a diplomatic way."

She glares, also standing. "I'm tired, I've just heard a crazy story that links one man to several conspiracies in a less than coherent fashion, and in a couple of hours, Sammy will be wide awake and I'll be dead on my feet." She yawns again, then smiles. "I wonder if they'll be renaming themselves?"

Mulder laughs, causing Page to stir a little. "I don't think so," he says, "I think they'll always be the Lone Gunmen."

She shakes her head, carefully navigating her way back through the darkness of the warehouse. "Now *that's* kind of sad," she remarks.

"Not really, there's actually a good story behind their name," he says as they reach their car. As he opens the door for her, she smothers another yawn. "For another time, maybe."


November 24, 1996
11:29 p.m.

Unable to sleep, Mulder stares down the clock. It blinks first, and rolls over to 11:30. He glances over his shoulder, and sees that Scully is curled up into a little ball, with her back to his. He doesn't blame her, because the day has been damp, and it got into his bones too. For a moment he considers getting up and checking on Sammy and Page, but he knows that it's just a diversionary tactic, so he won't have to think about what happened earlier in the day.

One hand over his mouth to stifle a groan, he lets the past two days play out in his mind.


Bosher's Run Park; Manassas, Virginia
November 22, 1996
5 a.m.

Because he knew the truth, he thought he'd avoid this episode in his life, but as soon as he woke up from the dream about the dancing red dot that lead him to a body, he realized that he may have moved on, but John Lee Roche hasn't. He's still guilty, still hasn't received justice.

So Mulder leaves a note for Scully and slips out of the house before dawn, and waits until he gets to his car to make a call to an excavator. He knows that she'll probably wake and look for him before long, but he feels generous, giving her a few extra minutes of sleep, even if it means that he's likely to be yelled at for wandering off without letting her know.

Unsurprisingly, he's kneeling in the dirt when he feels a not-too-gentle hand on his shoulder. He looks up at his wife with a grim smile. "It doesn't count as ditching if you're not awake when it happens."

"I don't remember agreeing to that rule," she says evenly. "You're damn lucky that Rachel is a night owl, since I might have had to kill you if I couldn't get someone to look after the kids. What's going on here?"

:: Note to self, Christmas bonus for Rachel:: He thinks. "I'm not sure I can explain, Scully."

"You drove all the way out here and called for a forensic excavation at five A.M. on a Sunday? What are you looking for?"

"Just give me a minute, Scully, okay?"

"Mulder, what are you doing out here?"

"I keep having this dream. It's about a little blonde girl." He anticipates her question and adds, "Not Page." ::Or Emily either, thank god.::

She yawns. "You're saying that you're out here because of something you saw in a dream?" She doesn't look surprised when he nods, and he's not sure how he should feel about the fact that his wife is so used to his quirks. It makes him feel naked somehow, even though he's fully clothed.

The excavator shouts to Mulder, and he and Scully run over. She looks surprised, but he's just sad when they see that the excavator has uncovered a small human skull.

Mulder watches as the excavator is unearths the skeleton, scooping out the dirt around it. A grid has been placed over it to separate areas.

Scully looks up from the skeleton and pins him with a look. "So, tell me about this dream that found us a body."

"I've had... flashes of it before. And last night, it went on long enough to lead me right to her."

He interrupts himself and walks towards the two excavators. "I need the chest exposed."

"Yes, sir. It just takes a little time."

Mulder picks up some rubber gloves and kneels down where the second excavator was, who got up and walked away.

The remaining excavator is flustered by his action. "Sir, let us do that... sir..." Mulder ignores him and digs in the dirt with his hands.

"Mulder, if you destroy evidence, we may never find out what happened here," Scully warns.

"I know what happened here. She was strangled. He used an eight-gauge electrical cord. He took something from the body post-mortem... a trophy. A piece of fabric cut from her clothes... in the shape of a heart."

"You're saying you got all these details from your dream?"

"No. I know this M.O. I know it from memory."

"Whose M.O.?"

"John Lee Roche. He killed thirteen eight-to-ten year-old girls." He's been digging gently as they talk, and now he exposes the chest partly, revealing ivory colored ribs, over which is a nightgown with a cloth heart cut out. "This makes fourteen."

Scully's look is one of horror that he seldom sees her wear around the dead, but then, most of the dead they see aren't small girls.


Autopsy Lab

Having briefed Scully about the case he'd had that put John Lee Roche away, he sits silently after the brief autopsy, staring at the skeleton of the girl. Her ribs have separated, and something about that makes Mulder wince, even though he knows it caused the child no pain. His eyes are focused on the cut out space where the cloth heart used to make the nightgown whole.

Scully comes back after a phone call. "I believe her name is Addie Sparks. She went missing from her home in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, in June of 1975. I contacted the Center For Missing and Exploited Children, ran a search through the database."

"1975 is too early."

She shakes her head in disagreement. "The match is right, Mulder. The, the, the height is right, the description of the sleeper is right."

"That would mean Roche started way before we thought he did. I screwed up."

Her eyes tell him that he's being too hard on himself, but he disagrees. "Mulder, we're going to have to verify this. Are you up for that?"

"Let's get this over with," he says shortly. "This isn't news anyone wants to hear."


Norristown, Pennsylvania

Mulder and Scully pull up to the house of Frank Sparks. Children are playing nearby. Mulder uses the knocker and Sparks opens the door.

"Frank Sparks?" Scully asks in a polite, businesslike tone, which feels all wrong to Mulder. They're their to talk about killing a faint hope, not to sell girl scout cookies.

Unaware, mister Sparks greets them with a friendly glance. "Can I help you?"

"Yes, I'm Agent Scully, this is Agent Mulder. We're with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. May we speak with you?"

Realization blooms in his eyes at a speed that saddens Mulder. "You found Addie?"

Frank rubs the small pocket with a dollar sign stitched in that was found with the body.

"This was for the tooth fairy," he tells them, his voice husky with unshed tears. "When Addie was asleep at night, I'd... I'd come and put a quarter in this pocket. Her mother sewed it."

Mulder gives him a sorrowful look that Scully misses. The tooth fairy only serves to remind all three of them just how young the child was when she died.

"Where is your wife, sir?" Scully asks.

"She passed away last summer." His eyes drift away for a moment, lost in his thoughts, before he turns back to them with a half desperate look. "So, you, you, uh... you're saying the, uh...the man that did this is already in prison."

"Yes, sir, and he won't get out," Mulder tells him, wondering what he should do with Roche now, considering how close to tragedy releasing him came to last time.

"You do this full-time, telling people... this kind of news?" Sparks asks.

"No, sir, not full-time," Scully tells him, and Mulder adds that it's not a desirable job.

"I used to think... that missing was worse than dead because... You never knew what happened. Now that I know... I'm glad my wife's not here. She got luckier."

Mulder's gave passes over a picture of a little girl on the mantel; he can't think of anything to say in reply.

"How many more people, uh... like me are you going to visit today?" Sparks asks. "Were there other victims... you didn't know about?"

Neither agent can formulate a good answer. Scully, because she doesn't know, and Mulder because he can't deal with talking about the two hearts that they'll soon find.

Afterwards, Sparks closes the door as they start back to their car. Predictably, Mulder sees the white car with the red dot on it that he saw in his dream.

"Roche's car... Roche drove a white El Camino, Scully. I saw it in my dream."

"What are you saying that means?" Scully asks.

"The cloth hearts he collected, he would have wanted to keep them close to him. For a traveling salesman, that means inside the car, right? He'd want his soulviners close so he could relive the experience whenever he wanted to. Not that it would be enough to do that..."He let his voice drift off, knowing she'd think of the man's urge to kill, too.

"You're saying the hearts might still be in his car?"

"Well, he doesn't have them in prison, the cell is searched regularly, his mail is examined. His car was sold at auction in 1992, put beyond his reach. It's worth a look, Scully. We've got to find those hearts in order to count them."

"Don't you think the car might have been searched at least once already?"

"Not by me."


Lorton Reformatory
Lorton, Virginia

Mulder and Scully deposit their weapons with a guard and are lead to a basketball court where Roche is shooting baskets by himself. He tears his eyes away from the hoop long enough to give Mulder a quick once-over. There's no hint of surprise on his face that he's seeing the man who put him in prison.

"Mulder. Long time, no see. You got a new partner."

"Agent Scully," Mulder acknowledges.

"Agent is pretty formal. From what I hear she shares more than your office." Mulder grits his teeth, annoyed that someone slipped that information to the inmate. "So what's up?" Roche is still aiming shots at the basket, as if there's nothing unusual going on.

"We found Addie Sparks, John."

"Congratulations, I guess."

"We also found your cloth hearts. All sixteen of them."

"Huh." His voice is casual, but there's a spark of interest in his voice.

"Sixteen victims, John," Mulder says. "How come you only said there were only thirteen?"

The ball sinks in the hoop. "I don't know. Thirteen sounds more magical, you know?"

"Why don't you tell us about your last two victims, then?"

"You're in here for life, you've got nothing to lose," Scully adds.

The prisoner shrugs. "And nothing to gain."

"You can gain one moment of decency in your life. You can finally let those families put their daughters to rest."

"I understand you take this very personally, Mulder." His look is sly. "I also hear that you know something about being a daddy. Gotta be tough, telling other daddies that their daughters are dead." The next shot bounces off the rim.

Mulder is speechless with rage, and wants nothing more than to track down whoever leaked the information and kill them.

"How about this?" Roche asks as he spins the basketball on his finger. "Sink one from there and I'll tell you all about the other two girls."

Knowing that it's futile, Mulder sinks the basketball anyway.

"You'd trust a child molester?" Roche asks, giving him a look of mock surprise. "You bring my hearts and give them back to me... I'll tell you everything you want to know."


Later

Mulder is already sitting at a table when a buzzing noise alerts him that Roche is coming in.

"Did you bring me my hearts?" The eager look that Roche can't quite hide turns Mulder's stomach.

"Yesterday, you said something about me taking it personally. Why did you say that to me? "Roche smirks at him. "Where were you in 1973?"

"What, the whole year?"

"November. Twenty-seventh of November. Do you know what I'm getting at?"

"I was selling vacuum cleaners in 1973. I made a sales trip to Martha's Vineyard that year and... I sold a vacuum cleaner to your dad. He bought it for your mom. I believe it was a, um... Electrovac Duchess or the Princess model and... your dad and I talked about it at great length. He... he had a really hard time choosing."

"What do you know about my sister?"

"You bring me my hearts... and maybe I'll tell you more."

Figuring it can't get him in any more trouble than the last time around, Mulder follows though on his impulse to punch Roche in the face. It makes him feel a little better about relieving the case.

Looking shocked, Roche sputters to the guard. "This man... this man hit me."

The guard says he saw nothing, but Scully is furious because she did.

"He was there, Scully. He was in the house. He took Samantha."

"In your dream, Mulder. It was a dream. Your mind made it up."

"A dream is an answer to a question we haven't yet figured out how to ask, right? Something buried in your subconscious. You heard him in there, he knew something. He mentioned being on Martha's Vineyard."

"Is it a state secret you lived in Martha's Vineyard?"

"Well, how would he find out about that?" Mulder asks.

"Through the prison library. The inmates have access to computers and the internet. I checked. Roche logged on just yesterday."

They stop walking. "Looking for what?"

"The server records don't show, but on the net, Mulder, he can find out practically anything about you. Look, he is playing with you, Mulder. Not only is he making you think of your sister, he's trying to make it personal now by bating you by mentioning that he knows about your personal life. He is committing emotional blackmail and you are letting him. You walked into that room with your heart on your sleeve. He saw vulnerability, and he took advantage of it. You had a dream... a nightmare... and you, and you had it because of all the emotions that this case is stirring up for you. But... it was nothing but a dream."

"My last dream came true. Scully, do you believe that my sister Samantha was abducted by aliens?"

Scully looks away. "Have you ever believed that? No. So what do you think happened to her?"

"What are you saying you believe now?"

"I don't know. I don't know what happened. I don't know what to believe. I just know that I have to find out now."


The Following Day

Roche pulls up a seat and stares angrily at Mulder, who is seated across from him.

"I'm not talking to you if you're going to hit me again."

Scully looks at Mulder as well, who pulls out the two remaining cloth hearts and puts them down in front of Roche. Roche pulls open the bag and is about to pull out the heart when Mulder grabs his hand.

"No. You don't get to touch them. They stay in the bag. Name them."

"I think you know one of them already."

They stare at each other.

"Prove it," Scully demands, and Roche smiles.

"Watergate was on TV. You and your sister... were sitting in front of it... playing a board game with, uh, little red and, uh... blue plastic pieces. And you wanted to watch a TV show... the one, the one with Bill Bixby? What the heck was the name of that thing?"

"How could you know what I said?" Mulder asked.

"I was watching... from the window. I was, I was very careful."

"If that's true, tell me where my sister is."

Roche looks down at the hearts. "Pick her out."

"What?"

"You choose the one that was your sister, and I'll tell you where she is. Hey, come on, it's a fifty-fifty chance."

Roche moves the bagged hearts until they are side-by-side in front of Mulder. "Either way, I'm giving you a victim."

The world seems to stop for a moment while Mulder ponders his choices. He could pick the heart on the right, and go down the same path again, one that would lead to something near to murder in a bus, or he could pick the other heart. He knows it's not his sister either, but it's still a hard choice. Which family does he find the truth for? Which one does he gamble away their chance for peace?

Mulder picks the one to his left. :: Fuck it. I'll tell Scully I had another dream and it told me where the body I know the location of is. This way he still loses.::

"That one? You're sure you want that one?" Roche teases.

Mulder gives him a triumphant look that seems to confuse the murderer. "It's a good choice. Okay, you want to write this down?"


Autopsy Lab

Mulder stands at the far end of the room, looking at the body, which is covered.

"Mulder?"

"It's not her, Scully."

"You're right, Mulder, it's not a match. It's not her."

"It's somebody, though."


Lorton Reformatory
Lorton, Virginia

"It was a fifty-fifty chance."

"Tell us the name of that girl."

" It was Cynthia Saint Claire," Roche tells him with a gleeful look. "She lived in a green rancher in... East Amherst, New York. Mint grew outside her window. I stood outside her window atop sprigs of mint. It smelled wonderful."

Scully is clearly angered by his attitude and nearly hisses. "What year?"

"July... 1974. I had her mother on the hook for an Electrovac Argosy, but at the last minute, she said "thanks but no thanks."

Scully looks up at him, no flicker of emotion now.

"Oh, well. I could have used the commission."

They sit in silence for a few seconds, the agents glaring at him. Mulder pulls out the last fabric heart. He slides it across and Roche picks it up, studies it, and slides it back.

"It's your sister."

Mulder plays along. "If that's true, tell me where."

"You want to know a lot more than that, don't you? You want to know everything, right? The big mystery revealed."

"Drop the mind games," Scully barks.

"I can't just tell you. I know you don't believe me. You need me to show you, you need me to lead you through because...after all these years, anything less than that's not going to satisfy you, right?"

"You just want to get out of here," Mulder says.

"You're damn right I do... if only for a day or two. I'm realistic. And more than that, I... I can't wait to see your face."

"Oh, God..." Scully says, standing. "You're going to see the inside of your cell instead! You're going to rot there!"

"Guess the wife doesn't like the idea of me being free, Mulder," Roche says. "I thought you'd manage a woman better than this." He's clearly enjoying antagonizing the FBI. "If you don't mind, I'd rather you keep her home when we go and find your sister."

Mulder's next words wipe the smirk off of Roche's face. "Karen Ann Philiponte."

"Who?" Roche's face is suddenly guarded.

"Your sixteenth victim. She's buried in a state park in Forks Of Cacapon, West Virginia."

"That's not...Who told you that?" Roche squawks.

Mulder taps at his head. "We have a connection, you and I. I know all your dirty little secrets. Now that I've sent a team out to search, the world knows them too. You don't have any more cards, Roche. You played your last hand and didn't even know it."

Roche's glare is filled with hate. "I will get out someday. And when I do, I'm going to find you, and I'm going to take your daughter from your house."

"You'd be dead before you made it to the window," Mulder says calmly. "If I find out that you're ever given parole, I'll make sure that it's a very short one. You can consider that a promise."

"You're threatening me?"

"Warning you."

"If I tell- "

"How sympathetic do you think a parole board would be after knowing that you threatened to murder an FBI agent's child if you were ever released?"

Roche opens his mouth, but nothing comes out. Rage is still burning in his eyes when he closes his mouth and turns his back to the two agents who are getting up to leave.


As they walk out of the prison, Scully touches his arm. "I'm sorry, Mulder."

"For what?"

"Because you still don't have the answer you've been searching for. Because I thought that you were going to take him up on his offer and let him out of jail -"

"I'd like to think that sort of recklessness is behind me," Mulder tells her, ignoring her look of disbelief. "At least when it comes to convicted child murderers."

"How did you know where the other body was buried?"

"It came to me in another dream," Mulder tells her glibly.

A mischievous glint lights Scully's eyes. "You and Missy are going to have so much to talk about at Thanksgiving."

"You wouldn't tell her. Scully??"

"Just where child molesters are concerned?"

"Well, maybe a lowering of recklessness in general."

"Sell me another bridge, Mulder."


November 24, 1996
10:07 p.m.

"You still awake?" Scully asks as she sits on the bed.

He puts aside the book he was reading. "I was going to bed soon, but if you'd rather I didn't-" He gives her a come-hither look.

The sober look he gets in return ices his libido. "I was just watching the news, Mulder. You don't need to talk to the parole board, now or ever."

"Why not?"

"They found Roche dead in the showers tonight. Apparently revisiting his case informed inmates not previously in the know that he was a child murderer..."

"Justice finds its own way," Mulder murmurs. "I can't say that he didn't come to a fitting end."

Scully pats his thigh. "And you did find the last three victims. Think of it Mulder, he'll never hurt anyone again, and you've given people the thread they need to sew their wounds that have gapped all these years."

"Have you been reading poetry again?" Mulder teases.

"Just Where the Sidewalk Ends."

He gives her a mock disproving look. "I don't think you should read that stuff to Page."

"Why not?"

"Because the guy also writes erotica. It's oogy."

"Oogy?" A smile plays over her lips.

"It is. You should read her TS Eliot if you're going to inflict poetry on a helpless toddler. At least ole' TS knew enough not to dip his pen into multiple genres."

"She wouldn't understand a word of his poetry."

"Do you really think she understands Shel Silverstein? I'm not sure I do..."


November 24, 1996
11:49 p.m.

When the lights went out, a thought crept into Mulder's head, and burrowed into the back of his brain. He tried to pull it out but it held on with sharp claws.

Roche being dead was still his fault.

He didn't pull the trigger, but just the same, his re-involvement with the case lead to the same ending.

If he'd felt guilty, he could have probably accepted it and moved on, but he felt relieved, and more than a little bit satisfied. You weren't supposed to be glad when anyone died, but he was, and it showed him a part of himself that he didn't even know existed.


Chapter Forty-One

December 6th, 1996

Standing before the court, her stomach feels like a hurricane and her legs feel like jelly. Still, her back is straight, her chin is up, and her eyes, as her father once said, are like twin gun turrets as they face the men behind the bench. "I, Dana Katherine Scully, swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God." The gavel bangs, and she sits down. "I would like to read from a prepared statement." She barely hears the senator give the go-ahead, and, forcing her hands not to shake, she reads from a paper, "I left behind a career in medicine to become an FBI agent four years ago because I believed in this country. Because I wanted to uphold its laws, to punish the guilty and to protect the innocent. I still believe in this country. But I believe that there are powerful men in the government who do not. . . . men who have no respect for the law and who flout it with impunity. I have come to the conclusion that it is no longer possible..."

"Agent Scully-- this is not a soapbox, Miss Scully. Your statement will be entered into the record," a very disgruntled Chairman Romine interrupts her.

She almost thanks him for the pause, as she fears her voice was starting to shake. In as even a tone as possible, she says firmly, "With all due respect, Mr. Chairman, I would like to finish."

"This is not why we are here today."

She raises an eyebrow. "Then why are we here, sir?" The way she says "sir"is how some people would say "idiot," but the chairman ignores the rebuff.

"Agent Scully, do you or do you not know the whereabouts of Agent Mulder? Are you or are you not aware of Agent Mulder's present location?" Sen. Sorenson asks, joining the fun.

Now why the hell would you care? Scully fumes inwardly. "I respectfully decline to answer that question," she says aloud.

"Ms. Scully, you cannot refuse to answer that question," the chairman rebukes her.

"I believe answering that question could endanger Agent Mulder's life," she answers, likewise ignoring the chairman's use of "Ms." rather than "Agent" or even "Mrs."

The chairman purses his lips briefly, as if holding back a few choice words, then says, "You don't seem to understand. Your response is not optional; you are an agent of the FBI."

Duh, the redhead thinks, it's about time you remembered that. "Then if I could please finish my statement... that it is no longer possible to carry out my duties as an FBI agent," she reads aloud.

The senator has even less of a grasp of protocol than she does. "Are you tendering your resignation, Ms. Scully? Is that what you're trying to say?" he butts in.

She looks at him evenly. No, evenly would imply an equality of sorts, and she looks at him with more contempt than she would a bug in her house. "No, sir. What I am saying is that there is a culture of lawlessness that has prevented me from doing my job. That the real target of this committee's investigation should be the men who are beyond prosecution and punishment. The men whose policies are behind the crimes that you are investigating."

"Either you tell us what you know about Agent Mulder's whereabouts, or you will be held in contempt of Congress," Sen. Sorenson snaps.

Scully stares at him, praying inwardly, Lord, I know I haven't been that faithful. But I pray that you bring Mulder back safe and sound, that I won't be separated from my sweet babies too long, that Mom will be okay watching the kids, and that all the men on this stupid interrogation gets a rash in embarrassing places like nobody's business. Okay, maybe not the last part, but please, please, Lord, keep my family safe. She thinks of her insane husband and holds back a sigh, intent on keeping her game face steady in front of her accusers.

"Agent Scully?" the senator prompts her.

Please, bring Mulder home and I'll have the kids baptized, she prays desperately, please!


November 25th, 1996

It seems like a million years ago, but they'd caught Krycek in a homegrown terrorist bust. He'd told Mulder and herself about the men behind the assassination attempt on Mulder's dad, as well as the ones who left him in a North Dakota nuclear well. And then he promised to lead them to a new "bomb", a payoff that involved an international courier.

Krycek is still in his old clothes, while they'd showered and changed out of their SWAT gear. Another difference is that Krycek is handcuffed, but those are hidden under his sweatshirt as he leads them to the courier who, he says, will be carrying a diplomatic pouch. They see the man and give chase, Mulder handcuffing Krycek to a nearby railing. They lose the guy, but find the pouch.

"Is this some kind of joke?" Scully snaps, waving the pouch as they go back to the former agent.

"What?" Krycek asks, obviously ignorant.

"Let me expose it for you," Mulder says, grabbing the pouch from his wife and unzipping it to reveal a rock. "What did you get for Halloween, Charlie Brown?" he deadpans, rezipping it. Nobody notices his slightly pale demeanor, but his anger is evident as he storms off.


After dropping Krycek off at the all-too-willing Skinner's apartment for some much needed heart-to-heart, Mulder and Scully leave the rock at the Department of Exobiology in the NASA-Goddard Space Flight Center. Much as he enjoys Dr. Sacks' revelation that the rock came from Mars via Antarctica, he cautions the good doctor to use the utmost in precautions, remembering what happened the last time. Scully turns to look at him. "The entry into Earth's atmosphere would kill off most bacteria and microbes, Mulder," she says, "anything they can find about that rock would have to come from inside."

He nods. "Call it a hunch, Scully, but I think what's inside that rock is what Krycek and his unexposed men want." And I don't want you or anyone else getting exposed to what's inside. "Indulge my paranoia a little," he turns to Dr. Sacks, "and check your biohazard suits for any wear and tear." He smiles a little. "It could be nothing, or it could be something."

The scientist looks at Scully, who shrugs a little. "Like he said, indulge him."

Dr. Sacks frowns, then nods.


Meanwhile, back in the basement office, Mulder hangs up the phone. Dammit, he thinks, I can't save Skinner, even as his wife walks in. They go through what, to him, is a familiar conversation, until he says, "Why all this effort to get it onto U.S. soil? I think what Alex Krycek has given us is the pivotal piece to an even larger plot." And then he remembers his stay in the Russian gulag and vows not to get caught in that same trap, now that the stakes at home are higher.

Unaware of the events that transpired previously, Scully says, "What he's given us, Mulder, is a rock. Alex Krycek is a liar and a murderer."

Got that right, Mulder thinks, but says aloud, "Who wants to expose the same men that we do and will go to any lengths to succeed."

Scully looks at him levelly. "What I'm worried about is you, Mulder and how far you'll go. And how far I can follow you." She looks down at the ring on her finger. "Promise me you'll never go farther than I can follow."

"I," Mulder says, but his voice catches. I don't want you chasing after Krycek, he thinks, I don't want you in harm's way. I don't want to lose you. But I know you don't want to lose me, too. Dammit. "Scully, sometimes I wonder if you're farther ahead than I thought," he says as he goes to her.

"Mulder," she says, as he kisses her forehead. "Remember we're in this together."

He murmurs his agreement. "I know," he says before they kiss. He wants to savor this moment before everything goes to hell like he knows it will.


And go to hell it does, as Skinner tries to explain a dead body to the cops, Krycek leads him astray, and Dr. Sacks, ignoring the well-meaning caution, ends up in a vegetative state due to the black oil oozing from the rock leaking into his not-quite sealed suit. Fortunately, Scully and Pendrell have secure biohazard suits, and as they reveal their findings to him, his heart sinks. Dammit all, he thinks, I really don't want to have black oil dancing in my DNA again, getting taken over earlier was enough, as he makes travel arrangements with Covarrubias and drags a handcuffed, temporarily useful Krycek with him.

I hope this works, he thinks, as he calls Scully one last time out of Krycek's hearing. "Scully, I'm with Krycek," he says, as she starts to babble about Dr. Sacks. "Don't -- No -- Just listen to me," he says finally when she realizes he's not going to listen. "I'm with Krycek. It'll be a while. Be careful. I love you." And he hangs up, turning around to see Krycek trying to escape his bonds again. Brother, he thinks, getting back inside the car.


That idiot, Scully fumes as she hangs up. If Krycek leads him to a whole mineful of those rocks, or God knows what else, my husband will be in a persistent coma for what? The truth? Aliens? Some sick game that shadowy men are playing? As she and Skinner are called in before Sen. Sorenson, her mind spins. Mulder never says something like "I love you" unless it's important or in intimate context. And this was far from intimate. What's going on, Mulder, she wants to shout, why can't I come with you?

After the senator and Skinner grill her, one for dubious reasons, the other for illumination and ass-saving, she has an idea why Mulder wants to keep her in the dark. And that idea is driving her nuts and giving her shivers. Dammit, Mulder.

She can't answer the question "Where is Mulder?" without driving a nail through her husband's reputation or her own. So she simply says, "May I make a phone call?"

Both Skinner and the senator give her blank looks. She takes that as a yes, and dials. "Mom, it's me," she says, "please look after Page and Sammy for me. This might take a while. Thanks." She'd call up Rachel, but has a feeling that if something out of the ordinary happened, the nanny would do something stupid that would put them all in danger, and she needs to know at least her babies will come through this all right. Dammit, Mulder, where the hell are you, she thinks, fuming.


Meanwhile, back in Mama Russia, Krycek is thrown into jail. He wonders briefly what happened to that idiot Mulder, but then his worries about the FBI agent are replaced by worries about himself. *"I need to speak to someone!" * he yells in Russian, banging the cell bars. He grins fiercely when a guard approaches. *"Your supervisor will want to see me," * he says in upper-class Russian.

The guard looks at him suspiciously. He thought they'd imprisoned an American. *"Why would he want to see you?"*

Krycek grins, in spite of the bloody mess that he is. *"Because I know things."*

The guard stares at him, then unlocks the door. *"If he is displeased, you will die."*

Krycek, just glad to be free, answers back cockily, *"Trust me, he will not be disappointed."*


Scully's worry increases as she watches the comatose form of Dr. Sacks. Please let Mulder be okay, she prays, and please let us find out what the hell is wrong with Sacks. And please don't let whatever infected Sacks get us, too. If the last case with Roche had her praying for her babies' safety, this case has her worried about herself and Mulder's. Well, I got myself into this, she muses as she answers Pendrell's concerns which mirror her own, but I'll be damned if my babies have to suffer as a result. "Are you seeing anything?" she asks Pendrell hopefully.

"The blood in the carotid artery looks slightly thickened... Possibly due to the decreased heart rate and blood pressure," he answers in a slightly distracted voice, his concentration more on what he sees through the microscope, but then he sounds startled. "Now what's this? What the hell is this?"

"What is it?" she asks, crowding next to him.

"I don't know," he frowns, "It looks like it's concentrated around his pineal body." Much as he enjoys the other woman's company, he knows she's married, and forces himself to voice his suspicion. "I think it's alive," he says as she replaces him at the microscope.

"It looks like a nest....some type of black vermiform organism attached to the pineal gland." She squints. This isn't the Holy Grail, but it's better than nothing, she thinks, we're close, but what exactly is it?


Meanwhile, back in Mama Russia, Mulder has ditched Krycek. There's no way he's letting himself get caught for the second time, and he watches from his temporary hideout as the treacherous Krycek gets hauled off to the death camp. He'd like to rescue the mysterious prisoner and former geologist who gave him the shiv the last time, but he knows there's no way of entering that gulag and coming out black oil-free. I thought I had more time to plan this out, he thinks, but that thing with Roche took some of my time, and now this. Dammit. Now Scully's facing the black oil and a senate subcommittee all by herself again. I hope she didn't leave the kids with Rachel, and with that worrying thought, he scans the area with his binoculars again.

Wonder where Krycek lost his arm? Mulder muses, putting his binoculars down. A rustle to his left has him ducking into the heap of leaves, but he gives himself enough room to prop his binos up. He sees a group of one-armed men and realizes the answer to his question. Guess it wasn't prison retaliation for letting me go, he thinks, sinking back into the camouflage again.


Scully's ready to greet her mom and her babies, then hit the sack, when her boss meets her at the door. Oh, hell, she thinks, as she questions, "Sir? What are you doing here?"

"I've been trying to reach you all day," he answers in his terse tone.

She finds herself apologizing, even though she's been worried sick herself, albeit not about her boss. "I'm sorry, my cell phone was turned off."

He stops her before she can unlock the door. "You owe me some answers, Agent Scully. Answers I don't have to the questions I'm being asked about this missing diplomatic pouch. The pouch presumably being carried by the man who was allegedly pushed off my balcony, and whose connection to a known felon I harbored in my house against all good sense, I'm going to have to explain to avoid perjuring myself before a Senate sub-committee tomorrow. Which, I might remind you, is a very serious crime in itself. Is it not, Agent Scully?"

Shit, she thinks. Scully inhales, then says, "Yes, sir. Sir, if I might explain... the contents of that pouch... it contained some sort of a biohazardous organism that is, luckily, being contained in a contamination laboratory at NASA Goddard, where I've been all day trying to determine its exact nature." You happy? she wants to add.

"Do you know what the pouch's intended destination was?" he asks.

Ask a question I don't have an answer to, she thinks. "No, sir, I don't," she says.

"Well, I do, Agent Scully, because I bent some rules this morning when I couldn't find you. To find out who was to receive it."

Now he's really got her attention. "Who was it?"

"Dr. Bonita Charne-Sayre. Are you familiar with that name?" he asks, and he half expects her to say no.

She frowns, remembering. "Yes sir, I am... She's a well-know physician... and a...a virologist who's looked in on presidents. She's also an authority on...on variola viruses."

"Variola?" he frowns.

She nods, unconsciously stamping her feet against the cold. "Smallpox," she says, debating whether they should continue this inside and worry her mother, "she's been a vocal proponent of eliminating the last remaining stores of the smallpox virus.... destroying the only remaining vials in facilities here in Atlanta and the former Soviet Union."

"Well, she was killed tonight."

Guess that means we'll be staying outside, Scully thinks. "Killed?" she repeats.

"A horse stepped on her throat in a riding accident in Virginia," Skinner replies, in a tone that suggests he's not buying the "riding accident"part of the report.


As Krycek is leaving the camp to lead the supervisor and some guards on a manhunt for Mulder, a prisoner rushes the small group. Krycek is injured in the initial assault, but the guards soon haul off the crazed man and have confiscated his shiv. The supervisor gives his apologies, and leaves Krycek to find Mulder alone. "Fine, be like that," the former agent mutters, getting into a truck as its owner starts yelling at him. *"I'll return it!"* he lies, heading off into the woods.

It isn't long before he hits the curvy road, and to his surprise, the brakes give out. "Oh, come on!" he yells, stomping vainly on the brake pedal. But it's no use, and Krycek jumps out of the truck, and the vehicle veers off into a ditch. "What else can go wrong?" he mutters, holding his injured right arm as he staggers to his feet.

The noise and wreckage have drawn attention, and Krycek's eyes widen as he finds himself surrounded by a group of men missing their left arm. What the hell, he wonders. He tells them in Russian he's escaped from the prison, and some of them buy his story. He wonders what's their story behind the missing arms, but decides to wait on that as he says, *"I am American....and I've been falsely accused of spying."*

*"Then your enemy is ours,"* the young man with the dead eyes says. *"We can protect you."*


December 6th, 1996

Catching up to the senate subcommittee, Scully stands before the bench. "You don't seem to understand. Your response is not optional. You are an agent of the FBI," Chairman Romine says.

"Then if I may please finish my statement," Scully says, and resumes reading from her paper, "that it is no longer possible for me to carry out my duties as an FBI agent."

"Are you tendering your resignation, Agent Scully. Is that what you're trying to say?" Sen. Sorenson practically leaps on it.

"No, sir," she answers in a steady voice. "What I am saying, is that there is a culture of lawlessness that has prevented me from doing my job -- that the real target of this committee's investigation should be the men who are beyond prosecution and punishment," she takes a breath, "the men whose secret policies are behind the crimes that you are investigating."

"You have a legal obligation to answer the questions posed to you. Now," the senator is practically sharpening his knives, "either you tell us what you know about Agent Mulder's whereabouts, or you'll be held in contempt of Congress."

It isn't long before she's led down a sterile white corridor to a holding cell.


The only good thing about being in a Russian prison was that they fed you, Mulder thinks, feeling faint from lack of nourishment. He staggers out of his hiding hole, only to be dragged roughly to his feet by powerful hands. A voice shouts at him in Russian, and he mumbles, "No speak Russian," before passing out.

He comes to in the same trucker's house, with the trucker's wife tending to him. "No Russian," he mumbles again when the trucker yells and waves.

"American?" she asks and he nods. When she examines his arm, her face pales. "The test?"

Here we go again, he thinks, "No, this is for American smallpox. It's for identification," he explains.

"They are looking for you," she says, and he nods. "The other man, he crash my husband's truck," her face grows solemn, "with no truck, no job. Then we have the test." She looks at her son who comes in missing his left arm. "No arm, no test."

Mulder shakes his head and holds her shoulders. "You have to help me escape. I'll help you escape. You have to help me get to St. Petersburg." Oh, shit, he thinks, seeing the driver standing in the doorway with a large knife, and hopes his luck holds the second time around.


Skinner interrupts Scully's reading of the variola virus papers, and she welcomes it, for once. After the initial "how are you doing", he gets down to the basics, as she expected he would. "Then what are you doing?"

She sits up straight. "We were called before this committee to answer questions about a murder -- about an intercepted diplomatic pouch -- a pouch that was to be delivered to a prominent doctor," she leans forward, "a woman who is now dead, as is the man who was delivering said pouch, the contents of which have infected an exobiologist with a paralyzing toxin. Yet, what are we stuck on here? The whereabouts of Agent Mulder." She throws her hands up, then lets them fall.

"You mean it's the wrong question," Skinner notes as she puts the papers away.

"Several of the men on this committee are lawyers," she says, looking back at him. "It is my experience that lawyers ask the wrong question only when they don't want the right answer."

"Unless Agent Mulder has already found the answers they're looking for."

"Or someone wants to make sure that he doesn't find out," she says, hating to voice anything like distrust of public officials, but the way the case is going, she has no choice. As a scientist, as a rational human being, there are some conclusions that are undeniable when staring you in the face.

"These are congressmen we're talking about, Agent Scully," he argues.

She agrees. "I know that, sir. And it is my natural inclination to believe that they are acting in the best interest of the truth... but I am not inclined to follow my own judgment in this case." Or, in some other cases, but she dares not say that aloud.

Skinner stares hard at her. "You're going to follow Agent Mulder's? Is that it?"

He promised me he wouldn't go farther than I could follow, Scully thinks, he promised. She doesn't answer him verbally, but simply looks at him.


As she stands before the men at the senate subcommittee, Scully thinks, Here we go again. It seems like she's taken a stand for Mulder so many times before, but in this case, it's a literal one. And, like her belief about the cross around her neck, she does it on faith, faith that he'll come through for her. She still hasn't gotten any reply from her numerous cell phone tries, and neither has he tried to contact anyone else stateside, so all she can do is swallow her fears and stand before these men, these honorable men, and tell them not what they want to hear, but the whole Truth, and nothing but.

And, to her surprise, Mulder answers the question of his whereabouts, so to speak, by appearing in the room. "What is the question?" he calls out in a clear voice, as he joins her. Chairman Romine pounds his gavel several times for order, and finally gets it, even as Mulder squeezes her hand reassuringly.

The smile hasn't faded from her face as she continues. "Yes, sir. If I may, I'd like to finish making my point."

The chairman looks resigned. "And what is your point?"

She turns to Mulder, so many questions wanting to be asked and answered, but she forges on. Another man joins their table, Skinner, and he tells them about Dr. Sacks' death. Scully keeps her voice steady and relates the scientist's death to the subcommittee. As soon as the gavel pounds with the sound of futility, the redhead turns to her husband. "You idiot!" she punches his left arm. "Where have you been?"

"I'm sorry," he says, embracing her anyways as she chokes down a sob. Boy, she wasn't this violent before, he thinks, but then again, there wasn't a marriage and two kids before. "It's been a long, strange trip."

"Some other time," Skinner says, turning away from his agents' PDA. "There's been enough strangeness here to sort through."

Reluctantly breaking from his embrace, Scully says, "Mulder, I've made several connections about the toxin, about what it might be..."

"So have I," Mulder says, but thankfully, not from personal experience this time.

"Sir? I need to book two airfares to Boca Raton, Florida," Scully says, determination entering her voice.

Mulder interrupts her explanation. "Don't tell him why," he says, leading her away by placing his hand on her back. "He's got to confess everything he knows, remember?"

She nods, and Skinner gives him a wry look. "Do I need to tell you two to stay out of trouble?"

Mulder grins, and Scully sighs. "I think Mulder's going to have to do a lot of explaining before we get anywhere near trouble."


They end up calling in a quarantine on the nursing home, same as before, then jetting over to New York to question Terry Edward Mayhew, the so-called brains behind the militia. Mulder's impatient to get to Canada, but he doesn't want to alert his wife or anyone else about his time-traveling/alternate-universe anymore than he has to.

So they question Mayhew, he restrains himself from choking the man but winds up pulling his gun on him, and they get their answers.

When they reach Canada, Mulder wonders how on earth they managed to stave off hours of jet lag, then figures it's the adrenaline that's flooding his veins again. He's shaved off hours from their original time, and hopes he can make it to the rock before it blows up again, but as he jumps out of the chopper, the oil well blows up. "They're early," Mulder mumbles, as he rolls on the ground to avoid the fiery plume that's knocked the chopper. "Scul-lay!"

Fortunately, his wife, the chopper and the pilot are all right, but barely. "Mulder!" she screams, sprinting as fast as she can on high heels towards her husband. "Let's get out of here!"

He nods, disappointed, and they rejoin a very shaken pilot, who lights out of there like a bat out of hell. From his vantage point, Mulder can make out the shape of an old man standing near the top of the refinery. Damn that old man, Mulder thinks, whoever he is. He's grateful the first time around the old guy spared Scully's life, but this time, he didn't even come close to the rock. Shit.


Mulder's got a feeling that the scene in the courtroom will be even more pedestrian than the first time, and he's proven right, even as his wife silently applauds him for joining the fight. "It's not over," he tells her as the gavel sounds.

She stares at him for a moment. "It has to be," she says, "Dr. Sacks and Dr. Charne-Sayre are dead, as well as several patients at a convalescent home, as is the mystery man Krycek killed, as is Krycek," she looks away. "The toxin is still relatively unknown, and there is no known cure. The rock is buried in Canada. How many more must die before this case is done?"

Mulder thinks of the geologist imprisoned in the gulag, as well as the hundreds of other prisoners, the trucker and his family, and the countless families grieving for their loved ones in Boca Raton. "Guess that's why we made copies," he says, picking up the files, "so it stays an X-File. So that when we do have the answers, and the cure, it goes to the people who deserve them." Scully nods, her face just as serious as his, and they walk out of the courtroom together.


In St. Petersburg, Russia, the old man returns to his cozy little apartment, only to find it is occupied. Wearily, he says, *"Please, if you are here to ask another favor, I am retired... Comrade Krycek."*

Krycek simply smiles and congratulates Comrade Peskow on a job well done. His left arm, however, is replaced by a fake plastic one, holding a tea bag.

The old man smiles back and nods. *"Thank you,"* he answers, *"will you be staying long?"*

Krycek shakes his head. "Nyet," he murmurs, sipping his tea, *"I have more business to attend to."* He rubs the back of his neck with his false hand as he stands. *"When I have more time, you must tell me how you eluded those pesky British agents during the Cold War, eh?"* He smiles and walks out of the apartment.

Peskow stares after the younger man, who has a faint scar at the back of his neck, with a puzzled, thoughtful expression, but says nothing as he locks the door.


Los Angeles, CA

"Alex, what's wrong?" Melissa Scully frowns as she greets him at the airport, and Krycek thinks she looks gorgeous even when she's worried. A sure sign that everything's not all right, he thinks.

He shrugs a little. "Had a little trouble on the job, but nothing prosthetics can't handle." His tone is light, but there's a small, suspicious worry in the back of his mind that she won't think it's just "a little trouble."

"Prosthetics?" she latches on to the key word.

Of course, he's wearing his all-purpose leather jacket and gloves and he hugged her with his still-attached right arm, so that doesn't help much. "This baby goes all the way up to the middle of my bicep," he says simply, pulling off his left glove, deliberately not looking at her.

Okay, so he's vain in a lot of ways. Doesn't mean he has to get deeply analytical about it. He waits until she says something, anything. Finally, he looks up and is surprised.

Melissa has a mischievous grin on her face. "I'm just glad the plastic's not somewhere important," she smiles, pulling him to her.

Now Krycek's got the same lazy smile on his face as her hands grab his ass. "Now you're just trying to butter me up."

"I could do that if you're in the mood," she says, "among other things."

"I know that," he growls, and finally angles down for a good long kiss.

The redhead's breathless when they pull apart, and he likes that. "I don't know if I can wait for the motel," she breathes, her eyes slightly unfocused.

"I know I can't," he agrees, and the two wanderers look for a spot in LAX with some space and privacy. Krycek being Krycek, he's got a number of options to go with, and he can't wait to drag her to the closest one. "Are you on the pill?"

She shakes her head. "Herbal remedy," her eyes glint when they see his expression, "and a condom should do the trick."

"Speaking of tricks," Krycek opens the door, smirking. "Wanna see what my prosthetic arm can do?"

She smirks back as they shut the door of the abandoned office, fully intending to occupy the room with their loud, lusty, sweating bodies.


Chapter Forty-Two

December 23rd 1996

"Sticky, Daddy!" Page's proclamation is punctuated with hand-waving and a whine Mulder knows will become semi-hysterical crying if he doesn't act soon enough to suit his daughter.

As he gets up to wet a washcloth, he thinks of the recent reeducation he and Scully have endured on the subject of stickiness: they now know that pine sap is sticky, and glue and cellophane tape, the tabs on diapers - Mulder overheard Scully telling Page that big girl pants aren't sticky, so he knows Scully is still determined to potty train her before the new baby is born and the fact that Rachel reports occasional successes just fuels her fire there - stickers, unsurprisingly, are sticky, and now cookie dough.

Page holds out her hands to be cleaned, and Mulder wonders if he and Scully have made some sort of fatal parental misstep; one that has put them on the path of raising a girlie girl.

Samantha, like Scully, had been a rough and tumble kid, always trying to keep up with her big brother. It hadn't bothered Bill or Mulder, it actually made not having a brother less of a big deal to him, but Teena not so secretly longed for a daughter who was sedate and would stand being dressed in frilly feminine clothing.

To this end she organized what young Mulder referred to as "attack of the prissy girls": she'd invite proper little girls over in the hope that they'd be a good influence on Samantha. Fortunately, at least in Mulder's opinion, her hopes had been in vain. He now worries that this wish will be fulfilled in her granddaughter.

Scully insists that this stickiness aversion is just a stage, and Mulder hopes that it is, or they'll all go insane long before Page is old enough to be trusted with using the sink taps on her own.

He throws the wash cloth into the sink before turning back to his small daughter. Hands now clean, Page gives him an expectant 'now what?' look.

Mulder doesn't know. When Scully lamented that Page was getting too bright to buy presents for with her along, he'd offered to keep an eye on both kids while she and Missy went to the mall. She'd taken him up on half of his offer, but had taken Sammy with her because she still needed to get him an outfit for Christmas because she hadn't found anything when she'd bought Page's dress. It seemed silly to him to buy a fancy outfit that the boy would only wear once before outgrowing, but it seemed to make her happy, so he went with it.

Back at the fort he'd had the idea that making Christmas cookies would entertain Page, but apparently he was wrong. Maybe some holiday cartoons would be a better bet.

"What do you want to do, Page?"

A serious look settles on the toddler's face. "Use the potty."

Mulder scoops her up, and resists the urge to tickle her - that might have a negative effect on her fledging bladder control. Instead he smiles widely and says, "If you get this potty thing down, you'll be giving mommy a gift she won't forget."

"Mommy wants uh potty?"

"Something like that," he agrees.


December 25th, 1996
7 a.m.

Just barely grasping the concept of Santa, Page got them up an hour and a half ago, and somehow managed to help her brother out of his crib. After enduring a lecture from Scully about how dangerous it is to do that, Page dragged them downstairs, still in pajamas, to fuss with the contents of her stocking and to get some breakfast on her. Her demands to open presents are fobbed off with the excuse that they need to wait for grandma to get there first. Page pouts a little, but is entertained by the small gifts in her stocking and the festive movie on the TV.

Missy arrives far earlier than Mulder would have ever guessed she'd get out of bed, and helps him get the kids dressed, which allows Scully time to dress herself. Unfortunately, Mulder is still in his jammies.

After asking Scully for the third time if she's sure that Bill and Tara want to rent a car to drive from the airport to the house instead of him picking them up, Mulder wanders up to the master bedroom intent on getting dressed before their guests arrive. Missy is playing with the kids, so he doesn't feel like he's abandoning Scully when he takes his time.

He's still pulling his red sweater - knit for him the year before by Maggie - over his head when he hears the front door open and the muffled greetings between siblings.

Scully appears while he's still threading his belt through the loops in his cords. "I'm afraid that you're not going to like what Bill bought the kids for Christmas..."Scully trails off, a fragile smile on her face and a hand on her belly.

Whatever it is, Mulder can hear both kids squealing happily over it down stairs. There's a small shout of protest from Page, and then heavy footsteps on the stairs. Bill pops his head into the room. "I guess I ought to have asked first, but Dana told me how you lost the dog that way...I knew a puppy might be a bad idea with a new baby coming. I hope you don't hate it, Fox."

Mulder reminds himself not to cringe at the familial use of his first name, and then looks at 'it.' And it looks back at him from its vantage in Bill's palms. It's mostly white, with an orange facial blaze and a short, curled also orange tail and bright blue eyes.

"Where's the rest of its tail?" Mulder asks, reaching a tentative finger out to touch the little creature. It responds by playfully reaching out a paw of its own.

"It was born this way. All Japanese bobtails are," Bill tells him. "They come in all sorts of colors, but they always have this sort of tail. They're real good with kids...”

"Good to hear. Orange and white, that's kind of pretty."

"Yeah, I thought so too." Bill trails off when Page toddles into the room. "But I thought the black and white were pretty as well."

"Kittens, Daddy!" Page squeals, holding out another kitten in both hands. Bill's assessment that they're good with kids seems to be true, because the little creature doesn't mind being man-handled by the toddler.

"I know a breeder, and she offered me a discount if I took the last two from that litter," Bill mumbles. "I figured one for each of the kids."

"Well, I'd hate to break up a family," Mulder replies lightly.

"One's a boy and one's a girl, by the way." Bill grins a little, then ushers Page out of the room when they sense that Scully wants to talk to Mulder alone.

"You took that well," Scully says as soon as the door swings closed.

"They're cute."

"You're really not upset that Bill bought them kittens without telling us first?" Scully's voice is a little anxious.

Throwing an arm around her and drawing her close, he wishes that he could tell her just how okay he is with the gift. ::The same guy who once declared that Scully's son was a bastard now likes his niece and nephew enough to buy them kittens? You should be surprised I didn't pass out from shock instead of welcome the gift.::

"He means well," Mulder says with a shrug. "It's nice that he put a lot of thought into picking a gift that the kids would really like."

"Yeah, it is," Scully agrees, nodding under his chin. "I'm glad you don't mind."

"He doesn't have any kids of his own-"

"Yet."

"-yet, so you can't blame him for spoiling ours a little. Besides, Rachel is crazy about cats, so it's not as though we'll have to worry about getting someone else to look after them while we're gone on cases."

Scully smirks. "As long as she doesn't try to take either of them home with her."

Before either of them can say anything else about their nanny's likeness to want one of the kittens, Page is back. "Grandma here...presents now?" she asks in a wheedling tone.

"Why don't we go see grandma and find out." Mulder lifts her up quickly, making her shriek with laughter. ::This is how the holidays should be.:: "So, what are we going to name these kittens, hmm?"

"Teliko n' Piper," Page tells him.

Mulder groans. "You know, Mommy thinks that you don't pay any attention when we talk about our cases, kiddo. You do, though, don't you." His daughter giggles. "How come you can even say Teliko? You can't even say spaghetti correctly."

"We have skaddie for dinner?"

"No, we're having turkey, but you're changing the subject. You're not going to tell me how you can say that are you?"

Page shakes her head hard then smiles at him.

"Nana and Bumpa coming?"

"Yup, but not until tonight."

"Good, more presents me n' Sammy."

"Smart girl," Mulder tells her.


Completely unaware that his father is watching him, or completely unconcerned about it, Sammy toddles over to the Christmas tree. He puts his faces near the branches, and brings his lips up to one of the small twinkle lights. As he opens his mouth Mulder barks, “No Sammy!" and the baby takes a defeated step back from his intended prize. Again.

As he did the first two times his son has tried to taste the Christmas lights today, Mulder scoops the wriggly child up and attempts to restrain him on his lap.

It worries Mulder that his son seems bound and determined to court death by electrocution; and that case he and Scully had about that weird kid who could summon lightening comes uncomfortably to mind. However, he's more concerned that his son's behavior has to do with domesticality than something they'd need to open a casefile on.

::Are we not paying enough attention to him? Page has an edge over him on the demanding attention front because she has many more words than he does. Or maybe he's sensing the changes coming up in three months when the baby arrives. All the books tell you that acting out is common when a child feels as though their spot as the youngest is threatened... but is he old enough to be aware of that? Sure, he's older than Page was when he was born, but sixteen months still seems awfully young. I'm not even sure that Page really understands...But I wonder if she knows why he's after the lights. No, that's silly, but...::

"Hey Page, come here, please."

She reluctantly looks up from unsuccessfully trying to coax one of the kittens out from under the couch. "Daddy?"

Feeling foolish, Mulder lends down and asks, "Do you know why Sammy is trying to eat the lights on the tree?" To his surprise, she nods. "Why??"

"Thinks they're lolly ranchers."

As soon as he realizes that she meant jolly instead of lolly, he's filled with horror at the idea of someone giving his little son hard candy that's a choking hazard. "Who's been giving you jolly ranchers?"

Page wrinkles her nose. "Not give us. Rach-all not share," Page complains before giving him a winning smile. "Daddy, you teach her share!"

"Sorry, kiddo, if she shared those you and Sammy could get sick."

"Sick is bad."

"Yes it is." Although Mulder's heart feels less panicked because the nanny hasn't been as thoughtless as he feared, he makes a mental note to ask her to leave the candy at home from now on - and to remove the Sammy-high lights after their guests go home.

Sammy twists in Mulder's lap until he can put his arms around Mulder's neck. "Hug."

"A very nice hug," Mulder agrees, hugging him back. "What about a kiss?"

After planting a wet kiss on his father's cheek, Sammy looks up with a serious expression on his face. "No bite."

::Two words together already?! I thought they said second children acquired language slower than firstborns.:: "Aren't you clever." Mulder looks over at Page. "Have you two been biting?"

Page shakes her head. "TV does."

"How?" he asks blankly. Her statement reminds him of the time he accidentally left his TV on a channel that played PeeWee's Playhouse.

Page pantomimes touching the TV's channel button. "Put hand and ziiiip. Ouch. Rach-all say it bite." She looks a little puzzled. "No teeths."

"No touch," Sammy adds.

Mulder's mind races as he tries to think of a way to explain static to a two-year-old, but she's already moved on. "We watch Santa? Daddy push buttons," she adds with a sly look.

"Oh, you'd like that would you?" He tickles both kids, making them laugh.

From the corner of his eye he notices Scully watching and thinks he hears her mumble to Tara something about "like having three kids already" but he doesn't mind. Getting to play with his kids on a perfect holiday is worth all the aspersions in the world cast on his maturity.


January 1997

Mulder twists his mouth unconsciously, remembering the last time they'd investigated this case. At least this time, there's no danger of Scully getting hunted by the cancer-hungry Betts, though there' no way he's ever going to tell her this. And considering the freaky cancer guy, he didn't want the kids to tag along on this case, even though he knows they're not at risk. Rachel must be raking in the overtime with us, he almost grins, seriously flaky nanny or no.

With that thought, he keeps up his end of light-hearted banter with his wife, as her curiosity, as morbid as his, has her prowling through the Pittsburg morgue. Correction, that is, the Monghehela (however the hell you pronounce it) General Hospital's morgue. He's not even sure the staff knows how to pronounce it, since every phone call or staff member says it "Moan-gllllla" or some misbegotten mangling as such. He's practically reeling facts from his prodigious memory when she wheels around and asks him point blank, "Mulder, what the hell are we doing here?"

He blinks, then smiles benignly. "Did I mention Mr. Betts has no head?"

She makes a face. "Yes. So? I mean, you're not suggesting that a headless body kicked his way out of a latched morgue freezer, are you?" Scully stares at him harder, but he won't shake his insane theory. "Are you? Because I think it's obvious this is some kind of bizarre attempt at a cover-up."

Now he raises an eyebrow. "Did you say cover-up? You know how words relating to conspiracy turns me on," and he leers.

The redhead sighs noisily. "Nothing so dramatic, more like body snatching for profit. There's a shortage of teaching cadavers at medical schools. An unscrupulous medical supplier might pay top dollar, no questions asked." She shrugs, her down-to-earth theory having more credence in her mind than a headless body busting out of its drawer.

Mulder looks around at the filled, unmolested lockers. "But why take damaged goods when there are so many top-dollar bodies around?"

A security guard interrupts their merry-go-round. "Sir? Those video grabs you asked for? We found something. These are from the emergency room camera taken at 4:13 this morning."

Moments later, both agents squint at the fuzzy black-and-white visuals on the TV screen, and the static at the top masks the identity of the morgue attendant's clothes thief. "Too bad not everyone can afford FBI-quality surveillance," Mulder sighs.

The security guard also sighs, but it's more frustrated. "But there's no sign of the body he stole. The thief just took off with our guy's clothes, what did he do with the body? We searched everywhere!"

Scully has a small smile, and Mulder groans inwardly. Oh no, not again. "There's one place I'm sure you missed," she says.


Minutes later, the security guard leaves them at the hospital disposal unit with more haste than Mulder thought necessary. What, didn't he want to help with the search? he thinks ungraciously. "So you think the body snatcher simply tossed the body there?" he asks. "Maybe we should get some of the staff to help out," he suggests hopefully, "I mean, if you're sure the body's in there...."

"Nonsense," Scully says, pulling on a face shield and arm-length gloves. She seems to relish her husband's obvious discomfort as she squishes around in the various human tissues, organs and other disgusting things the human body can produce, and the noises her hands make as she digs through the mess is almost as gross as the mess itself. "Give me a hand, your arms are longer than mine."

There is nothing, absolutely nothing on Mulder's face that resembles anything close to a willingness to help out. In fact, he's looking desperately around for some hospital staff, anyone, even Betts, to dig through that nastiness. Now Scully pouts her perfectly bow-shaped lips and breathes in a low, husky voice, "Mulder."

He gives her a level look, then pulls on a face shield and long gloves. "I'm not doing this because of your lips," he tells her grimly.

She doesn't look fazed. "Thank you," she smiles, as he makes various faces digging through the muck.

"My sad eyes are better than your pouty lips," he continues, as if oblivious to the smug grin on her face.

"Of course, Mulder," she says in a conciliatory tone, completely at odds with the smirk. Then she has an even more triumphant look on her face as she pulls out the late, great Leonard Betts, sans body. "Oh, how they scoffed," she says, holding her prize aloft like a gold medal, "oh, how they mocked."

He makes another face. It's one thing that she actually used her feminine wiles to get to him, it's another to have his words thrown back at him as she holds up Betts' head like Perseus did Medusa's. "Okay, you found the head," he says, somewhat relieved she found it this time. "But what about the body? Maybe he got it out somehow."

"What, on his own two legs?" she smirks, still heady with victory.

He nods. "Perhaps," ignoring her oh-so-ladylike snort. "In any case, you should probably examine the head, see if there's anything useful we can get from it."

She frowns. "What about you?"

"I'm gonna check out Mr. Betts' pad, see how he lives."

"Lived."

He puts his two free hands up as he walks away, smiling a little as he imagines what's in store for her. "Lived."


In the examination room, Scully keeps to herself how cool she thinks the decapitated head is. Perhaps it's because she's been taught with the rigors of medical school and countless autopsies to treat the body as a map or book, rather than a vessel of the soul, that facial features resonate more with her. In fact, she would be pretty depressed if she were merely stuck with the headless body, although it would probably help their case go along further. Briskly, she shoves any more musings to the side, gingerly placing the head on the scale.

Her blue eyes glance at the numbers on the scale and she places the head on the autopsy table. Her gloved hands pick up a tape recorder and she speaks clearly, "Case number 226897, Leonard Betts. As remains are incomplete, all observations refer to a decapitated head. Weight: 10.9 pounds. Remains show no signs of rigor mortis or fixed lividity." She pauses, manually opening the eyes, the so-called windows to the soul. "Nor do the corneas appear clouded, which would seem inconsistent with the witnessed time of death now," she pauses again to check the wall clock, "19 hours ago. I'll begin with the intermastoid incision and frontal craniotomy then make my examination of the brain."

She picks up the scalpel and begins to make the stated incisions, when the eyelids and mouth fly open, revealing unclouded brown eyes and perfect teeth. "Oh, my!" Scully gasps, unconsciously crossing herself and dropping the scalpel as she does so. The clatter of the metal blade brings her back to herself, and she slowly approaches the head. She's seen a lot of strange things before, but this...

Against her will, she stares into the head's, she can't think of it as Betts', brown eyes. "Hello?" she says tentatively.


Meanwhile, back at Betts' apartment, Mulder knows he missed something the first time around. He impatiently bypasses the newspaper clippings, going straight to the bathroom. Knowing what he knows now, he's not about to stick his fingers into the iodine-filled bathtub, and glares at the fingerprints on the open window. He leans closer to them, when his cell phone rings, startling him.

Cursing briefly as he leaves the bathroom, he finally answers, "Mulder."

His wife sounds slightly strangled. Must be good news. "It's me. Um, I've run into kind of a unique situation here."

He grins. She knows just how to cheer him up. "Unique?"

She sighs noisily. "I've run a number of PET scans, and the images come out fogged, despite the technicians' assurance that the machine is working fine. They say it must be some kind of radiation or something. And Mulder?"

"Yeah?"

There's a long pause, as if she doesn't want to go on. "I didn't autopsy it. I, I experienced an unusual degree of postmortem galvanic response."

He moves the supposed dead man's clothes with his shoe. "It moved. Cool."

"It's not cool, Mulder, it, it blinked," she argues. "Sort of. I mean, it's residual electrical activity stored chemically in the dead cells."

"You didn't cut into it. So it's not dead."

"It's not alive, either!" Scully snaps back.

"You sure about that? Because I'm in his apartment, and it looks like somebody made himself at home here, the attendant's clothes are tossed to the side. Maybe Betts was home."

"Without his head," Scully says, looking at the offending item.

"The guy in Washington Irving's story did just fine," Mulder says, having the feeling he's missing something again, but can't quite get a hold of it.

"Mulder, that was a *story*," Scully says with every ounce of forbearance. "And the villain turned out to be the town bully with a pumpkin on his head."

There's something dancing at the edge of his mind, Mulder frowns, but it's gone. Never mind. "Listen, I'll call the local PD to stake out the place just in case, I'm gonna talk to his coworkers," and cover my bases, he adds silently.

As he shuts the door, the body of Leonard Betts rises from the iodine-filled tub with a new head. It blinks slowly, as it did on the autopsy table in the hospital, implacable as death.


At the examination lab, the head, having gone through numerous PET scans, pokes and prods, is now dripping after being lifted from a vat full of epoxy. "Now this is cool, "Mulder nods.

Scully holds back a smile, even though she privately agrees. "This procedure is called biopolymerization. It's basically a high-tech mummification process. The remains are dipped in the epoxy and once it's cured the specimen can be sliced for examination."

He looks at her. "If I die, promise me you won't do that to my body," he says. "I'd hate to be responsible for the swooning of impressionable young med students."

She rolls her eyes. "Male or female?" she retorts, and he grins.

Later, the pathologist examines a slice from the frontal lobe. "Strange," he mutters to himself.

Both Mulder and Scully jerk their head up, as if dogs hearing a high-pitched whistle. "What is it?" Scully asks, even as she examines the picture on the monitor. Her eyes widen. "His entire brain looks like one giant glioma," she says in disbelief.

"He had cancer?" Mulder says, for once actually being the master at understatement.

She doesn't look at him, completely fascinated by this aberration of science. Or perhaps an aberration of man. Damn, she's spent wayyyyyyy too much time with Mulder. "He was riddled with it - I mean every - every cell in this sample. Every cell, essentially, in his entire head and in his brain was ... was all cancerous. It's completely pervasive," she shakes her head in disbelief.

"How long would he have lived with this?" Mulder asks, as if he didn't know the answer.

The pathologist looks at him. "How long? This man would have been long *dead* before reaching such an extreme metastatic stage." Now he shakes his head.

Mulder looks at his wife, then at the pathologist. "Before his untimely demise, Betts was the picture of health. How do you explain this?"

The pathologist frowns. "Maybe the polymerization distorted the sample. Maybe we're not really seeing what we think we're seeing."

"Or maybe we're seeing everything clearly for the first time," Mulder says, staring at the image himself.

Now Scully looks at him. "Mulder, what are you thinking?"

He grins down at her. "I'm thinking we need a slice to go." Then he pauses. "Which reminds me. Scully, are you in the mood for pizza? I missed lunch."


In Dr. Charles Burk's lab, Mulder feels a sense of camaraderie similar to that which he shares with the Lone Gunmen, more so than he would most FBI agents. Not unusual, given his proclivities towards more atypical aspects of research, but it did remind him how differently his path veered from when he first joined the FBI. And speaking of those whose paths veered, Scully asks, "Are you ever asked to defend this as a legitimate scientific process, Dr. Burks?" she says "doctor" as if to say "quack." She's eating her pizza slice in a neat, careful fashion, as if to ensure none of the toppings slide off onto the floor of this dubious doctor's lab.

"Only if you're not happy with the results," Burk smiles as he goes about his work.

"Chuck did some of the pioneering work in Kirilian photography in the US," Mulder says as he finishes off his pizza, as if the explanation would mollify her this time around.

Burk purses his lips briefly. "I prefer the umbrella term 'aura photography.' Basically, by applying high frequency electricity I am able to photograph an organism's coronal discharge."

She's not buying it this time, either. Figures. "'Coronal discharge'?" she asks with an eyebrow raise.

Mulder answers in almost a blasé manner, tossing the crumpled wax paper in like manner. "Coronal discharge, life force - the Chinese call it Chi. It's an accepted fact in most eastern cultures." Now he raises an eyebrow. "I'm surprised Melissa never brought it up."

She narrows her eyes at him. "You leave Missy out of this," she says in a low voice. In a normal tone, she asks, "Chi would be the theoretical basis of holistic medicine and acupuncture, but what is its application here?"

Whoa, record there for eyebrow raises, Mulder grins. She could give the Rock a run for his money, if she ever bothers to pay attention to the WWF in the future. "It may account for the fogging of your PET scan of Leonard Betts' head."

Burk nods, half-listening to the conversation around him. "You know, with this equipment I've been able to capture phantom images of whole leaves that were cut in half, or the vestigial image of a lizard's tail long after it's been cut off ... which, you have to admit is pretty cool." He grins at them. When the developed negatives are finished, he puts them on the lighted wall. "Ah, looks like we got something here. Oh, yeah. Now I don't know exactly what you're looking for, but," he pauses, feeling that pictures speak louder than words, but needing to say something, "There's definitely some kind of energy happening here."

Mulder looks at the undeniable head and shoulders image, then at the beaming bespectacled man. "Chuck, would you believe that this man's head had been decapitated?" he asks, although his eyes are on Scully now.

Burk laughs. "Yeah, pull my other leg. Next thing you'll tell me is you've got a wife and kids."

Mulder grins back, "Well, yeah." He holds up his and Scully's left hands, his right hand pulling out his wallet and flipping it open to their kids. "Here's Page and Sammy."

He's not sure who's more stunned, Burk or Scully. In a low voice, he asks her, "Are we happy with the results?"


Later, he presses on with his theory, gladder than ever that Scully's not, nor ever will be, a personal part of this story. "You said that Betts' tissue was riddled with cancer. Now what is cancer but normal cells growing rapidly out of control usually caused by some damage to their DNA."

"And this is related to our case how?" Scully asks, unknowing of her past, or alternate, history with Betts.

Mulder leans forward eagerly. "What if there was a case where the cancer was not caused by damaged DNA - where the cancer was not a destructive or an aggressive factor, but was rather the normal state of being?"

She looks at him as if to say, You've got to be kidding. "Even if that were the case," she says evenly, "he's decapitated. In a word, dead."

"No, what if this man's life force -- his Chi, whatever you want to call it, somehow retained a blueprint of the actual man himself? Guiding rapid growth not as cancer, but as regeneration?" He's not sure if he's prompting her or aggravating her, but either way, he knows it'll get results.

She stares at him, then a small smile works its way around her mouth. "You think Betts regrew his head? Like starfish regrow their arms, or a lizard its tail."

"Exactly!" Mulder cries. "In his apartment was a bathtub full of povidine iodine. You know what scientists use that for, right?"

Scully sighs. "They use it to aid regeneration of reptiles and amphibians. But we're talking about a mammal here, Mulder, a man. Mammals don't regenerate limbs!"

He holds up his hands. "I'm just saying it's not unheard of in nature, that's all. Maybe that's Betts' deep, dark secret, being the Salamander Man."

She's about to retort, when her cell phone rings. Relieved to be talking to hopefully a sane person, she grunts her assents to the information, then turns a smug face to him when she hangs up. "I don't think Salamander Man was his deep, dark secret," she says, "but I know what is. I had Danny run prints on Betts, who turns out to be Albert Tanner, son of Elaine Tanner, right here in Pittsburg." She smiles blithely as she gets behind the wheel.


3108 Old Bank Road.
Pittsburg, PA.

Before they interview Mrs. Tanner, Mulder remembers the thing that's been bugging him and stays outside to make a phone call while Scully goes inside the house with a curious look on her face. From memory, he dials a number, asks to be connected, and taps his foot impatiently. He hopes it's not too late.

"This is Michelle Wilkes," the EMT answers.

"This is Agent Mulder," Mulder says, "if you see anyone suspicious or," he pauses, "connected to Betts, let me know."

There's a pause at her end. "This is gonna sound crazy," she says.

::How many times have I heard that?:: he almost asks aloud. "If you have any information," he prompts her.

"There's a guy, he sounds, I dunno," Michelle says, "he sounds like Leonard. Wait, let me ask this guy." Mulder waits while she talks to someone, and the answer is inaudible. "He says the guy's in Unit 208, just went off shift."

"Michelle," Mulder is urgent, "Do not go alone. Got that? Someone stole your partner's body, and killed someone else in the process," he's fudging the timeline, but he doesn't care, anything to make her believe him, "do not approach this man alone. Get security, we'll be right there."

Scully walks out of the house, looking even more confused. "Mulder, she says her son died six years ago, with the certificate to prove it. But fingerprints don't lie."

"We got another clue to the mystery," Mulder says, taking her hand. "I think we've got Leonard Betts."

"The rest of his body?" she asks, as he slides behind the wheel.

"And then some," Mulder says, hoping against hope that Michelle took his warning seriously.


Michelle is safe, the security guard handcuffed Betts (with a head) to a Dodge Dart, but, like before, Leonard got away. "I don't believe it," the guard shakes his head as the two agents shine their flashlight on the crime scene. "He was just here."

Mulder holds up the thumb in the evidence bag. "And this is how he got away." He looks at Scully. "We were so close..."

But Scully's looking at the security guard. "Are you sure this was him?" she asks, holding up a photo of the dead man's head.

The guard nods, and so does a very pale Michelle. "That's Leonard," she says, at the same time the guard says, "That's Truelove." They look at each other and say nothing.

Meanwhile, Mulder is musing over the discarded thumb. "One small thumb for man, one regrown digit for Leonard Betts."

Scully makes a derisive snort. "Evolution doesn't work that way, Mulder. What you're suggesting is someone so radically evolved we wouldn't even call him human."

"Recent evolutionary theory would disagree," Mulder says, putting away the thumb. "What scientists call "punctualism" or "punctual equilibrium"- it theorizes that evolutionary advances are cataclysmic, not gradual. That evolution occurs not along a straight, graphable line, but in huge fits and starts and that the unimaginable happens in the gaps - the gap between what we are and what Leonard Betts has become." He pops open the hatchback of the car. "Then again, how evolved can a man be if he drives a Dodge Dart?" he smirks.


"Ten to one says this isn't full of ice-brewed goodness in six packs," Mulder quips as he pulls out the cooler. He makes a little bow and wave to let Scully have the honors.

So she opens the cooler and her eyes grow wide as her flashlight plays over the contents. "Mulder," she looks up at him, "these are all cancerous tumors. This is surgical waste that's been tagged for disposal. What do you think he wanted with them?"

He makes a face, sticking his tongue out. "I'm glad the kids aren't with us on this one," he says, "there's a possibility that Betts not only is cancer--"

"But he needs it for survival as well," Scully finishes. "Oh my God," she looks down at the cooler again, "this must be--"

"Yummy-nummy snacky-snacks!" Mulder says, using the phrase Page sometimes says before devouring un-Scully-sanctioned junk food. "Wouldn't it make sense that evolution or natural selection would incorporate cancer -- the greatest health threat to our species as part of our genetic makeup?"

Now Scully's sticking her tongue out. "Why do I think that Charles Darwin is rolling in his grave right now?" she deadpans.

He grins. "Ask yourself: Why is Leonard Betts an EMT? Why does he regularly visit cancer wards? Access."

Before she can put a halt to this completely insane circular logic, a cop interrupts them. "The car's registered to one Elaine Tanner, 3108 Old Bank Road."

The agents look at each other. "Do you think Mom knows her dead son is tooling around in her car?" Mulder deadpans.


At a seedy bar, Betts makes his way through the smoky haze to sit at the counter. So many to choose from, the bald man notes dispassionately, so hungry. A couple of the men are coughing, but one is tubercular while the other has lung cancer. The waitress, who seems to be supporting a pack-a-day habit, judging by her yellow-stained fingers, passes by, tempting him. A couple of bikers have colon cancer, and one pool player has recurring glandular problems due to thyroid cancer.

Then a newcomer strides in, and Betts ignores the rest. This man, looking far too pretty despite his scowl, black leather jacket, and three-day stubble, shoves one of the coughing men aside. His green eyes look black as they scan the room, then asks for a beer. The bartender, bored, does so, not even counting the money the pretty man gives him.

Betts watches the pretty man surreptitiously. The black leather jacket seems to be hiding more than a wallet, and he realizes that one of the black-gloved hands is false. Still, this guy is practically a neon sign, despite his hushed conversation at the pay phone, and he follows the black jacket out.

Suddenly, his prey stops and spins around. "You've been staring at me all night," the man in the black jacket scowls. "I'm not that kind of guy."

Betts, hiding the scalpel in his hand, shakes his head. "You've got something I want."


As before, they get nothing from Dear Ole Ma Betts, that is, Tanner, except that "God put him here for a purpose. God means for him to stay, even if people don't understand. And that's all I've got to say."

That, and Scully finds the storage locker receipt and key labeled 112. "Boy, aren't you the bloodhound," Mulder notes, and memories from their previous past remind him of her nosebleeds. He almost winces, except she retorts in kind.

"I suppose if you weren't so close to rarified air, you'd be able to see it," she grins, pocketing the key as they head out.

"So that means you're okay with being a shrimp, right?" he asks, and gets a sharp elbow. "Ow."

But he puts a lead foot to the gas, hoping to get to the U Keep It storage facility before Betts escapes. Because if Scully's not there to lure or kill him, who knows how far Betts will get this time? How many people Mulder won't be able to save this time around? With that, he tells his wife tersely, "I want Albert Tanner's body exhumed. And a 24-hour watch around Elaine Tanner's house. If he goes to ground, he's going to go home."

Scully looks at the mercurial change in her husband, then makes the calls. "Mulder, what's going on?" she asks.

"I've just got a bad feeling," he mumbles, unwilling to explain any further.

And in an hour and a half, that bad feeling is rewarded when the dead bearded body of John Gilnitz tumbles out of the storage locker, followed by Betts nearly running them over. And, as before, the car goes up in a blaze of glory.


Curiously enough, although Scully's autopsy on Gilnitz reveals the same thing, as does her examination of the complete but crispy Leonard Betts (or Albert Tanner). One thing, however, puzzles him. This time, Betts has a few bullet wounds in his body. "Perhaps Gilnitz tried to defend himself," Scully theorizes.

"Yeah, but where's the gun?" Mulder asks.

She shrugs. "Maybe the same place Betts attacked Gilnitz. If he was going after the cancer for nourishment and was able to regenerate," she looks at Mulder, "he probably didn't see a need to keep a gun."

Yeah, but he used an autoinjector of potassium chloride on Michelle the last time, isn't that a weapon? he wants to ask.

And the visit to the cemetery brings more questions, not answers, at least for Scully. For Mulder, it only cements his growing concern that he won't be able to stop Betts this time. "We didn't find a scalpel," he says in a monotone.

"What?" Scully frowns, shaken from their counter-theorizing.

"You said Gilnitz' lung was surgically removed, but we found nothing like a knife or sharp weapon used to do the job," Mulder goes on, his hazel eyes seemingly looking at the late Albert Tanner.

"It's possible it was in the car," Scully tells him, "fused in the heat of the blaze to something unrecognizable."

Mulder shakes his head. "No, we would've found it," he says doggedly, walking away, "if Leonard Betts truly was on that autopsy table."

"Where are you going?" Scully calls after him, already moving quickly, despite being halfway dead from lack of sleep.

"Where do most kids go when they're hurt?" he asks. "Back to Mommy Dearest."


The sun is rising, and Mulder squints against it in his race back to Elaine Tanner's place. It's possible that they'll get to Betts before he leaves, now that they've got the house surrounded. To his astonishment, there are no cop cars around, in fact, the street looks empty. "Where the hell is the security?" he demands, then kicks down the door, gun in hand.

His wife takes more time getting out of the car, getting her bearings as she wakes up. Smothering a yawn, she, too, pulls out her gun, but being on high high heels and half-awake isn't a good combination. Scully, concerned about her husband, asks, "What's going on?" There's no answer, but she hears a scream, a shout, then gunshots. "Mulder!" she shouts, running downstairs.

What greets her as she sprints through the basement is the sight that puts everything into a surrealistic nightmare. Mulder is standing, his shoulders slumped, gun in one hand and flashlight in the other. Mrs. Tanner is wrapping her arms around herself, weeping incoherently in her robe and curlers. And then there is Leonard Betts, hand still clutching a scalpel, his eyes staring open as his body continues to spasm with the jolts of electricity going from the scalpel embedded in the fusebox.

Scully reaches out to the old woman, touching her arm gently. "Mrs. Tanner."

The old woman glares, pulling away from the redhead. "Children should never die before their parents," she says vehemently, her eyes softening when the body finally stiffens. "I have what he needed."

Now Mulder looks up at Mrs. Tanner. "You have cancer," he says in a wooden voice.

She frowns, then launches herself at her son. Only Mulder's quickness prevents her from committing suicide by electrocution, and she curses him. She continues to curse as Scully pushes the body away from the fusebox with a plastic broomstick, cursing when the police swarm over the house, cursing when the EMTs come to take her to the hospital.

When everyone else is swarming over the crime scene, Mulder and Scully look at each other tiredly before heading out the door. "Mulder, why didn't you shoot him instead of the fusebox?" she asks, now that she's thinking a little more clearly past the insane events of the morning.

"Remember those bullet holes in the other Betts body? I just guessed that bullets had no, or only a temporary, effect on him," Mulder lies through his teeth as he opens the rented car door.

Scully nods, absently buckling herself in when he closes the door. "You were right," Scully says in a groggy voice when he starts the car.

He almost reverses into the electric pole. She must be tired if she's admitting that, he thinks. "Maybe she was right," Mulder says seriously, not crowing about a victory for once.

"What do you mean?" she says, closing her eyes.

"Parents shouldn't outlive their kids," he says, driving carefully since he's operating on as much sleep as his wife, which is very little.

She frowns, her eyes blinking open. "Mulder," she says finally when they're well on their way to the motel, "if this is a secret murder-suicide pact, I'm leaving you and taking the kids."

He blinks, and a smile sprawls across his face. "There is no secret murder-suicide pact," remembering the ghost of a ghost, "I was just thinking of how selfish some parents can be." And his smile disappears, thinking of his own.

"Mulder," she says, closing her eyes again, even as the morning sun tints the sky a blazing red like her hair, "if we ever get selfish, our kids will be the first to kick our asses."

His laughter is the last thing she hears as she slides into sleep, giving her dreams of a bossy blonde little girl, an impish redheaded boy, and countless other children, looking like variations between herself and her husband, playing merrily together, untroubled by the strange world around them.


Chapter Forty-Three

Washington, D.C.
February 8th, 1997
5:45 p.m.

"Okay. I'll be right over. Yes, right over." There's a faint edge to Scully's voice on the second to last word.

Mulder looks up from scrubbing Sammy's high chair tray. He lets the cloth drop, thinking that the tomato sauce can wait. "Problem?"

Scully brushes her hair off her forehead, so he knows that she's preoccupied. Or annoyed. "Missy needs me tonight. You'll be okay with the kids, right?"

"Of course," he quickly agrees. "What's wrong?"

"She's got a sick friend...and she's afraid that she's going to die."

He winces. "What of?"

"Missy didn't say," Scully tells him, already putting her coat on. "She didn't even mention which friend. Not that I can keep up with her whirlwind social life anyway. I got the sense that it was a close friend, at least."

He nods. "Drive carefully. We'll be fine here at Fort Mulder, so don't worry about us."

"Don't say the F word, Mulder," Scully commands with a small shudder.

He opens his mouth, about to express his puzzlement given his didn't swear and she'd never had objections to the word fort before, then grins. "Okay, we'll be GOOD, then."

"That'll be the day," Scully mutters, but she reaches up for him to kiss him on the cheek. "Don't let them stay up too late."

"Do you need to take anything with you? Like a change of clothes?" He understood that "tonight" meant the whole night, and that she'd be sleeping over.

"Nah, I've got an over-night bag from our last case in my car still."

"All right. See you in the morning then." He pauses. "You might want to stop at a store on the way and buy some chocolate. I hear it helps?" he explains when she stares at him.

"Not a bad idea. I'll be back before we need to leave for work," Scully promises on the way out the door.


5:55 p.m.

"Where did that sister of yours get to?" Mulder asks his son, as he puts the boy on his hip. The little redhead grins at him, but doesn't turn Page in. "I guess we'll have to look for her, then, won't we?"

"Yes!" Sammy crows. "Paaaaaageeee?" he shouts, looking around Mulder's side. This makes Mulder grin.

Just then Mulder hears a knock at the door, so he puts down Sammy. "Stay put."

"Did you forget something, Scully?" Mulder calls. The knock comes again, so he goes and opens the door. "You're not Scully."

"They always said you were a bright man," Krycek says sourly. His voice is a little muffled because he's holding a cloth to his nose.

"What do you want?" Mulder asks warily. Page runs to him, so he picks her up as he looks at the man standing in the doorway.

Krycek moves his hand away from his nose and blood leaks out of his nostril, looking lurid under the porch light. "I'm sick. I need your help."


In spite of himself, Mulder finds himself opening the door wide to allow the younger man in. Still, he nearly barks at Krycek when he comes too close to Sammy, but in the end he ignores the baby and slumps into a chair, so Mulder holds his tongue. Instead, he picks Sammy up and puts him in the playpen with a few toys, and tells Page to go play. "What's wrong with you?" Mulder asks him, already fairly sure that he knows the answer.

The other man opens a folder that Mulder didn't even notice that he was holding. In it is a gray and white film. Krycek twists in his seat and holds the film above a lamp. The cranial x-ray, which has a brighter area between the eyes. "They tell me it's cancer." He points a finger at the irregular bright spot. "A tumor between my sinus and brain. It explains the nose bleeds?" he asks with a hollow laugh.

Mulder winches. Back when he gave Duane Barry the other man's address, he hadn't stopped to think of what might be done to him if he was taken in Scully's place. Since Krycek had no eggs to steal, he more or less expected that he'd be of no use to the kidnappers and unlikely to suffer the same ill effects. It seemed as though he was wrong.

"I'm sorry," Mulder says honestly. "What do you think I can do for you?"

Krycek shrugs. "Did you and agent Scully investigate a group of alien abductees who had cancer?"

Mulder nods. "I did. Scully was on maternity leave."

"How unusual," Krycek says with a sneer that quickly fades.

"You think you were abducted by aliens?" Mulder asks.

"Of course not," Krycek snaps. "These people, though, they think they know a doctor who can cure this type of cancer. But I need an in, someone to vouch for me. You."

Even though he doesn't want to, Mulder feels that he owes it to help Krycek out. If it wasn't for him, his wife would be the one sitting before him with death's shadow over her. "When did you want to talk to them?"

"Tonight. Now," Krycek says eagerly. A fresh trickle of blood oozes from his nose, and he's quick to bring the handkerchief to his face again.

The sight of the blood decides Mulder. He stands up with a sigh and begins pulling coats off the coat tree. "My wife is going to kill me, you know."

"Ask me if I care."


Allentown, Pennsylvania
9 p.m.

Three hours in a car with two toddlers seems to have worn Krycek out, so his head is slumped against the window when Mulder finally pulls into a driveway. Krycek looks so sick that he feels a stir of pity for him, which is possibly compounded by how surprisingly good with kids his nemesis has turned out to be. He kept the kids even better entertained than Mulder or Scully usually could, until they both dozed off.

Mulder shakes Krycek's shoulder lightly. "We're here."

Despite the relatively late hour, there's still a light burning in the window of the house. "Do you think you're up to carrying Sammy?" Mulder asks, and it feels slightly surreal to be handing his child over to someone like Krycek. But the other man is in no condition to run off with him, so he figures it's okay. "If you're not..."

"I can manage," Krycek mutters, holding out his arms for the sleeping child. He carefully cradles the boy with his good arm, surprising Mulder a second time.

He and Mulder trudge up the stairs, surprising a realtor who is peeling a MUFON sticker off the window. She looks up at them. "It's a little late for a tour."

::Oh great, she probably thinks we're a nontraditional family.:: "Actually, we're not here about the sale of the house. We're looking for Betsy Higopian. No one's returning our messages."

"Sorry, um, Betsy's passed away, just two and a half weeks ago. Are you a relation?"

::Geez, I'd hate to be dead two weeks before my family knew.:: "No, we're with the FBI." Mulder glances at his sleepy children. "And I couldn't get a babysitter," he adds.

"Is there some kind of trouble?" the realtor asks.

"Betsy was part of a MUFON group." Mulder points to the crumpled sticker in her hand.

The woman gives him a blank look. "I don't know about any of that, I'm just the realtor."

"Would you mind if we come inside and take a look?" The realtor hesitates and Mulder shows his badge. She stands aside and they enter.

Pretending to hear something, Mulder picks up the phone. "It sounds like a modem. Someone must be sending a fax or something."

Krycek nods, but it doesn't seem as though he's making the sort of connection that Scully would have. "Is that important?"

Mulder shrugs. "Maybe it'll be a lead. If someone doesn't know that Betsy's dead..."

Krycek connects the dots. "Maybe they're sending her information that could help me."

They go downstairs and find a computer. Mulder switches on the monitor, which shows file transfers in progress. "Someone must have remote access to the system. Looks like they're downloading data from Betsy's computer. Maybe we can get a trace on this before they hang up." Mulder pulls out his cell phone and calls for a trace.


Allentown, Pennsylvania
Apartment 234
9:30 p.m.

"Apartment 234 is listed under Kurt Crawford," Krycek says, nodding over Sammy's head. The little boy is awake, and staring at Krycek's ears, seemingly fascinated. Mulder keeps giving him nervous glances, sure he's going to pull on them, but he never does.

A man bursts through the front door just then. "You there! Stop!" Mulder shouts in a commanding voice, but he's still surprised when the young man does as he's told without having to be tackled. "Is your name Kurt Crawford?"

"Yes."

Mulder looks at Krycek. "Nose."

The younger man quickly paws through his coat pocket for a tissue.


Inside the apartment Kurt lets Krycek use the bathroom while Mulder and the kids sit in the living room and talk to the young clone.

Kurt nervously excuses himself to get a drink of water. When Krycek comes out, Mulder fills him in. "He says he's a member of the same Mutual UFO Network group that Betsy Hagopian belonged to, that he was downloading files for safe keeping as Betsy had instructed him to."

"Then why did he come out of this place running?" Krycek asks.

"He thinks his life's in danger. He thinks there's a government conspiracy to suppress the information gathered in those files."

"And you believe him?"

"Well he seems to know an awful lot about Betsy and the other women in the MUFON group that you mentioned back at my house." He pauses, trying to think of how to break the news. "The women you wanted to talk to...they're dead."

Krycek blinks, then turns to stare at Kurt, who is returning with a glass clutched in his hand. "How did they die?"

"Brain cancer. All within the last year."

Krycek seems unaware that he's reaching up to touch his nose. "They're all dead?"

"Except for Penny Northern, and she's in the hospital and it doesn't look good."

"The government got them too then." Krycek sighs heavily, and slumps in his chair.

"You think the government gave you cancer, Krycek?" Mulder asks, wondering suddenly what the younger man thought happened to him.

"I do," Kurt speaks up, surprising both Mulder and Krycek. "Eleven women are abducted, all with similar recollections about the experience, all developing identical brain tumors, and all refused state or federal health care because of their insistence of the facts. And all dying within the space of a year. Who else could orchestrate something like that?"

"The group you claim to be part of claims it was aliens," Mulder tells Kurt, and the clone turns away.

"It doesn't matter how they got cancer, Mulder. Your little green men, Big Brother, it doesn't change the fact that they're all dead."

"They're not all dead. Penny Northern isn't."

"I guess we ought to talk to Penny while she's still alive," Krycek says grimly.


Allentown Bethlehem Medical Center

Mulder expects to get flack for bringing his son and daughter to the hospital, but when the nurse just leads them up to Penny's room without comment, he remembers that they're going to a hospice floor. No one expects Penny to get better, so the vigilance against germs is relaxed in favor of the comfort of visitors. Mulder nearly feels guilty when he realizes that the nurse thinks that they're Penny's family. Almost.

Penny smiles from her hospital bed when she sees them enter.

"Agent Mulder," she says with a nod of her head. "Good to see you again. You've brought your children, I see. And Alex." Mulder smiles in return, thinking of how good her memory is considering how brief and perfunctory his visit was the last time they met. It had been a simple day excursion right before the Buckman case, and he hadn't even mentioned it to Scully.

Krycek, however, looks startled by Penny's warm greeting. "Do I know you?"

"Maybe, Maybe not. I know you, Alex, but you might not remember me. We were together when they...I comforted you in the place, after the tests."

"I don't remember any of that."

"It's all right."

"If it's okay, I'd like to ask you some questions," Krycek says.

"About Dr. Scanlon?"

"I'm not sure. Maybe. Who's Dr. Scanlon?"

"He's treating the cancer. He treated Betsy, too. He thinks he might have isolated the cause. And that if he'd caught it earlier he might have been able to do more for her ... and for me."

"Okay, yes, that's the doctor I wanted to talk to you about."

A few minutes later they leave, and Krycek has filled a notebook with information from Penny about the miracle doctor.

"For what it's worth, I hope that this doctor can help you," Mulder offers when they get back to his car.

"It's funny, but I never thought about dying young," Krycek says. "But then, I never thought I'd turn to you for help, either."

Mulder shrugs. "Stranger things have happened."

Alex makes a barking sound that takes Mulder a moment to identify as laughter. "Only someone assigned to the X-Files could say that."


The Next Morning
Washington, D.C.
7 a.m.

Still yawning over coffee, Mulder picks up the phone on the first ring. "Scully? Let me guess, you're not going to be able to come to the office today."

She sounds surprised. "How did you know that's what I was calling you to say?"

"Your sister can be..." he struggles to find the right word. "...intense."

"It's not like that. Exactly. I just thought that it would be a good use of a personal day, spending some quality time with my sister." Her voice is apologetic. "She doesn't ask a lot from me."

"I'll let Skinner know you'll be in tomorrow. But what about me? Should I expect you home tonight? Or should I stop by with a case of tissues?"

"Come hell or high water, I'll be home before you put the kids to bed," Scully promises.

"Okay. Love you."

"Love you too. Bye."

There's a knock on the door not even fifteen seconds after he's put the phone back. Amy's already there, so he wonders if it's Krycek again. It isn't.

"If you want to help your friend, there's something you ought to see," Kurt Crawford says without any preamble.

"He's not my-" Mulder stops himself since finishing his sentence isn't going to do him any good. "If this is going to take long, I ought to call Skinner and tell him that I'm not going to be in."

"Call him."

::I don't know why I'm doing this...:: Mulder thinks as he wanders back towards the phone.


Lehigh Furnace, Pennsylvania
Center for Reproductive Medicine
Noon

Kurt leads Mulder through a building, and disappears through a doorway. When the door opens again, he waves his hand towards Mulder. Two identical men stand behind him.

"Agent Mulder, come in," one of the Kurts says.

"You're hybrids," Mulder blurts out. He knew this, but he still feels a measure of awe to see them there. It's too unusual a sight to be passé.

"Please come in so that we might explain."

Mulder walks in and sees a room full of growing tanks with hybrids inside in a greenish liquid, as well as more hybrids.

"What is it that you're doing here?"

"Subverting the project. The project that created us."

Mulder rubs condensation off one of the tanks and sees a boy who looks much like the ones he saw working with the clones of his sister in another lifetime. "I've seen this boy before. These boys were you."

"We're among the end results," one Kurt says.

"And you want to destroy them?" Mulder asks.

"No. What we want is the same thing that you want," a second Kurt says. "To stop them from doing this to others."

Mulder and one of the hybrids enter a vault with many metal compartments. "What are these?"

"Human ova." The Kurt's voice is emotionless.

"Taken from whom?" Mulder asks. He sees a metal drawer with Betsy Hagopian's name on it. The hybrid points out another drawer with Penny Northern's name on it. He offers up a silent prayer of thanks when he sees that Scully's name isn't on any of the vials. He didn't think there would be, but to see for sure...

He fingers the label of one of the vials with Penny's name on it. "I know this woman."

"These are eggs that were stolen from her. Harvested during her abduction, through a high amplification radiation procedure that caused superovulation."

"Why?"

"For fertilization. They constitute one half of the necessary raw materials."

"For genetic hybridization... for reproduction. These women, these women are your birth mothers," Mulder whispers, thinking again of the fate Scully escaped, and how Krycek is suffering in her stead.

"Barren now, from the same procedure that caused their cancer. And now they're left to die, their conditions hastened by the men running this project."

"You're trying to save them."

"They're our mothers."

"And fathers," Mulder says, thinking of Krycek.

"And fathers," a clone agrees. "That's why we want to help your friend."

"Is he your father?" Mulder asks curiously. He always wondered if one of the women he met, like Penny Northern, was their mother.

The Kurt shrugs. "I'm not sure. Does it matter?"

"I suppose not. But why does he has cancer? It's not as though any special means were necessary to harvest genetic material from a man."

"To cover up their tracks."

Mulder gives the Kurt a horrified look. "Are you saying that they purposely gave him cancer?"

"Irradiation is handy," the Kurt tells him. "It's one of the lessons from the Chernobyl disaster."

He shakes his head sadly. "Why did you want me to see all this?"

"So you can convince him."

"Who?"

"Your friend."

"To do what?" A buzzing fills his head suddenly.

"We want him to help us, and we'll help him."

"All right, how do you want him to help you, and in exchange for what help?"

"This man, Alex Krycek, we've investigated him. If anyone can help us disappear, it's him."

"That tells me how he can help you," Mulder says pointedly.

"There's a healer. If he helps, we help him," Kurt reiterates.

::Jeremiah Smith:: Mulder thinks. :: Maybe he got away, or maybe he's not unique.:: "I'll try to convince him."

The Kurt nods. "That's all we ask of you."

"So which one of you wants to go on a ride?" Mulder asks. He'd personally prefer if it was the Kurt that he and Krycek talked to before, but it's not as though he could pick him out of a lineup.

"I will," one says, before following Mulder out to his car.


Mulder-Scully Home

"How's your sister?" Mulder asks his wife when she gets home.

"Fine." She becomes a little flustered when Mulder gives her a disbelieving look. "Not fine, but I think she'll be okay. She said something about a new treatment for whatever the disease is. She's hopeful that it will work out for her."

"For whatever the disease is, huh? That's specific."

"Well, she was pretty broken up about things, Mulder. I sort of got the feeling that her friend didn't go into a lot of detail about what she has, and only told people at all because of the potential that it will be fatal."

"So it could be a kinky sex disease? It could," he protests when she makes a face at him.

"I sort of wondered if it could be AIDS," Scully confesses. "Which would make me worry about Missy."

"Even if it was, unless you think your sister is secretly the type to share needles or boyfriends there's nothing to worry about." He's surprised when Scully glares at him. "What?"

"I meant I worry because it's a hard disease to watch someone die of."

"Oh. That too."


Two Days Later

When Mulder gets to Krycek's apartment there are two Kurts there helping him pack. Mulder wonders how Krycek would explain their identical appearance if asked, then decides that people would readily believe that they're twins.

Most of Krycek's possessions are in a moving van, and it looks like the Kurts are putting the rest in two cars, one of them the sick man's.

"So you're going to help them," Mulder comments as he reaches for a box.

"What choice do I have?" Krycek asks heavily. "That doctor treating Penny and Betsy wasn't successful with either of them-"

"Penny didn't make it?" Mulder feels a twinge of regret; in this reality Penny didn't have Scully's presence to comfort her.

"No. I was with her last night when she passed away."

Mulder gives him a surprised look. "You were? Why?"

"I've been asking myself that, too. Haven't you ever followed a compulsion before?"

"All the time."

"All I planned to do was stop by and ask her a question, but she seemed to be feeling pretty bad, so I just sat with her. And then...I never did get to ask her my question."

"Sorry."

Krycek suddenly gives him a sharp look. "Why did you help me?"

He shrugs. "You're sick. It doesn't seem like you have many other people in your life who both can and would help you."

"Pity then."

"Not exactly. Call it empathy. It doesn't strain my imagination much to picture myself in your position. I'd hope to have someone willing to help me too."

"The golden rule, Mulder?" Krycek says with a sneer. "Have you always been such a boy scout?"

Mulder gives him a mock salute. "I live to serve." He puts the box that he'd forgotten that he was holding in the trunk of Krycek's car, and lets the trunk slam shut. "Good luck and get out of here."

"One more stop and I'm going to vanish." There's a faint smile on his lips. "I hope I never see you again."

"Likewise."


Three Hours Later

He can barely stand the look in Missy's eyes as she grabs his good arm. "Don't go, Alex."

"I have to," he tells her with a sigh. The fact that he's really going to miss her took him by complete surprise. Their relationship has been one that's mostly about getting laid, so the deeper feelings that he's finding make him uncomfortable. It was never his intention to get so entangled with anyone that it would ever be hard to leave. Working for the consortium leaves little room in mind for romance and attachment.

"My sister's a doctor. She might be able to help you." There's a slight note of desperation to the woman's voice.

Krycek opens his mouth, about to tell her that if her brother-in-law has been telling tales out of school the good doctor probably wouldn't piss on him if he were on fire, but he thinks better of it. It wouldn't do to explain why the sister wouldn't help him. That sort of explanation would epitomize "I could tell you but then I'd have to kill you," and he likes Missy too much to kill her. "She can't help me. No ordinary medicine is going to help this sort of brain tumor."

"So you're going to go chasing a quack cure in Mexico, then?"

He winces a little. She swallowed his alibi too easily...he's not sure that he wants to be that good a liar. "It's the only chance I have."

"Then let me go with you."

"You can't."

"I don't care what they told you the rules are, I-"

"I don't want you to come with me." She turns from him suddenly, and looks stung, so he softens his voice. "It means a lot to me that you'd be willing to take care of me, but...if it doesn't work, I can't bear to have you see me die."

"But-"

"If I get well, I promise I'll be back." Someday, he adds to himself.

"And if you don't?" Missy's voice is suddenly teary.

"Then you'll move on, and maybe now and then think fondly on the fool you once loved."

Those words are enough to set off the waterworks. He feels like an adult for once as he tries to comfort her.

Later, as he's driving off in the direction of his meeting place with the Kurts, he allows himself to wonder if he'll ever see Missy again. Before now he hasn't let himself think about it, since the answer hinges on if he gets better or not. For one shimmering moment, he feels hope.


Chapter Forty-Four

Basement Office
February 12th, 1997
8:31 a.m.

Scully hands Mulder a photo of a dead man. "His name was Isaac Luria. He lived in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, home to a sect of Hasidic Jews who have lived there since the late 19th Century."

"It's an area also known for its history of racial tensions and hate crimes. Rosenbaum, Tawana Brawley."

"And now Isaac Luria. He was murdered two days ago in the market that he owned. Severely beaten and shot five times at point blank range. The police ruled out robbery because the only thing that was missing was a video tape from the surveillance camera. The police found it early this morning." She puts the tape into VCR, and the interior of a small store fills the screen.

"Where did they find the tape?"

"In the VCR of a 16 year old named Tony Oliver. That's him on the upper right of the screen." On screen two other teens hold Isaac as Tony Oliver punches him in the face.

"Has he been arrested?"

"No, because he's dead. Apparently he was watching this tape when he was strangled to death."

"Very Old Testament," Mulder says. ::Or "The Ring." Will the rampage of murderous videotapes never end?::

"Yeah. But with a new twist. The Brooklyn Homicide detectives contacted the FBI Civil Rights branch with an interesting set of fingerprints that they pulled off of the boy's body."

"Interesting how?" Mulder asks to keep the conversation going.

"They belonged to Isaac Luria."

"Risen from the grave to avenge his own death? Like in that Crow movie we watched a couple of years ago?"

"Remind me to punch the Gunmen sometime for loaning us the movie that gave me nightmares," Scully says with a smirk that reminds Mulder of the two nights she woke up in a panic after seeing the movie. "Some people might assume that Luria has risen from the dead. It's probably what someone would like us to think."

"But you have your own idea."

"I think this is a crime of hatred like the crime that spawned it. A hatred that goes back 4000 years but masquerading as something else here. A callow attempt at murderous retribution disguised as spectral justice."

"A resurrection hoax."

"And not a very good one."

"Yes, spectral figures are not often known to leave fingerprints. Casper never did and all the smudges we have to pledge away at the house come from our kids."

"Somehow the killer got a hold of Isaac Luria's fingerprints and we have been asked to prove how," Scully says with a sigh. Her right hand reaches around to rub her back. "I want to exhume the body and see if the dead man's hands were...removed."

"Eeww." His wife stares at him. "What? You can't tell me that the thought doesn't affect you the same way."


The Weiss home
That Afternoon

After revisiting Jacob and Arial Weiss to ask permission to exhume Luria, Mulder begins to get an idea why Scully was and is so eager to believe that Weiss is their killer. The man's belligerence and sanctimony do him no favors when it comes to others' keeping open minds. If he didn't know for sure that the testy old man was innocent, he might gun for him too.

In the car, Scully's next words reiterate what Mulder has been thinking. "I'm afraid he knows who killed Tony Oliver, Mulder, and he doesn't want us disturbing Isaac Luria's grave because he knows what we'll find."

"Maybe..." He pulls the pamphlet out of the breast pocket of his coat and hands it to her before starting the car." ...but it's hard to fault his attitude when you see something like that. Anybody delivering justice to a people who have known that kind of persecution and hatred, why wouldn't they protect him?"

"Justice or revenge?"

"I'm not saying those kids deserve full prosecution under the law, but the hate mongering goes both ways."

"Yes, but the right to free expression doesn't extend to murder," Scully says.

" I bet whoever published that knows the boys who murdered Isaac Luria. They might have a guess at who killed Tony Oliver, too. "

Scully startles him by tapping his arm with the pamphlet. "Is this why you didn't want to raise the kids Jewish? I mean, we do nominally celebrate Hanukkah, but beyond that..."

Mulder shrugs. "I've never felt a deep connection to religion of any sort, never mind one that'll have you persecuted by crazy people for. You can't be accused of the wrong celestial alliances if you don't make any at all. Why, do you think it's hurting the kids not to be raise in any particular religion?"

"Not really. It's just that we barely talked about it."

He nods. "If I find Jesus, I'll let you know."

"Okay."

"I wouldn't be surprised if he's hiding out with Elvis and Jimmy Hoffa, actually."

"Mulder..."Her tone is a warning one, but she can't hide the smile in her eyes.


Shortly thereafter a visit to Bjunes's store reaffirms Mulder's belief in prejudiced idiots. He doesn't have much time to dwell on it, because he's soon bribing Rachel to come back and stay late when they get a call telling them that the exhumation they wanted is no longer going to require Weiss' reluctant permission - someone has gone to the trouble of thoughtfully disinterring the body for them, then stuck around so they didn't have to wonder who did it.


Cemetery
10 p.m.

Scully puts on her latex gloves and raises the body bag flap from Clinton's face. She touches the deep bruises on his neck before rezipping the body bag. The coroner's office workers take the body away.

She walks up to Mulder who is crouched by the grave, putting on latex gloves. "Ligature marks on the victim's neck are consistent with the vigilante's MO. Forensics come up with anything? "

"Yeah, second set of footprints, but the mud is too soft to take a mold."

"I guess Clinton was here with Derek Banks."

" Looking for what?"

Scully hops into the grave with as much grace as she can muster, then looks up at Mulder and is surprised to see that he's staring at her and his face is drained of color.

"Is there something horrible behind me?" she asks in a slightly trembling voice.

He sounds puzzled. "No, why?"

"You were looking at me like you'd just seen a ghost."

"Sorry, I'm not good with graves," he mutters, clambering in beside her. ::I've already seen you ready for a grave once before, so this threw me.::

"I think maybe they came to desecrate the corpse as retribution for Tony Oliver's death."

"That seems kind of redundant, doesn't it? Messing up somebody you already killed?"

"I don't think we're dealing with rational thinkers, Mulder."

"I think they came here because they were afraid," Mulder says as he crouches to the coffin.

"Afraid?"

Mulder lifts a sheet of plastic covering the coffin lid. When he does, a smell wafts up into the night air. They both cover their noses.

"Afraid that man they hated enough to kill wasn't really dead." He points at the corpse's intact hands. "Look, there goes your theory of how Isaac's fingerprints got

onto the victim's body. What's that look like to you?" he asks, indicating the dark marks on the hands.

" The body wasn't embalmed according to custom. Maybe it's postmortem lividity or some sort of tattooing. It's hard to tell with this stage of decomposition. In another week we wouldn't have a prayer of figuring it out."

Mulder reaches down by the corpse's head. And pulls out the book he's been looking for as they talk. "What's this? A little bedtime reading?"

He doesn't get to open the book this time either before it bursts into flames. "Fire!" He yells theatrically, even though he's not as afraid of fire anymore.


Their final stop of the night is to go to the Judaic library to speak to Kenneth Ungar about the book's significance. As before he confirms that it's the Sepher Vetzirah, a Hebrew text that contains a creation story. He tells them that it isn't buried with the dead, that it shouldn't have caught on fire, and that it's marked with Jacob Weiss' name, which all but convinces Scully of the man's culpability. By the time they get home Mulder is too tired to try to convince her that there might be another explanation.


Weiss Residence
The next morning

The look on Arial's face isn't friendly when she opens the door. Without being told she knows that they're there about her father.

"Why do you want to see him?"

"There's been another murder," Scully tells him. "Another suspect in your husband's death has been found dead last night."

"Where was this?"

"Next to your husband's grave," Mulder replies.

"How does this concern my father?"

Scully looks surprised that she has to ask. "Yesterday he expressed strong feelings towards this latest victim."

"Those were just angry words."

"And we found evidence placing him at the crime scene. This is escalating into something else Arial. Something that has to stop."

"My marriage to Isaac... you have to understand how much it would have meant to my father."

"What do you mean, would have meant?"

"We got our marriage license a few weeks ago, but the wedding wasn't to be until today."

"I'm sorry."

"I'd like to show you something."

She picks up a glass dome and holds it up for them to see. Inside is large silver ring shaped like a cathedral. She makes sure that they both have seen the ring before speaking. "It's a communal wedding ring made in Colon, a village near Prague. My father was an apprentice to the man who designed it."

"It's beautiful."

"Uh hum. Every woman who got married in the synagogue wore this ring as a symbol that she was a queen, her husband a king. And a home...They made a castle...not only on their wedding day, but for the rest of their lives together. But most of those lives ended in one day in the spring of 1943. 9000 Jews were massacred after digging their own graves."

"But your father survived," Scully notes.

"Because he was ten years old. He had small fingers to make bullets at a munitions factory." Arial's voice holds a bitter note.

"And through all this, he hid the ring?"

"Even after the war he hid it, even from my mother."

"Why didn't he use it for their wedding?" Scully asks.

"Because to him, it was a dead relic from a forgotten place.Until the day that I told him I was getting married, and for the first time in fifty years, he took out this ring. He said it was like his village was born again. He knew how much I loved Isaac."

"Arial, tell us where your father is."

"I know my father. He would never kill anyone."

"What if you're wrong?"


The rest of the afternoon is eventful. Arial gave in and told them that her father was at his synagogue, and they're attacked by a swift-moving figure shortly after finding Derek Banks, hanged. They nearly have to shoot Jacob Weiss before he surrenders.

Later, Arial melts down when she learns that her father has confessed. The confession leaves a sour taste in Mulder's mouth too, because he knows that the confessed in innocent. Not that he has any luck convincing Scully that it was another man, not Jacob that knocked him down in the synagogue, and who was probably their murderer. He hasn't even begun to broach the possibility of the supernatural yet, knowing already that it'll be futile until she sees with her own eyes.

All in all it's a very long day.


A few Hours Later

Although he volunteered to put the kids to bed, Scully insists that she wanted to do it herself. He hides a smile of amusement as she attempts to put Sammy on her hip, but is thwarted by her finally rounding belly. She holds him under the arm pits, much in the way their grandmother did that one time, but puts him down a few seconds later when he howls in protest, more indignant than pained. Just before he offers to help a second time, she seems inspired to help him learn to navigate the stairs, which he does with a look of intense concentration on his little face. They disappear up the staircase, but the sound of Sammy's hard little shoes smacking the hardwood floor tells him that Scully's lowered him over the baby gate.

Slipping his wedding ring off his finger, he examines it in the light. It's not nearly as elaborate as the ring that Arial showed them, since it's just a simple band of gold. The choice for their rings had been left entirely to Scully, and she had mundane taste in jewelry. He tilts it, so he can read the inscription. They'd joked about having it read "Fox and Dana forever" but in the end, they'd both blurted out the phrase that would mean something more to them. They saw it every day. "I want to believe."

Leaning back in his chair, he stared at the dent in his ring finger. He saw it every day too, because he took it off to shower and to sleep, afraid to lose the ring down the drain or to toss it somewhere while dreaming. But for the first time in three years, he looks at it with purpose. For a moment he tries to imagine what it would feel like if that ring was no longer on his finger, because he somehow lost Scully. Again. Death and divorce are simple facts of life, and it hurts to think about screwing up so badly that one or the other happens.

"Mulder?"

Before he looks up, he puts his ring back on, and feels safer. "Yeah?"

"Do you suppose I could take you up on that backrub offer now?"

"Is the baby being mean to you?" he asks sympathetically, getting up so she doesn't have to walk to him. "Maybe we can get my mom to sign him or her up for soccer now."

Scully smiles tiredly and shakes her head. "It's just my muscles."

"I'll try to get them to apologize," he promises, slinging an arm around her. "I'll put the squeeze on them until they do."

"My hero."


Forty-five minutes later Scully is sleeping peacefully. Mulder has his head on her chest, and his nose is pressed up against her belly. He almost starts when the baby's well placed kick gets him, but he doesn't. Instead he turns his thoughts towards the unborn.

Scully is still uninterested in learning the gender of their unborn babies, and he likes the surprise as well, so this is their third time not knowing if they're expecting a son or daughter. Mulder finds that he doesn't really have a preference, since a boy or a girl would be good.

Stretching a little, he puts a hand on Scully's belly, and it doesn't seem to disturb her. For a fleeting moment he imagines that the baby will be a boy. With William, that'd be three little boys, and that sounds like a lot. He remembers being a little boy himself... Maybe two boys and two girls would be better. ::Not that it matters as long as the baby is healthy.:: His eyelids droop.

Just as he drifts off he begins to imagine his four children playing together. Sometimes this unborn baby is a boy, sometimes a girl, but always a redhead like Sammy. It must be far into the future, because William toddles after his older siblings, and all four of them are laughing happily.


Two hours later Scully wakes up and hears a soft voice. Her first thought is to wonder if it's the ghosts, but then she realizes that Mulder is talking in his sleep. She rolls her eyes over the thought of ghosts, and wonders what that says about her sanity that she's thought of it first.

"I've spent too much time listening to your theories, Mulder," she says aloud.

"Yeah."

She wonders for a moment if he's awake, but she looks at him and sees that he clearly isn't. It only takes a moment to decide to see if he'll keep talking to her. "Hey Mulder, what are you dreaming about?"

"Our kids."

"Sammy and Page?"

"Yeah. And the baby and William."

Scully smiles in the dark. "Who's William?"

"Our son. Someday." Mulder's voice is barely a sigh. "But not for years."

"Do you know which year?"

"Two Thousand and One. I think he'll be our youngest son."

"Oh, okay," Scully says and then lets him fall back into deeper sleep. Her last comment is only for herself. "I guess he really does want more kids."

There's still a smile on her face when she falls asleep.


Upper East Side Manhattan
Judaica Archives
The Next Morning

Mulder startles a reading Kenneth Ungar when he appears before him as quietly as a ghost.

"Agent Mulder!"

"There's something you didn't tell me about the contents of this Sepher Vetzirah."

"What is it you want to know?"

" I want to know about the myth of the Golem."

"This is a mystical text. These pages are filled with Golems and vivics and demons of every size and shape." His hand gropes for his glasses, making Mulder wonder how he was able to read earlier.

"It's the just the Golem that I'm interested in," Mulder tells him, sitting down in an empty chair across the table.

"And I'm interested in why an FBI agent would be so interested in such a thing."

"I have a suspicion that warrants investigation."

"The early Cabolists... they believed that a righteous man could actually create a living being from the Earth itself. Fashioned from mud or clay... This creature could only be brought to life by the power of the word. In practical terms by the direct application of certain secret letter combinations. "

"Combinations found in that book?"

Ungar nods and opens the book to a page of hebrew Mulder can't read. "See? These pages, they're basically instructions for animating the inanimate And this... this passage here talks about inscribing a single word on the Golem itself."

"On the back of his hand?" Mulder asks.

"I'm impressed."

::You shouldn't be impressed, you should be terrified.:: He doesn't allow his face to betray his thoughts. "What's the secret word?"

"Emet. See.." He points to three symbols of the text. "Aleph, Mem, Tau... Creates the word, Emet."

"I don't speak Hebrew, I don't know what that means."

"Truth. Emet means truth. See, Mr. Mulder, therein lies the paradox... because the danger of the truth is contained in the word Golem itself. Which means matter without form, body without soul."

"So the Golem is an imperfect creation."

"Oh, kind of a monster, really. Unable to speak or feel anything but the most primitive of emotions. It runs amok. It has to be destroyed by its creator."

"Destroyed, how?"

Kenneth flips through the book to find the page. "By erasing the first letter, Aleph. Emet becomes met... which means dead. Again, Mr. Mulder... the power of letters, not just to create, but to kill."

Mulder nods. "That was the premise of a horror movie from a couple of years ago. In The Mouth of Madness. A writer's words became reality, and a deadly reality at that."

"Few people understand the weight of words," Ungar agrees sagely, making Mulder a little nervous about the man's sanity.

He thanks the librarian and leaves, stopping on the walkway when his cell phone rings.

"Yeah?"

His wife's voice breaks over the line. "Mulder, it's me. There's been another homicide."

"Who?"

"Herb Bjunes. I'm on my way to the print shop right now."

"Okay, I can be there in ten minutes."


Bjunes Copy Shop

After they look through the dead man's hate literature, a detective calls them over to a video monitor.

"The image is fuzzy, but I think we've got a hit. There." He points to the screen once he's paused the tape. The man in the frozen frame is readily recognizable.

"Oh, my God. It's Isaac Luria. He's still alive." Scully's hand goes to her mouth.

"I'm not so sure about that," Mulder replies, not bothering to clarify if he doubts it's Luria or doubts he's alive.


Scully looks up from her call, trying to spot Mulder in the milling crowd of people investigating the anti-Semitic copier's death. He sees her and comes over.

"No. That won't be necessary," she tells whomever she's speaking to before hanging up. "Well, the coroner matched Luria's dental records. It was definitely his corpse in the grave. This video tape...it must have been altered some how. Planted by whoever is staging this hoax."

"It's not a hoax, Scully. It never was."

She gives him a puzzled look. "But if Luria is dead, Mulder..."

"This is not Luria. Not really."

"Well, who do you think it is? Some kind of a ghost?"

"A ghost is spirit without form. I believe what we're looking for and what we're seeing here, is... is form without spirit. Something called a Golem."

"A Golem? I know I've heard that word recently, but it's not ringing any bells."

"It's kind of a man made monster described in Jewish folklore. It's fashioned through mud and then animated through mystical incantation."

"Mud! Mulder, what are you talking about? "

He gives her a reproving look. "You find that hard to believe? What about 'ashes to ashes, dust to dust'?"

"That's a metaphor, Mulder," she says, becoming irritated.

"The Mayans didn't think so. Their creation myth The Popul Vuh depicts humans being made of earth as well."

"Okay, so there's theological evidence in several cultures that link dirt and humans. But that's here nor there. Even if someone could create a Golem, for what purpose? Exacting revenge?"

"I don't think it was hate that created this, Scully. I think it was love."

Scully looks up at him with a frown. "Then it would be a killing love."

Despite her remark he can tell that she doesn't believe him.


Synagogue
Two Hours Later

As soon as they enter the building they see Jacob hanging from a rope,

still alive and struggling weakly. Mulder walks quickly to him and grabs his legs, lifting up slightly to create slack on the rope. It was Scully's task before, but before he wasn't worried that Jacob might accidentally kick her in the belly.

"Scully, there's a knife over there on the alter. Get it please?" Once she brings it he wraps one arm around the man's feet and reaches up to cut the rope. He stumbles when the man's weight falls on him, but manages not to drop his burden.

Once Mulder's put Jacob on the floor he and Scully loosen the rope and she looks the now unconscious man over. "His pulse is thready."

"Will he be all right?" Mulder asks, genuinely uncertain. Events have twisted away from the previous reality, so who's to say it wasn't Scully holding him up that saved him the time before?

"If we get him to a hospital," she says grimly, watching him stand. "Where are you going?"

"To find Arial. "

"Be careful," she reminds him, reaching for her phone to dial nine-one-one.


Mulder does a quick search of the synagogue and soon sees Arial sitting on the floor, crying.

"Arial? We found your father. He's alive. He's going to be okay. I know about Isaac. Where is he?"

"I don't know," she claims, and this time he knows that she's lying.

"Come on. We gotta get outta here." She shakes her head and makes no move to comply. "Come on, Arial. "He tries to lift her to her feet.

"No..." She resists. They hear a noise and turn. The Golem is standing there, looking at them impassively. "Isaac?"

Arial breaks free of Mulder's grasp and tries to go to Isaac, but Mulder pulls her back and behind him. He pulls his gun and aims it as the Golem, knowing it will do no good. "Stop or I'll fire."

"No!"

The figure keeps walking toward them. Mulder shoots twice, each bullet hitting the target, not fazing the Golem in the least.

"No! Stop..." Arial demands, and it's unclear whom she's speaking to, Mulder or the Golem.

Mulder continues firing as the Golem gets closer. The Golem lashes out at Mulder and Mulder is flung to the floor. The Golem's hands find Mulder's neck and they squeeze, choking him.

The numbness leaves Arial's face as she finally seems to realize that the Golem is fully capable of killing, and has every intention of killing the man investigating his death. "Isaac!" Arial's voice gets the Golem's attention and he turns his head in her direction.

She has the ring in her hand. The Golem stops choking Mulder and looks at her. He goes to her. As he gets closer and out of the shadow, she sees his face and cries out. He takes the ring and holds it at the end of her ring finger.

Arial speaks in Hebrew. "I am to my beloved... as my beloved is to me." Isaac puts the ring on her finger. She smiles to him and they curtsey. She kisses his hand tattoo... and then reaches out a gentle hand to him and erases the Aleph symbol on the back of his hand. "I loved you." Her tone speaks of finality and regret.

They look at each other as she cries and his face deteriorates, turning back to mud. Scully comes in time to see the figure begin to dissolve.

"Mulder..." She runs to him. He's still laying on the ground catching his breath. "Are you okay? I heard shots fired." She helps him up. "What happened?"

They look over at Arial. She's kneeling over Isaac's body, which has slumped to the floor. She is caressing his shoulder and arm.

"What is she doing?"

"Saying goodbye."

Isaac had turned to dirt. Arial picks up a handful and lets it spray over the body as she continues to pray and caress him.

Scully turns to leave once Mulder gets to his feet. He hesitates, still looking at the crouching woman. "Coming, Mulder?"

"In a minute."

Mulder approaches Arial, and looks down into her tear-streaked face. "You don't understand what it's like to so desperately want for someone to be alive again. How it feels to be convinced that any means that'll bring them back is acceptable," Arial says, her voice verging on a sob.

Mulder looks at her helplessly. It's on the tip of his tongue to blurt out every thing: that he does know that sort of desperation, that he has made a choice that could have turned out to be just as monstrous... but he can't say any of that.

"I'm sorry," he says simply.

Arial looks up at him with wet eyes. "Am I going to go to jail now?"

"I don't think there's anything they can hold you on."

"But those three boys and that printer..."

He shakes his head. She might not be going to prison, but the guilt would torment her. If only things had turned out as well for her as it did for him. He spent a moment wondering if Elsbeth ever visited this neck of the woods, and by the time he looks up, Arial is gone.


Washington, D.C.
That Night

"Scully?" She doesn't turn, so he calls to her again. "Scully."

When she turns to him he sees a dullness in her eyes, and he knows.

"Oh, god, what have I done?" He whispers to himself, looking at the monster he's summoned forth. There's no warmth to her features as she reaches out to him, just like he wanted, and he screams when she touches him-

"Daddddy!" A small voice wails fearfully and Mulder's eyes snap open in time to see his small and tearful son snatch his hand away from his father's arm.

"Hey, it's okay, Buddy," Mulder tells him as he gently draws the boy up onto the bed. "Daddy had a bad dream, that's all."

"Daddy sweeping?" Sammy asks, sniffling a little and wiping his eyes with one fist.

"Yeah, I was sleeping." Something hard pokes into Mulder's side. "What have you got?" he asks, realizing for the first time that his son is holding a book.

"Daddy read," Sammy demands, holding the book up for Mulder to see.

Mulder has to force himself not to jump out of bed when he sees the cover. Golem by David Wisniewski.

"Mulder? Is Sammy in here?" Scully asks before poking her head into the room. "I'm sorry he woke you up. I put him in a playpen in Page's room while I did laundry. Guess who can get out of the playpen now?" She shakes her head. "At least I think that he got out on his own, I wouldn't put it past Page to have pulled him out."

"Scully, where'd he get the book?" Mulder asks, pointing a finger at the offending picture book.

"Oh that. My mom bought the kids some new books last weekend - there was a sale on new picture books at the mall. I knew that the word Golem sounded familiar!"

"Yeah...want to read it to him? I don't think I'm up to it," he says with a small shudder that she misses.

"Sure."

She scoops up both toddler and book, leaving him to lie in bed, still shivering.


Chapter Forty-Five

6:03 a.m.
Feb. 23, 1997

Scully hits the snooze button on her clock, then rolls over to her side. Her stomach's getting noticeably bigger, and Skinner has threatened to force her into maternity leave. So far, she's resisted, since she's not expecting twins or anything out of the ordinary, and her pregnancy's fine. Even as her eyes flutter closed, she hears some muttering and some other suspicious noises, and she exhales slowly. She hopes Mulder didn't let the kids eat sweets again, but keeps her eyes shut. She will not face the day if she doesn't have to, dammit.

Then a little voice pipes up, "Happy birthday to you," and the fact that it's on key makes her sit up and open her eyes. She sees her husband carrying a tray of food in his hands, a huge smile on his face, and Sammy on his leg. Page is still singing the happy birthday song, remarkably on key, and holding Teliko and Piper in each arm. "Happy birthday, dear Mommy," her little girl sings, plopping herself and the kittens on the bed, "happy birthday to you." Then she frowns at the kittens. "Kittens not sing. Rach-all made kittens sing."

Mulder chuckles and plants a kiss on his wife's forehead before gently placing the breakfast tray on her lap and away from kid and kittens. "I think our nanny actually taught her something useful," he murmurs as his wife gives a shell-shocked look at her breakfast in bed. "Happy Birthday, Dana."

She shakes her head bemusedly at the use of her first name, then quickly blows out the small candle on the sno-cone. "You shouldn't have," she says drily, hugging her daughter.

"We made choc'lit milk an' toast," Page declares proudly, "Daddy made cake."

Scully looks at the pink sugary concoction with the smoldering candle, the muddy-looking milk, and burnt toast slathered with butter and jam. "I see." Try as she might, she can't help the corners of her mouth dancing upwards into a smile. "Thank you very much Page," she says, kissing her daughter's forehead, "ooh, and thank you, Sammy," she says as her son crawls onto the bed, "and you, Mulder," she kisses his sandpapery cheek.

"Mommy no work today!" Page yells, bouncing on the bed and threatening to topple the food and drink.

"What?" Scully looks up at her husband once she has the breakfast tray in her hands.

"Skinner insisted." He shrugs, "he's the boss."

Scully glares at him, then sighs. "Sure. Fine. Whatever." She takes another look at the burnt toast. "Now who had a bite of Mommy's toast?"

The kids giggle, and Sammy smiles openly, his few teeth and tongue showing the evidence of burnt toast crumbs. "Be glad I got it before he drooled all over it," Mulder grins.

"That's all right, Sammy can help Mommy eat the toast," Scully grins back.

Then Page chimes in, "Can I help Mommy eat cake?"

Scully looks at her daughter, who has a suspicious puppydog-like look on her face. "Sure," she says, and both kids dig in merrily as their mother takes a judicious sip of very chocolate milk, her eyebrow raised at her husband.


It's a surprisingly warm day in Washington D.C., and Mulder's taking advantage of that and the fact that he's got a day off, too. Whether it's because he deserves it or Skinner wants him out of his thinning hair, Mulder doesn't know which, but doesn't care. It's a great day, he's spending it with his family, and all's right with the world. Still, there's something at the back of his head that's been niggling at him, and he knows it's important. But this past week, he's been working on cases as well as Scully's birthday present, so he's been pretty occupied.

He takes the family to places he knows Scully will enjoy, like the museums and classical music performances, as well as the park so they can all sit back and relax a while. He doesn't want to overdo any activity for his wife, even if she may protest that she can handle it. Finally, he takes them to someplace for the kids, keeping his face as poker straight as possible so he can hear Scully groan loudly.

"You really had me going for a while there," Scully makes a face as they pull up to Chuck E. Cheese's. "It was all a sucker punch to get us here, wasn't it?"

He grins. "Anything for my beloved heavenly wife," he says, bowing as he opens the door for her.

She rolls her eyes and slowly gets out of the passenger seat while he opens the back door for the kids and unbuckles Sammy from his baby chair. "It's a good thing it's our day off," she says, holding Page's hand, "or I'd be injecting a strong sedative into your bloodstream."

He leans over to her and says in a low voice, "Only if you snap on those prophylactic gloves, you sexy G-woman, you."

Scully laughs as they walk into the haven for hyperactive children, her stomach rumbling happily as they all inhale the unhealthy fast food fragrance.


A small group of CEC employees approach their table, but instead of singing "happy birthday" with the cake, they sing,
"Ow, she's a brick house
She's mighty, mighty, just lettin' it all hang out
Ow, she's a brick house
I like ladies stacked, that's a fact, ain't holdin' nothin' back
Ow, she's a brick house
Well-built together, everybody knows, this is how the story goes!"

Scully wants to glare at her incorrigible husband and her innocent children, but instead laughs uproariously. She's still giggling when Mulder presents her with a cheesy little space shuttle keychain while the erstwhile employees chant, "shake it down, shake it down, shake it down." Part of her wants to hide under the table, while the more practical, and perhaps brazen part, tells her there's no way a pregnant woman could hide under these tables so she may as well enjoy the publicity. "I knew you weren't just a Valentine's Day romantic," she smirks at her husband.

"Of course not," he says, wiping her face free of cheesy pizza before kissing her full on the mouth.

A woman with longish blonde hair approaches their table hesitantly. "Are you Mulder? And Scully?" Her already wide eyes widen further when she sees the children.

Oh no, Mulder thinks when he sees her, Max. Shit.

Scully's still got that bemused look on her face as she turns to her husband. "Mulder, is this another one?"

The blonde woman looks even more startled, but seats herself beside Sammy nonetheless. "My name is Sharon Graffia. I'm sorry to approach you like this, but I followed you. I was asked to find you if something happened."

Now Scully frowns at the woman. "Excuse me?"

"You have no good reason to believe me, but my brother, who I believe you know, he said you'd understand what to do." She looks away from the kids, who are eyeing her with wide-eyed wonder. "If he didn't make it."

"If who didn't make it?" Mulder asks, even as he's dreading the answer.

"Max," Sharon says, "Max Fenig." Even as Mulder gives his wife a pained expression and Scully has a familiar open-mouthed one, the blonde woman goes on. "He was on his way here to deliver something that made him fear for his life, something he said the government would kill for... but his plane, it went down two hours ago."


It's tricky getting a last minute flight to New York, especially with kids, but Mulder and Scully pull some strings and then some. They make it to the Northville briefing as Mike Millar, head of the plane recovery unit, is getting through the preliminaries. Curious stares accompany the two FBI agents and their family, but Mulder's used to that, while Scully tries not to fidget uncomfortably. They, along with the rest of the workers in the hangar, listen to the last words of the pilot of Flight 549 talking to tower control on the cockpit flight recorder. Even as the pilot screams "Mayday!" , Scully tries to cover both Sammy's and Page's ears. What the hell are they doing here, she wonders, and on their day off?

Then again, Scully muses as Mulder steps forward, we never do seem to take a decent vacation. For the second time that night, or perhaps the first time the next morning, she wants to hide as Mulder proposed that Max, a multiple alien abductee, predicted plane crash and that a UFO may have forced Flight 549 down. She isn't surprised when Millar shoots down Mulder's farfetched theory as easily as, well, a flying saucer. At least Mulder didn't say that the FBI supported his theory, which is a first. As he rejoins his family, followed by the laughter of the others, there's a smile on his face. She doesn't trust that smile, since it's the "I know something you don't"one that has plagued their partnership from day one. "Mulder," she says in a sarcastic voice, "you sure know how to make a girl feel special on her birthday."

"I try." He shrugs, hoisting Sammy onto his hip. "You wanna chase down flying saucers? Huh?" he asks, bouncing the little boy, who giggles.

Scully rolls her eyes. "Don't encourage him," she says, but whether she's talking about Mulder or Sammy even she's not sure. All she knows is, in spite of his lighthearted play with his son, there's something suspiciously like guilt rippling under her husband's voice.


Millar is surprised when he learns that the kids will be accompanying their parents, but since Mulder and Scully don't exactly trust complete strangers with childcare, he grudgingly allows the little ones to strap on face masks with the others. The crash site is one of unmitigated horror, and Scully prays that her children don't understand what they see in front of them, that the unimaginable will be incomprehensible. She has Sammy strapped firmly to her back so he doesn't fall in or play in the corpse-filled mud, and Mulder likewise has Page on his back. Even as she and her husband relate the chilling facts to each other, she knows that it's only a way to desensitize themselves from remains in front of them.

Scully spots a hand protruding from the water like a gruesome parody of the Lady of the Lake in the King Arthur story, except it's a man's hand and the only thing on it is a wristwatch. She starts to walk towards it, but Mulder holds her back and, even as she pouts, he wades over.

He tugs experimentally, his eyes widening as the forearm shows itself unattached to anyone or anything. Quickly, he glances at the watch before placing it on a floating piece of wreckage. As he makes his way back, he finds another watch and wraps it in tissue before picking it up. "This reads 8:01," he says, even as Page makes a futile grab for it. "So did the other one. What did they give as the time of the crash?" he asks, knowing the answer.

Scully glances at her notepad. "Um, 7:52 p.m."

"That's nine minutes difference," he says, looking out at the dismal scene.

"It must be a mistake," she frowns, taking the watch from him.

"Nine minutes, Scully," he says, turning back to her. "Do you remember the last time you were missing nine minutes?"

She sighs loudly, then shifts the baby on her back and tries to stretch a little to accommodate the baby in her belly. "Mulder, no one even reported the plane on radar. These guys are just going off of estimates until they can recover the data recorder," she says reasonably.

As Mulder begins to express his doubts about finding Max, they hear a shout for a medic, and they race over to the scene in seconds, in spite of carrying a child on their back, or in Scully's case, her belly as well. Even as she kneels beside the horribly burned man, Scully goes into doctor mode, "We need an airlift to a burn unit as soon as possible! This man needs oxygen and a saline I.V.!" She leans over him and asks loudly, "Sir? Can you hear me?" She resists the urge to check his vitals physically, as any unnecessary touch would cause the man immense pain, reassured that he's breathing. "Sir?"


Sharon Graffia, for all the mail that she brought over, is still holding back. Some things never change, Mulder thinks morosely, waving the Geiger counter over the wreckage being reassembled in the enormous hangar. And Scully, despite her obvious pregnancy, looked after the burned patient, a Mr. Larold Rebhun, before going through Max's mail.

I wish you got abducted and returned safely this time, Mulder thinks, I wish everyone returned safely this time. Dammit. But would the same thing happen if Max took another flight? Or would Max have gone on this flight, in spite of being warned? Mulder sighs. Max went on this flight anyways, despite the known and unknown threats to his life. Tons of questions chase through the FBI agent's mind, even as his feet and the Geiger counter take him to Max's last known place of existence. He hears his wife's impossibly sensible high heels tick-tock across the concrete, along with his daughter's shuffling shoes, and turns around. "According to the manifest, Rebhun sat here," he says, pointing the counter to the mess, "in 13-D, the aisle seat. My guess is that Max would've been in 13-F, the window seat." He makes another wave of the wand. "But the manifest has him listed as--"

"Paul Gidney," Scully interrupts him smoothly. "It's an alias that Max Fenig used in his letters when he went underground. He had many aliases, in fact, one of which he used to get a job at the Rocky Flats Environment Energy Site in Colorado where they handle and store uranium 235 and weapons-grade plutonium."

"You think Max was carrying plutonium?" Mulder asks flatly.

Scully lets go of her daughter's hand, and Page toddles over to her father. "Mulder, the burns on that passenger's face were deep tissue radiation burns. I don't know how else he might have gotten them."

Robotically, Mulder lifts his daughter up and balances her on one hip, even while holding the Geiger counter. "So you think Max was carrying a bomb that caused this crash?"

"Mulder," she says, then stops. "He wrote thousands of letters detailing his abduction experiences, but around January, started making vague references to a theft. My guess is that if he was carrying fissile plutonium, and it became exposed in the cabin, it very conceivably could have caused the crash." She puts a hand on his arm. "It was probably an accident," she says softly.

Mulder shakes his head. He repeats his theory, not because he believes it, but because he prays it's the truth this time. "I think Max was abducted. Sucked right out of this door at 29,000 feet. The burns we're seeing are a result of that abduction. And all the evidence will point to this conclusion but it will be dismissed because of its improbability, its unthinkability. The crash of Flight 549 will go unsolved unless we find a way to prove it. And when Max is returned, he's going to tell us exactly the same story unless someone gets to him first."

Scully is silent during this tirade, giving Sammy a pacifier to suck on and wishing she could pacify her husband as easily as she can their son. "Mulder," she says, and the way he stiffens, she knows he knows it's not good news, "Max is returned. I found out a few minutes ago. They found his body a short way from the wreckage earlier today."

Mulder's looking at the crumpled passenger seat. "You sure?"

"Traveling under the name of Paul Gidney, seat 13-F, with the same burns as his seat mate." Her voice is still soft, as if to lessen the blow.

What's unexpected to both her and him is his tears. "No," he says, his voice choking. "That's not possible," as he says it aloud, it only serves to cement the dread fact.

Scully wraps her arms around him, as does their children, who are crying because their daddy is crying. "I'm sorry, Mulder," she says in a thick voice.

So am I, Mulder thinks, unable to voice it for a number of reasons.


Later, as Mulder identifies the late Max Fenig, nee Paul Gidney of seat 13-F, there are no tears. And even as Millar proposes a decent enough story for the press, his resolve for the truth returns, his mind settles back into familiar grooves. He and Scully drive down to the Reserve Installation of Von Drehle AFB to talk with (and get lied to by) Sergeant Louis Frish, and inexpertly, at that. Mulder's tempted to shake the idiot by his camoflaged lapels, but figures that won't earn them any trust later on, if things work out the way they did last time. "Just be careful," he says, not caring if it sounds like a threat. Maybe it'll keep Frish's coworker, was it Gomez or Gonzales, alive this time around.

Their next stop is Paradise Motel in Northville, where Sharon Graffia was supposed to be. Operative words being "supposed to be," Mulder thinks grimly, even as they step out of the car and onto a strangely similar crash scene. The cop is already walking away from the frustrated motel manager, and the FBI agents, children on their backs, walk towards the lone room missing a door. After teasing Scully with his thoughts of family abduction, Mulder isn't surprised to see Millar joining them with x-rays of the plane, and the x-rays only serve to prove rather than refute Mulder's theories.

Millar gives up and the agents decide to rent a room from the harried motel manager, paying for the damage to Sharon's room as well as insurance for their own. "Yeah, you never can tell if Paradise Motel will be the next Area 51 or Okobojee," Mulder quips, unlocking the door.

Scully turns to her son strapped on her back. "I guess Daddy's back to normal, whatever that is," she sighs, following him inside.

She starts to regret saying anything remotely close to "normal" as a description for her husband as he obsessively plays, rewinds, and replays the taped message over and over. Sighing, she calls room service for dinner, then gets the kids into the bathtub to wash off, well, pretty much the whole damn day. Even after she takes her own quick shower, Mulder's still holding the tape player smashed against his ear as if no time had passed. Scully sighs. She's surprised he even notices something like nine minutes missing, he can barely keep track of their children sometimes. Those same children race to the door when it rings, and Scully hustles to shove herself between her children and whoever may be behind the door.

Fortunately, it's dinner, and after she tips him, she gets everything settled. Sammy eats his baby food with mommy's help, Page eating her "big girl" food that she can chew, Mulder absentmindedly eating his microwave meatloaf, and Scully swallowing a pill before eating her own microwaved meal.

As Mulder says, "I've heard the voice of the air traffic controller before," there's another knock at the door. Scully jumps up to get it, but Mulder is quicker, and sticks his neck out. "Hello?"

A hand wraps itself around his neck and another covers his mouth. You so owe me, Mulder thinks, while Frish says, "Don't move. Just listen to me. I'm the man responsible for the plane crash."


Mulder and Scully confront Millar with Frish's testimony at the hangar, then Millar goes his own way to find the second crash site. As before, Mulder, with the help of Frish, pulls off some stunt driving that leaves the kids cheering and Scully more than a little shaky. Before they part ways, Mulder goes over the map again, although this time, he's got a better idea of where the damn saucer is. He hates to leave his wife and kids, especially with a marked man, but he trusts that if fate is unkind to Max, then it will be kind to his family. "Take the safety off," he tells Scully, kissing her before getting on his plane.

She shakes her head, but does so. There's something else going on that he won't tell her about, but she trusts him enough to let him tell her when this is over. Whenever that is. Scully yawns, then herds her children and Sgt. Frish over to their plane, which takes them to her home in D.C.

Please, let Mulder be okay, Scully prays, not for the first time. She reassures Frish about his safety, then picks up the phone. "Let me call our nanny, and we can get going," she says, and he nods. "That's weird," she frowns when she gets an answering machine. She leaves a brief message anyways, then her eyebrows go up. "What's wrong?"

"Can, can I leave a message with my girlfriend?" Frish asks. "So she knows that I'm," he breaks off, realizing that "okay" probably wasn't the right word, but not sure what to say instead.

Scully nods, handing over her cell and he dials out. As he leaves a terse, if shaky message, she looks at Sammy and Page. What am I going to do with you? she wonders.


As Scully leads a reluctant Frish and her sleepy children into the noisy Headless Woman's Pub, she says in a low voice, "Don't worry, this place is crawling with cops and FBI. We're going to be met here by a federal marshal. You're probably going to end up sleeping in somebody's office." Frish nods, still looking ill at ease, and sits down.

A hand lands on her shoulder, and Scully whips around, her gun at the ready. Her wide blue eyes take in a startled, but rather drunk, Agent Pendrell. "Happy birthday," he says, grinning. Beside him is an equally grinning but much less intoxicated Rachel.

"Rachel, Agent Pendrell, I didn't know you two," Scully finishes lamely, "knew each other."

Rachel nods. "He's one of my more persistent callers. I DJ part-time," she says to Frish's questioning look. "He sounded so smart and such a sweetie, I figured it couldn't hurt to meet him." She hugs the taller man, her small frame managing to support him, and Scully wonders if people see her and Mulder like that.

"She hasn't stopped meeting me," Pendrell chuckles. "Hey, I didn't get anything for the birthday girl!"

"It's okay," Scully says, "I'm on duty right now." She points to Frish, who makes a small wave.

"No, no, I insist," Pendrell argues, "I can't buy more than a single shot for Rachel. She's my DD," he says in a loud whisper. "C'mon, it's your birthday! Right?" he looks to his girlfriend, and she nods. As the redheaded man waves and shouts to the bartender, a familiar figure from the wreckage crew enters the bar. Like a bad dream, the moustached man shoots at Frish, who ducks, but Pendrell doesn't. Scully shoots back as the redheaded man falls and people scream and scatter, but any follow-up shots are ruined with people blocking her way.

"Sean!" Rachel screams, holding the bleeding man to herself. "If you die on me, I'll kill you!"

"Call 911!" Scully yells to the bartender, even as a disconnected part of her mind thinks, So, his first name is Sean. After making sure her sweet babies are all right, she pries the wounded agent away from the Asian girl. Thank God, it's just his shoulder, Scully thinks, even as she uses Pendrell's dress shirt as a tourniquet. "Keep pressing and keep him awake," she tells Rachel, who nods wide-eyed. Then she turns around to Frish. "You okay?" He also nods with wide eyes, and Scully sighs with relief. She can't wait for the federal marshal and the ambulance to come and for this nightmare to be over.


Even as Mulder swims through the murky depths of the Great Sacandaga Lake, he wishes Scully could see what he sees. A real-life, bonafide UFO, complete with unconscious or dead EBE, and no black choppers in sight.

A blinding light pierces the dark veil of night and water, and Mulder almost groans in frustration. Well, there's always home video, he thinks, his last-minute backup plan in effect as he points the waterproof camera upwards as well as around. Eat your heart out, Jacques Cousteau. Before he's surrounded by unfriendly divers with spear guns and flashlights, he stows the camera away in some crusty-looking floating junk. Please let Scully and the kids be okay, he prays, and Pendrell, too.


Chapter Forty-six

Feb. 26th, 1997

At the same time Mulder gets caught by the divers and the truck by the Great Sacandaga Lake, Scully is leading paramedics to where Rachel is still cradling Agent Pendrell in her arms at the Headless Woman's Bar. The place is now clear of everyone except the bartender, the wait staff, Scully's family and Sgt. Frish. Scully's surprised to see her boss walking through, and frowns. When she finds out that Frish is under military arrest, as well as her husband, her frown deepens.

"I'm getting way too familiar with Von Drehle AFB," Mulder drones, pulling a little at the ill-fitting prison garb.

Scully gives him a long look as she signs him out. She's pregnant, she's been on her feet forever, she hasn't gotten any sleep since who knows when, and Sammy and Page are still with her. Rachel was sleeping over at Pendrell's (Sean's, she corrects herself mentally) hospital room, her mom was visiting Charlie's family, and there was no way she's leaving her kids with either of Mulder's parents.

Another MP leads them to a room where Mulder's clothes, having been thoroughly searched if not washed, are waiting. "Did you hear the military's cover story?" he asks her when the door closes shut. "That the control tower gave bad coordinates to a fighter pilot, causing him to collide with Flight 549 over military airspace?"

Scully gives Sammy his pacifier when he starts to fuss, then hands Page her picture book. "According to the recordings I listened to, the coordinates that Sergeant Frish gave to the fighter pilot were the exact path that 549 was on. Now, they would indicate that Sergeant Frish and his co-controller could not have seen Flight 549 in the airspace until it was too late."

Mulder finishes buttoning up his shirt, then pulls on his pants. "So they're saying the tower put those jets on a collision course."

Scully nods, "Yes, and that they were the only two aircraft on the radar screen."

Mulder exhales noisily. "And realizing his guilt, Sergeant Frish's fellow officer put a gun to his head." He shakes his own head. Some folks never learn, he thinks, tying on his shoes.

Scully dusts off his jacket before handing it to him. "According to the Air Force, Sergeant Frish lied to save himself. When he found out that his, his fellow officer committed suicide, he came to us to blame the military. That's why they pursued him, to bring him to justice." Even she sounds like she doesn't believe the new story, as lies seems to compound further lies.

"Then they could conveniently lay the blame on a dead man," he says, shrugging on his jacket. She nods a little, her face solemn. "They say the second plane was a military fighter?"

"It was an F-15 Eagle, according to an Air Force spokesman," and her dry tone is mimicking the spokesman.

"You think an F-15 did this?" he asks, pulling away his longish bangs to show small radiation burns on the right side of his face.


She probes the burns gently. "Where did you get this from?" she asks, frowning slightly.

"At the second crash site, in about fifty feet of water at the bottom of Sacandaga Lake." He smirks, thinking of his insurance still buried in that lake. "I followed a trail of bubbles down to the wreckage, but it didn't look like anything that might take off from an Air Force base, an honest-to-goodness UFO."

"Except that it can't be proven." Scully sighs, opening the door. "According to Mike Millar, the man running the investigation, they haven't been able to find any physical evidence whatsoever that Flight 549 was involved in a collision." She stops and looks at her husband. "And before you accuse him of being part of the coverup, don't. He's the only one that truly wants to figure out what downed that plane and who came to me with information he had no reason to share."

Here we go, down the rabbit's hole, Mulder thinks. "And that would be?"

"He found Sharon Graffia wandering in a daze at the crash site the night we left, after seeing lights over the area." Scully wants to drown herself in a hottub and fall into a blissful dreamless sleep, but it appears she'll be denied her fondest birthday wish for a while. "It turns out she's not even Max's sister. She's an unemployed aeronautical engineer who spent time in and out of mental institutions. That's where she met Max."

"She knew we wouldn't believe her if she told the truth," Mulder says, resigned.

Scully nods. "I don't know how it's happening, but that plane is taking out more people even after it crashed." She bounces Sammy in her arms as he starts fussing again. "Sgt. Gonzales is dead, Sgt. Frish is still in custody, Graffia is in a mental hospital, and Agent Pendrell was in the ER."

"Was? He's okay?" Mulder asks and she nods, a little surprised at his vehemence. "Just checking."

"Shoulder wounds aren't necessarily fatal," she says, looking at his shoulder. "It turns out Rachel's his girlfriend and she's staying with him." As they get into the car, Scully asks, "Mulder, what are these people suffering for? Is it for the truth, or the lies? I'm not even sure what the truth is anymore."

Mulder closes the back door and gets behind the wheel. He pauses before he answers, then guns the engine. "You've always known the truth, Scully," he says, "we're gonna make sure those responsible pay for their lies."


In Barnes Corner, New York, Mulder feels like he's visiting a shrine. "Look, Page, this is where Daddy's friend used to live," he opens the door of the camper.

"Silly Daddy's friend," Page declares, and Scully agrees. The little blonde girl presses play on the tape player, and the speakers blare out some snide-sounding singer droning over special effects. Scully hits the stop button, telling her in a low voice, "Don't touch other people's things."

Her lesson is ruined by her husband, who picks up a canned tin. "Look, beans and wieners," he says, waving it in front of his son, who gurgles a laugh.

"Never mind," Scully mutters, "Mulder, what are we looking for here?"

"Something to explain what Max was doing on that plane," he replies, putting the can down, "what he was coming to show me or tell me."

"What makes you think he was coming to see you?" she asks, keeping an eye on her daughter.

Mulder sits down at a computer and hands over a bloodied business card. "I found this on his body. Max is the key to all this," he says, his voice somewhat distracted as he looks through a folder's contents on the monitor. "He knew that plane was in danger even before it took off, before it entered military airspace." Then he stands, pulling a videotape out of a drawer and popping it into the player. "How would he know that? And what would be worth taking that risk?"

As they watch the bespectacled man awkwardly recount the last few years of his life, Mulder can't help but wonder if that's the fate of all his contacts. Death. Whether by the conspiracy, a freak accident, or doing their duty in the line of fire, he's got a feeling that, aside from various family members, being a source means the same thing as being a red shirt on the original "Star Trek" show.


At the hangar, Mike Millar tells the wreckage workers, "Recovery and identification of the deceased victims of Flight 549 is at 76 percent... which is far better than anticipated, given the kind of destruction we've all seen. We've got a total of nearly 3000 man-hours logged already in this first wave of investigation... and I wish I could tell you folks that we've come up with something more concrete, but... the evidence... just doesn't support anything more conclusive than the Air Force's assertion that the cause of this crash was a midair collision... or a catastrophic near-miss." As he looks out into the sea of faces, some of whom display undisguised disbelief, he looks for sanctuary in his folder of safe answers. "I'm going to ask you all to wrap-up your reports tonight... and then I want you to go home to your families. You've done a good and thorough job here. You'll be in touch with me or someone from the N.T.S.B. on anything further. I just wanted to thank you all personally. Thank you." As the crew walks out, some shake his hand. Millar notices Mulder and his family standing off to the side and walks over.

As he touches base with the FBI agents, Mulder tells his theory of what happened to Flight 549, along with some added insights from his own encounter the last time he missed nine minutes on a flight. Even as Millar disclaims Mulder's story, he takes them over to where he says the team found the only other trace evidence of radiation. He hands Max's green bag with the NICAP hat inside. "And that's all she wrote." He walks away as the small family looks at the last possessions of Max Fenig.

"I don't know what else you expect him to do," Scully says, but he shakes his head.

"How about Sharon Graffia?" he asks.

Her infamous eyebrow shoots up at least a couple inches. "She's a disturbed person, Mulder. She wasn't even who she claimed to be."

"Yeah, but she knew Max well enough for him to write her thousands of letters, well enough for him to call her and tell her he was going to die." He pauses, and a self-deprecating grin spreads across his face. "I'd go with you to talk with Ms. Graffia, but I'm, I'm afraid they'd lock me up."

Scully snorts. "Me, too." Then she unceremoniously dumps Sammy and Page on her husband.

"What?" he asks.

"Surely you don't think I'd be taking our sweet babies into the loony bin, do you?" The baffled look on his face makes her sigh. "Where are you going?"

"Back to Max's place," he says, and she sighs again. "Okay, but if Sammy starts drooling crop circles or if Page starts reciting Jacques Vallee's UFO hypotheses, it's on your head."

"I'll take that chance," Scully says drily, waving him goodbye.


Back at the trailer camp in Barnes Corners, Mulder comes across more destruction, this time of a more terrestrial nature. Opening the letter marked "Paul Gidney," he finds the key with the ID number of "SYR 4832008." "Daddy's hit the jackpot!" he tells his kids, who are busy amusing themselves with rearranging the mess in Max's camper. "Never mind," he sighs, then squints. "Time for a little logistics work," he says, pulling out his cell phone.

Meanwhile, over at the Northeast Georgetown Mental Health Center, Scully's talking with the somewhat reluctant Sharon Graffia. She reconfirms a few facts, but gets no farther with the woman, other than the fact that a third part of a stolen item from a military contractor was believed by both Sharon and Max to be alien in origin and now hidden someplace. "Mommy's hit the jackpot," Scully mutters as she walks out.

"What?" the radiation-burned woman asks.

"Nothing," Scully says, pulling out her cell before closing the door behind her. "I hope Mulder found something good." She frowns when her cell phone says his number is busy. "Now what?"


As Mulder claims the inconspicuous bag at Syracuse Hancock International, he flashes his badge to the clerk, who lets him through the security entrance. His cell phone rings and he chats with Scully, taking advantage of the static given off by the metal detector, and lets his wife know that, yes, the kids are okay, and yes, he let the x-ray figure out what was inside the bag.

Scully doesn't disguise her sigh of relief that he didn't do anything stupid. Yet. "I think that what we've got here, Mulder, is a case of high-tech industrial espionage."

"I don't know about that, Scully," Mulder replies. "More people are trying to get their hands on this thing than a 'Tickle-Me Elmo' doll. I'm getting on a flight." His eyes catch sight of his pursuers, who have yet to learn the meaning of subtlety, thank goodness for him.

Scully snorts. "No 'Sesame Street' character ever caused radiation burns, military coverups, or plane crashes."

"Not that we know of," Mulder quips.

"What's your flight number?" she comes back to the point.

He rattles off the flight number, 101, and prays that the moustached man isn't on his flight. At the same time, he's kind of hoping for a second chance to shoot the guy who killed Pendrell the first time around. Justifiable homicide, either way.

Just his luck, when he thinks he's shaken his pursuers, Mr. Moustache sits next to him. Mulder smiles, and outwardly, it looks pleasant. "There's a weapon pointed at you right now. If I shoot you at this range, it wouldn't just hit you in the leg. If you so much as raise your arms off that armrest, I'm going to test that theory."

The moustached man chuckles. "Do you know what happens when a plane suddenly depressurizes at thirty-thousand feet, Mr. Mulder? After the cabin fills with fog and all light objects, anything not tied down, including your weapon, go flying toward the breach?"

"Nice to know I'm in a place where everybody knows your name," Mulder murmurs, not backing down and shaking the bag. "It's an alien energy source, isn't it? What is it, cold fusion? Over-unity energy? What could be worth killing all those passengers on Flight 549?"

"The cause of that crash has been determined as human error," the moustached man says calmly.

"I'm going to see you pay for that error," Mulder says in a low, threatening voice, "along with you and your employer and the government that finances its contracts. I want you to stand up very slowly and move to the back of the plane. I want you to empty your pockets, and then we're going to the bathroom." When the other man doesn't budge, he nudges his gun from under his coat into the man's arm. "Do it."

The moustached man starts to laugh, but when he sees Mulder is dead serious, he does so. "You wanna wipe up when I'm done?" he asks when most of his weapon paraphernalia and other bits of junk are dumped in the seat bin.

"Shake out your socks and shoes," Mulder says, unamused.

The other man raises his thick eyebrows, but does so. When Mulder's satisfied, he nudges his prisoner to the bathroom, using one of the moustached man's items to jam the door shut. Maybe this time they won't come, Mulder thinks, pulling out his cell phone, "Scully, it's me."

"Mulder, are you and the kids on that flight?" she asks.

"Um, yes and no," he says, his eyes widening when he sees his watch has stopped.

"What?" she yells. "Where are they?"

"With Rachel," he answers, "Scully, listen. This is important. My watch stopped."

"I keep telling you to get new batteries," she grumps, "how did Rachel--?"

He doesn't let her finish. "No, my watch stopped," he emphasizes the last word. "Ten to one I'll be missing nine minutes at landing and if we're lucky, still holding the guy who shot Pendrell."

"What?" Scully says, but the plane starts to shake and the phone connection cuts off.

"Scully?" Mulder tries, but it doesn't work. "Oh boy." He races back to the bathroom, where the door is still securely jammed, and breathes a sigh of relief, even as the rest of the passengers and the flight attendants are screaming, his side of the plane suffused with light. Then he runs back to his seat, where the seemingly innocuous bag is sitting. He's tempted to hang onto it, but then Scully would kill him, and with that thought, he grins as the door being pulled off its hinges. Guess there are some things even the FBI and military can't control, he muses as the man in the bathroom continues to shout and pound.


As Skinner and other gruff men haul off the glowering, handcuffed moustached man, Scully yanks Mulder aside. "Don't you dare do anything like that again," she glares, days of sleepless nights apparent on her face.

"Do what?" Mulder tries for an innocent face, but it crumbles under his wife's intolerant gaze. "I'm sorry. But the good news is we got one of the bad guys, and maybe more. And the kids are okay."

She shakes her head. "But you lost the stolen part."

"Could be worse," he says, holding her wristwatch against his. There's a nine minute discrepancy. "I could be with the stolen part on a UFO."

"Mulder," she groans, then leans against him tiredly. "Let's get our kids, and let's go home."

"We've got one stop to make first," he says, hugging his wife to him as she groans louder.


Back at Barnes Corners, Max is talking excitedly on TV. In front of the monitor is a somewhat disheveled blonde woman, a pregnant redhead leaning against her tall husband, and two light-haired children playing with their Asian nanny. "These tapes, you don't mind if I keep them?" Sharon Graffia asks after hitting the stop button.

Mulder smiles and shakes his head. "No, I think you, you should consider yourself the sole curator of the Max Fenig Rolling Multimedia Library and Archive, and you should probably get tax-exempt status as soon as you can. This stuff could be worth something someday." He wishes he could've added his underwater video to the stash, but either the radiation or the cleanup crew wiped out everything on tape, leaving only static.

"I want to thank you for helping me out, for all you've done," Sharon nervously shakes both their hands.

"Max would have wanted it that way. You lost somebody very close to you," Scully tells her more warmly than Mulder would have thought.

The blonde woman nods a little jerkily, and gives them a wavering smile before joining Rachel and the kids for some show-and-tell. The couple step outside into the brisk night, and Mulder suddenly hugs his wife tightly. "I'm sorry you had such a stressful birthday," he says sincerely, "I was trying my best not to let it turn out that way."

Scully shakes her head. "You couldn't have forseen any of these," she waves a hand back at the trailer, which makes him feel even guiltier. "Besides, I got a nifty little spacecraft," she looks up at him, "with terrestrial origins."

Mulder thinks of how ironic the gift turned out to be. "If you look closer, you'll see the word 'Challenger' on it," he says, holding it up. "I believe in spite of the tragedy, that there will always be extraordinary men and women, civilians and trained professionals, and extraordinary moments when history leaps forward on the backs of these individuals," he thinks of another Sharon, teacher Sharon Christa McAuliffe, Commander Dick Scobee, pilot Mike Smith, mission specialists Ellison Onizuka, Judy Resnik and Ron McNair, and payload specialist Greg Jarvis, "that what can be imagined can be achieved, that you must dare to dream," he remembers a sad but still determined alternate Dana Scully who lost a coworker, "but that there's no substitute for perseverance and hard work, and teamwork, because no one gets there alone." As she shivers, he holds her closer. "While we commemorate the... the greatness of these events and the individuals who achieve them, we cannot forget the sacrifice of those who make these achievements and leaps possible."

With terrible clarity and an odd sort of vertigo, he remembers another space tragedy that happened years later on another February, when it seemed everyone had forgotten the horror of the "Challenger", and looking hopefully toward space. He and Scully may have prevented one space shuttle disaster, but he can't understand why Commander Rick Husband, pilot William McCool, mission specialists David Brown, Kalpana Chawla, Laurel Clark, payload commander Michael Anderson and payload specialist Ilan Ramon lost their lives in the "Columbia" on what appeared in hindsight to be a preventable accident. Plane crashes happen less than car crashes, he tells himself savagely, and space shuttle explosions even less. But it doesn't make Max's loss any easier to bear, nor the loss of the crews of the "Challenger" or "Columbia" and the original death of Agent Pendrell.

She looks up at him, at his distant gaze. "I just thought it was a pretty cool keychain," she says lightly, and he kisses her on the forehead. "Thank you."

He smiles a little, seeing how the situations have reversed their words almost exactly. Another wave of alternate vertigo threatens to sweep him, but his wife brings him back down to earth when she says, "Okay, let's get inside. I'm freezing my large butt off out here."

Now he chuckles and they walk into the Max Fenig Rolling Multimedia Library and Archive together, where their children, nanny, and new friend are waiting.


Chapter Forty-Seven

March 1997

"Mulder, you've got to be joking." Scully holds up a copy of the "World Weekly Informer" bearing the photo of a monkey's head pasted on to a human baby's body and the headline "MONKEY BABIES INVADE SMALL TOWN!" She gasps as the baby kicks, then sighs. "They must not be cooking up any new alien conspiracies to keep you busy."

Mulder fights off a shudder. "As an expecting mother and scientist, children born with vestigial tails don't interest you?"

She makes a face. "Caudal appendages. Fetuses have them. Their coccyx enlarges to contain the spinal fluid and then it shrinks as the child develops. Occasionally, it doesn't. It's extremely rare, but it has been known to happen."

It sounds like such a logical explanation that Mulder's tempted to let things lie, but he knows better. Besides, he can't let the guy who nearly had his hands all over Scully the last time get away with pulling one over the locals this time as well. "Five times within the last three months, all in a town with a population of less than 15,000 people? I'd say that's a little more than a statistical anomaly."

She nods, drinking her chamomile tea. "So would I," Scully answers, feeling a bit restless. It's not too selfish to want her husband to hang around once in a while, is it? Granted, since her much-enforced maternity leave has her pretty much confined to the neighborhood radius, Mulder's pretty much the workforce on the X-Files. If things stay inactive too long in the basement, that'll be more than enough reason to shut down their division and boot them to God knows where. Nope, best not to let that happen. "No, Mulder I think you're right, I think that something about this definitely warrants investigation. Only not by us. I'd say that it's a job for the local health department." She arches an eyebrow to invite a more compelling argument.

He nods, taking a gulp of coffee before the kittens do. Since when did the cats take over the table? he wonders. "I called around. They're already investigating."

Scully rolls her eyes. "So why go to Martinsdale, West Virginia? Could it have something to do with this?" She points to the subheading below the headline: "Did West Virginia Women Mate with Visitors from Space?"

He smiles, kisses her forehead, and takes the "Informer" from her. "Call me if you need anything."

She smiles back. "Would you like to give birth this time around?"

Mulder rewards her with a mock-startled look, and as he ducks out the kitchen, hears her guffawing following him to the car.



When Mulder concludes his interview with Amanda, he realizes that he'll need Scully's scientific smarts to pull this off. Of course, he could go with the local meds, but if he starts making leaps based on medical knowledge he shouldn't know, that'll just raise red flags on his sudden omniscience to the wrong people. My God, Scully, you've saved me more than you know, he thinks as he calls her up. "Hey, Scully, it's me," he says.

"Mulder?" Scully frowns as she waits in the ob-gyn doctor's office. It's unlike him to call so early in the case, and she switches the phone to her shoulder so that she can free one hand to write and the other to hang onto Sammy.

"Oh, everything's fine. I just need some unofficial consulting with your medical expertise."

She smiles. "So Spooky Mulder can't handle a woman impregnated by aliens?"

Here's hoping you'll never have firsthand experience, he thinks. "That, I can handle. What's odd is that four out of five women were receiving insemination therapy, the fifth being Mrs. Luke Skywalker, a single woman."

"Mrs. Skywalker?" Scully shakes her head. "No, Page, that's not yours," she scolds her daughter, who has taken another child's toy, "I'm so sorry. Mulder, I think what you need is to run PCR's on all the women and blood tests for the men, see if there's a common chromosome marker."

"Good idea," he says, writing it down carefully so that the local docs can read his writing. "I'm also thinking of contacting the doctor, since he's a common denominator with four out of five. Anything else?"

She grins. "Don't drink the water, you might get a baby with a tail, too."

"Ha ha, very funny," he grimaces.


For some reason, Scully finds herself going to another ob-gyn's office, this time in West Virginia. She sees another couple ahead of them arguing in low, insistent voices, their eyebrows raised when they see her and Mulder entering. "Oh, you, too, huh?" the guy says.

No, my kid's normal, Scully fumes inwardly, buttoning up her thick coat as Mulder simply smiles. They join a small herd of angry couples surrounding a panicked doctor. Angry voices chorus, "What did you do? Why did you do it?"

"I didn't do anything. Now folks, we're going to figure this out here, I promise. Look, everybody just relax," the harried man says, raising his arms placatingly.

The first guy doesn't buy it and gets in the doctor's face. "Don't you tell me to relax. What the hell happened to my sperm?" he yells.

Mulder decides the mob's had enough fun. "Uh, I'm Special Agent Mulder with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and this is Agent Scully," he says, flashing his badge. His wife does the same. Soon the crowd is clamoring for an arrest, and the tall man's surprised to hear nobody wants to shoot the guy. Maybe later. "Nobody's gonna get arrested, we just want some answers."

"Alton didn't use my sperm!" the first guy yells, and the other men agree loudly.

"I most certainly did. Each of you women was inseminated with your husband's own sperm, and nobody else's," the doctor protests indignantly.

"Why was it necessary to inseminate in these cases?" Mulder asks, as he and Scully try to shield the doctor from the angry couples.

"It was a sperm motility issue. The intrauterine process that I used has about a 40% chance of success. I was surprised, it seemed to work all four times," he says as Scully nods. That his process seemed to work so well was outside the norm. "Now the only thing I can think of is..." he muses.

"What?" another man asks.

Dr. Alton looks sad. "Maybe it never worked at all."

Scully frowns as Mulder walks out, lost in thought. "Are you sure?"

"Look, I'm not accusing anyone of anything. I'm just saying this latest patient of mine who just gave birth to a baby with a tail, she didn't even undergo insemination. So you folks are blaming the wrong baby doctor!" he says.


Mulder and Eddie Van Blundht are in the interview room, while Scully is standing outside, holding the test results and their two kids. As her blue eyes scan the last sheet, she whistles. "Five out of five," she says, handing the tests to Mulder through the half-opened door, and he nods, taking them.

Then he looks at the suspect, who appears to have his curiosity piqued by a glimpse of Scully. Oh no, you don't, he snarls inwardly. "They spelled my name wrong," the pudgy man says, his eyes going quickly to the papers. "It's Van Blundht with a silent 'H'. B-l-u-n-d-H-t."

"We'll get right on that," Mulder says dryly.

"Lots of people spell it wrong. It's like Dutch or something," Van Blundht shrugs. Then he whines hopefully, "Can I go now?"

"No, I need you to answer some things. Like how five women came to be inseminated with your sperm?"

Blundht squirms a little. "You make it sound romantic."

I'll give you romance, Mulder wants to strangle him. It's bad enough that he resorted to an Eddie Van Blundht ruse the first time, but that this guy has no remorse about what he did, it's enough to make his skin crawl. "So you're saying romance was involved?" he says, disbelief soaking every word.

The suspect gets even more defensive. "Why is that so hard to believe? Just cause I was born with a tail no woman would want me? Maybe I got... personality. Ever think of that?"

"Uh, no," Mulder says honestly, and the pudgy man looks downcast. "Tell me something. How is it that these women had sex with you and they don't remember a thing, Romeo?"

Van Blundht looks at the one-way glass, then at the floor. "Look, I'm not saying anything one way or another. I'm just saying hypothetically, if some women wanted to have kids, their husbands weren't...capable, and everybody was happy and no one got hurt, well hypothetically, where's the crime?"

There's nothing Mulder can say without killing the guy, and with a low snarl, he leaves the interview room, to be greeted by his wife and kids. He sighs as he wraps his arms around her bigger-than-normal body and mumbles, "I don't have any farflung theories, Scully. Alien impregnation would almost be more bearable than this jerk." He grins down at the rugrats on his legs, "Hey, you guys."

Scully snorts as she pulls away. "Well, on behalf of all the women and expectant mothers in the world, I seriously doubt this is anything to do with consensual sex. I think it involved some form of Rohypnol rape. Think about it," she says reasonably, crossing her arms over her round tummy, "it's been called the date rape drug. High doses of it cause a loosening of inhibitions, memory loss. Now if Van Blundht was somehow able to slip the drug to these women especially in conjunction with alcohol..." She trails off, then exhales noisily as she grabs Sammy.

Mulder nods along, then wonders if they should increase the security around Van Blundht. He checks the area, sees there's more than enough cops and thinks, nah. Scooping up his giggling daughter, they leave the police station, one happy little family.


A couple hours later, Mulder has cause to rue his brief decision as Van Blundht escapes, and Mulder relays the news to his wife, who is back home with the kids, since this is one of Rachel's busy days. As usual, even over the phone, Scully never fails him. "So Van Blundht somehow physically transformed into his captor then walked out the door leaving no one the wiser?"

He grins, even as harried police officers swarm around the office. "I knew there was a great reason why I married you."

Scully groans as Sammy, suddenly craving attention, waves his arms to be picked up. "Mulder, why can't you just go for the simple answer? With that blow to the head the deputy might just as well have identified McGruff the crime dog as his attacker."

"I don't think the sheriff would go for the McGruff ruse," Mulder says, dodging yet another eager crime scene tech.

Why will this man never go for Occam's Razor, Scully sighs inwardly. "Two men, roughly the same build, same coloring. The addition of a uniform goes a long way to explain how one person can mistake one man for another at 3 o'clock in the morning."

"Conversely my theory goes a long way to explaining how four married women could mistake Van Blundht for their husbands, and how Amanda Nelligan could think it was Luke Skywalker. We've both seen something like this before, Scully."

So much for conventional theories, Scully almost groans. "So what are you saying, that Van Blundht is an alien?"

"Scully, you are kinky, aren't you?" he grins, knowing that if they were in the same room, she'd kill him. "But no, I think this is something different." Time to go monkey-tail hunting, he muses as he disconnects.


On the way to Eddie Van Blundht Sr.'s place, Mulder decides to bug Scully just for the hell of it. Nobody ever accused him of being too mature to use reverse psychology on someone. "Hey, Scully," he says in a friendly tone when she picks up.

"Mulder," she says in a less than friendly one.

"I was wondering, if you could be somebody else for a day, who would it be?"

She stops, pulls the phone away from her ear to stare at it, then shakes her head. "Myself," she says in a "duh" kind of voice.

"No!" Mulder says in the same voice Page uses when you're not playing by her rules. "I mean, wouldn't you even be tempted to try out someone else's existence for a day, live your life as somebody else?"

She smiles a tolerant smile as if he can see her. "Looking like someone else, Mulder, and being someone else are completely different things."

"Well, maybe it's not, I mean everybody else around you would treat you like you were somebody else, and ultimately maybe it's other people's reactions to us that make us who we are," Mulder argues.

Scully thinks there must be a mutual insanity within her if she stays married to this loon. "Jael, Heber's wife from the Old Testament."

Mulder blinks. Wow, she can still surprise him. "Why?"

"She hammered a tent peg through her enemy's, that is, Sisera's, head. They even sang a song about her."

"Scully, you know I love you, don't you?" Mulder says as he rings the doorbell.

"You better," Scully says, then wails, "Oh, nooooooooo, Sammy!"

Guess we're both gonna have our hands full, Mulder thinks, as he does a little song-and-dance with Eddie-junior-as-Sr.


In the morgue, Scully's dressed in scrubs, the gowns giving her something of a sexy yet saintly look, if such were possible. "So what killed Eddie the monkey man?" Mulder asks, bearing Page on his shoulders, Sammy on his back, and a cup of tea in his hands. Page squeals, "Monkey man!" to the dead body, but Mulder's firm arms around her legs make sure she stays on his shoulders.

She takes the tea from him. "It's difficult to say. The quicklime burned the tissue even as it preserved it, so what killed him is one of two things I haven't figured out yet." She beams at her husband, who looks as encumbered as she does.

"What's the other thing?" Mulder asks, and both children peer curiously at the open cadaver.

"That would be this," she taps everyone's attention to the computer monitor. "It's striated muscle tissue."

"What's so weird about that?" Mulder frowns as Sammy bounces on his back and Page grabs more of his hair.

"In and of itself, nothing," she shrugs. "Where I found it however --"

"Wheredid you find it?" he asks in the same tone.

"Everywhery," she answers, waving at the whole body on the table. "His entire body. As far as I can tell, this man has a thin stratum of voluntary muscle tissue underpinning the entire dermal layer of his skin. That's not normal. This man's body is quite a scientific specimen, and thankfully it's preserved and intact."

Mulder walks back to the body, and he and his kids oogle it curiously. As Scully closes her eyes briefly from a sudden baby kick, Sammy kicks off the tail, and Mulder tries to hide the damage. When she regains her breath, she leans against the autopsy table. "In other words, there are six hundred and fifty four muscles in the human body, and this man essentially has six hundred and fifty five," she says, unaware of the damage her son has wrought.

"Um, could that somehow be related to his uh, having a tail?" Mulder says, trying to maneuver the tail back on the body. Unfortunately, Sammy thinks it's a game and kicks it off course. Page thinks the whole thing is funny and giggles continually. He tries to communicate nonverbally for them to help him, but it doesn't work. Of course.

"Possibly," Scully says with slightly raised eyebrows. "It could be a linked gene birth defect."

"Could this be a 'like father like son' kind of a thing?" Mulder asks, while thinking, I just wish Sammy wasn't like me in breaking off this stupid tail! He continues to shield her view of the corpse's rear end with his and their kids' bodies.

"What do you mean?"

"Uh, could Eddie junior have, uh, the same anomalous muscular structure as his dad here? Well, um, if this musculature underlies the entire skin, then maybe it could be utilized to remold the skin's shape and texture. Which would go a long way to explaining why we're looking for a man who can appear to be his own father, or anyone else for that matter."

Now she smirks at him. "Isn't it much more likely, Mulder, that this man simply has an identical twin?"

"Now you're subscribing to the evil twin theory?" Mulder raises his eyebrows. "You are walking on the wild side, Scully."

She makes a face and grabs him just as he's finally balanced the tail on. "Watch the kids while I take a closer look at the body," she says, kissing him, then Page and Sammy.

He nods. "Actually, I think I'll talk to the one anomaly in Van Blundht's MO. Mrs. Luke Skywalker."

"Behave yourselves!" she calls out. As the door closes, the tail falls off. "What the?" she wonders.


At the hospital, a worried Scully rushes over to Mulder, nursing a huge headache. "What happened?" she frowns, examining his injury. She didn't have much time to change, so she's still got hospital scrubs under her thick winter coat.

"Van Blundht surprised me. He cold-cocked me and then he got away," he grimaces as she replaces the cold compress.

"You got a lead on him?" she asks.

"No, but the local authorities are already on the warpath for going after one of their own. They'll catch him eventually," he answers, standing up.

"So what? That's it for us?" Scully puts a hand on his arm.

He makes a face. "I know I dragged you out here Scully, but I'm beginning to think this whole thing is just a waste of time."

"Now you think there's no X-File here?" she says, a half-smile on her lips.

He grins back. "No, nothing but small potatoes."

"Where are the kids?" she asks.

"Kids?" he blinks.


Aw hell, not again, Mulder thinks, as not only Scully but also Van Blundht surprises him. The damn guy disguised himself as the security guard, the real guard being hidden up in the ceiling. And he's still locked up in a room with somebody's leftover lunch. Bleagh.

At least I left the kids with Scully's mom before I came, but that only gave him more time to sucker me, Mulder glares at the stale food.

Now, where the hell is the janitor when you need him? He kicks at the door angrily, then yells, "Heyyyyyy!!! Somebody get me the hell outta here!"


Scully's about to ask more when her cell phone rings. "Oh, hi, Mom," she says. "Oh, yeah," she looks briefly at Mulder. "I'm sorry, we just got caught up in a case, yes, me, too," she sighs, absently tucking a lock of red-gold hair behind her ear, so she doesn't see her husband's mouth hang open uncharacteristically. "Listen, we'll pick up the kids as soon as we wrap this up, okay?" She hangs up and gives him a level look and he straightens up. "Next time you leave the kids with Mom, let me know, okay? You had me worried a while there."

He nods, relieved. Kids. Boy, this might be a problem. He knew they were married by the ring and the snapshots in the wallet, but why weren't there any kid shots? "Why don't we work on that report, then give ourselves a free night before we pick up the kids?" he says.

She raises her eyebrows. "Really?"

He nods agreeably. "Really. Let her have some fun spoiling her grandkids, and we can have fun spoiling ourselves."

She looks like she's about to argue, when another look comes over her. "Fine." She winks at him. "Let me run those anomalous musculature tissue samples by Quantico, you type out the report, and I'll see you at home, okay?"

"Anything you say." He grins. This is gonna be fun.


Scully comes home to find the place spruced up, candles on the table, and something good in the kitchen. Wow, he wasn't kidding about spoiling ourselves, she thinks, "Honey, I'm home!" she calls out, carrying a stack of files, looking like a snowwoman under her winter coat.

"Hey." He grins, coming out of the kitchen. "What were you working on?"

"More autopsy data," she answers as he gives her a quick peck on the cheek. "You know, everyone at the lab found Mr. Van Blundht pretty fascinating. We discovered an additional anomaly related to the hair follicles in his scalp. I can't even begin to guess at the nature of it until we can run it through the transmission electron microscope," Scully says excitedly, then frowns as he pulls out a bottle of wine. "What's that for?"

"To celebrate," he says.

"Well, you'd better drink up my share," she says, "you know I can't have anything like that for now."

His eyebrows go up, but he nods. "Uh, yeah," he says, wondering if she has her period. Ugh.

"So, what brought you to the breaking point of actually making dinner?" she grins.

"Well, we never really talk, do we?" he says.

"We are now," she shakes her head teasingly.

"Okay, yeah," he says, "so I thought it'd be nice to have a quiet dinner, and, you know, really talk." He runs a hand through her hair. "You get into something more comfortable and I'll finish up here."

She looks at him with upraised eyebrows, then nods and goes upstairs.

He's lighting up the only working fireplace in the whole mansion when he hears a knock. "I got rid of the kids and the husband, now what?" he grumbles under his breath, wearing Mulder clothes and mumbling like Mulder. His eyes widen when he sees the real deal behind the door.

"You might wanna check the peephole next time, Van Blundht," Mulder says, punching him. "Where is she?"

"Where is who -- Mulder!" Scully says breathlessly, her eyes on a Mulder lying on the floor. Then she sees a very disheveled, angry Mulder standing at the door. "Mulder?!?!"

"Scully!" Mulder says, running up to his wife.

The Mulder on the floor morphs back into Eddie Van Blundht and into shock. "She's pregnant?"

"How could you not tell?" Mulder wonders as Scully socks him.

"She, she was wearing a thick coat, she never," Van Blundht stammers, his eyes wide as saucers. "Oh my God." He continues to crawl backwards until Mulder's long legs and gun stops him. "Oh, no."

"Oh, yeah," Mulder nods. "Hey, Scully? What's the going rate on sex offenders?"

"In Maryland?" Scully puts a hand to her chin. "Fifteen to twenty, depending on good behavior. And a good chance of being somebody's sweetheart without having to change your face," she adds meanly.

Van Blundht is beyond pale. "Y-y-you mean," he gasps.

"I'm afraid so," Mulder says, not sounding sorry at all. "But think of it this way. You won't be a loser when everyone wants a piece of you."


When the proper muscle relaxants are administered and the cops drive off, Mulder and Scully look at each other. "You were jealous for a while there, weren't you?" she grins up at him.

"Me? No," Mulder doesn't look at her.

"Yes, you were," she says. "That your big-as-a-house-wife could snag someone, didn't that make you the teensy bit jealous?"

He shakes his head, still not looking at his gorgeous, ginormous wife. "What happened to the security around here?" he glowers into the empty space. "Don't ghosts have a DNA detector or something?"

Scully folds her arms over her large stomach. "They're ghosts, not bulldogs or a biometric security system," she smiles. "Besides, I was okay. I didn't drink any wine," she nods to the bottle that was carted off with the crime scene guys, "and you noticed he dropped the loverboy act once he saw, well, me." She looks a little disappointed, though.

"Yeah," Mulder agrees, wrapping himself around her and kissing her forehead, "some guys have no taste." She giggles, and he smiles. "No, really, if you could be somebody else, who would it be?"

She looks up at him and shakes her head. "I'm good, Mulder. I've got a great job, good kids, most of the time," and he chuckles, "and a bright, if mildly insane partner and husband." Ignoring his muttered "hey," she goes on. "I can't think of anyone I'd rather be right now. Why, do you want to be someone else?" The eyebrow goes up.

He smiles a huge smile that surprises her. "Yes," he says firmly. "I wanna be the guy who chases down the Truth from basement files, the guy with the sexy wife and fun kids, the haunted house and great life. I wanna be the guy who has it all."

"Wow, I can see why you'd go for that," Scully agrees. "Let's look for him, and I can marry him."

He laughs and hugs her. Please, please, please, if this is a dream, I don't ever want to wake up, he prays. If this is insanity, let me rejoice in my madness. If this is temporary, let me be, too. Right now I'm the man who has everything, the man I wanted to be. I don't ever want to go back. Never.


8:23 p.m.
April 1, 1997

"Mulder?" Scully's groggy voice brings him out of a monograph on werewolves as cryptozoological creatures as they relate to their distant cousins the timber wolf and other lupine animals.

"Yeah," he says, taking off his reading glasses and pinching the bridge of his nose. He turns around, still dressed in his office clothes, minus a suit jacket and tie and frowns. "What's up?"

Scully's eyes are still fighting sleep, but her voice is clear. "It's coming."

"What is?" Mulder asks, his mind still stuck on the werewolves paper.

"The baby," she says, struggling to sit up.

"Ha ha, April fools, I get it already," Mulder says, having had more than his share of dead ends and snide remarks from "normal" bureau types today.

"Mulder," Scully says, and the grim, set tone in her bleary blue eyes and strangled voice are the same, "I'm not joking."

Fortunately for them both, Mulder is not a dim sitcom dad and the bulb comes on overhead pretty quickly. "You're not, oh my God, hang on," he says, grabbing the baby bag with one hand and calling Maggie Scully with the other. "Actually, you talk to your mom, I need to help you get out of bed," he says, and she smiles.

"And then you need to call the hospital," she reminds him, and he nods, grabbing his cell phone once he's pried her from the comfy clutches of the bed.


11:21 p.m.

At the hospital, Mulder is pacing up and down the hallway. It may be his third child, but it doesn't mean the wait is any easier. He knows it could go all night and into the next day, if need be, but he really hopes Scully won't have to go through that. She must really love kids, he thinks, and him if she's wanting to go through labor how many more times. He knows, in spite of surviving death numerous times, that he'd probably adopt if he had to go through the kind of pain his wife is right now. Who knows, they might adopt anyway, he's never been the type to shun people just because they weren't related. Besides, it's not like his family tree isn't complicated enough already, what's one or two extra? Not to mention numerous Samantha clones running around out there.

With that thought, a sudden irreverent grin sneaks across his face. Yeah, the first set of grownup Samanthas are out there, as well as a bunch of younger ones, and yet another young woman who's been led to believe she's Samantha and the Smoking Man's daughter as well. How weird is that? He wonders how's that going to look like on their kids' family trees. Where would one put clones? Or stardust, for that matter? And what about Jeffrey and Cassandra Spender? Forget family trees, might as well have an orchard. Or a eugenically engineered crop with interspliced offshoots. There we go.

Lost in his thoughts, he doesn't hear the doctor calling for him until the doctor's right behind him. "Mr. Mulder?"

"Uh, yeah," he says, turning around and automatically searches the witch-like old lady's face. "How is she? Is she okay?"

The doctor smiles, and the wrinkles around her face almost make her eyes disappear. "She's doing great. So is your daughter."

Cool, another daughter, Mulder thinks. "Can, can I see them?" he asks.

"Follow me," the doctor says, and the tall man follows the wrinkled old woman down the sterile hallways to a room where his wife and child awaited him.


He's always thought Scully as beautiful, but just seeing her holding their daughter, the words disappear and a huge, goofy smile plasters itself on his face. She looks up and smiles, and he can feel the air exit his lungs in a whoosh. "Hi," he says.

"Hi," she replies, and looks down at their daughter. "She's got dark blue eyes. I think it'll turn brown like my mom's."

He looks at his new little girl. "I can see I'm gonna have to beat the guys off with a stick," he jokes, his finger lightly stroking his baby's soft cheek.

"You already do," Scully smirks, but it's a tired smirk. "I'm not sure you've entirely evolved."

"Hey," he says, mock wounded, "it's all done in love. Me daddy, no touch my little girl."

The redhead makes a face, then smiles. "My husband the missing link, I'll be famous."

Mulder puts his hands over his daughter's ears, practically engulfing them in his large mitts. "You got to unduly influence Sammy and Page," he says, "this little girl's gonna think her daddy's brilliant."

"I did no such thing," Scully protests, even as the baby squirms under Mulder's hands. "They came to that well-thought out conclusion on their own."

"Yeah, right," he says, removing his hands when it's obvious the baby doesn't like being overly protected. "I say it's their intelligent, albeit skeptical, mommy had a hand in it."


Scully shakes her head. "I think just seeing their prodigious, if paranoid, daddy in action would do the trick."

Suddenly Mulder draws her hand to his chest. "Let's not fight on this," he says, and kisses her fingertips. "You've got to save your energy for more important battles, like what to name our daughter."

"Have you thought of a name yet?" she asks, bemused when he returns her hand.

He nods. "Jester," he says, "for being born on April Fool's day. We can call her Jess for short."

Scully makes a face. "Mulder, I am not calling her Jester. What kind of name is that for a girl?"

"It's a cool name," he protests, "and it would make a cool tattoo." By the look on her face, he's guessing she doesn't agree. "Okay, maybe not a tattoo, but don't you think it's a cool name? She'll have street cred right off the bat!"

His wife rolls her eyes. "I don't think that would give her anything except maybe ammunition to tease her. Mulder, be serious."

"I am serious," he says, and puts his hands up. "At least I'm not suggesting we call her Fool."

"Why don't we call her April," she suggests, "it's a good name and it's a girl's name."

"But that's so boring," he grumbles, sitting next to her. "Lots of people name their kids April."

She raises an eyebrow. Oooooh. "We could always name her Fox and see how she likes it," she says.

"Ouch," he says, "all right. April it is. But I get to pick her middle name," he says.

"Fine," she says, closing her eyes. "Whatever. I love you, but I need to get some sleep."

He kisses his wife's forehead, then his daughter's. "Sweet dreams, Dana and April," he says softly before leaving.

As he fills out his daughter's name for the hospital records, he writes in April's middle name: "Purim." He doesn't know the exact bible story, but he recalls there being a beautiful princess as well as an energetic jester in the play, and figures his daughter can be anything she wants to be when she grows up.


April 3rd, 1997
2 p.m.

"No Sammy, not on the floor," Rachel says with a sigh as Sammy delicately and deliberately releases half a banana from his grip and lets it drop onto the tiles below his high chair. "I swear your mommy said they were working on getting you to keep the food on your tray." The banana had obvious structural weaknesses, which is probably why half of it implodes on impact.

Unfazed by the comment about his supposed improved respect for food Sammy gives her a beautiful smile, which makes the nanny groan and cover her eyes. The fact that she was earning overtime these last couple of days so her employers could be together at the hospital was nice, but the kids were exhausting her more than usual. At least she could normally sleep at home. As it is this lunch has been dragging on for an hour because she's too tried to care that it's taking forever.

Still concerned about all things sticky, Page wipes her hand on the wet washcloth that all the adults who know her have taken to leaving by her plate at meal times. "'Nana all clean." Page looks around, seeming confused all of the sudden. "Rachall, where Mommy? Daddy say after lunch. I all done."

"Sammy's not done." Rachel impresses herself with the quick answer.

"Ohh..."The little girl turns to her brother. "You be all done!"

"That's it, you tell him," Rachel mutters. Sammy ignores them both and goes back to eating banana coated cheerios one by one.

"He's not listen."

"I know. He wouldn't listen to me either. How about you go look out the window and watch for your parents? They should be here pretty soon."

"Yeah, okay." Page wanders out of the room.

As Rachel is bending to clean the smooshed banana, the washcloth that Page used lands on her back, making her jump. "Page, that wasn't very nice," she complains as she peels the damp cloth off her back.

"What Rachall?"

Page's voice sounds far away, so Rachel is confused when she turns around and sees the girl turning from the window in the entry way. She blinks. There's no way a two-and-a-half year old girl could have tossed a wash cloth thirty feet and have hit her target.

"What?" Page repeats.

"Hey Page, come here."

"Okay."

Holding the washcloth by a corner, Rachel shows it to Page. "Where did you leave this?"

"Table." She points to a spot near her plate.

"That's what I thought." Rachel sighs again. "It fell on me like someone threw it. Sammy can't reach that far, though."

Page nods. "Ghosties."

"What?"

"Ghosties. They kids too."

"Um, yeah..." Rachel trails off when she hears a car pulling into the driveway."Maybe that's your parents." Page squeals and runs back to the window.

By the time the front door opens, Sammy has been freed from his high chair and is clean if still slightly damp. He joins his sister and they both jump up and down as their parents come into the house. Rachel hangs back a little, but is also curious about her new charge.

Mulder has the baby in his arms, and he stoops down so his older children can see what he's holding. "This is April. She's your new sister."

Sammy's eyes widen in shock. "A baby!"

Page doesn't seem as surprised, but she gives her mother a long look before leaning over to talk to her sister. "You made mommy fat."

Her parents laugh helplessly, and Rachel holds up her hands. "I didn't tell her that, I promise."

Mulder grins. "That's my fault, actually. She wanted to know where Scully's lap when so I told her it was because her mother was going to have a baby... smart little girl."

He stands up straight and suggests that the kids let their mother sit down so they can see the baby more. Scully looks thankful for the suggestion, which makes Rachel think that the woman must be twice as tired as she is. As soon as the baby is in Scully's arms, Mulder beckons Rachel away.

"Thank you for all the extra time this week. Did they behave themselves?"

"They were good. Their grandmother came and spent the afternoon with them yesterday, so they were thrilled about that." She pauses before blurting out. "Do you know that Page thinks there are ghosts in this house?"

"Uh oh," Mulder says, making Rachel wonder if she's just gotten Page in trouble, which wasn't her intention. "The ghosts haven't hidden anything on you, have they? If they have I'll help you find whatever it was before you leave."

"You think there are ghosts too?!" Rachel squawks.

"They're not dangerous or anything," Mulder says quickly. "They're just a little naughty."

"They didn't take anything," Rachel tells him, feeling dazed. "They just threw a washcloth at me...and I think they took my blankets off me a few times, but that could have been tossing and turning."

"Sorry about that. They haven't seemed to taken an interest in you until now, so I didn't think they'd bother you."

"How did you end up with child ghosts in your house?"

"I wondered that too, because the uncle who left me the house was a bachelor with no children. I visited the historical society a while back and learned that this house was once used as a makeshift hospital for people with influenza in 1918. My guess is that the ghosts were children who didn't make it."

"Oh, that's awful."

"They seem happy here, though," Mulder tells her. "Did you want to see the baby before you leave?"

"Sure."

The nanny's deft handling of the newborn puts Mulder and Scully both at ease. It will be weeks before the baby is left in her care - though she'll be coming to look after Sammy and Page while Scully is on leave - but it's nice to see that she isn't afraid of the infant.

"What a little sweetie. I hope my own kids are like this."

"Planning on having them any time soon?" Scully asks in a gently teasing tone.

This, not the baby, flusters the young nanny. "I don't think Sean or I are ready to talk about that." She hands April back to Scully with a blush.

Mulder comes to her rescue. "How about you show me where your bag is? It looked heavy a few days ago. I'll carry it out to your car." Rachel looks relieved as she scurries up to the guest room.


Once Mulder has seen the nanny off, he wanders back to his wife. "Should I know who 'Sean' is?"

Scully looks up from admiring her youngest daughter who is sleeping in Mulder's arms. "Yes, since you've worked with him. Agent Pendrell."

"His first name is Sean? I thought it was Agent."

"Funny, Mulder."

Mulder shrugs. "I didn't know they were that serious, though. They make sense in an odd sort of way. Just as long as they don't run off and leave us in the lurch for a nanny."

Scully smirks at him. "I'm sure they'd be so pleased to have your blessing."

"Who wouldn't be?"

April opens her mouth and emits a wail that cuts off further banter between her parents.

"Baby cryin'" Sammy helpfully informs them.

"We know, Sammy," Mulder says, jiggling April, in hopes of calming her.

"Make stop."

"I wish."


Chapter Fourty-Eight

St. John's Church.
Alexandria, VA.
Easter, 1997

Mulder is about as twitchy as the child attached to his leg. It may have been a private promise on Scully's part, but as he's realized, when she makes a promise, she keeps it. "Hold still, ya squirmy varmint," he bends down and whispers into his son's ear, making him giggle, but stay relatively still, and for that, his father is grateful.

Sammy, like his older sister Page and baby sister April, is dressed in white formal clothes. Likewise, Mrs. Scully, and Melissa are all decked out, and so are the Lone Gunmen, who, although not nominally Catholic, are the proud godfathers. A passerby might think that the kids are wedding attendants, but actually, they're the stars of the show.

Having gone through the whole rigmarole of getting ready for the baptism, Mulder's learned more about the other half, that is, his wife's Catholic beliefs and her surprising strength in them. He sighs inwardly, if he'd learned this before, he wouldn't have been surprised at her sudden swings toward faith whenever it came up in their cases. Better late than never, he adds, trying to pay attention as the priest asks the kids, "You and your parents and sponsors have spent a long time preparing for this day. Is it your desire to be baptized?"

Page murmurs a shy "yes" while April simply stares, but Sammy shouts, "NO!"

Everyone laughs, while Scully groans and Mulder tries (and fails) to hide his grin. Father McCue also smiles, then bends down and asks, "Samuel, do you want to be baptized, too?"

Sammy looks up at his dad, who shrugs. A solemn look comes over the little redhead's face, and he nods. "Okay," he says.

Mulder breathes an inward sigh of relief, especially since Scully's glare at him has dimmed from laser-intense to merely first-degree burns. The rest of the baptism goes without a hitch, just like the rehearsal, and the ritual goes by painlessly, as Mulder and Scully read their hopes and prayers over their children and the priest blesses the little ones in words and water. April cries when the water splashes on her face, but that's understandable.

In a weird way, he could kinda get used to this, rituals being reminders of love as well as obligation. And considering Scully's promise was made over concern for his well-being, he can understand the sentiment. Once the baptism is over, they launch into a familiar scenario common to pretty much every religion: everybody eats.

"Now this I can get into," Frohike murmurs, digging into the buffet.

Mulder doesn't have a chance to respond sarcastically because Mrs. Scully comes up and asks, "So, Fox, when will you get baptized?"

While her husband searches for a diplomatic reply, Scully smiles and squeezes his arm, "He's already a believer, Mom."

"He is?" The older woman blinks. "But I thought..."

"Just a little more Old Testament-fashioned than the rest." Mulder grins, even as he shoots a silent "thank you" to his wife.

He's saved from any more probing questions from either Mrs. Scully or Father McCue as he does kid wrangling for the rest of the afternoon. He notices, though, with some wry amusement, that the Gunmen aren't similarly blessed with children as a diversionary tactic, and instead stuff their faces. It isn't until everybody leaves the church and he and his family are seatbelted in that Mulder finally breathes a real prayer of thanks.

"Mulder?" Scully asks, concerned. "Are you okay?" It's been a long day for everyone, and now that the kids are making tired noises, it seems that they're ready for a nap. Me, too, she adds mentally.

"Now I am." He grins, starting the car.


July 2nd, 1997
Night

Scully smiles to herself when she sees that Mulder is lying on his stomach, almost nose to nose with April. The baby, also on her belly, is lifting her head to look around. Mulder is speaking to the baby in a voice too low to be heard.

"Mulder, what are you doing?"

"Trying to see what the world looks like from her level."

"What's different?" she asks, humoring him.

"Well, from down here, you're really tall. Mommy's a giant, isn't she April?"

Scully snorts. "I was a giant before she was born, not after. Ask Page."

She expects him to laugh, but he looks up at her with a very solemn expression. "Are you sure you're ready to go back to work?"

Three months of being home with the baby has been both nice and maddening. It makes her feel guilty, but she is ready to do something more intellectually stimulating with her time, and she's confident that Rachel, for all her idiosyncrasies, will be as good with the new baby as the two older children. Of course, she can't tell Mulder this. "I'm okay."

"Are you sure? Because if you're not, we can talk to Skinner about exten-"

"Really, Mulder, I'll be okay."

"Okay." He gives her a winsome look. "I've missed having you around the office."

"It's good to be missed," she tells him, getting down on the floor to play with April too.


July 5th, 1997
6:30 a.m.

When Mulder enters the nursery to dress his two youngest children, he's surprised to see Sammy sitting up in his crib. His eyes have dark shadows under them, and his face looks exhausted. He reaches his arms up and whines plaintively. "Baby loud!"

The loud baby is sleeping soundly, so Mulder carries his son into the master bedroom where Scully is still putting on her makeup. He puts Sammy on the bed and points at him. "Look at him, he's not getting any sleep. When he was small Page slept through his night noise, but he's not sleeping through April's."

As if to emphasize his father's point, Sammy slumps over, sprawling on the bed.

Scully picks the toddler up and cuddles him. "Oh, Sammy. I think it's time we put him in his own room, Mulder."

Mulder starts to nod, but Sammy shrieks "No!" and begins to cry.

All they can do is exchange bewildered looks. Mulder takes him and tries to calm him down. "You don't want your own room, huh, Buddy. How come?"

After hiccupping a couple of times, Sammy wipes tears off his face with a fist. "'lone scary. Too dark." They'd tried putting him in that room one night earlier in the week after setting up a toddler bed, and ended up with him in their bed. Now they knew why.

"We can put a night light in your room," Mulder suggests.

Sammy cries harder.

"Page's room!" Scully blurts out. Sammy stops crying and looks at her. "Do you want to sleep in Page's room for a little while?"

"Car bed?"

Scully grins. "I think that can be arranged. Go wait in your old room for Daddy to come change you."

"'K, Mommy!" He dashes out of the room.

"You're good," Mulder tells her.

"I know."

"Do you think Page will mind?"

"Nah. But if she does, we can tell her it was your idea."

"Oh, that's nice."

His wife smiles brightly at his scowl.


Angie's Midnight Bowl
Noon

Scully walks down the lane toward Mulder and Angie, who are lying in the lane, looking up at the pin setter. Shrugging to herself, she doesn't even wonder why.

Catching sight of her, Mulder beckons with a hand. "Hey, Scully, take a look at this."

She joins them underneath the pin setter and squints at the floor. "What am I looking at?"

"The pin setter. You see the way it's wedged and broken?" Scully tells him she does. "Mr. Pintero said the only way that would happen would be if considerable weight or pressure was placed on it from above."

"This is where you saw the body?" Scully asks Angie.

"Yes ma'am, she was caught up in the machinery. Her neck was cut."

"And the blood from the victim was pooling where?"

Angie points to a spot on the slick floor. "Right there."

"But both the body and the blood were gone when you returned?"

Angie looks anxious, obviously sensing her disbelief. "Yeah, but like, like I said, the woman in the parking lot..."

"Was the same woman that you saw caught up here in the machinery?"

"That's right."

All three of them walk out from under the pin setter, and Scully and Angie discuss whether or not he's lying. Before things get heated, Mulder interrupts. "Can I ask you a favor? Can I get a soda, a cola, something like that?"

While Angie gets the soda, Mulder speaks to his wife in a low voice.

"What is that look, Scully?"

"I would have thought that after all these years you'd know exactly what that look was."

"I know you believe in ghosts, Scully."

"I believe in our ghosts. IF that's what they even are," she grumbles. "But you think what this man saw was the victim's ghost?"

"Sounds more like a disembodied soul."

"Which is just another name for a ghost."

"Except according to Mr. Pintero, this one was trying to communicate. It was speaking to him as if she was trying to tell him something. It sounds more like a death omen."

"A death omen? Like a banshee or big black dog?"

"Something like that. It's a spirit being that arrives as a harbinger of death. It looks just like the person who is dying."

"So if I see you when you're not supposed to be around I should worry about being widowed?"

"Funny." He smirks. "This is the third reported sighting in as many weeks ... and as many murders. Each time the victim appearing near the crime scene trying to communicate, trying to say something."

"Communicate what?"

"I don't know yet but, uh...If you hold on a second I may have an answer for you." He thanks Angie for the soda then begins pouring it on the floor. Angie is really unhappy with his behavior, but Mulder ignores him and points to the spot Angie showed them before.

"She is me."

Both Scully and Angie are confused. "What?"

"Written onto the wax - she is me - look at this!"

They look where he's pointing and see the phrase etched in wax and filled with soda.


After Detective Hudak tips them off about call coming from a mental hospital, the agents go to visit Harold Spuller and speak to him and the nurse who cares for him

"I don't know anything. I didn't do anything. Leave me alone." Harold is sullen.

"You made that phone call, didn't you Harold?"

"No!"

"Did you say the words 'she is me'?"

"No!"

"Have you ever heard those words?"

"No!"

Mulder doesn't bother to point out the fact that at the very least Harold just heard him say the phrase. "Have you ever seen a ghost, Harold?"

"No! No!" Harold rocks back and forth, getting even more agitated. "Please leave me alone."

The nurse makes a move to try to comfort the stricken man, but he just continues to shout no at the top of his lungs. They stand to leave, and Scully leans in to Mulder. "Well ... when you're right, you're right."

"17 ... 30 ... 37 ... 45 ... 53." Tears stream down Harold's face, and neither Scully nor Mulder notice that he looks as them as they leave. "You're a ghost, you're a ghost, you're..."


An Office in the Psychiatric Center

A doctor has let them borrow an office while Scully looks over Harold's medical records. To the surprise of both, the center seems eager to cooperate.

Scully looks up from a file. "Harold Spuller suffers from pervasive developmental disorder, which is sometimes called atypical autism. He's spent his entire life in and out of facilities just like this one. He has been medicated, he has received shock therapy and, aside from his other disabilities, he has been diagnosed with severe ego dystonic obsessive-compulsive disorder ... which would explain the switching of the victims rings."

"So why all of a sudden?" Mulder asks her.

"You mean what made him snap? Why, I think his outburst clearly showed a frustrated impulse towards violence when he was put in a challenging situation."

"That outburst didn't come until after I'd asked him if he'd ever seen a ghost."

"Mulder, the man is disturbed. You could see the pressure building in him from the moment the interview began."

"Yeah."

"Why are you now so unconvinced that Harold Spuller is the man we came here looking for?"

"I'm sure Harold Spuller is the man that made that phone call. On the other hand I don't think he's any more capable of murder than our kids are. What led us to him still remains unexplained."

"She is me."

"Uh huh, and the other apparitions, like the one Mr. Pintero saw at the bowling alley."

"Well, I think I have an idea about that if not an explanation. Howard Spuller is at this facility voluntarily, which means he can come and go as he pleases, to kill those women or to hold down a job or both."

Scully points to a page from Harold's records, which shows Angie's Midnight Bowl as his place of employment. "This isn't a coincidence."

"Maybe not," she agrees, standing abruptly.

"Hey were are you going?"

"No where really, I just need to find a washroom."

"You're not pregnant, right?" Mulder teases. But the glee flees his face suddenly when he recalls that they didn't wait a second longer than six weeks to get back on familiar terms...

"Jesus, Mulder, I just have to pee!"

She walks out in a huff leaving Mulder with a smug look on his face.


Her irritation at her husband is wearing off by the time she leaves the stall and goes to the sink to wash her hands. She turns off the water and looks up at the mirror. The words "She is me" are written on the mirror in blood. As she stares at the mirror, a low moaning sound is heard. She turns around and sees a pale, ghost-like figure of a young woman standing by the window. The sweatshirt clad woman's mouth moves, as if she's speaking, but as with her father's shade, Scully can't hear anything she's saying. As Scully watches, a line across the young woman's throat opens up like a seam and blood runs down her neck.

A frightened sound escapes her throat and she backs up so suddenly that she hits a stall with a resounding thud. On the other side of the door she can hear Mulder calling for her. "You okay in there?"

Her attention diverted by the question, she looks away from the ghost and to the door, as if she could see him through it. When she hesitantly looks back to the window, she sees that's she's alone.

"Scully, you in there?"

The words are no longer on the mirror, either.

"Yeah, I'm okay," she says shakily. "I thought I saw something. A rat."

"A rat? I thought this place was supposed to be upscale." He opens the door a crack to speak to her, but doesn't enter the room. "They found another victim. A college student with her throat cut. Just about a half block from here."

He lets the door close again, leaving a stunned Scully alone in the bathroom.


A city Street Near the Center
The Scene of the Latest Murder

Scully barely suppresses a shudder when she looks at the body. The young woman is the same one she saw in the bathroom, wearing the same sweatshirt.

Mulder notices, but doesn't make an issue of it. "Her name was Loren Heller, age 21. She's single, apparently she was on her way home from a bar that she part-timed at after school. She had a ring on her left hand, switched to her right hand, pinky finger. She was dead less than an hour when she was found."

"That would rule out Harold Spuller as the killer, huh?" Scully asks, stepping back from the unpleasant sight.

"No, actually it doesn't. Harold's not at the home. He's nowhere to be found. His nurse locked him in his room after we left, but he managed to escape unnoticed."

"I don't imagine he'd be too hard to find. He's a creature of habit, after all."

"Yeah, but I think we should be the ones to find him, if only to find out what 'she is me' means." He glances at her and notices her distracted expression. "Miss the baby, huh?"

"What?" She blinks, confused.

"You look a thousand miles away. I thought that was it."

"Oh yeah, I was wondering how April is."

"Why don't you go home? I can get Harold myself."

"Are you sure?" She doesn't realize that she looks grateful.

"Positive. I'll give you a call if anything exciting happens."


Washington, D.C.

Scully, with hands clasped in front of her chin, is somberly staring into space. There's a hesitant knock on the bedroom door. She gets up and opens it.

"I was afraid you were sleeping."

"Not yet. Has something 'exciting' come up?"

"I needed your help on something. I needed your medical expertise."

"On what?"

"Harold Spuller. You know Angie Pintero, the bowling alley guy? He's dead."

"How?"

"Natural causes. Congestive heart failure. Just keeled over right in the bowling alley."

"That's what you need my medical opinion on?"

"No. Howard Spuller had a premonitory vision of his boss's death."

"I don't understand," Scully lies, thinking involuntarily of her father for the second time.

"Harold saw an apparition - what may have been Angie Pintero's disembodied soul at the moment of or just prior to his death."

"How do you know?"

"Because I was standing right there when he saw it."

"But you didn't see it yourself?"

"No."

"Why?"

"I don't have that facility, that kind of connection to the victims that would have made such a vision possible."

"What's Harold Spuller's connection?"

"I don't know its exact nature but I think it has something to do with his autism ... that Harold experienced a profound attachment to these victims but because of his disability was unable to express the depth and power of those relationships, so somehow a psychic or preconscious bond was formed that went beyond the temporal."

"Oh, wait a minute, so Harold knew the people that were killed?"

"Yeah, from the bowling alley, going back seven years."

"Even if what you're saying is true, Harold wasn't the only one who claims to have seen these apparitions."

"No, but he does have something in common with those who've had the visions that is quite powerful in its own right."

"Which is what?"

"Well, they were all dying ... one of emphysema, one of cancer and now Angie Pintero."

"Harold Spuller is dying too?"

"Well that's what I need your medical opinion on."

"Well, what if he isn't?" Scully asks, suddenly worried about herself. She tries to dismiss her fear, since she'd seen her first ghost years before and was still hale, but it's hard.

"I would be very surprised. What is a death omen if not a vision of our own mortality? And who among us would most likely be able to see the dead but those who have been near its icy chill themselves? Harold's at the resident home right now."

"Let's get this over with then." Scully picks up her coat. "It's a good thing Rachel is still her."

"Thank god for night owls," Mulder agrees.


Chuck Forsch's Room

After Harold goes ballistic, Scully goes to visit his roommate, telling Mulder that if anyone knows something, it'd be the man who rooms with him.

She knocks gently on the door before entering.

Harold's roommate looks up from reading a book. "Oh hi."

"Is your name Chuck?"

"Yes. Yes it is. Uh, Chuck Forsch. F-O-R-S-C-H. Chuck Forsch."

"Do you, uh, do you share this room with Harold?"

Chuck nods enthusiastically. "Yes, he's my friend."

"Do you know where he is? We're worried about him, so we'd like to find him."

"He's dying, isn't he? Harold is dying." The man's face clouds.

"Why do you say that?"

"Nurse Innes, she's, she's trying to poison him."

"Who told you that?"

"Harold. He said she told him she was putting poison in his meds."

"Harold hasn't been taking his medication?"

"I don't know. I don't know everything, I'm only a human being. But I do know that Harold's my friend. He wouldn't hurt anybody. You know, he really loved them."

"Who?"

Chuck crosses the room and removes another book from a drawer. "Harold. He gave them to me. He was afraid." Chuck takes several photographs from the book and hands them to Scully. Smiling faces that look up at them are the murdered women.

"Does anybody else know about these pictures, Chuck?"

"Nurse Innes." Just as she's about to thank him for his help, he gives her a curious look. "You don't look like a ghost."

"Why would I look like a ghost?"

"Harold. He said you were a ghost. And he knows about ghosts," Chuck says with a sage nod.

"Well, he's wrong, I'm not a ghost."

Chuck shrugs. "What do I know? I'm just a simple man."

As she leaves the room he begins to hum the Lynard Skynard song of the same title. Something about the end of the conversation really bothers her, and even though she tells herself that she shouldn't put too much stalk into what Chuck said, she can't shake the shiver that goes through her as she pushes open the door to the bathroom.


Standing hunched over the sink, Nurse Innes starts as Scully enters the room.

"How are you feeling?"

"I'm, you know, shaky."

"Understandable."

"Working with these people starts driving you crazy too. I'm just looking forward to going home."

"Will your family be a comfort?" Scully notices that Nurse Innes is holding something in her left hand and reminds herself to be wary in light of Chuck's more believable accusations.

"I live alone."

"No children?"

Innes smirks. "Just the one my husband ran off with. You?"

"Three, two girls and a boy-" Scully's voice falters when nurse Innes accidentally drops pills onto the floor.

"Nurse Innes, I'm afraid I'm gonna to have to ask you to step out into the hallway."

Innes removes the scalpel she's been holding from her pocket and slashes at Scully, backing her up against the wall. Scully grabs Innes's arm as they struggle. She eventually forces Innes to drop the scalpel by slamming her hand against the wall. After Innes propels her across the room, still on the floor Scully draws her gun on the wild nurse.

"Stay where you are! Drop it! Let it go!"

Innes hesitates for just a fraction of a second before raising the scalpel and lunging forward. Scully aims from her position on the floor and fires. Innes drops like a stone.

Mulder and Alpert burst into the room a moment later, and look at the fallen woman.

Scully's face is blank as she gets to her feet. "She's alive. Let's get a paramedic in here."

After nodding in agreement, Alpert scurries out and summons help.

Mulder, on the other hand, is more concerned about his wife than the nurse lying on the floor. "You're cut." He takes her hand gently into his own and examines it.

"Yeah, she attacked me." She points to the scalpel. Which Mulder starts to pick up. "You might want to bag that. I'm pretty sure it's the murder weapon."


They squeeze against the hall wall to let paramedics roll Innes through.

"She had been taking Harold's meds... clonazepam and clozapine... the unregulated effects of which are violence and unpredictable behavior., Scully explains calmly.

"Yeah, but why did you even suspect her?"

"Well, I went in to talk to Harold's roommate and he said that Harold thought that she'd been poisoning him. So I went in to confront her and she just went off."

"Why do you think she killed those women?"

"I don't know. I mean, maybe in some drug-addled way, she was trying to kill happiness, Harold's happiness, his love for those women, maybe trying to destroy something she thought she'd never have again."

"She is me."

"Maybe. She mentioned that her husband had run off with a young girl. Maybe she was trying to extract some sort of revenge on them too." Scully shakes her head. "Have they found Harold?"

"Yeah. They found in an alley a few blocks from here, face down on the pavement. They worked on him for twenty minutes but he couldn't be revived."

"What happened?"

"The preliminary diagnosis is apnea - respiratory failure."

"As a result of what?"

"Well, the paramedics are at a loss to explain that, but if what you're saying is true, that Harold stopped taking his medications, then that could have been a factor in his death - at least in the visions that he was seeing."

"Well, Harold Spuller wasn't dying, Mulder. He, he was killed as a result of what that woman took away from him."

"Is that your medical opinion?"

Scully pauses and Mulder stops as well. "I saw something, Mulder."

"What?"

She sighs. "The fourth victim. I saw her in the bathroom before you came to tell me."

"Why didn't you tell me?" Annoyance fills his voice. ::You're not dying this time, how could you see her?? You can't be sick, you can't, you can't.::

"Because I didn't want to believe it. Because I don't want to believe that there's a connection between the victims and who sees them. I'm fine, so your theory must be wrong."

"It must be."

"Let's go home," Scully whispers tiredly.

Reaching into his pocket, he pulls out his keys and tosses them to her. "I'll be right with you. I need to use the bathroom before we head out."

She's unable to resist returning his earlier volley. "Sure you're not pregnant?" His laughter echoes as he shakes his head and rushes back to the center.

As she walks out to the car, she catches sight of flashing lights down the street. Police cars and an ambulance are barely visible. She's teary for reasons she can't explain, but she rubs her eyes hard as she slides on to the passenger seat. Glancing out the window, she sees the ambulance driving away, and as she follows it with her eyes, in her rear-view mirror she sees a pale image of Harold in the back seat. Wide-eyed, she turns around to look but there is nothing there. She turns back, shocked.

She's white as a ghost herself when Mulder lets himself into the car, but he doesn't seem to notice.


Washington, D.C.
10 p.m.

"Okay, how do I die?" She remembers that Buckman stared at her, looking perplexed. "You already did," The snippet of conversation comes back to her with a start, and makes her shiver. Buckman had seemed puzzled that she couldn't remember having died. What if it hadn't just been the confused words of a man soon to take his own life, but truly part of her past?

Before she quite realizes it, she's dialing the phone. "Hi mom, I'm sorry that it's so late... This will sound like a strange question, but...did I ever come close to dying as a kid?" She holds the phone to ear and listens for quite a while. "Okay thanks. Have a good night, Mom. Love you."

"It's late for a phone call," Mulder says quietly, making her realize he's in the room.

"I died." ::Oh shit. But how could Maggie possibly know? If any of the Scully women were going to claim ESP I'd of bet it would be Missy, not Maggie. Well, maybe Missy-:: Before Mulder has a heart attack, she goes on. "I was two. There was a car accident and the car rolled...My face got jammed against the seat and and I stopped breathing. Then my heart stopped...My mom said they thought they lost me."

When she looks up there are tears in her eyes. He immediately gathers her in his arms. "Shhh, you're okay now."

"She said that they didn't want to tell me unless I remembered, since it had been so traumatic. I can't believe I didn't know I died." Scully's voice is still wobbly.

"I can understand her desire to protect you from that. If it had been me and Page, instead of you and Maggie, I can't say for sure that I'd do anything differently."

Scully doesn't say anything. To his surprise, he looks down sees that she's smiling. "What?"

"At least now we know that your stupid theory-"

"My stupid theory?" Pouting, he attempts to make her feel bad, and fails miserably.

"- was just a little off the mark. You don't have to be dying at the moment to see...something. God, Mulder, I was beginning to wonder if I was sick and didn't know it." Her laugh sounds a little shaky.

So does his.

"How come you didn't see them?"

"What?"

"You didn't see the ghosts. Surely you've had a few heart-stopping moments yourself."

"I think it might have stopped while I waited for you to say you'd marry me, but other than that..."

Lacking a witty comeback, Scully settles for kissing him instead.

To Be Continued

Here ends season four. To get to season five, click here: Go to chapters 49+




Return to The Speakeasy
(FelineFemme's Fics)
Neoxphile's Series fics Neoxphile's Works-In-Progress Neoxphile's Stand Alone fics