Chapters 01-22 Chapter 23-48 Chapter 49 Chapter 50 Chapter 51 Chapter 52 Chapter 53 Chapter 54 Chapter 55 Chapter 56
Chapter 57 Chapter 58 Chapter 59 Chapter 60 Chapter 61 Chapter 62 Chapter 63 Chapter 64 Chapter 65 Chapter 66
Chapter 67 Chapter 68 Chapter 69 Chapter 70 Chapter 71 Chapter 72 Chapter 73 Chapter 74 Chapter 75 Chapter 76
Chapter 77 Chapter 78 Chapter 79+
Manips by NeoX. Found in chapters:

Title: The Family G-Man

Authors: Neoxphile and FelineFemme


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

Archive: Link only please, using the url

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 Fourty-Nine

August 1997

It's a hot summer day on the outskirts of D.C., and the Lone Gunmen are feeling the heat more than usual. The cause could be the different environs and company they keep, a large mansion-like home and three small children, that's causing their armpits to sweat more than normal and tempers to flare. Even the normally-affable Byers has gotten to the point where he'd rather sweep the Mulder house for surveillance devices than spend another minute with his friends or Mulder's kids. Frohike has sought refuge in the kitchen doing repairs, which leaves Langly with munchkin duty. Finally, even he gives in as he runs into the kitchen.

"Dude, one more second with that stupid purple dinosaur and I'm gonna blow my brains out!" he exclaims to a pair of legs poking out from under the sink.

"I thought you said you could handle it," Frohike's muffled voice comes eerily through the pipes.

"Yeah, but Barney's no Cap'n Toby," the long-haired blond man scowls.

"Come on, I'll fix the pipes, you can listen to some inane dude in a costume sing."

"No, thanks," Frohike replies, "I don't want the lovely Scully to blame me if the sink suddenly turns on when she starts the microwave."

"It was just that one time!" Langly sputters, his forthcoming argument cut short by a new arrival. "Oh, you."

Byers ignores the venom dripping from his compatriot's words or glare. "Top to bottom, there are no bugs," he says briskly, "at least surveillance-wise." Due to the heat, his jacket is draped on his arm, but he is still clad in his trademark buttoned-up shirt, tie and dress slacks.

"Greaaaaaaat," Langly drawls, "it's your turn to look after the rugrats."

The bearded man looks shocked when he sees Frohike's legs from under the sink. "If we're all in here, who's looking after the children?"

Frohike bangs his head as he gets out of the sink. "What? You guys!" he yells when April starts crying.

The three men look at each other. "Not me!" they all chorus. Then they point at each other, "You do it!"

"Fine, fine," Frohike mumbles, giving up trying to decipher Mulder's messy handwritten instructions, "I swear decrypting top secret documents is easier than reading that chicken scratch." Still, he must've done something right, because April is finally quiet, sucking noisily away at a bottle, her diaper fresh and clean.

"You two look good together," Langly says in the calm following the storm, "even if you guys aren't related."

"She could've been," Frohike says, as he carries the littlest one with her bald head and dark brown eyes. "April's got my eyes." He beams down at her proudly as if he had a hand in her creation.

"You better not let Mulder hear you say that." Langly smirks, until Sammy smears some baby food on his shirt. "Ugh, gross," he says, making a face as he wipes it off, making Page and Sammy laugh. "I can't believe the one day they decide to take a little 'me-time' is the same one their babysitter does the same."

"Nannies are people, too," Byers says, unperturbed when Page grabs the remote to turn on the TV. He frowns when the remote doesn't turn the set on, then walks over to manually press the power button. Nothing. He checks in the back to see if everything's hooked up properly, and they are. Having already checked the set for bugs, he realizes it's not the fault of some shadowy third party, but rather an internal problem. "I think it's broken," he says finally.

Page's face crumples, and it isn't long before the house is filled with the sound of wailing. Not just from the three Mulder and Scully children, but also at least one Gunman.

Frohike's panicked mind thinks of a number of solutions to the problem, all of which would result in their getting jailed, or at least, on the FBI's most wanted. Bitterly, he puts aside thoughts of rope and duct tape, multi-purpose childcare machines, and simple abandonment, looking desperately at his friends. Okay, so it's his fault that he got them into this mess, but does it always have to be him to get them out? "Byers," he pleads under the incessant crying. How is it possible for such little kids to have such big lungs?

Even Byers is looking panicky, which isn't good. But the sight of Langly losing it with the kids has caused something within the suit-and-tie man to snap, and in a tone rarely heard from the normally-sanguine man, he says sharply, "All of you, QUIET!" Startled, Page subsides with a startled hiccup, Sammy's mouth hangs open, and Langly freezes. "Langly, I want you to go into the kitchen and get snacks and drinks. Page, I want you to be a big girl and put the toys away. Sammy, stay there. And Frohike," he pauses.

"Yeah?" the balding man asks uneasily, shifting the baby girl in his arms as he rocks her.

"You've got storytelling detail."

Frohike's bulging eyes behind his glasses make him resemble a comical frog. What?"

"There's no brewskis, so everybody gets fruit juice." The blond man comes strolling in with colorful sippy cups and a box of donuts. "Hey, are donuts cool?" He looks speculatively at the little redheaded boy. In reply, Sammy grabs a donut and promptly powders his face with the white sugar. "I'll take that as a yes," Langly notes, handing out drinks and donuts.

Frohike's wracking his brains for something suitable to talk about, although most of what comes to mind are conspiracy theories, which would probably go over the kids' heads, or hot chicks, which would get him in trouble with the luscious and unfortunately-married Scully. He looks at Byers, who shrugs, and an evil thought comes to mind. "Okay, boys and girls," he says in a storytelling voice, and everyone perks up, "Uncle Frohike's gonna tell you about how we saved a pretty lady called Susanne, met your father, and saved the world."

"Oh, no," Byers sighs, while Langly grins, "Oh, yeah."

"You saved the world?" Page asks.

"Of course," Frohike beams, but his smile droops when he sees Byers glare.

"Well, maybe just Baltimore," he amends, and is about to go on when the blonde girl interrupts again.

"Who's Susanne?" Page wonders.

The Lone Gunmen look at each other. "Once upon a time, well, about eight years ago, on a lovely May afternoon, Uncle Byers met a beautiful blonde lady named Susanne," Frohike says, ignoring the fact that he's drinking from a sippy cup, "at a computer convention in nearby Baltimore. All sorts of people were there, but somehow, your straightlaced Uncle Byers managed to catch the attention of the damsel in distress."

"I didn't know that yet," Byers corrects him, and Frohike shoves a donut into his mouth.

"Anyways," Frohike ignores the interruption, "Uncle Byers followed the lady with the sunglasses all the way to where the dashing and debonair Uncle Frohike, that's yours truly," he makes a little bow, "was working hard at his cable company booth." He ignores his compatriot's coughing and goes on. "Unfortunately, Uncle Langly was in the next booth, trying to sell Susanne a terrible version of cable, which was very, very bad."

"Very, very bad," Page repeats, and Sammy mumbles "Bad bad."

"Hey!" Langly yelps. "You were the one who was selling crappy coax cable--"

"When Uncle Langly butted in, we both lost a sale," Frohike glares at him behind his glasses, holding up a fist, "and Uncle Byers kept following Susanne like a stalker. Susanne let him bump into her and she dropped her purse. Because he's actually got some manners, he said sorry and saw a picture of a little girl fall out of her purse."

"Susanne was a mommy?"

Frohike makes a face. "Well, that's what she wanted ol' Uncle Byers to think. So she told Uncle Byers about some crazy and very, very bad ex-boyfriend who stole her little girl named Susanne."

"Susanne and Susanne!" Page laughs, delighted.

"Not quite," Frohike says as Byers sighs. "She told Uncle Byers her name was Holly."

"Like sugar?" Sammy asks, reaching for another donut.

"Like the sugar," Frohike agrees.

"Who was the bad man?" Page asks.

The Lone Gunmen exchange glances. "We're getting there," Frohike says.

"Anyways, Susanne-who-called-herself-Holly said she needed help with computer stuff that would help her find her fake-daughter-called-Susanne, so they went back to where Uncle Byers was working. And you know what?"

"What?" Sammy falls for the prompt.

The short man has an evil grin on his face. "It was the first time Uncle Byers hacked into a system! Aren't you proud?"

"Yay, Uncle!" the children cheer, while Byers puts a hand over his face and Langly shares an evil grin with Frohike.

"It wasn't like that," Byers says half-heartedly.

"Hey, take the kudos while you can," Frohike says blithely, "so anyway,

Uncle Byers found Susanne's file and printed it out. Unfortunately, it was encrypted, which means that it was in a special computer language."

The little girl blinks. "Co'puters can talk?"

"Of course," Frohike nods. "Anything smart can talk. Just when Uncle Byers realized he needed help turning this computer language into English, Susanne saw her scary ex-boyfriend."

"Oh no!"

"That's right," the short man says with relish. "And they realized they needed more help than ever, so they went to the man with the plan, the hero when you're zero, senor numero uno." He pats his leather-vested chest. "Uncle Frohike!"


"Really," Byers says, rolling his eyes.

"Hey, I call 'em like I see 'em," Frohike says, enjoying the adulation from the mini-Mulders. "So anyways, I was ready to do the hero thing and beat the guy up so we could save the little girl, but Susanne said the bad guy was not only bad, he was dangerous, so we had to be very, very careful."

Both kids are nodding, and Byers, wishing his friend would skip over this part, says, "Frohike, could you check on April?"

"Sure," the balding man says, holding up the baby girl and takes a careful sniff near the general direction of her diapers. "All clear," he says, not bothering to hide his relief. "So anyways, me and Uncle Byers decide to check out the scary boyfriend, just in case, see what he's like. Problem was, it's hard to do the secret agent thing with Mr. Boy Scout here." Byers purses his lips. "So the bad guy saw us."

"Run away!" Sammy yells, as if he could change past events.

"In a way, it was a good thing," Frohike says, inadvertenly putting both feet in his mouth, "because the bad guy turned out to be your father."

"NOOOOOOO!!! My daddy's good!" Page promptly starts crying, her siblings following suit for at least the second time that day.

"Hey, hey, hey," Frohike panicks, handing April and her bottle over to Byers and hugging the little girl. "Page, you're right, you're right, your daddy's a good guy. But back then, we didn't know, okay? We didn't know him, and that why we thought he wasn't."

"Uncles are dum-dums," Page sniffles. It takes a little while longer, but Sammy and April calm down as well, much to the Gunmen's relief.

"Yeah, well, like I said, we didn't know," Frohike continues in a placating tone. "But he didn't know Susanne was our friend first and said he was the bad guy. So we said we were lost and were looking for the bathroom," and is relieved when the girl giggles at the word. "So he told us where it was, then showed us his FBI badge, and then he showed us a picture of Susanne."

"Uh-oh," Page says. "Susanne bad girl."

"You said it," Frohike agrees, overriding Byers' indignant "Hey!" "So we went back to the booth to talk to Susanne, but when we got there, they were arresting Uncle Byers' friend."

"They got the bad lady?" Page asks.

"Uh, not quite," Frohike says. "They got his coworker, Ken. Susanne was already gone."

"Uh-oh," Sammy says, and Page agrees. They notice that their sometimes-invisible friends have joined them, but none of the grownups see extra children wander in the room. All the Gunmen can sense is that the room has gotten slightly, but thankfully, cooler, and Byers feels comfortable donning his suit jacket again.

"Yeah, and Uncle Byers was about to make another dumb move and turn himself in." Frohike pauses and adopts a teacherly tone. "Hackers never, ever turn themselves in. Got that?"

"Got it," Page nods solemnly, and so does Sammy.

"I don't think we should be telling them that," Byers argues, but Langly kicks his leg. "Ow," he frowns, glad the children are paying attention to Frohike than to himself.

"Anyway, that's when I suggested that we hack into the FBI database to do a little checkup on Susanne and your daddy. Uncle Byers didn't want to at first, but then he saw the light. And that's when he officially became a hacker."

"Yay, Uncle Byers!"

"So, even though your Uncle Frohike's kung foo is pretty good, I figured we needed someone else to cover our bases, just in case," Frohike goes on, "and that's where Uncle Langly comes in." The short man smirks as he does a mock Vanna White-like wave at the blond hacker, who bows. "Me and Uncle Byers saved him from a mind-numbing D&D game to get into a class hack."

"Hey!" Langly protests. "You ladies came asking for *my* help, even though I was on a hot streak, got it? Hey, you even had to tell me my kung foo was the best."

"Anyways," Frohike says, clearly disgruntled, "we didn't have the cool digs we do now, so we rented a hotel room to hide all of Langly's questionable equipment in."

"Watch it," Langly growls.

"Ooh, I'm scared," Frohike says, mocking him, and Page laughs. "But the scary part's yet to come. So we look up your daddy, and what do we find? That not only is he FBI, but he's a really smart good guy, and that the person he's chasing down is Holly, whose real name is Susanne Modeski. According to the computer, it said Susanne was crazy, killed lots of people and lied a lot, too."

"Ohhhhhhh," Page says. "Susanne's a bad girl."

"Got that right," Langly says, only to be elbowed by Byers. "Hey!"

"And that's when Susanne walked into the room."


"Okay, so there we were," Frohike says, and they're all practically touching foreheads, they're leaning so close to hear his words, "we just found out that Susanne was a bad guy, and she walks into the room. We planned on playing it cool, but she reached into her purse, and a gun fell out!"

"How come she had a gun?" Sammy asks.

"She had it for her own protection against the real villains," Byers explains.

"Hey, who's telling the story, you or me?" the short man glares, and his friend subsides. "So Susanne was waving the gun around, saying she's innocent, that she's being framed and people are following her, and you know what happened next?"


"She said people knew where she was through her teeth!" Frohike's eyes are huge. "So she grabbed some pliers, ran into the bathroom, and pulled her tooth out without any medicine!"

"Owie!" Page puts her hand to her mouth. The other day Sammy ran into her and her front teeth hit the floor. She can't imagine anyone wanting to pull their teeth out on purpose.

"But you know what? There was a little radio transmitter inside her tooth, kinda what you'd find in there," he points to the stereo system, "and so we flushed it down the toilet so the bad guys wouldn't find us."

"Susanne not the bad guy?" Sammy is confused now, along with his older sister.

"Nope." Frohike shrugs, earning another glower from his suited friend. "There were bad guys who made her cook up some crazy gas that wanted to spray it on innocent Americans. So we decided to help her and go to the warehouse where the real bad guys put the real weapon. We tracked it down to a bunch of boxes full of asthma inhalers and we were ready to share the story with the world. And then the bad guys showed up."

The leftover donuts are forgotten now that Frohike's rolling towards the end of the story. "The bad guys grabbed Susanne and pointed their guns at us. And then your dad showed up."

"Daddyyyyyyyyyy!" the kids crow, bouncing up and down on the couch.

"Whoa, whoa," Frohike says, wanting to keep the baby in his arms on the quiet level. "Okay, so yeah, your dad came in with his own gun. Unfortunately, the bad guys started shooting, he shot back, everybody was shooting, and so, being smart, we got out of the way."

"Okay, and now we sound like chickens," Langly drawls.

"Shut up, Langly," the short man mutters, "we were making a tactical rendezvous, that's all."

"Like the kids know what that means," the blond man rolls his eyes.

"ANYways," Frohike plows on, "everybody was shooting, boxes were being ripped apart, everything was crazy, and then one of the boxes with the secret weapon got shot open and sprayed your daddy with the gas! He started screaming and tearing off his clothes, the gas was too much for him!"

"Oh, no!" Sammy's eyes are wide.

"Oh, yes!" Frohike shouts, forgetting about the baby in his arms. As he absently rocks her, he says, "So your father was down for the count, and the bad guys had us surrounded. They were just about to shoot us, but they got shot instead." He pauses, looking at Byers. "Susanne saved us."

"Yay, Susanne!" the kids yell, forgetful of the fact that only ten minutes ago, she was the bad guy.

"Uh, yeah," the leather-vested man says, bouncing the baby in his arms to keep her happy. "So, uh, she got out of there, because it wasn't safe, and your uncles thought we'd grab some bottles of the secret weapon for evidence, you know, but more bad guys came in. The bad guys cleaned up most of the mess, took out the first set of bad guys, and were about to shoot your daddy--"


"Whoa," Langly rushes in to calm the older kids, "look, your dad's alive, and you guys are here. That means there's gonna be a happy ending soon, right?"

Frohike's relieved when Page doesn't fuss anymore, and goes on. "Yeah, so this tall black guy with a beard and moustache tells his goons not to shoot your dad. So your dad was a little nuts with the gas, but he was alive. Bad news, the black dude saw us, lined us up to kill us, and pulled the trigger." The kids are silent, wide-eyed. "Good news, even though your Uncle Byers had a big mouth, the black guy was cool enough to let us live, even gave us our nickname. The Lone Gunmen."

"He was cool?" Byers frowns.

Frohike rolls his eyes. "All the evidence was gone, cleaned up by the bad guys, but we were alive. Our luck went down again, because the cops came in and arrested us. We spent a loooooooong night in the stinking joint, but luckily, your dad sprang us the next morning. And we've been friends ever since. The End."

"What about Susanne?" Page asks.

Byers pauses before he answers. "We don't know," he says honestly, "we saw her not long after we left the police station, but the black man took her away in a black car. She's probably still working for the bad guys, against her will, maybe planning another escape from the wicked men as we speak." He doesn't look at anyone, his gaze drifting out the window, the sky darkening to a rich orange as the sun sets. Behind him, ghostly children of another time fade away, and the temperature warms, but only slightly.

Later that night, Scully is trying to put her still-excitable children to bed. She's fairly certain that, despite her instructions, Mulder had forgotten to put "no sugary snacks or drinks" on the list they gave the Gunmen. "Uncles saved the world," Page insists sleepily, even as her mother struggles to pull her nightgown over her head.

"Of course," Scully says in a placating tone, freeing her daughter's blonde hair from the neckline.

"And Daddy's not a bad guy, he's a good guy," she argues, her face a miniature of her mother's when debating with her father.

"What have the Gun--, I mean, what have your uncles been telling you?" Scully frowns, sitting next to her daughter.

"There was guns, an' bad guys, an' a lady los' her toot', an' Daddy, an' uncles," Sammy says breathlessly, at the same time trying to free himself from the hot nightclothes.

Scully sighs, re-clothing her squirmy little boy. "What lady lost her tooth?" she asks.

"Susanne," Page answers, as if the answer is obvious. "Uncle Byers' girlfriend."

"Really?" Scully's jaw drops.

"Uncle Langly said so," the little blonde girl says, oblivious to any bomb-dropping she may have caused to her mother's perception of the Gunmen. "'Cause she's smart and pretty."

The redhead smiles, noting the order of the compliment. "Well, Uncle Byers is a smart man," she says, "so when can we meet her?"

"Susanne not here," Sammy says, kicking his feet as if that would free his legs from the cotton pajama pants. "Bad guys got her."

"Oh," Scully says, absently hitting the button for the ceiling fan. "That's sad."

"Uh-huh," Page agrees. She's under her thin sheet, her body still as if ready for sleep, but her eyes are wide open. "Mommy, I wanna be a hacker when I grow up," she says, her hands holding the blanket under her chin.

"Why?" her startled mother asks.

"So I can talk to co'puters and rescue Susanne," the blonde girl says practically.

"Me, too!" Sammy echoes, also diving under his sheet. If his sister's going to sleep, he doesn't want her to beat him.

I may not understand them sometimes, Scully thinks, but I know they've got good hearts. "Good night." She smiles and kisses her daughter's forehead, who exhales peacefully. "Goooooood night," she tells Sammy, who's still a squirmy worm under the sheet, holding his forehead in place so she can kiss it. He giggles, still squirming, but squeezes his eyes tightly shut as if to hasten sleep.

"Sweet dreams," she says softly, clicking off the overhead light, but leaving the plug-in light on. She's going to ask Mulder about this "Susanne," and what on earth happened that the Gunmen supposedly saved the world, but weren't able to save their friend.

Chapter Fifty

August 10th, 1997

There's a horrible yelp from downstairs, and Mulder nearly drops April in shock. His older daughter looks at him with wide eyes, seeming a little frightened too. "Daddy, what was that?"

Mulder pats her on the head with his free hand, as much to reassure himself as her. "I'm not sure, I'm going to go see. Here, I'm putting April in her crib, you keep an eye on her, okay?"

"Okay!" She seems pleased by the responsibility, not realizing that her sister is way too young to get out on her own.

He misses a couple of steps on his way down the stairs and nearly breaks his ankle. When he skitters to a stop in the living room, ready to come to Scully's aide against whatever's attacking her, he pauses in confusion.

Scully is alone except for Sammy, without an adversary, and she's just on the phone. Her face is all smiles. Sammy doesn't even look up from playing with his wooden blocks.

"I love you too, Bill." She hangs up with a happy sigh.

"What's going on? Page and I heard you scream..."

"It's finally happened, Mulder. Tara's going to have a baby around Christmas."

"Wow, that's great," he says in a daze. ::Bill as a father. That's scary every time you think of it:: "That's not too long from now, though."

"They wanted to wait until it was safe before they got everyone's hopes up," Scully tells him. "Bill said they found out today that it's going to be a boy."

He nods, thinking about the "until it was safe" part. When she'd been carrying William, had she waited to tell people, too? He didn't know, because he hadn't been around, and she'd never said. "Your brother must be thrilled."

"Oh, they both are. They've wanted a baby for so long..." Scully sighs. "Thank god we've never had that problem."

She doesn't notice when he winces. "Your sister better watch out, now. She's the only one who hasn't given your mother a grandchild. Maggie will buy her a clock now."

"A clock?" Scully looks puzzled.

"Since she doesn't have a biological clock of her own."

"Bad joke, Mulder." Even so, she smiles. "I can't believe I'm going to have another nephew."

"And maybe this one won't be obsessed with movies about barnyard animals."

"One can only hope."

August 14th, 1997
8 a.m.

"Hey Page, wake up." Mulder gently pulls the sheet off of his daughter.

She rubs her eyes and gives him a sleepy smile. "Hi, Daddy! Where's Mommy?"

"Mommy and April are sleeping. Here, let's dress you in this first." Mulder showed her a purple bathing suit; purple is currently her favorite color. "Then we'll put on your coveralls and t-shirt on."

"How come?"

"It's a surprise."

Once she's dressed, Mulder heads for Sammy's bed. Since the two-year-old isn't quite potty-trained, Mulder puts him in the new disposable swim trunks for toddlers, then dresses him in coveralls and a t-shirt too.

When he hands them buckets and shovels, Page figures out their destination. "Going to beach, Daddy?"


A huge smile breaks out on Sammy's face, and he runs for the closet and tries to open the door. Curious as to what he wants, Mulder opens it for him. After peering in for a moment, Sammy grabs something on a hanger and tugs it.

It's the wet suit that he'd bought during the last Max case. His son gives him an expectant look. "Daddy, wear this."

The idea of wearing a wetsuit to the beach for no apparent reason strikes him as silly and slightly embarrassing both, but it's easier to give in than to disappoint his little boy. "Okay. I'll put it on when we get there."

Sammy tilts his head. "How come?"

"Daddy can't drive if he wears it in the car."


Mulder quickly scrawls a note for Scully - Took the kids to the beach, be back in two or three hours. Love ya - gathers the wetsuit under one arm, and opens the front door.

He shepherds the two children out the door, taking a moment to notice again that Page is just a few inches taller than her brother despite being nearly a year older. It seems as though she'll be petite like their mother. And Sammy won't.

Once he lifts a rock, a small armored creature scurries out. Sammy yells in surprise and lands on his bottom in the sand, giggling. Page, on the other hand is nearly as inquisitive as her mother, so she squats down and looks closely at the little creature in the tide pool. "Whatzit called?"

"It's a crab." Mulder informs her.

Puzzlement fills her face. "Don't look like Nanna," she mumbles.


"Mommy says Nanna a crab," she explains while raking the sand next to her with a seashell.

In spite of himself, he laughs. "She told you that, huh? And after I've had nothing but nice things to say about your Grandma."

Page nods sagely. "You has different mommies."

"That's an understatement."

By this point Sammy has regained his courage and peers into the pool on hands and knees. "My birthday, Daddy?"

Smiling down at him, Mulder ruffles his son's coppery hair. "That's right, Big guy. Today you're two."

Sammy looks somber for a moment. "Where's cake?"

"I think it's time to go home," Mulder announces. "I'm pretty sure that there will be cake when we get there."


When they get back to the house Mulder finds Scully nursing the baby in their bedroom. She gives him a sleepy smile. "How was the beach?"

Standing there he remembers the sound of ocean waves as Sammy's boat floated on them, the squeal of both children as they chased after the bouncing beach ball and away from him as the three of them pretended that he was a wetsuit-clad monster...

"Great. They really seemed to enjoy it. And I brought you something." He holds a Polaroid picture out to her. "I conned a kind soul into taking it."

"You're right, it's clear that they had a good time. But why are you wearing a wetsuit in the picture?"

He just smiles broadly. "I think there's a little boy downstairs who'll give you that information if you deluge the location of his cake."

"This ought to be good." She hands him the now fed baby to burp, and goes to find her answer.

Mulder looks down at his youngest. "You know, what Mommy doesn't know is that your brother didn't tell me why he wanted me to wear it, so I couldn't answer her even if I wanted to."

April, for one, seems bored of the idea and closes her dark eyes before they get downstairs to sing Happy Birthday to Sammy.

October 1997
Route 43 Leon County
North Florida

Mulder stares out the window as they drive down the lonely road, wondering what he'd done to make God angry enough to subject him to this for the second time. Maybe he ought to have learned his lesson this time around and not have blown off the opportunities to do other seminars, but he really thought that diaper rash on three kids was a real good excuse to sway Skinner. Apparently the AD has never considered the heartbreak that uncomfortable children suffer when parted from their loving parents. Or maybe someone narc'd on them, mentioning Scully's pride at Page being dry over night now.

Never one to waste a captive audience, Agent Kinsley blathers on and on about past seminars. "Last year was something of a personal revelation. We were doing an exercise called team builders? Where we were given two minutes to build a tower out of ordinary office furniture."

Not to be outdone, Agent Stonecypher concludes, "When I stood on Mike's shoulders and I put that electric pencil sharpener on top of the pile, we both knew, we could never have done it alone."

Mulder leans over and whispers in his wife's ear. "Kill me now." He can tell that she's trying not to smile, so he pouts.

"You ever been to one of these team seminars, Agent Scully?" Kinsley asks.

"Ummm... I think I went to a constructive problem solving course when I first joined the Bureau."

This seems to excite Stonecypher for reasons Mulder can't fathom. "Oh, did you play that game where, um, you can't use any negative words?"

"I couldn't believe how hard it was not to use the word 'but,'" Kinsley confesses.

"I'm having that same problem right now," Mulder says, causing Scully to turn red from the effort of not cracking a smile.

"Have you ever been to a team seminar, Agent Mulder?" Stonecypher now wants to know.

"No, you know unfortunately around this time of year I always develop a severe hemorrhoidal condition," he replies, ducking out of Scully's reach.

"Well, it builds muscles you didn't even know you had," Kinsley tells him.

"Communication. That's the key," Stonecypher adds.

Mulder nods gamely, but says, "I find that communication doesn't take that much effort when you're engaged in a carnal relationship with your partner." Scully's eyes widen at his daring, so he quickly adds. "Once you're married, I mean. What about you two, you're both single aren't you? Maybe you ought to give a relationship a shot."

Interestingly enough, both agents turn red and can't seem to get any words out, so he wonders if he's hit on something he hadn't suspected about the seemingly straight-laced pair. Before either of them can think of a way to respond, the car rolls up to a familiar looking road block.

The officer who approaches the car gives them a mild look. "Sorry, folks, it'll be a few minutes."

Kinsley looks desperately pleased at the change of topic. "What's going on, officer?"

"Got a little situation is all."

Before anyone can stop him, Mulder opens car door and gets out quickly. "Free at last, free at last." The others watch him from the car, but no one makes a move to get out.

As Mulder's stretching his cramped legs, he's approached by Mrs. Asekoff. "Oh, excuse me. Are you from search and rescue?"

"No, I'm sorry, I'm not. I'm just stretching my legs."

"They said they'd have word for us about what happened to my husband. I need somebody to tell me what's going on." The woman looks like she's about to cry.

"Just slow down," Mulder says soothingly. "I - I don't know what you're talking about."

"My husband, Michael, he was teaching our son to shoot, and he said the dog got spooked and then he heard gunshots and now he's said they've found a jacket with blood on it, but they won't tell me anything about my husband..."

"I'll try to find out who's in charge, all right?"

"Oh, thank you." She looks so grateful he almost tears up himself.

Scully scrambles out of the car when she spots Mulder heading for the woods. The other agents get out too, but get distracted by a tree, so she leaves them behind. He's in the middle of explaining to officer Michele Fazekas that he's with the FBI when Scully catches up to him.

"FBI? Who called you guys out?"

Mulder puts his badge back into his pocket. "Nobody. We just got stopped at your roadblock. It sounds like you had a shooting."

"Shots were reported, but we have no evidence of anyone being shot."

"Well, what do you have evidence of?" Mulder asks, trying not to catch his impatient wife's eye, so he can ignore the "we've got to go" signal she's trying to send him.

"A survey team working these woods didn't report in last night We found one man's bloody jacket pretty torn up. And this morning, a boy got separated from his father."

"Separated by what?"

"It looks, maybe, like some kind of animal attack."

"What kind of animal?"

"I'm not sure yet. I followed good tracks for the two surveyors but the trails became confused as they moved into the brush. There was a third set of tracks leading away. I... I couldn't identify." Michelle says reluctantly.

"Couldn't identify as the surveyors'?"

"As man or animal."

"Mulder?" Scully asks.

"Oh, just, uh..." She gives him "come on" look. "Hold on a second...What about the boy's father?"

"I tracked him all the way down to where he fired the shots. The ground's rocky, but from the depressions in the underlying soil, I can tell you that he entered the bushes from over there where I pick up another set of tracks – two distinctly different sets of tracks that from the way the ground's upset that is probably where the man was attacked."

"But no other sign of him? Do you have panther in these woods?"

"There's panther. Bear, too."

"But these tracks look like neither of those."

"No, sir."

"You know of a good motel in the area?" She's about to protest when he smoothly continues. "My partner and I have worked on several wild animal cases in the past, so if you could use a couple extra sets of eyes..."

To his surprise, Michelle doesn't bristle this time. "You're not the agents who dealt with that thing they called the 'Flukeman' are you? Even the news stations out her covered that. And the tabloids of course."

Scully shudders. "This better not be another flukeman, one was enough."

"So it was you!" Michelle gives them an admiring look. "If you could spare the time, I'd love to have your help."

"I think-" Mulder begins.

His reply is interrupted when Scully pulls him out of earshot. "What gives, Mulder? We've got this conference. They're waiting."

"Yeah. How do I say this without using any negative words, Scully?"

"You want me to tell them that we're not going to make it to this year's teamwork seminar."

"Yeah, you see that?" He puts his hands on her arms. "We don't need that conference. We have communication like that, unspoken. You know what I'm thinking."

She shakes her head and starts to walk off, but he calls to her. "Besides, I think that Kinsley and Stonecypher would be happier if they had the rest of the trip to be alone."

"You don't know that," Scully protests.

He taps the side of his head. "Call it ESP."


Mulder is looking at websites about predators when Scully returns to their room carrying a tray of cheese and mini bottle of wine. "You're the one who cut the cheese?" he asks with an immature grin.

"Since we won't be making it to the conference for the wine and cheese reception..."

"Partaaayyy!" He crows, making her laugh. "And unlike our esteemed traveling companions we don't even have to worry about that Tailhook crap. See? There are some advantages to being married to your partner."

"Sure are..."Scully says, climbing onto the bed next to him.

"Pop quiz. What animal will attack the strongest leaving the weakest to escape? The answer is none. Not one of the over 4,000 species native to North America will attack the strongest when the weak is vulnerable."

"Well, what does that have to do with anything?"

"It makes me think that what we're dealing with here is no ordinary predator."

"I thought this was just a ploy to get out of the conference."

"I think what we stumbled upon here is something more than what local authorities realize. The scenario described by that boy sounds to me like a primitive culling technique."

"Mulder, we're in Western Florida. The closest thing to primitive down here is living in a beachfront retirement condo."

"Funny, I thought you'd be more sympathetic to a child in anguish," he chides, and she doesn't look contrite. "Those woods are as old as anything in the south and there's 800 square miles of them. There's no telling what's alive out there." He stands up.

"Where are you going?"

"I've got to check something out."

"You know, Mulder, sometimes I think some work on your communication skills wouldn't be such a bad idea," Scully says with a smirk.

"I'll be back soon, and we can build a tower of furniture. 'Kay?" He smiles at her.

"Nope." She slides of the bed too. "I'm coming too."

He shrugs. "That works, too."

Asekoff house
Early Morning

Scully takes the tape of the classic Invisible Man film out of the VCR in Louis' room.

"How's the boy?" she asks as she rejoins him in the living room.

"He's still freaked out."

"I think I might have some insight into this invisible creature he said was chasing him." She hands him the video tape.

"The Invisible Man was invisible," he protests.


"Yeah, he said he was chased by a creature with glowing red eyes." Scully rolls her own eyes.

"Let me show you something." They go to the door. "Mrs. Asekoff said she went outside with the dog, right?"

"Mm hmm."

"But when she came back, the door was locked from the inside."


"Look at this. We got some tracks here."


"Here, and here..." He points at the floor. "Dried mud against the tile, tracked in from the outside."

"That could have been brought in by the dog."

"No, no. You see, uh, the ball of the foot here? A large foot and I count five toes."

"Wait a minute. I thought you said it wasn't human."

"Well, I'm not saying it is. The weight distribution is all wrong. People walk heel to toe. Whatever this thing is it walks on the ball of its foot."

"You're putting me on."

"No. My dad and I were Indian Guides. I know these things."

"So, if it's not man and it's not animal, what the hell is it?"

Michelle enters just as he shrugs. "Guess I'm a little late to this dance," she remarks.

"I found some tracks – right here."

"Same as I saw before," Michelle confirms.

"Where was that?" Scully asks, surprised.

"In the woods. Weight distribution's strange. They appear to be human, but whoever left these uses the balls of his feet more like an animal." Scully glares at his triumphant look.

"Well, whatever it is, it's attacked three grown men, presumably in broad daylight disposing of its prey without detection. And it wasn't shy last night about coming out of the woods to try again. What we've got here is a predator with low visibility and a high degree of motivation. And it's got one advantage we don't have – the entire Apilachacola National Forest," Mulder says.

"Then how do you stop it?" Michelle asks.

"By identifying it. Finding it before it finds somebody else."

Mulder balks when the women indicate that they'd like to get going quickly. "These things are dangerous. There's a possibility that we could end up here overnight like the missing men – assuming they're still alive. We need to bring warm clothes and sleeping bags if we're to have a chance of survival in that case."

"Agent Mulder, we don't want to be carrying that sort of extra weight with us," Michelle protests, and Scully nods her agreement.

"We won't carry it then, but better safe than sorry. Look, I saw a documentary recently in which having the proper equipment might have allowed the three missing people to survive–" Realizing that he's beginning to describe the plot to the Blair Witch Project, which won't be out for another two years, he opts for vagueness. "I just don't want it to be us, okay?"

They grumble, but do spare the twenty minutes at a sporting goods store to buy what he wants before they go and meet the other member of the team in the woods.

On the Edge of the Woods

Jeff Glaser the tech expert Michelle called in shows them how the heat sensor's camera and monitor reveals the presence of warm bodies. "It's called FLIR for Forward Looking InfraRed. It was developed for chopper pilots in Vietnam. Detects body heat at 300 yards."

"That's pretty sophisticated for government issue," Mulder remarks.

"Some people prefer searching with dogs, I prefer an extra pair of hands if I get in trouble," Michelle explains. "Are we ready to go, here? Once we start in, you can put away your cel phones. The only communication in these woods is with short-wave radios. So stay close, maintain visual contact. If you get lost, initiate oral contact. That means holler. If nobody responds, sit down – don't move. I will find you. Don't go looking for me. I know it sounds obvious, but folks still get lost."

Scully hangs up her phone, which is just as well, because the signal is fading out. "Local PD has all their resources looking out for a transient, a drifter who's wanted for a double homicide in Gasden, Alabama. They were amused when I told them what we were doing."

"I don't think it's a drifter, Scully, and we may be looking for two individuals."

"Why do you say that?"

"Well, that thing lured that woman out of the house last night to separate her from her son."

"But for what purpose?"

"Divide and conquer. If your enemy has greater numbers than you, you divide and conquer it to diminish those numbers."

"What enemy would that be?"

"Humans invading their niche. Encroaching development. That's what I suspected when I went to check on Louis and his mother."

"You think this is about a housing tract?"

"That survey team was staking out a new 100,000 acre plot. Civilization is pushing very hard into these woods. Maybe something in these woods is pushing back."

"Anything?" Scully asks, looking over Jeff's shoulder at the blank monitor.

"No. No, nothing at all. Not even wildlife."

"Isn't that a little strange?"

"Yeah. This forest is usually alive with sound. I'm not like an expert, but I've never seen it like this before."

"Well, it sure is beautiful, though."

"That's what happens. People get to looking around, next thing they know, something eats 'em."

"What do you think killed those men?"

"Nature is populated by creatures either trying to kill something they need to survive, or trying to avoid being killed by something that needs them to survive. If we become blinded by the beauty of nature, we may fail to see its cruelty and violence."

"Walt Whitman?" Scully guesses.

"No. When Animals Attack on the Fox Network."

Despite Michelle's demands they act with caution, two hours later they're again minus one police officer. Once she disappears Jeff becomes semi-hysterical, and Mulder gives in to his demands that he lead the way only to keep him from cracking up.

Jeff walks ahead, holding the device like it's their salvation.

Hanging back a bit, Scully speaks to her husband. "I don't have much faith that this device will do us any good."

"So far all it's done is split us up."

"Whatever it is that we were chasing did show up on the screen at first."

"What does that tell you?"

"Nothing," Scully concedes.

"Mm hmm."

"Except that we're going in the right direction."

"Maybe it can regulate its temperature. Do you know of any animal that can?"

"Ticks. I've heard that they can halt their metabolism for up to 18 years, essentially going into suspended animation until something warm-blooded comes along."

"That's interesting."

"Why is that interesting?"

"30 years ago, the, uh, the town of Point Pleasant, West Virginia was terrorized for over a year by something – killing livestock and terrorizing the people. Witnesses described them as primitive looking men with red piercing eyes. Became known as the 'moth men.' I've got an X-File dating back to 1952 on it."

"What would that be filed next to...'The Cockroach That Ate Cincinnati?'"

"No, 'The Cockroach That Ate Cincinnati' is in the C's. 'Moth Men' is over in the M's."

Jeff interrupts their conversation to inform them that they must have gotten off the trail.

Scully sees movement in the trees. "Everybody stand still. There's something out there."

She and Mulder pull their guns out. "Where?"

"About 40 or 50 yards out."

They give chase for a while and Scully fires at it, hitting nothing.

"Don't fire again unless you're sure you're gonna hit it. It may be trying to spend our advantage," Mulder warns her after she admits she only has one clip.

She's shaken. "What the hell is it, Mulder?"

"I don't know. But what ever it is, it's smarter than us – at least out here." No sooner have the woods left his mouth is he pulled out of Scully's view.

Running towards where he was, she screams his name until she hears his pain-filled voice. As she nears she sees him wresting with a creature that keeps wandering in and out of her sight. She fires several shots at it, missing each time but driving it off. Mulder is bleeding from a deep shoulder laceration when she finally reaches him.

"You okay?" she asks breathlessly.

Mulder winces and nods weakly. "Jeff's gone now too."

Whirling on her heel she sees that he's right. They're alone in the quiet woods.

The Forest
After Dark

Since Michelle isn't around to scold them, they wander in the woods a bit trying to locate where they dropped the sleeping bags. Unfortunately, they don't stumble across them.

When they eventually give up, Mulder huddles up against a log while Scully tries to start a fire with rocks.

"You were an Indian Guide. Help me out here."

"Indian Guide says maybe you should run to the store and get some matches."

"I would, but I left my wallet in the car. Wherever we left that..." She sits next to him and picks up her gun.

"What are you doing."

"Trying to open my gun. If I can separate the shell from the casing maybe I can get the powder to ignite."

"Oh. And maybe it'll start raining weenies and marshmallows."

"Do I detect a hint of negativity?"

"No. Yes... actually. Yeah. And I'm more concerned about being able to shoot at that thing if necessary, than about an unlikely fire."

"Mulder, you need to keep warm," she protests. "Your body's still in shock."

He looks over his shoulder at something she can't see before saying, "I was told once that the best way to regenerate body heat was to crawl naked into a sleeping bag with somebody else who's already naked."

"Well, maybe if it rains sleeping bags, you'll get lucky."

He flips one of the sleeping bags that she hadn't noticed until then up in the air, making her laugh. "Do I get lucky now?"

"It's worse than I thought. Not only are you in shock, you're delirious," she says and he snorts. "Have you thought seriously about dying?"

"Yeah, once, when I was at the Ice Capades."

"When my dad died unexpectedly like that, I was angry at the injustice of it and its meaninglessness. And then I realized that that was the struggle – to give it meaning. To make sense of it. It's like life."

"I think Nature is supremely indifferent to whether we live or die. I mean, if you're lucky you get 75 years. If you're really lucky you get 80 years. And if you're extraordinarily lucky, you get to have 50 of those years with a decent head of hair."

"I guess it's like Las Vegas. The house always wins."

"Hey, who did you identify with when you were a kid? Wilma or Betty?"

"I identified with Betty's bustline," Scully tells him as she unzips the sleeping bag.

"Yes! I did, too." He stares at her chest. "At least one of us outgrew the likeness."

"Could never have been married to Barney, though. The kids were cute."

"But where are they today?" Mulder asks. "And our kids are way cuter."

"Moth Men? Really?"

He nods. "Yeah. But there seem to be only two of them." Scully tries to pull him onto her lap. "I don't wanna wrestle."

"Get over here. I'm going to try and keep you warm." Mulder complies but she accidentally rubs his wounded shoulder. It makes him hiss in pain. "Sorry."

"One of us has got to stay awake, Scully," he protests as she wraps the sleeping bag around them both.

"You sleep, Mulder."

"If you get tired, you wake me."

"I'm not going to get tired."

"Why don't you sing something."

"No... Mulder."

"You sing to the kids." He pouts. "I've heard you. Well, if you sing something, I'll know you're awake."

"Mulder, you don't want me to sing. I can't carry a tune."

"It doesn't matter. Just sing anything."

Scully looks around, making sure there are no other witnesses, and then begins to sing slightly off key and without enthusiasm. "Jeremiah was a bull frog..." Her voice wavers when his eyes pop open "... was a good friend of mine. Never understood a single word he said.. but I helped him drink his wine." She pauses.

"Chorus," he demands.

"Joy... to the world. All the boys and girls. Joy to the fishes in the deep blue sea. Joy to you and me." She looks down at him. "I...I can't sing any more. Were you serious about wanting to get lucky?" After a moment of investigation under the sleeping bag her eyes widen. "Ah, you were."

"I was."

"Well, that'll keep me awake for a while..."

"And you're better at *that* than singing," he agrees, knowing that she won't have the heart to hit him given his injury. For now. Instead of smacking him she laughs and pulls the sleeping bag over their heads, figuring the noise will scare away any less than voyeuristic animal.


Mulder wakes up slightly panicked when he realizes he's alone. "Scully?!"

"Mmmm...over here." She's about 20 yards away, apparently eating something.

"What are you doing?"

"I'm looking for food. I found some wild berries."

"That sounds like a good way to get the wild runs," he tells her. "Please don't go far."

"Mulder, you never left my sight," she reassures him, right before disappearing from sight herself.

"Scully?" He gets up painfully and goes to where she was. "Scully? Scully! Scully!?"

A voice near his feet says, "I'm down here".


"I fell down a hole."

He looks and sees her getting to her feet at the bottom of a hole ten feet deep. "You all right?"

"Yeah, I landed on soft dirt .. kind of."

"What's down there?"

"I don't know. It's pretty dark." Scully steps out of view. "Oh!"

"Scully, what's going on? Are you okay?"

"I found Michelle."

"Is she alive?"

"Not for much longer. Mulder, we have to get her out of here."

"Is there a way out?"

"I don't know. I... I'm in some kind of a chamber. There's... there's like some kind of network. Mulder..."


"I'm not alone. I don't have my weapon. Mulder!?"

"Hold on, I'm going to drop my gun down."

He drops gun, then hears rustling behind him. As Scully bends to pick up his gun, Mulder dives into the hole too. "Jeez!! Mulder, are you okay?"

Groaning, he holds his shoulder, and ground in pain. "Don't mind me."

The creature begins to move towards them, and he shouts a warning. "Scully!"

Scully fires three or four shots and it drops to the ground, seemingly dead. They look at creature's body. It looks like a person carved out of wood.

"Mulder, look. There has to be a scientific explanation for this," she insists, sounding doubtful.

Mulder looks up at Scully as they work to stack bodies of long-dead victims up under the hole. "Too bad we don't have any office furniture."

"If they could see us now."

"Go, team. 20 more bodies and we'll win the Honey-Baked Ham."

A familiar voice calls out, "Agent Mulder?"

"We're down here!"

Agent Kinsley peers down at them. "What're you doing down there?"

To Mulder's surprise, it's Scully who has the smart remark. "Seemed like a good place for our second honeymoon."

"We've got injured people down here," Mulder tells Kinsley.

"We need a ladder," Scully adds, waving with her hand to indicate they're too deep under ground to climb out.

"Right away."

Ambulances load Michelle, Jeff and Mr. Asekoff, while another EMT bandages Mulder's injured shoulder.

As soon as Mulder is released, Kinsley comes over to him. "Well, we just got all the thanks when you did all the work."

"No, on the contrary, Agent Kinsley, we would never have gotten involved in this if not for you."


Mulder points at a tab on the crosscut - 1521 Ponce De Leon Lands Looking for Fountain of Youth. "Yeah, you see this?"

"Oh, yeah. I pointed that out to Agent Stonecypher on the drive down."

"There was something in the cave that Scully fell into, an inscription - Ad Noctum."

"That's, uh–"

"It means 'into darkness'. The Spanish Conquistadors used to carve it on the posts that they would lash the natives to as a warning," Mulder explains.

"So who're you saying wrote this?"

"Ponce De Leon came here 450 years ago looking for the Fountain of Youth."

"You mean you think that these... that - that - that- that body the one that Agent Scully shot? No–"

"After 400 years in the woods don't you think they might have adapted perfectly to their environment?"

"You're just making this up."

"Why do you say that?"

The other agent laughs uncomfortably. "'Cause, you work on the X-Files, and you just want to write off your motel." He looks over his shoulder quickly before adding. "And earlier? You were right."

"About what?" Mulder asks blankly.

"About us giving the couple thing a shot," Kinsley blushes when they see Stonecypher approaching.

"Search and Rescue are still unable to find one of the surveyors or the second predator that you reported," she tells them.

"I wouldn't be surprised if they couldn't find either one of them," Mulder replies.

"Agent Mulder, I'm confused about one thing. Why would they come after the boy in the house that night?"

"These predators have been in these woods for a long, long time. They would have perceived any encroachment on their territory as an enemy, even a little kid like that."

"But that would mean that they'd come after any one of us that had gone into the woods, wouldn't it?"

He nods, then looks around. "Where's Scully?"

"Oh, she got a lift back to the motel to pack up both your things," Stonecypher says.

"She did? Excuse me." Before either agent can protest, he hops into their car and drives off.


"Scully!? Scully!!!??"

Scully leans out of the bathroom. "Mulder, what's going on?"

"Let's get out of here," he says, picking up his suitcase and bumping gently against her until she gets moving.

"'Kay," she says, picking up the other suitcase.

"You pack everything?"


As he closes the door he catches a glimpse of red eyes under the bed. Scully thinks he's shivering from pain, and wraps her arm around his waist, having no idea that he's praying that the manager doesn't rent out the room in the next few hours.

Chapter Fifty-One

Halloween 1997

Although agent Brandywine doesn't have children, his sick partner Jerry Stone does, so he's not terribly surprised to find himself roped into chaperoning. This isn't his ideal way to spend the day, because as much as he dislikes his partner, he dislikes his kids even more. Luckily, only the youngest goes to the preschool.

On the other hand, it's only a few minutes after he gets there that he's got little Reese demanding his attention - just like his father.

"Uncle Bobby!" Reese whines, tugging on his sleeve. Brandywine tries not to shudder; he really hates being called Bobby, and is still pissed that his partner encourages his kids to. "Tell Page that she's a liar!"

A small blonde girl scowls at Reese. "Am not."

"Uh huh," the little boy insists, quickly sticking his tongue out at the little girl. "Page says her daddy and mommy work with monsters."

"They do!" the girls insists.

Sighing, Brandywine looks down at the girl. Her parents are almost certainly FBI agents, but he can't think of any blonde agents off the top of his head that would refer to criminals as monsters. Not that the parents need to be blondes. "What's your name?"


"Page what?"

"Page Nicole Mulder," the child chirps.

"Oh..." Brandywine can't help but smile. The child's parents were being literal, if they told her about who they've been involved with. "Your mom and dad are agents Mulder and Scully, aren't they."


The agent looks down at his partner's son. "Page isn't lying, Reese. Her parents do work with monsters."

Reese's eyes widen in shock. "Mommy and Daddy say monsters ain't real!"

"That's because your parents are narrow-minded and over protective," Brandywine explains.

"Daddy!" The little girl runs towards a tall smiling man.

His partner's brat is still staring at Brandywine with a dumbfounded expression on his face, making the agent feel a bit self-satisfied. Maybe when the little brat tattles his father will request a new partner and he'd be able to wash his hands of the whole family.

At first Page was very excited that her Daddy is going to be at school, but now she's not so sure. Not everyone's parents are there, so she has to share her Daddy with three other kids. Megan is a witch, Hannah – who has the same name as her parents' friend's little girl – is a kitten, and Hunter is Batman. Page is a princess, and Daddy says that she's one even when she's not all dressed up. But he's silly like that.

"So," Her Daddy says, looking at the four of them. "Are you guys ready to go to the haunted house?"

"Yeah!" they all scream, but Page thinks that Hannah is a scardy-cat, 'cause she doesn't look as happy as the rest of them.

"Looks like it's time to get on the bus," Daddy notes before ushering them out to the line. Page is very careful to tell him where the best seats are, and they're real lucky to get to them first before Reese and his friend do. Daddy tells them all to sit down safely, and they do.

The drive doesn't take too long, but Page wishes it was longer. That way she could make more faces at Reese, who is pouting with his arms crossed, and not listening to anything the grown up friend of his is saying.

"Let's go," Daddy says. "We're going to have lots of fun today, right?"

"Yeah!" they say again, but Page looks at her three friends. She has no idea what a haunted house is, and she wonders if any of them do.

As far as Mulder is concerned, this is the best Halloween ever. At least the best one since he was a little kid, anyway. His parents didn't believe in letting kids go trick o treating as teenagers – not that he really wanted to after Samantha disappeared. Before then there were some good Halloweens, but they're bittersweet to remember, so he usually tries not to.

This is better. His little girl and her three remarkably well-behaved classmates are completely wide-eyed as they begin to go into the haunted house. He has the sense that no one told any of the kids what a haunted house was, given that they seem perpetually surprised by what's going on.

"Hannah and Hunter, you come back now," he demands, beginning to become exasperated by his duty as kid-herder. The two kids squeal and run back to where he's standing with Page and Megan.

If this is the "less scary" version of the haunted house like the preschool claimed, he's really glad that they didn't choose to go to the scarier version late in the day. The kids are getting a bit less well-behaved because they're scared. It's not as though he can blame them, he knows his own behavior goes to pot when he's got a scary case. Although to be honest, his cases are considerably scarier than the things that fall or jump out at the kids.

He scarcely has gotten those two back when Page and Megan take off. Before he quite knows it, the only one still near him is Hannah. "Hey, Hannah, why don't we go catch up with the rest of them," he says cheerfully.

Before they do he hears a familiar little voice shout. "Ah, it's a monster! Daddy, come kill it!"

Rounding the corner he almost screams himself...with laughter. Three tiny people have cornered a much larger one, and they're swinging the plastic sacks full of candy from the trick-o-treating back at the preschool at the poor cowering figure.

"Page's Daddy kills monsters. You gonna be in trouble," Hunter says in what is probably supposed to be a warning tone.

"You three, here, now," Mulder demands sternly.

His tone of voice doesn't have quite the desired effect, because instead of being contrite, three little faces look up him expectantly. "Kill the monster."

"Yeah, kill it!"

Across the room the figure struggles to its feet, and it's impossible to tell if he or she is alarmed because his or her face is covered by a hideous mask. It reminds Mulder a bit of the Flukeman, but greener.

"That's not a monster," Mulder tells them.

"Is too!"

"Yeah Huh!"

Trying not to roll his eyes, Mulder raises his voice instead. "Would you mind taking off your mask, please, and showing them you're not a monster?"

"I'm not supposed to," is the monster's muffled reply.

Mulder looks down at the knee-high but bloodthirsty quartet. "Are you sure you want them to continue thinking you're a monster?"

The "Monster" seems to consider this for a moment, then peals off the mask, revealing a woman around eighteen or so.

The kids look a bit disappointed, and scowl when Mulder tells them, "Now apologize for hitting the nice lady and calling her a monster."

"We're sorry," they chorus, then Page walks over to her and holds out a Snickers bar, which Mulder knows is her favorite. "Want some candy?"

The woman takes it and they soon leave her behind. No one else is hit the rest of the day.

Early December 1997

A family is driving through the deep heartland of America, taking an all-American trip in an All-American Taurus, looking for all the world like a car commercial in motion. "Mommy, where are we going?" a plaintive voice from the back asks.

"Read 'em the letter, Scully," Mulder says as his wife glares daggers at him.

"Sure. Fine. Whatever." The redhead digs through her workpurse, designated as such so that nobody stuffs Cheerios into it. It doesn't stop Mulder from putting discarded sunflower shells into it, however, she grimaces as she pulls the envelope from among the said shells. "Dear Special Agent Mulder." She twists somewhat in her seat to face her inquisitive little girl, squirming boy and sleeping baby. "I'm writing to you for help. Several years ago I had an experience I could not explain. I was lying in my bed when I felt a presence in the room. Though I was awake, I felt that something had taken control over my body. I don't remember much else but I woke up three days later pregnant with my son, Izzy."

"Izzy!" Page laughs, and Sammy repeats the name several times before Scully can continue reading.

"That was 18 years ago, but now it happened again. I was in bed and could swear I heard Cher singing... The one who was married to Sonny." Scully indulges herself in an eyeroll as Mulder smirks behind the wheel. "Then the room got all smoky, and I saw some kind of monster. He had a really gross face with lumps all over his head. I was too scared to scream. Then I got all groggy and conked out fro three days. Guess what happened when I woke up? I got your name off the TV. Some lady on the Jerry Springer show who had a werewolf baby said you came to her house." She pauses. "You did what?"

Mulder is careful to keep his eyes on the road. "Just a consulting job, you do that sometimes, don't you, honey?"

"Sure, poopyhead." She shakes her head, then looks at her kids. "Don't repeat that." As they blink, she finishes the letter quickly. "Well, I got her story beat by a mile so maybe you'll want to come see me, too. Sincerely, Shaineh Berkowitz." Hurriedly, she stuffs the letter back into her purse. "You brought us all the way out here for," she's waving her hands, unsure of how best to describe it without using negative words her children will repeat later, "*this*?"

He glances at her, then grins widely. "With our casefiles, *we* got Springer beat by a mile. You think we should get a show together and make some real money?"

She smiles a fuck-you smile, then looks at her sweet babies. "Daddy's silly, isn't he?"

As their children giggle, Mulder shakes his head. "No, no, Daddy's *brilliant*," he argues, but knows it's a losing battle.

As Mulder and Scully walk through the Berkowitz home, Mulder's careful to hoist his wall-climbing son on his shoulders and carry the diaper bag, while Scully has April strapped to her front and holding on to goggle-eyed Page. Mrs. Berkowitz looked at them oddly at first, but let them in, explaining, "Sorry, I thought you were them preachin' people at first. Well, until you showed my your badges instead of Bibles."

"Uh, yeah," Scully says, wrestling with balance between her two daughters. "I understand you reported both the intruders' break-in and the union to the police."

"Well, I don't know about no union, but I sure woke up in a condition," the heavyset woman nods.

"And what did the police report say?" Scully asks, both to Mrs. Berkowitz and Mulder.

"Uh, nothin'," Mrs. Berkowitz replies, "nobody here ever locks their doors, and it took me a month or two to figure it out... I mean, that I was pregnant, you know?" She raises her eyebrows at Scully, mother to mother.

Yeah, I should talk, if it wasn't for that FBI-mandated exam, I wouldn't've known I was pregnant as early as I did last time, either, Scully reluctantly nods. "So, you're pregnant now?" she says.

The curly-haired woman nods, "Uh-huh, but as I told Agent Mulder, that's what takes the cake."

"Figure of speech, she doesn't have cake," Mulder cuts off his children's whining before it starts, and to his wife says, "she had a tubal ligation two years ago."

"You can't plant a seed in a barren field," Mrs. Berkowitz delivers this with a pragmatism learned and leads them to her kitchen, where the two older children still hold out hope for cake. She holds up a frying pan, then hands it over to Scully. "They were cooking something on the range. Took me two days of scrubbin' to clean the skillet." She watches the red-haired woman inspect the pan, then glance at her husband before setting the skillet down. "I don't know how many of them there were. I only saw the one, but they ate almost a whole damn jar of peanut butter." She holds aloft the empty jar, then hands it over when Sammy starts reaching for it.

Mulder smothers a smile at both his son and his wife as she tries to salvage what she believes is a complete waste of their time. "You were gone for three days but nobody noticed?"

Mrs. Berkowitz crosses her arms. "I know what you're thinkin'."

Always straightforward when she has to be, Scully asks, "Do you drink, Mrs. Berkowitz?"

"No," Mrs. Berkowitz replies in the same tone, "but I'm not so sure my intruders, as you call them, didn't have a few." She walks over and points to two ring-shaped watermarks on an old cabinet. "Somebody set a tumbler here and didn't use no coaster." She notes Scully's look and adds, "And don't you think my boy did that. He don't have much brains, but he does value his life." She waves at an open door. "That pigsty there is his room."

Page laughs. "That's what Mommy calls Daddy's office."

"Page." Scully sighs as Mrs. Berkowitz chuckles and Mulder gives his wife a mock-outraged look. She doesn't hear her husband's muttered conversation with the woman, since Page has picked up a comic book. "Page, you shouldn't touch other people's things," she says, but then frowns at the cover. "Honey? Mommy wants to look at that," she says, taking it from her daughter. Besides, she'd rather flip through the black-and-white funnybook than go through the well-described pigsty. "Mrs. Berkowitz? You gave a description of the intruder. You said that he had a gross face and lumps on his head?"

Mrs. Berkowitz nods enthusiastically. "And two mouths. I don't know if I mentioned that."

Scully almost takes it in stride. "Funny. Sounds just like this." She holds up the comic book. Mulder joins her and peers at the familiar comic book, making sure his son's peanut butter-stained hands don't touch the evidence.

"Oh, that?" The curly-haired woman blinks, then explains, "That's the Great Mutato." In a proud voice, she adds, "That's a comic book character my kid Izzy created."

They all turn when they hear the door slam. "What's going on?" a heavyset young man with a blank expression asks.

His mother gives him a scolding look about the door, then explains, "These are agents Mulder and Scully from the FBI. They brought their kids."

"The Federal Bureau of Investigation?" Izzy asks, less blank but no less confused as to how a perfectly normal-looking family is standing in his house.

"We were wondering how this suspect in your mother's case looks exactly like this?" Scully asks, then nudges her husband.

Mulder closes the comic book and holds it up. "The Great Mutato."

"Because I," the young man says hesitantly, "I've seen him, too."

"You've seen the Great Mutato?" Scully says the name in the same tone she reserves for aliens, Elvis, and Big Blue sightings.

"Yeah, a lot of people around here have," he says, more eager now.

The redhead is trying not to scream. It wouldn't look very good for her kids or the FBI, and she's long given up on Mulder. "Has it crossed neither of your minds that what you say you saw that night fits perfectly with this creature that your son created?"

Now the curly-haired woman is somewhat defensive. "Well, yeah. But," she looks at each of them, "that don't mean it didn't happen."

Mulder and Scully share a look, but each with their own thoughts.

Later that night, after they have tucked their kids in the motel bed for the umpteenth time, Scully looks at Mulder. "Okay, what the hell is this?" she asks, careful to keep her voice down just in case.

Mulder looks up, then looks back down at the casefile he's hastily assembled and spread out on their bed. "What's what?" he asks back.

She sits on the bed, then leans in so he can't avoid looking at her. "Why the hell are we out here?" she asks. "It's a classic rape case, with a neighborhood scientist in the area, nothing unusual or paranormal about it."

"But doesn't Dr. Pollidori scream 'Frankenstein' to you?" Mulder really looks at her. "And what about that creature we saw in the woods? You saw it, didn't you?" he frowns.

"I saw," she sighs loudly, "something. But it could've been a normal person taking two quick bites, not a monster," she adds quickly.

He grins, then sobers, his eyes crinkling with his forehead. "I also think Shaineh Berkowitz deserves to know who raped her, don't you?"

His wife nods. "Then that's for the local police to investigate." Scully kisses her mildly insane husband's forehead. "Not an FBI matter," she tries to put the papers away.

He shakes his head. "No, there's something more here," he insists, brushing away her hands, knowing that saying "Because we've lived through this before and there is a monster and a doctor Frankenstein here" won't help his case.

"Mulder, stop," she says, putting her hands on his, "please. There's nothing for us here."

"There is," he repeats, but the sight of Scully unbuttoning her FBI-approved blouse has him mildly distracted. "Really, there is," he tries again, but his hands are unfastening her bra while she kisses and fondles him. "Scully."

"Shut up, Mulder," she whispers in his ear, wriggling out of her pants, "the kids are asleep and I'm fuckin' horny."

"Isn't 'fuckin' horny' repetitive?" Mulder asks, giving in to both their lusts, lying against the wall and trying like hell to get his fly undone.

She smirks and promptly unzips him with an aplomb that will never cease to amaze him. "If you don't want repetitive, I guess it'll be just a one-orgasm night," she says, mock-regretfully as she pulls off his pants.

"Hell, no." Mulder hugs her to him, and she giggles. "We're gonna have as much fun as we can until somebody wakes up."

Her hand on his crotch, Scully grins wickedly. "Somebody's up, I guess it's over," she says, reaching for her blouse.

She giggles again when he grabs her wrist and blocks her with his leg. "I do believe there was a fuckin' horny woman, and I'll be damned if I'm gonna disappoint her," he says, grinning back, taking off his shirt.

They spend the rest of the night repeating some very pleasurable acts and positions, and managing, by some miracle, not to wake their children while indulging in the original process of procreation.

The FBI couple pull up to JJ's Country Diner, absently rubbing each other's shoulders. They've still got a bit of an afterglow, which their children have unfairly taken advantage of, so they've got to a bit of a late start. "Coffee?" Scully asks as she opens the back door to unbuckle their kids.

"Two sugars, no cream," he says, and she gives him a relieved smile before he walks inside. And this time, he welcomes the massive spread the waittress sets before him, since it'll save him time ordering for the kids. He half-grins as the strange woman rattles off the large repast, including the "monster grapefruits." If she only knew, he thinks, and yawns briefly before asking, "Excuse me, could I have some coffee? We'd appreciate it."

"Sure," the waittress nods, deftly filling a coffee mug, "on the house. Compliments of JJ." Mulder nods as JJ calls out, "That's with two Js!" Then the woman blinks. "Did you say we?"

No, I was speaking French, Mulder's about to say as he dumps two sugars in the cup, when his family troops in, settles around him and helps themselves to the food. "Another cup of coffee," he says, pushing the first filled mug to his wife.

"Thanks." Scully smiles, sipping her coffee. Despite the bustle that a small family brings, surprisingly nobody seems to pay them too much attention. "Guess what," she says, handing over the newspaper while keeping an eye on the kids and feeding April. "Amazingly, last night's entire conversation is front page news."

After Shaineh Berkowitz reams out her son Izzy for recording and giving the conversation over to the newspaper, Mulder and Scully step out of the Berkowitz house, children in tow. "Where are we going now?" Scully asks, shifting April on her hip.

Mulder holds up the tape. "To messenger this to the Bureau. I want special audio to filter the tracks and ten I want to go back to see the professor."

"Mulder, it's just some stupid hoax," Scully argues, then bounces April onto her shoulder when she starts fussing. "Shhhh, shhhh, it's okay, Daddy's got another wild goose chase," she cooes

"What goose?" Page asks. "I don't see goose." She and her brother start peering back at the neighbors who are watching them.

"Figure of speech, Page," Mulder says by rote. "And something recorded its voice on this, Scully."

His wife shoots him a wry look. "And you think Dr. Pollidori has something to do with it?"

He grins and squats down to his older children's height, but still towers over them. "When Victor Frankenstein asks himself, 'Whence did the principle of life proceed?' and then as a gratifying summit to his toils creates a hideous phantasm of a man, he prefigures the Postmodern Prometheus. The genetic engineer whose power to reanimate matter -- genes into life -- is only as limited as his imagination is." Then he takes Sammy's chubby little wrists and waves them around in a parody of a monster, making the boy rock back and forth rather than walk. "Loiiiife," he cackles in a horrible Boris Karloff imitation, "I have created liiiiiiife."

Two of the Scully girls laugh while the third is drooling on her mother's shoulder. The eldest Scully then shakes her head and adjusts the towel on her shoulder. "I can't believe you'd reduce this man to a literary stereotype, a mad scientist."

Still playing monster with his boy, Mulder replies, "Who else would go to such trouble to impregnate Shaineh Berkowitz?" Grinning at his oldest daughter, he adds, "Bwuhahahahaha!" and makes as if Sammy the Monster is going to attack.

Page squeals and laughs as Scully rolls her eyes. Honestly, he may quote classic literature, but will he never grow up? As Sammy growls and roars along with his father, she sighs. Never mind.

The trip to the hospital was complicated only by the fact that the obstetrician thought they were coming in for themselves rather than for Mrs. Berkowitz. Once they had that miscommunication straightened out, Scully got her hot little hands on the subject's file and never took her eyes off it. That left Mulder to shepherd the kids into the backseat and buckle them in, while his partner peaceable peruses the contents of the folder. Driving down the road of this somewhat bland neighborhood, he glances at his wife, then his kids. Strange to think we're actually the most normal people in this town, he thinks, and smiles, returning his eyes to the road.

"I have to admit, Mulder, everything looks in order. Mrs. Berkowitz had a tubal ligation in 1993 and two months ago, she had two pregnancy tests both with positive results."

When he sees the tented house, Mulder formulates a plan of action. He stops the car and reverses it, with amazingly no cars to hit either way.

"What are you doing?" Scully frowns as the scenery goes by backwards.

"Mrs. Berkowitz said in her letter that when she saw her intruder, there was a gaseous white cloud and then when she woke up three days later, nobody knew that she'd been gone."

Scully's staring at her husband like he's lost his mind. Not a new expression, but still. "Yeah. So?"

He pulls up to the Pollidori house, covered in a bug extermination tent. "So," he says, unbuckling himself, "if I'm not out in fifteen minutes, call an ambulance. I don't want you or the kids inhaling any of that stuff."

She shoots him an indignant look and unlocks her seatbelt. "What about you inhaling that stuff? What about backup?"

He kisses her on the forehead and puts his hand on her shoulder, keeping her in her seat. "Fifteen minutes," he says, unholstering his gun and running towards the house.

She exhales, then looks at her kids. "He's right, but it's still stupid to run in there without backup," she tells them.

Page nods. "Silly Daddy."

Scully nods back. "Exactly."

Exactly eighteen minutes later, paramedics are dragging out not only a seemingly hung over Mulder, but also a thin, unconscious woman, while an unmarked car releases a birdlike woman with glasses onto the scene. Scully grabs April and flashes her badge. The paramedics dump her husband in the back seat of their rental, giving Scully a small oxygen canister with a plastic mask attached to it while they attend the thin woman.

"Mulder," Scully says, forcing her medical side to take over as she fastens the mask to his face, saving him the trouble of holding it himself. Her children, however, have no compunction about throwing themselves at their red-eyed, coughing, and rather smelly father.

Weakly, he puts his arms around his children and leans against the carseat. "How is she?" he asks in a muffled voice behind the mask.

She watches as the ambulance pulls out and the birdlike woman joins them. "Mrs. Pollidori is unconscious, but fine," the woman with the glasses replies. "I do believe she'll be treated for that nasty gas inhalation and put under observation."

"Who are you?" Scully asks, and now the kids look up at the strange lady.

The woman pushes up her glasses nervously. "I'm with the newspaper," she says, her large eyes darting at the adults and children with the same nervous glance.

"We gotta go back in," Mulder mutters, taking off the oxygen mask and lurching out of the car, only to be caught by his wife.

"We aren't going anywhere but to a hospital," Scully says firmly while their kids grab his jacket.

He rolls his bleary eyes at his beloved, heavenly wife. "You say the sexiest things, G-Woman," he says, closing his eyes.

Scully rolls her eyes heavenward, then looks at the reporter. "This is all off-the-record, understand?" she says, buckling April back into her carseat. "That was Mrs. Pollidori?"

The reporter nods jerkily. "Yes, her husband is out of town for a conference. It's a good thing you got here when you did, that poor woman might be dead otherwise. How did you know?"

"A hunch," Scully mutters, finally wrestling her too-tall husband into the backseat. "I'm sorry, your name is?"

"Here's my card," the reporter says, proferring a small rectangle, and the distracted FBI agent pockets it while reseating Page in the front passenger seat. "Give me a call when you find anything."

"Likewise," Scully says, locking her door.

As the redhead speeds off, putting some serious distance between themselves and the tented house, Mulder mumbles, "Pans're violated."


"She's pregnant," Mulder says, his eyes still closed with his head drooping forward, "th' pans is violated."

"Mulder," Scully says in a no-nonsense voice, "put on the mask, lie back, and shut up."

"Ooh, Mommy said shut up," Page says, her eyes wide.

"Shut up, shut up, shut up!" Sammy crows, bouncing in his carseat.

"Samuel Taylor Scully Mulder, not another word," his mother says with steel in her voice.

Nobody says a thing for the rest of the trip to the hospital.

The next day, Scully and her children are in Mrs. Pollidori's room, the children being given an exemption as long as they stay by the door. "How old are they?" Mrs. Pollidori asks, smiling in spite of her weariness.

"Page is three, Sammy's two, and April is nine months," Scully says, shifting her youngest daughter on her shoulder.

"You're so lucky." The thin woman smiles, and the FBI agent finds herself smiling back. "I've always wanted children."

"It may be your lucky day," Mulder's voice drawls from the doorway, "according to the doctors, you are with child."

"Mulder, aren't you supposed to be in bed?" Scully whips around, missing Mrs. Pollidori's ecstatic smile.

He's dressed in his FBI suit and tie, but that was only due to great effort and concentration. "I was, but I got bored," he says, sitting on his haunches to be close to his kids and to give his unsteady legs a break. "Are you two being good to Mommy?"

"Uh-huh," they chorus, pretending not to notice their mother's watchful eyes.

"I see," he says, grinning up at his wife. "We need to get back to the house to look for clues."

"Are you in any condition to do that?" Scully looks at him more carefully.

"The cops are airing out the house right now," he says, as much to his partner as to the woman in the bed, "and if they've inhaled anything, they might miss something."

"Mrs. Pollidori, did you see anything?" Scully turns around to face the now-pale woman.

The thin woman's eyes have gotten larger in the space of a couple of seconds. "The thi--, he, he had this face with these hideous tumors, and," she shudders as she speaks, her eyes staring at nothing in particular, "and two mouths, not just one."

"I see," Mulder says, rising too fast and lurching against the doorframe. "Well, we better get going. Daylight's burning."

"Not so fast," Scully says, walking over and pinning her husband to the doorway. "You stay here. I'll go and check it out."

"No, we all go together," Mulder says, using Page and Sammy as giggling leg braces, "strength in numbers."

"Right." Scully sighs, then turns around. "Thank you, Mrs. Pollidori."

The thin woman shakes her head. "No, thank you." A smile lights up her drawn features. "I'm going to be a mother!"

At the Pollidori house, they are greeted by an irate scientist and some rattled policemen. "What are you doing in my house?" Dr. Pollidori thunders as the local PD scatters while the FBI agents and their children head to the kitchen.

Mulder and Scully flash their badges, Mulder less smoothly than Scully. "Dr. Pollidori, is there something you'd like to tell us?" the tall agent asks, glaring at the doctor glaring at his kids.

"Are you accusing me of knowing something about this, this mess?" The white-haired man throws his hands dramatically at the fingerprint dust coating almost every other surface in the kitchen.

"I'm accusing you that your wife may have been impregnated."

"How? By whom?" The scientist looks genuinely baffled.

"Oh, I think you know," Mulder says, attempting to lean forward menacingly, but managing only to lurch forward like a drunk and catch himself on the counter.

"This could all be part of an elaborate hoax," Scully offers, then grabs Sammy's hand before he puts it into his mouth. "No, it's not sugar," she says, dusting off his hands as best she can.

"A hoax?" Dr. Pollidori frowns.

"Dr. Pollidori," Mulder says, holding up the frying pan with some whitish, non-fingerprint dust residue. "The other victims had their frying pans... violated." He puts the pan down before he falls over, stumbling and catching himself on the counter again. "Do you know what that is?"

The scientist purses his lips. "No, I don't."

Mulder staggers over to the trashcan and pulls out a large, partially-emptied peanut butter jar. "I think we have our smoking gun," he declaims, setting it on the table and sitting himself on a chair. "We must've interrupted the intruder before he could finish it off."

"Of course," Dr. Pollidori says in a smug, indulgent tone. "But it does rather sound more like an elaborate hoax than anything, yes?" He raises his eyebrows to include Scully. "In the meantime, please have this place cleaned up while I visit my wife. Elizabeth is in a very delicate state right now, and if I were to bring her home to this, she may have a relapse." He strides out the door, slamming it decisively shut behind him.

"She's in a delicate state, all right," Mulder mutters, then looks at his family. "What?"

"Mulder, I thought you'd behave," Scully says, "or at least sit down sooner than you did."

"Hey, I was fine," he protests, "it's Dr. Frankenstein there that has a problem."

"He may be an insensitive, egotistical pompous jerk, but that doesn't necessarily mean he's the culprit," Scully grunts, helping her husband to his feet. "Otherwise, you'd've been a bad guy a long time ago."

"Hey!" Mulder says, pouting even as Page and Sammy resume their role of leg braces. "I was never that bad!"

"Uh-huh," Scully says, leading the march back to the car.

Fortunately, there was never a headline with the FBI declaring the Great Mutato to be a hoax, but the postman still fanned the flames of distrust when he showed Izzy Berkowitz off as a false representative of his comic book creation. Still, Mulder's uneasy about the fate of the elder Mr. Pollidori as they research the origins of the frying pan residue. He tries not to snap impatiently as he asks, "Is there someone registered locally?"

As expected, his wife nods, and he strides towards the car. Unfortunately, his legs are still a bit on the wobbly side, and Scully grabs the keys. "Until you stop weaving like a drunken sailor, I'm driving," she says, and buckles everyone in with a firmness that forbids argument.

Once they reach the barn, Mulder's got a sinking feeling in his stomach, and he's sure it's not from the anesthetic gas. They uncover not only the freshly-dug grave, but also the birdlike reporter. What is up with this lady? Mulder thinks as they try to escort her from the premises, but instead she joins them into the kitchen. There, they find the photo album, and behind the shorter women and the small children peering at the photos, the tall agent's face shows a sadness rarely seen by even his wife as they flip through pictures of a shared life with father and son, however hideous the son may look.

"That's it," the reporter finally says, her head bobbing with a jerk-like motion, "that's the thing that buried the old man in the barn."

"How sweet is the affection of others to such a wretch as I am," Mulder mutters as the birdlike reporter leaves to scribble furiously and privately.

"Who said that?" Scully turns around to look up at her husband.

"Justine Moritz, an innocent woman who died for the sins of a madman," he replies, "at least in the book."

"Frankenstein?" she asks. "I must've missed that."

He shrugs a little, a half-grin on his face. "Yeah, well, your literary appreciation's incomplete with only Moby Dick," he says.

She draws herself up to her full height, which is still not very tall. "That which is in Melville's classic is the sum of what literature has to offer," she says in stentorian tones, "all else is superfluous."

"And you passed your undergraduate how?" he asks, only to be swatted by his partner. "Ow."

"What's that?" Scully frowns as sounds of a large crowd and sights of torches lighting up the night begin to fill the farm grounds.

"Oh, no," Mulder says, unconsciously holding his family to him. "They're here."

As before, the FBI couple tries to calm the worked-up crowd, but Dr. Pollidori plays them like a fiddle, and Mulder and Scully are forced to retreat back to the house for their children's safety while the townspeople unwisely go through the wooden barn with torches. Mulder hates that his kids should have to see the dark side of human behavior before they even hit kindergarten. Not to say that preschool isn't an education in the dark side, but anyways...

"Daddy, are they mad at us?" Page asks.

"No, sweetie." Mulder picks her up, keeping an eye on the barn. "They're scared."

"Why?" Sammy asks.

"Because they think being ugly means being bad," he says, squatting down to his son. "And we know that's not true."

"It's not?" Scully raises an eyebrow.

He looks up at her. "Hey, the Lone Gunmen aren't the prettiest people on the planet, but they're definitely the good guys," he says, then grins.

"I don't know about that Frohike," she mutters, but grins back anyways. Then she hugs April to herself. "Besides, the only way Pollidori could've seen the monster was if he was out here himself." As she muses, she notes Page waving. "What is it, honey?"

"It's a ghost!" Page smiles as the cellar doors close. "See, gone now."

"I don't think so," Mulder says, putting her down to pull out a flashlight while Scully pulls out her gun. "Let's go check it out."

And check it out they do, with Mulder leading and Scully and the kids hanging behind. They find the Great Mutato, and it's the kids, rather than the agents, who coax him out of hiding, to Mulder's surprise. He would've thought Mutato would be less inclined to scare little kids, but apparently, his kids are harder to scare than others. And as before, the thoughtless crowd burns down the barn, even as the small family tries to make their escape quietly this time. Again, they retreat into the cellar, and Page screams as people break the cellar windows with pitchforks and rocks. He picks her up and holds Sammy to his leg, while Scully holds onto both April and the Great Mutato, his jaw working as his children bury their faces into his clothes. He's pretty sure that if he weren't an FBI agent, he'd shoot every last one of those idiots scaring his children, laws be damned.

As the hysterical crowd force their way into the cellar, Mulder and Scully stand in front of the Great Mutato protectively, and they lock eyes as well as hands before facing the crowd. Here we go, the tall man thinks, as Dr. Pollidori swaggers to the forefront.

If this man even touches my kids, there'll be a bloodbath tonight, Mulder thinks as Dr. Pollidori, Shaineh Berkowitz, and the crowd demand to have a look at the "monster." Reluctantly, the agents do so, but only because they really have no other choice. The so-called monster acquits himself quite well once he's allowed to speak, and finally says in his hoarse voice, "Suffice it to say, his experiments failed and... my father is dead. I am alone... and miserable. But as one deformed and horrible as myself would not deny herself to me." He looks pleadingly at the monster who created him, "If this being you can create, then I will take blame as the murderer."

The scientist, true to form, sneers as he says, "I don't know how to recreate you. You were a mistake!"

Mulder forces himself not to punch the guy out, and is pretty sure his molars will be dust by the way he's grinding his teeth. "What we did was wrong," the Great Mutato hangs his head, "but in our trespasses we gave you a loving son and in your homes I went places I'd never dreamed of. With your books, and your records and home media centers, I learned of the world and of a mother's love that I'll never know." He smiles sadly, and Mulder's almost shocked to see he can recognize that expression on such a warped face. "Cher loved that boy so much."

As Page reaches out to pat the deformed man's shoulder, Izzy Berkowitz looks at the crowd. "Hey, he's no monster," he says, and the crowd murmurs.

His piece said, the Great Mutato nods at the little girl before holding out his wrists. "Arrest me, then, as you will."

"No!" Sammy shouts, peeling himself off his father's leg and attaching himself to the deformed man's. "Not bad guy!"

Scully blinks at her son, then at her husband, then at the crowd. And somehow, she's not surprised to find Mulder and herself beaming at their boy, nor the crowd wearing similar expressions, save for Dr. Pollidori. But she is surprised when the Great Mutato smiles on both faces and bends down, hugging the boy back. "Thank you," he says in his soft voice, clumsily patting the small child's back.

Now what do we do, she thinks, looking up only to find Mulder with the same look on his face.

"Saw the ghost of Elvis
On Union Avenue
Followed him up to the gates of Graceland
Then I watched him walk right through
Now security they did not see him
They just hovered 'round his tomb
But there's a pretty little thing
Waiting for the King
Down in the Jungle Room"

As Cher belts out the chorus of "Walking in Memphis" to the crowded nightclub, Mulder's again amazed at what a little FBI finagling can do, as he, his family, and the Great Mutato are sitting in the front row. That, and the fact that most of the people who were ready to kill the poor man less than a couple hours ago are now sitting behind him and enjoying the show. He shakes his head, then laughs as the Great Mutato is all but spazzing in the chair, then high-fives the crazy guy. Sammy is standing on his lap and bouncing as energetically as Mutato, making Mulder a little careful about his boy falling off. When Cher steps down and takes the two-faced man by the hand, Mulder gives him a helpful push and Scully smiles while Page dances between her parents' legs and April's lying peaceably in her mother's arms, thanks to earplugs.

"They've got catfish on the table
They've got gospel in the air
And Reverend Green be glad to see you
When you haven't got a prayer"

"Dance with me, Daddy, dance!" Page says, tugging at her father's pants leg.

He shrugs, then puts Sammy on his chair before picking up Page and joining Cher and the Great Mutato on the dance floor. Both Mutato's faces are grinning from ear to ear, and Mulder smiles back. Then he spins back to his wife, sitting next to a jumping little boy with a dozing baby in her arms. He puts out a free hand to her, and she raises an eyebrow.

"My hands are full," she says, shrugging helplessly.

"So are mine," he says, pulling her up by the elbow. "Come on."

"Fine," she says, gingerly shifting April to accommodate not only Mulder, but Page in his arms. "You are a silly man."

"And you love me, don't you?" He grins, and she grins back as they slowly balance their daughters between them, allowing Sammy full reign of their chairs to jump all over.

"And I'm walking in Memphis
Walking with my feet ten feet off of Beale
Walking in Memphis
But do I really feel the way I feel?"

"Yes." Scully smiles, and leans against her husband.

"Yes?" he blinks as the song winds down.

"Yes," she repeats, "I really feel like my feet are ten feet off of Beale."

"Does that mean we're going to Graceland next?"

She snorts. "When it starts raining sleeping bags." Then she looks up, half-expecting an unseasonal shower of camping equipment, then laughs when he looks up, too. "Keep dreaming."

"I already am," Mulder says, pulling his family close to him.

* "Walking in Memphis" by Marc Cohn *

Chapter Fifty-Two

US Naval Station
San Diego, Ca
December 21st, 1997
Bill Scully's House

Tara looks up from arranging the crèche on the mantle when she hears voices outside. Before she can leave the living room, the front door opens.

"Hello? Merry Christmas!" Scully calls from the entryway.

"Hello!" Tara cries. "Is that my niece and nephew behind Dana?" Playing shy, Sammy and Page hide behind their mother.

Before they run to throw their arms around Tara's legs. "We tricked you!" Page tells her. "We're not shy."

"That's for sure," Scully tells Tara with a smirk as she works to herd the children into a corner where she can remove their coats.

Maggie Scully comes in too and looks thrilled to see Tara." Oh, my God. Look at you." She hugs her.

"Can you believe it?" Tara asks with a happy grin.

"How am I going to get my arms around you?"

"Sammy, where are you going?" Scully asks as he bolts with his snowsuit still hanging off him.

"Gettin' the door," Sammy explains as he pulls it open for Mulder and Bill. Bill has suitcases, and Mulder's arms are full with April and the children's belongings.

"Thanks, buddy," Bill tells his nephew.

After dropping the bags onto the floor near the stairs, Bill turns to his mother." Sorry about the digs, Mom. I know you hoped like hell you didn't have to spend another night in base housing."

"Are you kidding? This is wonderful."

Scully looks up in wonder. "This is the exact same layout as our old house."

"That's the Navy for ya."

"Yeah. Bill tells me, Mom, that you'll be staying in your old room. And the nursery is going to be in Dana and Melissa's room."

Bill nods. "That's right. Dana and Fox will have 'my' room and the little ones will be in what would be Charlie's."

"Let's bring these bags up stairs, Bill. So no one trips over them," Tara says pointedly.

"Aye, captain." He gives her a mock solute before grabbing up all the heavy bags, leaving her the baby bags. "Fox, why don't I show you the rooms?" Bill adds, and Mulder suppresses a wince. He's going to be Fox all week, he can tell.

"Sure, thanks. Come on, Brats, let's see where we're sleeping."

"We're not brats," Page complains, but she and her brother beat Mulder up the stairs.

Still in the living room, Scully catches Maggie looks at the tree with a wistful look.

"Mom? You okay?"

"Oh, yeah. I was just thinking about your Dad... and Melissa... and how much I miss them." She gives a bitter little shake of her head. "I couldn't even get ahold of Missy."

She walks past Scully to the stairs. Scully is about to follow her when the phone rings. She looks upstairs.

"Bill?" Scully calls, unsure if she should answer. When there's no response, she picks it up. "Scully residence..."

"Dana?" a male voice asks.

"Yes, sorry, who is this?"

"Dana... she needs your help. She needs you, Dana. Go to her."

"Who... who is this?"

Giving the receiver a puzzled look, Scully hangs up and calls a number. "FBI, San Diego."

"This is Special Agent, Dana Scully. My badge number is 2317616. Can you transfer me to your sound agent, please? I would like to trace the last number that was dialed into this phone."

"Who was that?" Mulder asks as he climbs down the stairs.

"I don't know. Feel like going for a ride?"

"Sure, just let me ask your Mom to keep an eye on the kids."

The Sims Residence
30 Minutes Later

There are people mingling and an ambulance parked outside when Scully and Mulder arrive. Taking in the crowd, she asks Mulder to wait in the car, which he agrees to with a shrug. Scully shows her badge to a cop and walks into the house. A photographer is taking pictures of a phone off the hook. She goes past the photographer up to the bathroom where there are policemen.

"Whoa, whoa, whoa. Who are you?" Officer Kresge asks irritably.

" Agent Scully, FBI. Can you tell me what's going on here?"

"Well, no offense, Scully, FBI, but what's it to you?"

"I received a phone call from this address. It was an older man's voice. He said that somebody here needed help."

"When was this?"

"About 20 minutes ago."

"I've been here 30 minutes. Guarantee you no one's called out to you or anyone else. Phone's off the hook."

Scully is confused. She looks to the bathroom. "Please, can you tell me what happened here?" Kresge brings her into the bathroom. A photographer is taking pictures of the crime scene. Kresge allows Scully take a look at the body. A woman naked in a bathtub. Wrists slashed, blood pooled on the floor and staining the water pink in the tub.

"This is Mrs. Roberta Sims. Age 40. Suicide. She's been dead at least three hours."

"I guess she's beyond help now," Scully agrees.

"What's going on in there?" Mulder asks as she comes to the passenger side window.

"A suicide from the looks of it."

"Why are we here?" Mulder asks. ::I thought that this wouldn't happen. Scully was never abducted, so how could Emily exist?:: His forehead creases as he tries to puzzle it out.

"A man called and told me that a 'she' here needed my help." Scully pauses. "And I'm pretty sure the man calling was my father."

He blinks in surprise. "You got a call from 1-800-the great beyond?"

"Don't joke, Mulder. This is serious."

Mulder stares out the window at the police cruisers. He's not sure he that he was joking.

When Scully goes back into the house a few minutes later, she brings Mulder with her. They stop in the hallway to wait for officer Kresge, and Mulder notices something in the kitchen that makes his belly feel like it's full of lead. Emily.

Neither Scully nor the officer notices his stricken look, but instead tall about the call Scully got. "I don't know what to tell you. Pac Bell confirms that a call came in from this address to your brother's house, but from this end, they show no outgoing call. Plus they confirm that the phone here had been off the hook for the last three hours."

"What was their explanation?" Scully asks.

::Your dead father called to tell you that you need to help a child who shouldn't even exist in this reality.:: Mulder thinks, and it takes all of his self-control not to release the insane laugh that's bubbling just below the surface. ::Get a hold of yourself, Mulder. There's some other explanation, because that kid isn't Scully's. It's not possible.::

"Records mix-up, software glitch. It was obviously some kind of mistake. Anyway, I've got to wrap this up. Talk with the husband. Listen, weird phone calls aside, this is looking pretty straightforward. A lot of people check themselves out around Christmas time."

Kresge goes to talk to Marshal Sims, and Mulder stares until the officer swings the door closed. "Mulder, what were you looking at?" Scully asks.

"The little girl. She reminds me of Page."

"It must be because they're the same age, since they don't look alike." Mulder nods, but he's not really inclined to agree. True, Page's hair is platinum and halfway down her back while Emily's is sandy and short, but they both have the same ocean blue eyes that is common to Scully's family. Strangers might think they were sisters.

Scully misses dinner that night, because she and officer Kresge discover that the dead woman was drugged before she died. This leaves Mulder alone in what he considers hostile territory. It isn't as bad as before when Bill junior laid a number of sins at his feet, but he and his brother-in-law are anything but close, so Mulder spends the entire dinner huddled near Maggie and saying nothing other than things that'll encourage his two older children to eat.

Needless to say, he's completely exhausted by the time Scully finally gets back. She doesn't seem to notice. "Mulder, look at this." Scully shoves a picture at him.

It's Emily. "How'd you get this?"

"Officer Kresge let me have it."

He's afraid to ask, but he does. "Why did you want it?"

"I thought about you saying that the little girl reminds you of Page."


Scully goes over to a bookshelf and pulls out a photo album. "I think you're right. She does look a little like Page. But she looks more like Missy did at that age. Take a look at this. This was taken when my dad was stationed in Japan. Missy was three." She places Emily's picture next to it. "They're identical."

"What does that prove?" Mulder asks reasonably.

"That there's something I'm missing. Did you bring your laptop?"

"Do you really need to ask that?"

Mulder leaves the room long enough to put the kids to bed, and when he comes back in, Scully has an excited look on her face.

"Look, Mulder. Emily's adopted."

"And?" he asks, already knowing what's coming next.

"And she might be Missy's daughter."

"That's a long shot," he objects.

"Since when are you one to scoff at long shots?" she asks. "Dial Danny for me, would you?"

He wants to refuse the request, and hope that she forgets, but he decides that it wouldn't be fair to the little girl, so he pulls out his cell phone and punches in the numbers before handing it to her. ::I hope this doesn't end as badly as it did the last time.:: He can already feel himself becoming depressed.

"Hi Danny, it's me, Dana... Yeah, Merry Christmas to you, too... I, ah, I'm wondering if you can do me a favor...Back when I was in med school my sister volunteered to be part of a genetics project I was conducting, so I ran a set of PCRs. Do you think you could get a hold of a copy for me? If you can, I need you to send them to the San Diego field office. As soon as possible. Ok. Thanks, Danny."

The Next Night

Most of Scully's day is spent doing an autopsy of Roberta Sims. Mulder has yet again stayed behind, and seemed to her to be fairly eager not to get involved with the case.

The house is dark when she gets in. a cursory peek upstairs tells her that her husband and children are asleep, so she doesn't feel guilty about her intention to do more work since they don't need her attention at the moment. There's a manila envelope on the table. She opens it and sits down. She takes the PCR screen of Melissa out of the report and matches it to Emily's PCR results from the lab, and she's on the verge of crying when she sees they match.

"Dana? Are you alright?" Maggie asks, startling her by approaching from behind." It's two o'clock in the morning. Where have you been all day? We were expecting you at lunch." From her mother's reproachful tone, Scully senses that the kids were not happy. Mulder's probably been miserable too. "Your husband went to bed two hours ago, not that you can blame him since for all he knew he'd be the only one who'd be getting up with the baby tonight."

It's on the tip of Scully's tongue to point out that April has been sleeping through the night for two months, but it's not the discussion she's interesting in having." Mom... sit down." Giving her daughter a wary look, Maggie does "The woman who committed suicide has an adopted daughter, a three-year-old named Emily. I got a sample of Emily's blood and I had the lab run a test on her DNA. It's called a PCR test. This..." She hands her one of the screens "is Emily's." She hands over the other one." And this, is Melissa's which we ran for that experiment I did in college. They match."

"What does it mean, they match?"

"It means, that this little girl Emily... is Melissa's daughter."

Scully finds the pictures and shows them to her mother, sure that she'll concede to the truth when she sees the resemblance.

Maggie shakes her head. "It's impossible."

"You can't deny that there is a remarkable resemblance."

"Melissa was three years old when this picture was taken. She was practically a baby. All kids can look the same at that age."

"Mom, it's uncanny. Emily looked exactly like Melissa. That's why I ordered the PCR test. Because her face may change, but her DNA can't."

"And the test is accurate?"

"There's a 60% chance that Melissa is Emily's mother. I'll order a more comprehensive test, a RFLP. It'll take a couple of days, then we'll be sure."

"Well, I'm already sure your sister did not have a baby. She would have told me."

"Mom, remember about four years ago and Melissa took off? She traveled up and down the west coast, we didn't know where she was half the time."

"You're saying she was pregnant and she didn't want us to know?"

"That was 1994. Emily was born that November. She could have given it up for adoption and none of us would have ever known."

"I don't know..." Maggie sounds highly doubtful.

"Mom. Page was four months old before Missy bothered to meet her. Haven't you ever wondered about that?" Maggie nods reluctantly. "If you were planning to give up your baby, wouldn't it make you not want to meet a niece? At least until the baby was old enough that it wouldn't look like the one you gave away?"

Maggie sighs deeply. "Maybe."

Even though it's painful, Mulder spends most of Christmas Eve trailing after his wife. First to visit doctor Calderon to discuss Emily's treatment and find out that the drugs in Roberta's system were at easy access to Marshal Sims; then to assist in the arrest of Marshal Sims on suspicion of murder, then to see Scully fall in love with Emily as she's taken away to the childen's home, and last to go and frown over Marshal Sims' murder, which happens despite Mulder's insistence that he be closely guarded on suicide watch.

Since Scully never told him about her long ago conversation with Bill, he didn't know that it was going to happen, and went up to take a nap before Bill and Tara's party.

Tara and Maggie are putting final touches on the tree while Scully watches listlessly – at least until Bill taps her on the shoulder. "Ah, Dana, could you give me a hand in the kitchen?"

She looks around and doesn't see anything that needs to be done, so she suspects that he was luring her away for another agenda. "What's up?"

"I need you to tell me what's going on."

"What do you mean?"

"You're not here, you're a million miles away. I thought you came to see the family."

"I did."

"I'm not sure you did. My brother-in-law and nieces and nephew have been here for the holidays, but not you. I thought this other thing was resolved. I thought you caught the guy that murdered that woman."

"We did." She frowns.

"Then it's about that little girl, isn't it? Mom told me. You really think Melissa had a baby?"

"Yes, I do."

"Dad called you from beyond the grave to tell you that? Sounds like something your husband would say, and even he's been saner than that lately."

"It does not matter where that phone call came from. What matters is that there is a little girl who needs my help."

"This isn't about any little girl, Dana. This is about you. It's about some... maternal instinct gone haywire. You have kids, so now you think you need to save every one you encounter."

Scully mentally winces, thinking fleetingly of Kevin Kryder. "Bill, I don't expect you to understand but I am not going to stand here and justify my motive."

"Dana, I have to show you something."

Bill opens a drawer and takes out a picture. He hands it to Scully. It's a picture of Melissa. "Look at the date on the back." Scully turns it and it says October 7th, 1994. "Does Melissa look pregnant to you in that picture? It's about four weeks before the girl was born."

"Bill, that doesn't prove anything. All that date is when the film was developed. You know as well as I do that Mom herself held onto film for as long as a year before finally dropping it off. Even if the date is accurate, Melissa didn't have to be pregnant to have a baby. There's... there's invitro fertilization, there's surrogate motherhood."

"Dana, listen to yourself. You're creating this whole scenario to fulfill a dream."

"What dream?"

Bill shrugs with a frustrated look. "You tell me. If you want another kid, make one. But don't try to make this child our flesh and blood when she isn't."

Scully bites back a scathing remark and stomps upstairs.

Mulder wakes from a nap when he feels Scully sit down on the bed. "What's up?" he mumbles sleepily, struggling to sit up. She thwarts his attempt by pushing him back down on the pillow.

He wonders why she did it until she puts he thumbs into the waistband of his boxer shorts and yanks them down. Once she strips over her own clothes with the same lack of care and settles onto his waist, he doesn't wonder about much else, except the fact that she's making no attempt whatsoever to keep quiet, as if she would be happy for people down stairs to know what they were doing. Even that concern is lost under a wave of sensation as she grinds her hips into him.

December 25th, 1997
6:30 a.m.

Maggie Scully looks happy as she plays with her three very excited grandchildren while the rest of the sleepy adults lounge around the room.

Bill yawns a little, then gives the kids a smile. "Did Santa come?"

"Yes!!" To their surprise it's Sammy who is the most vocal about it, and Mulder puts his hands out to keep the boy from tumbling into the fireplace when he attempts to tackle a brightly wrapped package.

"Your mom always was the first downstairs at Christmas. Couldn't wait to get those presents."

"That one has my name on it," Page says confidentially as she points to a package.

"She can't really read that, can she?" Tara asks, attempting to look down where the child is pointing.

"She can really read it," Scully assures her. "And several other words as well."

"Three years old, and already reading. What a smart kid."

Bill hugs his wife from behind. "It's the Scully genes," he says smugly, looking at Mulder as he says it. Mulder just smiles.

They're helping the kids open their gifts when the doorbell rings. "Excuse me. I'll be right back," Bill says, earning a grateful look from Mulder whose hands are full of baby April and wrapping paper.

The visitor's voice drifts towards them. "FBI Courier. Package for Agent Dana Scully."

"I bet that one's not from Santa," Mulder whispers to Maggie, who just raises an eyebrow.

"I'll sign for it," Bill says.

"No, no. I need Agent Scully's signature, sir."

"Oh, all right. Dana?" Scully goes to the door, and shivers when a cold blast of air hits her pajamas.

"I need you to sign for this," the courier says, holding out a clipboard to Scully. "Merry Christmas."

"Merry Christmas." She opens the package, skims the contents and stumbles to the living room. The others look at her. Mulder stands up and goes to her side, because he's suddenly sure she's going to faint.

"What is it?" Maggie asks.

"It's the DNA test on Emily Sims' blood."

"What does it say?" Bill demands to know.

"It says, definitely, that Melissa is Emily's mother." Her face is as pale as milk.

Mulder gives Scully a searching look. "There's more. I can tell from the look in your eyes."

Scully nods, and tries to clear her throat. "The person who did the test thought it had a lot in common with another sample he'd recently looked at, so he did another test. They matched."

"Who was the other sample from?" ::Please God, don't let her say me. I know I was missing those nine minutes, and who knows what they did to me at Ellens airbase years ago...::

His fear mounts when Scully refuses to look up at him until he lifts her chin. "Alex Krycek."

::It fits:: Stunned, Mulder sits heavily in a chair and doesn't answer Bill and Maggie's alarmed questions.

Chapter Fifty-Three

"Answer me!" Maggie cries. "I can tell from your reaction that this is horrible. I need to know why. Why would you look that way when you learned who my grandchild's father is?"

Mulder shakes his head, but Scully answers in a husky voice. "He's not a good person, Mom."

"Not a good person how?"

"He used to work with us, but he was a double agent. People, innocent people, have died because of the men he's mixed up with."

Maggie covers her mouth to suppress a gasp. "Oh God."

"We need to find Melissa," Mulder says quietly. "Find out what her side of the story is." He shoots Scully a look – find out if she knows what she's done.

"I couldn't get in touch with her," Maggie frets.

"Leave it to me," Mulder says grimly. "I know people who can find her for us."

Nine Hours Later

Sitting in Mulder's parked rental car, Missy's face is bewildered as she looks from her sister to her brother-in-law. "I never had a baby, Dana. Look, you could examine me if you want to, and you'll just find that I've never been pregnant."

Scully shakes her head. "The DNA tests prove that this little girl is yours, Missy. How do you explain that?"

"The test is wrong."

"It's not, I had them run it twice."

A look of horror crosses Missy's face suddenly. "How old did you say the kid is?"

"Three. She's just a couple of months younger than Page."

"I know how this happened..." Missy moans, wrapping her arms around herself.

Mulder steels himself for her confession that she's an alien abductee, but that's not what comes out of her mouth. "It was in one of the university papers out in California, and it seemed like a good idea."

"What was?" Scully asks, confused.

"An ad begging women to donate eggs to science. They have trouble freezing them, you know, but one of the cutting edge science schools was working on a method that would be more successful than previous attempts. I thought of all the women like Tara who wanted babies but couldn't have could I not help?" Missy's eyes were teary.

"It was just to experiment with freezing them, not to use them for anything. There weren't supposed to be any babies. How could they do this?"

"There are a lot of ruthless people in the world," Mulder says gently.

To his surprise, Scully looks relieved. "So you didn't knowingly have a child with Alex Krycek?"

Missy's head whips up. "What does this have to do with Alex?"

"You know him??"

"He's" Missy looks like she's unsure of what to say. "We know each other."

Scully and Mulder look at her like she has two heads. "Oh Missy..."Scully groans. "I always knew you had horrible taste in men, but this takes the cake."

"Alex Krycek is probably working for the people who used your eggs, Missy," Mulder tells her.


Scully shakes her head, as if to clear it. "That aside, we need to figure out what to do with Emily. She doesn't have anyone right now, and you're her mother. The ball's in your court."

"Do you want to go with us to meet her?" Mulder asks.

He expects her to decline, but she nods wordlessly, her lips compressed into a thin line. Saying nothing else, he starts the car and heads towards their destination.

San Diego County Children's Center
An Hour Later

The three of them are pointed in the direction of the playroom, which is where they find the child. Emily sits on the floor, coloring.

Scully decides to make introductions, since of the three of them, the girl has met her before." Emily? I'd like you to meet my husband and my sister. His name is Mulder and hers is Missy."

Emily doesn't look up at them. "Uh hum."

"She's a little shy," Scully says, and looks at her sister. Missy is shy and silent too.

"What are you coloring?" Mulder asks.

"A potato."

"Have you ever seen Mr. Potato Head? He looks like this. "He gives a pretty goofy impersonation of Mr. Potato Head that never fails to make his children laugh. "Doesn't it?" Emily nods.

::My niece.:: Mulder thinks. ::If she lives, she'll be my children's cousin, my wife's niece...::

The three of them watch Emily color a little longer, until Mulder gets a phone call and excuses himself. He's frowning when he comes back in.

"I'll be right back," Scully tells her sister and her niece. Missy's eyes look panicked, but she doesn't say anything as they walk away. Out of earshot, Scully asks," Something's wrong, isn't it?"

"I've found Emily's surrogate mother. I had Frohike hack into the California Social Services Adoption database."

"You got a name?"

"Yeah, her mother of record is one Anna Fugazzi."


"Yeah, as in slang term for fake."

"I don't understand. Why create a false record?"

"Because there are no true records. Emily didn't come into this world through any system that keeps them."

"How did she come into this world?"

"Have you asked yourself that?"

"Well, she was born to someone, she... she has to belong to someone other than Missy, who has only just learned she exists."

"Someone, who's proven that they'll do anything to protect her or their interest in her."

"Our family can protect her too."

"Yeah, but who's going to protect you? Emily's adoptive parents are both dead, by no accident."

"I know... I've considered that, but I've also considered that there's only one right thing to do." She looks over to her sister, who is still staring at Emily without making an attempt to interact with her. "If Missy is strong enough to do it."

"And if she isn't?" Mulder presses.

"Then we'll think of another way." The far away look in her eyes promises that the 'other way' is something she's thought through and is going to discuss with him later.

Another woman comes into the room then to talk to the girl, and they know it's their cue to leave, so they go and get Missy.

"Good-bye, Emily," Missy whispers, speaking to her daughter for the first time.

Bill Scully Residence
10:16 p.m.

Mulder is lying on the bed feeding April a bottle when Scully climbs up next to them.

"It takes two of us just to get Tara into bed these days," she tells him with a tired smile.

"When's she due?"

"Two weeks ago. I guess I ought to thank my lucky stars that none of our babies have ever been overdue." There's a long pause as they both watch April rub her fingers over the side of the bottle. "What happens to Emily if Missy doesn't want her?"

Mulder shrugs. "I don't know."

"She has family, Mulder. We shouldn't just send her away to people who aren't even blood relations." She shivers a little. "And I sure as hell don't want her to end up in Krycek's hands – and don't you dare use the 'but he's her father' line," she warns.

"Wouldn't dream of it."

"If Missy doesn't want her, do we?" Scully gives him a questioning look.

"I...I think we need to find out what Missy wants before we start making contingency plans," Mulder says evasively.

The phone rings. ::Saved by the bell.::

Scully answers it and speaks to someone who sounds confused. "That's the children's center. Emily's sick."

San Diego County Children's Center

To Scully's dismay, Missy doesn't go with them when they go to check on Emily. It upsets Mulder too, because he's hoping that his sister-in-law will surprise them by showing some responsibility, and this doesn't bode well for that.

A worker lets them in and they go upstairs. Scully goes to the girls' dormitory. She opens the door and Emily is in her bed sleeping with the other girls. Scully sits on the edge of her bed and turns on the light. Scully touches her forehead.

"She's burning up."

"I'll call 911." Scully lifts the covers and Mulder picks her up.

"Scully? There's something on her neck."

Scully lowers the back of Emily's nightgown and pushes her hair aside, revealing a patch of green. "Oh, my God."


In a room with a window to the hall, two doctors hover over Emily who is lying in bed. The doctor is talking softly to Emily about what he's going to do. Scully looks up when a doctor comes out to talk to her.

"How is she?"

"Well, we've put her on a saline drip to rehydrate her. She's running a fever of about 102. It's a good thing you got her here when you did."

"Do you know what's causing it?"

"Some kind of infection, probably related to the cyst on her neck."

"Do you know what that is?"

"No. I'm having it biopsied. I'll get it off to the lab right away. Now, are you two the parents?"

"I'm her aunt."

"Oh, okay. Can you give me any history that might help?"

Mulder looks in the window to watch Emily and the female doctor preparing for the biopsy. If he speaks up too soon they'll ignore him or think he's nuts, but if he waits too long to intervene...

"I know that she was being treated for anemia."

"You know what type?"

"I was told that it was some kind of auto immune hemolytic anemia. Her treatment was experimental."

"Who's her doctor?"

"His name is Calderon."

"I don't know him."

Inside the room, the female doctor bends to Emily. "I'm just going to roll you onto your side, sweetie."

::Let's see if I can help this doctor.:: Mulder watches as she reaches for an alcohol swab, then pounds on the window.

"Wait! Stop!" The doctor ignores Mulder and puts the needle in, Emily flinches. "Move away from her! Get away from her! At least cover your eyes!"

The only part of Mulder's warning that the woman heeds is to cover her eyes as the cyst explodes and green blood flows out. Coughing, she makes her way to the door and lets herself out. Emily sits up in bed to see what's happening, with a stream of green blood flowing down her back.

Quarantine Ward
7:31 a.m.

Missy tears down the hallway, and skitters to a stop outside the quarantine ward, where Mulder has been waiting for Scully to come back with information on the child's condition.

"Fox, can I go in there?"

"I don't know." He taps on the glass to get Scully's attention, which makes her look up and see them. She waves them in.

"She's still sleeping?" Mulder notes with surprise, since Scully and the Doctor's bodies had blocked their view of the girl up until then.

"They have her under a mild sedative."

"The ER doctor is doing okay now," Mulder tells her. "She heard me and didn't get any in her eyes, so it's not as bad as it could be."

"How did you know?" Scully whispers, before realizing that her sister isn't paying attention to their conversation.

"If Emily was someone's creation, then it occurred to me that she might share the same body chemistry that we've seen before. So I had them put the ER doctor in a cooling bath like you did when I was exposed to this."

"So what now? She's still just a little girl. You say I can't protect her, but I can't let this be her life. Just a few days ago she was fine."

"She was also being treated."

Missy looks up at them, fear plain on her face. "I want to keep her. We have to get her better."

Mulder feels a twinge in his stomach as he remembers how hard it was for Scully to prove she was a fit parent. "We'll do what we can to help you get custody."

"It won't be hard," Missy says, leaning down to stroke Emily's hair.

"It won't?" He fails to keep the surprise from his voice.

"We're going to call the police in a few minutes and report a kidnapping with a happy ending," Missy tells him. "My baby was stolen from me and now that her kidnappers have died, we've been miraculously reunited. The police were so derelict of duty that they never even filed a kidnapping report, but DNA proves that the child is mine. Since they don't want me to sue the station, they'll fall over themselves to help me find a judge willing to grant an immediate custody order." Missy's wears a calculating expression. "You've got friends who can produce a birth certificate, don't you?"

"Yeah, sure." Mulder blinks in surprise. Missy's plan would probably work. Unlike Scully, who has been anchored in DC for years, Missy's flightiness works in her favor since there are few people who could come forward and say with certainty that she hadn't had a child that'd been kidnapped.

"I'll help you work on Bill and Mom," Scully tells her, putting her hand over her sister's. "They'll be upset that you never told them you 'had a baby' but they'll get over it."

A Doctor enters a half hour later wearing a worried frown. "Um, I just need some advice. With everything that's happening here, I'm a little at sea. This Dr. Calderon you say is Emily's physician? He's refusing to transfer her medical records."

"He can't do that. He's endangering her life."

"He said Emily was in his care, and if you're the one who's stopping that, then you're the one endangering her."

"It's an ethical violation."

"He said she was part of a double blind medical trial and that he's spoken to you about it. He also says you have no authority over this child."

"Well, authority or not, I'm not leaving her side."

"It's beyond me, I'm afraid."

"Yeah, but it's not beyond Dr. Calderon," Mulder replies.

A couple of minutes later they're thrown out of the room while a nurse takes Emily's vitals and changes her bedding. Missy, Scully, and Mulder stand in a silent line and look at Emily through a window in the ICU. Even from that distance, they can see how much the child is sweating.

When the nurse leaves Mulder gives Scully a hug. "I need to talk to your sister, so why don't you go keep Emily company?" he invites. She frowns a little, but goes into the girl's room, and turns to watch their unheard conversation.

"Fox?" Missy's voice is uncertain.

"I have something important you have to make a decision about, and you have to do it quickly, so listen carefully."


"Emily's been receiving a treatment that has kept her going – or she was up until her adoptive parents died. If you want me to, I'm fairly certain that I can get her back on the treatment. Doing so will mean that you'll have to have an association with unsavory characters from now until Emily is old enough to deal with them on her own."

"And if she's not on the treatment?"

"She will die," he says grimly. "I met another child with this disease, who was taken off the treatment. She died within weeks. It wasn't an easy death."

"Then you have to get them to put her back on the treatment."

Mulder puts a gentle hand on her arm. "If I do this, I'm serious about being involved with unsavory characters. And you might have to live near the clinic from now on," he adds, thinking of her wanderlust.

A look of grim determination is on Missy's face. "I understand. Do what you have to do to make her well."

Scully pokes her head out of the door. "What were you talking about?"

"Just making sure we were on the same page about what we want to happen next," he says blandly. "The gunmen said they can have the birth certificate couriered here within a couple of hours, so be ready to call the police when it arrives."

Scully picks up on his unsaid message. "What will you be doing, Mulder?"

"Attempting to reason with Doctor Calderon."

Transgen Pharmaceuticals

Doctor Calderon sits behind his desk, and gives Mulder a sad smile.

"I'd like to say right up front that I know Emily Sims as your partner probably told you. My God, I... never met a sweeter, courageous little girl. I'm so sorry to hear about her downturn. My hope is these custody matters can be resolved so she may resume her treatment here. I'm afraid I can't release any information that relates to our company's experimental drug trials."

"What can I say to convince you?"

Calderon chuckles "It's really not about convincing me. This is something that I - well, we... simply cannot do. It's purely a business reality. It has to do with Transgen's exposure to litigation and of course, our need to protect our research which frankly, represents a significant dollar investment."

Mulder steeples his fingers. "My sister-in-law is keen to cooperate with you. She's willing to do whatever is necessary to get Emily healthy again."

"She's aware that the treatment will probably have to continue on a monthly basis throughout Emily's childhood?"

Mulder nods. "She's working on the custody arrangement as we speak so she'll be able to ensure that Emily can come here as often as necessary."

"Actually, she doesn't have to come here, Calderon corrects.

"She doesn't?"

"No. We have several children in our study group through out the country. We have five clinics, and if it's not possible for the parents to travel to one of them for treatment, we can make home visits as well."

"And they say doctors no longer make house calls." Mulder smiles a little. He's making a deal with a devil, but it's with the blessing of the child's mother, and he knows the alternative, so he's not ashamed to. "You wouldn't happen to have a clinic in the DC area, would you?"

"Yes, why?"

"If I know my wife and mother-in-law half as well as I think I do, they're going to lobby for Missy and Emily to move back east to be closer to family."

"I see. Please tell Emily's mother that I'll make a visit to the hospital tonight to administer treatment."

Mulder puts out his hand, which Calderon shakes. "I'll do that."

Mulder's cell phone rings as he gets back into his car. "Mulder."

"Hey Mulder, it's Frohike."

"What's up?"

"We did a little research about those kids you asked us to look into... there were seven of them, but none of the others were a match."

Mulder wipes his forehead with the back of his hand. "You're positive?"

"One hundred percent. This is a good thing, right? There being no matches?"

"Yeah. Thanks for getting information for me."

"No problem. Any idea why they'd of DNA tested a whole bunch of kids like that, though?"

"I think they were looking for genetic markers."

"Oh, that makes sense."

"Frohike, you didn't congratulate me."

"For what?"

"I have a new niece. Thirty-six inches, thirty pounds."

"Either this kid is going to be in the weekly world news for 'world's heaviest newborn' or you're not talking about the kid Scully's brother was expecting."

Mulder laughs. "Nope, Bill's kid is still overdue. Missy has a three-year-old no one knew about, not even her."

"Wish her luck for me. Three-year-olds are rough. Say Mulder, she's not married yet, is she? I've never wanted children of my own, but being a step-parent isn't too bad a deal if you skip the diaper stage."

"Good-bye Frohike."

An Hour Later
Emily's room

Doctor Calderon comes into the room while Missy is talking to the police. Scully is about to say something to the man since he doesn't have an ID tag on, but then she feels a hand on her shoulder. "I see that doctor Calderon beat me here."

Scully relaxes a little. "You've agreed to treat Emily."

"Yes." Calderon nods. "I interrupted your sister's conversation with the officers and confirmed that your husband's assessment of her willingness to treat Emily was as he stated."

Once he withdraws the needle from Emily's flesh, he pats her arm. "You should begin to feel better soon, my dear."

"Thank you," Emily whispers back. "I don't like bein' sick."

"No one does," Mulder tells her, thinking for some reason of when Scully had cancer during another life. "Your mom is going to make sure you get to the doctor's when you need to so you don't get sick like this again."


Missy returns with a wide smile. "They're going to get a judge to issue the custody agreement tonight. They said the DNA evidence makes it a slam dunk case."

"Oh, thank God." Scully breathes, pulling her sister into a hug. "I know this is all a big shock to you, but you're going to be a great Mom."

December 31st, 1997

"Oh! Isn't he a doll?" Maggie gushes as she holds April up to see her new baby cousin. April is far more interested in playing with her grandmother's necklace, but her eyes do wander across the blue blanketed bundle that the nursery worker is holding up for them to see. Although all that can really be seen is a tuff of dark hair peaking out over the blanket.

Page and Sammy, who are being held up by their parents, seem slightly more interested. "Our baby?" Sammy asks, giving them a puzzled look.

Mulder laughs and shakes his head. "Not this time. This is uncle Bill and aunt Tara's baby. He's going to live with them."

"Okay," Sammy says, not looking at all disappointed.

"Mommy, what's his name?" Page asks, leaning in closer, so her forehead touches the glass.

"They named him Matthew."


Scully's eyes widen in surprise. "Yup, they'll probably call him Matt."

"Like Sammy's a trick name?"

"Nickname, Page."

"Who's Nick?" she asks, puzzled.

"I'm not sure who he was," Mulder admits.

"We have two new cousins, right?" Page asks.

"Yes you do."

"When we see the uther one?"

"Tomorrow," Scully tells her. "Daddy and I are going to bring Missy to get her tomorrow, after we wake up."


January 1st, 1998

Melissa picks up a plastic bag of Emily's belongings, and looks around the room. She doesn't see anything else that needs to be gathered up, so she walks through the door. A nurse is waiting for her in the hallway, her hands on a wheelchair.

"Looks like Mom is all set, sweetie, so let's take a ride."

Emily looks up at her with a curious look. "I can walk."

"Nope, today you get to ride. It's hospital policy."

Mulder has his arm around Scully's waist as they stand by their car. They're both watching as the nurse and Melissa walk down the hallway. "You know, Scully, we're witnessing a miracle," Mulder murmurs.

"I know," Scully tells him, leaning back into him.

::Oh, you have no idea. And I'm so glad you never will:: he thinks.

"Hey there, Emily!" Mulder calls as soon as the hospital doors slide open. "Your chariot awaits."

"Like a princess?" she asks as she scrambles out of the chair with Missy's help.

"You're definitely a princess," Mulder tells her with a nod. "Your cousins Page and April are princesses, so you must be one too." He takes a step back to allow her mother to put her in Page's car seat.

"Can I play wit my cousins?" Emily asks as soon as all the car doors are shut.


"Every day?"

Scully looks back over the seat. "That's up to your mommy," she says pointedly. As Mulder predicted, the two have spent hours debating the pros and cons of Missy relocating.

Missy rolls her eyes. "Yes, every day," she says at length. "But your auntie and grandmother have to help me find a house if I'm moving to DC."

"Oh, we will!"

January, 4th, 1998
8 p.m.

"Scully, door, please?" Mulder begs. April is sleeping on his right shoulder, and Sammy on his left. She's only got one sleeping child to deal with, so he thinks it's fair that she's the one dealing with the keys.

"Hold your horses," she mutters then lets them in. They remove the kids' coats and boots down stairs, then carry them up to their rooms to dress them for bed. All told, it takes fifteen minutes before all three little bodies are dressed in PJs and tucked into bed.

Then Mulder and Scully collapse onto their beds, still in their own winter gear. Rolling over with a groan, Mulder can't resist the urge to kiss her on the forehead. "We need to talk."

"About?" Scully asks, attempting to sit up until Mulder pins her to the mattress, which makes her giggle.

He sits up, letting her go. "Your sister and Emily."

"I'm listening."

"What happens if Krycek comes looking for Emily?" The thought has been on his mind ever since Scully told him who Emily's father was.

"He won't."

"How do you know?" Mulder presses.

"Mulder, what would a man like that want with a little girl? He's too self-centered to want to be a father." Her shoes fall to the floor with a thump. "Don't borrow troubles."

::You're not thinking broadly enough, Scully. He doesn't want to be a dad, I'm sure, but if that kid could ever be used as a bargaining chip, he wouldn't hesitate for a second to use her.::

"Let's just hope he never finds out who she is."

Chapter Fifty-Four

Washington, D.C.
Last week of January, 1998

As Mulder watches, Scully's hand closes on a glossy full-color brochure. Although her fingers are half-covering the words, he knows that it says "Westport Island, Maine" on the front of it.

"I can't believe we're finally going on a real vacation." Scully sighs happily. "I mean, it was nice to see Bill over Christmas, but a real vacation is different."

Mulder grins at her. "I think we deserve one after all the monster slaying."

"We can visit Wildwood Art Gallery, spend time on the beach-"

"Not have to change any diapers or look under rocks for mutants-"

"There's a nature preserve close by, and we can go into Freeport to go shopping-"

"We can see if there are any ghost ships passing Pemaquid Point Lighthouse-"

Ignoring that, Scully concludes "And the Squire Tarbox Inn looks so peaceful."

"More peaceful than DC," Mulder agrees. "We'll have to pack as soon as we get home. I'm so glad that your mom has agreed to come spend the week at our house."

"It should be okay, because Rachel will still be coming over every day, so she can get out of the house and won't suffer from 'grandchildren overload'."

He shrugs. "She doesn't seem to be suffering from seeing Emily every day."

"Missy is closing on that house this week, so she and Emily will be moving out very soon," Scully tells him. Her mother convinced Missy to move to DC as Mulder suspected, and she and Emily have been living at Maggie's while Missy arranges for other housing.

"I don't Maggie think is too anxious to have her house to herself, is all I'm saying. Otherwise, she'd of said no and sent them to stay with us." It puzzles him that no one suggested that, given their house has ten bedrooms. All he can figure is that Scully and Maggie didn't want Missy and Emily alone all day at first.

"Come on, let's go give this report to Skinner and get out of here." The eager look on her face makes Mulder smile.

A bucket of cold water is dumped on Mulder expectations when he sees the grim look on the nanny's face. Before she even opens her mouth, he feels his hopes for a vacation slipping away.

Rachel wrings her hands. "I'm afraid that the kids are sick."

When he gets into the living room he sees what she means. All three kids are sitting listlessly on the couch, leaning on each other. Each one of them is covered in red spots.

"Itchy, Daddy," Sammy informs him.

Scully comes in right behind him, and is soon exclaiming over her poka-dotted children. He leaves her to that and goes to hunt for clues.

When he returns, he holds a piece of paper in his hand. "Hey, uh, I just found something in Page's bag. A note dated yesterday that explains that the kids have been exposed to Chicken Pox."

"Damn. By the time the kid became symptomatic, he'd already given it to the entire class." Her face suddenly falls. "Oh no, Emily."

He shudders a little, thinking for the first time of his niece's fragile health. Which isn't surprising since he's still having trouble thinking of her as his niece. He knows that his wife worries because Emily is in Page's preschool class now that Missy is serious about permanently relocating in DC.

She's already on the phone, so he listens to the exchange.

"Hi Missy, it's Dana...Is Emily feeling okay? Yeah, the chicken pox thing...She is, and she brought it home to her brother and sister...well, keep an eye on her and let her doctor know if she runs a fever or gets any spots...Okay, take care, love you both."

"She's not sick?" Mulder asks.

"So far, so good." Then she sighs. "But we still have to deal with these three. Good-bye vacation."

"Go without me."

"What? No, I can't leave you alone with you with three sick kids."

"Yes you can. You've been looking forward to this for a long time, and we'll be fine here."


"We paid for the room already, and it's not refundable," Mulder reasons. "I'd like at least one of us to enjoy the room we're reserved."

"I don't know..."

"Rachel can still come every day and give me a break instead of your mom." He hopes the nanny has already had the Chicken Pox. "This doesn't seem like a good time for the kids to get sick, but hey, I already took the week off, so it couldn't come at a better time as far as work is concerned."

"Are you sure you'd want me to go alone?" she asks in a tone that suggests that she's warming to the idea.

"Oh, sure. I'll need you to buy a few things for me before you go, though..."

An Hour Later

After she reads his list, she shakes her head. Some of the items on it make sense, like pedialyte, oatmeal several canisters of oatmeal, boxes of baking soda and diapers, but others...she's afraid to even guess what he wants 18 pairs of stretchy mittens and three floor tarps for. Still, she throws everything into the cart because she promised him that she'd make sure he had everything needed before she leaves. And now that Page speaks pretty well, she knows that she can get her daughter to squeal later if Mulder himself doesn't confess as to what he's done in her absence.

The Next Day
King's Crossing, Maine
Gas Station

Scully is putting gas into her rented convertible when she feels her phone vibrating in the right hip pocket of her jeans. She pulls it out and takes a second to adjust her sunglasses before flipping the phone open.


"Hey, Scully, it's me." She hears the sound of a door shutting, and from the second of squeaking she guesses that it's April's.

"How are the kids?"

"Sleeping. All three of them. It's very quiet in Casa Mulder right now."

"I'm glad they're sleeping instead of itching and crying."

"Hey, me too. What's it like up there? And do you miss me?"

"The weather is clear. I *do* miss you, but I'm looking forward to hitting the road and breathing in some of this fine New England air."

"I don't know...the air is supposed to be pretty polluted up that way. Not from factories in New Hampshire or Maine, mind you, but from pollution being blown in from western states. Should be a colorful sunset, though."

Scully gives the phone a dubious smile. "I'll be sure to keep an eye out for the sunset, then."

"You didn't rent a convertible, did you?"


"Are you aware of the statistics of decapitation?"

"Mulder, I'm hanging up. I need to get to the hotel before check-in time ends. Love you."

"Love you too, but you shouldn't talk and drive at the same time, either. Are you aware of the statistics-" Before he can finish his sentence, she's hung up on him. She tells herself that if he complains she'll claim it was accidental.

She drives the car into the grocery store lot, almost hitting a car that is speeding away. After she catches sight of a small figure in the cat she feels disgusted by the parent's recklessness. Then she sees an old man staggering out of the store with bloody eyes. She gets out of the car and runs towards him.

"Sir... Sir, what happened?"

The old man seems disoriented. "I... I think we need a doctor."

She becomes alarmed when she hears him say "we" and bursts into the store. What she sees takes her breath away. People are moaning and crying and have horribly scratched eyes.

Eventually she finds the store manager and startles him when she bends to examine him. "Who are you?" He demands to know.

"My name is Scully. I'm an FBI agent. What happened to you?"

"I don't know. But Dave, the butcher...I think he's dead."

When she goes around to the back she sees Dave lying on the floor with a knife sticking out of one eye socket.

Washington, DC

"Daddy, whatcha doing?" The voice alerts him that naptime is over sooner than he expected, for at least one of the kids.

Letting the tarp he's spreading out fall to the floor, Mulder turns to address his oldest daughter. "I was thinking we could go swimming."

The little blonde scowls at him. "Not funny. We're sick. It's Winter-"

He ruffles her hair. "Don't you dare say 'mommy wouldn't like it'."

"Wouldn't," she insists, looking up when his hand grabs her wrist right before she scratches at one of the blisters on her arm.

"Don't scratch, you'll scar. We're going to swim in the house."

He almost laughs when he sees Scully's patented "you're nuts, Mulder" look on his child's face. Before he can explain, they're interrupted by the ringing of the phone. Page wanders off after giving the tarps a distrustful look.

"Mulder, it's me."

"I thought you said you were on your way to check in at the hotel."

"I am. I'm already up in Maine."

"So why are you on the phone with me, then? Not that I don't like to hear from you, just surprised it was this soon. What's going on?"

"I, uh... I'm at a market here. I'm just trying to give the local PD a handle here."

"A handle on what?"

"Well, I'm not quite sure how to describe it, Mulder. I didn't witness it myself but there seems to be some kind of an outbreak of people acting in a violent, involuntary way."

"Towards who?"

"Toward themselves."


"Yeah. Beating at their faces, clawing at their eyes. One man is dead."

"Dead? How?"

"Self-inflicted, it appears."

"Huh... it sounds to me like that's witchcraft or maybe some sorcery that you're looking for there."

"No, I don't think it's witchcraft, Mulder, or sorcery. I've had a look around and I don't see any evidence that warrants that kind of suspicion."

"Maybe you don't know what you're looking for."

"Like evidence of conjury or the black arts or shamanism, divination, Wicca or any kind of pagan or neo-Pagan practice. Charms, cards...familiars, bloodstones, or hex signs or any of the ritual tableaux associated with the occult, Santeria, Voudoun, Macumba, or any high or low magic?"

"I always knew you were the right woman to marry."

"I was hoping for something a little more helpful."

"Well, you know, short of looking for a lady wearing a pointy hat riding a broomstick, I think you pretty much got it covered there."

"Thanks anyway. Kiss my babies for me."

"Uh uh. If you want to kiss the scabby little monkeys, that's your business, but I ain't gonna," he teases. "But I'll tell them Mommy says she loves them."

By the time Mulder comes back upstairs from the cellar, Sammy is out of bed too. "What's that?" Sammy's wide blue eyes are on what's in Mulder's hands.

"Like I told your sister, who doesn't believe me, we're going to have swimming."

"In the house?!"

Mulder drops the hard plastic wading pool with a thump. "Too cold outside, isn't it?"

"Yes..." both children say, but they give the pool doubtful looks.

"This is going to be a special pool. It's going to do something magical."

"What?" They demand to know.

"It's going to make three itchy little kids feel better," he tells them.

"Us," Sammy says. "He means us!"

"Do you mean us, Daddy?" Page wants to know.

"What other itchy kids do you know?"


His son looks pleased, but Page gives him a suspicious look. "How can a pool make us not itch?"

"A very good question. First I add water, then the magic ingredients."

"Oh, magic," Page says as if that explains everything, for once reminding him more of himself than Scully.

"You two sit on the couch until I say so."

"TV?" Sammy asks with a hopeful look.

He considers it for a moment, then decides that what his wife doesn't know won't hurt them. "Okay, sure."


After putting on Nickelodeon, he brings two buckets into the bathroom to fill with warm water. It'll take several trips, but he thought it would be worth it to dunk all three kids at once, unlike in the bathtub.

Once the wading pool is full, he wakes up April. He expects her to cry, but she's cheerful enough. Back in the living room he pours four canisters of oatmeal into the pool, while his older children watch with interest.

"Okay, off with your clothes," Mulder tells them as he begins to undress the baby.

"You too, Daddy?" Sammy asks.

"Nope, I'm not itchy."

Page is able to get in herself, but he needs to lift the younger kids in. April squeals with surprise, and breaks into a big smile. The older kids begin to smile too when they realize that they do feel better.

Crouching down next to April, Mulder tells the older ones, "You know, your Nana might not seem like she likes kids, but when I was a little boy and had chicken pox, she dunked me in an oatmeal bath too, and I felt much better."

"Oatmeal!?" Page looks down at the uncooked oats floating in the water. "But that's breakfast!"

"Only if you cook it," Mulder tells her. "And I don't have a fire handy to cook you three."

"Good," Sammy mumbles around his thumb. "We yucky."

King's Crossing

Officer Buddy Riggs comes over to watch the tape with Scully. She points at the video screen. "Who's that woman right there?"

"Melissa Turner."

"She's the only one I've seen who looks unaffected."

"What's your point?"

"You might want to talk to her."

When Scully leaves the store office captain Jack Bonsaint follows her.

The captain gives her a friendly smile. "Ms. Scully... you staying in town?"

She decides to overlook the incorrect form of address to see where he's going with his question. "Yes. I'm on vacation. Why?"

"Well, what you said back there about Melissa Turner kind of put a spin on this whole business here today."

"How's that?"

"Well, Melissa's caused some stir. People here say she's a witch."

"Well, that's not the first time for that accusation in these parts."


"Look, to be honest with you, Captain Bonsaint, um, I'm not much of a believer in witchcraft. My husband has me beat in spades in that area."

As she suspects, his smile fades when she mentions her marital status. He shrugs in off quickly. "Well, you know, I'm not either. I used to just think it's 'cause Melissa was pretty and single. Threatening, you know?"

"But now you're not convinced?"

"Well, you know, I appreciate the trouble you went to, and I sure do hope there's a reasonable explanation like you said – just this one thing going to make it hard to persuade folks to your thinking."

"What one thing is that?"

"Who she's been carrying on with."

"Who she's been carrying on with?"

"Ayuh. With Dave, the butcher."

Melissa Turner Residence
2:08 p.m.

Bonsaint and Scully drive up in a patrol car and get out. Undeterred by the sight of the empty driveway, Bonsaint knocks on front door. There's no answer. Scully looks in through a side window.

"Back door's wide open," Scully tells him, then they walk around the house.

"Melissa!" Bonsaint calls before turning to Scully. "The sheets are still wet."

Scully enters house, and searches the first floor before going up to Polly's room. She stops to look at the windows. Both are nailed shut.

"Chief? Take a look at this."

"What the devil's this for?"

"It looks like she was afraid of something."

"Whatever it is, she's run off in a hurry. Laundry's out. Door's unlocked. Beats me."

"You know her?"

"Melissy Turner?"

Scully turns her face so he can't see her reaction to the dumb nickname. "Mm-hmm."

"About as local as you can get. Born and raised here. Married a fisherman. Widowed last year after a boating accident. Don't know if the little girl, Polly, ever really understood." He taps a temple with one finger. "Toys in the attic."

"The daughter's autistic?" Scully guesses.

"That's what they say. There was the incident last year over at the daycare center? Proprietor slapped Polly across the face."

"Slapped her? What for?"

"Well, she said Polly threw a tantrum so fierce there was nothing else she could do. Next thing she knew, she's on the ground. Little girl knocked her silly."

"The little girl did?"

"Well, that's her story. Polly never touched her, far as I could figure. Oh, it was a real drama, though. The lady who ran the school lost her license. People calling the kid all manner of names saying Melissa's a witch. Polly never went back to school a day since."

"This ah, this affair that the mother was having with the butcher...?"

"Dave. Oh, I might have given you the wrong impression. That wasn't really an affair. Although Dave did make quite a fool of himself and his wife."

Scully presses the issue. "So, it was unrequited."

"You could say that."

"To the extent that she'd have to nail her windows shut?"

"Oh, he wasn't that big a fool. You know, maybe she wasn't afraid of something getting in. Maybe she's afraid of something getting out."

"Like what?"

He shrugs. "It was just a thought."

Jane Froelich's House.

When Scully and Jack reach the steps, Jane looks through door window suspiciously. Pulling back a couple inches of curtain, she puts her face close to the window. "Is that you, Jack?"

"Uh, yeah, it's me, Jane. Can we come in?"

"Who've you got with you?" Jane's voice drips hostility.

"Miss Froelich, my name's Dana Scully. I'm with the FBI. I just happen to be here on vacation, and uh..."


"So, I just am helping out the chief here."

"You talked to her?"


"Oh, please." Jane roles her eyes. "Melissa Turner. That whore's a witch sure as I'm standing here. She's descended from the Hawthornes in Salem and the Englishes, too. She comes from a cursed lineage and now she's passing it on to the whelp. God save that little girl if somebody don't do something. Lord knows I tried."

"Jane, if we could just come in for a few minutes and talk."

"I found out last year how much good talking to you does, Jack Bonsaint. I explained everything and the city closed me down anyway. Our great-great-grandfathers knew how to treat witches. They would have driven the demon out of that little girl and given that slattern of a mother just what she's got coming!" Jane slams the door in their face.

"New England hospitality. Heard about it my whole life. Finally got a chance to experience it for myself," Scully says calmly as they walk away from the house. She glances back, noticing that Jane is watching them.

"Well, you see what I'm up against here, public sentiment and all."

"This family tree of Melissa Turner's..."


"It's all talk, isn't it?"

"Oh, I never really asked. Why?"

"Well, I think you need to bring her in to straighten this out."

"Under what pretext?"

"That she might know something."

"About what?"

Scully resists rolling her eyes, thinking that Jack is as dumb as a box of hammers, or really good at playing like he is. "Well, about what I'm sure is a perfectly reasonable explanation for all of this."


"Well, I wish I could help you out. You know, I'm just...on vacation." She smiles ruefully. "This was supposed to be a weekend away for my husband and I, but all three kids got chicken pox, so I'm here alone."

"I guess if he was here, you wouldn't be helping us."

"Are you kidding? He'd love to work on this case."

"Sounds like you're married to quite a character."

"You don't know the half of it."

Washington, D.C.
8 p.m.

"Hold out your hands, Sammy." Mulder waits for the toddler to comply, then slips a pair of mittens over the child's hands when he does. Sammy gives the mittens a dubious look, but doesn't say anything.

"You next, Page."

"Uh uh." She pulls her hands behind her back. "How come we're puttin' on mittens? We're not going out in the snow."

Mulder lifts the edge of his shirt and points at a scar on his side. "See that?"


"If you scratch at those itchy spots you can make a scar like that."

"But we won't scratch!" Page quickly promises.

Mulder shakes his head. "I know that you've both been very good while you're awake, but people scratch in their sleep too. The mittens will keep you from doing that...I didn't scratch when I was awake, either."

"What about April?" Page asks.

"She already wears mits on her hands when she sleeps, remember?" April developed a tendency to scratch her ears in her sleep, often causing them to bleed, so they adopted this solution weeks ago while they wait to see if she needs tubes in her ears since scratching is a common symptom.

"Oh yeah."

Giggling, Sammy opens and closes his mittened hands. "Funny."

Reaching down to ruffle his son's hair, Mulder tells him, "It'll keep you warm if you dream about snowmen."

King's Crossing, Maine
8 a.m.

Coroners are wheeling Jane's body out of her house when Bonsaint and Scully drive up.

"Looks like she died by her own hand. A big slice under the chin opened up the artery," Bonsaint tells Scully once they're inside.

"With what?"

"Buddy, show her the thing."

As officer Riggs shows her a plastic bag with a bloody piece of record in it, a phone begins to ring.

"Jack Bonsaint... Ayuh.... Who?... Oh, okay. Put him through." He looks up at Scully, "It's for you."

She gives Jack a surprised look as she takes the phone. "Hello?"

"Hey, morning, Sunshine," Mulder crones, making her smile.

"Morning, Mulder. I didn't expect to hear from you this early."

"Yeah, everyone else is still sleeping, so it seemed like a good time to call. And I was a little worried about you. I was wondering if you needed my help up there."

"Needed your help on what?"

"I left you a message at the motel. You didn't get it?"

"I was up and out this morning. Mulder?"


"How are the kids?"

"On the mend, I think. Less crabby, anyway. They miss you, but not to the point of tears. Anyway, I was thinking about this case. You know, maybe it's not witchcraft after all. Maybe there's a scientific explanation."

"A scientific explanation?"

"Yeah, a medical cause. Something called chorea."

"Dancing sickness."

"Yeah, St. Vitus's dance."

"Yeah, and hasn't been diagnosed since the Middle Ages."

"Oh. You're obviously not a fan of American Bandstand, Scully."



"Thanks for the help. Talk to you later."

"That your..."Bonsaint hesitates. "Husband?"


"I'm sorry for eavesdropping but has he maybe got some insight on this?"

Her voice is firm. "No."

"I see."

Riggs briefly plays the record that's in the player - the Hokey Pokey - but then turns it off without explaining why he'd played in the first place.

"You know, Chief Bonsaint, I've been thinking that maybe... maybe we need to explore other possibilities."

"I'm not sure I understand."

"Well, maybe we need to keep our minds open to... extreme possibilities."

"Okay, but aren't you on vacation?"

She nods then looks away.

Not a fan of lobster, Scully is less than thrilled when Bonsaint insists they have lunch at a seafood place. He's delighted with his meal, but she finds herself wishing that she could order a Caesar salad.

"You said you had some other directions you were looking at?" Bonsaint asks between bites.

"I've been thinking about Melissa Turner. Now, you said that her husband died in a boating accident?"


"Well, was there anything strange about that? About the way that it happened?"

"It was never quite explained to anyone's satisfaction, actually."

"How's that?"

Before answering Bonsaint rips another hunk off of the lobster, reminding her of the cockroach case Mulder had. "How the man got a grappling hook poked clean through his skull."

"Was Melissa ever questioned about that?"

"Melissa? No. I don't see how she'd be involved. The boat he died on is right over there if you're at all wondering."

They look out window and see the old man on a small fishing boat, named "Working Girl."

"I saw that man at the market," Scully says in surprise. She watches as he throws water overboard.

The old man allows them onto the boat that night, not unwilling to tell him his version of events. The three of them sit together while he spins his tale.

"What happened? You ask that question around here, you get as many stories as... as fishermen."

"You were on board the night that he died. What do you think?" Scully asks.

"I told my story to the Chief."

"People's stories change," Scully tells him.

"Folks blame the widow."

"Who do you blame?"

"He was wild for her. He worked very hard to build that little house for her and when that daughter came, you'd need a mop to wipe that smile off his face. We'd set out to sea on the girl's last birthday. He was counting the hours before he'd be home again. Found a doll in the ocean, said it was a gift for Polly from Davey Jones. Three days later, he was dead."

"And you know what killed him," Scully suggests.

"The eyes play tricks at night, water up against the hull making noises. He woke me up, all het sounded like the doll was talking to him right before he got speared in the head. Like I said, the eyes play tricks."

"But you saw something in that grocery store. That little girl and her dolly."

"Moment I saw them, I knew."

Scully's cell phone rings as she and Bonsaint head for the car.


"Hey, I had a new thought about this case you're on. There's a viral infection that's spread by simple touch..."

"Mulder, are there any references in occult literature to objects that have the power to direct human behavior?" She ignores the strange look Bonsaint gives her.

"What types of objects?"

"Um, like a doll, for instance."

"You mean like Chuckie?"

"Yeah, kind of like that," she agrees.

"Sure, the talking doll myth is well established in literature, especially in New England. The-the fetish or Juju is believed to pass on magical powers onto its possessor. Some of the early witches were condemned for little more than proclaiming that these objects existed. The supposed witch having premonitory visions and things...Why do you ask?"

"I was just curious."

"You didn't find a talking doll, did you, Scully?"

"No, no. Of course not."

"I would suggest that you check the back of the doll for a - a plastic ring with a string on it. In any case, don't bring it home to the kids-" Mulder's voice fades out when Scully closes her phone.

Turning back to Bonsaint, she says, "Let's go talk to Melissa Turner."

Melissa Turner Residence

8 p.m.

Bonsaint pulls into the driveway, and they notice a car parked there already.

"That's Buddy's car." Turning towards the house, he yells, "Melissa!"

Walking up to the house, looks in a window.

"You see anything?"


They hear noises coming from the inside, and redouble their efforts to get into the house before it's too late. Scully pounds on the door while Bonsaint looks for another way in. "Melissa? Melissa? Bonsaint!" He runs back to her side of the house. "She's got the door nailed shut. She's trying to kill herself."

Bonsaint begins breaking down the door, while Scully knocks at a window. After Bonsaint kicks it, the door finally crashes open, and they run into the kitchen. Melissa is holding the hammer in front of her face.

"Get away from me!" Melissa demands.

"Put it down, Melissa," Scully tells her.

From Polly's arms comes the doll's eerie voice. "I don't like you anymore."

Melissa hits herself on the forehead with the hammer. Bonsaint yelps in surprise.

Scully, now sure of what's going on, kneels next to the little girl. "Give me the doll, Polly." Polly shakes her head, and refuses to hand over the doll.

"I want to play," the doll says right as Melissa hits herself with the hammer again, bloodying her face.

"Polly, give me the doll," Scully demands as the doll speaks again.

Horrorstricken by her mother's appearance, Polly lets the doll go, and Scully grabs it. It continues to say it wants to play right up until Scully shoves it into the microwave. The voice is muffled by the door, and Scully turns the appliance on. The doll catches on fire.

All three adults watch as it incinerates.

Four Days Later
Westport Island, Maine

The Tar Box Inn does turn out to be very nice, much nicer than the Super 8 motel Scully spent the night in at King's Crossing. The thing she immediately decided as she drove away from the microwaved doll is that if she never spends another minute in King's Crossing, it'd still be too much.

Finally in Westport, she's taken tons of pictures, spent time shopping, visited the local attractions, and only called Mulder twice a day. Each day she's relieved to hear that Emily is still showing no signs of the illness her cousins have. It makes her wonder if perhaps Emily's adopted parents had gotten her that new chicken pox vaccination that the HMO she and Mulder have will not cover.

As she puts her suitcases in the trunk of the rental car, Scully reflects on how well rested she feels, and it makes her feel a little bit guilty, because she's sure that despite her husband's complete lack of complaints on the phone, he's none so relaxed with three sick children to look after.

This in mind, she stops off at a grocery store shortly before the end of a very long drive. Unlike her shopping a week before, this visit requires a shorter list. Sunflower seeds, steak, a chocolate cake, some ice tea, diapers...

But as she is about to by-pass the feminine hygiene isle, something occurs to her that makes her come to a dead stop. It's not until an irritated old woman tries to get by that she starts moving again.

Washington, D.C.
9 p.m.

Scully enters the house quietly, fairly certain that the kids will be sleeping. Mulder creeps up on her, with a finger raised to his lips, confirming her suspicion. She nods and goes to put the food she bought away in the kitchen, then follows him up to their room.

"The kids are better," Mulder tells her. "No more itchiness, very few spots. I think they'll sleep through the night, though, so you'll have to wait until morning to see for yourself."

"I'm glad they're feeling better."

"Did you bring home any creepy dolls?" Mulder asks cheerfully as he drops her luggage on their bed.

"No." She unzips the outer pouch of one bag and pulls out a small rectangular box. "But I did bring home this."

He looks at it for a second, and it seems like he's trying to decide whether or not to smile. "Did you use it yet?"

"I haven't. It didn't even occur to me until I was on the way home."

"You have to wait until tomorrow then, huh? Because of the pee in the morning thing."

"That, and I think I'm about to fall asleep," Scully tells him with a yawn as she lies on the bed. "I bought your dinner, it's down in the kitchen, but I'm afraid you'll have to cook it yourself."

"No problem," he tells her. "I've been cooking a lot lately, and I'm getting good at it."

Before he can go on to confess as to why they have a brand new frying pan, and the fate of the last one, he notices that she's already asleep. He shrugs, pulls of her shoes and covers her up, deciding that she can undress if she wakes up later.

On the way out of the room he eyes the box on her nightstand, and wonders what the results of the test will be.

Chapter Fifty-Five

The Next Morning

The sounds of small feet wake Mulder up. He yawns and rubs his eyes, then notices that Scully is coming through the doorway. "What's going on?"

"Missy dropped Emily off to play, and the kids need supervision if I'm going to..." She trails off and nods in the direction of the box on the nightstand.

"Okay, yeah. Let me get dressed and I'll get the kids out of your hair. There are some things I need to pick up at the store so I'll take them along."

"April's still asleep, so you've only got the three of them to cope with."

"Cope? You make it sound it's hard to look after three little kids while shopping. It's Saturday, how many shoppers could there be?"

"Good luck, Mulder."

How many turns out to be lots and lots of shoppers. They're everywhere, and he's tempted to put all three kids into his cart, but wouldn't have room for what he wants, so he spends forty-five minutes telling the kids to "put that down and come back here!" while he gathers everything on his mental list.

Even so, things are going pretty well until... "Oh, they're so cute!" a voice over his shoulder coos. "Are they twins?"

Mulder blinks a few times, then it dawns on him that the woman is staring at Page and Emily. "No, they're cousins, actually. My daughter is two months older than my niece."

The woman looks faintly disappointed, but says, "Their moms must look a lot alike."

"They do. They're both redheads, like Sammy here-" He looks over to where Sammy last was, and sees nothing. "Girls, where's Sammy?"

Both little girls shrug, and the woman offers an apologetic look.

"Oh crap," Mulder says, and sees Page's eyes widen. "If you tell Mom, I'm eating your desert."

Unsurprisingly, his daughter says nothing.

When Sammy looks around, he's surprised to see no one he knows. All he sees is a bunch of grown ups he doesn't know.

"Daddy?" He takes a few uncertain steps and looks around before calling for his father in a slightly louder voice.

"Who are you looking for?"

Sammy looks up at the woman and frowns a little. "My daddy."

"My name is Carol and I work for this store. Why don't we go up front and have someone call your dad to meet us?"

After a moment of serious contemplation Sammy takes her hand. "Okay."

Sammy thinks it's pretty cool that the man at the customer service desk lets him sit on the counter, but he's still is anxious about not knowing where Daddy is.

The man smiles at him. "What's your name?"


"That's a nice name. What's your Daddy's name?"


"Mulder what?"

Sammy gives him a puzzled stare.

The man tries again. "What does Mommy call your Daddy?"


"Okay, what do Daddy's friends call him?"

Sammy grins; this is a question he knows the answer to. "Spooky."

The man turns to Carol. "That can't be his real name."

Carol shrugs. "One of the kids in my grandson's kindergarten's class is named Stormy and another is named Blaze. It could be his real name."

Having spent the past ten minutes looking under clothing racks to see if his son is hiding, Mulder is about to lose it when he suddenly hears it.

"Would Spooky Mulder please come to the custom service desk. Spooky Mulder please come to the custom service desk, your son is waiting."

He mutters to himself and grabs the girls by the hand, then almost stumbles when Emily stops short and looks up at him. "What Emily?" he asks.

"Uncle Fox, why is your face all red?"

"Nevermind." He sighs and both girls giggle.

"There you are!" Mulder says sounding relieved as he claims his son from the customer service people.

"Hi Daddy. I look at a toy, then you was gone!" Sammy explains with wide eyes.

"Well, I'm here now," he tells him as the little boy half-strangles him in the attempt to get off the counter.

" your name really Spooky?" Carol blurts out.

"Yeah," Mulder tells her, then steers the girls in the direction of the checkout lanes.

As soon as they're through the door the kids run off in the direction of the playroom, leaving Mulder behind as he hauls in all his bags. Feeling unambitious, he drops them onto the floor and notices that April is awake in the playpen. "Hey sweetie," he greets her, ruffling her hair.

"Mulder?" Scully asks behind him. "How did shopping go?"

Shaking his head slightly he puts an arm around her. "Do you know what our son thinks my first name is?"


"Spooky. I learned this when I was paged over the PA system-"

"You lost him?"

He gives her a guilty look. "Only for a few minutes."

"I lost him in the grocery store last week. We should really consider getting another of those leash things we had for Page."

"What, and let him cut this one to pieces too?" Mulder asks, faking horror.

"I told you not to leave scissors around..."

"So, what's the verdict?" he asks, suddenly serious.

Her smile is bright. "Positive."

"You know, they're going to out-number us two to one now."

"That's okay, we're bigger and smarter than they are." She laughs.

"Bigger, yes, smarter, I'm not so sure," he admits wryly. "Anyway, I guess this means that I shouldn't ask you to help load my trunk, though."

"Load it with what?"

"X-Files. You didn't notice that they're in the coat closet?"

"Why are there X-Files in our coat closet?"

"I was bored this week so while Rachel was here this week I went to the office a couple of times and got them."

"How many? And why??" she asks with a puzzled look.

"All of them," he admits. "I wanted to scan them with my new scanner. The kids slept a lot and it didn't take nearly as long as I thought it would."

Scully stands on her tip toes to kiss his cheek. "I love you, Mulder. But I hope none of our kids grow up to be as strange as you."

"Oh, thanks a lot," he complains, but he's whistling by the time he's dragged the first box of files out to his car.

2:45 a.m.
Feb. 1998

As they trade barbs and information in the bullet-shattered diner, Mulder wonders what the outcome of this case will be. Not that he won't be busting his hump any less, but he wonders if that goth chick would still try to join her dead lover in the digital beyond. Then he wonders what sort of heaven that would be, and is on the verge of trying to match other religions and philosophies to that sort of afterlife when his lovely and startling awake wife asks, "What would these lowlifes be doing here?"

He blinks, then grins. "Maybe it was for the pie."

She gives him a "fuck you" look, and not in a good way. "Mulder, not to sound like a broken record, but what the hell are we doing here at this godforsaken hour?"

He nods, then pulls back the white sheet like a magician. "Donald Gelman."

Now it's her turn to blink. "Who?"

"Donald Gelman -- Silicon Valley software pioneer. He's been missing since 1979."

She gives him that lovely eyebrow arch before pursing her lips briefly. "And you recognize him?" she says, clearly in skeptic mode.

As the words come out of his mouth by rote, he's reminded of Al Gore's similar claim years later and smothers a smirk, "He invented the internet." Another skeptical look. Yep, this is gonna be fun. "Okay, well, he didn't quite invent it, but he's a Silicon Valley folk hero. He was writing internet software even before there was an internet."

Now her arms are crossed. Better and better. "Why have I never heard of him?"

He pulls the sheet back up to hide the dead man's face and swipes the laptop as he does so. Yeah, having an amateur magician for an uncle does have it's pluses. "On the eve of the deal that was going to set him up as another Bill Gates, he went hiking in the Sierras and said he'd think about it. Never came back."

Scully frowns, looking at the cops and crime techs swarming the area. "I still don't see the connection."

Mulder smiles briefly, readjusting the laptop under his coat while no one's looking. "Maybe that's the point."

She frowns, heading out the door. "Okay, Mr. Mysterious, why was Gelman in there?"

"You know you can call me Mulder," he flirts, grinning when that twitch in her jaw reveals how much she wants to hit him, "I think it's obvious someone wanted him dead."

"Why put a hit on him? It's just as obvious the man was dying, why go through the trouble of such an elaborate execution?" She gets in the driver's seat, since she drove the way over here.

He shrugs before getting into the passenger's side and locks the door. "Guess the killer couldn't wait when it came to Gelman, since his mind was more likely the threat." He slips the laptop out from his coat and opens it, his face bathed in a mild electronic glow.

Scully's eyes are the same size as her mouth. "Mulder, that's evidence."

Okay, maybe she hasn't loosened up entirely, he grins. "Gee, I hope so," he says, popping a CD out from the laptop and putting it into the car stereo. On cue, the car lights start blinking and the Platters' "Twilight Time" plays. As he smiles at her, Scully reluctantly smiles back. They lean towards each other and kiss, as if in a mini-prom trapped in a car's body.

Then Scully says in a low voice, her eyes still closed but her hands on his tie, "Shouldn't we take the CD out before we attract attention?"

Mulder chuckles. "Too late for that." Before she can retort or pull away, he draws her in for another kiss.

A few hours later, they're at the Lone Gunman's warehouse in Takoma Park, and as before, the odd trio praise and salute their fallen hero. While the so-called "Twilight Time" CD plays, Scully reads the latest issue of the Lone Gunmen, the headline reading "Infrared Technology." Her eyes narrow when it dissects the role of heat-sensing FLIR, or Forward-Looking Infrared, in the Waco massacre. Originally designed to detect enemy tanks in the Gulf War, it's now being used as a form of night vision technology. According to the conspiracy theorists' paper, however, FLIR cameras documented the FBI running towards the compound, charging forward in front of tanks to shoot at civilians burning inside. Her forehead wrinkles as she wonders at the ludicrous notion of using what would be targets for Davidians as the frontline shooters when they had tanks. She may not have a mind for military strategy like her father, but even she can see the idiocy of that kind of formation.

Just as she's about to verbally drill several holes into the article, the long-haired blond of the trio speaks up. "We're up against 64-bit encryption -- a password that's a random sequence of twelve symbols. Gelman's locked up this baby tight," he says, with as much admiration as frustration.

Scully walks over while Byers chimes in, "This CD has some kind of enhanced background data. Lots of code. Maybe a programming design."

"Cool," Mulder says, half-wishing the old man was alive to break it down for the boys in person. "What for?"

From behind the men, Scully asks, "Anyone think to check his mail?"

They look at each other sheepishly before shaking their heads, and Langly quickly taps on an icon and a couple of tabs. Byers reads aloud, "David missing, fear the worst, the hunted has become the hunter."

"'Invisigoth'?" Scully raises both eyebrows.

"Could be an address," the suit-and-tie man suggests.

"Seven digits," Frohike puts his two cents in, "an alpha numeric string of four."

"Standard ID," Mulder corrects him, "for a shipping container."

The short man makes a face when Scully looks at Mulder like she's impressed with his kung foo. Damn, Frohike thinks she's hot.

Once again, Esther Nairn zaps him with the mini-Taser. And once again, Scully saves his ass and takes the goth chick down. And once again, the damn AI locks on their location and blasts the ever-living heck out of Nairn's former steel-box residence. Although he has to admit, even the second time around, watching it go "boom" just like in the movies was pretty damn cool. The kids are gonna have a heckuva story when we get home, he thinks, even though he knows the danger level is still high and there's always a chance he could really screw up and die the second time around. Don't get cocky, he tells himself as Scully tells the woman in the backseat, "No more screwing around. We need a name. Your real name."

Mulder would tell her, but that would make both women very suspicious in different ways. Besides, he likes seeing Scully in her tough G-woman mode.

"Invisigoth." The handcuffed woman in the back sneers, in spite of her black makeup smearing and fading. "My address? It's T-O-A-S-T."

Mulder decides to add to the interrogation rather than the catfight he's half-hoping for. "When you said 'it' was targeting us back there, you meant an artificial intelligence. Donald Gelman was trying to create a sentient AI." He twists around slightly to see her face. "He succeeded, didn't he?"

Nairn almost looks impressed, then looks out the window. "Donald wrote an interlocked sequence of viruses 15 years ago. It got loose on the net."

"Whoa, what do you mean, 'got loose'?" Mulder says, already knowing the damn thing's out there, up there. Man, it's a good thing it's not on the aliens' side, he muses, things could get really bad in a James Cameron-kinda way.

"He let it loose," Nairn says in a voice reserved for talking down to small children, "so it could evolve in its natural environment. Urschleim in silicon."

"Digital primordial ooze?" Scully asks.

The goth nods, a little surprised that the woman managed to put two and two together. "Except this time, Donald was the one pushing it to walk on land, achieving the equivalent of Copernicus, Magellan and Darwin."

Scully's stopped being surprised by the worship the dead man obviously inspired. "And what was your role in this? Bass player?"

Nairn gives her a look Mulder recognizes from encounters Scully's had with others who doubted her credentials. "Automata theory, MIT '95. Post doc the Santa Fe Institute. Headhunted to Kobayashi my junior year. Then Donald showed up in Tokyo and made me a better offer."

"A better offer to do what?"

The woman with the pale blonde hair and kohl-outlined eyes sniffs. "You wouldn't understand."

"Give me a small break," Scully mutters, veering off the road sharply before parking it and jumping out.

Mulder runs out after her, knowing his fiery redheaded wife would dearly love to punch the blonde. Scully spins around, her stance defiant. "You believe this crap?" she asks.

He puts his hands up, wondering again if a catfight wouldn't make everyone, himself included, feel better. Hey, it works for guys, he reasons, but knows she wouldn't go for it. "You saw what happened back there, Scully. You saw that container blow."

She gives him a pitying look. "She could have rigged an explosive charge. There are no weapons platforms, there is no such Department of Defense satellite."

"What about Star Wars?" he argues. "Brilliant Pebbles?"

Her blue eyes flash. "They were never built, remember? Contrary to what sci-fi movies proclaim, we don't even have that kind of technology! I mean, even if an AI was targeting us," and her eyes narrow, "and I'm saying 'if', with an armed satellite, why isn't it frying us right now?"

"Because it doesn't know where we are," the blonde prisoner says, her thin wrists still in cuffs. "If I so much as made a phone call right now, it would nuke us right where we're standing."

"How?" Scully is practically challenging her.

"Recognizes my voice, monitors all communication," Nairn says with a grudging respect. "I haven't used a phone in over a month."

"Then how did it know to target the container?" Mulder asks.

She looks at the both of them. "All I can think of is that some idiot got on Donald's computer and tried to contact me over the net. Only Donald knew where I was. And David."

"Who's David?" Mulder perks up.

"David Markham," the blonde says with a studied indifference shading her now-standard cockiness. "He was hardware. Donald and I were software. We'd been caring for the AI, weaning it. Then Donald warned us that the system started to display more than consciousness. It started to display intention. But before we could stop it, it was gone."

"Where?" Mulder asks the question Scully won't.

Nairn shrugs. "I don't know. Once day David was on the system and it wouldn't come, it wouldn't come when we called it. We knew it was out there somewhere on the net, but it wouldn't answer, and Donald was just getting sicker."

You thought it was a simple puppy, but it turned into Cujo, Mulder thinks. "And you can't find it," he says.

She nods. "It's not just a program anymore," she says, "it's wildlife loose on the net. And either we kill it..."and now she notices there's a crucial person missing in this conversation, now that either the adrenaline or massive suspicion has worn off slightly. "Where's Donald?"

"He's dead," Mulder says bluntly, "killed in a cafe in what looks like a hit."

Some of the spunk leaves the woman. "That's the Ai protecting itself," she finally says. "It'll find David and... me. It's only a matter of time. Donald was writing a concatenation of viruses designed to find and immobilize the rogue system. The file name was 'Kill Switch.' Without it, nobody can catch it."

"We have Donald's computer," he offers.

"No," she shakes her head, "he'd never leave it on hard drive."

"Well, we have this," Mulder holds up the CD. "'Twilight Time'."

Nairn's eyes light up. "That's it. That's the Kill Switch."

Scully looks at them both as if they've both left sanity and headed for a sci-fi version of Wonderland.

Watching the Gunmen practically fall over themselves over Nairn was priceless this time around, too, Mulder smothers the grin on his face. Watching Scully look almost arch when she discovers Nairn's real name was just fun, too. After he recuffs the blonde to the desk, however, his usually straight laced wife surprises by murmuring in his ear, "I wouldn't mind if you'd lock me up sometime, too." He almost falls over and she doesn't bother to hide her grin.

Nairn looks at them suspiciously before snapping, "Gimme the Kill Switch."

Scully loses her grin while her eyebrow shoots up. "Aren't you worried it's going to track you, Esther?" she says, not bothering to hide her perverse pleasure at needling the girl with her real name. "Hunt you down with a particle beam?"

Mulder puts himself as a temporary barrier between the two, handing the CD over to the hacker. "Not unless someone else makes another boneheaded internet connection," the blonde shoots back, causing the conspiracy trio to look guilty, even though it was Scully's idea in the first place.

"What's this?" Mulder asks, pointing to a diagram Nairn pulled up.

"That's the sharp end of the stick," she answers, "Donald probably tried to feed this sector over the net, but it took too long, so the system was able to take countermeasures."

"Why didn't it just zap him, too?" Scully frowns.

"Its creator?" Nairn almost looks shocked. "No, it needed to impress Donald. Particle beam would've been overkill."

"Unlike a dozen crack dealers," the redhead rolls her eyes.

"No, that's its sense of humor," Nairn smiles.

"Yeah, right," Mulder says. "But if you load the Kill Switch, what's it to stop it from playing another funny joke on us?"

Now her collegiate background is showing. "Well, obviously we can't inject Kill Switch over the net. We have to find its home nod and physically feed it the poisoned apple."


Another patient look. "It knows it can't hide in the net forever, so it's gotta have a physical nexus of hardware, a safe house, if you will. David went looking for it."

"Did he find it?" This time Frohike's quicker than Mulder on the uptake.

She shrugs. "There's no way to know."

Scully frowns. "Why don't you just call him?" Everyone looks at her, and then she throws up her hands. "Oh, yeah, death from above."

Now the Gunmen jump in, eager to be part of the solution. "It would need bandwidth," Langly says.

Nairn agrees. "It's a pig for bandwidth."

"It would need a T3, at least," Byers suggests.

"T3?" Scully asks, wishing she didn't feel so out of her depth. Ordinarily, she wouldn't mind, but there's just something about that girl that's just putting her back up and making her hate every time she doesn't get something.

"A hard line," Frohike is happy to explain, "45 megs a second."

"Major research labs and internet service providers use them," Byers adds.

Langly spins around in his seat. "But the government keeps those records secret for fear of sabotage," he says in his nasal voice.

Nairn looks at them as if, well, as if she's a blonde. "Gee, you guys know anyone that works for the government?"

They all look at the FBI couple.

This time around, Mulder would like to switch places with Scully, but doesn't dare place their unborn child in danger of those hallucinogenic drugs the AI's got, so he reluctantly climbs out of bed, hops in the car, and heads over to Fairfax County in nearby Virginia, knowing Scully's safer with Nairn than with the AI's needle-happy BattleBots TM.

And hey, maybe this time he won't even get caught, he thinks as he talks to a for-now hostage Scully. When Nairn hangs up on him, he thinks, Well, here's to a more stealthier approach. This time, he's got some funky poaching equipment from the Gunmen that should buy him a little time, but there's no getting around the fact that sooner or later, he's gonna have to go inside that trailer.

With the handheld monitor, he sees various sensors around the trailer, and finds with the overlap, he'll end up tripping at least one of them anyways. Great. Well, if two chicks could avoid getting punctured, so can he, Mulder thinks grimly, and proceeds towards the trailer in almost military fashion.

He starts by moving swiftly from tree to tree until he reaches the edge of the clearing, shoots a couple of the sensors as well as the damn siren, then rolls towards the trailer, and finally breaks down the door with a billy stick, not bothering to go in the stealthy way like last time. His face is covered by a ski mask and his clothes hide both kevlar and some tough leather long johns he stole from Langly. Then he pulls down the night goggles onto his eyes so he can see better, and finds the same mess of hardware inside. Try and get me this time, you bastard, he thinks savagely, stomping and beating on the wheeled drone until it falls to pieces.

Then he sees the badly electrocuted body in the harness, its face covered by VR goggles. He doesn't have to lift the visor to know it's David Markham, and keeps his eyes open for any more surprises, like, say, a floating harness of doom similar to the one holding the dead man.

Scully and Nairn come to what used to be David Markham's home, which is now a charred mess. When the blonde woman steps out to wander among the ruins, Scully unlocks the handcuffs, loosely putting it back together when Nairn gets back in. Putting the gun on the dashboard, the younger woman bursts into tears, and Scully sees her chance.

Then Nairn grabs the gun and points it at Scully. "Go ahead! Do it! I know you've been wanting to, dammit!" Her black makeup is now running down her face, but she honestly doesn't give a damn at this point about appearances.

Scully sighs, takes the gun, and finds herself patting the thin woman's shoulder.

It isn't long before they're standing in the midst of the debris, and the blonde woman inhales sharply against a chill that's not entirely due to the wintry breeze. "I lied to you," she says dully, her eyes on the remains of the house. "I wasn't working with Donald. I mean, I was, and then he found out about us."

"About you and who?"

"David." She sniffles. "About our plans."

Now Scully's curious. "What plans did he find out?"

"Uploading." Now the blonde woman looks at the redhead. "Transfer of memory, of consciousness to the distributed system maintained by the AI. Imagine being mingled so completely with another, you no longer need your physical self -- you're one."

Oh my God, Scully thinks. "So you were going to --"

Nairn nods. "Enter the AI. Give up our inefficient bodies so that our consciousness could live together forever."

I remember being that desperately in love once, the agent thinks, but that was completely wrong. But with Mulder, I don't want to be of the same mind, or same body. I love the way he both challenges and respects me, the fact that we have the same job that tests us mentally and physically, the home and even ghosts we share, and of course, our three, soon to be four, lovely children. And I love having everything, a job, a man, a family, a home, a mind, and a heart, all of which continue to surprise me with the fact that I have more to learn, more to give, more to love. Love isn't selfish, she wants to tell Nairn, love would open itself to extreme possibilities in this present life rather than delusions similar to the Heaven's Gate cult, but I know she'd be as open to the advice as I was when I was with Daniel. "But Gelman forbade it," is what she says quietly.

Nairn smiles bleakly. "He was afraid of his creation. He was afraid of what would happen if other people followed us." She squats down and picks up a partly-burned photo of herself and David. "I loved him so much."

It's too early to tell, but from what the redhead can see, there's no sign of any human remains. Unless he was standing at ground zero, it doesn't seem to appear that Markham was even home. She doesn't want to give false hope, but then, she's not entirely unsympathetic to Nairn's plight. "Maybe he wasn't here when this happened," she says, her words bolstering her own belief. If Nairn could survive an attack, it's possible Markham has,too. "Maybe he's somewhere else."

He's beating down a second BattleBotTM when a thought occurs to him. Why not take down the whole damn thing and save everyone the trouble? It's too bad he didn't make a copy of the Kill Switch, as he was busy preparing to save his own hide. So he takes out his gun and starts shooting at the monitors, and when his bullets run out, he gets a firm grip on the billy club and starts whacking away at various machines, tearing out wires and basically going medieval in the cramped trailer. So busy is he wreaking havoc, however, that he doesn't notice the harness until the restraints bind him and a visor clamps down on his head. "NO!" he yells, vaguely aware during his struggles that it's taking longer this time, probably because of the body armor. All that protection is just making him hotter, and electricity sparks off his sweat, making him scream. "Scul-laaaaaaaaaaay!!!"

When he wakes up, his eyes fly open. If Nurse Nancy shows up, she's dead, Mulder thinks, and is pleasantly surprised to find Scully bending over him. "Thank God," she says, holding his hand. She stops him when he tries to sit up, her hand on his shoulder. "Don't. You just gave us a terrible scare."

He smiles weakly. "Sorry about that. I'm just glad you got to me before I turned into a crispy critter."

She nods. "I know. But not everyone was so lucky. Esther Nairn, for one."

His mouth hangs open. "What?"

Her eyes drop. "She tried using the Kill Switch, but they got her."

His mind reels. "How?" he says in a dry voice.

"I think it tracked us through my cell phone," she says. She holds his hand up to her cheek. "Fortunately, you managed to damage most of the equipment in the trailer, so by the time I got there, the AI wasn't able to completely hurt you."

"What do you mean, 'completely'," he asks, "what's wrong with me?"

"Mulder, don't," Scully says, but it's too late.

He sits up and finds second- and third-degree burns over a large part of his body. As shock ripples through him, an orderly comes in and snaps, "I'm afraid you'll have to leave now, Ms. Scully. His pain medication's wearing off."

As Scully is hustled out the door, she shoots an agonized glance at him. "I'll be okay," he says weakly when the orderly returns to inject him with something that's fast-acting. Damn, that's strong, he thinks, slipping into unconsciousness.

A shell-shocked Nairn and shaken Scully stand slowly from their crouched positions on the bridge. "Okay, that was too damn close," Scully mutters, seeing the last of the computer fizzle into the river below. "I'm not about to lose my unborn child over some ghost in the machine." Vaguely, she recalls one of her early cases with Mulder involving a homicidal machine at the Eurisko building that killed off his glory-seeking ex-coworker.

"You're pregnant?" Nairn asks, interrupting her thoughts.

Scully smiles a little. "Our fourth," she says, then rotates her neck. It's been a long day, and it looks like it's going to get longer. "Thank goodness Mulder's into large families."

"He's your husband?" The techie is fairly goggling now.

"Yeah," the redhead says, "partners in all the right ways."

"Well, I guessed you were close, but," Nairn shrugs, "wow. Three kids another baby on the way. How do you manage that on top of a job?"

"It helps to have a nanny," Scully says dryly, thankful she's still got the keys. Walking on now-sturdy legs, she adds, "Coming?"

The blonde woman nods as the gate hauls itself up, as if the AI's satisfied the danger's over. "But you guys are always yelling at each other."

Scully smiles as they buckle up. "At the end of the day, the best part is being able to kiss and make up. Or beat the crap out of some sewage-dwelling mutant, but don't tell him that," she adds, and finds some small satisfaction in seeing the other woman smile.

"I don't know about the mutant part, but I think that's what I loved, *love*, about David," Nairn says quietly as Scully drives over the bridge. "Just being with him at the end of the day. Especially when Donald was getting more and more spooked about the AI, it was just so good to come home to David and, I dunno, talk. Sit. You know what I mean?"

"You'll have more of those times, I'm sure," Scully says, her foot unconsciously pressing harder on the gas to reach Mulder. They spend a couple of miles in silence, until Scully grabs onto the train of thought that eluded her earlier. "Have you heard of Brad Wilczek? He used to work at Eurisko."

Nairn nods. "I heard the CIA kidnapped him to rebuild a similar prototype." Then her eyes narrow. "How do you know him?"

"Mulder and I worked that case," the redhead says, her eyes on the road. "I never was quite sure what happened to him, if he was kidnapped, as you say, or incarcerated in some mental institution, or even killed. It seems strange things happen when the government takes an interest in AI, Esther," she finishes quietly.

In a voice just as quiet, the blonde woman says, "Which was why Donald took the utmost precautions when he picked David and I. He didn't want to take the chance that what happened to Wilczek would happen to any of us."

"And yet, it's the AI hunting you down, not the government," Scully says.

Nairn smiles. "You and your husband work for the government, right?" Then she looks out the window, her cynical face reasserting itself. "It's only a matter of time before others add things up. By then, we should be long gone."

Scully's about to ask her what she means by that, but they've reached the chicken farm and her heart's in her throat when she sees Mulder's empty car.

The next time Mulder wakes up, someone is massaging cool, soothing lotion all over his body. "Don't stop," he says, smiling at his wife.

Scully smiles back. "You're awake. Good." Her hands work slowly down his torso until they rub small circles around his groin. She licks her lips when he gets bigger. "Very awake."

"You have no idea," he groans, thankful that's one of the few parts of his body that hasn't been charbroiled. "Oh, Scully, oh my go..."His eyes roll back, and for a while, he's incapable of speech, much less thought, as she gives him the best blowjob of his life. It isn't long before he explodes in her mouth, and she licks him off like ice cream off a stick. When she licks her lips again, he moans, unable to stop blood rushing through his penis for the second time.

"Mmm, Mulder," she groans, "I wish we could do more."

"Me, too," he agrees, both heads in agreement.

"I talked to the doctor, and he says he can speed the healing process along with skin grafts," Scully says. "But he needs your help."

"How?" he wonders. "I don't have much unburned skin to work with."

She smiles. "It's not that. It's information you have on this case."

"Like what?"

"The Kill Switch," she says, idly playing with his penis.

"I thought Nairn had it," he says in a hoarse voice, trying his damndest to think straight.

"We thought so, too, but she didn't," she says, and he's hypnotized by the way her thumb strokes him into the third stiffie of the day.

"That's too bad," he moans, breathing shallowly when her other fingers join in to bring him to fullness.

"Do you have it?" she asks.

He blinks at her dazedly. "Do I have what?"

"The Kill Switch," she says insistently, stroking him harder.

I can't believe I fell for it a second time! he thinks angrily. And I can't believe I came for an AI! How sick is that? "Duh," he says, twisting his hips and kicking her in the head. As she slams into the wall, everything starts to blur and pixellate.

As he struggles into awareness, the machine plunges another needle into his neck. "Scully," he whispers, his head slumping forward, even as the visor and clamps hold it hostage.

As they emerge from the forest, they can see a trailer with its door missing. "Scully," the women hear a groan coming from inside the trailer. Cautiously, they make their way towards the violated opening.

"Dammit," the agent sighs, pulling out her gun and running in, her flashlight sweeping through the cramped space. "Mulder? Mulder, can you hear me?" she calls out, squinting her eyes for a sign of him, or maybe a light switch. It's obvious he did some damage before he went down, unless those monitors were supposed to be smashed in.

"Brilliant," Nairn mutters, looking for a serviceable console and keyboard that hasn't been destroyed. As she spins her flashlight around, she sees two bodies hanging from harnesses. She flips up one visor and screams. "David! Oh, God!"

Scully joins the other woman and flips up the other visor. "Mulder! Mulder, come on, talk to me," she says, trying in vain to free him. A whirring sound catches their attention, and Scully draws her gun at what turns out to be an opened CD-ROM drive.

"It wants the Kill Switch," Nairn says woodenly.

"Well, we don't have it. You threw it in the water," Scully sighs, half-wishing she had a Swiss Army knife to cut these damn restraints. Her eyes widen when Nairn pulls out a CD. "That's going to kill it, right?" she says hopefully.

"Not if it can learn the program and vaccinate itself against it," the blonde woman says grimly, staring at the disk in her hand.

Suddenly, Mulder twitches, and Scully jumps back as electricity surges through his body. "Just give it what it wants!" she shouts, not daring to touch the man she loves for fear she'll be knocked out, but hating that she can't even comfort him in his pain. "Please, Esther!" she screams, pain tearing at her voice.

The lone intact computer starts beeping, and its screen is filled with aerial maps that are quickly zooming in on their area. "It's targeting us," Nairn turns away from both the painful sight of a tortured couple and her own dead love. If she can't be with David alive, she'd rather be dead.

Scully, however, doesn't share the same sentiment, and, grabbing the CD, shoves it into the drive. As the Platters sing a song Scully's really starting to hate, the restraints break and Mulder slumps in the harness. Relieved more than words can say, she runs back to him and takes the visor off his head. "Stay with me," the redhead says, "you're going to be okay."

Nairn watches them, then starts typing as Scully supports Mulder. Tears roll down her face, and she sniffles just once as her fingers fly over the keyboard, inputting commands she never thought she'd use in real life until years later. I was looking forward to sharing the rest of our lives together, she thinks, guess this adventure's going to have to online, my love.

"What are you doing?" Scully asks, pausing in the escape.

"Get out!" Nairn snarls. "I got it!"

The agent, thinking it's some kind of payback, doesn't argue, but continues to half-carry her husband out the door as the music continues to insanely play on. Once she's satisfied Mulder's out of harm's way, she goes back to get Nairn, but doesn't see the blonde woman at the console. "Esther?"

"You don't listen, do you?" Nairn's voice may be muffled by the clutter and electricity, but not her anger.

Scully swings her flashlight around. "Where are you?"

"I said, get out!" the other woman screams, and the computer beeps ominously, as if to underscore the point.

Dammit, Scully thinks, grabbing Mulder and hauling ass. And just in time, because, for the third time during this crazy case, a targeting system from above strikes and blows the trailer to smithereens.

The next night, having finished up and filed in their report, thanked and paid their nanny, and tucked their sweet babies in bed, Mulder and Scully plop exhaustedly on their bed. "I gotta say, virtual reality's got nothing on real life," Mulder says, his eyes taking in the sight of his wife yawning and stretching next to him in a faded Quantico shirt.

"So what exactly did you see when you were drugged?" Scully asks, snuggling up to him. She's rather curious as to why his report is, for some reason, rather abbreviated during that part of his experience for once.

He thinks of the cyber Scully and shudders. "It was a nightmare," he says honestly. "I'm just glad it's over."

She's about to press him further, but stops. "Me, too," she says, thankful that, according to the blood tests, the drugs would soon dissipate from his system. "I wonder if she's happy now," she muses.

"Who?" Mulder squints.

She looks up at him. "Esther. In some ways, she reminded me of me. She was so young and talented, but so unlucky in love."

"You regret marrying me?" he pouts, and she swats him playfully.

"No, silly. I mean, the project brought them together, but at the end, because of Donald's paranoia and the AI's psychosis, they were forced to be apart. I wonder why sentient AI's end up like Hal in that '2001' movie," she muses.

I won't let anything tear us apart, a Neanderthal part of him mentally pounds his chest, not our jobs, not the conspiracy, and not us. "Ah, so you *do* believe there are such things as sentient AI's," he teases her.

She makes a face. "After three near-misses on this case and numerous attacks by that Eurisko thing, I'd have to say, yeah, I do. But that doesn't mean I'll believe any cockamamie theory coming out of your mouth."

"I thought you loved my cockamamie theories," Mulder pouts.

Scully laughs, closing her eyes as she leans on him again. "Esther wondered how on earth we stayed together when we fight so much. I told her at the end of the day, it was nice to kiss and make up."

"Or make out," he leers.

"Shut up, Mulder," she nudges him. "I'm making a point."

"Sorry," he murmurs.

"You're forgiven," she says lightly, hugging him. "I'm just saying, whether it's in a spiritual or digital afterlife, I hope Esther's happy. And that David's with her."

Before the shock of agreeing with her wears off, he nods. "Me, too," he says, enjoying the feel of his wife in his arms. After a moment, he says, "Hey, can we get to the 'kiss and make out' part?"

She swats him again, but giggles and kisses him. "No making out, you've still got drugs in your system," she says, but her voice is regretful. "Good night."

He sighs. "Yeah," he mutters, more regretful than she is, "good night." Stupid AI, he thinks, not for the first time.

Chapter Fifty-Six

February 11th, 1998
Washington, D.C.
X Files Office

::I thought I was going to behave this time. How could I be this stupid again? Oh, I know why, I needed to let Ronnie drug me rather than her, but still...:: Mulder has his eyes closed as he leans back in his chair, but he opens them when he hears his wife returning from the ladies room.


"Don't. Don't even start with me." He hopes his aim with crumpled paper will have improved, but it hasn't, so he misses entirely, again. It makes him feel a little better when he kicks the hell out of the can. Scully just watches, waiting for him to be through with abusing their office equipment. "I know what I saw."

"Skinner wants our report in one hour. What are you going to tell him?" Scully finally asks.

"What do you mean what am I going to tell him? I'm going to tell him exactly what I saw. What are you going to tell him?"

"I'll tell him exactly what...I saw."

"Now, how is that different?" She gives him a look that's mildly exasperated. "Look, Scully, I'm the one who may wind up going to prison here. I got to know if you're going to back me up or what."

"First of all, if the family of Ronnie Strickland does indeed decide to sue the FBI for -- I think the figure is $446 million -- then you and I both will most certainly be co-defendants and second of all... I don't even have a second of all, Mulder. $446 million. I'm in this as deep as you are and I'm not even the one that overreacted. I didn't do the... " She makes a stabbing motion. "With the thing. If we go to jail I can only hope my Mom will look after the ki-"

"I did not overreact. Ronnie Strickland was a vampire," Mulder insists.

"Where is your proof?"

"You're my proof. You were there." She loosens a huge sigh. "OK, now you're scaring me. I wanna know exactly what you're gonna tell Skinner."

"Oh, you want our stories straight." Mulder's not sure, but he thinks she looks a little relieved.

"No, no, no, I didn't say that. I just want to hear it the way you saw it."

"I don't feel comfortable with that."

"Prison, Scully. Your cell mate's nickname is going to be Large Marge. She's going to read a lot of Gertrude Stein. Think of how you'll explain her to our kids when we get out of the clink."

She smiles in spite of herself. "All right."

"All right, start at the beginning."

"The very beginning?" Scully asks as Mulder returns to his desk and takes a micro tape recorder from the drawer and turns it on. "Fine." Yesterday morning I brought Page to preschool because they were having a fieldtrip, which neither of us were roped into chaperoning this time. When I got here, you were, uh... characteristically exuberant."

February 10th, 1998
X Files Office

Mulder slaps a plane ticket on the desk. "Hope you brought your cowboy boots."

"You want us to go to Dallas?" she asks, looking at the ticket.

"Yee-haw! Actually, a town called Chaney, about 50 miles south of there, population 361 ... by all accounts, very rustic and charming, but as of late, ground zero the locus for a series of mysterious nocturnal exsanguinations."

"Exsanguinations? Of whom?"

Mulder turns on a slide projector. "How does that grab ya?" He gestures towards the screen, and the slide shows a dead cow on it's right side, left feet in the air.

"Is it a...?"

"Dead cow! Exactly. Specifically, a dead 900-pound Holstein. Its body drained of blood as was this one... this one, this one, this one, and so on. Six, all in all --approximately one a week over the past six weeks."

"Is there any sign of --?"

"Two small puncture wounds on the neck?"

"I wasn't asking that."

"Too bad. We got 'em. Check it out." He clicks to the next slide. It's a close up picture of two puncture marks on the side of a cow's neck.

"Well, these may be syringe marks. Their placement meant to emulate fangs. Such ritualistic blood-letting points towards cultists of some sort, in which case...What?" Scully trails off noticing his amused look.

He laughs. "Yeah, that's probably it, satanic cultists. Come on, Scully."

"You're not gonna tell me you think it's that Mexican goat sucker thing."

"El Chupacabra? No, they got four fangs, not two, and they suck goats, hence the name. Besides, I don't think Coyotes would bring them across the boarder."

"So, instead, this would be..."

"Classic vampirism."

"Of a bunch of cows."

"And one dead human last night - a vacationer from New Jersey. Come on, we got to go."

"Why the hell didn't you tell me that from the beginning?"

"I already called Rachel to tell her we won't be home until tomorrow. Lock the door on your way out."

Scully sighs heavily, and follows Mulder out of the office.

Chaney, Texas
Peaceful Slumbers Funeral

The sheriff meets them in a room filled with coffins, and one mortician.

"Lucius Hartwell. You the FBI agents?"

"Yes. I'm agent Mulder and this is my wife, agent Dana Scully. What do you say we go take a look at your victim."

"Yeah, by all means. After you."

Examination Room

They all look at the body. Hartwell gestures down at it. "Here we go."

"Nice threads." The corpse is wearing a Hawaiian shirt. Scully snaps on latex gloves and comes up behind Mulder to look at the victim. "Hey Scully, does this make you want to go to Hawaii our next vacation?"

Assuming the question is rhetorical, she speaks to the sheriff instead. "No exam has been done?"

"No, ma'am. He's just like we found him in the motel room. Once I heard you folks were interested I figured we'd best leave it up to the experts."

"Your satanic cultists have some sharp little teeth?" Mulder asks, earning a puzzled look from Hartwell.

"What satanic cultists?"

"Go ahead, tell him your, uh," He makes quotes with his fingers. "Theory."

"Well, my theory has evolved. Basically, I think that we're looking for someone who has seen one too many Bela Lugosi movies. He believes he is a vampire, therefore..."

"They act like one. Yeah. Yeah. That makes a whole lot of sense. I think she's right," Hartwell agrees.

"What about the fang marks?" Mulder asks.

Scully has an answer. "Well, someone so obsessed might well file down their incisors. I think that a moulage casting should help us make an identification."

Hartwell nods. "Moulage casting, that's a good idea. Now... now, isn't there some kind of disease that makes a person think that they're a vampire?"

"Well, there is a psychological fixation called hematodipsia which causes the sufferer to gain erotic satisfaction from consuming human blood."

"Erotic. That's plausible."

"Mmm. There are also genetic afflictions which cause a heightened sensitivity to light, uh, to garlic -- porphyria, xeroderma pigmentosum."

"You really know your stuff, agent Scully."

February 11th, 1998
X Files Office

"Agent Scully? He never once was that formal, Da-na," he mocks how Hartwell said her name.

"You're gonna interrupt me or what?"

"No. Go ahead... Agent Scully."

"Anyway... that's when you had your big... breakthrough... whatever."

February 10th, 1998
Examination Room

"Dana, you really know your stuff."

Beside him, Mulder bristles a little. Not that Hartwell notices. "Sheriff, you say this man is exactly as you found him?"

"Yes, sir, to the letter."

"Have you noticed that this man's shoes are untied?"

"Yeah, they sure are."

"Mulder, what's your point?"

"This means something. Sheriff, do you have an old cemetery in town off the beaten path, the creepier the better?"

"Uh, yeah."

"Take me there now." He snaps his fingers at the sheriff.


"Scully, we're going to need a complete autopsy on this man, the sooner the better."

"Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. What am I even looking for?" She walks to Mulder, who puts his hands on her shoulders and pulls her close.

"I don't know." He kisses her on the cheek. "But I'm sure you'll find it."

February 11th, 1998
Washington, D.C.

"After I finished my examination, which was made even more unpleasant by my heighten sense of smell-"

"Your what now? You've got spidy powers?" Mulder blinks. "Sammy is going to think you're so cool."

"Ha. Many women have an increased sensitivity to smells while pregnant."

"You never mentioned that before."

"Yeah, well, that's one reason I was reluctant to do that elephant autopsy while pregnant with Sammy."

"I thought you just didn't want elephant guts on you."

"That too. Anyway, I determined that the deceased's last meal had been pizza, I check into our room at the Davey Crockett Motor Court."

"The name of it was actually the Sam Houston Motor Lodge."

February 10th, 1998
Sam Houston Motor Lodge

Scully puts money in the "Magic Fingers" box, causing the bed to begin vibrating, she lays back, in heaven. She kicks off her shoes. Mulder opens the door and looks at her.

"Chloral hydrate," she says in a vibrating voice.


"What the hell happened to you?" She sits up on the bed. The whole front of his jacket and pants is full of mud.

"Nothing. Chloral hydrate?"

"Yeah. That thing that you didn't know that you were looking for -- chloral hydrate -- more colorfully known as knockout drops. I found it in abundance when I sent the tox screen in on our murder victim. Now, seriously, Mulder. What happened to you?"

"Nothing. Who slipped him the mickey?"

"My..." She makes her fingers into quotation marks. "'theory?' Your vampire. He found it necessary to dope poor Mr. Funt to the gills before he was able to extract his blood... Probably did it to the cows, too."

"What kind of vampire would do that?"


"We got another dead tourist. You've got to do another autopsy."

"Tonight? I just put money in the magic fingers!"

"I won't let it go to waste."

"Mulder. Don't get mud everywhere." She casts a longing look at the bed.

"Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Okay."

The pizza guy stops her on the way out. "Excuse me, ma'am, did you order a pizza?"

"Yeah. The guy in there'll pay for it." Ronnie nods and goes into the room.

February 11th, 1998
Washington, D.C.

"Foregoing both dinner and sleep, I was soon back at the funeral home examining one Mr. Paul Lombardo from Naples, Florida. As with the previous victim, it appears that the subject was most likely incapacitated with chloral hydrate, and then exsanguinated. The drug was either injected or ingested. I wasn't sure which. Stomach contents included pizza... it was then I realized that you might be in danger."

February 10th, 1998
Sam Houston Motor Lodge

The door is locked, so Scully kick it open. She doesn't see Mulder anywhere.


The half eaten pizza vibrates off the bed. She sees Mulder's feet on the floor on the other side of the bed. Ronnie comes out from the side of the bed and hisses. Scully fires at him. He leaps over the bed and across the room, nearly knocking her down. He runs outside. She runs to the door and fires into the night.

February 11th, 1998
X Files Office

Mulder has his head on the desk. "That's it?"

"Well, luckily, I'd gotten there in time. I mean, though you were drugged, you were... more or less unharmed."

February 10th, 1998
Sam Houston Motor Lodge

Scully walks to the other side of the bed. Mulder's on the floor. "Mulder? Are you okay?" She turns his face to her and softly slaps it to wake him up.

He wakes up and sings. "Who's the black private dick who's a sex machine with all the chicks? Shaft! Can you dig it? They say this cat Shaft is a bad mother...Shut your mouth! Talkin' 'bout Shaft."

February 11th, 1998
X Files Office

Mulder bolts out of his chair. "I did not!"

Scully gives him a hard stare, then goes on. "Long story short. Though my first four shots obviously missed Ronnie Strickland entirely, with my fifth I was able to shoot out a tire on his car, forcing him to escape on foot. I left you behind and I entered the woods in pursuit. I assumed that you were incapacitated. Then I heard screaming. When I arrived in the clearing, I found that you had caught up with him first and had... over reacted. And that his vampire teeth were fake."

"That's what you're going to tell Skinner?"

"Well, I'm going to argue that we caught a killer -- an utterly non-supernatural killer, but a killer nonetheless. And that your zeal to catch up with him was augmented by the chloral hydrate you were given."

"You are afraid to tell the truth." He points his finger at her.

"Excuse me?"

"That's not the way it happened at all. I mean, what are you afraid of? That if you tell it the way it really happened, that you'll look like an idiot, like me?"

"Mulder? Why don't you tell me the way you think it happened? Starting at the beginning."

"You're damn right. Yesterday morning began like any other morning. After dropping off Page at preschool, you arrived at the office characteristically less than exuberant. I thought you were going to bite my head off when I told you about our case. Things did not improve when we got to Texas..."

February 10th, 1998
X-Files Office

"I hope you brought your cowboy boots."

"Why are we going to Dallas?" Scully asks petulantly. "Why are you dragging me away from our kids this time? And I'm pregnant, you know – cowboy boots would be hell on my feet."

"I do know that, of course, dear. I was just attempting a joke, not demanding that you wear uncomfortable shoes. Actually, we're not going to Dallas. It's a little town just south of there called Chaney, Texas. They've had some incidents down there recently, which I think you'll agree, are pretty unusual."

"Like what?"

"Well, I-I brought some slides with which to better illustrate. Here we go." He turns to the first slide.

She rolls her eyes. "It's a dead cow."

"It's actually six dead cows. And here's the really interesting thing..."

"Why am I looking at six dead cows? You're trying to make me throw up, aren't you."

"Of course not. We're looking at them because um, well, because of the manner in which they died. All six were mysteriously exsanguinated."


"And two little puncture marks right here on the neck. Look, I got a slide of that. And, um, one dead human victim. Last night -- a vacationer from New Jersey. His body completely drained of blood and two little puncture wounds on his neck. Okay, look, Scully I-I don't want to jump to any hasty conclusions, but on the strength of the evidence that we have here, I think that what we *may* be looking at is what *appears* to be a series of vampire or *vampire-like* acts."

"On what do you base that?!"

"Uh... well, on the corpses drained of blood and the fang marks on the neck. But, as always, I'm very eager to hear your opinion."

"Well, it's obviously not a vampire."

"Well, why not?"

It bothers him when his wife openly smirks at him. "Because they don't exist?"

"Well... that's... one opinion, and I respect that. Nonetheless, I'm thinking a murder has been committed here and we can go down there and help bring a killer to justice in whatever form -- mortal or... immortal he may take."

"It's not that Mexican goat sucker, either."

February 11th, 1998
X-Files office

"Then once we got there the sheriff hit on you, which I must say I didn't appreciate, and you both basically ignored my theories-"

"He wasn't hitting on me!"

"Of course he was. He was all 'I'd sure love to watch you do an autopsy, Da-na.' It was obvious he was hot for you."

"Maybe he just wanted to see an autopsy."

"And maybe he called me 'Agent Mulder' and you 'Da-na' because he wasn't at all interested in you."

"Mulder, I think you're over-reacting. He was just being nice."

"I'd rather he been rude. Anyway, while you stayed behind to do the autopsy, the Sheriff drove me to the town cemetery. We ran into Ronnie there, and he suggested that maybe it would be better if you did that night's stakeout with him-"

"He did?"

"Yeah. I suggested that you'd probably want a break after spending hours on your feet playing with bits of dead guy-"

"Oh, God, Mulder, don't put it that way." Scully groans.

"Sorry. He reluctantly agreed to go with me instead. So we staked out the cemetery..."

February 10th, 1998

Mulder is spreading sunflower seeds around the cemetery before he gets into Sheriff's car. "Sunflower seed?" He accidentally drops some. "Sorry."

"No, thanks. Do you mind..." Hartwell picks up a seed that fell from Mulder's bag and tosses it. "Do you mind me asking you what you were doing?"

"Historically, certain types of seeds were thought to fascinate vampires. Chiefly oats and millet, but you make do with what you have. Remember when I said before that we didn't know what type of vampire we were looking for?"

"Yeah," Hartwell says, surprising Mulder given that he essentially ignored the lecture before to moon over Scully.

"Well, oddly enough, there seems to be one obscure fact which in all the stories told by the different cultures is exactly the same, and that's that vampires are really, really obsessive-compulsive. Yeah, you toss a handful of seeds at one, no matter what he's doing he's got to stop and pick it up. If he sees a knotted rope, he's got to untie it. It's in his nature. In fact, that's why I'm guessing that our victim's shoelaces were untied."

"Yeah, obsessive... Like Rain Man. It's like when that old boy dropped them matchsticks, he had to pick them all up. Same thing, right?"

"Well, he didn't actually pick them up. He counted them."

"Oh, yeah. 247. Right off the top of your head."

"Well, if he had picked them up he would have been a vampire," Mulder jokes.

Hartwell grins. "Yeah. I'll tell you what. I know I'm in law enforcement, but I'd like to take him to Vegas myself. Am I right?"

"Well, that would be illegal, right?" Mulder says. "Anyway, I think vampires are more obsessive in the way my oldest daughter is and she freaks out if her hands get sticky. The vampires freak out if there are seeds on the ground."

"That makes them sound a little kooky," Hartwell comments.

"Three-year-olds and vampires are both a bit kooky," Mulder agrees.

February 11th, 1998
X Files Office

"Then we investigated a disturbance at an RV park."

"How did you get all muddy, though?" she asks.

"Um...I tripped while trying to shoot out a tire," he says evasively. "Tired, frustrated and lacking a solid lead, I just wanted to get cleaned up. I had the sheriff drop me at the motel, which is where I ran into you."

February 10th, 1998

Sam Houston Motor Lodge

"What do you mean you want me to do another autopsy?! And why do I have to do it right now?! I just spent hours on my feet doing an autopsy, all for you. I do it all for you, Mulder. Even while carrying your unborn child. You know, I haven't eaten since 6:00 this morning when your kids woke me up, and all that was, was a half a cream cheese bagel, and it wasn't even real cream cheese, it was light cream cheese. And now you want me to run off and do another autopsy?" She notices the mud "What the hell happened to you?" Scully gets up and walks out the door.

She pauses and looks over her shoulder at her dripping husband. "Don't you touch that bed."

Mulder is still wet from cleaning up the best he can when a voice at the door catches him by surprise. "Hello? Hello? Ah, hey, again. The lady outside, she said that, um, you'd pay for this."

"She ordered a pizza from you? Excellent. How much?"


"Okay, there's $13."

"Okay, then. Enjoy."

February 11th, 1998
X Files Office

"So then I ate your dinner, got drugged, got yelled at by the vampire for dropping stuff he had to pick up, then you rescued me and shot Ronnie twice," Mulder explains

"You're saying that I actually hit him two times?"

"Square in the chest. No effect."

"And then he sort of flew at me like a flying squirrel?" She makes a throwing motion with her half curled fingers.

"Well, I don't think I'll use the phrase 'flying squirrel' when I talk to Skinner, but... yeah, that's what happened."

"You checked on me, then left to pursue Ronnie Strickland into the woods. Once I recovered I knew what I had to do," he says grimly.

Scully sighs deeply. "Mulder, it's not just me. Nobody in their right mind will ever believe that story."

"Well, they'll have to, once they examine Ronnie Strickland's body."

AD Skinner's Reception Area
Twenty Minutes Later

Kimberly, the secretary is at her desk. Mulder and Scully are sitting on the couch, waiting for the principle. Scully leans over to straighten Mulder's tie. He pushes her hands away.

Scully leans over to whisper to Mulder. "Mulder, please just keep reminding him you were drugged."

"Would you stop that?"

"It wouldn't hurt," she insists.

"Stop it."

Skinner opens his door and sticks his head out. "Scully, Mulder..."

Both stand quickly, and Mulder blurts out, "I was drugged!"

Skinner merely gives him a puzzled frown. "I want you back in Texas. Ronnie Strickland's body has disappeared from the morgue. Apparently in conjunction with this, a coroner's been attacked... his throat was... bitten."

"The coroner's dead?"

"No, his...throat was bitten. It was sort of... gnawed on. Daylight's burning, agents."

After he leaves Scully turns to Mulder with a shocked look. "But...he was dead."

"I noticed that."

"With a stake through his heart."

"I noticed that, too."


They shine their flashlights as they talk.

"So we should find Ronnie out here because...?" Scully asks.

"Because tradition states that a vampire needs to sleep in his native soil."

"Oh. Like how April won't sleep anywhere but her own crib."


"But Mulder, he had fake fangs. Why would a real vampire need fake fangs? I mean, for the sake of argument."

"Fangs are very rarely mentioned in the folklore. Real vampires aren't actually thought to have them. It's more an invention of Bram Stoker's. I think maybe you were right before when you said that this is just a guy who's watched too many Dracula movies. He just happens to be a real vampire."

"Well, so where the hell is he?" Scully asks, looking around.

"That's the sheriff." Mulder points to a car.

"Evening, agents. I heard y'all were back in town. Thought I might be of some assistance."

::Hmm, Scully stays here with Hartwell, or comes with me. Tough choice, but...:: "Yeah, actually you can. You can stay behind here with Agent Scully and keep an eye on things while I check something out."

"Where are you going?" Scully asks.

"Where might you be living if your mail came general delivery around here?"

"The RV park."

"You're good," Mulder says as he leaves.

In his car Hartwell pours coffee for Scully.

She declines the mug. "Thanks for the thought, but I can't."

"Why not?" Hartwell's voice is overly upset.

His weird reaction worries her a little, and she thinks about Mulder's insistence that he was hitting on her. It makes her wonder if the drink is drugged with a roofie or something of that nature. "Pregnant women aren't supposed to drink coffee."

"Oh. You're sure you can't have any?" he asks anxiously.

"I'm sure," she says firmly.

"So what do you think about vampires?"

"You mean aside from the fact that I don't believe in them?"

"Yeah, aside from that."

"Well... they're supposed to be extremely charming. Seductive. No, I mean... even if they did really exist, who's to say they'd actually be like that? As my husband says, there are many different kinds of vampires."

Hartwell looks away. "Yup. Sure are. I really need to apologize to you about Ronnie. He makes us all look bad. He's just not who we are anymore. I mean, we pay taxes, we're good neighbors. Old Ronnie, he just... he can't quite seem to grasp the concept of... low profile. But though he may be a moron, he is one of our own. I really wish you'd of had the coffee"

He turns back to her and his eyes are glow in the dark green.

"You're got to be kidding me," Scully says, scooting towards the door.


"You tried to drug me with the coffee, and now you're planning to bite me!"

Hartwell shrugs. "Have to, it's what vampires do." He opens his mouth, revealing sharp teeth.

Without missing a beat Scully dumps the hot coffee all over him. Hartwell howls and dives back.

"What did you do that for?"

"I don't feel like being bitten?" Scully asks, as if it's obvious. She reaches down along the door and the seat and comes up with a half-full bag of sunflower seeds – the kind her husband eats – and throws them out the open drivers' side window.

"What did you do that for?" Hartwell complains. "Now I have to go and pick them up!"

Two minutes after he gets out of the car to gather the seeds, he looks up to see Scully driving off in his vehicle.

Motor Home
Five Minutes Later

Mulder's attempts to arrest Ronnie have come to their predictable end, and he's got arms up to shield his face when a noise startles him into dropping them. It's a car engine.

"Come on, get in!" Scully shouts out the window, seeming unsurprised to see that he's in the middle of a pack of vampires.

"How did you?" Mulder asks numbly as he hops in.

"Hartwell's a vampire. This whole town is full of them," Scully explains, then she shouts out the window again. "If you don't move I'm going to run your vampiric asses over!"

The vampires seem to take her at her word, and shuffle off without giving chase.

February 11th, 1998
Skinner's Office

Skinner doesn't look amused. "So, that's it? They simply disappeared without a trace. And that's exactly the way it happened from start to finish?"

"Well, I can neither confirm nor deny agent Mulder's version of events which occurred outside my presence."

"And I can neither confirm nor deny agent Scully's version of events, but, um..."

"Anyway... he was drugged."

"That is... essentially, exactly the way it happened," Mulder tells him.

"Essentially," Scully agrees.

Neither of them look their boss in the eye.

Chapter Fifty-Seven

Massachusetts Institute Visiting Lecturers' Forum
Feb/March 1998

Mulder is idly doodling in his notepad, almost hoping the conference is over, and at the same time, hoping that it will stretch on for eternity for the same reason. Cassandra Spender. "Before the exploration of space," he writes, "of the moon and the planets, man hailed that the heavens were the home and province of powerful gods who controlled not just the vast firmament, but the earthly fate of man himself and that the pantheon of powerful, warring deities, was the cause and reason for the human condition, for the past and the future, and for which great monuments would be created on earth as in heaven. But in time man replaced these gods with new gods and new religions that provided no more certain or greater answers than those worshipped by his Greek or Roman or Egyptian ancestors. And while we've chosen now our monolithic and benevolent gods and found our certainties in science, believers all, we wait for a sign, a revelation. Our eyes turn skyward ready to accept the truly incredible to find out destiny written in the stars. But how do we best look to see? With new eyes or old?"

Scully is sitting in the audience, watching the boredom quotient in her husband's eyes grow exponentially. Half the time, she's actually paying attention to the discussions, but mostly, she's keeping an eye on her mobile kids, who are playing with little aliens and UFOs, even as she's making sure April stays quiet. But now, as Mulder is putting in his controversial two cents, she sits up and pays attention. What is it about this older woman, her smiling image frozen onscreen, that catches his notice? The redhead frowns slightly, trying to figure out if the woman is anyone she or Mulder knows. Nope, doesn't ring a bell.

Mulder, however, believes even more strongly than he did the last time around, with good reason. And therefore, he doesn't argue against Cassandra Spender's, that is, Patient X's, testimony, but rather, against her naïve ideology. "I believe that not only are there aliens involved in Patient X's case, but also clandestine military and government complicity, men which, while they believe they have earth's best interests at heart, ultimately doom all of humanity, themselves included, by allowing people like Patient X to spread a delusional message of intergalactic goodwill, which is naïve and misguided at best, and downright dangerous at worst."

Scully blinks as the conference erupts. You sure know how to stick to the man, Mulder, she thinks, amused, even if you agree with him 99.9% of the time. But once the Jerry Springer action dies down somewhat, she doesn't feel the need to clutch her children to her side quite so tightly, and they resume making a nuisance of themselves among those she has mentally termed rather delusional. Once the conference actually wraps up, she and Mulder make their way to each other, but their trajectory is intercepted by Dr. Heitz Werber.

"Dr. Werber?" Mulder looks almost startled as he shakes the older man's hand.

The doctor seems similarly startled when he sees the red-haired wife and their three children. "Yes, it's been some time," he says.

"Almost five years." Mulder nods. He looks down at his wife and smiles, and she smiles back.

"I came down expecting to hear how your work had progressed. I'm-" The good doctor pauses as Page and Sammy chase each other around his legs. "Surprised, to say the least."

You and me both, the tall agent thinks, but aloud, he says, always the master of understatement, "A lot has changed."

Dr. Werber nods. "Actually, I came to talk to you about one of your more interesting theories. On Patient X, that is. I think you should meet her."

Perhaps it's just her imagination, but for a split second there, Scully could almost swear her husband looked panicked. But she can't get a better look just yet because he's grabbing Page and Sammy by their hoods, and when he looks back up, he looks, well, fine. Just my imagination, the song plays in her head, running away with me.

A small crowd gathers in the sterile hospital room, and for what seems to the kids the hundred-teenth time, they are shushed and told not to touch anything. "I know," Page scowls up at the nurse, "I'm a good girl."

"Of course you are, dear," the woman in the wheelchair smiles, and the blonde little girl smiles back. The nurse purses her lips, but leaves, seeing that there's a doctor in the room. "Hi, I'm Cassandra," she says in a nicotine-hoarsened voice.

Page goggles at the frail woman in the chair, then looks at her mother. "Can I call her by a real name?" she asks.

Scully smiles and nods a little. "If she wants you to." She walks over and proffers her hand, shifting April on her hip. "I'm Dana, but I'm guessing the person you want to talk to is my husband." She meets the other woman's firm handshake with her own, and steps back, somehow trusting this would-be abductee more than, say, her own mother-in-law.

Cassandra's eyes twinkle as her smile widens when the tall man shakes her hand. "You are a very lucky man, Mulder."

"You have no idea," he says, smiling back. How this woman ever had a dour-faced son like Jeffrey is still beyond him, but he knows from personal experience how offspring can differ from their parents.

"I'm so glad to finally meet you," she says, then laughs as the kids clamber over the bed. "You're a hero of mine." The middle-aged woman waves off his stammers. "I read about you in the news, how you helped that man, that, um, Duane Barry. How you were the only one who believed him." Cassandra looks back at Scully and beams. "It's nice to see a man with his priorities straight."

Scully manages to keep a straight face as Mulder joins their kids on the bed, raising up one of the bars so that they won't fall over the edge. "Yes, it is." She smiles indulgently, when her husband tackles his energetic little boy, who squeals, before returning his attention to Mrs. Spender.

Cassandra looks like she's about to squeal as well, practically about to jump out of her wheelchair. "I just wanted to let you know that that story saved my life, Mr. Mulder. For thirty years, I was being abducted, but was too afraid to ask for help. It was only until I read about you that I came to meet Dr. Werber." She turns to Scully, who looks interested. "Dr. Werber told me your husband had gone through hypnotic regression, that that's how he remembered his sister being abducted."

"I see," Scully says faintly. Then the doctor side of her takes over, along with a strange, almost familial sense. "Why exactly did you want to speak with Mulder?"

It's Dr. Werber who answers, startling everyone. "Cassandra is experiencing the sensation that she's about to be called."

"Called?" Scully's left eyebrow goes up. "Who's calling you?"

Cassandra smiles brightly and clasps her hands together. "Now is a time of war and stress among the alien nations. The," she pauses, gathering her thoughts, "the different races, they're in upheaval. I will be summoned to a place, just like Duane Barry."

Even as she looks at her husband, Scully has to fight the shiver of fear crawling up her spine. It was only because she was pregnant with Page that her life was spared from this madman, this man that this poor delusional woman believes her life mirrors. She has to force herself not to transmit any fear to April, who has been an angel so far, and takes a deep breath, covering it with a shift of her baby. "Mr. Barry died because of those beliefs," she says in a deliberately steady voice, "while in custody of men we believe were part of a larger conspiracy, mostly likely military or a clandestine government within a government."

Mulder struggles to keep his eyebrows from rising. You're my hero, Scully, he thinks, never mind me chasing little gray guys and their human conspirators. Then his attention is diverted when Page attempts to clamber over the bed bar. He almost misses hearing Cassandra say, "I'm sure the government's involved. They just don't want us to know about it."

Scully says, in a more quiet voice, "I know." She can remember Barry's desperation, his fear, and most of all, his intense belief that impersonal beings from outer space could be bargained with, a life for a life. She's never really thought about what might've happened if he hadn't changed his mind, if he had taken her and sacrificed her to some insane ideals, if she had lost her family and her life, all because of Duane Barry. This is the closest she's come to dancing on the insane edge of what-ifs and she really, really doesn't like it here, dragging herself from the edge with some effort. "But are you certain about being called?" Even now, she has to force herself not to pause, not to show a shred of skepticism. It's what her husband would do, it's what April needs to feel, and it's what Cassandra needs to see.

The shining faith on the other woman's face is almost painful to behold. It reminds her of her mother, no, of Melissa. "As certain as I'm sitting here," Cassandra says. "I know what I've experienced. I, I've been through the terror and the tests more times than I can count. I have had an unborn fetus taken from me," and she looks at the redheaded boy and blonde girl scrambling over their tall father's frame and smiles sadly.

"There are other forces at work. They're going to be calling me." Now she looks directly at Mulder. "And you, of all people, need to know about this because you're the one who can do something." Then she smiles again, and turns back to Scully. "You're a very lucky woman," she says, clasping the redhead's elbow. "Yes, I know you two can do something."

The next day, Scully is walking down the halls of the FBI HQ when a tall, thin young man stops her. She blinks, and is about to snap at him, when he speaks first. "Agent Scully, my name is Jeffrey Spender. Special Agent Spender," he adds, as if it's a new title for him.

Uh, yeah. "Is there something I can help you with, Agent Spender?" she says, in a tone clearly saying that he needs help of some kind.

"I feel kind of funny approaching you like this. I just haven't been able to reach Agent Mulder."

That's because it's his day to be at home with the kids, she wants to snap at this boy. Honestly, who the hell are they letting into the bureau these days? "About what?" she says politely, regaining her momentum down the hall.

"About," he pauses, finding he actually can walk his normal stride with this short, but fiery woman, "about somebody he's been talking to. Somebody who claims to be an abductee, who I'd really prefer he weren't talking to."

She hits the elevator button and looks at him. "You're going to tell me who this is?" she says in a voice that's less a question than a command.

The thin man looks up and down the hallway nervously. "This is gonna sound weird, but," he pauses again, looking around, "it's my mother."

Scully's eyebrows go up. "Your mother?"

His expression is furtive, even though his voice is terse. "It's a long story," he says, as if regretting even saying that much. "She, she's an exceptional person, but for reasons that are probably obvious I'd rather this didn't get out. Appearances being what they are."

Too late, the redheaded agent thinks, both Mulder and I have talked to her, and yes, she *is* an exceptional woman. "I see," she says, her expression calm as she waits for the damn elevator, not making any promises.

The young agent looks even more nervous, if that's possible. "Look, she just called me and," he lowers his voice as other agents pass by, "she's a very disturbed woman. This is something that caused a lot of pain twenty years ago. I'm just trying to save myself any extra humiliation. I'd like to build a reputation here, not be given one."

Scully nods. "I think I understand," she says, just as the elevator dings open. Thank you, God, she murmurs inwardly as the doors slide shut between herself and the man who seems to mirror her own doubts about being attached to someone crazy, but in her own case someone that you're also crazy in love with.

Scully signs out the last of her reports, rotates her neck, and leans back in Mulder's chair. Odd, how, even after all these years, she still thinks of it as his chair, even though they've pretty much been sharing it for the last how many years. Her head snaps up, however, when the phone rings. "Mulder." She smiles. "I was just thinking about you."

"Dirty thoughts, I hope." He leers, then dodges his son's dough-covered hands. "Speaking of dirty, will you forgive the kids if things aren't quite as spotless as you left them?"

"Mulder," her tone now becomes a warning, "what are you doing there?"

"Nothing," he says, crossing his fingers behind his back, even though she can't see him. "just hangin' with our beloved offspring, the fruit of our loins, the products of our loooove, the--"

"I get it, I get it." Scully rolls her eyes. "Speaking of offspring--"

"What, has something happened to our baby?" Mulder starts to panic.

"No," Scully says quickly, almost seeing as well as hearing his sigh of relief, "I just met Cassandra Spender's offspring in the hallway earlier. Apparently he's an FBI agent and would like you not to talk about this with anyone."

"Uh-huh," he says, trying to wipe Sammy's hands with the towel while keeping the cordless phone balance between his ear and his shoulder at the same time. I can't wait for hands-free technology to come around, he thinks, God bless the inventors of that stuff. "But he never said anything about you, did he?"

"I'm sorry, Mulder, was that a loophole I just heard? Because you know we never operate according to such things." His wife smirks.

"Loopholes? Us? Never!" he imitates righteous indignation, and is gratified to hear her laugh.

"All right, well, loopholes may not apply to you, but apparently, being photogenic does." She smiles, looking at the newspaper on the desk. "There's a very lovely headline with your face beneath it, something about, hm, government conspiracies from a government man. Very catchy."

"Is it my left side, or my right? Because I think my left side makes me look more like a young Harrison Ford."

Now she sputters into a heartfelt guffaw, and he scowls. She doesn't have to laugh that hard, he pouts. "Hey!" he finally interrupts her.

She's wiping her eyes, still wheezing a little as she attempts to regain her composure. "I'm sorry, you're right," she says in a less-than-sincere voice. "I'll bring the paper home so you can see."

Darn tooting right, he thinks, lifting his chin and inflating his chest in a Tim-the-Tool-Man kind of way. "Was Skinner happy that we actually turned in our reports on time?" he asks.

"Um, I haven't given them to him yet," she says, making a face when he yelps. "Don't worry, I've got time. I was just looking through Cassandra Spender's medical records, that's all. She, she was taken to Skyland Mountain, where you arrested Duane Barry. And she's got an implant at the base of her neck, not unlike other abductees we've met."

"Scully," he tries to sound sexy over the phone, which is a bit difficult when April starts to fuss in her chair, "you're starting to believe in aliens, aren't you?"

"Shut up, Mulder." Scully stands, putting the reports in one neat stack and placing Cassandra's medical records in her purse, "And feed April."

"You're good, Scully," he says, taking the bottle from the pot of boiling water and wiping it free of droplets with a hand towel, "reeeeal good."

"You say that now," Scully smirks, taking her keys out, "wait 'til I get home."

As she hangs up, Mulder shakes his head and hits the off button before unkinking his shoulder and feeding April. Damn, I'm a lucky man, he thinks, not for the first time, and smiles. The smile fades when Page runs into the kitchen, followed by her brother. Both their hands are dirty, but only Page holds them out.

"Sticky, Daddy!" ::Here we go again::, he thinks, taking the wet hand towel and wiping off her hands.

While Cassandra Spender is tracing out a constellation on her hospital room window, Krycek rubs the back of his neck irritably. He's got a vaccine for Emily, a hostage to deal with for the Consortium, and maybe a little free time to spend with the mother of his child as well as his little girl. My little girl, he thinks, looking at the scared and blinded boy in the holding room of the Uroff-Koltoff Star of Russia. I will do anything for her, he thinks, strengthening his resolve. Hell, if I'm able to screw over these global bastards for myself, I should be able to squeeze them out for a good cause, for once.

In Russian, the one-armed man tells the teenager, **"Sit up. Drink. We're going to have a long wait." **

The boy nods, his hands blindly reaching out for the bowl. Once in his hands, the boy's fingers curl around it and he starts slurping unashamedly. Then he pauses, as if lost in thought.

He is unaware that his captor is similarly spellbound, his dark green eyes practically black as they gaze at a series of rust marks similar to the constellation a woman in a wheelchair miles away is making on her window. It is only when a strong wave knocks the steel hulk of the ship against the dock that Krycek returns to himself and stomps out of the cell.

When he gets to "his room," he slams the door shut, his nostrils flared as he strides through this dank, rusty, barren hole. "Those stupid-ass motherfuckers better not be wasting my time, dammit," he growls, grabbing a beer from the cooler and using his fake hand to pop the cap off. He closes his eyes as he drinks, but it won't take away the smell of the sea, nor the slight rocking of the ship, nor the rust and decay that seems to mark his life as much as it does this hulk of a boat. "Lost an arm, lost my health, nearly lost my mind, what the fuck else can go wrong?" he murmurs before emptying the beer bottle down his throat.

He doesn't notice he's spaced out for at least a couple of hours until the bottle drops from his hand, and he curses angrily, kicking the glass shards to the side.

The next morning, Mulder and Scully are on Skyland Mountain, and from the smell and look of things, they're both glad the kids are with Rachel. They're both grimacing from the charred flesh at their feet, but only Mulder is consumed with as much guilt as the bodies were consumed by an unearthly fire. I could have prevented this, he thinks, over and over as they pass one body bag after another, I could have stopped this.

"It appears they all came by car," Scully's voice cuts through his self-flagellation. "Most of the dead are congregated in a wooded area a short distance from the road."

"Self-immolation?" he asks woodenly.

She gives him a sharp look, but answers in her earlier, professional tone of voice, "There's no evidence of that right now. According to arson, there's no accelerants, no incendiary device."

"Why is this happening?" he asks, just barely stopping himself from adding "again."

Now Scully stops and looks up at him. "Mulder, what's wrong?"

The answer, "I'm fine," is on his lips, but he realizes he'd be bullshitting the only two people who don't need it. "I could've stopped this," he says quietly.

"How?" Scully asks. "This came out of nowhere, Mulder, a tragedy, yes, but nothing you could've done. There was no way to save them."

There's always a way, he thinks, squatting down next to one of the bodies. "This is Skyland Mountain, Scully," he says, and looks up at her. "There's something about this place that attracts," he pauses, his eyes dropping down to the hideously burned and twisted corpse in front of him, "that attracts aliens, if not outright inhumanity."

"Mulder," Scully puts a hand on his shoulder when his cell phone rings, startling them both.

"Why is this happening?" Cassandra Spender asks, echoing Mulder's earlier cry, her blue eyes rimmed with tears, when they walk into her hospital room. "I knew these people."

"You knew them?" Scully asks, a frown creasing her forehead as she crosses the room.

"They were friends of mine," the bedridden woman says, waving at the screen with names and horrific imagery.

"Friends from where?" the redhead asks, rubbing Cassandra's shoulder in a reassuring fashion. She's not sure why, but there's a comfortable familiarity about this woman that almost makes her believe in past lives.

"From a long time ago. Please, you've got to stop this," the blonde woman begs them tearfully, clasping Scully's hands in her own.

"How?" Mulder asks, his own face looking almost as tortured as Cassandra's. "Do you know who's doing this?"

Tears are freely falling from the older woman's eyes. "I don't know," she says, and Scully digs out tissue paper from her purse. Her lips form a silent "O" when she sees her son in the doorway, and the two agents make their exit.

The young man looks like he's ready to have a conniption. "Agent Mulder? My name's Jeffrey Spender."

I really wish we could've met under better circumstances, half-bro, Mulder thinks, guess it was never meant to be. I wish I could ask you about Samantha, what growing up with her was like, if she was even happy once while she was with you and your mom before your dad practically killed her off. I wish I could ask you if you even cared about your cigarette-smoking, conspiracy-ridden father, or if taking over the X-Files was merely your way of pissing me off. Instead, he says a deadpan, "Nice to meet you," and wonders when, if ever, Jeffrey will get that stick out of his ass.

Even before the last syllable is out of his mouth, Spender's already turned to Scully. "I asked you to leave her alone," he says in a voice about as tight as his lips, glaring her down.

Scully, however, has never been one to let tall men's glares scare her, and certainly not a wet-behind-the-ears agent. "Your mother called us about the incident in Virginia," she says, her voice dangerously even. "She said she knew some of the dead."

"Of course she did," the young agent says dismissively, "they were in the same ridiculous cult that she used to be in."

Both the redhead's eyebrows go up. Wow, a two-fer. "She was in a cult?"

Spender nods tersely. "A UFO cult believed they were going to be carried to immortality in some kind of flying motherwheel."

Boy, Heaven's Gate never gets old when it comes to true believers, Mulder muses, even though the kid's completely off where his mother's beliefs are concerned, which isn't surprising. "I'm sorry, we won't be bothering you or your mother," he says, steering a surprised Scully out of the hallway, while Spender walks over to the doctor's office. None of them notice, however, the cap-wearing custodian who walks to Cassandra's room with a quiet, almost distracted purpose.

Back at the office, Mulder and Scully go over the forensic and pathology reports, finding evidence of what and who the victims were, not cult members but MUFON members, and that they all had implants, anxiety, and beliefs that they would be called and abducted again by aliens. "It's gotta be the implants," he says, "they triggered some kind of homing device to lead them to Skyland Mountain, for some kind of mass abduction."

"But why?" Scully frowns, peering at one of the files and flipping through it. "It doesn't make sense, since they were killed, not abducted. Why lead them to their deaths?"

"Who knows what the hell aliens think?" Mulder mutters, looking at the post-autopsy view of one of the victims. The phone rings, startling them both. "Mulder," he answers.

"This is Marita Covarrubias," a familiar voice says, "is this a secure line we're on?"

"Yes," he says as Scully mouths "Who?"

"You were at Skyland Mountain. Are you aware of a UN report on a similar incident in the former Soviet Union?"

I am now, he thinks, answering, "No," while writing on a scratch pad, "Covarrubias."

As Scully nods, the assistant to the SRSG continues, "I was in Kazakhstan, Agent Mulder. There is a connection. I have someone who knows it. I have him with me now."

Ohshitohshitohshitohshitohshit, he thinks, wondering how he's gonna pull this off. "Did someone follow you?" he asks, hoping to keep her alert.

"No," she says. "I know how to shake off pursuers, Agent Mulder. Meet me at a pay phone on Skodal Road, just off the I-90 -- Oh!"

"Hello? Hello!" Mulder tries, then slams the phone.

"What happened?" Scully asks.

"I think whoever got to those people at Skyland Mountain got to Covarrubias," Mulder says, grabbing the keys and Scully's wrist before slamming the door shut.

As before, Mulder comes to an empty pay phone booth, with black oil smears inside and out. Although he's glad that Scully's with him this time around, he's careful that she doesn't get too close while investigating even this "dead" version of black oil. There's no way he's gonna let some alien lifeforce goop infect his wife and unborn child, dammit. When his phone rings, they both immediately look at the hanging receiver before he remembers his cell and digs it out of his pocket. "Mulder."

"This is Special Agent Spender," a semi-strangled voice at the other end says. "Do you have her?"

"Have who?" Mulder asks, getting a sinking feeling in his stomach.

"My mother," Spender says. "She had your number, and I thought she'd be with you."

"Well, she's not," Mulder says, stopping Scully from attempting to take a sample of the oil. "Try another number."

As Scully glares at him, Mulder shakes his head, his eyes conveying his fear even as Spender spits back, "There *is* no other number! I've looked everywhere, but she's gone. She's got nowhere to go."

When Mulder hangs up, he sighs, "Ah, shit."

"Mulder?" Scully frowns, concerned.

He runs a hand through his hair. "Cassandra's gone, Agent Spender just called." Then he looks at the phone booth. "And don't even think of touching that black stuff unless you're in a hazmat suit," he adds, "it's the same stuff we found on Dr. Sacks, Gauthier, and the others." His wife leaps back at least ten feet, and to his surprise, he finds himself chuckling.

Meanwhile, on a bridge fronting a gorgeous waterfall, hundreds of people are gathered, milling about. One of them happens to be the Russian boy, his eyes and lips unsewn like a horrific scarecrow. Another happens to be Cassandra Spender, her face lit up like a kid on Christmas. And the man pushing her wheelchair is the custodian, or rather, Krycek in a cap and uniform, with the same air of expectation as the others, if only a little hungrier.

As people look up at the sky, lights from an unknown craft floods the bridge, illuminating their faces, with gasps of wonder and pointed fingers at proof of their membership in a very unique club flying overhead. Then a burning man staggers and runs blindly into their midst, followed by two faceless men holding what appears to be wands. As the crowd screams, Cassandra's look of awe is replaced by fear, and Krycek's is that of resignation, his eyes only on the faceless aliens.

Chapter Fifty-Eight

March 1998

Krycek wakes up slowly, reluctantly, but the familiar scent more than anything else tells him that it's a welcome face to wake up to. "Hey," he says, cracking open his bleary eyes.

"Alex," Melissa Scully smiles, stroking his real arm, "someone special's here to see you." She's wearing her crystal pendant on a choker, a gypsy-colored peasant blouse and a long black skirt, her makeup as dramatic as her deep-red hair. She turns around, and now the bedridden man sees a round-faced little girl with short blonde hair and a cautious face that's more like his own than Missy's, sitting with a doll. "Emily, your daddy's awake."

Emily slides off the chair and toddles over, her blue eyes large as she looks at her mostly-absent father. "Hello," she says, as if talking to a perfect stranger.

"Hey," he says again, and struggles to sit up. As Melissa hits the button that raises the bed, he coughs a little and looks around him, assessing his situation. "Why am I here?"

"You were airlifted here in vasogenic shock," the tall redhead says, her hand wrapping around her daughter's as Emily seeks reassurance.

Krycek frowns. "Vasogenic shock? You mean there was a fire?" He tries to concentrate, but there's nothing in his recent memory he can recall, certainly no fires.

Melissa nods. "You've got some first-degree burns and scorching on your hand and face," she says, waving her free hand at him.

Tentatively, he touches his face and winces. What the hell? His eyes catch sight of the TV bolted to the ceiling, the volume down and the closed captioning saying something about a second cult suicide in southwestern Pennsylvania. The scene is the same as that of Kazakhstan and Skyland Mountain. The hell???

He's starting to put two and two together as he turns his face back to his lover and their child. "I was there, wasn't I?" he asks, and is somewhat relieved to find Emily's face losing its distrust as she sees he's experiencing what she's familiar with: disorientation. "What was I doing there?"

Melissa shakes her head. "I got a call from an Agent Spender telling me you were here, and if you or I knew anything about his mother."

"Why would I know this Spender's guy's mom?" Krycek frowns. "And how'd he get your number?"

Now the redhead smirks. "Lucky for you, you had my number written on an unburned pocket of your jacket. Maybe some good karma is finally coming your way."

He smiles, but it hurts. "Nope, it must be yours rubbing off on me," he replies, but it's then that a nurse comes in to scold Melissa for bringing Emily. As he sticks his tongue out at the nurse, the little girl giggles, and they share a conspiratorial smile before Melissa and Emily are hustled out.

"Scully," Scully answers her cell, cradling it between her ear and shoulder as she changes April's diaper.

"This is Agent Spender," a man's semi-strangled voice says at the other end. "A friend of your sister's was at the Ruskin Dam. I was wondering if he had anything to do with my mother's disappearance."

"I doubt it," Scully says, frowning. Well, she doesn't doubt that one of Missy's friends were at the burn site, it's just that she doubts any of Missy's friends would intersect with Mrs. Spender. Then again, it's a small world, but she doesn't think that would encourage Agent Spender much.

"Perhaps it was Agent Mulder's doing," Agent Spender goes on doggedly.

"Before you go accusing everyone, why don't you tell me the facts, Agent Spender?" Scully grits her teeth.

"You know my mom's a cripple," he says, "she hasn't driven a car for, I don't know how long. They found her wheelchair a hundred and thirty miles from the hospital, where I'm told your sister's friend checked her out--"

"Agent Spender," Scully starts, but is rudely interrupted.

"Look, she's my mother, not some stupid case file or test subject of you and your husband's crazy department, okay?"

Even April can hear the man shouting on the other end and starts to cry. I hate you, Agent Spender, Scully scowls, scooping up her freshly-changed daughter and attempting to soothe her by gently bouncing her on her shoulder. "Your mother will be found," she tries to reassure the high-strung agent, even as she reassures her daughter.

"All I want from you two is to leave it alone. Is that too much to ask?"

He hangs up before she can formulate a decent retort minus any swear words. "April, Agent Spender is a stinky-poo," she is saying when Page walks in, followed by Sammy.

"Who's Agent Spender?" Page asks, opening the fridge.

"A stinky-poo," Scully repeats dryly before adding, "And don't you dare think of taking out the soda, that's for dinner tonight."

"We got soda for dinner?" Page obediently takes out a small apple juice carton as her eyes light up.

"No, it's just part of the recipe," the redhead tells her daughter and her cell phone rings. "Who is it now?" Switching the cell to her other shoulder, she says, "Scully."

"Dana, it's me," her sister says. "You got a moment?"

"Yeah," Scully lies as she shoos Sammy away from the fridge with her foot.

"Do you know an Agent Spender? He called me this morning and told me my friend, who was found at that Ruskin Dam, was in the hospital. I just wanted to get his number to thank him."

You must be the only one on the planet, Scully thinks. "I know of him, yes," she says, "generally speaking."

Hearing Missy's warm chuckle makes Scully smile involuntarily. "I take it you two aren't on very good terms," she says. "But I also wanted to pass on my best wishes that he finds his mother. Do you think he'd like a Tibetan charm or a spell to Obeah?"

She can't help it, the thought of the uptight Agent Spender getting all voodoo to find his mother gives Scully a giggling fit. Her sister waits patiently until she subsides and says, "I'm sure your heart is in the right place, Missy, but I don't think he's into that stuff."

"Really? That's too bad," her older sister says, unruffled. "Well, if you get his number, let me know."

"Oh, how's your friend?" Scully asks, remembering how Spender got her sister on his radar in the first place.

"Aside from some minor burns, okay," Melissa answers. "Emily, would you like to say hi to your Aunt Dana?"

There's a pause before a soft voice says, "Hi."

Another pause, and Melissa asks, "Dana?"

"Yeah?" Scully asks.

"Do you think Fox knows the name of a good hypnotherapist? It's, it's not just burns, there's something like amnesia that the doctors can't explain."

"Well, if she's been through something traumatic, especially if it was anything like what Mulder and I have been investigating, I'd say it just takes time, not hypnosis," Scully suggests gently.

Melissa doesn't bother to correct her sister. "I don't think time is what we have," she says, "my friend's kinda freaked out."

"I see," Scully says, then reluctantly answers, "Dr. Heitz Werber, he's in Silver Springs."

"Thank you, Dana," Melissa replies happily and hangs up.

"What's wrong, Mommy?" Page asks while Sammy shoves an unpeeled banana into his mouth, about to gnaw through the peel.

As Scully quickly pulls the fruit from her little boy's mouth to peel it, she replies, "I think your daddy would be gloating if he knew what I just did."

On the way to the doctor's office, Krycek's mind is spinning. How the hell did this random agent get involved? Who the hell was Cassandra Spender? And how was it that, despite missing an arm, they still managed to stick more implants into him? Damn the Syndicate, he thinks savagely, they screw with me, I'm gonna screw 'em back double. And as soon as this quack hypnosis guy shakes the memories outta my head, I'll have the ammo I need.

He twists around to see Emily sleeping in the back seat, and his normally sharp eyes soften. Emily, he thinks to himself, Daddy's gonna have to do more bad things before I see you again. But first, let's get this over with. As Melissa parks the car, Krycek thinks cynically that the good doctor must be screwing a lot more people than he is to be holed up in such a nice building. He gets out and carefully carries out his sleeping daughter in his arms, making sure to shut the car doors softly but firmly so as not to wake her.

They sign the paperwork, Krycek putting down false information as usual, and for once, the wait isn't long before they're ushered into Werber's office.

Maybe business is slow, for once, the one-armed man thinks. He listens with half an ear as Werber tells him about his "new and improved" hypnotic method. Yeah, yeah, yeah, the traitorous agent groans inwardly, just hurry up and get it over with. You and the Smoking Man would get along great. "I don't think this is working," he says before he's out for the count, and he's sucked back to that bridge in front of the Ruskin Dam.

"Holy shit!" he says, and Melissa belatedly covers her startled daughter's ears.

"Where are you?" Dr. Werber asks.

"I'm." Krycek's eyes are closed, but his face is transfixed as if he's staring up at a year's worth of fireworks. "I'm with the others."

"On the bridge?" the doctor prods, having already heard from Missy the basics of what happened to Alex.

"Yeah," Krycek replies, and proceeds to tell them about a UFO that hovered over Cassandra Spender, then flew off. "Oh fuck, there's more."

"More UFOs?" Werber frowns.

"No, you stupid fuck, more aliens," the younger man snaps, which causes the redhead to look at him sharply. Is he really under, or is he faking, as he's been known to b.s. even her sometimes? Then she realizes that the Alex she knows would never knowingly swear in front of their daughter, and she unconsciously tightens her embrace around Emily until the little girl squirms on her lap. "Oh shit, oh shit, they're on fire-- Move, you fuckin' idiots, move!"

"What's happening, who's on fire?" Werber casts a worried glance at Melissa, then at Emily, who are both staring at the man sweating and swearing in the chair.

"Come on, you stupid idiots, move! Lemme get a clear shot!" he yells, thrashing around.

"Mister--!" the doctor and the female assistant try to hold him down, until he suddenly slumps in their arms before they can inject a sedative.

"Great, there are more," Krycek mutters morosely, his body projecting as much defeat as his voice.

"More?" Werber asks, not sure whether or not to continue the session.

"Aliens, asshole," the hypnotized man replies, "except these scary motherfuckers have no faces! They're surrounding us and all you wanna do is ask stupid questions! Did your mother drop you a lot as a kid or what?"

In spite of his bravado, Melissa can tell he's insecure and scoots over on the couch, grabbing his real hand and squeezing. She gives the doctor a look to prompt him to continue, and the older man nervously clears his throat.

"No, she didn't," Werber replies, any sarcasm smothered by a genuine sense of fear around this man who still manages to hold onto himself while in a trance.

"Well, shit, there's another ship," Krycek says, but he actually sounds relieved, for once. A lazy smile crosses his face. "Smoke those faceless motherfuckers. Heh, nice to see the pyros get torched."

"The UFO is burning the faceless aliens?" Werber is looking more and more boggled by the second.

"Duh," the one-armed man replies, and Emily giggles. He smiles, and now his voice gets dreamy. "Damn, that's beautiful."

"What is?" the doctor leans forward, as if he could see what the hypnotized man sees.

"Those fuckin' aliens are pulling this old lady out of her wheelchair up into their ship in slow motion with some kinda bright lights or tractor beam," he says, his voice still tinged with an awestruck wonder that Mulder would've been hard-put to believe if he were there, "but that ain't the cool part. The cool part is that the snow isn't falling, it's floating. I've never seen such beautiful snow." His gloved false hand reaches out as if to touch it, and his mouth is slightly open. "It's weird, there's a bunch of smoking bodies lying not too far away, and everyone's eyes are still on the ship that flew off, but all I see is snow floating up."

"We're going to stop now," Werber says in a soothing, but relieved, voice. "I want you to open your eyes."

"Fuck you," Krycek says, his voice still hoarse with awe.

The doctor looks at the redhead, who is inexplicably smiling at him. "Come on," Werber gently cajoles him, "come back to us and open your eyes."

Krycek blinks his eyes rapidly, and sees both Melissa and Emily smiling at him. Guess I didn't spill about the Russian boy, he thinks, somewhat relieved as he returns a shaky smile. "How come you're smiling, honey?" he asks the little blonde girl.

Still smiling, Emily says in a soft voice, "I like snow, too."

Even though he knows Cassandra Spender is relatively safe for the time being,or at least, there's no earthly way he can retrieve her, Mulder's content to let things sit for a while, thankful that he's not running afoul of Spender more than he has to. To keep himself busy and under a certain Consortium's radar, he gets more info on more victims, and touches base with more survivors, running some serious mileage on the car. It's weird to still be a believer this time around, he thinks, but thank Elsbeth or whoever that I've got no reason to be a skeptic.

He's about to call up Scully after his last interview when his cell phone rings, and answers, "Mulder."

"Mulder, it's me," Scully says.

"I was just thinking of you." He smiles, making a left turn, "must be love."

"Must be fate," Scully retorts, "I was wondering if you were making any progress on the Skyland Mountain-Ruskin Dam case."

"Nobody remembers a thing," Mulder groans, "short of hypnosis, I have no way of wrapping up this case before Christmas."

"Well, one of Missy's friends was there," she goes on, "and I sent her to Dr. Werber."

"You did?" Mulder goggles. "I guess I can leave all gyro-pyro, levitating alien abduction cases to you now!"

"Shut up, Mulder." Scully makes a face. "Missy was desperate, so I thought I'd help her out. I'm guessing you didn't talk to her yet."

"No, no, I didn't," Mulder frowns, flipping through various files in his mind. "Do you know her name?"

"I didn't ask," she says, and almost sounds apologetic. "But Missy wanted to thank Agent Spender for alerting her to her friend's state. Apparently he was at the dam looking for his mother and found Missy's friend."

"I see," Mulder says, wishing he didn't have a reason to bump into Spender. He knows it's not the guy's fault, but he also holds a grudge against the kid for taking over his division. Besides, the green agent's still way too emotional now that his mom's out of the picture for reasons he doesn't dare admit, and Mulder even talking to the kid would just set him off. "I'm about to send my findings over to Skinner, but things are still pretty sketchy at this point. Guess I'll hunt down Agent Spender afterwards."

"You want some flame-retardant gear, or will an asbestos apron suffice?" Scully asks.

Mulder grins. "I was thinking more along the lines of a ten-foot pole, butthose are good, too," he replies.

"So what are you going to tell Skinner?" Scully asks, curious.

Mulder parks the car in the Hoover building garage before answering. "I'm leaning towards an initial mass alien abduction, interrupted by the appearance of acetylene torch-wielding unfriendlies."

"'Unfriendlies'? Have you been talking to Bill?"

It's a good thing the car's off, or I would've driven through the wall, he thinks. "Does 'God forbid' answer your question?"

She laughs, and says, "Before I forget, Missy offered either a Tibetan charm or Obeah spell to find his mother. I have no idea what that means, but I'm pretty sure Agent Spender would be less inclined to use them than myself."

Mulder grins, thinking of sending Spender through the roof, then tries to chastise himself for wanting to piss off his currently-unacknowledged half-bro. "Obeah, huh? He must've been pretty desperate-sounding, then."

"Probably," Scully agrees, not sounding sorry about that fact. "Oh yeah, and I got a call from him before Missy's. He wants us to stay far away from linking his mother to this case."

"Too late," Mulder says lightly, hanging up. An evil smile crosses his face. What the hell. Being family's never stopped him from pissing people off, why stop now?

It isn't long before Krycek is back in New York, sneaking onto the Uroff-Koltoff Star of Russia to see if anyone's discovered the vial of vaccine. If the stupid Port Authority got their hands on it, they might send it over to either the cop's lab or CDC, but if the Syndicate managed to get it, the game's over. God knows he wasted enough time looking for the whereabouts of the Russian witness, only to find he was one of the charcoal victims at the dam. So much for extra leverage, he thinks, landing with a dull thud onto the metal floor of what he's privately termed the prisoner's floor.

Unfortunately, he's not the only one here, and comes face to face with a gun. "Wow." He smirks at the gun holder, holding his hands up, "They actually have you do your own dirty work."

"Not necessarily," the Well-Manicured Man says in his clipped British accent. His gaze slides over, and Krycek feels rather than sees two men grab him and shove him against the rusty metal wall, one of them pushing a gun into his back. "Unfortunately for you, one of our associates, Ms. Covarrubias, grabbed your prisoner."

"Why is that unfortunate?" Krycek hisses as a meaty hand presses him firmly into the corroded metal.

"Unfortunate because your prisoner infected her before escaping," the British man answers, his mouth a small wrinkled line. "You were clever enough to infect the boy, but not clever enough to hide the implications."

"What, that you've got people stupid enough to steal what I rightfully stole?" Krycek scoffs, only to be kidney punched by one thug and the gun now unsafetied by the other. Damn, he hisses in pain, wincing against his will. "If you wanna make any deals, deal with me, got it?"

The old man chuckles. "You presume to be in a position of power at gunpoint?" he sneers. "We know you have a Russian vaccine," he says, his eyes never leaving the other man's face even as he pockets his gun. "Give it to us."

"Fuck you," the younger man spits.

One of the thugs grabs his head and slams it against the metal wall, making Krycek see brilliant flashes of light. Even as he's blinking against the pain and a threatening wave of unconsciousness, he hears the Well-Manicured Man say in a more strident voice, "Where is the vaccine?"

Emily, he thinks as his fight to stay coherent brings him to the edge of nausea, this is for Emily. "Pay me," he says hoarsely, and his pretty face takes a bone-crushing punch. Spitting blood, he coughs, "Dead men don't talk."

The old man stares dispassionately at the bleeding traitor. "Pity," he says, then nods at the two goons, who loosen their grip only slightly. "If Covarrubias dies, then so do you. If you live, so does she. Is that enough of a reward?"

I hate rhetorical questions, Krycek glares at the wrinkled old man. "Wow, boning blondes does make you young." He smiles, taking the old man's bitch slap in stride. Then he spits blood before smiling again. Yeah, he'll make the old man drag him along, that way he'll find out what the group of old men are up to, and if they've got any clues about the faceless aliens, stupid old farts.

A red-haired woman is sitting at a wooden table, watching various people step through the sliding doors, her daughter peaceably flipping through a picture book beside her. A tall young man walks through, and even if he hadn't given his description over the phone, she would've pegged him as an FBI agent. She stands and waves him over, watching with some amusement at his stiff-legged gait. "Agent Spender? Thank you for meeting with me," she smiles, holding out her hand. "I'm Melissa Scully."

Spender looks somewhat taken aback, even as he shakes her hand. "You're Agent Scully's sister?" he asks, taking in her dramatic, yet feminine, outfit.

The tall redhead nods, as if accustomed to comparisons with her younger, more straight-laced sister. "And this is my daughter Emily. Emily, say hi to Agent Spender."

The little blonde girl, rather than standing to shake his hand, ducks behind her mother's skirt, one eye peeking out shyly.

"It's all right," he says, "I was pretty shy at her age, too."

Probably not for the same reasons, Melissa thinks, sitting down gracefully. "I'm sorry my friend isn't here to answer your questions. But we've just gone through a regression session with Dr. Werber, and I think it would help."

His small dark eyes look like they're about to pop out of his head, making her think it's a good idea he's sitting down, too. "Dr. Werber?" he repeats, sounding a little strangled.

Melissa nods. "Yes, do you know him?"

He nods back slowly. "He's, I mean, he *was*, my mother's doctor."

"Then you know how helpful he is," she says in a friendly tone. "My friend said he saw an older woman in a wheelchair there, being taken aboard a flying saucer." She nods when Spender's transparent expression lets her know she's on the right track. "I thought so. Your mother."

He scowls. "I don't think that hypnosis is a valid way of finding the truth, Ms. Scully. Are you certain your friend didn't just bump into her at some UFO cult convention?"

Melissa laughs, and other library patrons shush her. She doesn't look at all repentant as she smiles at them before returning to face the somewhat constipated-looking young agent. Too bad Fox's sister is missing, she muses, if marrying Fox did wonders for Dana, I'm pretty sure this agent would loosen up with a female Mulder. "No, he's not into that sort of thing," she says, "besides, he never met your mother before that night."

"Are you sure about that?" Spender presses.

She nods. "I'm certain your mother, on top of being wheelchair-bound, is a very good woman with a beautiful spirit, which is probably why my friend would never have met her."

Now he narrows his already small eyes at her. "Are you sure *you've* never met her?"

Melissa gives him an indulgent smile, the very opposite of her glaring younger sister. "No, but from your devotion to her, as well as Dana's description, she sounds like a very lovely person I would have liked to have met. I can see your aura is pink with love for your mother, as well as sulfuric because of your worry, but I believe Dana would say I'm a just a really good guesser."

He shakes his head. Earlier, he wondered why Agent Mulder left a message on his phone giving him this woman's number, and now he knows why. Sadistic bastard. He's surprised the man known as Spooky Mulder married Agent Scully rather than her sister, but then again, nobody's really sure what goes on in the basement. "Ms. Scully, whatever your personal beliefs are, I would ask that you reexamine other options for your friend's temporary amnesia," he says. "I believe Dr. Werber's methods are not only unsound, but dangerous, and I suggest you both should question whatever came out of that session."

Melissa puts a hand on his, not caring that he stiffens automatically. "Agent Spender, I'm sorry if your mother had a bad experience with Dr. Werber, but--"

"The problem is that she believed she had a great experience," he says sourly, jerking his hand away from her, "but Werber merely indulged and infantilized my mother for his own purposes, touting her as some UFO witness for his traveling freak show masquerading as a lecture circuit." He stands up, his back ramrod straight. "I believe your friend's being set up as the next freak, Ms. Scully. If you truly care about him, don't let him be used."

The redhead also stands, her face solemn. "I'm sorry you feel that way, Agent Spender," she says, holding out her hand. "I'm sorry that you had a regrettable regression." And she isn't surprised that she hit home for the third time. "But I truly and honestly hope you find your mother safe and sound." His hand still in hers, she uses her free hand to put a small charm into it before releasing him.

He doesn't bother looking at it before shoving it into his pocket, his stiff legs taking him through the sliding glass doors.

Melissa Scully sits down, only to face her daughter's questioning eyes. "Yes?"

Emily opens her mouth, but it takes a moment for the words to come. "Why was he mad?"

She shakes her head reassuringly. "His mom is lost, and he's scared. Sometimes people get mad when they're scared," she says, putting her hand on her daughter's shoulder.

"What was the thing?" is the blonde girl's next question.

Thing? Oh, the charm. She smiles, knowing Dana would get a kick out of it. "A St. Jude pendant. He's the saint of lost causes."

That night, as Mulder's taking out the trash, Krycek pounces on him from behind, knocking the other man down. "Married life's making you soft," he says, one arm wrapped around Mulder's neck, the other pushing a gun into his back, "I could beat you with one hand."

Sonofabitch, Mulder groans inwardly, I was gonna sneak off to Wiekamp anyways when the kids were asleep. Aloud, he says, "Isn't that how you like to beat yourself?" He grins as the gun digs in deeper, "If those are my last words, I can do better."

"Dammit, Mulder, I'm here to help you, not kill you," Krycek hisses, his legs and false arm still pinning the other man down, even as he unlocks the safety.

"Great," Mulder mumbles into the grass, "sure, I believe you. All my friends want to kick my ass before helping me, too."

Krycek backhands him, hating that this asshole knows how to push his buttons, and fairly sure that if the guy wasn't FBI or stronger than them, his friends *would* kick his ass. When he's reasonably sure he hasn't knocked the idiot out, he continues in his low, terse tone, "Just shut up and listen, dammit. The shit that went down in Kazakhstan, Skyland Mountain, Rustan Dam, they're all lighthouses where the colonization will begin, but now there's a battle being waged. A struggle for heaven and earth. Where there is one law: Fight or die. And one rule: Resist or serve."

Way to keep the dramatic tension, Mulder thinks, even as an old Nine Inch Nails song plays in his head about bowing down to the one you serve. "Alex, you're a lying, self-serving bastard, why the hell should I believe you??" his muffled voice asks.

Krycek stands up, his gun still pointed down even as Mulder rolls over to face his sort-of brother-in-law. The only thing keeping him from completely killing this idiot and going after the alien rebel himself is the thought that Missy would kill him, not the Syndicate. "I was sent by a man," he says, his gun trained on the prone man, "a man who knows that resistance is in our grasp, and in yours. The mass incinerations were strikes by an alien rebellion to upset plans for occupation. One of those rebels is being held captive. And if he dies, so does the resistance." He tosses a crumpled wad of paper a foot away from Mulder's hand and leaves, his eyes still on the FBI agent as he does so.

When Krycek is out of sight, Mulder rises and picks up the paper and frowns at the block letters spelling out Wiekamp AFB. ::Well, at least that landing-challenged alien ended up at the same place::, he thinks before crumpling it up again and shoving it into his pocket. Dusting himself off, he's relieved that Krycek didn't kiss him this time, although he's always wondered about that. He's guessing it was some kind of Russian custom, although he's fairly sure there was something a little gay there, too.

As he pushes the back door open, he rolls his head from side to side, knowing it's an exercise in futility, but who knows, maybe this time they'll take home a real live alien rebel. Or monkeys could fly from his butt, whichever. "Hey Scully," he says, "call Missy."

His wife walks in, and she frowns when she sees the grass and dirt stains on his face and clothes. "What's wrong?"

"Someone needs to watch the kids while we're on base chasing an alien rebel," he says as her frown deepens, "and it's too late to call Rachel or your mom." A part of him perversely wants to get back at Krycek, but the closest he'll get is depriving his sister-in-law of her sleep. Childish, yes, but he's yet to deeply analyze familial relationships in the midst of alien hunting.

Nearly three in the morning, after Mulder and Scully return from their fruitless chase after an alien bounty hunter that stole an alien rebel from an Air Force Base, Melissa Scully brings her still-sleeping daughter back home, yawning before she unlocks the door. She still isn't sure what an alien rebel has to do with Alex's amnesia or Spender's mother's disappearance, but her sister said there was some kind of connection. She'd simply nodded, too tired to make sense of anything at this time.

The redhead stiffens when she senses someone else in the house, her fears mollified when the person turns on the light. "Alex," she breathes, smiling.

"Hey." He smiles back, taking the dead weight of the sleeping girl out of her arms and kisses her briefly. "Lemme get her to bed, and I'll join you in yours."

Melissa nods, a part of her marveling at how easily this man has become so domesticated. Or perhaps he's like a cat, able to slip into both feral and tame natures when the situation calls for it, and wandering in and out of her life as casually as those four-legged creatures. Wearily, she goes to her room and slips off her coat, then the hair fastener, then her skirt, leaving only Alex's t-shirt and her underwear and socks on before absently brushing her teeth and crawling into bed.

She isn't surprised when he joins her, fully clothed, under the covers. "Mm," she says, not opening her eyes, "I'm sorry, I'm too tired."

"S'okay," Krycek murmurs, brushing her hair from her face in the same gentle way he did their daughter's minutes earlier, "go to sleep." As he watches Melissa slip quickly into unconsciousness, he reaches over and turns off the light, he kisses her on the cheek and closes his own eyes. It's not long before they are joined in peaceful slumber, their two heads touching, red and black, unmindful of any alien conspiracies, rebels, vaccines, hypnosis, incinerations or abductions.

Chapter Fifty-Nine

"Daddy, what's this?"

Today, Mulder is watching the kids while Scully is off at a doctor's appointment. Of course, he neglected to tell his lovely wife that he took the kids to work, and Sammy discovered the X-Files – literally, by papering the floor with every file he could get his chubby little hands on. It was during this time that Page found a very special X-File, and she held up the worn and tattered file carefully.

His face had brightened, seeing the old file number X-525652 emblazoned on the front. "That's the first X-File I saw, eight years ago," he said reverently. Then his excitement dulled, and he put the file away, locking it with the others. "I'll tell you about it later."

"It's sad, huh?" his blonde daughter guessed, and he nodded. More than she can imagine. "What's this?" and she nearly toppled over the bookshelf to reach the guts floating in a jar on the top shelf.

"Whoa!" he yelled, then steadied the shelf and held back the thousands of items housed on it by a sheer miracle more than ability or strength. "I think I figured out why 'Take Your Kids to Work Day' doesn't really fly in certain jobs," he muttered.

Or maybe the basement office is just ground zero for childish behavior that would cause even an ordinary mortal to lose his job, so Mulder decided to haul his kids off to a somewhat more safer place. That, and answer a few childlike questions of his own, questions the old file had unearthed.

"Dad, what happened?"

Mulder's sitting with his father at his apartment, April sitting peacefully on the couch, Sammy and Page playing with toys Mulder brought in bags, and the two men sitting in opposing chairs. The elder Mulder looked somewhat at a loss when the small family began its invasion, and he looks even more so now.

"What do you mean?" Bill Mulder replies. He'd been so good at holding off on the drink, but for some reason, seeing his son, seeing his grandkids, seeing them all together in a friendly fashion, it just makes him want to hit the bottle again.

"June 1952." The younger Mulder's eyes flicker to his kids, then to his father. "File X-525652," he says quietly. "The first X-File I ever laid eyes on. The file that drew me in because Skur said my name. Our name."

The older man's eyes widen slightly at the single-syllable name. "What about it," he says warily.

Mulder sighs. He knew it wouldn't be easy. He just hoped the presence of the kids would keep them both on their best behavior, sort of a precautionary measure against homicide, perhaps. "I ended up talking to Arthur Dales about it when I got wind of it in late November 1990," he says. "We weren't getting along, and I sure as hell wouldn't stoop to asking you about it. Especially since I was just starting out and doing good as a profiler. And then some old guy with a body husk in his bathtub repeats my name over and over as his last words..." He rests his chin in his hands, looking at Sammy and Page, since it seems safer than looking at his father.

"And you've gotta be wondering what the hell is going on," Bill Mulder nods. "Yeah." His baggy eyes, too, are on his grandchildren, and he wonders if they will ever look on him with as much contempt as his son does. Perhaps. Perhaps even more so. They have more than enough reason to. "Those were strange days," he says.

Mulder snorts. "You think? Imagine what I thought when I was watching old tapes of the McCarthy hearings and seeing you sitting with the big shots. That was pretty," he starts to swear, and remembering the kids, thinks better of it, "freaking bizarre."

His father chuckles. "Imagine living it. All this hullabaloo these days, celebrity schlock, that's nothing compared to nationwide hysteria, 'The Red Scare'. FDR's declaration of 'nothing to fear but fear itself' turned on this country, and everyone was pointing fingers, naming names." He sighs. "But you know all about diversionary tactics, don't you?" he says, and would be sarcastic if he wasn't so damn tired of putting up a front.

His son nods. "Got a beer? 'Cause I could use one," he says, and is somewhat saddened to see the surprised, then relieved look on his father's face as the older man gets up to grab a couple of cold ones.

"Why Dales? And why Skur?"

"Why anything?" Bill Mulder retorts. "They just happened to be the pieces at the time. As you know, I worked for the State Department, the same as Skur." His eyes gaze off to a point that isn't quite here nor there. "The same as Gissing and Oberman, for that matter." He pauses to take a swig from his bottle. "I don't like lotteries. I don't like gambling, period. But it seems that those three men were dealt an unlucky hand, and all three of them made their choices." He doesn't look at his son.

"Two of them chose to end their lives rather than continue being homicidal guinea pigs. That's understandable. Some people like to think that, when push comes to shove, that they'll be able to fight, but sometimes, you have to take yourself out of the game in order to win."

Mulder's forearms are propped on his thighs, having leaned forward to hear the man's low conversation. "Is that what you did?"

The older man chuckles, but it's a lifeless parody. "If I had even half the courage of Oberman or Gissing, I would have done it their way," he admits, staring at his bottle. "But I was young. I had a career. I had your mother. I had," he sighs, putting the bottle down, "power. All those things kept me in the game, kept me going, until it wasn't enough. Eventually, pragmatism wins out over youth, reality rules over careers, disillusionment comes to wives, and entropy wins over power." His tired eyes finally look at his son. "You didn't come here to hear excuses or explanations, but that's all I have."

Mulder squints, wondering what really happened to this man, this stranger he thought he knew and could easily categorize as a coward and traitor. "No, it's not," he says. "I want to know," he pauses, feeling an unfamiliar lump in his throat. "I want to know, why Skur said your name. Why not Dales?"

"Why not?"

The old man's eyes may be baggy and tired, but there's an honesty shining through that's almost painful to see. "I think we were kindred spirits," he says quietly.

"How?" Mulder wonders. It's not like his father was forced into some experimental nightmare, or lived out his days killing people. It was more the opposite, the man chose to condemn his daughter to the aliens, and chose to hide from the world and everything, numbing himself with alcohol and who knows what else.

Bill Mulder shakes his head. "The monster you have become, you cannot uncreate," he says, glancing at his grandchildren, then wincing as if even the sight of them hurt him. "I think you'd better go now."

Mulder nods, then stands and walks over to pick up April, already asleep, in her carrier. "Come on, guys, time to go," he says, calmly scooping their toys into their bags. Understandably, they grumble, but their good-byes are muted when they see how sad and withdrawn their grandfather is, and they leave more quietly than they arrived.

"Why is Bumpa sad?" Sammy asks when they're in the car.

"Stuff that happened a long time ago," Mulder replies, but it's in a tone less sharp than he thought. "Sometimes it makes me sad, too."

"Oh," the redheaded boy says.

Page opens her mouth to ask something, but seeing the expression on her father's face resembling her Bumpa's, she decides to keep quiet for now.

"Mulder, what's wrong?"

Sitting on the bed, Mulder starts, then puts down the book he's been pretending to read and looks at his wife. "I talked to Dad about an X-File," he says.

She raises her eyebrows. "Oh?"

"It was the first X-File that got my attention," he explains. "Mainly because the guy in the casefile was saying Dad's name over and over as his last words."

"Your father was in an X-File?" his wife's eyebrows nearly reach the crown of her red hair.

"Considering the kind of work he was in, I'm surprised he's not in more," Mulder replies. "But yeah. It was during the McCarthy hearings, and this guy, Skur, was supposedly a communist. It turns out this guy was a World War II vet and they did xenotransplantation via the Nazis to turn him into a superweapon." He nods at his wife's horrified look. "Yeah, well, not only was my father involved in this whole operation, he turns the guy loose. Skur had been living for about 36 years in relative obscurity until he got killed, and according to the file, the agent in charge was Arthur Dales."

"Wasn't he the first agent to work on the X-Files?" Scully frowns.

Mulder nods. "Yeah. The guy's a little cryptic, but maybe that's a side effect on working on the X-Files after a while."

"You have yet to be cryptic," Scully says, pulling the sheet over herself. "Infuriatingly stingy with pertinent details, perhaps, but not cryptic."

"See, I knew there was a reason you loved me." He grins, only to get elbowed. "Ow."

"So what made you decide to talk to your father about it now?" she asks, coming unerringly back to the subject.

Damn. "Well, Page found it, and I thought, what the hell," he answers.

She shakes her head. "How did Page fi -- You brought them to work?"

"Hey, Skinner was cool with it," he says, then wilts a little under her glare. "Hey, when they allow the Gunmen to do weekly sweeps of the daycare center, I'll consider leaving our precious little ones with them," he says.

Scully rolls her eyes, then yawns. "Was your father helpful?"

Mulder actually has to stop and think about this one. This man, who sacrificed his daughter, betrayed his son, sent hundreds into horrifying tests, and did God knows what else, actually tried to warn Dales, in spite of his best interests not to. He recalls Dales, a man still very healthy in a surprising old age considering the mortality rate in the X-Files, in 1990 telling him, "I even thought that maybe... maybe some poor innocent bastard--somebody with a conscience--might have let him go."

He'd asked, "Why would anyone do that? Why let a killer go free?"

"In the hope that by letting him live, the truth of the crimes that were committed against him and the others might someday... be exposed."

"He was," Mulder says, and turns off the light.

April 1998

"See you tomorrow!" Mulder waves as Rachel leaves. She has a last-minute hot date, and Mulder feels quite generous about having given her the night off. This nanny he likes.

Still whistling cheerfully to himself as he checks on the kids, he feels a buzz at his hip. His cell phone ringer makes April cry, so he's been keeping it on vibrate, even though it makes him feel like he's got a large insect trapped in his pocket.


"Mulder, you need to come to my doctor's office, right now."

"I just gave Rachel the night off, so I guess I could see if my mom-"

"Just bring them with you. The office closes in 45 minutes, and the doctor needs to speak to you today."

"Is there something wrong?"

"We'll explain when you get here."

"Scu-" The dial tone rings in his ear.

Being nervous doesn't help him quickly get three small children ready to go outside, but they're on their way less than ten minutes later.

Maybe they're picking up on his mood, but the kids are not very cooperative once Mulder manages to get them in the building. He wishes he hand three hands- one for each of the older kids and one to carry April's baby seat. As it is, he has to make do with just the two he was born with.

"Page! I said to hold Sammy's hand!" Mulder barks when his oldest daughter seems to be ready to wander off. She pouts, but takes her brother's hand. Whining all the way, they finally reach the floor Scully's doctor is on.

"Hi, my wife Dana Scully called and said that it was important that I come for the rest of her appointment," Mulder says nervously.

Sammy and Page are still acting up, much to Mulder's embarrassment. The receptionist gives him a knowing smile that just makes him feel worse. "I'll let the doctor know that you're here. Why don't you leave these two here? There are some toys in the children's waiting room right over there-" she points to a glass-faced room off of the reception desk. "–that they can play with while you're in with the doctor."

"If you don't mind..."

"It's part of my job. Many of the expectant mothers have older kids."

While he brings Sammy and Page into the waiting room, and tells them to behave, the receptionist has already told the doctor he is there, so it's only a matter of hauling April's carrier to the room that Scully's in.

"Mister Mulder, I'm glad we were able to reach you at the last minute," the doctor tells him with a smile. It doesn't put Mulder at ease, so he tries to distract himself by taking a minute to get his daughter out of the carrier and into his arms. He'd die before he'd admit it, but sometimes holding one of the kids helps calm him in stressful situations.

"Um, yeah. Is there something wrong? With Scully or the baby?"

Mulder can see that there's a tense look on Scully's face, and that doesn't make him hopeful.

"I thought you should see this ultrasound," the doctor tells him, and Mulder finally realizes that Scully has goo all over her bare belly. "This-" The doctor points to a blob on the screen. "Is your son." Before Mulder can ask him what's wrong with him, the doctor moves his hand to another section of the screen. "And this is your son as well."

"He's in two pieces?" Mulder's horrorstricken eyes look at the doctor.

Who laughs at him. "Twins, sir. Two healthy babies, each in one piece."

"Oh. I knew that's what you meant." It's clear that no one believes him.

After an awkward pause, Scully speaks to him. "What are you thinking, Mulder?"

"That I shouldn't have made so many evil twin jokes." He smiles wryly.

"You're...okay with this?"

::It's a little late to have objections now, isn't it?:: "Sure. Just as long as the three of you are healthy."

"Mom and babies are doing great," the doctor reassures him.

"Speaking of Moms... I bet yours is going to be even more glad we have a nanny now," Mulder says solemnly.

Ten minutes later, Sammy and Page pull at Mulder's coat when he goes to get them.

"Is Mommy all done?"

"We going home?"

"Mommy will be out in just a minute. I want to talk to you guys while we wait."

"'k," they agree.

"Remember how Mommy and I told you that you're going to have a new brother or sister?" Both small heads nod. "Well the doctor just told us that there are going to be two new babies."

"Two babies?" Page looks surprised. "How do two babies get in Mommy's tummy?"

"The same way as one," Mulder tells her, patting her on the head. This is not the place for a "where do babies come from?" lecture. Fortunately, Page doesn't seem to notice his evasive answer.

Sammy gives April and Page a glance, then looks up at Mulder. "Brothers?" he asks in a hopeful tone.

"I think so," Mulder replies. The doctor might have said boys, but he knows that it's sometimes hard to tell this early.

As soon as Scully finds them, Sammy throws himself at her legs. "Two babies!"

"They're taking this well," Scully remarks.

"Somehow, I don't think they're as surprised as we are." Mulder grins. "After all, they're small children. Strange things must happen every day in their worlds."

"And they don't in ours?" Scully asks, looking as though she's trying not to laugh.

The next morning they purposely don't wake the kids up before they go to work. This seems to surprise Rachel a little when she arrives.

"Are the kids sick?" she asks, looking a bit nervous about the prospect of dealing with three cranky little ones.

"They're fine. We didn't want to wake them because we need to talk to you, and it'd be better to do with without them underfoot."

"Oh," Rachel says as she slumps into a chair. "Are you upset with me for some reason?"

"What?" Scully gives her a puzzled look. "No, we're not. We need to talk to you about my doctor's appointment yesterday."

Rachel's eyes widen. "Is something wrong?"

"See, Scully? It's not just me you freak out by saying something like that," Mulder says.

Scully ignores him. "No, nothing's wrong. We found out yesterday that it's going to be a boy. Actually boys. Twins."

"Twins," Rachel repeats, and Mulder is sure he can hear her swallow. "Wow."

"We wanted to tell you as soon as possible, in case you would rather not be a nanny for five kids."

"It'll be fine," Rachel says quickly. But Mulder notices that she looks awfully pale.

Chapter Sixty

St. John's Church

Alexandria, VA.
April 19, 1998

"Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It's been over a month since my last confession," Scully says, once she's ducked into the confessional.

The priest, partially hidden from view, nods slightly. "You have a sin to confess?"

"Father, I'm an FBI agent. I've taken it as my code and purpose to uphold the law... to save lives." It sounds trite, but it's less a truth than an excuse, at least to her.

"And now your work has come in conflict with your faith," the priest comments.

Maybe, maybe not. At this point, Scully's really not sure. "In a way. I was here for Easter services last week and Father McCue approached me for my help."

"Why did he come to you?"

Scully looks down. She started this, might as well finish it. "Because there was a family that he felt needed my help. But it was more than that." Her eyes fill with tears, feeling doubly convicted as a Catholic and as a mother, not to mention being an FBI agent and doctor. All of which were good reasons why her heart is breaking. "Father, I told you that I had a sin to confess... But the sin of which I'm guilty... I'm not sure if you can offer forgiveness."

"What is the sin?" the priest asks gently.

Her tears choke her throat, but she doesn't care. "An innocent girl is dead because of me. I could've saved her life, but I let her die."

Easter Sunday
One Week Earlier

Scully and the kids were dressed in their Easter Sunday best, looking like human versions of pastel Easter goodies. She felt bad that Mulder didn't join them, excusing himself by saying, "It would be kinda weird, even if I'm not exactly an orthodox Jew."

"Since when has weird ever stopped you?" she'd asked, but she understood the sentiment and let him watch sports at home with the godfathers, that is, the Lone Gunmen. She was still wondering whether it was a good idea to let them be her children's godparents when Father McCue called out to her.

"Dana... Do you have a moment? I'd like to speak with you in private," he waved her and her brood over.

Later, in Father McCue's office, the priest beamed, "I must say, Dana, it's been nice seeing you at mass again. I've almost started getting used to it."

"I've been trying to make an effort to come more often." She nodded at her children, who were staring up at the stained glass windows.

"I don't mean to take advantage of your attendance, but I've become involved in a difficult situation with a couple that are also members here. Do you know the Kernofs?"

The redhead shook her head slowly. "No, I'm afraid I don't."

The father sighed. "Recently, they lost their daughter, Dara. You may have heard about the situation?" He raises his eyebrows slightly.

She blinked, trying to remember if there were any prayers brought up on their behalf and came up with nothing. "No, I didn't."

The corners of his mouth turned down. "The circumstances of the girl's death were sudden and I'm afraid the police haven't been able to tell them much."

"Are you asking for my help?" Scully asked.

Father McCue nodded briefly. "The Kernofs are devout but their faith is giving them little comfort. I thought with your background your words might carry a certain weight. Can I tell them you'll be visiting?"

Scully dropped the kids off at home, and while Mulder and the Gunmen were glad to have more of a crowd to enjoy the game with, she'd tossed Mulder a lame excuse about why she couldn't join the party. Mulder bought it, mainly because he knew she wouldn't enjoy herself as much, and partly because he remembered that this is the case-that-wasn't-a-case that Scully got involved in around this time.

Since Emily isn't theirs and is still alive, he figured it'll be safe for her to check it out and waved her off with a beer in one hand and Sammy in the other. Relieved, Scully headed over to the Kernof house, only to sit with Mrs. Kernof in the living room while Mr. Kernof stood in another room staring out the window.

Mrs. Kernof showed Scully a picture of her adopted daughter, a young teen with long dark hair staring blankly to a point away from the camera. "That's Dara on her 16th birthday. We couldn't have children of our own. I persuaded Lance six years ago to adopt. At first he was reluctant to accept a special needs child, but he became so attached to her. Then this happens. You make the choice never imagining something like this or how vulnerable you are. Dara had just been baptized. I know in my heart she's gone to a better place, but Lance is angry," she glanced into the other room where her husband stood, silent and alone. "Angry at God. They say time heals," she added, parroting the cliché but obviously not believing it.

Scully also looked over at Mr. Kernof, hating to imagine the kind of pain he and his wife were going through. "Oh, Father McCue said that, uh, that you've been having trouble getting much information about what might have happened to her," she said awkwardly.

Mrs. Kernof nodded, looking at the picture of her daughter. "They say now she may have been struck by lightening but no one seems to know for sure. How she even got out of the house onto the street is a mystery."

"What do you mean?" Scully frowned.

The thin woman looked at the redhead. "Dara suffered from congenital spinal deformities," she said, as if that should've been on the police report. "She's been wheelchair bound her whole life."

Scully felt a chill, a remembrance of something she'd forgotten, but shouldn't have. "Could somebody have taken her out of her room?" she asked, and tried to push the feeling away.

Mrs. Kernof shook her head. "Lance said he saw her walking and that when he found her she was on her knees, praying. I think that's the hardest part for my husband. He'll never understand how God could... forsake the life of an innocent girl. How God, in His mercy could let this happen to our Dara," she said quietly.

In the morgue, Scully got the report firsthand from the coroner herself. "If you want me to stand by my report, I will, but I have to say it's not exactly open and shut on the cause of death," the blonde woman said.

"You think it was lightning?" Scully's eyes were on the report she was flipping through.

"I'm guessing it was lightning," the coroner corrected her. "The way her eyes were burned suggests the bolt may have gone to ground right through the top of her head. Funny thing is there was no other sign of arcing except for the face."

"Her mother said that she was found in a kneeling position," Scully said. Again, she tried to ignore the bad feeling, but no luck.

"Genuflecting," the blonde woman nodded. "Are you a religious person?"

As she was in medical school and the academy, Scully was wary. "Why do you ask?"

The coroner didn't take offense, and walked around the agent. "I haven't been to church since I was a kid, but I went last Sunday. I'm going to show you something." She showed the agent pictures of Dara's body, the young woman staring sightlessly with her hands and face lifted up in a gruesome approximation of prayer. "Her body was rigored such that I had to do my examination in the position she was found. I've never seen anything like it."

One of the close-up pictures show a scar on the outside of Dara's hand and Scully took note of it. "Looks like there was surgery done on her hands."

"She was polydactyl," the coroner nodded again. "Same with her feet. I haven't asked her parents yet. Haven't had the heart to ask, but I assume they had the extra fingers removed."

"What's the connection?" Scully raised an eyebrow.

The coroner shook her head. "I found no other evidence of any other tissue damage of electrical burns or any other serious trauma. It's as if God Himself struck her down," she said, somewhat baffled.

"Dara Kernof was adopted. I don't suppose that you've requested any information about the birth mother."

The coroner quickly shook her head, then added, "I can do that if you like."

"No, that's okay," the agent said, and shook her head. "I, uh... I have someone I can ask. Somebody I'd like to confer with, actually."

Scully drove aimlessly through the rain. She felt somehow guilty for being able to go home to a loving husband and family, while the Kernofs grieve for their daughter. She'd never felt this kind of connection to a case before that didn't involve immediate family, but there's something about it that just tore at her. She supposed it's something like what Mulder feels whenever there's an abduction case, although she can't explain any personal connection, aside from being Catholic, that she can think of to dispel this strange pull. Her cell phone rang, and she blinked, and quickly answered it before sliding through a yellow-then-red light. "Hello?"

Mulder's worried, of course, since his wife hasn't been back since midway through the first game, but it translated to impatience. "Hey, Scully, the kids are wondering what happened to you."

Which just happened to be the wrong thing to say in her state of mind. "Hi... uh, something's come up. I was, uh, hoping that you could do me a favor," Scully said, sounding distracted.

"Why?" He frowned, readjusting April on his hip. "What's going on?"

"This isn't official FBI business so I was hoping that we could keep it outside of work," she said tersely.

Oh boy. "Hey, look, I'm, uh..." Mulder's distracted by the crowd starting to surge into the theater doors, "I'm kind of rushed, so, uh..." Through the window of the phone booth, a huge neon mouse winked, and he sighed.

"I need some birth and adoptive records on a Dara Kernof."

"Who?" he asked, and wondered if he looks as suspicious as other parents seem to think he does, what with his black leather jacket, dark t-shirt and jeans with three preschoolers huddled in a phone booth.

"Dara Kernof, D-A-R-A K-E-R-N-O-F. I can't tell you much more than that, Mulder. I'm sorry."

So am I, but not for the reasons you think, Mulder groused inwardly. "You want to give me a hint? Anything?" he wheedled.

Scully smiled a little for the first time since this morning. "Not until you get me those records."

"All right, I'll talk to you later," he said, then hung up.

"Daddy, we're gonna be late," Page whined as he grabbed the baby bag.

"Not if I can help it," Mulder said, and hauled his kids to the ticket booth. The marquee above read "A Decade of Disney Movies" and he couldn't help but wonder what's got his wife so tied up in this that she forgot the family outing for the evening.

State Psychiatric Hospital.

Mount Lebanon, VA.

The next day found Scully watch coroners first cover Paula's dead body on a gurney, then wheel her out of the room. Like her sister, Paula's eyes were burned out. The former occupant having left the room, Scully scanned the

rest of the Spartan room and saw an upside-down cross pendant hung on the wall. It isn't long before her husband walked in and said, "Scully? Aren't you the secret squirrel."

She raised her eyebrows slightly. "What so you mean?"

He shot her a look of disbelief. "Just got a look at that body they wheeled out of here." Then he grinned. "You've been holding out on me."

Scully sighed, not a good sign. "Mulder, it's not what you think. I -- I didn't want to involve you. I got asked to look into this as a favor for a family."

"Dara Kernof's family?" he asked, then started to wander around the room.

"You found Dara's records?" she asked hopefully.

He shook his head, distracted. After he'd called Rachel and got the cats fed, he'd broken the speed limit getting to the hospital. One of the few times he's ever rushed *to* a psych ward, not away from it, but then, nobody in a white coat was waiting for him. "No, those are her birth records. The adoption records have been sealed."

"I think one of my questions has already been answered. Dara was a twin," she said pensively.

Mulder made his way over to the late Paula Koklos' bed, and debated whether he should suss his wife out now or later, deliberately not looking at her so as not to reveal his overwhelming curiosity. "No. Actually she was a quadruplet -- one of four girls. Was this, uh... cross found like this?"

Scully looks over and frowned. "Uh, yes, as far as I know. Why?"

He handled it gently, having knowledge of how far the person who hung it would go to protect innocent girls. "It's inverted, upside down," he said, turning to face her. "That's a protest, a sacrilege against the church."

Her eyebrows went up again. "Put there by whom?"

Like I'm telling, he thought mutinously. "It's your case, remember, Scully? Do you have any suspects?"

She looked dodgy. "Not as of this time," she says, looking away.

Curioser and curioser, he thought, clearly piqued. "Could the, uh, the victim have placed it?" he walked around so he can see her face.

"Uh, it's doubtful," she replied, and avoided the burning curiosity in her husband's eyes. "Paula Koklos was severely impaired -- physically and mentally -- as was Dara Kernof."

Guess we're gonna play cat-and-mouse here, too, he sighed inwardly. "And they both died the same way?" he prompted.

"It appears that their eyes were burnt out, their bodies frozen in a position of prayer."

"Their physical deformities could account for that," he said, taking the rarely traveled oh-so-reasonable side of the road, for once.

"They might," she nodded, still not looking at him.

Argh. What the hell was going through her head? "Look, Scully. I know you don't really want my help on this, but can I offer you my professional opinion?" Scully nodded, and finally faced him head on. "You've got a bona-fide, super-crazy, religious wacko on your hands," he said succinctly, just to see if what made her all touchy was the religious aspect of the case.

Her jaw set, and she looked him squarely in the eye. Okay, looked like religion could be part of the equation. "What makes you so sure?"

"The mote in the eye, the eyes as windows to the soul, an eye for an eye," he rambled, even as he tried to search Scully's eyes for a window into her soul, "he's working from ancient scripture... ancient text... Maybe even the Bible. He may even think he's doing God's work."

A tall, business-like red-headed man entered, and Mulder had to force himself not to shudder or drag his wife from the room. He may not believe exactly everything Scully does, but it doesn't mean he has to like the devil. "Did you find anything?" he asked, and shook both their hands. "My name is Aaron Starkey. I'm the social worker assigned to Paula Koklos. This is so tragic. I just hope you catch whoever did this."

Scully, oblivious to the newcomer's true identity or her husband's creeped-out factor, asked, "Mr. Starkey, do you happen to know if that cross over there belonged to Paula?"

The tall redhead glanced over and frowned. "I don't remember seeing it before. I'm sure it didn't," he said quickly. Mulder thought, Liar, liar, pants on fire. He mentally amended that, And the rest of you on fire, too, you evil bastard.

"Did she have any visitors or anybody who might have left it behind?" his wife continued.

"Well, she had no family. No friends, really," he said tersely. "I don't know if you knew this, but... Paula was about to be adopted."

Scully's eyebrows just about reached her hairline. "By who?"

On the way over to The Church of St. Peter the Sinner, Mulder and Scully stewed with their thoughts, neither willing to share what they know, but each for entirely different reasons. Just like the cross over Paula's bed, the name of the church is prefaced by an upside down cross. They entered the church, which looked like a dingy old warehouse, with folding chairs set up as pews and large windows being the only illumination for the building.

Mulder picked up a plainly bound book, "The Book of St. Peter the Sinner" with an upside-down cross. He turned the book upside down, looks at the cross, then turned it right-side up. He figured the X-Files looked about as crazy as this homemade bible of non-canonical texts. "Scully, look at this," he said, flipping through it. "The Gnostic Gospels, Book of Enoch ... Book of J... Apocrypha... I'm surprised there's nothing here from 'Jesus Christ Superstar'."

"What kind of church is this?" she asked, clearly ignoring his sarcasm and stared around the plain building with a bafflement born of being a middle-class American Christian.

"There's no telling," Mulder replied, not telling.

A short, youthful man in black walked in, his expression of the helpful variety. "Can I help you?"

"Father Gregory?" Scully turned around.

"Yes?" the man answered.

"I'm Dana Scully," she said, and displayed her badge, "We're here about the death of Paula Koklos."

The father looked like someone socked him in the stomach. "Oh..."

Scully frowned, concerned. "Are you all right, Father?"

Father Gregory pulled himself together. "I was trying to adopt Paula. I'm sure you knew that."

"Why adopt her?" Mulder asked belligerently, not because he's as antagonistic as before, but because he knew Scully's not gonna press the guy like she normally would.

The man of the cloth looked mildly horrified. "I - I was trying to protect her. I knew her mother."

"Do you know where she is?" Scully asked.

"Yes." The priest nodded.

"We were looking for her name. It's not listed on the girls' birth records," she said, concerned.

"Why would you want it?" Father Gregory asked, suspicious of them.

"The other two girls may be in danger," Scully replied, and tried to keep the frustration from her voice, but didn't do very well. "We're hoping that she might be able to help is find them."

"Their mother died in childbirth," he said evasively.

Scully looked at Mulder, who said nothing. Thanks a lot, she thought, but I guess I deserve that. "Can you give us a name?" she pleaded.

"When I was a priest in the Roman Church, before I founded my own, I was her confessor. Divulging her name would violate the code of my faith," and then the priest saw Scully's cross necklace, "and yours, I see."

He may trump Scully with that, but not me, Mulder thought mulishly. "You said you wanted to protect Paula. From what?"

The father gazed at him with a patient, forgiving look. "Whatever your intentions... your secular prejudices blind you from seeing what's really happening here. Two girls are dead... not by the hand of Man. Unless you accept the truth of God's teachings that there is a struggle between good and evil for All Souls and that we are losing that struggle, you're but fools rushing in. You put your own lives in danger as well as the lives of the Messengers. I have nothing more to say."

When Mulder and Scully came out of Father Gregory's church, Mulder decided to needle her further, "All that crap about the fight for All Souls, the literature we saw in there, the performance we just witnessed -- it all fits. He thinks he's doing God's laundry."

Her eyebrow quirked up. "I think you're a little extreme in your judgment, don't you, Mulder?" When he mumbled, she added, "Well, he said this wasn't done by the hand of man. Do you think he believes that, too?"

He looked at her. "If he does, he's even more dangerous than he appears. Even if he's not your killer, he is hiding something."

"What?" she asked, looking like her old self.

He decided to prompt her rather than piss her off. "Well, he says he knew the mother, but won't give up her name. Maybe she's still alive. I think you have enough to bring him in for questioning if not make an arrest."

She looked at him, not sure whether or not he's humoring her. "But, basically, you're ruling out any element of the supernatural?"

"What... do... you... mean?" he said slowly. Did he somehow give away the fact that he knows more than he does? Or did she automatically assume that he'll go chasing after the paranormal on every case? Yeah, maybe that's it...

"Well, Dara Kernof was baptized on the day of her death. She was sanctified by the ritual sacrament... submerged in the spirit," she explained. "Like our children earlier this year."

"Are you worried that some wackos are gonna go after our kids next?" he asked, half-joking. "Look, Scully, some sicko, for some half-baked religious 'reason'," he maked quote marks in the air with his fingers, "is targeting four girls. Whatever his beliefs, they aren't benign. Besides, people have used religion since the dawn of time to justify some of the most horrible acts in history." He added quietly, "I never did like the idea of God allowing bad things to happen to good people."

"I was raised to believe that God has His reasons, however mysterious," Scully said, and wondered briefly if her mother told Mulder about Patience.

"He may well have His reasons, but He seems to use a lot of psychotics to carry out His job orders." But it's less a sarcastic than resigned comment. Mulder gave in, since it's plain to see he'll get nowhere with her. "You want to find out who did this? I suggest you autopsy the body of Paula Koklos before it's interred, before the man who killed her has a chance to find her sisters."

He slid into the driver's side of the car, then popped the lock open on the passenger door for his wife. And they call me driven, he thought, as she stared forward in her seat.

In the autopsy bay, Scully began her dictation. "The victim is Paula Koklos, age 16, cause of death unknown. I'll begin with the external examination." She pulled back the white sheet to reveal Paula's burned eyes and extra fingers on her hands. "Victim has signs of congenital physical defects including four supernumerary digits. The only indications of external trauma are the burning... by means unknown, of both globes of the eyes." She frowned, then felt a lump on the shoulder.

"I'm noting something on the shoulder -- a bony process of some kind, possibly a tumorous mass. No, no indication of surgical procedure." She looked up at the x-ray sheets and amended her comment. "The mass appears on both the right and left clavicle."

When Scully looked back at the table, she saw a long-gone childhood friend lying on the autopsy table, looking up at her. Scully closed her eyes and took a deep breath. When she opened them again she saw Paula's eyeless orbs stare back at her. "Oh, God," she said quietly, and turned away. Please, please let it be just pregnancy hallucinations, she prayed, please. Bad enough she's seen enough insanity while not pregnant, but this was just too much.

"Dana?" a small girl's lisping voice interrupted her prayers. Scully turned in shock and saw a little girl with dark hair and painfully deformed arms speak to her. "Dana, please," the girl lisped, her large dark eyes solemn, lying patiently on the table as if waiting for the older woman to tuck her into bed.

When tears threaten to spill over, Scully grabbed at the cassette recorder and shut it off violently before she managed to turn away. When she looked back, the teenaged Paula was on the table as she should be. Her breathing became quick and shallow, and the redheaded woman grabbed the countertop, and stayed upright despite the weakness in her legs.

While Scully was in the lab looking at autopsy results, her cell phone rang and she answered it absentmindedly.

"Hey, Scully, it's me," Mulder said, his voice fading slightly when he made a turn, "I did a little more digging on those adoption records."

"What do you mean?"

Shades perched on his face, Mulder answered, "I think I got a lead on that third sister."


"She was under county care ten years ago. Apparently, she wandered into a teen crisis center here in DC last week, homeless. That guy over at, uh, social services, Starkey -- he's helping me canvas the area," he said, and stopped the car. He was somewhat disappointed to see that the so-called social services guy caught up, but if he ditched him too early, he might've tipped his hand. Hopefully, he'll be able to shake him like last time.

"Well, Mulder, if she shares anything with her sisters, she wouldn't be walking anywhere far," Scully said over the phone.

"What did you find?" he asked, hoping the creepy redhead won't overhear.

Scully stared at the x-rays, not sure how to phrase it. "There's evidence of a progressive degenerative bone disease and, uh, I know you're going to think that I'm crazy... but I swear I found evidence of something winglike."

Mulder looked into a silver Cutlass Ciera that has an upside down cross hanging from the rearview mirror. Bingo. "Well, then, maybe she flew here, Scully," he remarked.

"Mulder, there's something else..."

"Why don't you hold that thought and tell it to me and Father Gregory when you see us?" he cut her off when Starkey went into a fenced off area.

When he entered the building, he found no sign of Starkey, which could be a good or a bad thing. His handy-dandy flashlight on, Mulder charged into the darkness and saw a figure at the end of a hall. He pulled out his gun and wished he had his bullets blessed or something. "Stop right there! Move into the light. Move into the light. Hands where I can see them!"

To his relief, it was Father Gregory who steps into the shaft of light and held his hands up. "We're too late."

Please, let it be the freaky angel guy and not Starkey, Mulder prayed, but pinned the father to the wall. "Where's the girl?"

"She's dead," Father Gregory said quietly.

"Where is she?" Mulder asked, and he didn't have to fake his concern.

"In there." The shorter man pointed, then slumped to the floor after Mulder released him.

Mulder slowly pushed the door open and walked in, both flashlight and gun ready. The girl sat in a position of prayer. Her eyes were burned out. Thank God, the agent breathed a sigh of relief, which would be inappropriate if anyone saw his face. A bird startled him as it flew up and out through a grate in the roof, and he stared up after it. Maybe we were all touched by an angel and didn't realize it, he thought, feeling sorrow for his ignorant past self and strained his eyes until all he could no longer see the flight of wings.

As before, Mulder and Scully interrogated Father Gregory at the police station, they got a tip from a cop about Roberta Dyer's whereabouts, and they still left the father alone in the room. Mulder left the door open, since the guard was sitting there, just to make sure nobody sneaked in without being seen. Scully didn't confess to seeing Emily, which was a relief, but she didn't confess to seeing anything else, which was a worry. Still, he decided to play things out and follow the tip, while Scully checked on the father.

Thankfully, Roberta was still missing, since her adoptive father was still the selfish bastard that he was, so Mulder wasn't too surprised to find the ratty, homeless-type setup in the basement that would've been more fitting under a bridge rather than inside a home. He nearly strangled the guy for his neglect of the girl, but it was Starkey, oddly enough, who pulled him off the man. Nice acting job, Mulder thought, when he shook off the man's hands and straightened his black jacket.

Good thing Rachel's into earning overtime pay, he murmured inwardly, even as he drove Mr. Dyer off to be processed, then hung, by the social services department. Maybe it's fitting that the devil pretends to work here, Mulder thought as he encountered round after endless round of bureaucracy that rivaled even the best of FBI and military red tape. He guessed everything's okay since he hadn't heard from either Scully or Rachel, and hoped it stays okay.

District Police Station
9:52 p.m.

Scully tried to unlock her car, but the damn key didn't work. Figured. As she went through her keys, her phone rang and she picked up. "Hello?"

"Hey, Scully. It's me," her husband's voice came through.

Scully resumed flipping through her keys. "He's dead, Mulder."

"Who?" he asked, then signed off on yet another sheet of paper shifting blame on some other department. Stupid CYA forms, he thought, even as his stomach sank.

"Father Gregory," she replied. "They found him alone in the interrogation room. No one can figure it out. There was a guard sitting right outside the room." She dropped her keys, then groaned. Exhaling, she bent down to pick them up, thankful that she's had previous experience with searching blindly while trying to accommodate her body around her huge stomach.

It still didn't make her feel better, especially since the apocryphal priest was dead, as well as three teenaged girls. Her eyes widen when she spotted, not her keys, but a pair of legs in dark slacks and patent leather shoes. Oh, no.

"We didn't find her," Mulder went on, distracted by even more forms. He gave up trying to partly ignore the secretary and ended up shoving the cell phone between his shoulder and ear to actually read through papers that required more than just a signature. "The fourth girl -- she was at Dyer's place."

Meanwhile, Scully was looking up slowly to see a man's smiling face, backlit by a very bright light that didn't come from the parking lot. She didn't recognize him, which made her fumble around her coat pocket for her gun. What made her really freak out is when the man's head started turning, and different animal faces replaced the man's, in a sort of horrific version of her children's segmented books, which did the same thing, except that was on colorful cardboard and this was real life. Her eyes opened until they felt like they were about to fall out, her mouth opened and closed, but no sound escaped.

"Hey, Scully. Scully, you there? Answer me. Scully?" he asked, now very worried. Never mind the devil, what if some freak got his pregnant wife! "Scully!"

Scully, for her part, dropped the phone and sat down hard on the ground, her eyes never leaving the strange creature. Her mouth was still flapping when the light intensified, and she had to shield her eyes from the incredible glare.

The next morning, Scully ditched her husband and kids to talk to Father McCue. It's not like I wanted to, she told herself as she walked into the father's office. Mulder wouldn't understand and the little ones couldn't understand. It seemed for the first time, she noticed that the windows bore stained-glass angels, and took that to be a good sign. "Father," she said.

"Come in, Dana." The priest smiled warmly. "I understand you found the man responsible for the death of those girls. I'm sure the Kernofs will be relieved."

"I'm not sure if they should be, Father," she said quietly.

"Why not?" Father McCue frowned slightly.

The redhead paused. "I've seen things," she confessed. "Things that have made me question if there aren't... larger forces at work here."

The priest's tone dropped to a more confidential level. "What have you seen?"

Scully tightened her lips before she spoke. "Visions... of a crippled childhood friend who died when she was young."

Father McCue nodded. "I think that's understandable. I'm sure you identified with the loss."

"I considered that, um... but then I saw something last night, which I... Which I can't explain," she stammered nervously. She's faced mutants, aliens, even guns, and yet she's never been this flustered. Then again, she never expected anything like last night. "I saw a man... in dark clothes... but he had four faces. They weren't human."

Father McCue, instead of answering, went to a bookshelf and retrieved an old book. He opened it before handing it to Scully. Inside was a drawing of a figure with four animal faces and four human figures below it. The priest asked, "Is this what you saw?" When she nodded, he went on. "It's a Seraphim. An angel... with four faces... Those of a man, a lion, an eagle, and a bull." His voice took on a sermonizing tone. "In the story, the angel descends from heaven and fathers four children with a mortal woman. Their offspring are the Nephilim -- meaning, 'The Fallen Ones.' They have the souls of angels but they weren't meant to be. They're deformed, tormented. So the Lord sends the Seraphim to Earth to bring back the souls of the Nephilim to keep the Devil from claiming them as his own."

Her eyes were still on the woodcut illustrations in the book. "How did he bring back their souls?"

"They were smote with the brightness of his countenance. To look upon the Seraphim in all his glory is to give up one's soul to heaven," he recited, as if from a long-lost seminary lecture's notes.

Scully finally looked up from the old book. "Do you think that's what I saw?"

He shook his head, in a kindly, grandfatherly sort of fashion. "No. I think what you saw is a half-remembered story from your childhood that surfaced because of this case." He smiled slightly. "Besides, if it were the case, you wouldn't be sitting here before me, but in the morgue."

She understood his skepticism, God knew she had more than enough. But this, this was completely different. "But I saw it, Father," she argued, vaguely feeling like she was butting heads with her own late father.

Obviously, having a husband like hers has occurred to the man, and he tried to correct her. "Dana, the Nephilim is a story. The text in which it appears isn't even recognized by the Church."

She saw she wouldn't get anywhere with him, but at least she knew what she saw. "Father, do you believe that... God has His reasons?"

Father McCue finally smiled. "Yes, I'm certain of it. It's how He rewards our faith."

Starkey intercepted Scully outside her church and drove her over to Father Gregory's church. Scully walked in, her eyes slowly readjusting themselves to the dimness. Starkey stood in the doorway, as if he were waiting for the others.

"There's no one here," Scully said, hating to be Captain Obvious.

"They must be on their way," the social services worker says. He didn't notice the horns in his shadow that she did and continued on. "You don't see her in there? She's here. I know it." He squinted to follow the redheaded agent's progress, but didn't step inside the church himself. "Agent Scully? Did you find her? Agent Scully?"

Scully, having seen the face through the steps, walked down and opened door under the stairs. The girl, looking identical to other three girls, cowered in the corner. Scully's heart broke, and said quietly, "My name is Dana. I'm going to get you out of there, okay? I'm not going to hurt you."

She held out her hand and was relieved when Roberta tentatively took it and allowed Scully to lead her out. "I'm going to take you someplace safe," Scully continued. The agent began walking Roberta to front of the church, away from Starkey.

Starkey's started to realize the jig is up. "Where are you going? Where are you taking her?"

"Everything's going to be fine," Scully murmurs to the girl, wanting to believe it herself. A bright flash of light from the front of the church startled both Scully and Roberta.

Pissed does not begin to describe the redheaded man, whose voice has started to sound really, well evil. "Bring her to me! Bring her here! Bring me the girl!"

Like hell, Scully thought, even as the girl started moving toward the light. Scully tried to hold her back, holding on to Roberta's shoulder as well as her hand. "No, it's okay," she pleaded, as if to herself as much as to the girl, "it's all right. Stay here. It's okay. Please, stay... Just stay here! It's going to be okay."

"Bring her out to me," Starkey intoned in a forbidding voice. Scully looked back at the man who truly looked demonic, and wondered how she and Mulder could have missed this.

"Dana?" a little girl's lisping voice said. Scully turned around and saw it was the hand of another, younger crippled girl she's holding. "Dana, let me go. Dana, please let me go."

Tears welled up in Scully's eyes, and her throat choked. "Patience," she said, and held on even tighter.

"Agent Scully, get her out of there!" Starkey bellowed, to no avail.

"Dana, please," the little girl begs. Scully slowly released Patience's twisted little hand and watched her walk into the light.

"Patience?" she breathed, and watched in amazement as the little girl who needed respirators and a wheelchair walk away. "Patience! Oh, God," she gasped when the light faded and all that was left was Roberta's dead body kneeling, her hands raised in prayer and eyes burned out. A quick glance backward revealed that Starkey was gone. Heavily, Scully sat down on one of chairs, put her face in her hands, and cried.

April 19, 1998

Things had become a little strained in the Mulder and Scully household after that strange Easter non-case, so Scully went to the confessional. Talking to the priest made her feel a little better, but his advice to her, rather than reciting a few Hail Marys and Our Fathers, would take more effort. But maybe that's also part of faith, she thinks, driving home, that Mulder would allow me my beliefs as much as I do his. For the most part, she adds silently, when she walks into a quiet house.

"Where's the kids?" she asks, seeing Mulder on the couch with the two cats on his lap and no other discernable noisemakers.

"At your mother's place," he answers, "I thought it would be a good idea for your mom to spoil them rotten."

She nods at the unstated purpose and joins him on the couch. "I'm sorry I've been acting a little," she pauses when he puts an arm around her, "like you."

"Thanks." He makes a face, but doesn't remove his arm. "So what started it?"

Heartened that he's not acting like an ogre just yet, Scully snuggles into his arm. "When I was young, we moved to a neighborhood that had its own monster, so to speak. Missy was called on to baby-sit, and it turned out the 'monster' was a girl named Patience with spinal muscular atrophy. She couldn't move without someone pushing her wheelchair, she could barely talk without a respirator, but she was a lovely girl and she was my best friend."

She stroked Teliko's fur absentmindedly, not looking at him. "One day she got pneumonia, but because of her condition, she wasn't able to fight it off. Her parents, devout Catholics, were expecting another child at the time, but when they found out the baby might develop SMA, they aborted it. Soon after, they got transferred to another base."

"I see," Mulder says, stroking his wife's hair. Even without Emily, this would've set her off, and he resolves not to be such an asshole when it comes to his wife's religion.

"It was because of Patience that I became a doctor," Scully says after a beat. "And it was because of her that I let Roberta Dyer die."

"What do you mean?" he frowns.

She tells him everything she's seen and heard over the past week, the visions and visitation, as well as Father McCue's explanations. Finally, she shakes her head. "I was inclined to believe it was childhood fantasy compounded by my hormones, but I," her voice breaks, "I don't want to believe Roberta died because of those stupid reasons."

Mulder hugs her tightly. "You didn't," he says. "You saved her."

"Did I?" she asks, tears running down her face. "I mean, what if our children develop some kind of disease, or disability? Would I be strong enough to raise them, or give up like Patience's parents?"

Oh, God, he thinks, is that why she gave up William? There were all those kidnappings, but still! "You are the strongest person I know," he tells her truthfully, and stares into her eyes as if trying to imprint them into her mind, "and you are the most loving person I will ever meet. Besides, you're not alone. You're stuck with me, and your mom, and your brothers and sister, and the Gunmen--"

"Oh, brother," she laughs, but it comes out like a cough, and she pulls out a tissue to wipe her face. "I still can't believe they're our children's godparents." She hugs him back.

"Me, neither." Mulder grins, even as the cats yowl in dismay when his comfy lap is disturbed when he readjusts his body to get closer to hers. "So, how does it feel to walk on the wild side and believe in angels and demons and Nephilim?"

Her eyebrow goes up. "I've always believed in those," she says, then closes her eyes, "it's everything else that seems to require more faith."

A few days later, Mulder is fairly sure he hears giggling when he and Scully arrive home one night around six. By the time he quietly swings the door open, he's completely sure of it. When he and Scully reach the living room it's dark, so he switches on the light.

And hears a horrified gasp.

Blinking, he realizes two things almost at once: Rachel isn't alone in the living room and her shirt is unbuttoned all the way to her navel.

"Oh, um..." the nanny sputters helplessly. "Kids are in bed."

"I see," Scully says, but she's not looking at Rachel. "We didn't expect you, Sean."

"Ah, I guess you wouldn't," Pendrell says, his cheeks a red as Rachel's. "Rach, you're going to have to tell them now."

She looks up from buttoning her shirt to voice a protest. "But I was going to practice what I said first!"

"Little late for that now," he mumbles, and is unable to meet Mulder or Scully's eyes.

Sighing, Rachel gives them a weak smile. "I can't do this any more. Don't worry, I know a great nanny-"

"You're quitting?" Scully asks, dismayed.

"Yeah. I'm so sorry. But I thought a lot about it, and I'm not the type of person you want looking after newborn twins. I love your kids, but two more of them?" She shakes her head sadly.

"And," Pendrell prompts, giving her a look.

Suddenly smiling, Rachel holds out her hand. "Sean and I are getting married. Soon."

"With all the nannying, Rachel will be a great Mom someday," Sean says happily. "And Hopefully I'll make a good Dad too."

"Some time soon?" Scully asks, giving them a searching glance.

"Not too soon," Rachel mumbles. "We want to wait a year or so before we try."

"How novel," Mulder remarks, earning a smirk from his wife.

"And I really mean it, I know the perfect person for you. I went to college with her. Her name is Michelle, and she's looking for a live-in position."


"Well, I figure with five kids, and you not quitting your job, right?" Scully nods. "You're going to want someone who is around 24 hours a day."

"That is a good idea," Mulder says, but then notices Scully's look. "We'll have to discuss it and take it under consideration."

"When I said I was getting married soon, I mean in two weeks," Rachel confessed.


Later that night, Mulder notices that Scully is moping. "What's the matter?"

"I can't believe we're losing another nanny."

"Yeah... I liked Rachel too."

"It's great that she and Sean are getting married, but..."

"You know, I did think of one good thing about this whole situation," Mulder tells her while rubbing her back.

"What's that?"

"Teliko and Piper both display an extreme disdain for the great outdoors. So whoever our next nanny is, at least she'll never run over one of our pets."

"You really know how to cheer a girl up, don't you," Scully tells him with a reluctant smile.

"If you accompany me up to bed, I can show you another way to get your mind of things..."He leers suggestively. "And like Rachel said, the kids are asleep. Again."

Her laugher trails him up the stairs.

Chapter Sixty-One

The Following Week

Scully fidgets with a ribbon on her maternity top while they wait for the potential replacement nanny to arrive. Unable to watch any more, Mulder gently takes her hand to stop her.

She stops, giving him a rueful smile. "I hate the fact that they put ribbons, bows and teddy bears on so much of the clothes designed for pregnant women. And it's twice as bad if you need stuff that makes it obvious that you're having twins. It's like the psychotic designers think we're the babies. It's either dignified work stuff or this silly stuff. Why can't they make dignified casual maternity wear?"

"If you're that uncomfortable, why don't you put on a t-shirt?" Having heard this rant before, Mulder had bought her several t-shirts made with fat men in mind. Until now he thought that she liked them.

"Mulder! We're meeting someone for the first time. We need to make a good impression. I can't be dressed like a slob when she gets here."

"But you can afterwards," Mulder tells her, rubbing her shoulder.

"You better believe it," she says fiercely, and Mulder has to kill a smile. The are times to joke, but while dealing with an unhappy woman six months pregnant with your twins is not one of them.

He's saved by a knock on the door. "I'll get it." When he does, a friendly looking young woman with short brown hair smiles at him. "Hi, I'm Fox Mulder. You must be Michelle."

"That's right," she says, extending her hand.

"Come in," Mulder invites. "My wife, Dana, is in the living room."

After the women exchange greetings, Michelle becomes business-like. "So, Rachel tells me that you have three kids and twins on the way."

"That's right," Scully agrees. "The twins are due in September, and our 'older' kids are a daughter just turned one, a son almost three and a daughter almost four. Page, the oldest, attends preschool three hours a morning and Sammy will as well in the fall."

Mulder grins. "Unfortunately April won't be old enough to go with them for a couple more years. She already seems to realize that they can do things she's too small to."

"Sure," Scully says rolling her eyes a little. "You'll have to excuse my husband. He enjoys trying to convince people all our children are geniuses."

"They are!" Mulder protests.

"I know, but we don't have to tell everyone the second you meet them," Scully says fondly. "Speaking of meeting, would you like to meet the kids now?"


Mulder is on his feet before Scully even looks in his direction. He'll never tell her, but it's quicker to get their brood himself than to help her struggle to rise from the too squishy loveseat she sat on without remembering the trouble the last time she chose that seat.

When he returns he has a just woken up April in his arms, and Sammy toddles ahead of him while Page needs to be reminded not to run. To his relief, the young woman doesn't seem scared off by the kids' enthusiasm for meeting someone new, or April's crankiness over a cut-short nap.

By time Michelle is ready to leave, all parties seem pleased by the prospect of her being the new nanny. A move-in date is scheduled for the day before Rachel plans to leave.

May 1998

When Mulder enters the office and finds Skinner there, thumbing through folders, he does his best to feign surprise. "Wow, you know you're going places in the Bureau when the Assistant Director tidies up your office for you. What's up?"

"I was just, uh... looking."

"For anything special?"

"I came down to ask you something. I, uh, I guess I was nosing around – wondering about you -- your, uh, long-term plans."

"My long term plans? Besides being a good father and husband, you got them right there in your hands." He takes the folders from Skinner and begins to put them back into a filing cabinet when Skinner makes no objections.

"What do you hope to find? I mean, in the end," Skinner asks.

"Whatever I hope to find is in here. And maybe I'll know it when I find it. Is that what you came to ask me?"

"No. There's a case – nothing I'd send you normally – a murder... an assassination of a Russian chess player. The shooter is former National Security Agency... one of ours. It's got a lot of people upset. This kid, Jeffery Spender – Special Agent Spender – he's been given the case. He's running it."

Mulder does his best not to react when he hears his half brother's name. "You gave it to him?"

"No. It came as an order from somewhere outside the Bureau. His team's assembled upstairs right now. He was very specific that you be excluded."

Mulder slowly grins mischievously when Skinner pointedly leads the way.

Walking towards the Hoover building, Diana Fowley notices a young woman with three small children, the oldest a blonde, the younger two with bright red hair. They're cute and she likes to think that she's good with kids, so she approaches them with a friendly expression.

"Your children are adorable."

"Oh thank you," the young woman replies. "I can't take credit for it, though, I'm their nanny."

Fowley nods, and looks down at the middle child, a little boy. He's clutching a book in both small hands. "What are you reading?"

He grins at her, revealing baby teeth. "It's a book 'bout spooky pants. It's scary."

"By doctor Seus. I read that when I was a little girl," Fowley tells him.

The oldest child gives her a disbelieving look, confirming her suspicion that kids think adults spring from the Earth fully formed. "He can't really read yet. But I can."

Given that the child looks three or four Fowley has her doubts until the nanny speaks up. "Yes you can. That's why we're to the library once your mommy gets here."

"Is their mother an age-"

"Agent Fowley?" a voice calls impatiently. It's then that she realizes that she's lost track of time.

"Bye, nice meeting you."

Two minutes later Scully hurries out to meet Michelle. "Michelle, thank you so much for bringing April. It saves so much time."

"No problem. I'm going to take Sammy and Page to story-time at the library."

"Mommy, do you gots to have shots when you go to the doctor's?" Page asks, wide-eyed.

"Not me, but your sister does."

"Poor April."

"Don't worry, she's a brave little girl," Scully tells her. "See you tonight."

Diana Fowley smiles as she approaches Mulder in the hallway, and it takes him effort not to grimace. Apparently his efforts are successful, since she doesn't sound unhappy when she's close enough to speak. "Fox, you haven't changed a bit since I last saw you."

He smirks a little. "Oh, you'd be surprised how different I am."

She seems to think he's joking. "Seven years later and you're still on the X-Files. Are you still married to your work, too?"

"No. Bigamy is against the law in DC."

Her happy expression fades to one of puzzledness until comprehension blooms in her eyes. "You're married?"

"Since Valentines in 1994. My wife is agent Scully, my partner on the X-Files. You might have noticed her leaving the building before the meeting, pretty little redhead?"

"I must have missed her. Do you have children?" she asks, her voice suddenly small.

Mulder can't resist the urge to boast, especially since it'll make her squirm. "Two girls and a boy. Page is three and a half, Sammy two and a half, and April is one."

"Wow," she says faintly. Then an interesting emotion flashes across her face, one he thinks looks a lot like recognition, although he can't imagine why.

"That's what everyone says." Mulder grins. "Especially since we have twins on the way too. What can I say? After such a lonely childhood a big family is wonderful."

"Sammy... did you name your son for your sister?"

"It was my wife's idea, one for which I'm thankful, because I wouldn't have thought of it on my own."

"Have you found her? Your sister."

The search continues," he says with a rueful shake of his head. He hasn't told Scully about what he knows, so he'll be damned if he'll tell Fowley.

Before they have a chance to say anything else Skinner comes out of the men's room and joins them. The three of them enter Spender's meeting without announcing themselves.

Inside the briefing room Spender is showing people a video of the Russian chess player being shot.

"Using a weapon registered to a US intelligence agency, the shooter fired one kill shot at Anatole Klebanow before being captured without incident a short distance from the scene. No motive has been established nor has the shooter offered up a statement or accomplice." His voice trails off when he realizes who has come in.

"Please continue," Mulder invites. He, Skinner and Fowley take their seats.

The younger agent frowns, but picks up where he left off. "The trajectory of the kill shot suggests the shooter acted alone, but we cannot yet rule out an accomplice or conspiracy. A single bullet was fired from a catwalk at a steep angle striking the target just right of the solar plexus."

"I'm... sorry, can you rewind the tape?" Mulder asks, not sorry to be irritating Spender. "Please. I'll tell you where. Just take it back?"

"Let me get through this. If you have any questions, we can talk later."

"I don't have any questions. No. I just think you're wrong. I don't think the Russian was the target. I think it was his opponent."

"His opponent, Agent Mulder, was a twelve-year-old boy," Spender says icily.

"And a good chess player. Here, let me show you his best move, if you'll just take it back." Mulder waves his hand towards the monitor. Frowning, Spender obliges. "Okay, stop it there. Look what the kid does right here, right before the kill shot. Play. Do you see what he does? He just pushes back. You see that?"

"He just completed a checkmate. He's pushing back because the game's over."

"You described a steep trajectory for the kill shot. If the kid doesn't push back at that precise moment he catches the bullet in the back of the neck, not the Russian."

"May we move on here?" Spender asks irritably.

Fowley speaks up from the back of the room. "I think Agent Mulder is right. Looks like the boy sensed the shooter precognitively. If you rewind the tape you'll see it."

Mulder gives her a surprised look, and wonders if she's only bring up ESP to discredit him.

The tall thin agent shakes his head. "There's no way. It's impossible."

"Just rewind the tape so we can all see for ourselves," Skinner suggests.

Once Spender does, it become clear to them all that Mulder's theory has merit.

"I think we need to speak to the boy," Fowley says when the three of them linger in the hallway after the meeting has concluded.

Mulder looks to Skinner for approval, just in time to see Spender walk out and give them all a dark look. Since Spender passes behind him, Skinner doesn't notice. "If you two, and agent Scully, want to go and interview the boy, it might be useful."

::Oh yeah, I really want my wife and my ex-girlfriend in the same car.:: Mulder thinks irritably. "Um, let me call Scully and see how long she thinks she'll be at her appointment."

Fowley and Skinner don't attempt to make it obvious that they're listening to his end of the conversation, but Mulder tries to concentrate on the call instead of reacting to the eavesdropping. "Hi, Skinner wants us to interview a kid – yeah, really a kid. Twelve. Someone might have tried to shoot him but he seemed to sense it – well, that's why Skinner wants us to talk to him – no, I don't think interviewing him will be dangerous, why? – Really? You wouldn't rather bring her home? – Oh, I guess that would take a while. Okay, see you both in half an hour."

They're giving him expectant looks, even though he knows they heard every word. "Scully will meet us back here in a little bit."

Skinner turns to Fowley. "I'm glad that agent Scully can go with you, you'll like her."

::Guess Skinner doesn't read minds.:: Mulder thinks sourly.

An Hour Later
Mulder's Car

::Stop me if you've heard this one. A man, his pregnant wife, their youngest daughter and his ex-girlfriend walk into a bar...:: He blinks when he hears Scully ask Fowley a question.

"How long have you been with the Bureau, Agent Fowley?"

"Since '91. I took an assignment in Europe after the wall came down when the director stepped up foreign terrorism concerns," Fowley says from the backseat. She's sitting next to April. It had taken Mulder ten minutes to unhook Sammy's car seat so there was room for an extra adult, and the experience did nothing to brighten his mood.

"And they brought you on this because of a terrorism angle?" Scully asks.

"No. I, uh, I requested a reassignment. There were things at home I decided I wanted to get back to."

"1991," Scully muses, then turns to her husband. "That's about when you started work on the X-Files."

"More or less, yeah."

Inget Murray Psychiatric Hospital
Gaithersburg, Maryland

Mulder leads the group into Gibson's room, with April on his hip. The young boy looks up at them, and flashes the baby a quick smile before looking more dour.

"Hi. My name is Fox. This is Dana and Diana, and my daughter April. How are you doing?"

"I don't mind it here. They get all the good TV shows. Where I live, in the Philippines all we get is Baywatch."

"What's wrong with Baywatch?"

Gibson looks closely at him. "You've got a dirty mind."

Mulder flashes Scully a guilty look, and she suppresses a smile. "Your parents are going to pick you up on Friday, Gibson, to take you back home," she says.

"I don't want to play any chess," Gibson says to Mulder.

"How do you know I want to?"

"'Cause you got that cheapo chess computer in your hand. Or at least you did," Gibson adds when April knocks it out of his hand. Luckily, it lands on the bed instead of the floor.

"It's the best chess board petty cash will buy. Don't you want to see how fast you can beat it?"


"Maybe because you can't," Mulder says, turning off the TV.

Gibson just looks at him.

"I'm right, aren't I? You know what I'm talking about. You knew the moment I came in. That's how you win, isn't it... how you know what your opponent's going to do? You get inside his head. You read his thoughts. That's how you knew that man was going to shoot you... isn't it?"

"I know what's on your mind," Gibson announces.

"Oh?" Mulder asks, shifting April so she can't reach the board again.

"You're thinking that it's a miracle that your wife and the other one don't hate each other yet. But you're sure they're going to."

"That's not..." Mulder trails off, and looks away from the women. "This kid's going to need round-the-clock protection." He leaves the room quickly, ignoring Scully and Fowley's surprised looks.

Fowley stays in the room to talk to Gibson, but Scully follows Mulder into the hall. "Mulder, what was that all about?"

"The kid's no chess master. Under controlled conditions, I could probably beat him."

"Mulder, he's recognized internationally as a prodigy. He's beaten Grand Masters."

"With the most unfair advantage. What he's doing amounts to a kind of parlor magic trick."

"Mulder, he was goofing on you. He was playing along. You're positing that this kid can read minds."

"We've seen a number of these cases before, Scully."

"We have seen cases, Mulder, of fakers and lucky guessers but no one that has ever been able to stand up to any kind of rigorous testing."

"He did it just then, Scully," Mulder says quietly as he looks back towards the room. "He read exactly what was on my mind."


"We'll talk about that later. But the fact remains he did do it."

She gives him a doubtful look. "Even if he did, no one has gone so far as to claim that they can zero in on the mind of one person in a crowd of thousands."

"Maybe that's why they want him dead," Mulder says as Fowley walks towards them.

"Who? Who are you talking about?"

"I don't know, I'm not the mind reader."

"Say that what you're suggesting were even possible, who would want to kill a kid whose abilities would offer you the ultimate advantage... I mean in business, in war, in anything?"

"Maybe somebody whose business is in keeping secrets," Fowley suggests.

"Well, let's test him. I think the kid will stand up. Let's run a brain scan and a psych evaluation on him. You know what to do, Diana," Mulder says, shifting April in his arms. "April's tired, I'm going to bring her out to the car."

Scully and Fowley watch him walk down the hall, then Scully speaks to the other woman. "So, you two know each other?"

"It was a long time ago," Diana says. "I'll ask for those evaluations and meet you outside."

April is in fact sleeping when Scully opens the front passenger door. "She'll be a few minutes. So tell me about Gibson reading your mind."

He sighs and leans his head on the headrest. "Fowley and I dated years ago, back when I first got out of the academy. Now I wonder what I ever saw in her, but back then...She has a para-science background and was there when I discovered the X-Files. Those things seemed significant."

"It was something in common," Scully agrees calmly.

"But the only things. It didn't work out and she took a position in Berlin of all places. If you want to put some distance between you and an ex-boyfriend, that's a good place to go. Hell, until she walked into that meeting today, I couldn't have even said for sure that she was still alive."

"And Gibson realized that you thought I'd be jealous?" she asks.

"No. He realized that I thought Diana might be jealous." Mulder reaches for her hand and squeezes it. "You're not jealous, are you?"

"I'm the one who has you, what do I have to be jealous about?"

The rear passenger door opens, startling them a bit. "They're going to do the evaluations tomorrow," Fowley announces.

"We're done here, then," Mulder says, shifting the car into drive.

Inget Murray Psychiatric Hospital

Gibson holds Scully's hand like a much younger child as they walk through a door and down a hall.

"How you doing?" Scully asks.

Gibson looks up at her. "You know you're the only one who asks that? I think it's because you're a mom... Anyway, I didn't like those tests. I didn't like being in the machine."

"Hmm... They're a little scary, aren't they?" Scully asks. "My niece, Emily, thought they were scary too."

"But she's only little," Gibson says confidently, surprising Scully a little. "You're wondering, aren't you?"

"About what? About you?"

"About that other girl."

"She's wondering about you, too," Gibson says then smiles. "He's not wondering, though."

While Gibson wows the doctors by reading their minds, Scully and Fowley watch through an observation window in another room.

"It's amazing. It's hard to believe," Scully admits.

"I've witnessed clairvoyants who were over 90% accurate and seen telepathy being demonstrated but I don't know I've ever witnessed anything quite like this."

"Where'd you see that?"

"Agent Mulder and I spent some time in psychiatric hospitals-"

"Funny, Mulder never mentioned that he'd been committed," Scully says with a mischievous grin.

Fowley doesn't look very amused. "There were some patients serving criminal sentences who we felt had been misdiagnosed, so we went to observe them."

"Must be strange, doing things like that all over again," Scully offers.

"You'd be surprised how much has changed. I am, anyway," Fowley says before going to speak to the doctor who's telling them what Gibson just did.

A Couple Hours Later

"Sorry I'm late. How's little Karnac doing?" Mulder asks Fowley, who is sitting near a two-way mirror watching Gibson.

"Put a TV in front of him and he turns right into a normal kid. He's the real deal, Fox. We tested him with Zener cards, random numbers, a variety of ESP tasking. He's got ability to not just focus on a thought, but a multitude of thoughts at once."

"There's something else. There's something we're missing here."

"That was a good catch on the videotape. I was impressed."

"Oh, you would have caught it eventually," Mulder demurs.

"No. I've been too many years trying to get inside the head of too many Arab terrorists. I'm out of practice with this stuff. But you seem at the top of your game."

"That's all I do. That's all I've been doing for the last five years. This work and my family, that's my whole life."

"Sometimes I hear about you... about the work you're doing. And I think how it might have been if I'd stayed." There's something hungry in her look that makes Mulder look away, uncomfortable.

He tries for a joke. "Ah, we'd all been blown up by some terrorist bomb, no doubt, huh?"

"I sense you could have used an ally, though – someone who thinks like you, with some background," Fowley says rather pointedly.

"Oh, you mean Scully?"

"She's not what I would call an open mind on the subject."

"She's a, uh... she's a scientist. She just makes me work for everything. Sometimes she's even right."

"Yes, but I'm... I'm sure there were times when two like minds on a case would have been advantageous."

"I don't think so," Mulder disagrees. "Thinking alike just means two chances for being wrong."


"I've done okay without you," he adds quietly.

"Hey... I'm on your side." When she reaches for his hand, he pulls away from her.

"That implies that you think Scully isn't. And it's not true. You left seven years ago. She's the one who has been by my side for the past six years. Don't make light of that again."

The look on her face suggests that she's been taken aback by his honest statement. "Message received."

"Good. You and I can work together, and can work together well. But not if you try to put yourself between me and my wife. You're my friend, but she's much more to me than that."


He spins on his heel, surprised to see that Scully is standing behind them. To his chagrin she's got her poker face on, and he can't how much of their conversation that she heard. "Hey."

"I've got something to show you both and Skinner, and I think you're both going to be surprised. Very surprised. We're going to meet him in his office in half an hour."

Skinner's Office

Mulder, Scully, Fowley, Spender and a few other agents sit around Skinner's desk.

Skinner sits and gives Scully an expectant look. "You're here to tell me a story."

She looks a little uncomfortable, but speaks. "I've conducted some tests on Gibson Praise and have come up with some rather unexpected conclusions: ones which I myself have difficulty reconciling with what I know."

"These are?" Skinner asks.

"Neurological tests. Mapping of brain functions using a very high resolution EEG."

"What did you find out?"

"The tests revealed something peculiar in an area of the brain that we are only beginning to understand. An area of the temporal lobe that neurophysicists are calling the 'God module.'"

Skinner sighs loudly. "I hope I'm not going to hear that this kid is the next Christ child."

::No, that would be William, at least according to the aliens.:: Mulder thinks, but doesn't say aloud.

"All of the boy's brain processes are showing extraordinary activity in exactly this part of the brain. Which is not just abnormal or anomalous, but from what I know absolutely unheard of."

"There are corollaries, individuals who have been responsible for great leaps forward in understanding in science. Newton, Galileo, Einstein, Stephen Hawking. All these men exhibited modes of thinking that are suggestive of access to special brain centers." Mulder interjects.

"All right. So this kid is a human oddity. Would somebody please tell me why anyone would go to such great lengths as to kill him?" Skinner wants to know.

"This kid may be the key not just to all human potential, but to all spiritual unexplained paranormal phenomena. The key to everything in the X-Files. It's possible he has the answer to every question that has kept people up at night for centuries."

"Let me get this right --- We're supposed to believe that this boy was going to be killed because of the X-Files?" Skinner asks.

"No, it's bigger than that."

"Uh-huh," Spender says dubiously. "Explain it to me. To us."

"I can't. But the shooter can. The assassin that you have locked up... in exchange for immunity from prosecution."

"You want to give a murderer a free ride for the secrets to the pyramids? This is crazy. It's nuts." Spender is obviously annoyed.

"You mischaracterize what I've said," Scully says. "This would be quantifiable scientific proof of everything that Agent Mulder and I have investigated over the past six years."

"How do you quantify the spiritual?" Fowley asks. "It can't be done. You ask for immunity for a killer on that basis, the Attorney General's gonna go off. You're allowed to investigate the X-Files as an indulgence. But draw the wrong kind of attention and they'll close you down. Put an end to all your work. Something I happen to have an interest in myself."

"Let's everyone step out in the hall," Skinner announces, and everyone but him stands.

"Agent Mulder, you stay put," Skinner says, and Mulder sighs as everyone leaves. "Fowley is right, you know. The risk you're taking, the long-term plans that you and I talked about..."

"If what Agent Scully's found is true and I have every reason to believe that it is, then the answers I might have spent a lifetime searching for may fall together like a million puzzle pieces."

"You'd risk the X-Files?" Skinner asks, incredulous.

"If we have found the truth and willfully decide not to investigate it, what's the point of keeping the X-Files open? So yes, I'm willing to risk them. How soon can you call the Attorney General?"

Federal Prison

The gunmen is sleeping in his cell when Mulder and Spender enter, startling him away.

"The Attorney General's heard my request for immunity," Mulder tells the yawning man.

"Heard it? You... Oh... You said that you could get it."

"She needs something more. Something to convince her that you're not just playing games. Something that I can corroborate. I need answers from you."

"The kid is a missing link," the gunman says dully.

"To what?" Mulder asks, looking the man in the eye. They both ignore Spender. "He's genetic proof, isn't he?"

The gunmen nods slightly.

"Genetic proof of what?" Spender asks. "Tell me what you're talking about."

"The kid's not superhuman. He's just more human than human," Mulder says.

"What? Like that Rob Zombie song?" Spender asks, startling Mulder with his taste in music. They walk out of the cell, leaving the gunman behind.

"Uh, I don't know that song. What I mean is most of us have genes we don't use. They lie there dormant, turned off. Science doesn't know what they're for, why they're there or where they came from."

"Right and you think this has something to do with that?"

"There's a long-held but unpopular theory tied to prehistoric evidence of alien astronauts."

"You're not going to go out there and say the kid's part alien. You won't have any more credibility than my poor mother."

Mulder looks him in the eye, and says nothing as they continue to walk. Spender's not through, though, and continues to needle him. "You think that's what you heard? You led them, Agent Mulder. Now you're letting yourself be led."

Ignoring him, Mulder walks away.

Centerville, Virginia

As Fowley arrives at the motel, Scully and Gibson sit. The boy is watching King Of The Hill.

"Gibson? I'd like to ask you something." He turns his face from the TV and gives her an expectant look. "How do you do it?"

It doesn't surprise Scully that Gibson doesn't need a definition of "it." "I just hear you thinking... like on a radio. And sometimes there are lots of radios. And I want to shut them off and watch some TV."

"Is that why you like chess? 'Cause it's just one thought that you hear?"

"Yeah, but that's not why I like it all the time."

"Why else do you like it?"

"Because there's no talking. Just thinking. It's nothing like real life where people think one thing but they say something else."

She laughs softly. "Is that what people do?"

"Yeah, except for babies like the one you brought earlier – but I think that's only because they don't talk much. Older folks are worried about what other people are thinking when the people they're worrying about are worried about the same thing. It makes me laugh."


"They make up all this stuff to believe but it's all made up. Some people try to be good people but some people just don't care. Like you."

"You think I don't care?"

"No, you don't care what people think."

Fowley knocks and comes in.

"I'm here to relieve you," she tells Scully.

"Thanks," Scully replies, then puts her hand on Gibson's shoulder. "Well, we'll talk about this later, okay?"

"They want to kill me, you know," Gibson says as she begins to walk away.

"Nobody's going to do anything to you, Gibson. I promise."

"I know you do." His voice is hollow.

11 p.m.

::She's going to kill me. She'll understand why I'm doing this, but she's still going to kill me.:: Mulder thinks as he drives to Centerville.

Even though he realizes that he's courting his wife's wrath, he can't stand by and let them do barbaric brain surgery on Gibson again. He just hopes that nothing goes wrong once he gets his plan in motion.

Mulder parks around the back of the hotel and leaves his flashlight off as he sneaks towards a car in the parking lot. The sniper is too busy staring at Gibson's shadow at the window to realize that Mulder's there until it's much too late. A fist through the open window catches the man at the temple, and he slumps over the steering wheel, unconscious. ::Diana, you owe me.:: After checking his victim's pulse, Mulder hurries towards the hotel.

He doesn't even have to knock, because Gibson eerily knows he's there. Given this, he doesn't bother to hold a finger up to his mouth like he planned to. Without being asked the boy gathers a change of clothes and his shoes, then waits by the door while Mulder tapes a note to the room's one mirror.

Diana is still asleep when Mulder closes the door behind him; and the sniper is still slumped over his steering wheel. Neither Mulder nor Gibson, say a word until after the child has scrambled into the backseat of the car and hastily changes into the clothes he's brought. Gibson looks up from tying his shoes and asks, "Do you really think this is a good idea? You're going to get into trouble."

After Mulder shifts the car into drive, he glances over his shoulder. "There are worse things that can happen than getting into trouble."

"You think someone would get hurt if you didn't move me. Why are you so sure?"

"Call it ESP," Mulder mutters. Sensing that the agent doesn't want to discuss what he knows about that sort of thing, Gibson rolls up his pajamas and uses them as a pillow to cushion his face against the hardness of the glass. He spends the entire ride to the airport looking out the window.

On the plane to Louisiana, they both sleep. Gibson more soundly than Mulder, who wakes every few minutes to glance warily at fellow passengers. Each time he decides that there's no one there who is a threat, and lets his eyes close once again.

Washington, D.C.

An insistent knock at the door drags Scully out of sleep, and the twins wake up and kick her insides immediately afterwards. Thrusting an arm out, she intends to poke Mulder until he's awake and get him to answer the door, but all her hand finds is an empty side of the bed where Mulder is. She sits up too suddenly, making the world lurch, and finds a note on the other pillow. All it says is "Got to bring Gibson somewhere safe. Be back tomorrow. Love you."

She'd like to spend more time trying to figure out ways of punishing her husband for going off in the middle of the night, but the knocking at the door hasn't stopped, so she struggles into a robe that barely fits around her waist and goes to deal with whoever it is that's come to bother them at that hour. It's only as she reaches the door that her sleepy mind wonders if there's a connection between the visitor and Mulder's flight, and the thought sends a shiver of fear down her spine.

The figure on the steps looks more pissed than worried, so Scully's fear evaporates. "Diana."

"Is Fox here?" Diana's voice is frosty.

"No. I thought you went with him," she admits to the conclusion she'd immediately drawn.

"Went with him where?" Diana's voice is sharp on the last word." I woke up and Gibson was gone. All there was a note saying that he was taking Gibson-"

"-Somewhere safe," Scully finishes for her, then reluctantly hands over the note she's still holding. "Wherever 'safe' is, it's not here. It looks like he didn't want either of us to know where he was going."

"You seem to be taking this well."

Scully decides to ignore the snippiness of the other woman's tone. "I'm sure he'll have a good explanation for us both when he gets back."

"No doubt." Diana's eyes drop to Scully's waist, and Scully isn't sure how to interpret the woman's expression. Resentment? Envy? Pity? Maybe a mixture of all three. "If you don't know anything more than I do, I suppose I should let you get back to bed. I'm sure you need your rest."

The condescension raises Scully's hackles, but she doesn't let it show. "I'm sure he'll call you when he gets back. Good night, Diana."

Before the other agent can respond, Scully firmly shuts the door.

New Orleans

It bothers Mulder a little that Gibson doesn't ask many questions. The only thing he's asked since the plane landed a half an hour ago is if they could go one of the airport's restaurants and have breakfast. His own stomach had been growling too, so he immediately agreed. Now, as Gibson drinks his orange juice and finishes off his bacon, egg and cheese biscuit, Mulder glances over at him and wonders if he doesn't need to ask questions because he's reading his mind for the answers, or if he just doesn't want the answers. Either way, the boy says nothing as Mulder pulls a slip of paper out of his pocket and rereads the address he wrote there earlier in the day before returning his attention to the website he's pulled up on one of the café's computers. He worries a little about the reception they'll receive, but at least he knows that the address is current because he'd charmed it out of someone at Human Resources.


The sky is beginning to lighten when they arrive at Monica Reyes' apartment building. It's just then that the foolishness of what he's done strikes Mulder like a blow. If she's agreeable to the plan than things might go well, but if not... if not he has no idea what he's going to do with the little boy in the back of his car. He can't bring him home to DC, because even if Scully would welcome a temporary foster child, they would know where to find the child, which would endanger not only the boy himself, but their children as well.

This in mind, it makes it hard to force himself to knock on the door. When a sleep tousled Reyes answers she looks very surprised, and he doesn't blame her. "Agent..." She trails off for a moment. "Mulder, isn't it?"

He nods. "I'm sorry to show up unexpectedly like this, but I have a problem that I'd like to discuss with you."

A minute later she shows him and Gibson into her home. "Why don't you watch some TV?" she suggests to Gibson. This earns her a sleepy smile of gratitude, and it's only a moment before he's happily scanning channels on her TV.

In the kitchen she and Mulder sit and discuss the matter. "The boy looking for cartoons in your living room is Gibson Praise. He's twelve, a chess champion, and has a contract out on him. There has already been one attempt on his life."

"My God." Reyes gives him a horrified look. "Who would want to harm a little boy?"

The smile Mulder gives her is sickly at best. "I decided that you'd be the best agent to come to for assistance not only because you're a good agent and far removed from the men who are against this boy, but because you exhibited an unusual open-mindedness when we met you two years ago-"

"You picked me because I believe in the paranormal?"

"In short, yes. Gibson exhibits a talent for reading minds that has been verified by a body of impartial judges. It's this unique talent that has powerful men wanting to kill him, or to capture him to examine his brain."

"Examine how, like CAT scans?"

"More like exploratory brain surgery."

The agent looks ill, but to her credit doesn't let her upset color her tone. "Then you're hoping to hide him from these people."

"Yes. As much as I'd like to bring him home, I'm sure it would be unwise. Although my wife would probably be willing to take him in, they'd quickly find out where he was. They don't like us much either, so they keep close tabs on our house. That, coupled with the fact that she's pregnant, makes it all the more unlikely that we could fend off an attack if it came at an unexpected time." He smiles ruefully. "She's still a good shot, but slower and more ungainly than usual."

"I'd imagine," Reyes murmurs.

"So it seemed wiser to send the boy away, so it'd be more difficult for them to find him."

"Are you sure they won't know you've come here?"

"I didn't call you so there's no number to trace. I paid cash for our plane tickets and the car rental so there's no paper trail there. I also used my credit card to book a flight for two to Washington State. When I get there I'm going to call one of them and 'accidentally' be on the line long enough for the call to be traced...I'm hoping that will lead them astray."

"The plan to muddy the trail seems foolproof. But what happens here? I don't have room for a child-"

Mulder takes a piece of paper out of his pocket and hands it to her. "I went to an internet café in the airport this morning and did some research. This is a good catholic boarding school about three hours from here. I was hoping that you and I could go there today and enroll our orphaned cousin. They'll probably accept him as a charity case, but if not I can get his tuition paid for by going through some murky channels."

"Could you really afford that?" Reyes looks a little surprised.

"I was left a nice inheritance by a relative, and I can't think of a better way to use some of the money. The thing is, though, if they do accept him for enrollment, it might be a few days before he can move in, so that's why I've involved you at all..."

"If he doesn't mind the couch for a few nights, he's welcome to stay. But what about summers?"

"It's a good Catholic boarding school with a year-round residency program."

"Okay. It sounds like a good plan to me, but how with Gibson feel about-"

"I don't mind." The child's voice startles them both, so they turn to see him standing in the doorway. "Those men won't find me, so how could I complain?"

"What about your family?" Reyes asks.

"I won't see them again, no matter what." His voice is emotionless.

"You can't know that."

"But I do."

Washington, D.C.
11 p.m.

Two flights later, Mulder arrives home, dead on his feet. The school readily agreed to take Gibson as a charity case, and he can't help but wonder if it has something to do with the boy's status as a minority. Even so, he's thankful that there will be no tuition bill that has to be paid in a round about way. The boy will be starting at the school in three days, and Mulder has left money with Reyes to buy him the things he needs like uniforms and books. After he left them he flew to Settle, made an outraged call to a member of a syndicate accusing them of attempted murder, then flew home.

Letting himself into the house, he wonders if being confronted by his wife or by Diana will be more painful.

It turns out to be neither, because to his utter shock, Jeffery Spender is sitting on the couch, looking up at him with an accusing stare.

"Spender, what are you doing here?"

"Waiting for you to get home so you can tell me what the hell you've done," Spender tells him. "Fortunately for you, your wife has cooperated so far, so you're not in as much trouble as you'd be if I'd had to have you arrested to speak to you."

"Arrested? That's a little much," Mulder protests.

"Where is Gibson Praise?" Spender demands to know.

"In a safe house. He called me last night and told me that someone had gotten to his parents." Mulder decides to take a gamble on what he suspects is true. "They're dead, aren't they?"

Spender's grim look confirms his suspicions about why Gibson was never reunited with his family in their past life. "Yes. We only learned of that about six hours ago. You're saying he already knew?"

"He said that he was afraid that he was next."

His brother nods slightly. "That collaborates with what Agent Scully said he told her – that they were coming to kill him."

"There was a sniper," Mulder says quietly. "He was aiming at the hotel room when I was able to incapacitate him."

"Maybe you didn't over-react then," Spender admits. He looks up as Scully comes in and joins him on the couch. "Even so, there's already a plan in motion to shut down the X-Files."

"We knew there were risks going to the Attorney General," Scully says.

"They're calling for your resignation," Spender tells them, and he looks a little smug.

"Whose?" Mulder asks, although he knows the answer.

"Yours and Agent Scully's."

"So they'll really shut us down," Mulder says heavily. He knew it was coming, but he can't help but feel devastated anyway.

"You took the risk, knowing the possible outcome." There's no pity in Spender's voice.

"This was all strategized – every move. I just couldn't see it. It was all of a plan."

Scully looks sad and tired. "Mulder, whatever you may believe, this time they may have won."

The phone attached to Spender's belt begins to ring, and he excuses himself. When he returns he looks even grimmer. "Agent Scully said your nanny isn't here tonight. You need to get someone over here to baby-sit. Now. We have to go."

::Here comes the final blow.:: Mulder thinks as he dials Maggie's phone number.

Hoover Building
25 Minutes Later

Skinner is talking to someone in the hallway when Mulder and Scully walk in around a fire hose. He gives them a look like he wants to talk, and Scully stops to hear what he has to say.

On the other hand, Mulder ignores him and heads towards the basement office.

The "I Want To Believe" poster is blacked, and the words are nearly impossible to make out, and it's the least damaged thing in the room. Water drips from the walls, and he runs a hand over his melted nameplate. It's still warm.

When Scully comes in, she looks nearly as devastated as he does. She lays her head on his chest, hugging him. "I'm so sorry, Mulder."

"It's okay," he says stoically. When she looks up at him with a confused expression, he gives her a sickly smile. "Good thing I got bored when the kids were sick, huh? Otherwise we would have lost all the files, too."

"Where do we go from here?" she whispers.

"Home. We'll wait for the dust to settle, then regroup."

Arms around each other's waists, it's hard to tell who is supporting who as they walk out of their ruined office.

Chapter Sixty-Two

Dallas, Texas
August 1998

Scully isn't sure if it's the heat, the hormones, or the husband that dragged her here that's making her crazy. She's on the rooftop of a building facing the federal building, just across the street from where the actual bomb threat was placed, and now she's got a stupid variant of "Fiddler on the Roof" stuck in her head. Oh well, it's not like anyone can hear her. Mopping her forehead, she sings under her breath and off-key, "If he were a sane man, Ya ha deedle deedle, bubba bubba deedle deedle dum, All day long been looking for a bomb, But he is an insane man..."Making a face, the heavy redhead pulls out her cell phone and dials. "Mulder, it's me."

His voice crackles slightly, sounding as if he's miles away, rather than in the same godforsaken part of Texas. "Where are you, Scully?"

"I'm on the roof," she replies, her tone just this side of homicidal.

"Did you find anything?" he asks, as if it's normal for a pregnant woman to be climbing stairs in the wrong building.

"No, I haven't," she answers, not bothering to hide her irritation. In a way, she's disappointed, because that means there's nothing to throw at her husband for making her suffer like this.

"What's wrong?" he continues obliviously.

Where shall I start, O idiot partner and husband of mine? "Well, I just climbed up 12 floors, which did wonders for my swollen feet and the twins bouncing in my belly, I'm hot, I'm thirsty, and to be honest, I'm wondering what the fuck I'm doing up here." Clear enough for you? She wants to scream, except that would take too much energy. If the ground wasn't so damn hot and irritating, she'd take her shoes off, but settles for leaning against the wall sheltering the stairwell.

"You're looking for a bomb."

She can feel her jaw working, even as she struggles not to strangle the cell phone as if it were her husband's neck. "Yes, I know that, but the threat was called in to the federal building across the street."

Mulder, the master of obvious, replies, "I think they have that covered."

Scully hits the back of her head against the wall until it actually hurts. "Mulder, when a terrorist bomb threat is called in, the rational purpose of providing that information is to allow us to find the bomb. The rational object of terrorism is to promote terror. If you'd study the statistics, you'd find the model behavioral pattern for virtually every case where a threat has turned up an explosive device; and if we don't act in accordance with that data, if you ignore it as we have done, the chances are great that if there actually is a bomb, we might not find it. Lives could be lost... Mulder. Mulder?"

"Boom," says a voice next to her.

Scully nearly drops her phone as she staggers, "Jesus, Mulder! I almost peed my pants!"

Unrepentant, Mulder chuckles while helping her up, even as she glares at him. "Whatever happened to playing a hunch, Scully? The element of surprise, random acts of unpredictability? If we fail to anticipate the unforeseen or expect the unexpected in a universe of infinite possibilities, we may find ourselves at the mercy of anyone or anything that cannot be programmed, categorized or easily referenced." He squints across the street as he pops a sunflower seed into his mouth. "What are we doing up here, Scully? It's hotter than hell."

"Duh," she says, earning her a grin. Her tone becomes more serious as she adds, "I know you're bored in this assignment, Mulder, but unconventional thinking is only gonna get you in trouble now."

"What makes you think I'm bored?" he asks, seemingly flippant.

She gives him a look borne of years living with him, both on and off the job, and it never fails to brighten his mood. "Don't give me that bullshit," she says, closing her eyes as she stretches and twists to ease her back and belly. When she opens them, she continues, "They've closed the X-files. There's procedure to be followed now... protocol," she stresses the "p" words as if they're foreign to her husband. Maybe they are.

He's grinning, and she figures she might as well throw in the towel on procedure and protocol. "Maybe we should call in a bomb threat to Houston. I think it's free beer night at the Astrodome." Then he grimaces slightly in apology. "Maybe they'll give you free tickets for upcoming games."

Scully shakes her head, then turns to open the door, when she doubles over. "Oof," she mutters, her hand going to her stomach.

His eyes widen, and he immediately regrets making her walk up all those stairs. ::Idiot,:: he chastises himself as he puts his hand to her stomach.

"So much for anticipating the unforeseen," she grunts, closing her eyes. As he reaches into his pants pocket for his phone, Scully smiles. "Gotcha," she says.

He tries to keep a pout off his face and from his voice. "No, you didn't," he says, despite the fact that, yes, she did.

The smile on her face is ear to ear, and if he didn't know better, he'd think she was enjoying her triumph with such a cheap trick. "Oh, yeah. I had you big time."

"You had nothing," he argues as he opens the door to the stairwell. "Come on, I know the babies aren't due for weeks."

She's still got a freakin' huge smirk on her face as they exit, passing by a group of kids on a tour. "I saw your face, Mulder. There was a definite moment of panic."

He brushes her off, hating how easily she got him, both this and last time. "You've never seen me panic. When I panic, I make this face," and proceeds to put on his most blank, emotionless face.

Scully snorts. "That was the face," she says, obviously not buying his non-panic.

"You didn't see that face," he counters.

"You're right, she smiles sweetly, "It was more like this." And makes the hugest "shocked" expression seen outside of a sitcom. When her face snaps back into a smirk, she adds, "You're buyin'."

There's a resigned look on her face as he asks, "What? Coke, Pepsi, saline IV?"

Scully's still smirking when she answers, "The kids seem to have a sweet tooth before they've got teeth."

"Guess I'll be adding digitalis to that," he smirks when his wife's disappears into a glower.

Maybe it won't be here, Mulder thinks as he walks into the vending machine room, but if that's true, our asses are fragged. He checked this place earlier while Scully went to the roof, but no dice. Maybe the nutcase put it in later. He puts his change into the machine, pushes a button, then another, then all of them, but nothing comes out. "Oh, crap," he murmurs under his breath, then whacks the side of it before shaking the machine.

Crouching down, he looks beside it and notices that the machine is unplugged. "Oh, fuck," he revises his comment, then tries to open the door. Same as before, it's locked. "Sonufabitch," he mutters, calling Scully on her cell phone. "She's gonna love this."

"Scully," she answers, pulling on the other sleeve of her dark FBI jacket now that her body finally registers the air conditioning.

"Scully, I found the bomb," he says, knowing she's not gonna believe him right off the bat, especially since he fell for her fake contractions.

"You're funny." She smiles. "Where are you, Mulder?"

"I'm in the vending room."

It continues to play out the same as it did last time, even though Mulder wanted Michaud to prove him wrong, to defuse the bomb. He and Michaud end up in a shouting match, but that only makes the older man irritated enough to physically haul his ass out of the building. It was the one time Mulder actually wanted to follow protocol, and should have, except that would've meant staying in the building, which would mean Scully would want to stay with him, and he honestly couldn't risk her or their babies, so he stays out.

He hesitates before getting in the police car, though, and Scully practically bites his head off as she orders him in, practically wrestling him while doing so, and he decides to avoid the complete indignity of being manhandled by a pregnant woman in front of a cop and allows himself to be shut in. They both twist around to look at the building as the car drives off, the cop not bothering to hide his "oh, brother" expression at the two troublesome FBI agents. "Please," Mulder prays under his breath, hoping for the best.

The bomb explodes, and Mulder gets another glimpse of hell as the building is destroyed, the bottom of the edifice expelling a huge ball of fire like spew from the mouth of a mad demon eating itself alive. They both scream as cars are sent flying and their car windows explode while it rocks from the blast.

Holding his wife, he knows he's mirroring her horrified expression, and it doesn't fade when they turn around to find the police officer slumped over in the driver's seat bleeding from a concussion. Scully checks the man's pulse, then calls for an ambulance before applying a mere band-aid to his wound.

They get out of the car slowly and look at the damage. Scully stiffens a little when his arms surround her, but as she looks up, she realizes it's a partly reflexive gesture when she sees his eyes unfocus slightly, watching papers flying like so much confetti out of the suddenly-exposed offices, the ragged edges of the building burning like a gruesome parody of a lopsided birthday cake. "Mulder?" she asks, putting her hands on his.

He starts when she touches him, then relaxes, but chills still run up and down his skin. He can't, won't tell her what's on his mind, about the other buildings that burn, that this isn't the last of the madness, but just the beginning. "Yeah?" he says in a shaky voice.

Her hold on him tightens, and she says quietly, "You're making that face again."

Mulder nods, then hugs her fiercely, wondering not for the first time how in the hell he got to be so lucky. And if his luck will hold, now that she's pregnant.

FBI Headquarters
Washington, D.C.
Office of Professional Review

Try as he might, he couldn't get to the meeting on time, since he promised Scully he'd make sure to check on the kids before heading to the Office of Professional Review. He had, unfortunately, underestimated the evility of side-street traffic, and arrived much later than his wife, who was sitting in the office before the review board by the time he got there.

At least one of us got here on time, he thinks, doubting they'd cut him any slack this time around because of their kids, and it turns out he's right. Again, he's scolded out of the room, and he morosely chews sunflower seeds, shells and all, while waiting for the Skin Man, that is, his boss, to make an appearance. Like clockwork, he shows up and gives him the oh-so-good news. Joy. Almost makes him want to burst out in song, except Skinner might want to shoot him for the good of humanity.

When Scully comes out, her expression is deliberately blank, her eyes flickering slightly as both men stand. She tells Skinner they're expecting him, and he leaves, and she slowly turns to face Mulder.

He puts his hands on her shoulders. "Whatever you told them in there, Scully, you don't have to protect me," he says, feeling oddly more vulnerable, even though she's the obviously pregnant one.

She shakes her head slightly. "All I told them was the truth."

"They're trying to divide us on this and we can't let them," he says, although less desperately than the first time he's said this. This time around, if there's any division, it would only be at work, rather than home. He hopes. There's no way the FBI would be evil enough to split a family, would they? Hm, maybe he'd better not take any chances.

"Mulder," she smiles a little, "I'll be seeing you at home, remember?" Her words mirror his thoughts, reassuring him somewhat, but it doesn't make it any easier.

He frowns. "You won't be with the X-Files any more, will you."

She holds his hands, shrugging a little. "I have a meeting with OPR day after tomorrow for remediation and reassignment."

"But they're the ones who put us together," he argues, but not surprised.

"Because they wanted me to invalidate your investigations into the paranormal," she nods. "But I think this goes deeper than that now."

"This is not about you, Scully," he wants to make her believe, "it's something bigger than us."

"But I don't know if it's bigger than this," she says, patting her stomach, "pun intended." Scully pauses, the thoughts gathering in her head since the building blew up making themselves heard now. "Mulder, I left behind a career in medicine because I thought that I could make a difference at the FBI. But it hasn't turned out that way."

She smiles down at her stomach and holds her husband's left hand. "It's become something more. And I don't know if I could if I could go back to work as usual, not just because of what I've seen and done, but because of our family." She inhales before going on. "There may be something bigger, Mulder, global conspiracies or what-have-you, but I'm not going to jeopardize our family the next time a building blows up and we're not out in time."

"You're quitting," he says quietly. There'd always been a part of him afraid of this, a part that was insecure and curled up in his heart, a part that never wanted her to leave him, for either personal or professional reasons. And this time, it was both, and neither, which, for some reason, makes sense to him, and he doesn't blame her, but he still doesn't like it.

"Maybe you should ask yourself if your heart's still in it, too," she says, still not looking at him.

At that point, when Mulder feels like he's been sucker-punched, Skinner walks out and tells them, "Agent Mulder, you're up." And so is the X-Files, Mulder thinks morosely, turning slowly away from his partner.

"Mulder," she hands him his jacket, "see you at home."

He doesn't answer her, and her lower lip droops a little as he walks away. Then the redhead takes a deep breath before heading for the elevator. She'd like to think once she gets home and sees her children, everything will be all right, but she knows it's not the case. "Home," she murmurs, and for some reason, the simple word has a note of finality about it.

The Mulder/Scully Residence

"Mom, it's okay, you don't have to stay," Scully tells her mother after a quick hug.

"I'm just glad the two of you are all right," Maggie Scully tells her daughter, not wanting to tell her how her grandchildren clung to their father's legs that morning, unwilling to let go. She knows Sammy and Page are bright, it's just that, after watching the explosion in Dallas on the news and her own scream of "Dana!" , the little ones put two and two together. When Dana called her to tell her they were fine, she stayed up all night reassuring them before their parents came home. Even now, she's not sure what to tell her daughter, or how soon the little ones will voice their fears.

"We're fine, Mom," Scully reiterates, hugging her again. She looks tired, but whether it's jetlag, the pregnancy, getting called up before a board, or maybe all of the above, she really doesn't care. "Is Sammy behaving himself?"

Maggie smiles indulgently. "He's an angel," she says, deciding not to bring up how he tried to "help" her in the kitchen earlier. "Did the review go well?"

The redhead groans and sinks onto the couch. Her eyes closed, she grumbles, "What Dad said about administrators is true, it seems all they do is kill time by killing other people's careers to get ahead in their own."

"That's not nice, Dana," her mother says reproachfully, smiling anyways. "By the way, I've noticed that Page and Sammy can be little chatterboxes at times, but April hasn't said a word. I don't think it's because she's shy..."

Scully groans again, but opens her eyes. "I was hoping you wouldn't notice," she says guiltily.

"Not notice? These are my grandchildren, of course I'd notice," Maggie retorts. Then her expression softens to that of worry. "She's, she's not slow, is she?"

Scully smiles a tired smile. "No, Mom, she's not. She understands spoken words and sign language, it's just that it seems she's taking her time actually talking back." Then she shakes her head. "Or so Mulder says. He's leaning toward the Einstein theory."

"Einstein had a theory about children, too?" Maggie sits next to her daughter, thankful the kids are napping so she could have some time with Dana.

"No, Mulder has a theory about Einstein as a child," Scully replies. "Apparently, good ol' Albert Einstein didn't speak for many years, and even then, his classmates called him stupid." Her tired smile widens into a genuine one. "Guess he showed them."

Maggie hugs her daughter. "He certainly did." Stroking her daughter's reddish hair, she muses, "Aren't children a wonder? Einstein surprised his parents, as well as the rest of the world, going far beyond their expectations. And you certainly go beyond mine."

"Mom." Scully's voice catches in her throat.

"Shhhhh," her mother continues to stroke her daughter's hair, then inhales and stands. "I'd better make you some tea, that'll help you rest easier."

"It's okay, Mom." Scully rises slowly to her feet and yawns. "I'm so tired, I could sleep standing up."

Maggie nods. "Get some rest, I'll be up until Fox gets home."

Scully smiles sleepily at the casual use of her husband's first name, nods back, and trudges up the stairs. Maybe we should install an elevator, she thinks, not for the first time, and makes her way to the bedroom. Numbly, she takes off her clothes and tosses them onto a chair, then absently pulls the large nightgown over her head before crawling under the sheet. Just before the oblivion of sleep takes her, however, the thought that her children will change the future in ways Einstein could never dream of comes to mind, and she goes to sleep with a smile on her face.

Casey's Bar
Southeast Washington, D.C.

Later that night, Mulder's hanging out at the bar, because it's close enough to home, but far away enough so that he doesn't have to face his family right now as he's getting stinking drunk. Considering how assholic both he and the OPR have been to each other, he'd say they could just call it even, or they could call him fired, whichever came first.

In a way, he almost welcomes being fired, that way he could stay home with the kids, do the X-Files and maybe write freelance, and Scully could do her super-scientist thing at the FBI without his presence besmirching her rep. And that way, he won't have to face another day of leaving home with his children crying and clinging to him because they're afraid they won't see him again. Maybe Scully's right, if his heart's not in it, he should just walk away.

But that would mean the Smoking Man and all those other evil bastards win, the aliens take over without a fight, and everyone, including his family, dies. Dammit, it's a no-win situation, he groans inwardly, reaching for a full shot.

"I'd say this just about exceeds your minimum daily requirement," the bartender remarks dryly, filling a glass.

Hell, no, Mulder thinks as he empties the glass. Setting it down, he knocks over some of the many other glasses on the bar.

"Whoa, you've gotta train for that kind of heavy lifting. Poopy day?" she asks.

In a fuzzy way, she reminds Mulder of his seventh grade teacher who seemed like the only decent grownup when Samantha was taken. Nope, better than his fifth grade teacher, since he doubts Mrs. Kinghorn would serve him alcohol, even if he's now very legal. He points his two index fingers at the bartender, then points one finger on the bar as a sign that he wants another. The bartender clears away all the empty glasses and places one on the bar to be filled. While he waits, Mulder looks over his shoulder and notices a man at the bar watching him. Damn, Kurtzweil, he groans inwardly, can it get any better?

"So, whaddya do?" the bartender asks innocently.

"What do I do?" he repeats. When she nods, he launches into his spiel, guaranteed to win the hearts and minds of children the world over. Or something like that. "I'm the key figure in an on-going government charade, the plot to conceal the truth about the existence of extraterrestrials. It's a global conspiracy, actually, with key players in the highest levels of power, that reaches down into the lives of every man, woman, and child on this planet." Mulder laughs, thinking of his own wife and kids. Damn straight. "So, of course, no one believes me. I'm an annoyance to my superiors, a joke to my peers, and a burden on my wife. They call me Spooky. Spooky Mulder, whose sister was abducted by aliens when he was just a kid and who now chases after little green men with a badge and a gun, shouting to the heavens or to anyone who will listen that the fix is in, that the sky is falling and when it hits, it's gonna be the shit-storm of all time."

She seems to take it well, no screaming, no fainting, and best of all, no eye rolling. "Well. I would say that about does it, Spooky", and takes the drink away from him. Dammit. "Looks like eighty-six is your lucky number."

He takes some bills out of his wallet and declares, "You know, one is the loneliest number."

Mulder looks over his shoulder again and sees the man is no longer at the bar. Oh well, time to drain the lizard and meet up with another. He forgoes the fruitless enterprise of trying the bathrooms, and heads out into the alley. While he's trying to aim at the UFO on the poster, Dr. Alvin Kurtzweil accosts him.

They go through the same song and dance as before, although this time, Mulder knows the crazy old guy isn't just yanking his chain, but is just grazing the tip of the iceberg. And now that I'm mixing my internal metaphors, I know it's time to go home, the laconic man thinks, sliding behind the wheel of his car. It's a bad idea to drive, he knows, but since Scully left the car for him to use after the OPR, he decides he might as well make the most of it, and leaves Kurtzweil behind.

The Mulder/Scully Residence

As he drives, he debates whether or not to bring Scully along. After all, she's way pregnant, and coming into contact with even dead alien goop might hurt her and the babies. Or he could do the thing solo, like he'll have to do the X-Files for the rest of his life, and Scully would have to bail his sorry ass out of a military jail for trying to transport a messy body.

Neither of the options sound good, but he finds himself driving home rather than towards the base, and he guesses the steering wheel made his mind up for him. Unfortunately, he crashes the damn thing in the driveway just as he's parking it. "Thank God for insurance," he mumbles, stumbling out of the car and fumbling for the house keys.

The door flies open and his lovely, pregnant wife stands before him like a Titian goddess in a pink bathrobe. "Mulder, what," Scully's worries die on her lips as she smells him. Then she looks at the car, or what's left of it, then drags him inside. "You're drunk!" she hisses, not sure whether to shake him, slap him, or sober him up by less violent means.

"Awww, I woke you." He stumbles before landing on the couch. "Did I wake you?"

"No, but you're going to wake Mom and the kids if you don't lower your voice," she scolds him, starting to take his shoes off.

"No, get dressed," he tells her, pulling his feet back.

"What are you doing?" she frowns when his eyes light up with an unholy fervor. She really, really doesn't trust that look, drunk or sober. It usually precedes some kind of insanity, like chasing mutants or other ooginess in the dead of night.

"Just get dressed, I'll explain on the way," he says, propelling her toward the bedroom with a sudden alertness and coordination belying his inebriated condition, "good thing your mom's here."

Montgomery County, Maryland

At the Bethesda Naval Hospital, Mulder bluffs the clerk as quickly and efficiently as he did the last time. He and Scully walk down the hallway, both looking very professional, although she doesn't appear pregnant but rather heavyweight. She'd argued with him about this particular trenchcoat, but he'd said he'd rather have the military think she's a heavy redhead than deny her into the morgue because of her pregnancy. Sullenly, she accepted it, but he knows it's only a temporary victory, especially since he's the one who smashed a headlight and did God knows what else to their car.

They arrive in a room full of bodies on gurneys, wrapped up with sheets and tied with ropes. Mulder stops at one of them and looks at its toe tag.

"This is one of the firemen who died in Dallas?" she asks, joining him next to the body.

"According to the toe tag," he replies, carefully untying it because this time, he actually knows what's under the sheet, and it's definitely not a hot chick.

"And you're looking for...?" Scully prompts, not stopping him because a perverse part of her is just as curious.

"Cause of death," Mulder says simply, still undoing knots. He wonders if Sammy has been working part-time here, the knots are just as bad and unfortunately he doesn't have a pair of scissors on hand.

Scully smirks. "I can tell you that without even looking at him," she says, picking up a paper near the body's head and reads aloud. "'Concussive organ failure due to proximal exposure to source and flying debris.' Mulder, this man's already been autopsied, you can tell by the way he's been wrapped and dressed."

Mulder pulls back the covering sheet, thinking, Ewwwwwwwww, I can see why Page thinks 'sticky' is gross. "Does this fit the description you just read me?" he asks, the slimy sheet almost keeping its open shape, and he suppresses a shudder. Damn, I'm sober now, he sighs inwardly.

Scully walks around to join Mulder on the other side of the gurney, looks down and she's very, very thankful she's over her morning sickness part of the pregnancy. However, it doesn't mean her sense of smell is dead, and she covers her nose and mouth as she comments, "Oh my God. This man's tissue, Mulder..."

"It's like jelly," he says, and immediately regrets it. Aw man, it's gonna take months to enjoy pb&j again.

"There's been some kind of cellular breakdown," she says, still staring at the body, oblivious to his uncharacteristic squeamishness. She snaps on a pair of latex gloves, slides and pushes her fingers gently along the body, professional curiosity overwhelming her own queasiness. "It's completely edematous. There's been no autopsy performed here, no Y-incision, no internal exam," she frowns, realizing something is seriously wrong here, and not just the way this man died.

"You're telling me the cause of death on that report is false?" Mulder asks, grateful to drop the sheet. "That this man didn't die from an explosion or from flying debris?"

Scully's frown disappears as she looks up at him. "Mulder, I can't tell you what killed this man. I'm not sure anybody else could claim to either," she says, an echo of Harrison Ford's "I've got a very bad feeling about this" going through her mind.

It isn't long before they wheel the body into the lab, and Scully voices her suspicions about her husband's knowledge as well as her concerns over getting discovered autopsying the body. Mulder understands, but figures if she didn't get caught last time, this time there's no worry, but aloud tells her they should figure out what's really to blame for the fireman's death and clear their own names. With that, he leaves his pregnant wife in the company of a gelatinous corpse and heads off to the dubious company of Dr. Kurtzweil.

Dupont Circle
Washington, D.C.
4:50 a.m.

Not that the Dupont Circle is the nicest of places in the daytime, but at night, it's positively seedy, and Dr. Kurtzweil's residence, surrounding by cop cars with flashing lights, is no different. He pops into the apartment, which is swarming with cops, and picks up a couple of staid-looking ob-gyn mags before the New York-accented detective notices him and tells him about the kiddie porn charges. Even though he knows it's a false accusation, there's something in Mulder's gut that just roils at the thought. The FBI agent glances at the two Kurtzweil apocalyptic books, then back at the detective and hands him the odd comment about a pelvic exam appointment.

He really didn't need to step inside, but he knows Kurtzweil is watching and would be suspicious if he didn't show some curiosity. Then he walks out, sees Kurtzweil, and has a lovely chat about false accusations, the Hanta virus, and FEMA's real purpose.

"When we were young men in the military, your father and I were recruited for a project. They told us it was biological warfare, a virus," the passionate doctor says, his large eyes getting bigger with intensity.

"What killed those men?" Mulder asks impatiently, already itching to call his wife and check on her safety.

"What killed them I won't even write about!" Kurtzweil becomes the embodiment of all the paranoia Mulder's sources have been known for, but with good reason. "We have no context for what killed those men, or any appreciation of the scale at which it will be unleashed in the future."

"A plague?"

"The plague to end all plagues, Agent Mulder," the old man declares. "A silent weapon for a quiet war. The systematic release of an indiscriminant organism for which the men who will bring it on still have no cure! They've been working on this for fifty years! While the rest of the world have been fighting gooks and commies, these men have been secretly negotiating a planned Armageddon!"

The FBI agent feels a deep sorrow for the man he hardly knows, who seems to have had his finger in as many dubious pies as the Smoking Man. His father. "Negotiating with whom?"

"I think you know," Kurtzweil hedges, his eyes shining with a knowing glint. "The timetable has been set. It will happen on a holiday, when people are away from their homes. The president will declare a state of emergency, at which time all government, all federal agencies, will come under the power of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. FEMA, the secret government."

"And they call me paranoid," Mulder murmurs.

Kurtzweil doesn't care if the agent seems to be laughing at him, he knows what's at stake, or at least has a very disturbing glimpse of it. "Go back to Dallas, Agent Mulder, and dig. Or we're gonna find out along with the rest of the country, when it's too late."

Meanwhile, back at the morgue, Scully is conducting the autopsy. She cuts out a piece of the ribcage and holds it up to look at it. This is definitely not normal, she thinks, as she stares at a chunk which should, by all rights, by opaque and off-white, not clear like ice.

The thing that really gets her heart pumping, however, is when she hears footsteps and sees three men silhouetted in the frosted window of the autopsy room. She may be pregnant with twins, but it's amazing how fast she can hustle if her life depends on it, and pulls the sheet over the body before rushing into the refrigeration room, closing the door behind her.

Breathing quickly and shallowly, she removes her mask and gloves. Her cell phone rings, and either because of the room construction or her perilous situation, the damn thing sounds twice as loud as it should and she hits the answer button as quickly as she can.

"Hey, Scully, it's me..." Mulder says, calling from a payphone, as Kurtzweil's paranoia catches up to him.

Perfect timing, honey, the redhead thinks. "Yeah?" she whispers.

"Why are you whispering?" He frowns.

"Mulder, I can't really talk right now," she hisses. He wonders why, then remembers the last time, she was hiding in the meat locker section of the morgue. Oops. Crash the car, and now this. Scully's really gonna kill me now.

"What did you find?" he asks, hoping to make it a fast conversation for her sake.

"Evidence of a massive infection."

"What kind of infection?"

"I don't know," she says, both frustrated and yet exhilarated by this new discovery that has yet to be fully comprehended.

"All right, listen to me. I'm going home and then I'm booking myself on a flight to Dallas. I'm going to get you a ticket too."

"Mulder..." she whines.

"I need you there with me," he whines back. "I need your expertise."

"Mulder, I have a hearing tomorrow..." she tries to be a voice of reason, albeit quietly. Damn, if he didn't get her stuck here in a fridge full of bodies, he's off dragging her all the way back to Dallas when she's over eight months pregnant! Bad enough the first time was for official duty, but then the building blows up anyway and the FBI is pointing fingers at them! What the hell is he thinking???

"I can get you back in time for that hearing, maybe with evidence that will blow it away," he urges her.

"Mulder, I can't!" She hunches over, as if to muffle the sound and her husband's insanity over the phone. "I'm way past the point of common sense here."

"This has nothing to do with common sense," he tells her, and she thinks, Amen to that, and hangs up on him, hearing approaching footsteps.

Mulder, however, thinks that payphone connections are overrated when he pushes the metal thingamajigger impatiently to restore communication. "Scully? Are you there? Scully?"

By this time, she's hiding on the floor under one of the gurneys, doing her damndest to make her large body small without hurting her babies. A substance drips down from above, and she grimaces in disgust. I am going to kick your ass but good, Mulder, she thinks, praying to the good Lord and all the saints that those soldiers hustle their asses out of their ASAP so she can get home and wring her husband's neck.

Dallas, Texas
11:21 a.m.
FBI Field Office

"I'm afraid what you're looking for amounts to a needle in a haystack," the field agent drawls. "This explosion was so devastating there hasn't been much that we've been able to put together just yet." The agent's winding his way around tables covered in specimen and men in white lab coats working on them, not looking behind him to see if the out-of-town agent is following.

Mulder's really working his light blue shirt, dark-striped tie and black suit ensemble, mainly because he hasn't changed since, what, yesterday. "Well, I'm looking for anything out of the ordinary really," he says, sounding and appearing at the top of his game, despite being drunk off his ass less than a few hours ago and not having any sleep since yesterday morning. Was it that long ago? Thank goodness for deodorant and forgiving taxi drivers. "Maybe something from the FEMA offices where those bodies where found?"

"Well, we weren't expecting to find those remains, of course, and we sent 'em off to Washington," the agent replies.

Mulder sounds both optimistic and a touch desperate, since, well, both his and Scully's jobs are still on the line. Besides, he hasn't seen or heard from his wife since the morgue, and it's quite possible that she's back home, changing the locks and maybe getting a good deal of rest, for once. "Well, anything from those offices that you haven't send off to D.C. yet?"

Now the field agent stops and turns to Mulder. "Some bone fragments turned up in the sift this morning. We thought we had another fatality but we found out FEMA recovered them from an archeological site out of town."

"Have you examined them?" Mulder asks, trying to keep his attention on this man rather than stop and call his wife.

The agent with the helmet hair shakes his head briefly. "No, they're just fossils, as far as we know."

And, like a ray of sunshine, Mulder sees Scully standing by the doorway. He wishes they had some kind of telepathy to tell her how happy and relieved and astounded he is, but instead points at her and says to the field agent, "I'd like you to let this person take a look at them, if you don't mind."

The field agent turns around, sees Scully and turns back to Mulder, then sighs, as if wishing he didn't have to deal with odd requests from D.C. "Just let me see if I can lay my hands on what you're looking for," and walks off.

When Scully walks over to join him, Mulder says quietly, "I thought you said you weren't coming." And he honestly wasn't expecting her this time around, especially with the twosome in her tummy to give her more than a good enough reason to stay home.

"I wasn't planning on it," Scully's mouth quirks up slightly as if reading his mind. "Particularly not after spending a half an hour in cold storage this morning. But I got a better look at the blood and tissue samples I took from the fireman."

You can take the scientist out of the X-Files, but you can't take the X-Files out of the scientist, he thinks, knowing if he says this aloud, she'll kill him. "And what did you find?"

"Something I couldn't show to anybody else. Not without causing the kind of attention I'd just as soon avoid right now," she ducks her head and lowers her voice, her eyes scanning the area for any unwanted eavesdroppers. Then she checks on the field agent's whereabouts before continuing. "But what those men were infected with contains a protein code that I've never seen before. What it did to them, it did extremely fast." Her eyes bore into him, and again he's reminded of how sharp her mind is, that even the usually infamous pregnancy hormones that would distract other women don't stand a chance with Scully's will and wit.

"How was it contracted?" he bends down slightly, his voice also lowered.

Her sharp blue eyes dull slightly when she admits, "That I don't know. But, unless it can respond to conventional treatment, it could be a serious health threat."

The field agent returns with the fossils with a less-than-optimistic look on his face. "Like I said, these are just fossils, but they weren't near the blast center so they're not going to tell you much."

Mulder nods briskly, handing Scully a vial containing some bone fragments. "Right, okay, why don't you check this out." Without a word, Scully looks through the microscope, then looks up at Mulder, her eyes wide in disbelief. What the hell is going on? she wants to yell, but it's best to show a united front with others, dammit. As if her look confirms his suspicions, Mulder turns to the field agent. "You said you knew the location where these were found?"

"Show you right on the map," the field agent does his version of a business smile before walking away to get the map for them.

Blackwood, Texas

They're in the middle of a small, dusty Texas town, with neat houses surrounding them. "If this is an archeological or dig site," Scully brushes off the hair blowing in her face, "then I'm Indiana Jones." She's feeling somewhat better since she took a nap on the ride over, added to the nap on the flight from D.C. to Dallas. Not to mention the horrible sound of Mulder singing to their kids over the phone and mangling Elvis' "The Yellow Rose of Texas" waking her up as they arrived in Blackwood. Her mother laughing hard in the background, however, that was just priceless.

Mulder grins at her, just waiting until he can deliver the punchline. "This is where he marked on the map. Where he said those fossils were unearthed." He squints at her when the dusty wind blows grit into his face. "You're sure those fossils were infected with the same virus you saw at the morgue?"

She nods, "Both sets of bones were porous, as if the virus or the causative microbe were decomposing it."

"And you've never seen that virus before," he probes.


His squint drops down, then to the side, and he brightens up. "Look at that." They walk over to what appears to be an anomaly in the desert, a brand new playground. He glances back at his wife, who is already comparing the size of the area to parks back home and grins. "That look like new grass to you?"

"Looks pretty green for this climate," she agrees, half-wishing she could kick off her shoes and walk barefoot in this somewhat surreal oasis.

When they reach the playground, Mulder bends down and picks up a piece of the sod. "Ground's dry about an inch down," he says before dropping the new turf. "This was laid recently."

"The equipment looks brand new, too," Scully says longingly.

Mulder shakes his head, hoping the Syndicate will never figure out the way to buy off his wife would be a new playground set. "No irrigation system. Somebody's covering their tracks."

Turning around slowly to look for any clues to maybe fall from the sky, Mulder mentally counts to five and sees three kids riding towards them on bikes. "Hey! Hey!" he calls out as he and Scully walk towards the kids. Fortunately, the three boys stop their bikes.

"Do you boys live around here?" Scully asks, thankful she doesn't sound as out of breath as she feels. It's rare that she feels shorter than her husband, but when his long legs stretch unencumbered by a large belly, that's when she starts resenting, even briefly, Mulder's height.

"Yeah," the middle boy drawls in a somewhat deep voice.

Mulder nods towards the playground. "You see anybody diggin' over there?"

"We're not supposed to talk about it," the boy says, and it appears he's their leader.

Scully looks somewhat amused. "You're not supposed to talk about it? Who told you that?"

"Nobody," the shorter boy replies quickly.

Yeah, like I'll buy it this time, Mulder smirks. "Nobody? The same nobody that built that playground? Nobody buy you those new bikes, too?"

"I think you better tell us," Scully says in a motherly but gently scolding voice.

"We don't even know you," the first boy says defiantly.

Ooh, way to score points, kid, Scully thinks. "Well, we're FBI Agents."

"You're not FBI Agents," he scoffs.

Mulder grins, he can't help it. "How do you know?"

"Cause ya'll look like them Mormons," he laughs, and Scully ducks her head briefly to hide her own smile.

If we brought the kids along, we'd have no comeback, Mulder thinks as he pulls out his badge. "Hey, you wanna buy a badge?"

The boys stare at his badge and then spill. "They left about an hour ago, going that way," the tall boy points, then the other two kids point in the same direction.

"Looks like we're off that way, Indiana." He grins at his wife, who rolls her eyes even as the boys give him a mystified glance before biking in the opposite direction.

Chapter Sixty-Three

en route

There's no traffic around, so Mulder stops at an intersection so they can decide which way to go. Or pretend to decide, anyway.

"Unmarked tanker trucks. What are archeologists hauling out in tanker trucks?"

"I don't know, Mulder."

"And where are they going with it?"

"That's the first question to answer if we're ever going to find them."

"What are my choices?" he asks, peering over her shoulder at the map.

"About a hundred miles of nothing in each direction. We've got two choices. One of them is wrong."

"I think they went left."

"I don't know why, but I think they went right."

Mulder shrugs, then goes straight. "Six years together, Scully. How many times I been wrong? Never. About driving anyway."

It starts to get dark, and Mulder gives her a sheepish look since he knows that she should expect one. "I was right about the bomb, wasn't I?"

"This is great, this is fitting."

"What is?"

"I have to be in Washington in eleven hours for a hearing that may affect one of the greatest decisions in my life-"

"Your life? I'd say it affects both our lives."

"Fine, our lives. And I'm in the middle of nowhere Texas chasing phantom tanker trucks!"

"We're not chasing trucks. We're chasing evidence. Only Scooby Doo would be chasing phantom trucks anyway."

She chooses to ignore the last comment. "Evidence of what exactly?"

"That bomb in Dallas was allowed to go off, to hide bodies infected with a virus. A virus you yourself detected."

"They haul gas in tanker trucks, they haul oil in tanker trucks, they don't haul viruses in tanker trucks."

"Well, maybe they do in these tanker trucks."

"What aren't you telling me here? Mulder?"

"The virus may be extraterrestrial."

"I don't believe this... I don't..." she sputters, then Mulder points. There is a train, with the bodies of tanker trucks strapped to it.

They get out of the car and chase after it, as fast as they can given Scully's ungainliness. Eventually they reach a set of cornfields, surrounded by desert.

"This is weird," Scully remarks.

"Very weird."

"Any thoughts on why anybody'd be growing corn in the middle of the desert?"

"Not unless those are giant Jiffy Pop Poppers." He points at the rounded structures in the distance.

"They remind me more of nursing bras," Scully says with a shrug.

After ten or fifteen minutes of walking, they reach the doors and find that they are not being guarded, so they go in.

"Cool in here. Temperature's being regulated," Scully remarks.

"For the purpose of what?"

"I think we're on top of a larger structure here..."

"Hey Scully, why don't you wait here near the doors, in case we need to make a quick exit."


"Please?" He turns puppy dog eyes on her, so she sighs and steps back towards the doorway.

"You hear that?" Mulder calls.

"I hear a humming... Like electricity, high voltage maybe..." He bends down to listen. "Maybe...Maybe not."

The sound of the vents opening makes him look up.



"Get out! Get out!"

Scully quickly does as she's told, and looks back through to see him running from bees. He pauses long enough to let the blowers remove the bees.

"Did you get stung?" he asks quickly. "I didn't."

"The bees didn't make it to me," she tells him. "Hold still." She demands, then reaches into her jacket pulling out a small container. Just as he's about to ask her why, she plucks something off his coat. "You had a hitch-hiker."

"Hold onto that, Scully. It might be evidence."

A light grows over the corn, and they both know it's not dawn, so they run into the corn only moments before a pair of Black Helicopters appears above them.

To his dismay he loses track of Scully. "Scully! Talk to me, Scully! Dammit! Scully!"

"Over here, Mulder!" Her voice is almost lost over the sounds of the copters, but he does find her crouched down amongst the corn stalks. Then they begin to run towards their car, and the copters fly off.

"Where'd they go?" Scully asks.

Mulder shakes his head. "I don't know, I'm just glad that they're gone.

Washington, D.C.
OPR Hearing
August 27th, 1998

Scully slips into the room two minutes after the review was scheduled to begin. "I apologize for making you wait. I have new evidence. These are bone fragments recovered from the bomb site."

A.D.Cassidy gives her a disproving look. "You went back to Dallas?"



Casey's Bar

"Did you find anything?" Kurtzweil asks eagerly.


"What did it look like?"

"Bees, corn crops."


Washington, D.C.

"And you have conclusive evidence of this?" A.D.Cassidy asks.

"Well, not exactly conclusive. We're working on gathering conclusive evidence."

"Working with who?" The AD's voice is sharp.

Scully hesitates. "With Agent Mulder."


Casey's Bar

"What do you think they're for?" Mulder asks.

"What do you think?"

"A transportation system. The crops polygenically altered, to carry a virus."

"That would be my guess."

"Your guess?! I thought you said you had answers?"

"Yeah, well. I don't have them all."

Mulder gives him a disgusted look. "You didn't know my father."

"Look, like I said, your father and I were old friends."

"You've been using me to get information for your god-damned books!"

"Lower your voice!" Kurtzweil admonishes, leaves through the back exit.

Mulder follows him. "Kurtzweil? Kurtzweil!"

"Listen, you'd be shit out of luck if it wasn't for me. I'm putting my ass on the line."

"Your ass? I just got chased through Texas by two unmarked helicopters! And so did my pregnant wife!"

"And why do you think you're here talking to me today? These people don't make mistakes! They could have killed you, your wife, and your unborn offspring last night if they wanted to. Don't you get it?"

Washington, D.C.
Late Afternoon

Mulder is sitting in his office a family picture album open as he stares at a young version of Kurtzweil at a family picnic. His family's picnic. Scully comes in, looking quite morose.

"What's wrong?" he asks her. "What did they say?"

"Quantico, teaching autopsy technique. Transfer effective immediately. I already gave Skinner my letter of resignation."

"You can't quit now, Scully," Mulder insists.

"I can, Mulder. I already have. The only reason I'm working at all is because I thought what we were doing was necessary and worthwhile. If not for that, why would I leave my children if we can afford it if I didn't? I told you that I can't teach, not now..."

"I mean the X-Files, that's what you can't quit. We are close to something here! We are on the verge!"

"You're on the verge, Mulder. Please don't make this harder on me."

"After what you saw last night, after all you've seen, you can just walk away?"

"I have, I did, it's done."

"I need you on this, Scully."

"You don't need me, Mulder. You never have. I've just held you back. I have to go to my appointment, we'll talk when I get back."

Scully goes out into the hall and Mulder follows her.

"You wanna tell yourself that so you can quit with a clear conscience, you can, but you're wrong."

"Why did they assign me to you in the first place, Mulder? To debunk your work, to rein you in, to shut you down."

"But you saved me. As difficult and as frustrating as it's been sometimes, your goddamned strict rationalism and science have saved me a thousand times over. You've kept me honest... made me a whole person. I owe you everything, Scully, and you owe me nothing... I don't know if I want to do this alone... I don't even know if I can... and if I quit now, they win."

"I know." She reaches up and kisses him. "When I get home we'll work on trying to think of a way of convincing them that they need the X-Files to stay open."

After he lets her go, she looks out the window. "My cab's here," she tells him and he winces a bit, obviously feeling guilty that her car is in the shop. It's occurred to him several times that a slightly banged up car is a blessing compared to what could have happened.

"Love you," Mulder tells her.

He walks to the doorway and watches her get in the waiting cab.

"Thanks for coming so quickly," Scully tells the driver as she shuts the door. "I need to go to Waldon's Medical building. It's on Eighth Street."

The driver nods a little, but says nothing.

Scully looks around frantically for a few seconds. "Dammit, I forgot my purse. I'll be right back." To her surprise, the door won't open. "I need to get out-"

The man ignores her, and starts to pull away from the curb. "No, I need-"

To her relief the window does roll down. "Mulder!" she shouts to her husband who is still standing in the doorway. "Mulder, I need help!"

He's running towards her, but the driver hits the gas and heads in a direction that will not take her to Eight Street.

"Scully?" Mulder shouts and nearly catches up to the cab for a fleeting moment. Just as he's about to the driver sticks a gun out the window, and fires.

Scully screams as she watches her husband fall to the ground.

His prone figure fades away quickly as the driver guns the engine. "Where are you taking me? You bastard! Where the hell are you taking me?!"

An Apartment Just Outside of DC

When the driver tries to get Scully out of the car, she does the best to fight him. Eventually, however, he's able to overpower her and drag her up the stairs. When they reach a door, he knocks.

An annoyed looking woman gives them a look of disbelief. "This is who they wanted? You've got to be kidding me. Well, go on, bring her in."

The driver swears when Scully drags her feet, not wanting to go into the apartment. Although she's not completely shocked, Scully is horrified to discover that she's being left in the care of Agent Fowley. She's roughly pushed onto a couch, and the snarling driver leaves the two women alone.

"What's going on?" Scully demands to know.

Agent Fowley shrugs. "All I know is that I was asked to baby-sit someone that was going to take part in an experiment. I had no idea it was going to be you."

"Do you care?" Scully asks bleakly.

Fowley frowns a little. "I don't think that this was thought through very well. Even if they think this is going to teach Fox a lesson, using you in an experiment that is sure to kill your babies is only going to evoke his wrath."

"What do you mean, kill our babies?" Scully asks, before the truth dawns on her. "Those things! They're going to infect me with one of those things that eats people from the inside out!"

"That's the general idea. The 'thing' is a virus, though."

Scully wraps her arms around her belly, and moans, "no no no no..."

"It is a shame to kill three people when I'm fairly sure that they only really want to eliminate you. Too bad they decided to act now, instead of after your children are born."


To her surprise, Scully thinks she detects a genuine note of regret in the woman's voice and seizes on it. "You can't let them do this," she pleads. "Even if I've done something to deserve this, my babies haven't."

"I know, but I can't just let you go. They'd kill me for defying them."


Fowley gives her belly a calculated look. "Dana, how far along are you?"

Scully forces herself not to react to the overly familiar use of her first name. "Almost thirty-six weeks."

The brunette nods, then bends to rummage through a bag. "That's good. We can work with that." When looks up, she's holding a small glass bottle and a syringe in her hands. "I'm supposed to give the old bastard this stuff for his ulcers, but I've heard that it will do the job we want it to as well."

Before Scully can say anything to protest, the plunger depresses and the liquid races into her vein.

"What did you do to me?" She hisses as the other woman calmly places the syringe on the bedside table.

"The only thing I could to keep them from taking all three of you." Fowley smiles a little. "That's what you wanted, isn't it?"

"What do you- Ohhh!" Scully curls up when the first contraction hits her.

"I realize this isn't a perfect solution, but it's the only thing I can come up with," Diana tells her as she pulls on latex gloves. "I'm sure that Fox will be able to gain custody of the babies later today."

"But they'll be early," she gasps.

"I know. With luck I'll be able to get them to a hospital before they come for you."

Some Time Later

Thanks to the drug, Scully's labor is hard and fast. She scarcely has time to wonder if Fowley is capable of delivering a baby before the dark-haired woman has delivered two.

"They look good, Dana. On the small side, but they're breathing well." Fowley's voice is surprisingly reassuring.

"I want to hold them." She reaches out with trembling hands.

Fowley shakes her head. "You're really weak-" Scully gets ready to scream at her that they're her babies, give them to her, but Fowley's next words calm her. "I'll tuck them up against you while I clean up." She bends and places one infant on either side of her.

"Thank you," Scully mumbles, already intent on examining the babies. Fowley is right, they're perfect.

"I'll have to take them soon," Fowley warns. "Or there might not be time to get them to Fox."

Scully wants to protest when Fowley reaches out and takes the babies from her, but she doesn't. Better that they be with Mulder than along for whatever horrifying adventure she's in for.

After her babies are carried out of the room, Scully finds that she can barely keep her eyes open. Tired of fighting for the moment, she lets them close.


"What the hell is going on here?" an angry voice shouts, waking Scully up. Someone pokes her. "What happened?"

"Don't remember..." she lies in a sleepy voice.

"Where's Diana?"

"Isn't she here?"

The man continues to swear, and tells someone else that "they're not going to like this at all."

"Pick her up and put her in the car."

"We're still taking her?" a second voice wants to know.

"I don't see what choice we have."

Fowley jumps out of the car and pulls the basket off the backseat, praying that neither baby will start crying. The doors near the emergency room are blissfully deserted, which makes her sigh with relief as she pushes a note under the blanket covering the sleeping babies.

"Someone will find you in a minute or two," she whispers as she sets the basket on the ground in front of the doors.

She glances around and sees no one as she drives off, but ten minutes later she realizes that she's being followed. It's on her mind to keep driving, but a gun out the window makes her change her mind.

Before she quite realizes it, she's being forced into the back of a van where Scully and the smoking man are already sitting. "What did you do?" the smoking man asks her, sounding almost casual.

"Me? I didn't do anything."

"The fact that Agent Scully is no longer pregnant, nor are there any babies anywhere we can find suggests that you're lying."

"Oh. She went into labor. I didn't think you wanted the babies for anything, so I dropped them off at the hospital where agent Mulder is."

"You didn't think we wanted them..," he mutters, giving her an incredulous look. "We know she didn't just go into labor. What did you give her?"


"What did you give her?!" he thunders.

"Your ulcer medicine, Cytotec," Fowley admits.

"You didn't think it would interfere with the gestation of the virus?"

"I didn't think about that."

"You should have," The smoking man says grimly. "You're going to wish you had."

Scully and Fowley exchange worried looks, wondering what these men have planned for them.

That Night

A fog swirls around Mulder's head, but he thinks that he hears something, voices.

"What are you looking at?"

"His charts."

"Put it down."

"I'll put it down when I'm ready to put it down."

Mulder cracks an eye and thinks he sees blond hair before closing it again.

"He's waking up!"


The three gunmen are standing around his bed, looking down at him. "Oh god. Scarecrow, Cowardly lion. Toto. What happened?" Mulder asks thickly. His mouth feels like a desert.

"Some guys from a cab company found you lying on the road. Someone shot at you and grazed your temple."

"A few centimeters to the left and we'd all be playing harps right now," Frohike remarks.

It all comes back to him like a dash of cold water, and he struggles to sit up. "Someone took Scully! Where is she?"

"Your boss, Skinner, he's got people looking for her right now," Byers tells him.

Mulder swings his legs over the edge of the bed. "I've go get her. Gotta get her and our babies back."

To his surprise, Skinner comes in and tries to keep him in bed. "Easy now, Mulder. Easy. Tell me where she is, I'll go get her."

"I don't know where she is. But I know someone who might," Mulder insists.

"Mulder..." Byers speaks up hesitantly. "You don't need to look for the babies."

"What are you talking about?" He feels his heart in his throat when he swallows.

Byers throws him a frightened look, and Skinner sighs deeply, then gives him the news. "Three hours ago a pair of newborns were abandoned here at the hospital. The note with them instructed doctors to contact their father – Fox Mulder."

"What? The babies aren't due for a month," Mulder says feeling stupid. How could his sons be here and not Scully?

"They're both okay," Skinner tells him. "A little small, but they're breathing on their own. Their doctor said you could see them as soon as you woke up."

"I'll let a nurse know you're awake, so they can bring them down." Frohike hurries out of the room towards the nurses' station.

"How do you know they're who the note said they are?" To Mulder's embarrassment, he wobbles a bit as he gets to his feet.

"Maggie Scully brought Page in, and they did a preliminary blood test to see if they're related. It's no where near as conclusive as a DNA full test, but it does seem to indicate that in all probability they are your boys."

Mulder winces, thinking of how much Page hates needles. "All the more reason for me to go find their mother for them."

"How far do you think you can make it out there? How far do you think they'll let you make it, because they'll know the second you walk out that door," Skinner reminds him.

Venting a frustrated sigh, Mulder sits back down on the bed.

A cheerful looking nurse pushing a cart comes into the room. "Oh good, Dad's awake! Your little boys have been waiting to meet you."

"Oh." As Mulder peers down at the two infants he feels a sense of awe. These babies are the smallest of all the newborns that have ever been in his family, and they're the only ones who have had his hair. It's light and sparse, but definitely brown. They have Scully's ears, though, and her nose...

"You're looking a little pale, Dad," the nurse says, sounding concerned. "I think we should make this a short visit. You can see them again whenever you like."

"Thank you." As soon as she's gone he looks up at his friends with heavy grief in his eyes. "They need their mother, not just me. Can't you understand that?"

"What can we do to help?" Langly asks.

"You can strip Byers naked."

"What?" Squeaks Byers.

"I need your clothes."

"I..." Byers looks miserable. "At least all of you look away."

"Oh, for God's sake," Frohike says what they're all thinking, but they all turn around while Byers and Mulder change clothes.

As soon as he escapes with Frohike and Langly, Mulder pulls out his cell phone. "Kurtzweil? It's Mulder. I need to meet you in the usual place."

Casey's Bar, Southeast Washington, DC
The Alley

I doesn't surprise Mulder to see the Well Dressed Man staring at him instead of Kurtzweil, but it does make him a bit sad.

"Mr. Mulder."

"What happened to Kurtzweil?"

"He's come and gone."

"Yeah, I'll bet. I want to know where Scully is."

"The location of Agent Scully and the means to save her life. Please..." The Well Dressed Man motions Mulder into his car, and they both trade wary glances as they take their seats.

A minute later Mulder finds himself looking down at a familiar vial of liquid and a piece of paper with coordinates.

"A weak vaccine against the virus Agent Scully has by now been infected with. It must be administered within 96 hours. That leaves you little time to get to those coordinates."

"You're lying."

"No. But I have no means of proving otherwise. They've taken your wife to give her the virus, and I assume that they've done's rather fortunate that your infant sons are free from the possibility of infection, since it'd surely kill them both. As for the virus is extraterrestrial. We know very little about it except that it was the original inhabitant of this planet."

"A virus..."

"What is a virus, but a colonizing force that cannot be defeated? Living in a cave, underground, until it mutates--and attacks."

"This is what you've been conspiring to conceal? A disease?"

"No. For God's sake, you've got it all backwards! AIDS, the Ebola virus, on the evolutionary scale they are newborns. This virus walked the planet long before the dinosaurs."

"What do you mean walked?"

"Your aliens, Agent Mulder. Your little green men who arrived here millions of years ago. Those that remained have been lying dormant, underground since the last ice age in the form of an evolved pathogen, waiting to be reconstituted by the alien race when it comes to colonize our planet -- using us as hosts. Against this we have no defense, nothing but a weak vaccine. Do you see why it was kept secret? Why even the best men, men like your father, could not let the truth be known. Until Dallas we believed that the virus would simply control us, that mass infection would make us a slave race. Imagine our surprise when they began to gestate."

"Why are you telling me this?"

"For the sake of my children. Once it's learned what I have told you, my life will be over." The Well Dressed Man looks at his driver. "If I can't save them, I must give someone else the means to save their lives, as well as the lives of countless others." He pauses. "Such as the lives of your children."

"Where's Kurtzweil?" The other man says nothing. "I'd like to get out of the car now. Stop the car!"

"Driver." The driver pulls over. "The men I work with will stop at nothing to clear the way for what they believe is their stake in the inevitable. I was ordered to kill Dr. Kurtzweil, as I was ordered to kill you." Without missing a beat the Well Manicured Man shoots the limo driver in the back of the head.

"Trust no one, Mr. Mulder. Get out of the car."

"Why? The upholstery is already ruined."

"Get out of the car!" Mulder does so. "You have precious little time, Mr. Mulder. What I've given you the alien colonists don't yet know exists. The vaccine you hold is the only defense against the virus. Its introduction into an alien environment may have the power to destroy the delicate plans we have so assiduously protected for the last 50 years."

"What do you mean, may have?"

"Find Agent Scully. Only then will you realize the scope and grandeur of the project. Go. Go now!" The Well Dressed Man walks back to his car. "Good luck," he adds softly.

Flames shoot up merrily, as soon as the car door slams. Mulder walks away, his shoulders hunched with determination.

Late That Night

"Daddy!" Emily shrieks when she sees Krycek walking towards her. He holds a finger up to his lips, and looks around. Fortunately the girl seems to be the only one in the hallway. She holds up her arms, and he obligingly picks her up.

"Hey," he whispers into her ears. "You're not supposed to call me that when your auntie, uncles, or Grandma are around," he reminds her. As part of a "game" he and Missy have taught her not to talk about him when disapproving relatives can hear. Krycek supposes they'll slip up sometime and he'll be around his lover and their daughter when one of them is around at some point, but so far it's worked.

"I know. I'm sorry," she says contritely, then smiles. "They're not here, though. Grammy is wit my cusins and I don't know where Auntie Dana or Uncle Fox is."

"Are," he corrects absent-mindedly. "I know they're not. You and Mommy are going to go to Grandma's so you can make your cousins feel better though, right?"

"Yup. Hey, I gots new cousins too!" Emily informs him.

"Boys or girls?" Krycek asks, playing along.

Emily wrinkles her nose. "Boys. They don't have names yet."

"Alex," a voice calls.

He grins when Missy comes out of a nearby ladies' room. "Hi Babe."

Missy glares down at their daughter. "I thought you promised me if I let you use a different stall you wouldn't come out of the bathroom before me."

"I forgot," Emily says cheerfully.

Krycek sets her on her feet. "Where are they babies?"

"They're keeping them in the nursery for now, since they're not exactly sick, and my sister isn't here..." Missy trails off, her eyes suddenly shiny with tears. "We don't even know where they took her."

"If anyone can find her, it'll be Mulder. I've never met a more tenacious ba-" He looks down at Emily. "Badge holder."

Missy tries to smile, but doesn't quite pull it of. "I'm supposed to go to my Mom's, so..."

"I'll be here." When she looks surprised, he goes on. "These little boys are your nephews, Emily's cousins... nothing is going to happen to them. At least, nothing worse than already has happened," he amends. "Not to mention I sort of owe him one – and no I won't explain why. I just do."

"God I love you," Missy says fiercely, hugging him quickly.

He kisses her...until a little voice says "eeeww."

Later, after they leave, he goes over to the nursery window. Many hospitals no longer have old-fashion nurseries, but this one does. It reminds Krycek of the polar bear exhibit at the zoo. Except instead of holding bears that will eat him if given half a chance, his two almost-nephews are behind the glass. He stares at the small brown-haired newborns and decides that not all Mulders are bad.

Wilkes Land Antarctica
48 Hours Later

Mulder is driving a Sno-Cat and the gas gauge keeps flipping down to indicate the tank is empty. Unfortunately, he's had no more luck finding gas for the thing this time around than last. He taps it with his finger a few times, hoping that it's just frozen, but each time the gauge returns to empty.

"Oh shit!" He forces the Sno-Cat to go a little farther, and finally crests a hill that allows him to see the group of pretend igloos.

As soon as he gets out of the vehicle, he grabs the coat he brought for Scully and races to the station through the heavy snow. Just before he reaches the domes, he falls through the ice as it collapses beneath his feet and he drops into a deep crevice. He lands on a metallic surface or structure covered in the snow with a vent blowing out hot air and forming a pocket in the ice.

There's a cylindrical tunnel there, and he pushes on, skidding along at some points, almost running at others. He passes a corridor and comes face to face with a prehistoric man encased in ice.

Eventually he finds the place he's had nightmares about for years – the room filled with frozen dead people who served as incubators for the alien virus. His hands are shaking when he finds the right pod, and brushes the frost from its surface.

Diana Fowley's face stares up at him with a look of horror. Surprise makes him stumble back a couple of steps.

"Mulder!" a hissed whisper catches his attention, and he spins to see Scully. Although she looks exhausted, she's in much better shape than he ever expected.

"Oh my God, Scully. Are you okay? What am I saying, of course you're not, but you're not infected with the virus." He passes her the coat since she's shivering.

"No. Something in the stuff she gave me to induce labor interferes with the...virus. They infected her instead." Scully suddenly shudders. "They said those...things are going to be hungry when they're born, so it's good that I'm here."

"Jesus, Scully. Nothing like implying to a person that they're here for monster food."

Scully nods a little, but stares at Fowley's face behind the thick green glass, or whatever it is covering the front of the case. "We've got to get her out of there, Mulder."

"You've become friends?" he asks, bemused.

"Not really. But she's here because she defied them by delivering the babies and getting them to safety. They're okay, aren't they?" she asks anxiously.

"Both fine. They're being guarded by law and family."

"Good." She looks at Fowley and shivers. "This is what they do to punish people who are on their side."

Mulder finds a canister on a pod that isn't too tightly held and rips it off. Using it as a hammer, he smashes at the glass until it cracks, releasing a flood of greenish liquid, that flows out revealing Fowley's nude body.

"Mulder, is she..."

He shakes his head, and pulls out the vaccine vial and syringe and hurriedly injects the vaccine into his former friend. Fowley begins to gag when he pulls the shriveling tube out of her mouth.

"You've got to breathe, Fowley," Mulder tells her, and she begins to gasp in air. "Scully? Any advice?"

"We've got to wrap her up, and get the hell out of here before someone comes back."

"My coat will do," he says, shucking it off, and thinking if he had to do this all a third time, he'd being half a dozen coats so he'd be sure not to get hypothermia. Not that he wants to ever do it again.

"You'll freeze, Mulder."

"I'll live," he says grimly, as he wraps Fowley up. Then he notices that she's not making much of an effort to move air. "Breathe! Can you breathe?" He rolls her on her side and pounds on her back until she coughs up green slime.

"I'm so cold," Fowley says in a whisper.

"It's okay, we're going to get you out of here." Mulder gives Scully a worried glance. "Are you going to be okay? It's only been a few days since you delivered..."

"I can hold my own if you can hold her," Scully tells him as she watches him hoist Fowley into a fireman's hold.

The two of them make their way out as quickly as they can, but pain slows Scully down, and Mulder's burdened by carrying the unconscious woman. Ice begins to dissolve in the other pods, and they see movement now and then, wishing they didn't.

"We've got to keep moving," Mulder pants.

They finally reach the vent. "Fowley reach up and-"

"Mulder! She's not breathing!"

::Same damn spot. Must be something hinky here about the air pressure.:: Mulder thinks drearily as he lowers Fowley to the ground.

Fortunately, Scully knows CPR much better than he does, and has Fowley breathing again quickly.

"You first, Scully," he tells her. She begins to pull at the vent, and gets herself up it.

As Mulder is pushing Fowley's limp body up to Scully something fights its way through the ice and begins to swat at his feet.

"Mulder!" Scully looks down at him anxiously, still holding onto Fowley.

"Pull her away from the vent so I can come up!"

Mulder kicks the seeking claws away and pulls himself up. It doesn't take very long for them to get out of the tunnel, but once they get onto snow, Mulder runs into trouble. He keeps stumbling as he tries not to drop Fowley.

Fowley is waking up a bit, so Scully shouts. "Let me help you!"

He hesitates until he realizes that Fowley is strong enough to put her arms around their necks and help herself a little. They don't get very far before the ice is cracking behind them, and they soon are overtaken by the hole that forms under them.

A moment later the three of them fall back to the ground in a rain of snow that falls off the spaceship they've just escaped from.

Even though he's seen it before, Mulder is still in awe. "Scully, you must see this!"

"I see it, Mulder. I don't know what it is, but I see it."

She expects him to argue, but she realizes that he's even more unconscious than Fowley is. All she can do is huddle by the two prone figures and watch the ship shoot off into the horizon.

Early Morning

While doctors fuss over Fowley, and another doctor examines Scully, Mulder runs up to check on his newborn sons. They're sleeping peacefully, and fortunately a doctor is looking at them so he doesn't have to hunt for one.

"Mister Mulder." The doctor smiles at him. "I heard that you found your wife."

"News travels fast," Mulder replies in surprise.

"They called me as soon as word came in that she was here. I expect she'll want to come and see them soon."

"Very soon," he agrees, thinking about the argument his wife had minutes before with the doctor trying to examine her before she ran off. "How soon before we can bring them home?"

"Given that they're three days old and both weigh more than five pounds, I'd say they can be discharged as soon as possible. Will your wife be staying over night?"

"I really don't think so. She's letting them examine her, but she's in far better shape than the other agent who was taken too. We never would have gotten away if she wasn't okay."

"In that case-"

"Mulder!" Before he can even turn his head, Scully is by his side, looking down at their sons. "Oh my God, they're so beautiful."

"You're looking well, considering what I've heard of your ordeal," the doctor tells her. "I was just telling your husband that you can discharge the babies as soon as you'd like, since they're doing very well."

"Tonight, Mulder?" she asks him anxiously.

"Unless you'd rather get a good night's sleep first-"

"No, tonight."


"There is one thing before you take them home-" They look up at the doctor. "It's easier on you if you fill out their birth certificates before you leave the hospital. Less paperwork than it would be to file them later."

"Oh..." Mulder says. "We weren't really expecting to have to make a final decision until next month." He fails to mention that they've never pre-named one of their children yet.

"I understand, a lot of parents of early babies haven't picked names. If you decide on them, let a nurse know. I'll be back later."

Mulder drags a chair over and gets Scully to sit. She picks up one of her sons, and cradles the infant in her arms. "I was thinking about the woman who called herself Invisigoth-"

"Invisigoth Mulder, I like it."

She swats him, but smiles. "- and how much she loved David. Did you know that the name even means 'beloved'?"

"David Mulder isn't as cool as Invisigoth, but it's pretty good." He peers at the infant in her arms. "What do you say, kid, would you like to be David?" The baby flails an arm. "I think he volunteered."

"You know it's just a reflex."

"I don't think so. Our babies have a history of being brilliant, so I'm sure he was responding to the question." She doesn't argue with him, so he reaches down and picks up the other newborn. "How about you, what do we call you?"

"We're not calling him Invisigoth either," Scully warns.

"I was actually thinking of Jared. It goes well with David."

"It does. Do you know anyone named Jared?"

He doesn't want to admit that he got the idea from the show The Pretender. "No, I just like the name."

"Me too," Scully says. "David and Jared, are you ready to go home?"

"Are we ready?" Mulder asks, trying not to laugh.

"We've got to be."

Washington, D.C.
Melissa Scully's
Two Days Later

Melissa watches as Alex carries their sleeping daughter into her bedroom. After a couple of minutes he comes back, looking pleased with himself.

"She wants to see her cousins tomorrow," Missy tells him. "I told her that it depends on how her auntie is feeling."

"A lot better than they intended her to feel," Krycek says as he sits on the couch and pulls her near him.

"This Fowley woman, why did she do it?" Missy kisses his neck. "It's not that I'm not grateful, but nothing Dana or Fox ever said about her leads me to believe that she's their friend."

"That's because she isn't. My theory is that she never expected Scully to live through the experience, and was shocked to find out she'd be given the virus instead because of her role in getting your nephews to safety."

"I'm not sure I understand."

"Anyone can see the looks she gives Mulder. It would have suited her just find to swoop in and take Scully's place if he was suddenly left a grieving widower and father."

"That's awful," Missy comments before burying her face in his neck. He uses his good hand to rub her back.

"It didn't happen that way, so don't worry about it. Your sister's fine, your nephews are fine-"

"That's something we need to talk about," Missy says after pulling away. "We've got to tell them about us, sooner or later."

"Can't it be later?" Alex asks plaintively. "After we've gotten married and had a couple more kids so your brother-in-law won't shoot me. Not that I'm afraid of him," he adds. "I just don't think you or Scully want us dueling."

"Oh Alex." Missy shakes her head but lets the conversation drop. For now.

Washington, D.C. OPR
A Week Later

AD Cassidy's voice is crisp. "In light report on these findings and in light of the narrative I am now hearing, my official report is incomplete--pending these new facts I'm being asked to reconcile. Agent Scully, though there is now direct evidence that a federal agent MAY have been involved in the bombing, the other events you've laid down here are too incredible on their own, and quite frankly implausible in their connections."

"What is it you find incredible?" Scully asks impatiently.

"Well, where would you like me to start? So many of the events described in your report defy belief. Antarctica is a LONG way from Dallas, Texas, Agent Scully. I-- I can't very well submit a report to the Attorney General that alleges the links you've made here. Bees and corn crops do not quite fit under the rubric of domestic terrorism."

"No, they don't."

"Most of what I find in here is lacking a coherent picture of ANY organization with an attributable motive. What happened to you, your sons and Agent Fowley is regrettable, but there is no clear culprit. I realize that the ordeal you've endured has clearly affected you, and Agent Fowley has yet to be able to give us her own account. But the holes in your account leave this panel no choice but to delete these references to our final report to the Justice Department--until which time hard evidence becomes available that would give us cause to pursue such an investigation."

Instead of seething at the lumping of hers and Fowley's experiences, Scully walks over to her and hands her the vial containing the bee she took off of Mulder. "I don't believe the FBI currently has an investigative unit qualified to pursue the evidence in hand."

The Capital Mall

Once she walks outside, she finds Mulder sitting on a bench by the reflecting pool reading a newspaper.

He points at an article. "There's an interesting work of fiction on page 24. Mysteriously, our names have been omitted. They're burying this thing, Scully. They're just going to dig a new hole and cover it up."

"I told OPR everything I know. What I experienced, the virus, how it's spread by the bees from pollen in transgenic crops."

"You're wasting your time, Scully. They'll never believe you, not unless your story can be programmed, categorized, or easily referenced."

"Then we'll go over their heads."

"No. No. How many times have we been here before, Scully? Right here. So close to the truth and now with what we've seen and what we know to be right back at the beginning with nothing."

"This is different, Mulder."

"No it isn't. You were right to want to quit. Stay home with the kids, and don't keep sacrificing yourself for a hollow personal cause of mine. I thought we lost you, I can't keep letting that happen to you, or to them. Just look after them full time like you want to."

"I don't think I can, Mulder. Not anymore. The kids need us both, but so does the rest of the world. That virus that Fowley was exposed to, whatever it is, it has a cure. You held it in your hand. How many other lives can we save? Look. If I quit now, they win."

He stands slowly, taking her hand, and they walk away.

Chapter Sixty-Four

September 1st, 1998

Sitting in a rocking chair, Mulder studies Jared as he feeds him a bottle. ::You know, Kid, having both Mommy and Daddy being on leave while we wait for the red tape to be cut so our office is reopened is for the best. The two of you are a lot of work! That's one of the reasons Daddy is not going to encourage Mommy to want another baby for a couple of years. You're going to run us ragged, and I promised your little brother that he'd still be born. Six kids sounds great to your old man.::

When he hears Scully come in, he doesn't look up before speaking to her. "Have you given any thought yet to that zygosity test? They look identical to me, but they say that the Olsen twins aren't even though they look just-" He trails off when he notices that Scully looks teary. "What's wrong?"

"You're feeding my baby."

"Oh, did you want to?" he asks offering her the bottle.


"Ah." It's that again. She didn't mention it until they got home, but before the consortium abandoned her to be eaten by the developing virus after it gestated, they'd given her a few injections in hopes of riding her body of the drug faster. Apparently they'd still had hopes for infecting her too, not just Fowley. One of the things they'd tried had dried up her milk. Although he tries to be sympathetic, he can't help but think that it might be for the best. Trying to feed two newborns all by herself might have done her in, particularly since she'd be returning to work when he does.

"You think I'm being silly," she says as she picks up David, who'd been sleeping up until then.

"I don't think you're being silly. But I don't think you should feel guilty. You don't love them any less than their sisters and brother, do you?"

"Of course not!"

"Then they'll be fine, They might get another cold or two, but that won't matter much in the long run."

"You have to be so damn reasonable, don't you?" she accuses, but she looks a lot less sad.

"I can try harder to make this a dysfunctional family, if you'd like," Mulder invites with a grin. "But I'm not sure the kids will cooperate. They don't seem to get upset by new babies the way they're supposed to."

Scully finally smiles. "It just might be that they've accepted the fact that parents periodically bring home new siblings as the natural order of things."

"Good for them," Mulder says with a sigh, then moves to burp his son. "Let's hope that the sibling rivalry fairy skips over this house all together."

"Like you say everyday, Mulder, anything is possible."

"I don't say that every day."

"Almost every day."

"No more than once a month."

By the time the mock argument wraps up, the twins are sleeping, and the other kids call from downstairs, wanting their dinners too.

::Does life get any better than this?:: Mulder wonders, even sparing a smile for a shadow that seems to wave at him in the dark hallway. ::Great kids, a haunted house...::

Second Week of September 1998

::This is easy. I can do this, no problem.:: Mulder thinks as he stirs spaghetti sauce with his right hand. David is draped over his left arm, sleeping soundly, undisturbed by his father's movement.

::It's fine that he won't sleep when he's not being held. Sure, it's fine.:: He wishes that he had a free hand to rub his eyes with, but all he can do is to turn his head when he yawns so he doesn't drool into dinner. ::This is probably temporary. He slept in his crib fine up until last night.::

Mulder stops stirring the pot and stares out into space – at least until his newborn son whimpers and scrunches his face, looking like he's going to wake up all the way. "You know, kid, I should have known. As soon as I got kids who took after me in coloring, I'd get ones who'd take after me in sleeplessness too." Although that's not strictly true. Jared has Mulder's dark hair too, and sleeps in a crib like a normal baby. So far. As it is, Mulder's rediscovering moves he hasn't used since slow dancing at the senior prom.

A moment later, a small figure darts into the kitchen. Completely ignoring his father at the stove, Sammy laboriously pushes a chair up against the counter and climbs up onto it.

"Uh, what are you doing?" Mulder asks his older son while swaying in place.

"Getting cookies," Sammy tells him brightly.

"No you're not. Haven't you noticed that I'm cooking?"


His father makes a swatting motion with the wooden spoon he's still holding. Luckily, he doesn't get sauce everywhere. "Get down, you. First dinner, then cookies."

"O-kay." Sammy slides off the chair and without being asked pushes it back to the table.

Before the little boy can wander off, Mulder tells him, "Sit in a chair and tell your old Dad about your first day of school." He and Scully can scarcely believe that they now have two children old enough for preschool, but the calendar marches on. "Did you like it?"


Mulder nods. "Were Page and Emily nice to you?" It's been his fear that the girls would gang up on Sammy and not let him play with anyone else, or else completely ignore him.

"Uh huh, but I played with different kids at playtime. That's okay, right?"

"Of course it is. You can have different friends than your sister or cousin do."

"Good." Tilting his head, Sammy stares at Mulder's arm. "How come you holding David?"

To everyone's surprise, Sammy is able to tell his brothers apart at a glance, even better than Mulder, Scully, or Maggie can. They have no idea why. Scully still hasn't made up her mind about testing their DNA yet, but Mulder is pretty sure they're identical. Scully once remarked that she wished that she'd gotten to see if there were one or two placentas, but the idea just made Mulder's stomach wobbily.

"He won't sleep in his crib."

"Oh. His crib got sheep sheets?"

Mulder blinks. "Yes he does, why do you ask?"

"Them sheets smell funny. I don't like it."

Mulder is about to ask him why he knows that when he remembers that the cribs and Sammy's toddler bed use the same size sheets. "What do they smell like?"

The little boy just wrinkles his nose. "Yucky soap."

"Good to know. Will you tell everyone that dinner's ready, please?"


For the hell of it, after dinner Mulder strips the sheet off the baby's crib mattress. He holds it to his nose and sniffs, but it just smells like a sheet to him. Shrugging, he balls it up and tosses it in the hamper before grabbing another sheet.

Pausing, he calls down the hallway. "Sammy, do the duck sheets smell yucky too?"

"No Daddy."

He doesn't hold much hope that it will help, but as soon as he puts the new sheet on he lifts David out of the baby carrier he's been fussing in since Mulder put him down.

The moment the baby is in the crib, he yawns and falls asleep.

"I'll be damned," Mulder whispers, shutting off the light.

October 1998

As Skinner briefs them, Mulder is barely able to object when he notices a familiar figure sitting in the office, listening with rapt attention to Skinner's every word. To be honest, he's paying more attention than either Mulder or Scully.

"Yesterday, a small pipe bomb ripped through the crypt of Christ's Church here in DC. There were no casualties, no thefts, no note making any demand," Skinner says.

Trying not to yawn, Scully asks, "Who's taking credit for it?"


Right on cue, the man speaks into a tape recorder. "She's Jodie Foster's foster child on a Payless budget. He's like A... Jehovah's Witness meets Harrison Ford's 'Witness'."

Scully shoots Mulder a look, and he shrugs. "Uh, Christ's Church. Isn't that, uh, Cardinal O'Fallon's church?" she asks.

"Yes. O'Fallon's residence is adjacent to the crypt," Skinner replies.

"Who's Cardinal O'Fallon?" Mulder pretends to have no idea, since no one would expect him to know.

"Cardinal 'Oh-fallen,' perhaps." Is recorded just before a cell phone rings.

"Um... He's one of the most powerful men in the church today. His name often comes up as a possibility for the first American pope."

"Oh. I-I don't want to be myopic here, sir, but this looks like a straight up terrorist act for the A.T.F."

"Myopic," the man records, still ignoring his phone.

"Yes, it does," Skinner agrees

The ringing is driving Mulder batty. "Are you going to answer your phone?"



"I didn't want to be rude." He goes for his phone, missing Scully's look of disbelief.

"Sir, who the hell is this guy?" Mulder asks while the man natters on his phone.

"This is Wayne Federman. He's an old buddy of mine from college. He's a writer out in Hollywood now and he's working on an FBI-based movie. He's asked me to give him access."

"A screenwriter?" Scully asks in a tone of careful disdain.

"It's actually...writer/producer," Wayne says, then continues his phone conversation.

"Well, that's actually just a hindrance-slash-pain in the neck."

"Yo, yo, yo. Agent Mulder, I don't want to eat your lunch. I'm just here for some procedural flavor-- just a taste."

"Why do I get the sense that the song 'me and my shadow' is going to be in my head all day?" Mulder mutters.

Wayne gives him an ingratiating smile. "The Skinman's said that you come at things maybe a little fahkatke, a little Star Trekky, which is the exact vibe I'm looking for... for this thing I'm doing. It's a Silence of the Lambs meets Greatest Story Ever Told type thing. It's... Beautiful, and I will not be in your way. I'll be strictly Heisenbergian-- like a hologram."

Giving Scully a pained look, he reminds himself that Wayne is a temporary annoyance.

"Agent Mulder, Mr. Federman will accompany you today to Christ's Church where he will act as an observer on this case. You will extend to him every courtesy and protection you would a friend of mine and a friend of the Bureau's. Agent Scully, I require your services here for the morning."

Ignoring Wayne's suggestive murmur, Mulder asks, "Sir, have I pissed you off in a way that's more than normal?"

Christ's Church
Washington, DC

After what seems like an endless drive, Mulder and Wayne pull up in front of a cathedral.

"Just curious if she's more than your partner," Wayne says, continuing the interrogation he started when they got in the car.

Mulder holds up his right hand so sun glints off his wedding ring.

"Oh, so that's why she puts up with you."

He shrugs. "That and she doesn't want to raise five kids on her own."

"Married for a while, then, huh?"

"Almost five years." When he sees Wayne's knowing look he adds defensively, "The new babies are twins."

"Un huh."

They get out and quickly locate the cardinal. Wayne makes a show of being quiet.

"Cardinal O'Fallon can you think of anyone who might make an attempt on your life?"

"The church always has enemies, Agent Mulder."

"The size of the bomb would have limited its destruction to just the crypt itself. Is there anything down there worth targeting?"

"Not really. Just some old bones, artifacts, relics... documents that we store down there in the cold. We like to think of it as God's Refrigerator."

"That's a great line," Wayne says, recording it as soon as the cardinal thanks him.

"Wayne, shut up, Mulder orders. "You were saying, Cardinal?"

"No treasures to the outside world. Things of negligible monetary value... but great spiritual value to the church-- ancient devotional texts... and medieval relics."

Wayne and the cardinal banter as they go down the stairs, saving Mulder from having to make small talk. After a while they find themselves in a spidery cavern.

"Who comes down to the crypt here?" Mulder asks.

"Only myself. There are a half a mile of catacombs here." O'Fallon turns on a light. "I like to walk here during lunch." He leads them to an area of rubble. "That's where the bomb went off."

Mulder looks around. "Well, my instinct, Cardinal is to see this desecration of the dead less as a murder attempt and more as a terrorist act-- a message..." He breaks off when a phone begins to ring.

After a couple of minutes they discover the phone and the body it's with.

"Would that be St. Jude's cell phone, Cardinal?" Wayne asks nervously.

"No. That's Micah Hoffman," Mulder tells him and then shows him the phone which spells out the dead man's name.

Adams Morgan District
Washington, DC

With Wayne in tow, they arrive at the door of a low rent apartment. "This should be it here."

Scully objects when he jimmies the lock with his kit. "Mulder, we should have a warrant."

"Hey, it's only the Constitution. No big deal," Wayne says sarcastically.

"And give it to who?" Mulder asks. "Dead men don't seem too impressed by warrants."

The inside of the apartment is decorated with art and bomb making equipment.

"Dis-feng shui," Wayne remarks, earning an odd look from Mulder.

"Mulder, sorry to denigrate a third of your Trinity, but, uh, looks like Hoffman was killed by one of his own bombs."

"Well, from Dharma bum to Dharma bomb."

Giving Wayne a look Mulder says, "I knew, uh, Hoffman was a master potter..."

"Yeah, well, it appears he was a master calligrapher as well. Look, Mulder, they've got gum arabic and sodium hydroxide here." They smell unpleasant. "Whoo, these would be used to, uh, to age the ink and the paper prematurely. It's a... it's a forger's trick."

"Well, from counterculture to counterfeiter."

"All right, one more pun and I pull out my gun," Mulder says, staring hard in Wayne's direction. "I don't care if you are Skinner's friend."

"You are fearless, I guess," Wayne says. "Most people fear the Skinman."

Mulder ignores him. "Scully, look at that." He picks up a piece of parchment with writing he can't read covering it. "Christos. Looks like a religious text. Can you read Greek at all?"

"Well, it's pretty rusty but it looks like some kind of lost Gospel. A gospel of Mary Magdalene, and, uh, an account of Christ's life on Earth after the Resurrection."


"Yeah. It's a heretical text, Mulder-- mythical, I should say, but long rumored to be in existence."

"Like the book of Mormon," Wayne suggests.

"I don't think he sent for this in the mail, Wayne," Scully says.

"Well, what would Micah Hoffman be doing with heretical religious texts?" Mulder asks.

"I think the question is: What would Hoffman be doing forging them?" Scully asks.

"We all have to have hobbies, Scully."

Wayne clears his throat. "I think the real question, "Agents," is: What might O'Fallon be doing with Hoffman's forgeries?" They both look up at him in grudging respect. "You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows."

When Mulder glares at him, Wayne holds up his hands. "Don't shoot!"

Wayne trots along behind Mulder as they go through the crypt, trying to keep up on shorter legs. It shouldn't be as hard for him as it is for Scully, but it seems to take him more effort to keep up so he's not left in the dark behind the beam from Mulder's flashlight.

"I like the way you guys work-- no warrants, no permission, no research. You're like studio executives with guns," Wayne says when they finally slow down a little. Should I call you Agent Mulder or Mr. Mulder, or, like do you have a nickname or something like that?" They hear a faint clicking, and Wayne laughs nervously. "That wasn't you cocking your gun, right?"

"Shh, shh, shh, shh."

"I bet you say that a lot around your house, what with having a million kids and all."

Ignoring him, Mulder shines the light around the crypt, looking for the source of the noise.

"Just ignore me."

"What's that?" Mulder asks, then approaches a table. There's parchment on it. "Looks like the same gospel of Mary Scully ID'd over at Hoffman's place."

"So, is this a forgery, or is this the real thing?"

"Well, there is no "real" Gospel of Mary, Federman. The, uh, original would be a fake."

"All right, so is this a real fake or a fake fake or...?" Wayne wants to know. They both jump when a cell phone rings and echoes loudly. "Sorry, that's me."

Wayne wanders off talking into his phone while Mulder examines the parchment. When he returns he looks like he's just seen a ghost. ::Or something creepier than that, since no one reacts this badly to the ghosts in our house.:: Mulder decides. ::Maybe it's because they're just little kids.::

"You okay, Wayne? You're looking a bit peaked."

"Yeah, yeah, I'm okay," Wayne answers distractedly. He jumps when Mulder accidentally bumps his flashlight against the wall.


Wayne's hand shakes minutely as he tries to drink his juice after explaining that he'd seen dancing bones had preformed for him just an hour earlier.

"I didn't see anything," Mulder protests when Scully turns to look at him. "It's all Wayne's idea."

"Now, Wayne, I'm sure that it was dark in there and that your eyes were playing tricks on you and you've been influenced by ghost stories and horror movies that take place in crypts and graveyards and you hallucinated this vision of these dancing bones trying to reconstruct this bowl," Scully says soothingly.

"I bet your kids even believe that calm tone," Wayne says sourly. "No, I didn't hallucinate. That was mechanical or C.G.I."

"Federman, that wasn't a movie." Mulder chuckles. "That was real life."

"The difference being?" Wayne asks. Neither knows how to answer.

"Well, I have got my flavor here, so I appreciate all your help. I've got a movie to write."

Mulder gives him an amazed look. "You're leaving? You don't want to get to the bottom of this?"

"Not especially. This just isn't going to work out for a movie script. There's nothing sexy or exciting about a bunch of fake manuscripts done up by someone with a steady hand and too much free time."

"Wayne, you know, sometimes truth can be stranger than fiction," Mulder says defensively.

"Well, fiction is quicker than truth and cheaper. You want my advice? You're both crazy."

"Well, why do you say that?" Mulder asks.

"Well, you're crazy for believing what you believe." He turns to Scully. "And you're crazy for not believing what he believes. I'll leave you with that. Thank you." Then Wayne drops his tip money on the counter and leaves.

"I miss him already," Mulder deadpans.

"You know, Mulder, I... I know that Federman's bs-ing you, so I'm really hesitant to mention this, but, um... his story reminds me of the Lazarus Bowl," Scully tells him.

"The Lazarus bowl?"

"We had this wacky nun in Catholic school-- Sister Callahan-- we used to call her 'Sister Spooky' 'cause she would tell us scary stories all the time."

"Twisted sisters, my kind of nun, you know?"

"Well, she would hold up an old piece of wood with a rusty nail in it, and she would say 'this is an actual piece of the cross that Christ's wrist was nailed to.' Or she'd show us a vial of red liquid and say that it was John the Baptist's blood, or something."

"She'd be in prison today. You realize that."

"Well, she would tell this story of when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead and she said that there was this old woman who was Lazarus's aunt or something..."

"Lazarus's aunt? Sounds like a rock group."

"...who was spinning a clay bowl on a wheel nearby and that Christ's words-- the actual incantation to raise the dead--were recorded in the clay grooves of the pottery just like the way music is recorded into vinyl."

"You see? It's just not true that you can't get good science at Catholic school. It's a lie."

Scully laughs. "Uh huh, you keep that in mind next year when my Mom wants us to seen Page to a Catholic kindergarten."

"Yeah but mine has her heart set on some snob factory. You don't think our mothers would have a cage brawl over the issue, do you?"

"God forbid. Anyway, Sister Spooky says that, uh... that these words in the clay still have the power to raise the dead just like Jesus raised Lazarus."

"That is a very cool story coming from you, Scully. I'll have Chuck Burks meet you over at my office see if this clay has Christ's Greatest Hits on it and I'm going... I'm going to go have another audience with Cardinal O'Fallon."

The case continues in a disappointingly mundane fashion now that the bright, if weird, spark is out of their hair. Mulder is nearly eager when he answers the phone after discussing the case with Scully one rainy afternoon.

The other man's voice sounds far away. "Agent Mulder? It's Wayne Slash Federman out in L.A."

"I can't really talk about the case, you know."

"That's all right. Skinman's keeping me in the loop. Listen, who do you see playing you in the movie?"

"I'm in the movie?"

"Well, it's a character loosely based on you. It's more of an amalgamation."

"How about Richard Gere?"

Wayne laughs. "Ho! Yeah, okay. Uh, seriously. What if I said to you the name 'Garry Shandling'?"

"Wayne, you're breaking up. It sounded like you said 'Garry Shandling.'"

"Garry Shandling signed on to play the amalgamation loosely based on you and Tea Leoni's playing the amalgamation loosely based on your partner, you stud. The movie's called the Lazarus bowl."

"How do you know about the Lazarus bowl?"

"The Skinman. Listen, Shandling and Leoni want to meet you guys... get your flavor-- it's an actor type thing. Come on out to the studio on our dime. We'll make it nice."

"Hey, who's...who's going to play Skinner in the movie?"

"Richard Gere."

"Ri... Ri..." Mulder sputters.

"Yeah, and you'll love the boy who's going to play the oldest of your twelve kids. His name is Frankie Muniz, he's almost thirteen, and he's going to be taping a movie about a dog next year, but we snagged him first. Real funny kid, you'll like him."

"Wait a minute. My oldest is four and a daughter. And we don't have twelve kids, we have five-"

"Think of it as being futuristic, then. At the rate you're going you'll end up with twelve kids."


"And like I said, this is only loosely based on you and your wife. The producers liked the idea of combining Kolchek the Night Stalker with Cheaper by the Dozen. The oldest kid is going to help solve the case."

"FBI agents don't let their children solve cases!" ::Even if they do get dragged alone on some of them.::

"This is Hollywood, Baby. Kids can do anything in movies."

Late the Next Night

Mulder is sitting in the den, watching his favorite movie while everyone else in the house sleeps.

"Well, as long as they can think we'll have our problems. But those whom we are using cannot think they are the dead brought to assimilated life by our electrode..." he repeats along with the tape.

Until Scully comes in and cuddles up against him. "Couldn't sleep either, huh?" Mulder asks.

"Plan 9 From Outer Space?"

"Yeah. It's the Ed Wood investigative method. This movie is so profoundly bad in such a childlike way that it hypnotizes my conscious critical mind and frees up my right brain to make associo-poetic leaps and I started flashing on Hoffman and O'Fallon. How there's this archetypal relationship like Hoffman's Jesus to O'Fallon's Judas or Hoffman's Jesus to O'Fallon's Dostoyevsky's Grand Inquisitor, or Hoffman's Jesus to O'Fallon's St. Paul."

"How about Hoffman's Roadrunner to O'Fallon's Wile E. Coyote?"

He laughs. "Don't suggest that to Wayne, or it might turn into an animated movie."



"Do you think it's at all possible that Hoffman is really Jesus Christ?"

He gives her a suspicious look. "Are you making fun of me?"


"Well, no, I don't. But crazy people can be very persuasive."

"Well, yes, I know that." He smiles good-naturedly at the jib. "Maybe true faith is really a form of insanity."

"Are you directing that at me?" Mulder asks.

"No. I'm directing it at myself and at Ed Wood."

"Well, you know, even a broken clock is right 730 times a year. As long as it's not digital."

They watch the movie for a bit, but then she stares at him. "How...?


"You've seen this movie 42 times?"


"Doesn't that make you sad? It makes me sad." She gives him a look of mock concern.

"You know, Scully, we've got four weeks probation vacation, a wonderful live-in nanny, nothing to do and Wayne Federman's invited us out to L.A. to watch his movie being filmed and God knows I could use a little sunshine."

"California, here we come," Scully says resignedly. "But just for a day or two, okay?"


"And we're bringing David and Jared with us," she adds.

"Don't you worry about the older kids getting jealous?"

"They won't remember this for long."

He nods, and bets that she and he will, though.

Stage 8 20th Century Fox Studios
Hollywood, California

Wayne practically runs to them once he spots an assistant directing them. "Agents! I'm so glad you could hang." He looks down at the baby carriers in Mulder's hands. "And I see you've brought the youngest of the Mulderlings."

Scully looks at Mulder and mouths 'Mulderlings' with a smirk.

The writer doesn't notice, though, since he's still looking at the boys. "They're awfully cute. Have you considered putting them in movies? You've got a matched set, so that sort of thing makes it easier."

"Wayne, they're only two months old!" Mulder protests.

"Yeah, you're right," Wayne says regretfully. "The youngest of your movie kids are almost two."

"Okay..." Scully says warily. Mulder winces, and remembers he never told her about Wayne's Cheaper by the Dozen approach.

"Come on, I want you to meet the people that are going to play you. Garry Shandling, Tea Leoni, this is Agents Mulder and Scully."

Gary and Tea come over to meet them. Both are wearing severe black suits, and a full size crucifix hangs from Tea's neck, which startles Scully.

"Nice to meet you," Mulder greets them, and they begin to exchange pleasantries.

Tea smiles at Scully, and invites her to step aside to talk privately. "Well, you know, while I've got you here maybe, uh, maybe you could show me how run after bad guys while trying not to drop babies."

"Um, what?"

"I mean, you've got a couple here..." She trails off when she notices Scully's look of horror. "Or we could get someone to get a couple of dolls for us from the prop department." Tea waves over a young gopher and orders him to find a couple of dolls.

"I'm afraid I'm going to drop one of the little buggers on its soft little head and get sued by it's parents," Tea tells her with a laugh. "You must have some tips."

"I guess..."

Mulder and Gary stand aside, and are sort of watching Scully and Tea run around the set with dolls for reasons they can't quite fathom.

"Seriously, listen could I ask you something?" Gary asks Mulder.

Knowing what's coming, Mulder tries not to wince, "Sure."

"Tell me about your underwear."

In the distance Tea can be heard shouting something when she drops a doll and its leg falls off.

"My what?"

"Underwear. Are you a boxers guy or a briefs guy?" Gary says seriously. "This is my first film role as a father of fifteen, so I feel the need to know more to get into character."

"And underwear has what to do with that?" Mulder asks, bewildered.

"I was reading something in a men's health magazine, or maybe playboy about how underwear affects fertility. Tight undies kill the little swimmers, if you know what I mean. You obviously don't have a problem with that, so..."

"Did you say fifteen earlier?"

"Yeah, Wayne says you've got fifteen kids. Some are adopted, right? Your wife doesn't look like she's had fifteen kids."

"We have five kids."

Gary steers the conversation back. "So about the underwear."

"Uh, boxers mostly."

"Mostly?" Gary gives him a puzzled look. "If you mean you make your own Frankenunderwear by sewing things together, this isn't going to be easy for me. I don't sew very well."

"What? No, I mean I usually wear boxers," Mulder tells him. "100 percent cotton."

"Yeah, okay," Gary agrees, before turning and shouting. "Wardrobe!"

Mulder stars after him, and catches something out of the corner of his eye. Tea runs to Scully and shoots her a triumphant look. Then she drops the dolls she's been holding.

"Dammit!" rings across the studio.

movie sets make good backdrops

A bit later on Mulder and Scully, with David and Jared on their respective laps, watch as a high strung little man who calls himself Sugar Bear directs a scene in the movie.

"And rollando! Come on, now, kick it in the ass and action, zombies!" Sugar Bear shouts.

"Mom, watch out! There's one right behind you!" the kid Wayne told Mulder about, Frankie Muniz, shouts.

Scully leans into Mulder and whispers. "Does Wayne know our oldest kid is only four?"

"I told him that," he whispers back. "He didn't care."

"Billy, stay back!" Tea shouts at the kid. "This is FBI business, young man!"

"Aww, Mom!" A zombie knocks young Frankie off his feet, and charges at Tea. She screams on cue as it bites her shoulder.

Looking outraged, the zombie looks at the director. "What is this?"

"Cut! Go ahead, ruin my career," Sugar Bear says petulantly.

"What seems to be the problem, Mr. Zombie, sir?" asks a production assistant.

"What the hell is this? What the hell's in my mouth? What's Tea Leoni's shoulder made out of?" the zombie says with a full mouth.

"Uh, craft service, what is Tea Leoni's shoulder made of?"

"Turkey, just like you asked for," a girl in the distance calls.

"Turkey. Ms. Leoni's shoulder's made of turkey."

The zombie looks like he'll pass out from outrage. "Tofurkey! I asked for tofurkey! I'm a vegetarian! Half the zombies are vegetarian! Oh, my God!"

The zombie spits out the meet and runs off yelling. "The people are made out of turkey!"

Watching all hell break loose on the set, Mulder turns to Scully. "Are you glad that we've only got one picky eater?"

Scully gives their infant sons a suspicious look. "So far."

The Beverly Ernesto Hotel
Hollywood, California

Although he'd love to take advantage of the fact that the twins are more then six weeks old, and they've been given a lovely room, Mulder reminds himself of his promise to be less fertile between now and when William is conceived.

A nice bath paying attention to his wife is as far as he dares to go.

::Oh god, it's going to be a long two years.:: He thinks, as he fills the tub. ::Maybe I should look into that tight underwear Gary mentioned.::

"Packing's about done," Scully tells him as she comes into the bathroom. "And the babies are asleep."

"You know, Scully, I was just thinking about Lazarus, Ed Wood, and those tofurkey-eating zombies. How come when people come back from the dead they always want to hurt the living?"

"Well, that's because people can't really come back from the dead, Mulder. I mean, ghosts and zombies are just projections of our own repressed cannibalistic and sexual fears and desires. They are who we fear that we are at heart-- just mindless automatons who can only kill and eat." She drops her robe and climbs in.

"Party pooper. Well, I got a new theory. I say that when zombies try to eat people, that's just the first stage. You see, they've just come back from being dead so they're going to do all the things they miss from when they were alive. So, first, they're going to eat, then they're going to drink, then they're going to dance and make love."

"Oh, I see. So it's just that we never get to stay with them long enough to see the gentler side of the undead."

"Exactly." The water splashes as he climbs in facing her.

The phone near the tub rings. "Hello?"

"Agent Mulder, it's Assistant Director Skinner. I hope I didn't catch you at a bad time."

"No, sir, I'm just at the, uh, computer."

"Listen, I just wanted to apologize for coming down so hard on you during the Hoffman-O'Fallon case."

"Oh. I appreciate that, Skinman."

"Don't call me that."

"Yes, sir. Um... Uh, where are you now?"

"I'm right underneath you. I'm in L.A., At the same hotel as you. Right below you and Agent Scully."

"Federman got me an Associate Producer credit on the movie."

"A.P. Skinner, huh?" He chuckles, then stops when Skinner doesn't laugh.

"Uh... So what are you up to right now, sir?"

"I'm taking a bubble bath."

"Uh, hold on just one second, sir." Mulder clicks the button to put the phone on hold, then turns to Scully with a wide grin. "Hey, Scully, Skinman is calling me from a bubble bath."

"You didn't put me on hold, Mulder."

"Uh, sir, well, hold on one second, sir." He tries again. "Sir?" When there's no answer, he looks at his wife. "Can you believe he's calling us from a bath?"

"He's really gone Hollywood."


"You know, Mulder, speaking of Hollywood, I think that Tea Leoni has a little crush on you."

"Oh, yeah, right. Like Tea Leoni's ever going to have a crush on me."

"I think that Shandling likes you a bit, too," she adds with a smirk.

"Really? How does it make you feel that your husband is such a sex object, and adored by many?"

"I'm not worried," she tells him with a smile. "Did you have any plans for this nice, warm soapy bath, Mister Sex Object?"

"You forgot adored by many," he teases and pushes some bubbles at her. "Actually yes. I've been thinking that this is a perfect time to do something that I haven't done for you for a while."

"What's that?" Scully asks, giving him a coy look.

"I was thinking of a deep, penetrating... scalp massage."

"Oh, that does sound good," she agrees happily.

Mulder drops the phone, and Scully teasingly cries out, "Harder Mulder, harder!"

Muffled by a towel on the floor, neither of them can really hear the phone say, "Um, Mulder? Did you mean to take me off hold? Yeah...I'll let you do whatever it is you're doing and get back to you later."

Chapter Sixty-Five

November 16, 1998 & September 3, 1939

Scully's gonna kill me, is the first thought that goes through Mulder's head when he revives, soaking wet, only to find himself on the SS Queen Anne and British sailors shaking him and questioning him roughly in their weird accents. I'm so glad I speak American, he thinks, even as he tries to answer their questions without throwing up. His next thoughts are that if his wife and partner doesn't kill him, it's probably because she'll think he went off the deep end because they got kicked off the X-Files and other people (Smokey junior and Diana the Middle-Aged Bitch) are working there, not to mention having to sneak around Kersh, what ho, what joy. Not that that's ever stopped him from chasing the weird shit, or vice versa. Man, I hope she doesn't kill me, he thinks again, even as the sailors drag him to the captain's quarters.

However, this time he's got a better idea of what's going on, even though he still gets locked up for his troubles. "Why don't they ever believe me?" Mulder grimaces, seeing that his story of being a traveler from the future didn't quite sit well with the war-besieged Brits. Oh well.

Once the door closes on him, he leaves the radio on but turns the lights out, a more sizable paperweight in hand for his encounter with 1939 Spender. Heck, if he's in an alternate universe or have traveled in time, it's not really the Spender he knows, but still, he wants to make sure the sucker stays down for a while longer. That, and it's fun just to beat the crap out of the guy, who sucks up to the smoking man as much in this incarnation as in the present. Wait, if this is the present, then I mean the future, he amends mentally, but all grammatical tense problems go out the window once the guy actually shows up.

This time, he decides not to take his cue from Indiana Jones and stays in his sodden 1998 clothes. Still, he gets out of the German soldiers' way by heading immediately to the ballroom and finding Scully. The blonde woman onstage kinda looks like Kersh's secretary, and, remembering her tattling, tries to stay out of her sight as she sings "Jeepers Creepers." To his chagrin, there's no hot redhead in a hot red dress, no matter how hard he looks. What if Scully isn't on board this time around? Could it be that this second time around is jinxed because he shouldn't necessarily be traveling back in time in the first place? Dammit!

Before he can ruminate further Einsteinian and Hawkings-like musings, he beats a hasty retreat to the lower decks, where at least some of the normal people, that is, non-Nazis are. He hopes.

Mulder runs into Scully as she steps out of a berth, calling, "I'm just going to get some milk, I'll be right back!" She's dressed in a more matronly red outfit, but she still looks pretty hot to him. When she sees him, however, her mouth hangs open as she goes white, and she sways unsteadily on her feet.

Okay, not an improvement over wanting to hit me, Mulder thinks as he rushes to catch her. "Scully," he murmurs, patting her face lightly, but there's no response. He doesn't want to get caught with the Nazis still on his tail, so he carries her back inside.

When everyone inside the room stares up at him, he stammers nervously, "I-I didn't do anything, she just fainted." His kids are there, and so is an older man, playing with them as if he's their relative.

The elderly man, whom he recognizes as Thor's Hammer, merely looks at him before leading them to a bed. "Put her down," he orders Mulder, and the taller man does so. "Who are you?"

"Fox Mulder," Mulder says, pulling out his soaked badge.

The older man nods, then attends to the still-out-of-it woman. Checking her pulse and then her forehead, he sighs, "It appears you've given her quite a shock." He stares around the taller man to see the two older children with saucers for eyes. "And it appears she's not the only one who knows you."

"Daddy," the little blonde girl whispers as her brother hides behind her.

Mulder turns around, ready to embrace his little girl with a smile, when the elder man's voice stops him. "That can't be," he says to the girl, "your father died in a boating accident off the coast of Virginia."

And again, the man twice out of time feels adrift from his moorings as the girl screams and the little redheaded boy cries, to be joined by his two baby brothers and little sister.

Scully is sitting at her desk in the FBI bullpen, none too happy with the situation. For one thing, it appears that, despite Skinner's best efforts, they're out of the X-Files. Again. For another, it appears that her ne'er-do-well husband has gone off hunting down an X-File in spite of their official dismissal from said division. And for yet another reason, the nanny's sick and her sister and mother are visiting Charlie, so she's watching the kids. "The day just keeps getting better and better," she mutters darkly when she sees The Lone Gunmen. "What?" she asks, trying to keep Sammy from exploring someone else's desk.

"Mulder's in trouble," the short balding man wastes no time with pleasantries, seeing his favorite agent is in a most unpleasant mood.

The blond man nods. "Big trouble."

"Uh-oh," Sammy says, now looking up at his unofficial uncles. "Daddy's in big trouble."

"Let's take a walk," Byers says nervously, seeing the curious stares of agents he doesn't know or trust. He picks up the twins' baby carriers and nods at his compatriots. Frohike hefts up April and the baby bag, while Langly holds Sammy and Page's hands, and they all start walking, looking for all the world like an ad for not going to family reunions.

"The walls have ears," Frohike mutters in an undertone as they continue walking as nonchalantly as three unauthorized visitors carrying an FBI agent's kids can.

Scully snaps impatiently, "I have ears. Will you tell me what's going on?"

The conservatively-dressed man whispers, "Mulder's disappeared."

She blinks. "Disappeared from where?"

Langly replies, "From the national reconnaissance office's lacrosse mid-latitude imaging radar satellite." Temporarily freeing his hands from the rugrats, he digs a much-folded photo from his pocket and hands it to the redhead.

"I don't understand. What am I looking at?" Scully frowns.

"A whole lot of nothing." Frohike makes a face, then smiles half-heartedly at a passing agent.

"We pulled that down 45 minutes ago off the NRO satellite," Byers hastily explains, "which early this morning sent a picture of a ship which inexplicably appeared in the middle of the Atlantic."

Langly nods. "The SS Queen Anne, which by all accounts vanished without a trace over sixty years ago."

"The Queen Anne?" Scully stops, forcing the others to stop for her. "The British luxury liner?"

"The lovely lady gets a star." Frohike beams, then wilts under her glare.

"It was torpedoed by a German U-boat," Scully tells them, in a tone reserved for repeating basic truths, like gravity and the earth spinning around the sun.

The blond man smirks. "That's one story."

Scully lifts an eyebrow. "There's another?"

Byers nods, then starts walking, and the others join him. "Though her exact position was kept secret for fear spies might give her up to the Axis," he says in an undertone, "it's been reasonably determined that the Queen Anne was just south of the Plantagenet bank when she went missing."

"Less than sixty feet of water yet she's never been found," the short man adds.

Scully looks at them squarely in the eye, to ascertain their sanity. With these three, she's never quite sure. "So you're saying the Queen Anne just disappeared."

"Into the Bermuda triangle," Langly agrees.

"And reappeared this morning at 6:49 a.m. Eastern Standard Time," Frohike chimes in.

"That's impossible," Scully hisses.

Byers looks mildly offended. "Satellite doesn't lie."

Scully waves her hand at the photo paper in her hand. "There's nothing on here."

The moustached man looks apologetic. "We gave the original images to Mulder so he could use them as navigational aids."

"He was in a hurry," Langly adds.

She really, really doesn't want to know, but asks anyway. "To get where?"

"Out to the Queen Anne before anyone else got there first," Frohike replies.

As Scully's face turns something close to murderous, Byers adds hastily, "He went to Bermuda and chartered a powerboat out of Hamilton Harbor. We tracked him on the satellite for an hour and a half."

"Until a storm blew in and obscured all transmissions," Langly says helpfully.

Frohike nods at the black and white photo. "That's what you're holding."

"What's happened to him?" she says urgently, and even Page and Sammy can pick up her worry.

'We can't know that," Byers says helplessly. "Not without alternative tracking data. Which is why we're here."

Even the blonde hacker looks resigned. "Without good data, all we can do is wait and hope for the best."

"Yeah, but expect the worst," Frohike adds glumly.

"Well, we have to get help," Scully says, pulling out a pen and notepad from her pocket.

"Without a position he's a needle in a haystack." Byers shakes his head.

"What do you need?" She stares at him.

"Navy AWACS SLAR or SAR 100 K swath imaging," he replies tersely. "You're going to have to find somebody at the Pentagon to get it."

As she writes down the information, she prays a swift prayer under her breath. "Take the kids and wait for me downstairs," she tells the Gunmen. Then she bends down to kiss her babies, all five of them, on their foreheads. "Mommy will be right with you," she says, "and then we're gonna go rescue your crazy daddy."

As she races around the corner, Sammy notes, "Daddy's in big, big trouble."

Everyone agrees as they make their way to the faded VW van in the parking lot.

Tearing the paper from her notepad, Scully walks purposefully down the hall and into Skinner's office. "I need to speak with him," she tells the secretary.

The other redheaded woman thinks, Here comes trouble, even as she says as pleasantly as she can, "Could you please take a seat?"

"Is he in?" Scully asks.

The secretary nods, "Yes, he's on his phone."

"Sorry, this can't wait," Scully says, walking into Skinner's office. He's on the phone, but she behaves as recklessly as her son as she interrupts him, "Sir?"

Skinner inwardly sighs, wondering when even his ex-agents developed such impeccable timing. All day he's been waiting for this call, and ever since, he's been interrupted left and right. "Could you hold on a minute?" he tells his caller. Impatiently, with his hand over the receiver, he says, What is it, Agent Scully?"

"I just received some very disturbing information, sir. I need your help," she says, not bothering with an 'excuse me' or even 'please.'

Great, the bald man thinks, this is guaranteed to get the smoking man back on my back. "I'll call you back in five," he says briskly, and hangs up the phone. Plainly irritated, he tells his former agent, "You can't come rushing in here."

"Sir, I couldn't waste time explaining myself to your assistant," Scully says quietly.

Dammit, Skinner thinks, even as he crosses the line, for the umpteenth time, for Mulder and Scully. He knows it involves both of them, because it always does. "Tell me what is so urgent."

"It's about Agent Mulder," Scully says, "he's done something incredibly rash."

"What else is new?" the bald man sighs.

Scully stares at him. Is he serious? "He may be lost at sea," she tells him.

"I can't help you," he tells her. "There's nothing I can do." Come on, take the hint, he thinks.

"This isn't for me; it's for Agent Mulder."

When is it not? He thinks, even as he says, "My hands are tied. I'm not your direct superior any longer."

"Don't you want to know what this is about?" she asks, while he steers her to the door.

"No, I don't," he says, and for the benefit of his secretary, as well as the hidden mics he's sure are in his office, he adds in a louder voice, "I'm not allowed to have contact with you -- any contact with either you or Mulder."

His secretary looks apologetic. "She walked right past me, sir."

He nods, but that only allows Scully to slam the door between the offices. He glares down at her. "You're out of line, Scully."

True to form, she glares right back. "No, sir, you're out of line. I'm sorry, but I'm coming to you for help and I've got nowhere else to go. I would hope that after everything that we have been through that you would at least have the courtesy and the decency and not to mention the respect to listen to what I have to say. Now, all I need is information," she hands over the paper with the numbers and letters in block print. "You don't have to do anything else. Look, sir, if you know anybody at the Office of Naval Intelligence it would be of great help."

He glances down at the note as if dismissively, then hands it back, having already committed it to memory. "I could lose my job, my pension, I could even be subject to legal action," he argues. She sighs in exasperation and starts to open the door, but he slams it back shut and keeps his hand on it. "Use your head, Scully," he tries to warn her, wondering what happened to the usually more level-headed side of the pair. "It'll save your ass."

There is no reasoning with her, however, since she's in protective partner, wife and mother mode. "Save your own ass, sir. You'll save your head along with it," she retorts crisply before she can stop herself. She pauses for a moment, wondering if she should apologize, but figures there's no time to waste, and heads back out into the hallway to find someone else to help.

She heads to the elevator, and barely checks her impulse to take out her frustrations on her fellow passengers, but manages, nonetheless. She hates to do it, but winds up in AD Kersh's office, to find the secretary isn't there. One less person to bulldoze, Scully thinks as she's about to open Kersh's door, but the secretary, a brisk blonde, nearly runs over her.

The blonde tries to run interference, too, but Scully's having none of it and barges in, only to find the Smoking Man in there, too. Who the hell *is* this guy? Scully fumes, even as she unsuccessfully tries to backtrack, but Kersh takes the paper from her anyways. Dammit, she thinks, about ready to kick her own ass if nobody does it for her.

Then something occurs to her. "What am I thinking? What am I thinking?" She pulls out her cell phone, hits speed dial, and heads back for the elevator running into someone on the way. "Sorry," she says belatedly, catching the elevator just before the doors close.

Alone at last. "Come on, come on, come on, come on, come on," she mutters, smooshing the phone to her ear as she pushes the button for the basement. "Answer the phone, Mulder. Answer the phone, answer the phone, idiot!"

Instead of her husband, a bland woman's voice dully answers, "The cellular customer you are trying to reach is not responding or is..."

"Damn," Scully hangs up with a slam. Time for Plan D for Desperation.

Scully, still in Terminator mode, steps out of the elevator and strides into the X-Files office. She's not pointing a gun, but she might as well be as she demands, "I want you to do me a favor. It's not negotiable. Either you do it or I kill you. You understand?"

Spender is alone in the office, but he wishes he wasn't. Standing up, he asks her, "You okay, Agent Scully?" He's this close to calling either security or the mental hospital, and he doesn't know if it's a good or a bad thing that he knows both numbers by heart already.

"No, I'm not," the redhead says, totally not intimidated by the other agent's height. "I'm a gun ready to go off so don't test me, Spender. Don't even think about trying to weasel me."

Riiiiiiiiight, he thinks, even as he says in a reasonable voice, "What is it that you need?"

Even as she writes down the info, Scully feels vaguely traitorous for using the kid, but hell, this is the X-Files, the bastard may as well start working on one. He's way too compliant about helping, even after she threatens him again, but only exhales when he leaves.

The phone rings, and she pauses, wondering if it's Mulder. Who knows, if he's stuck out in the middle of nowhere and as seasick as usual, he might be dialing this number. Pushing down any further qualms, she answers, "Hello?"

"Agent Fowley?" an unfamiliar man's voice asks.

The redhead blinks. Fowley? Heh heh. Sure. "Yes," she says, lowering her voice a little.

"I was looking for Agent Spender," the elder man says, unhelpfully not identifying himself.

"I'm sorry, he's not here right now. Is there something I can help you with?"

It appears both parties are clueless about the other's identity as he goes on, "Yeah, Agent Scully just handed the Assistant Director a piece of paper with an intelligence system scribbled on it," he pauses.

"Yes?" she prompts him, hoping maybe he knows Mulder's location, "yes, sir?"

There is another pause, and now the man demands, "Who is this?"

Ohhhhhhhhhh shit, Scully thinks, hanging up slowly. The phone rings again as she leaves, and she runs into Kersh's secretary.

"Oh, Agent Scully." The blonde woman blinks.

Great. The redheaded agent fudges, but not as well as her husband, "I was just, uh..."

"I was sent to come get you," the secretary says.

"Yeah, I was waiting for Agent Spender, he was, uh... I'm supposed to pick up a delivery from him," Scully finishes lamely.

"Agent Spender is with Assistant Director Kersh," the blonde woman ends the charade.

Scully storms out, running to the elevator. Her cell phone rings, and she answers, but the reception is, as usual, crappy. She shouts, but neither she nor the other party is heard, and she hopes it's Mulder. She hits a button and the elevator opens to the three people she least wants to see, the unholy trinity of Kersh, Spender and Smoking Man, and ducks back in the elevator. She tries yelling into the phone again, with no luck.

The next time the doors slide open, she finds Skinner also holding a cell phone to his ear. To her surprise, not only was Skinner trying to contact her, but he got the info she needs, and she grabs the paper gratefully. She hugs him tightly, then thanks him wholeheartedly before the doors slide open again. When they do, Skinner chews her out, but she doesn't care, this time knowing it's for show as another agent steps into the elevator and Skinner steps out.

She can almost hear the clock ticking, even as she reads the contents of the paper in the elevator, and her excitement level is finally exceeding her worry and frustration levels. When the doors open, Scully runs into the garage. Smiling, she hears the VW bus before seeing it, and climbs in the back with Frohike who slams the door shut.

"Did you get it?" Byers asks, looking in the rearview mirror.

There's a bigass smile on her face as she holds up paper, "Yeah." There are whoops and cheers, and she hugs her kids, avoiding Frohike's would-be hug, and laughs with Langly. The cheers get even louder when they see the young Agent Spender trying to run after them, but they get away.

There's a knock on the door, and immediately, all the children stop screaming and crying. Wow, wish I could get them to do that at home, Mulder thinks as the pounding continues. He tosses his wet jacket out of sight, slicks his wet hair back and answers the door. "Yeah?" he asks, as casually as he can with a bunch of Nazis sticking their guns in his face.

One of the Nazis shout something at him, but Mulder shakes his head and shrugs helplessly. Another man steps forward, and it looks like Skinner. Mulder tries not to reel back in shock as the Nazi Skinner says with a weird German accent, "Who was the screaming?"

"Aw, kids, you know." Mulder shrugs. "You try to give 'em a bath and they yell bloody murder." As the Nazi Skinner translates, some of the men nod, and they turn to leave.

Just as Mulder's counting his blessings, a most unwelcome voice shouts, "Zat is the man!"

Shit, Mulder thinks, even as the children cling to him. Better late than never, he thinks, as the soldiers pull the little ones off roughly and he shouts and fights in vain. "Scul-lay!" he cries out.

When the door slams, Scully groans. "What's going on?" she murmurs, rolling to her side. The room is still sliding, and not in the good ship-rolling kind of way, and she puts a hand to her head. Then she sees her children crying, the elderly gentleman she's supposed to be protecting trying in vain to comfort them, and a sodden mess in the corner of the room. "What's going on?" she asks, louder.

Then her two oldest run to her while the younger ones are still crying in the scientist's arms. "Mommy, they took Daddy," Page wails while Sammy buries his face in his mother's arms.

"What?" Scully stares at her daughter, while the scientist fills her in on the mini-drama that happened while she was sleeping.

Unfortunately, they still shoot the captain in front of him, as well as throwing him into the hold. At least this time I know to keep my mouth shut about Thor's Hammer, he thinks, yelling about Pearl Harbor and Germans freezing in Russia. Hell, even if it was just the scientist's life on the line, he wouldn't spill anything, especially since his kids are here to up the stakes considerably.

"Hey, hey, who's in charge of this engine room?" one of the sailors yells out. "Oh, you. Oi, you!" he grabs a man looking remarkably like Kersh. "I'm talking to you. Shut her down, man. We got to scuttle her now!"Still, seeing Kersh shoveling coal along with other Jamaican sailors gives him something of a cheap laugh, and Mulder bites his tongue as the large, sweaty man hollers in a strange accent, "Put some piss into her, boys!"

"You heard me right -- kill the engines!" the white sailor screams in the black man's face. "There's no other way, swabbo."

The Kersh-like crewman shows off the chains they have put on the engine. "You can't get to Germany if you can't steer," he declares. "Me overriding her. We steering a course for home."

The sailor is dumbfounded at what seems sheer idiocy. "Have you looked at your compass? You can't get to England going the wrong bloody direction."

The crewman glares at him, regardless of color or status. "We're not going to England. We're going to Jamaica!" he yells, and his fellow dark crewmen shout and cheer.

Another sailor sneers, "Listen, you steer her home, you bloody ruffo -- to her home where she belongs!"

Fists are coming into play, and Mulder knows the tempers are flaring just as hot as the coal. "Listen to me! Listen to me! You can't take this ship to England. You'll never make it!" he says, trying to be the voice of reason again.

Now everyone is ganging up on him. What else is new? "What are you talking about? I'm in charge of the wheel!"

"There's only one place she's going, Yank," Rasta-Kersh tells him.

"Jamaica!" His crewmen cheer again.

Mulder forges on, aiming for the Mr. Unpopularity prize. "You can't take the ship to Jamaica, either. The Germans will hunt you down no matter what course you steer," he argues.

The crewmen shout amongst themselves, but finally they allow him to continue. Rasta-Kersh, however, is as direct here as he is back in 1998 "And who you be, boy?"

"My name's Mulder," he says, knowing, for better or worse, it means nothing to these men.

"He wants to go back to bloody America," the first sailor sneers. Mulder's trying to look for the Nazi bastard that snuck in with him the first time around, but all those plain British faces under those white hats look alike to him, maddeningly enough. "No, I want you to take this ship and turn it back around the way you came," he retorts.

Of course, that meets up with a positive response, and the first sailor shouts, "Bloody hell, we're halfway home!"

"You've got to turn the ship around," Mulder continues doggedly.

"And what's in that direction?" Rasta-Kersh demands.

"The future," Mulder replies, then pauses. "Or the past." ::Damn, when are they gonna come up with proper tenses while time-traveling?:: He wonders. I'm starting to sound like Christopher Lloyd.

Another sailor smirks. "Eh? Oh, well, I'm convinced," he says sarcastically, making his fellow sailorsuits laugh.

"Well, I can explain," Mulder starts, but a banging at the door sounds and everyone turns.

To everyone's surprise, he's dragged out of there when one of the sailors knocks on the door and yells, "We've got a Yankee spy in here!"

As he's being dragged off, he yells out his football speech, "Turn the ship around or Hitler rises, Germany wins and your children will never know what freedom is!"

Brave words, but he doesn't feel too brave himself, especially now that he has no idea what's going to happen next. Still, he's secure in the knowledge that Scully's out for the count this time around, the kids and the scientist are out of harm's way, and maybe he can jump ship before it all goes to hell. As long as Scully and the kids are safe, Mulder repeats like a mantra to himself, as long as they're safe, I don't care what they do to me.

Meanwhile, back in the present, that is, 1998, it's twilight time, and a small boat draws near to a large luxury liner.

"Hey, Scully, you're not going to believe this," Frohike says, not quite believing it himself, seeing the lights are on. "Get up here."

"What?" she asks, feeling bad that Page has inherited her father's tendency towards seasickness, even if her brothers and younger sister haven't. Even Langly is feeling kind of queasy, but hasn't listened to her urgings to get above-deck.

"The sky just cleared and there it was." The short man points to the larger vessel.

"Is it the Queen Anne?" Scully stares in wonder. Even if it isn't, she's gorgeous, the Navy brat in her thinks.

"That's her," Byers affirms.

"I don't believe it," she says, even as her eyes plainly declare it as fact. Frohike smirks, seeing her predicament. "Seeing is believing."

"They've got power," she argues.

"Maybe Mulder's already on board," Byers says hopefully.

Scully exhales and almost forces herself to accept the large vessel in front of them. "Let's hope he is."

Everyone in the ballroom is standing eerily still, as if for a painted portrait, when Mulder is shoved into the room. His eyes quickly scan for his family and the scientist, and he breathes an inward sigh of relief when he sees neither the kids nor the old man. His wife, however, is another story. "Scully," he breathes when he's shoved to stand next to her.

The redhead glares at him with a familiar how-did-you-get-me-into-this-mess kind of glare. Even as he grins weakly, she says in a low voice, "My uncle told me everything," she says, pausing on 'uncle.' "Who are you and why do you look like my dead husband?"

He's about to answer, but a more pressing matter reveals itself. That is, a Nazi presses his gun against the back of Mulder's skull, and he sighs when they shout incomprehensibly in German. He never bothered to trouble himself with German because he honestly didn't think he'd wind up back here again, but, hey, sometimes Elsbeth surprises him. "I don't speak Nazi," he grumbles.

Then Adolf junior, that is, Spender, steps in and says in his odd accent, "How do you know ze ship's coordinates?"

"Lucky guess?" Mulder says, even as Scully glares harder.

The smoking man mutters something, and the gunman now aims uncomfortably close to Scully's skull. "Again," Spender says, "ze ship's coordinates?"

Might as well try the truth, he thinks, if it doesn't get us all killed, that is. "I'm from the future," he blurts out, and as Scully rolls her eyes, Spender translates.

There's a short barking cough from the smoking man, which Mulder takes to be laughter, but then he barks out more words. The hell? When he sees Scully fold her hands behind her head and kneel down, he prays the sailors and the crewmen, like the farmers and the cowboys in "Oklahoma", will be friends in time. "I'm sorry," he tells her, but he doesn't get the chance to hear her reply.

In the nick of time, the ship stops and the Nazis are now the ones pausing. Then the room erupts when a black and white motley of saviors pour into the ballroom, and as fists fly and people shout, Mulder grabs Scully's hand. "Hey!" he yells, stopping her from running out on him.

She snatches her hand back. "I'm getting my kids and we're rowing out of here!" she yells back.

"You can't!" he shouts, following her on hands and knees as they try to avoid more Nazis and more overzealous shipmates. "You're the only one who can save this ship!"

She wavers for a moment, then grabs his hand. "All right," she glares, "but this better be good."

They sprint through the hallways, less James Bond and more Abbott and Costello as they avoid running into more Nazi goons. "Are you armed?" she hisses at one point.

"I was hoping you were." He smiles weakly, and she makes a face, but he grabs her and continues running before she can say anything he'll regret.

And speaking of regret, they run into a Nazi that's just about to perforate them, and they both assume the familiar hands-behind-the-head position.

"Terrific, Einstein," she sighs. "Now what?"

A gun shot sounds and they both start, then stare at each other. Skinner, always the one to pull through in tight spots. "God bless America. Now get your asses out of here," he waves them off tersely, even as Mulder thinks, And God bless the Skin-Man, as they gratefully continue running.

At one point, Scully pauses, then frowns as she turns. "Come on," Mulder urges her, grabbing her hand.

"Damdest thing, like someone tap-danced on my tombstone," she murmurs as she hurries along.

At one point, Scully feels like someone walked over her grave. Or maybe it's just the strangeness of a long-lost luxury liner showing up in the middle of nowhere with its lights on and nobody home that's creeping her out. "Byers? Langly? Frohike?" she calls out, cradling April on one arm and aiming her flashlight with the other. She almost wishes she had three arms for a gun, or at least Mulder for backup. Mulder, where the hell are you?

She almost sighs loudly with relief when she sees the odd trio with the rest of her children. "There you guys are," she says. Together, they walk into a large, dusty room, looking as if it could have been some grand ballroom, but now looking like a cobwebbed mess.

"Somebody's mommy didn't clean up," Page declares, and Langly snickers as Scully glares at him.

"Mulder?" Frohike calls out, wishing the biggest room on this ship had some lights on. "Mulder!"

"Daddy!" Mulder's kids shout, and their echoes bounce back in muffled forms. "You think there are ghosties?" Sammy asks when nobody responds.

"It's 'ghosts'," Scully corrects him, "and no, I don't think so. Otherwise, your father would be leaping out to tell us," she adds archly.

"Besides, there's no such things as ghosts," Langly makes the mistake of telling them.

"Uh-huh!" Page retorts. "We got ghosts!"

"Nuh-uh!" the blond man retorts intelligently. "I think that's just a windy old house you guys have."

"Uh-huh, we got ghosts!"




Scully's about ready to pull out her gun. "Shut up!" she shouts, pulling them all out of the ballroom.

"Uh-oh," Frohike murmurs, and Byers quietly agrees with a slight nod as their compatriot and the little blonde girl get reamed out but good.

"So how do I do it?" Scully demands. "Save the ship from this deck?"

Mulder grins. God, she's gorgeous when she's mad, he thinks. "Listen to me," he holds her by the arms, ready to lay on this poor 1939 version her first insane Mulder theory. "This ship's been caught in something called the Devil's Triangle. It's some kind of time warp -- a rift in space."

As before, she shakes him off, her expression clearly telling him he needs to be institutionalized. And her words coincide, "Are you crazy?"

As before, he doesn't let that stop him. "You know Einstein, right? He predicts the theoretical possibility. He also predicts an atomic weapon that will destroy the world."

"Yeah? So what?" she says cockily.

"If you don't go back and convince the crew of this ship to turn this ship around and head back into the Devil's Triangle, everything Einstein predicted will become true -- except for the outcome of history."

Scully stares at him hard. "So, if I don't turn this ship around...?" she says slowly.

He answers her question with a question. "How did they catch you?" he asks.

She pauses, blinks. "I," she stammers, "I was unlucky."

He's not buying it. Present or past, she's not a good liar. "Okay," he says, "why were you looking for me?" As she glares at him angrily, he shrugs. "Guess that answers that question."

She turns away impatiently. "Look, I've got more important things to do--"

"Your kids and Thor's Hammer, I know," he interrupts, and she whirls around.

"Look, if you want to make sure everyone gets home safe and sound, I suggest you turn this ship back." Then he grins suddenly. "In case you were wondering, I'm not a ghost," and proceeds to plant a nice long smackaroo to prove his point. Then she proves it just as equally when she smacks him with a strong left hook to the kisser.

Then they both reel back, not from the kiss, but from the pain of punching and being punched. Rubbing his jaw, Mulder mutters, "You always had to be the strong one, Red." Then he runs and jumps overboard before she can respond.

Belatedly, she runs after him and tosses a life preserver. "Idiot," she murmurs, then squints as he disappears from sight.

And appears in the present, where his unconscious ass is hauled into a boat by three Lone Gunmen and one irate, but silently relieved, Scully.

I could while away the hours
Conferrin' with the flowers
Consultin' with the rain
And my head, I'd be scratchin'
While my thoughts were busy hatchin'
If I only had a brain.
I'd unravel ev'ry riddle
For any individ'le
In trouble or in pain

Scully doesn't want to wake him, but her kids have other ideas. And frankly, after the hell he's put her through, she doesn't stop them from pestering their father. "Daddy, Daddy," they pull at him and poke him.

"Mm, huh? Where am I?" He squints, trying to sit up.

Scully puts a restraining hand on his arm. "You're in a hospital."

He closes his eyes and nods, feeling that queasiness that he's still on a boat. "That explains the tube up my--"

"Lie still," Scully interrupts him.

"I feel... Like hell," he groans pitifully, but his kids don't get the hint to make nice to daddy.

Neither does his wife, apparently. Crossing her arms, she says, "I don't blame you. You did something incredibly stupid."

"What did I do?" he blinks, hoping the anti-nausea medicine kicks in soon. She leans in and brushes his damp hair from his forehead. "You went looking for a ship, Mulder. In the Bermuda Triangle."

"I did what?" he asks, and groans when Sammy climbs onto the bed and bounces around.

"We were on a big ship," Page explains, "and we looked for you, but you were in the water, Daddy."

"Like a dead fishy," Sammy adds.

Scully is spared a response when the Gunmen walk in and Frohike declares, "Gilligan awakes."

It hurts to do it, but he smiles at his hyper little boy. "You were there," he says to Sammy.

"Yay!" Sammy bounces harder.

Oof. Big mistake. "You were there, Scully, too," he tells his wife as Skinner walks in.

"He's delirious," Langly smirks at the others.

Mulder nods at his on-again, off-again boss. "And you were there, Skin-Man."

The linebacker-like bald man drops the bouquet of flowers on the nightstand the way others would dump a sixpack of beer. "Don't call me that." He makes a face, then shakes his head. "Yeah, me and my dog, Toto."

"You have a dog?" Sammy is interested.

"No," the hospitalized man corrects them both, "you were there with the Nazis."

"What's Nah-sees?" Page asks.

Scully sighs loudly. "Mulder, will you settle down? It's an order."

"Not that he takes orders," Skinner adds in an undertone.

The meds are finally kicking in, and not a minute too soon. Mulder was afraid he'd ralph all over Sammy, which wouldn't look good for anybody, although it might make his still-queasy stomach a little better. He grins a wide, goofy grin up at his wife. "You saved the world, Scully."

A cocky smirk comes over her face, reminding him of her 1939 self. "Yeah... You're right. I did."

"What kind of drugs is he on?" Frohike murmurs.

"I want some," Langly murmurs back, and both men are shushed by Skinner's pointed glare, and they belatedly remember the kids. "Sorry, man."

"No, no, no," Mulder tries to correct her, "The Queen Anne -- I found it. You were there with the kids and Thor's Hammer. I told you you had to turn the ship around and then I jumped overboard."

Scully rolls her eyes. "Yeah, I bet you did. The boat that you were on was busted into a million pieces. And as for the Queen Anne, it was nothing more than a ghost ship."

"You said there was no ghosts," Page frowns up at her mother.

"There's a difference," Scully tries to explain when Mulder interrupts.

"No, no, no. You and I were on that ship, Scully. In 1939."

Skinner shakes his head again. "Get some rest, Mulder, 'cause when you get out of here, I'm going to kick your," he pauses, editing for the kids, "butt but good." Then he herds the conspiracy trio out the door to leave the family in peace. Or what peace could be had with five out of seven below the age of six and one of the adults not acting much older.

"You thought I was dead," he tells her, and her heart lurches, since she never told anyone that secret fear while they searched for him. "But you believed me anyways."

In spite of the insane day, at the end of it, she's glad to have him back, insane statements and all. "In your dreams." She smiles gently, plucking Sammy off as belated penance. Then she uses her mommy voice, "Mulder, I want you to close your eyes and I want you to think to yourself, 'there's no place like home'." He chuckles and closes his eyes, now that some of the better, or rather, stronger, drugs are kicking in. She nods, and is gathering up the kids and pushing the Gunmen-modified stroller for the twins out the door when he calls her back.

"Hey, Scully." He props himself on an elbow, and tries to keep his fuzzy mind clear.

Putting Sammy and Page's hands on the stroller with a "stay" look, Scully walks back and leans close to his face. "Yes?"

There is a long pause as she waits and he gathers up what little brain cells he has. They look deeply at one another, nonetheless, like two people in love.

"I knew you'd come looking for me," he says, looking like his kids do when Santa leaves presents.

Then again, he's got that same look, Santa or aliens, Scully reminds herself. "Oh, brother," she rolls her eyes and herds their kids out. Mulder pouts as they leave, but grins a little when Page turns and waves.

He starts to lie down, but as soon as his face touches the pillow he pulls back up in slight pain and rubs his jaw where the 1939 Scully hit him. He smiles slightly as he thinks, Double time travel, whodathunk? Then he closes his eyes, thinking, There really is no place like home.

I would not be just a nothin' my head all full of stuffin'
My heart all full of pain.
I would dance and be merry, life would be a ding-a-derry,
If I only had a brain.

"If I Only Had a Brain" by Harold Arlen & EY Harburg

Chapter Sixty-Six

November 9th, 1998
Highway 375 Rural Nevada
11:17 PM

::It kind of bothers me that I have very little memory of this case having any relevancy. We just ended up being turned away, and while we were gone someone broke into my apartment, cleaned up, and installed a waterbed. What sort of sick person does that?! Wonder if they'll do that to whoever has the apartment now.:: Breaking off his thoughts, Mulder points at a sign. "Milepost 134. Two miles to go."

"I'm all a-tingle," Scully says in a bored voice. "So, Mulder, this supposed clandestine source who's contacted you how do we know that he's not just another crackpot whose encyclopedic knowledge of extraterrestrial life isn't derived exclusively from reruns of Star Trek?"

"Because of where this particular crackpot works. Groom Lake. Area 51. Where the military has conducted..."

"... for the past 50 years, classified experiments involving extraterrestrial technology."

"You're good." Mulder remarks. "It's all our questions. The proof that we've suspected but never been able to hold in our hands. That... that proof is here."

"Mulder, it's the dim hope of finding that proof that's kept us in this car, or one very much like it for more nights than I care to remember."

"It's what we do," Mulder tells her.

"Doesn't it bother you that there are millions of other people in this country who know where they're going to be tonight, tomorrow, and the next day too? People who don't have to give the care of their children over to strangers on a daily basis?"

"I thought you didn't want to be a stay-at-home Mom. Didn't you go into this big spiel about how we needed to keep fighting the good fight because more people than our kids were counting on us?" Mulder retorts.


"Then what is your point?"

"Don't you ever just want to stop? Get out of the damn car? Settle down and live something approaching a normal life? If not in the immediate future, but someday?"

"This *is* a normal life."

They don't get much farther before they meet what looks very much like an impromptu roadblock. "I don't know if we're going to meet that crackpot after all." Mulder sighs.

Several armed soldiers command them to get out of the car and they do so, with their hands raised. A moment later they're approached by an unattractive middle-aged man: Morris Fletcher.

"May I see some identification please?" Fletcher asks in a bored look. He looks at their badges and sighs. "FBI. You're going to have to turn around and leave immediately."

"Why?" Mulder asks. "It's a public highway."

"It also borders on a US Government testing ground. What's your business here? What are you doing out here in the middle of the night?"

"Checking out places to stay for our fifth anniversary." Mulder deadpans. "What are you doing out here?"

"Hiding top secret test flights?" Scully suggests to Mulder's surprise. "Using technology from UFOs?"

"Flying saucers," Morris corrects sarcastically. "I got a top secret for you. There's no such thing as flying saucers."

Scully pulls on his arm. "Come on, Mulder, let's..."

A sound like thunder makes Scully pause, and they look up to see a bright flash on the horizon, which then zips overhead. Mulder takes a step away from Scully to get a clearer look at it, then looks down and realizes that he's not wearing the right clothes. A few feet away Morris is in his t-shirt and jeans. No one else seems to know that something big has just happened.

"Come on, Mulder, let's go." Scully tugs on Morris' arm, and he smirks at a bewildered Mulder as he gets into their rental car.

"Scully?" Mulder says softly, watching them drive away.

A soldier standing beside Mulder takes note of his distress and raises his rifle, aiming it at the retreating car. "Sir, open fire?"

"No! No. Let them go. Let them go."

"Sir?" Not sure what to do, Mulder just stares at him. "Your orders, sir?"

Mulder pauses, then says. "I want to get out of here."

Mulder gets into a car, and doesn't realize that he's being spoken to until agent Howard says his name a second time. "Morris, what do you think you're doing?" Mulder doesn't respond. "Why'd you let them go?"

"They didn't know anything," Mulder says at length.

"They were FBI agents obviously here to meet someone, very possibly an informant. You just sent away our best hope of finding out who."

Agent Jeff speaks in Mulder's defense. "We can't just disappear a couple of FBI agents, Howard. We'll get their own people to deal with them. That's what Morris was thinking. Right, Morry? Let's go."


Once they get back to the MiB headquarters, Mulder is slightly relieved to find out whose body he's in, and thankful that he manages to locate a license so he knows where to go when he leaves.

Jeff and Howard quietly debate why their superior, Wegman is doing in at that hour, and they barely notice when Mulder wanders off, in search of Morris' office.

::Oh crap.:: Mulder thinks to himself as he looks at the photos in the office. The ones of Sadam and Gingrech are disturbing enough, but it looks like whoever Morris is, he has a family. ::I can't deal with this crap. I need to get back into my body. Scully will know what to do.::

Looking around, he tries to locate a phone.

"Are you all right, Mulder?" Scully asks when they pull up at a gas station.

"What are you talking about?"

"Well, you haven't said anything since we left those men on the highway. Is something wrong?"

"I'm fine. Gas cap's on your side."

"Okay... If you don't want to talk about it."

Scully becomes annoyed when Morris ignores her phone. She shoots him annoyed look and grabs it herself. "Hello?" There's no one on the line so she hangs up in disgust and starts to get back out of the car.

Morris stops her. "Oh, Dana? Want to pick me up a pack of Morleys, please?"

She gives him a look of complete disbelief. "Since when do you smoke?"

"Well... you're not going to be a Nazi about it, are you?"

"God forbid I take some interest in my husband's health," she mutters stalking off.

Husband? Morris thinks. He glances at Mulder's face in the review mirror. Lucky bastard.

Area 51

Mulder nearly drops the phone when Jeff shouts "bastard" it's soon clear that he's not the bastard in question. "I ran a reverse trace on all the outgoing calls. We've definitely got a leak. He called the FBI this morning from Wegman's office."

"Wegman?" Mulder gives Jeff a puzzled look.

"The leak! He used the guest phone in Wegman's office. He's rubbing our noses in it."

"Hmm. In what?"

"In the fact that he works in this building. That he has access to everything-- all our work-- and we don't know who he is." When the phone begins to ring, Jeff looks at him. "Morris, you going to get that?"

Cringing a little, Mulder picks it up and gets an earful from Morris' wife.

"She really cracks that whip huh?" Jeff teases. Mulder gives him a wan smile. "Come on, man. Let's go home, I'll give you a ride."

"I hate to ask, but do you think we could stop off for a gallon of milk?"

Laughing and pretending to crack a whip, Jeff nods.

"What can I say?" Mulder asks. "I've got a growing boy at home." ::or three, but who's counting?::

"There it is, huh? Home sweet home." Mulder sighs, and gets out of the car clutching a gallon of milk.

"Good night," Jeff says.


After he finds the kitchen and puts away the milk, Mulder picks up the phone and is startled to hear an operator who asks him if he wants an outside line. Thinking of Jeff's tracing, he says no.

::Guess I better go up to bed before the "wife" has something else to bitch about.:: He thinks, hoping that he finds the right bedroom on the first try.

To his relief, Mrs Fletcher is sound asleep. He finds some chaste looking pajamas and struggles to get into them without waking her. After a moment of debating he perches on the edge of the bed, and lies down as far away from the woman as he can.

Washington, D.C.

Both Scully and Morris are yawning when they get to the house. He pulls out Mulder's keys, and squints at them. After a few seconds he realizes that the name on one of the keys matches the name by the lock, so he is tempted to breathe a sigh of relief when the lock turns on the first try.

"Home sweet home," he remarks loudly as the door swings open.

"Be quiet!" Scully hisses at him. "It's late, you don't want to wake the kids."

"Oh yeah," Morris mutters. He looks her up and down, wondering how many kids they have. Must be at least two, but her figure's good, so...

"Hello, Fox, Dana." A young woman in a bathrobe comes down the stairs. "Just getting in?"

"We had a late flight," Scully tells her.

Morris is on the verge of wondering if this agent Mulder is an old-school Mormon who doesn't like the current church prohibitions against multiple wives, when the younger woman speaks again. "David and Jared ate about an hour ago, so they'll probably be waking up again in a couple of hours."

"Okay. Everyone else go to bed okay?"

Everyone else, Morris wondered, trying to turn his face so she wouldn't notice his look of shock. How many kids did these people have?!

"Page and Sammy went to bed without a hitch, but April was cranky. I wish she'd tell us what she wants."

"We all do." Scully sounds tired. "The pediatrician says there's nothing wrong with her ears, so it's just a matter of time before she's talking."

"Honey, do you think it would be okay if we look in on the kids before we go to bed? I've really missed them this trip."

"Sure, Mulder, we'll just be really quiet."

"As mice," he promises. He follows her to the kids' bedrooms, and peers in at the sleeping forms. Looks like two preschoolers, a toddler, and two very small babies. No wonder agent Scully seems so tired.

Once they climb into bed, he only intends to kiss her good-night, figuring that Mulder is the sort to do that, but he's surprised when she reaches over and cups him through his pajama bottoms. Apparently she sees the shocked look on his face, because she frowns a little and says, "If you're too tired..."

"Uh..." He stalls for time, wondering if this would be considered cheating on his wife. Then he realizes that he doesn't care either way. When opportunity knocks... "I'm just surprised you want to. I mean, the babies are so young."

She laughs, then covers her mouth. "I'm sorry. Given that Page and Sammy aren't quite eleven months apart I'm touched that you'd be concerned about it being too soon for me."

Looking at her, he wonders if she's already thinking about another baby. Shrugging mentally, he decides that if that's what she wants... "I thought you might think differently after having the twins."

"Oh, is that why you've been so...polite? Nope. I still can't get enough of my handsome husband."

I was right Mulder is one lucky bastard, is the only thought still in Morris' mind as he helps her undress.

Washington, DC
6 a.m.

Scully looks up at Morris while putting on her panty-hose. "Could you get April, please?"

"Uh, sure." He thinks he remembers which kid that is. "Why?"

"I wanted to read her a story before we leave for work. Her doctor said it's important to hear language even if she's not talking on her own."

"Okay, sure," he agrees happy to know which kid it is for sure. The bigger girl must be talking, so it has to be the toddler.

He opens a couple of doors before he finds the right room, but doesn't wake anyone. To his surprise April is sitting up in her crib.

"Hey there, April. You look a lot like your mommy, don't you. Except for those eyes...which are suddenly filling with tears. What gives, Kid?"

Tears are rapidly running down her face by the time he brings her to Scully. "What's the matter, baby?" Scully asks as she takes her youngest daughter from Morris. "Did something scare you?"

Morris is taken aback when the toddler shoots him a fearful look. "She must have had a bad dream."

"Yeah, I guess," Scully agrees, settling April on her lap and opening a picture book. "Sounds like Michelle is getting the rest of the kids up."

"Let me know when you're ready..." Morris wanders off, wondering if the kid is on to him, or if she normally hates her father. His daughter seems to hate him, so he thinks it could be either one.

Hoover Building
8:30 a.m.

Morris sits before Kersh with an attentive look on his face, and completely ignores the questioning looks Scully sends his way.

"My two frequent flyers. I'm to understand you were in Nevada yesterday and after - what's it been? - Two, three conversations such as this on the matter." Kersh says evenly.

Scully squirms. "Well, sir..."

"This morning I got a phone call from the Pentagon demanding that the two of you be reprimanded for trespassing on a top-secret military installation. What do you think you were doing there?"

"We were following a lead, sir," Scully says quickly.

"And that's part of your current caseload? A legitimate investigation?"

"Agent Scully and I were contacted by a confidential source," Morris says.

"What source?"

"Oh, if I had the name, I'd give it to you." He ignores Scully's sharp look. "Some whistle-blower working inside the so-called Area 51. Said he had some 'big deal' information. I got to tell you... The whole thing turned out to be just one gigantic mistake on our part."

"Agent Mulder, with the exception of the cardinal O'Fallon case you were specifically ordered not to pursue any line of investigation pertaining to the X-Files."

"Sir, you're absolutely right. And on behalf of Agent Scully and myself, I'd like to apologize for our blatant disregard of your direct order. You have our word. We will never ever do that again." Morris promises smoothly.

This shocks Scully into silence, at least until they get to the hallway.

"Mulder! What was that about?"

"What was what about?"

"'I'd give you his name if I had it'? Whatever happened to protecting our contacts? Protecting our work?"

Morris shrugs. "He asked."

"What is going on with you?"

"Will you please stop trying to pick a fight with me?"

"Mulder, you are acting bizarre."

"I know what your problem is," Morris states.

Scully puts her hands on her hips, and growls, "Just what would that be?"

Morris leans towards her. "You want me. Right here and now. Too bad we can't get caught messing around in the office right after getting chewed out." He swats her on the butt. "It's gonna be a long day, huh, Dana?" Then he walks off, oblivious to her outraged stare.

Meanwhile in Another Place
Near Area 51, Nevada

Eggs sizzle in a frying pan, but Mulder is staring into space. A touch on his shoulder catches him off guard. "Scully?"

"Morris, what are you doing? And who is Scully?"

"Good morning?" Mulder asks tentatively. "I'm um, making some breakfast. Would you like some bacon with your eggs?"

"Are you feeling all right?"

"Yeah, why?"

"This is the first time in almost 20 years I've ever seen you cook. And you never told me who Scully is."

"Scully is someone I work with," Mulder tells her as he slides some eggs onto a plate. "No one important."

"Of course you're not going to elaborate. Morris let his wife into the details of his work? What was I thinking."

"You know my work is classified." Mulder guesses at a typical answer, but is dismayed when she walks out of the room. "Um... Honey? I ne... Have you... Have you seen my car keys? I thought I might have left them..."

A teenage girl walks into the kitchen. "Morning, Dad."

"Morning Sweetie."

"You promised me that you wouldn't call me stupid nicknames!" the girl shouts and runs back upstairs.

"Morris... What did you do to Chris?" Joanne calls.

"Who knows?" Mulder mutters under his breath. "Where are my keys?"

"Yo, dad." Mulder looks up when he sees a young boy come in the room.

"Good morning, Terry."

"Not Terry." The boy sounds a little less irritable than his older sister. "Terrence. 'Terry's' for wusses."

"Oh, and Terrence isn't?" Mulder wonders under his breath. "Hey, uh, Terrence how about helping your old Dad find his car keys?"

Joanne overhears and looks up from her eggs. "Chris, did you give your father back his car keys?"

Morris' daughter drops them on the floor instead of handing them to him. ::If Page or April ever act like this, they're going to a convent.:: Mulder fumes to himself as he reaches down for the keys. "Everyone have a good day."

As he turns to leave, Chris shouts. "Mom!"

"Morris! What about Chris?"


"You said you'd give me an answer today," Chris says with a pout.

"Her nose. You said you'd give her an answer about her nose."

"Um... I think..." ::I think I've seen bigger noses, that's what I think.:: "I think we'll do what you suggested, Honey."

"For God's sake Morris, can't you make up your mind about something as simple as a nose ring?" Joanne demands to know.

Mulder stares at the girl's nose. "I'm sorry Chris, but I don't think you should disfigure yourself that way."

"I hate you! I wish you were dead!" Chris shouts at him.

"Well, my work here is done. Have a nice day," Mulder mutters, then makes for the door.

Joanne follows him. "You want a divorce, don't you? Just say the words-- 'Joanne, I want a divorce.'"

"Joanne?" ::So the harpy does have a name.:: "Joanne, no."

"I will not live this way, Morris. I will not let you walk in and out of this house like a total stranger. Maybe it's better if you just..."

::Drop dead?:: Mulder wonders. "Sorry. I'm just not myself lately." ::I've got to get back to my real family before I wish I'm dead too.::

Washington, D.C.
That Afternoon

Both confused and annoyed, Scully looks away from Morris' game of computer golf when her phone begins to ring. "Scully."

"Oh, thank God, Scully, it's me."

"I'm sorry, who is this?"

"It's me, Mulder."

"Mulder." Scully gives Morris a quick look, but he's engrossed in his game.

"I'm sorry I couldn't call sooner. Look, something really weird happened last night when that UFO passed over us."


Mulder is disappointed. "You don't remember? You don't remember. Okay, the man that you're with, that's not me. His name is Morris Fletcher. He's an Area 51 employee."

"Morris Fletcher."

"That's right. Everybody here seems to think that I'm him, but I'm not. I'm me. I'm Mulder." He pauses for a second. "Your husband."

"Uh huh, okay." Scully tries to get Morris to pick up the phone, but he ignores her. "Mulder, uh... Where are you?"

"Better not say. Look, just get out here as soon as you can."

"How can I get in touch with you?"

"You won't. I'll get in touch with you. Tell the kids I love them."

After Scully hangs up, she looks at Morris. "Why would someone impersonate you?"

"No idea."

"Then you don't think it was your source? Well, I'll run a trace."

"Uh... No, no. I think we should notify El Jefe ASAP. We don't want our collective asses chewed out all over again."

"Mulder? Are you sure that's the best thing to do?"

"Look, little lady, I think it's time you got your panties on straight. We're federal officers... We go by the book."

"Mulder..." Scully says weakly, staring after him.

Area 51
Late Afternoon

::You'd of thought I'd remember something like this:: Mulder tried not to let his upset stomach get the best of him a few hours later when he and Jeff look at the body of the store clerk that a soldier has just put out of his misery.

"We've got to get out of here before it happens again."

"Again?" Mulder asks in a daze as troops set the gas station on fire.

"Yeah, again. Our next stop will let you see for yourself."

"Ah," Mulder says, completely unsure that he wants to see anything else like that.


"Oh, hey, Dana." Morris looks up with a lazy smile when Scully catches him napping at his desk.

"What do you think you're doing?"

"Oh, you know, just a little recharging of the old batteries. What's up?"

"We got the trace back on the call we received this morning. It came from a gas station pay phone off of highway 375 three miles east of Groom Lake."


"And I'm thinking it was your source although I don't know why he'd try and impersonate you."

"Maybe so."

"You don't think that we should follow up on this?"

"Are you out of your pretty little mind?" Morris asks her sharply.

"Am I out of my mind? Mulder, you are out of your mind! What is up with you?! I'm thinking about having you examined for mental illness or-or drug use or... Or maybe a massive head injury! This is an X-File, your life's work, your crusade!"

"As I understand it, we're off the X-Files."

Furious, Scully leaves the office, slamming the door behind her.

"Guess I ain't getting any tonight." Morris says to the empty room.

Area 51 Lab

::How does it breath?:: Mulder wonders as he stares at a lizard with its head embedded in a rock. ::Maybe the nostrils aren't surrounded by rock. Hmm. I guess I could have ended up worse off than in this idiot's body.:: He glance down at Morris' paunch. ::A little worse off::

He tears his eyes away from the lizard when he realizes that Howard is speaking to him, Jeff, and general Wegman "This was brought to a local vet. Some kid found this in the desert ten miles east of the gas station." Then Howard points to a map where the lizard was found.

Wegman points to a different spot on the map. "This is where you found the gas station attendant?"

"Yes, sir. We located the pilot at the crash site here and the Indian woman right there." ::What pilot and Indian woman? Should I be mad that I'm, I mean Morris, is somewhat out of the loop?::

"What's this?" Wegman asks, pointing to a fourth dot.

"That, we believe, is ground zero. Once we analyze the flight data recorder we hope to confirm it's where the warp began." He shows them the flight data recorder.

"Warp?" Mulder asks.

"Beam me up, Scotty," Jeff quips.

"That's a tear in the space-time continuum, an anomaly created by the malfunction of the aircraft which was operating in gravity pulse mode before it went down."

"We've been flying these things since '53. I never heard of anything like this," Wegman says.

::I knew it!:: "According to quantum physics, it's possible," Mulder calmly remarks.

"Anti-gravity systems utilize bends in space and time for propulsion. A sudden shift in a craft's trajectory could create the kind of distortion we're witnessing right here."

"If this is where your so-called warp began we would have all seen it and the three of us were out on highway 375 at the time, sir, intercepting two FBI agents," Jeff says.

"A lizard and a rock existing in the same time and space. The fact that none of us remembers seeing it is evidence that my theory is correct, sir," Howard insists.

"And how's that?"

"Lost time," Mulder tells him.

Howard nods in agreement. "Lost time is a common symptom of close proximity to anti-gravity propulsion systems."

"Then how come my head isn't in a rock, or Morris'?" Jeff asks.

The question makes Howard look annoyed. "That's one question I haven't been able to answer. It is possible we suffered consequences from our exposure that we're not fully aware of."

"What do we do about it?" Mulder asks. All three men give him a strange look.

That's your department-- keep it out of the paper, make sure the witnesses disappear," Howard says.

"Well, yeah, but I mean, how do we reverse it? How do we get the lizard out of the rock?"

Howard shrugs. "Who says we can?"

The remark makes Mulder feel a little ill, but he decides that the flight data recorder must be the answer to everything. If he can get his hands on it.

"This is not a marriage. It's a farce." Is the first thing Mulder hears in the morning as he tries not to fall off the narrow edge of the bed.

"What?" he asks Joanne sleepily.

"You're not attracted to me anymore. I disgust you, don't I?"

"No. No. It's not... It's not that you're disgusting. I-i-it's just that..."

"It's just that you don't want to ever make love to me ever again, that's all. That and you mumble something about Scully in your sleep. Who is Scully, Morris? Is it another woman?"

"Does Scully sound like a woman's name to you?"

"Who is Scully? Tell me."

"Oh, Joanne, I'm sure I've told you many times in the past that there are things about my work that unfortunately, I have to keep a secret."

"Oh, no, Buster. That's not going to fly this time."

"My point is that there are a lot of things you don't know about me. And... I've just... I've been under a lot of pressure lately. I mean, up is down and black is white. I don't know where I stand anymore. I don't even know... who I am really anymore. I just... I know for sure that I am not the man you married. I'm just not. And I'm sorry. I'm truly sorry."

Joanne gives a relieved laugh. "Oh, God, Morris. I didn't know. They have that pill now. We can work this out. There's other ways to be intimate." Then Joanne hugs him while he's still stunned.

"I think that that was the doorbell," Mulder says.

"We can make this work." Joanne promises, and goes to the door.


"Hi. My name is Dana Scully. I'm looking for Morris Fletcher."

The happy look melts on Joanne's face, and she yells into the house. "Morris, your whore is here!" When he sees Scully he smiles - until Joanne slaps him. "You son of a bitch." She turns and storms back into the house.

Scully looks nonplused by her reception and shakes her head to clear it. "I'm sorry. Uh, Morris Fletcher?"

"Scully, it's me. It's Mulder." He closes the door and walks into the driveway with Scully.

She gives him a nervous look. "You're, uh... You're the man from the other night? From Area 51?" He nods and she adds, "You phoned me. Would you mind telling me what this is about?"

"I'm Mulder. I'm really Mulder. I switched bodies, places, identities with this man Morris Fletcher the man that you think is Mulder, but he's not. Of course you don't believe me. Why was I expecting anything different? Your full name is Dana Katherine Scully. Your badge number is... Hell! I don't know your badge number. Your mother's name is Margaret. We've got five kids, and named the second one for my sister after you vetoed my choice of Verse Mulder..."

Joanne opens the door and dumps Morris' suits onto the stairs. "Cheater!"

"Look... Any of that information could have been gathered by anyone," Scully says.

"Even me wanting to name Sammy 'Verse'? That is so you. That is so Scully. Well, it's good to know you haven't changed. That's somewhat comforting."

"I don't know what the point of all of this is."

"I'll prove it to you."

"No. You won't, but I wouldn't mind if you came clean with me."

"Scientific proof about what happened to us on that road two nights ago. Fair enough?"

Joanne Fletcher opens the front door again and yells out, "I am calling the police!"

"Please, Scully."

"Good-bye, Mr. Fletcher," Scully says, walking away.

"I will prove it to you, Scully. Tonight. I'll prove everything. Okay?" Mulder calls.

Scully doesn't answer him, but just gets into her car.

Ahearn's Service Station
Lincoln County, Nevada

After ignoring the station attendant, Mulder makes a beeline for Scully when he sees her down another aisle.

"Scully, I got it. I got the proof." He holds out the bag to her, but she says nothing.

A moment later soldiers burst into the little store and cuff him.

"I'm sorry," Scully says morosely.

"Damn it, Morris." Jeff comes in, with Morris in tow.

"You! You son of a bitch!" he shouts at Morris. "You orchestrated this whole thing! He's not me, Scully! Would I do this?! Would I do this?! Scully...! Scully!"

Scully watches them take him out but then seems to realize the truth of what he claims. She takes a few steps toward him, but the soldiers get in her way.

Mulder continues to yell at Morris and to Scully as Soldiers drag him out. "No, you bastard, tell them the truth! Scully, he's not me! He's not me! Scully! He's not me!"

Chapter Sixty-Seven

November 12th, 1998

Scully reluctantly watches the MIB vehicles drive off.

Morris looks somewhat contrite as he joins her. "You hate me now, right? Dana, I'm sorry I narced on you to Kersh, but I...I was scared you were going to lose your job."

"You did the right thing, Mulder," Scully tells him.

"I did?"

"I've been telling you for years you should play more by the book, haven't I?"

"Hey, it's the new me," Morris claims. He doesn't notice Scully's look as she watches the road.

FBI Headquarters
Washington, DC

When Scully enters the basement office carrying a box, Morris nearly falls out of his chair trying to turn off his monitor so it's not obvious that he's been playing computer golf again. "So, what did Kersh say?"

"He said that I was willful, insubordinate and not a team player and the FBI didn't need agents that weren't team players."

"What a jerk. Then what?"

"Two-week suspension without pay."

"You're not serious. Who does he think he is?"

"Looks like you're on your own for a couple weeks. I'll see you at home."

"Let me make you dinner to ease the pain a little," Morris suggests. "I can drop the kids off at my mother's-"

"Your mother's?!" Scully gives him a disbelieving look. "I thought we agreed that neither of your parents is fit to baby-sit in anything but the most dire of emergencies."

"Did I say my mother's?" Morris asks. "I meant your mother's. We'll give the nanny the evening off - God knows she'd probably like a few hours to go out with friends - and have the house to ourselves until I pick the kids up."

"I'll drop the kids off, but that sounds good." She gives him a small smile. "See you tonight."

"Why don't you spend the rest of the day shopping? Maybe for something lacey."

Area 51 Brig

Lying on his uncomfortable bunk, Mulder is giving up hope that the pilot stuck and Lana Chee's body is ever going to stop running her mouth. ::or maybe it's his mouth.::

"...he's like a damn dog tick."


The pilot ignores him. "You ain't shaking that son of a gun."

"Hey, Grandma Top Gun, will you shut the hell up?!"

A few second later a guard shows up outside Mulder's plexiglass cell.

"General Wegman wants to see you."

"Son..." Wegman says. "You got a set on you. I'll say that much."

"You had us fooled. Why didn't you tell us what you were doing from the start?" Jeff asks.

"Meaning?" Mulder asks, having no idea what is going on.

"It's the wrong one. You replaced the flight data recorder. This one's," Howard holds up a flight data recorder, "from a scrapped F-111, sir. It's junk. You gave the FBI the wrong flight data recorder. Why?"

"Morry," Jeff says. "If you were running a scam on the FBI why didn't you let us in on it?"

"I didn't know if I could trust you. We have a security leak, gentlemen, and for all I knew it was one of you. That's why I decided I should approach Agent Scully alone to find out who her contact is. Unfortunately, her partner Agent Mulder screwed everything up." Mulder hopes they buy it.

"So why didn't you tell us all this afterward?" Howard asks.

"I knew that you wouldn't believe it until you figured it out for yourself."

"So the real flight data recorder is safe?"

"Oh, yeah. Absolutely."

"And you will bring it back?"

"Of course."

"By God, you do got a set on you. I wish I could say the same about some of your colleagues. About those who proffer rumor and innuendo those who make dangerous accusations."

"Sir," Howard protests. "Morris's behavior seemed to..."

"You can explain yourself to the review panel in Washington. I've already wired them recommending censure for your actions. You're lucky I didn't throw you in the stockade."

Fletcher Residence
Rachel, Nevada

After Morris' daughter informs him that her mother is getting a restraining order, Mulder has serious doubts about what will happen to Morris' marriage once he gets back. He's not sure if he should care, after the way Morris screwed him, but he can't help but feel a little bad for his family, as unpleasant as they are. ::Probably all Morris' fault they treat him this way, anyway.::

Joanne gives him a decidedly unfriendly look. "What are you doing back?"


"Your stuff is all outside. Take it and get out."

"Joanne, listen to me. There's something I got to tell you."

"I've heard enough from you for one lifetime, Morris."

"Go tell it to that tramp of yours, that Scully, whatshername".

"Dana Scully- Special Agent Dana Scully."

"Special Tramp Dana Scully."

"She's my partner, Joanne."

"I'm supposed to be your partner," Joanne snaps.

"My name is not Morris Fletcher. It's Fox Mulder. Special Agent Fox Mulder with the FBI. Dana Scully is my FBI partner, my wife and the mother of my children. I am not your husband, we are not married, we are complete strangers and I have a whole other life that I'm desperately trying to get back to. I miss my own kids, Joanne."

"You know, Morris, most men when they have a mid-life crisis they go out and buy themselves a sports car. They don't run around calling themselves Fox."

"I want you to look out the window. Will you just look out the window with me for a second? See that car down there? See the two men in it? They're surveiling me. They're spying on me. I don't know if your husband ever told you this but he has a very dangerous job and those two men in that car, like you, think that I'm him only they don't trust me. So, one false move and I'm history. Which means that your husband will also be history because I won't be able to get back and set things the way they're supposed to be. Do you understand what I'm saying to you?"

She doesn't say anything, so he tries to reason with her. "I'm not good with Terry and Chris because I don't have kids that old, yet. My kids are only little. Three of them are still babies, and the other two are in preschool. I wish I could show you pictures-"

"You're not good with our kids because you're not here for them, and never have been. Morris, if you don't like the man you've become I don't blame you one bit. But this flight from reality isn't the answer. Accept who you are. However repulsive that may be."

Washington, D.C.

When she comes in the house, Morris kisses Scully on the cheek. "How's your mother?"

"Good. She was pleased to have the kids over. I guess she feels like she doesn't see them often enough."

"I have a surprise for you, up in the bedroom."

"You do, do you?" Scully smiles knowingly at him.

"Someone has a dirty mind," Morris admonishes playfully. "I had them set it up while you were out shopping. Do you hate it?"

Scully stares at the waterbed. "No, I don't hate it."

"Well, all right then. Uh, don't go away."

There's champagne in one hand and glasses in the other when he comes back in the room.

"Do you know what would really be fun?"


"If we play a game like we used to when we first got married. I'll be the police officer, and you can be the bad, bad man." Scully dangles her handcuffs in front of him.

"Oh, yeah. Me first?"

"You first," she agrees, handing him the cuffs which he eagerly wraps around the bedpost.

"Now what?" Morris asks. When he looks up he sees that she's pointing her gun at him. "Shit."

"You're not Mulder."


"Baby..." The top pops off the bottle of champagne, startling them both.

"'Baby me and you'll be peeing through a catheter. I can't believe I had sex with you!"

"But it was good though, right?" Morris leers at her.

"Your name is Morris Fletcher. It was Mulder who was arrested in the desert. He was telling the truth about you. Now, how do we get things back to normal?"

"How should I know? I wouldn't do it even if I could. You saw my wife. Do you think I want to go back to that? Two kids who'd probably kill me in my sleep for the insurance money. A $400,000 mortgage on a house that just appraised at $226,000. And my job... Yee Gods. You think being a man in black is all voodoo mind control? I can see the paperwork."

"Are you through?"

"As far as I'm concerned this thing is a gift from heaven. Hot wife, four out of five kids don't seem to hate me... Besides, no one is ever going to believe you so you might as well just get used to me being here."

"Or I just shoot you...Baby."

"I'm telling you, I have no idea how to change things back," Morris says pleadingly.

"What about Mulder's source? The man he was supposed to meet in the desert? What about him? Do you know how to get in touch with him?"

"I don't know anything about that. Sorry. You're out of luck," Morris says primly. "And you wouldn't really kill me, would you? You'd never get your husband back in this body if you did."

Before Scully can weigh in on her opinion on that matter, the answering machine goes off. "Hello, hello. I'm very busy entertaining my sexy wife. Leave a message and I'll get back to you."

Scully gives Morris a disgusted look and he blushes.

"Agent Mulder, I'm trying you one last time. Are you or are you not interested in the classified information I have to give you? Please pick up the phone if you're there."

Waving her gun at the phone, Scully indicates he should pick it up. Morris does so. "Mulder."

He holds the phone away from his ear so Scully can hear too. "Agent Mulder, listen very carefully."

Fletcher Residence
4:47 p.m.

Bored, Mulder plays with the blinds with his foot as he keeps an eye on the surveillance team keeping an eye on him.

"Well, I guess we've given the neighbors enough to talk about. For God's sake, Morris at first you couldn't wait to get away from me and now you won't leave the house."

"Jesus, are you always this much of a martyr? No wonder you don't get along with him."

"Him, who?"

"Your husband."

"You are my husband., Joanne snaps.

"Not that again." Mulder sighs. "Where can we go?"

"What do you mean?"

"You're right. We should get out of the house. Go someplace with a lot of people. That should keep us from being at each other's throats."

"Someplace with a lot of people?"


"In Rachel, Nevada?" she asks disbelievingly.

"Come on, what do you say? I'll pretend to be your husband and everything."

"Morris..." She shakes her head sadly, but goes and gets her purse.

Little Al Ein Bar & Inn

"Well, this place is interesting," Mulder says as he and Joanne take their seats. "I don't think I've ever been anywhere like this. Alien themed western bar. Huh."

"I thought you said you were going to pretend to be my husband," Joanne says in a strange tone. "He's a regular here."

"Oh yeah, sorry." Mulder looks around.

"Are you expecting someone?" Joanne asks.

"No, I'm not expecting someone."

"Because if you're here expecting someone and not to buy me a drink, you should tell me now so I can divorce you and take the house."

"Relax. Order us whatever it is that we usually order." He looks up and sees Jeff and some other MiB employees coming in, and they're not anyone he wants to deal with. "Whoa, ooh, that beer, it went right through me. I got to... I'll be right back."

Mulder sneaks out the back door, and begins looking for a car that's unlocked so he can "borrow" it. Although he's not sure where he's going to go if he finds a car, he knows he can't stay there, and Joanne has the keys to Morris' car.

By chance he stumbles up to Scully's car. "Scully!"

"Mulder? Is that really you?"

He gets into the car with her. "What are you doing here?"

"I'm trying to figure out a way to help you."

When Mulder goes back inside, he gets doused with white wine by Morris' unhappy wife, and stumbles onto Morris and Wegman's meeting. With his help they get the data recorder to Scully so she can see if it contains any information that will help them switch back to their own bodies.

The Next Night

Morris stays in the car while Mulder and Scully talk.

"You don't look too happy. Don't tell me I'm going to have to put two more kids through school."

She gives him a hesitant smile. "That is you in there, Mulder, isn't it?" He nods. "I, uh... I just got off the phone with Frohike. They were able to download and analyze the crash data and, yes, there was an anomalous event that night."

"And how do I get back?"

"Well, that's just it. It's all about random moments in time... About a series of variables approaching an event horizon. And even if we... could recreate that moment if we could sabotage another craft... Mulder, if we were... If we were off... If the event were off by even one millisecond..."

"I might wind up with my head in a rock."

"Something like that, yeah."

"What about him? I mean, me. Whatever. Whoever he is."

Scully shrugs. "I guess if we can't get you back in your body, it and I get a divorce. He may look like you, but he's not the man I want raising my children."

"He's not who I'd pick, either," Mulder says grimly.

"As for everything else...'Agent Mulder' has become AD Kersh's new golden boy. He's been tasked with returning the flight data recorder that he and I stole. The son of a bitch confesses to Kersh even more than I do to my priest. I'm just tagging along for the ride."

"What do you mean, 'just tagging along'?"

"I'm out of the Bureau. I've been censured and relieved of my position."

"No. You can explain it to them like you explained it to me. You have the data. You can make them understand. You can get your job back."

"I'd kiss you if you weren't so damn ugly," Scully tells him. "If it doesn' out, divorce his wife too, Mulder. We can make this work if we have to, I swear."

Morris honks the horn at them and yells out the open window. "Take a picture-- it'll last longer.

Mulder stares at the car. "If I... shoot him is that murder or suicide?"

"Neither, if I do it first." When he looks alarmed, she adds. "I'd wait until it was absolutely certain that this thing can't be fixed. And I am going to keep working on this."

"I know you will," Mulder says, and hugs her before Scully goes to deal with Morris.


A short time later Scully discovers that the burned out gas station no longer was, and that the attendant has no idea what she's talking about when she brings it up. She's practically running when she reaches the car and throws herself inside.

"What are you doing?" Morris asks as she hits the gas.

"If I'm lucky, I'm getting rid of you," she says through gritted teeth.


Fletcher house

::Man, you screwed up Morris. Wonder where you'll live now?:: Mulder wonders as he puts Morris' stuff in a U-Hall. He tries to push away the thought of what happens to him if he can't switch back.

Just then, Scully and Morris pull up in a car. "What are you doing here?" Mulder asks, walking up to the car.

"I need to talk to you. Something's happened," Scully tells him.

In the front door, Joanne and Terry are attempting to get Morris' recliner outside. "Morris! Don't forget your stupid chair! You and it should be very happy together!" Joanne looks up and sees Scully. "Terence, get back inside." Once he does, she speaks to Scully. "You got a lot of gall coming back here, Sister."

"Joanne, I told you-- I'm not your husband." Mulder points to Morris. "This man is."

"You come here to watch my family fall apart?" Joanne asks Scully. "You getting some kind of big kick out of that?"

"Mulder, I have to talk to you alone," Scully insists.

::She knows it's me!:: Mulder thinks gleefully. ::Maybe if I can't get my body back, I can at least have my family back. It'll take time, but we'll all adjust to me being so ugly.::

"Home-wrecker!" Joanne shouts as Mulder and Scully step away to talk.

Morris gives Joanne a sad look. "Careful. You're going to bust a lung."

"Leave me alone."

"Joanne... What he said about me being your husband-- it's true."

"Get the hell off my porch."

"We got married on June 13, 1978 It rained that day. You got mad at me at the reception because I said couldn't see the cake behind your fat ass. Remember our first apartment-- that dump in Pentagon City? You'd turn the air conditioner on and the lights would go out? Or when you were pregnant how I'd tickle your kneecaps to make you laugh? Remember? Remember the night Chrissy was born? When I held her in my arms all red-faced and screaming?"

"That was the only time I ever saw you cry." Joanne begins to cry herself. "Oh, my God... Morris? Is that you?"

Mulder pulls on Morris' arm. "Come on, Morris. Let's go."

"What do you mean, go? Where are you taking him?" Joanne asks frantically.

"Mrs. Fletcher, we have reason to believe that whatever event caused this to happen may be in the process of reversing. If it does, we can get our husbands back into their correct bodies."

"We got to get back to that highway, back to the exact spot where this all began. It may be our only chance," Mulder tells her.

Two MiB SUVs pulls up in front of the house. Jeff gets out of one and approaches them. "Sorry, Morris. A traitor's a traitor."

"This isn't what it looks like," Mulder says quickly.

Soldier, who had been rummaging through Scully's car holds up the fight data recorder. "Got it!"

A few miles down the road Jeff has to stop the car because another impromptu roadblock has been set up. Leaning out the window, Jeff yells to Howard. "What are you doing?"

Howard looks calm when he walks over to the car. "I'm cleaning up a mess."

"What are you talking about?"

"About an hour ago I put Captain McDonough and Mrs. Chee back where they belong. Now it's their turn." He points at Mulder, Scully, Morris and Joanne.

"The warp that started this is snapping back like a rubber band," Mulder says in awe.

"Only we have to be in its path when it happens," Scully says. They all listen to a distant rumble that doesn't sound much like thunder.

"Why are you doing this?" Mulder asks Howard.

"Till now, I had a spotless career record. I want that back."

The rumble gets even louder. "So this is time snapping back?" Morris asks.

"It'll be like the last few days never happened. You won't remember any of this," Howard says. "I don't think any of us will."

"Oh. Well, in that case, Dana... It's been real." Morris raises a hand to slap Scully on the behind, but glares from both Mulder and his wife make him drop his hand. "Maybe we'll see each other again."

"God I hope not..." Scully mutters. The rumble reaches a crescendo, and there's a flash of light. "We're back!" Mulder crows excitedly.

"Yeah, we're back," Morris replies sullenly, but then an amazed look fills his face when Joanne throws her arms around him.

"Come on, Mulder. Let's go."

Once they're in the car Joanne waves to them, and actually seems happy. ::I didn't see that coming..:: Mulder thinks as they drive into the night.

Washington, D.C.
Early the Next Morning

"Mulder, just checked the messages. Looks like we slipped under Kersh's radar. Our little field trip to Nevada went unnoticed."

"Oh, yeah?"

"Mulder, I'm sorry that your confidential source didn't pan out."

"Well, I guess you were right, Scully. Just another crackpot who watches too much Star Trek."

He opens the door to their bedroom, then looks back out into the hallway at her. "When did we get a waterbed?"

"A what?" She pushes past him and looks in the room. "Where the hell did that come from?"

"I have no idea," Mulder confesses, shaking his head. ::They did it again, the diabolical bastards!::

November 19th, 1998

"I want you to close your eyes and listen to the sound of my voice," Doctor Killen says.

Mulder closes his eyes, and wonders if Killen is really a doctor. He probably isn't, but he does seem to know how to hypnotize people, which is the important thing. For the second time Mulder is absolutely certain that more went on the week before than he's aware of, so hypnosis seems like the logical way to unravel the mystery of why there's a waterbed in his room that no one will claim responsibility for.

"- listen to the sound-" ::I am getting sleepy, very sleepy. Or bored. No, it actually is sleepy...::

When Mulder comes back to full consciousness, Doctor Killen is giving him an angry look. "Here." He thrusts a cassette tape at Mulder. "Do not come back here ever again."

"What, why?" Mulder asks, startled by the remark.

"I don't know if you're very good at faking that you are under, or if you have severe mental problems that allow you to believe your weird fantasies are reality, but I will not be mocked like this in my own office."

"Uh...all right then. Thank you for your time."

Since Mulder paid in advance, Killen just held the door open for him, and made it very clear that he wanted Mulder to leave.

"I wonder what the hell that was all about," Mulder mutters to himself as he gets into his car. He pushes the tape into the car's tape player and begins to listen to himself speaking to Killen.

Once he gets to the part about switching bodies, he thinks he understands the good doctor's reaction.

November 25th, 1998

When he shuffles through the mail, one of the pieces surprises him. It's postmarked from New York, but has no return address so he's curious as to what it could possibly contain.

Slitting it open, he unfolds it and reads:

Agent Mulder,
How have you been? I hope your family is well. I thought I should tell you that I'm finally taking your advice – I'm going to become an FBI agent. I start Quantico in February, and I'm hoping that I get placed in New York so I don't have to take Luke out of his school for more than just this school year.

The reason for this sudden change of heart is painful to discuss. Barbara got a job in sales, about two years ago. It meant a lot of long hours away from the family, but she seemed to find the work fulfilling, so I supported her decision to devote time to her career.

I'm regretting now that I didn't pay more attention, since I'm sure there were warning signs along the way... She was made a vice-president of the company last month, and agreed, without discussing it with the family, to take a position in Europe. This of course lead to a fight, and during it she revealed that she hadn't talked it over because she was leaving me for one of her co-workers who was also moving to Europe for his job as well.

The kids are taking it hard, mostly, I think, because she made it clear that she was not just leaving me, but them as well. It's been a strange transition from husband and father to just single father. We're getting by.

Anyway, thanks for suggesting the FBI as a career.
John Doggett

Sighing, Mulder puts the letter back in the envelope, and riffles though a desk drawer until he finds the card Doggett sent him almost exactly three years before. Everyone looks so happy in the picture, and he finds it hard to believe that the smiling woman holding tiny baby Hannah is now thousands of miles away from that little girl. Husbands seem easy to leave, but how do you abandon a daughter who is barely three and a son who isn't yet a teenager?

"Here," he says a couple of minutes later when he finds Scully watching TV with Page.

"Oh, that's too bad," Scully says sadly once she's gotten a chance to read it.


"You know, I sort of wondered how happy they were when we saw them that Fourth of July. Since she wasn't with them on a holiday."

"Ah." Mulder guesses that it's one of the signs Doggett said he missed.

"I'm glad he's going to become an FBI agent, but New York to Virginia is a hell of a commute."

"Maybe he plans to rent an apartment."

"For four months? Who rents places for four months?" Scully asks.

"You know what would be nice?" Mulder asks back. "If he knew some people with empty bedrooms that'd let him and his kids stay with them for a while."

"You want them to stay here?" Scully raises an eyebrow.

"Why, do you hate the idea?"

"Well no, but he'll probably say no."

"Probably, but it is a nice gesture of friendship in keeping with it being Thanksgiving this week."

"If you want to make the offer, I'm okay with that," she adds.

Mulder grins at her. "When I was a kid my mom would never let me and my friends have sleepovers."

Scully rolls her eyes. "Guess that makes me cooler than your mom."

"Oh, definitely," Mulder agrees, nuzzling her neck.

Chapter Sixty-Eight

November 29th, 1998

After waiting a few days to see if Scully will think better of it, Mulder picks up the phone and calls Doggett. He's not sure if the man has actually given him his number, since he'd initially gotten it by having the doing a trace when Luke had called him so long ago, but he doesn't figure Doggett will care either way.

After a couple of rings Doggett picks up. "Hello?"

"John, it's Fox Mulder. I got your letter a couple of days ago."

"Oh, hi. Glad it got there safely," Doggett mutters. He sounds like he regrets what he wrote.

"Did I ever tell you about my house?" The question must seem apropos to nothing.

"Uh, I don't think so."

"We inherited it from my uncle Saul. Ten bedrooms. Between Scully and I, the kids, and our nanny we only use six bedrooms since only the three older kids have their own rooms yet." Mulder is tempted to go on to explain that it's easier to keep the twins in the nursery together and to explain how April took to her new room a lot easier than Sammy did when he was taken out of Page's room a few months ago for the second time, but he decides that it will just confuse Doggett more.

And Doggett does sound confused. "Okay."

"So we have four bedrooms that no one ever uses," Mulder tells him. "Given that, Scully and I wanted to offer three of them to you and your kids while you go to Quantico."

"You remember that it takes four months to complete training, don't you?" Doggett asks in disbelief.

"With two FBI agents in the house, that sort of thing is hard to forget."

"That's a very generous offer. I don't know what to say..."

"Say yes," Mulder prompts, forgetting that he'd been expecting a rejection.

"You really don't mind?"

"We really don't. Like I said, those rooms are just going unused. Buy groceries that your kids will like, sign Luke up for the local public school and put Hannah in daycare, and you'll be all set."

"I hope you won't regret this, but yes. And thank you."

"When do you start at Quantico?"

"February fourth."

"Okay, so we'll expect you, Luke and Hannah on the second or third."

"Great. See you then, I've got to tell the kids."

"Bye until then."

Mulder hangs up the phone, then goes to look for his wife to tell her that they're getting their three house guests after all. ::Man, I hope she was agreeing with the possibility that he'd say yes in mind.::

mid-December 1998
US Department Of Agriculture
Washington, DC

::Does sibling rivalry mean that you want to kill your little weasel of a half-brother?:: Mulder wonders bitterly. He pushes aside the nagging voice in the back of his mind that insists that he could be out in the field working on that demon baby case, if he hadn't decided that the chance for entertainment wasn't worth upsetting Scully over; cases with kids were harder to take every time they added one to their family.

No, as far as he was concerned, it was all Spender's fault that he and Scully were stuck in an even more dilapidated office than usual, interviewing people who wished to work for the department of Agriculture.

The two current hopefuls seemed like real pieces of work. The fellow Scully is talking to looks like he might be Jerry Garcia fresh from the witness protection program. And the woman he's interviewing... someone should have taken her aside and gently explained that a tight-fitting dress, and long nails, both bright red, were not the best choices she could have made for her interview.

Scully, though she looks bored out of her mind, is going through the script that Spender handed them before condemning them to this special corner of hell. "Remember your truthfulness is important, Mr. Ginsberg and as a prospective federal employee, I will remind you to answer as honestly as possible. Okay?"

"Sure. Fire away."

"Do you, or have you ever smoked marijuana?"

"Nope. No, siree."

Even Mulder's interviewee can't help but stare at him. When she does Mulder realizes that it's been a full minute since he's spoken to her.

"Ms. Hart, have you ever been convicted of a crime?"

The woman's face becomes coy. "Not unless you consider breaking hearts a crime."

"Breaking and entering yes, breaking hearts no." Mulder glances back at the list. In an act of passive defiance, he's yet to memorize the questions.

"Have you consorted with people who smoked marijuana now or in the past?" Mulder looks up when Scully asks that, interested in Mr Ginsberg's answer.

"No... I really don't think so."

"Tell me something, agent Mulder," the lady in red says. "Are you married?"

"Yes, and happily," Mulder tells her with a straight face. The woman is lucky, because Scully, still dumbfounded by Ginsberg's reply, doesn't seem to have heard her. Reaching into his wallet, Mulder pulls out pictures of his kids. "Ain't they something?"

Hart gives him a weak smile. "They're beautiful."

A sharp rap on the door makes all four turn their heads towards the source of the noise. Just a second later the door swings open, and agent Skinner sticks his head in. "Agent Mulder? Scully? Could I have a word with you, please?"

"Excuse us."

Through the closed door Mulder hears Hart and Ginsberg strike up a conversation, and a perverse thought occurs to him - they'd make a good couple. Couple of what, he's not sure of, but-

"What can we do for you, agent Spender?" Scully's voice is polite, but cold.

"I have a case I could use your help on." Spender turns to Mulder. "And to answer your question before you ask it, you should help me because it'll get you out of that office."

"Fair enough," Mulder agrees. "How can we help? Us, in particular."

Spender grimaces. "The case that landed in my lap is unusual. It wasn't something I planned to follow up on, but then local officials forced my hand." He nods towards Scully. "Your medical knowledge will be particularly useful."

"Where's the case?" Mulder asks, knowing that it's on both of their minds.

"Hollins, Virginia."

"Has there been another disappearance?" Mulder asks.

"I'm sorry?"

"Hollins is very close to Roanoke, isn't it?"

"Oh. No, it's not that sort of case. I think it would be best to simply show you our crime scene, rather than waste time explaining it now."

"Whatever you say." Mulder tries very hard not to make a face at him.

"Great. We leave in about an hour," Spender tells them. "We should be back in DC tonight, so no need to pack any clothes."

As soon as Spender walks off, Scully grabs Mulder's arm. "Oh my God, Mulder. We're really getting out of here."

Some of Mulder's enthusiasm flickers when he realizes which case Spender is talking about. This time around Spender didn't round-file the demon case.

An Hour Later
Betsy Monroe's Yard

A team is excavating some very small graves. There's a far away look on Scully's face as she carefully examines a tiny skeleton. Mulder joins her, looking somber himself. He barely notices that a police officer is taking photographs just a few feet away.

"Who killed these babies, agent Spender?" Scully demands to know.

He shrugs. "As far as we can tell, their mother did."

"That's horrible," Mulder says quietly.

"I know. And what's worse is that it seems as though the man who is probably their father killed a lot of their half siblings too." Without any preamble, he uncovers a box that also contains bones. "This is the only skeleton we were able to recover from the other site, but I suspect that there's a history of infanticide in that man's history too."

Sighing, Scully peers at the little misshapen head. "Because the babies were deformed?"


"What about these babies?" Scully gestures to the graves. "They're not deformed."

"I don't know." Spender looks chagrined. "We're going to find out, though. We have the mother in custody."

"You do?" Mulder gives him a shocked look. ::This isn't how this story goes.::

"Of course. Officers found her about an hour ago. She was trying to flee, but blood loss slowed her down, and she fell asleep at the wheel. Unfortunately, she didn't do the state the favor of killing herself in the accident."

"I see," Mulder says, although he doesn't.

"Her baby wasn't killed either," Spender adds.

"Why would she kill four babies, but not this one?" Scully asks.

Spender opens a folder. "From these records it's clear that she knew that the baby was going to share the same deformity as the victim we recovered from the other site. However, for all we know she simply hadn't had time to murder this infant too."


"Once we get back to DC, I need you to see if there is conclusive evidence that the five victims are related. We need all the evidence we can get to try the murders."

"Okay, sure," Scully says faintly. Once Spender is out of earshot, she turns to Mulder. "How could anyone kill four perfect babies, and let a deformed one live. I don't mean that you should kill a baby for being deformed, but..."

"Maybe the baby with problems isn't the one that she saw as being wrong. Maybe she wanted a baby that has demon horns," he says, staring at the skull in the box.

"No one wants a de-de-mon baby instead of a perfect one, Mulder," Scully says shakily.

"I don't think everyone has the same definition of perfect as we do." To his shock, her eyes fill with tears. Thinking quickly, he puts his arm around her. "Hey."

She rubs away tears with the back of her fist. "I'm sorry, this case has just really gotten to me. I think it's hormonal."

"Yeah," he agrees absently.

"I'm going to take the pregnancy test tomorrow, to be sure," she adds.

::Wait, what? I think I'd remember having sex lately.:: "You are?"

She smirks a little and kisses his chin. "I told you that I couldn't get enough of my handsome husband the night we flew back from Nevada."

::Oh my fucking God! Morris! If I ever see him again, I'm going to kill him!:: "Good thing it's mutual," he says in as lighthearted a tone as he can manage.

"Agent Mulder?" Spender's voice makes him look up. "I didn't just drag you along for the ride. Your part in the case is here."

Looking down, Mulder realizes that Spender is holding a baby carrier. There's a receiving blanket thrown over the top, hiding the passenger from view. "What?"

Putting his free hand on Mulder's shoulder, Spender steers him away from Scully. "Look, we're in a bind here. Child services tried to find a placement for this kid, but none of the foster families they asked will take him in. I normally wouldn't ask this of an agent, but I know you're good with kids, and it's only for a few days. Maybe a week."

"Why won't anyone take him in?" Mulder asks slowly.

"Um..." Spender looks down at his feet.

demon baby
click to enlarge

Without asking his leave, Mulder pulls the blanket off. "Holy shit! This isn't a baby, it's a demon!"

"That sort of comment isn't very constructive, Mulder. The child has some unfortunate deformities, but don't you think it's a little harsh to call him demonic? He's not going to win any beauty contests, but he's simply a baby."

Mulder doesn't answer. Instead he stares at the infant. If you took a normal baby gave him a pair of little horns and stretched out his fingers, toes and eyes, you'd have a child who looked a lot like the one sleeping in the baby carrier.

"It's better for him to be in protective custody until a foster home is arranged than in an orphanage," Spender says.

For some reason Mulder is sure that Spender has already tried to get an orphanage to take it in and been refused. Old school Catholics probably wouldn't want a demon, no matter how small, in their midst, and he doesn't know of any secular orphanages.

"How long are we talking about?" he asks.

"A week, tops."

"IF you can get Scully to agree to this, I'm going to hold you to that. You really don't want me to show up at your house with a diaper bag."

When Spender tries to hand him the carrier, Mulder throws up his hands and backs away. "Uh Uh. If you want me to take that home with me, you need to convince Scully first. I'm pretty sure she'll have some words for you about bringing...that home to our kids, two of whom are barely three months old." ::Not to mention that she's possibly pregnant again, dammit.::

"This baby can't even hold up his own head-"

Mulder points to where Scully is. "Tell her that."

Spender thrusts the baby carrier at him. "I'll be back soon."

"Uhhh..." The baby stares up him with dark, blank eyes, which makes him uncomfortable, so he throws the blanket back over the carrier.

While Mulder watches from a distance, Spender talks to Scully. He gestures animatedly, which amuses Mulder for some reason. Maybe because the younger man doesn't seem to realize that he's making that impassioned request.

After a couple of minutes the two of them walk back to where Mulder has been keeping an eye on the baby demon. ::Or maybe he's an imp. Isn't that a small demon?::

He lifts the blanket so Scully can see, and she frowns. "Unfortunate deformities."

Mulder stares at her. "He's not deformed, Scully. This is what he's supposed to look like."

"No babies are supposed to look like this."

"Uh, baby demons are," Mulder says.

She gives him a 'don't be silly' look before reaching out to touch it. His instinct is to grab her wrist so she can't, but he squelches the impulse, leaving his fingers twitching impotently.

"Agent Spender said he was probably premature, but he's big even for a full term newborn."

::A newborn what?:: "Maybe you're mentally comparing him to David and Jared," he suggests instead. "They were small at birth."

"Maybe," Scully says as she continues to look it over. "I think I'll weigh and measure him when we get home, though."

"You- you want to bring this creature into our home?" Mulder sputters in shock. He'd been so sure that she would flat out refuse Spender's idea.

She sighs. "It's just a baby."

"Uh huh."

"Besides, it'll give us a taste of what having six kids in the house would be like."

"Wouldn't it be easier to just borrow Emily for a week instead?"

It takes about an hour after Mulder reluctantly agrees to a week of demon-sitting for them to get on the road. Most of the time is spent debating the legality of raiding Betsy Monroe's house for baby supplies for her son. In the end the decision made that commandeering her possessions for his benefit falls under in the realm of legitimate seizure, so Spender and Mulder wrestle the crib intended for the infant as well as several armloads of other baby paraphernalia into the trunk while Scully buckles him into the backseat.

When he makes the mistake of looking in the review mirror as he gets behind the wheel, he shudders. Tiny claws and horns are going to haunt his nightmares about driving with his kids for months, he can already tell.

On the ride home Scully turns the conversation back to the possibility that they're going to be having another baby. She chatters excitedly, and he thinks he hears her say something about not minding at all if this one was a girl, to even things out. Mostly, he's just glumly thinking about the coin that melded together that Scully got last time and the waterbed he inexplicably received not once but twice. Those changes seemed to be too far away from Nevada to be reversed when everything else went back to rights. It seems as though Morris borrowing his body to have sex with his wife is irreversible too.

::I tried, William. I really did. Hopefully Mom wants seven kids.:: "He thinks about David and Jared and feels a sick rush in his stomach before assuring himself, ::Nah, two sets of twins? What are the odds of that? After this next kid is born I'm going to be impotent for a year, I swear to God.::

"We need to set some ground rules about... our houseguest," Mulder announces abruptly.

"Okay." She seems to notice that he looks surprised that she agreed without arguing, because she adds, "You're the one who has to be responsible for him all day."

"First, I want to keep him in one of the empty bedrooms - as far away from Page and Sammy's rooms as possible. I'm going to put a lock on the door too. I don't want them to see it, ever. The last thing we is for everyone at their preschool to hear all about this case."


"I don't think they'll realize that I'm home all day, they'll just think I've gotten home from work early."


"And we can't expect Michelle to have anything to do with...him. We hired her to look after our kids, and even if Spender is willing to pay her more, I don't feel right asking her to care for him. I mean, when Doggett comes next month he's putting Hannah in daycare, after all."


"So when you and the older kids are home, I'll keep a baby monitor with me so I can listen for him. With luck they'll think the crying is one of their brothers."

"They probably will," Scully agrees.

"You're not even paying attention to what I'm saying, are you." Mulder states.

She gives him a guilty look. "Okay, I'm a little distracted."

Out of the corner of his eye, he sees her hand touch her belly. Scully doesn't even seem conscious of it. "If you are pregnant, whose turn is it to tell Skinner?"

"I'm pretty sure it's yours."

"Are you sure? I don't think he'd even yell at you," Mulder teases. "He might punch me."

"I don't know, Mulder. He was pretty damn mad when I told him about Sammy."

"Um...I think the fact that he only got four months notice had something to do with that."

"Then you'll have to tell him as soon as we find out," Scully says brightly.

Mulder just groans.

They manage to sneak the baby into the house, and all of his stuff without waking any of the kids. Unfortunately, they do wake up Michelle. The robe-clad nanny pokes her head into the room while Mulder fights with putting the crib together.

"You're home," Michelle comments sleepily.

"Yeah. Sorry we woke you."

"It's okay..." She trails off when she sees the baby in the carrier. "What's that?!"

"A baby," Scully says shortly. "He's in protective custody for the week. Mulder will be staying home to look after him," she adds when Michelle looks worried.

"What's wrong with him?"

Before Mulder can tell her that demons are supposed to look like this, Scully jumps in. "Hereditary congenital deformities."

"Poor kid," Michelle says sympathetically. "What's his name?"

"He doesn't have one," Mulder tells her. He's finally gotten the last corner of the mattress support in place, so he stands and looks at the baby. "I was thinking of calling him Louie until we find out what his real name is."

"That's a nice name." Michelle yawns. "See you tomorrow."

After the nanny shuffles off, Scully gives Mulder a long look. "And here I was sure you were going to insist that we call him Daemon. Or maybe Damien."

::Louie, Lucifer, what's the difference?:: "I'm more mature than that."

His wife gives him a 'yeah right' look, so he rolls his eyes.

Before long Scully is yawning too, and tells him not to stay up too late, which seems to be his hint that she's not going to help him wrestle the mattress into the crib. He does, and pulls a sheet over it too, before looking down at Louie. Even if the kid is a demon, he'll probably get cold during the night, so Mulder rips open a package of baby blankets and pulls out a couple. Then he pours formula into a bottle.

From the baby carrier, Louie watches, blinking sleepily.

"Uh, I suppose I ought to give you a bottle and change you, huh?" Just then he realizes that the baby hasn't made a peep all night. "You will cry sometimes so we know what you need, right? It's okay to cry, all babies do."

He talks to Louie for a couple minutes more before realizing that he's just stalling so he can put off picking him up. "Okay, no breathing fire or anything."

Picking Louie up doesn't feel much different than holding any of his own babies when they were this small. The only difference is that Louie's skin is warmer, and he's got those tiny claws to watch out for. "You know what I'm going to do," he tells the infant as it hungrily devours the bottle, "Tomorrow I'm going to look in April's dresser and see if I can find some of her old hand mitts. Then you can't accidentally scratch anyone, or yourself either. You'd of thought your mommy would have thought of that, huh? She knew what you'd be like."

Once the bottle is gone, Mulder burps him, then hesitates. What's going to be in that diaper when he changes him? Cringing, he untapes the diaper. Never in his life has he been so happy to see normal baby pee. ::Looks like demons are made like normal boys too:: he notes to himself. "Tell me something, Louie. Your parents aren't full demons, right? I take it that they're each the offspring of a demon and a woman or man. That'd make you about half demon too, but you look a lot more like we'd expect a demon to. Maybe they're really demons, and they can shape shift or use a glamour. Can you? That'd make your childhood a lot easier on you if you could."

Louie kicks his feet as Mulder redresses him, but offers no comment. "Try it this week, okay?"

He can't tell if Louie is considering the advice or not, because he's asleep as soon as Mulder puts him in the crib, just like David's usual MO. Shrugging, he covers the baby up, turns on the baby monitor, and shuts the door.

The days at home pass by more quickly than he imagined they would. Although he keeps expecting Louie to do something unexpected, the infant just acts like a normal one, eating, sleeping, burping up formula, dirtying diapers... every thing that all five of his own kids did their first weeks of life. Just like a normal, exceptionally ugly, baby.

He can't help but be a little disappointed. Sure, he has no idea how he'd deal with it if Louie started to breathing fire and setting the drapes on fire, but it would be more exciting than holing up and watching the baby do nothing.

Finally bored out of his mind in the middle of the second day, Mulder hauls a desk down from the attic. While they were suspended in October he'd finally had time to look through some of the stuff of Saul's that was still up in the attic. Scully had initially come up too, but after a few minutes of sneezing at dust, she'd left him to his own devices.

There's a lot of stuff up there, some of it obviously even older than his deceased uncle. It's Mulder's opinion that some of the stuff belonged to Saul's parents, if not his grandparents. Someday he wants to catalogue it all.

For now he's content to have a place to set up his laptop. With a little of the mad skillz the gunmen have tried to beat into his head, he manages to access online much of the library research that he'd done the last time he'd lived through this case.

The house is quiet that night after Scully and Michelle put the kids to bed. He feels a little guilty that he's not reading bedtime stories, but the baby demon has been rather fussy, so he's been in the spare room turned temporary imp storage since shortly after dinner.

There's a soft knock on the door, then Scully comes in. "How's he doing?"

"Okay, I think. He's quiet now, anyway." Looking down at the baby, he sees that the boy is not sleeping. Instead his coal-black eyes are fixed on him and Scully.

Scully snakes her arm around Mulder's waist. "Poor kid. He's so damn ugly. What horrible deformities."

Mulder shakes his head. "While he was sleeping today, I looked up information on his parents. I think I've found pretty definitive proof that his parents weren't typical parents to be."

"Mulder, don't tell me that they are demons. I've seen Wayne's body, and seen Betsy in prison. They're as human as you or I."

"But-" Deciding to humor his pregnant wife, he closes his mouth. "Okay, I won't say it."

"What would we do if something happens to this baby, or any others we might have, so they're not perfect?"

"Others?" Mulder affects shock. "Like more than one other? How many kids were you thinking of producing, Woman? I thought you said you didn't have any Cheaper by the Dozen aspirations!"

::You don't fool me, you may kid yourself that you don't particularly like being pregnant, but you haven't stopped wanting babies. If I ever see Elsbeth, I'm going to ask her if that's an echo caused by subconsciously knowing you were denied them before.:: He thinks while waiting for her response.

"I don't know, I wasn't lying when I said I didn't have a number in mind. Things happen. I'll love and welcome any children we have," Scully tells him with a soft smile.

"That's what we'd do," Mulder declares.

"What?" She gives him a puzzled look.

"Before I derailed your train of thought, you asked what we'd do if we had a baby who wasn't perfect. We'd welcome and love them, same as the others."

"Oh." To his surprise, tears well up in her eyes before she throws her arms around his neck. "If I ever get mad at you and ask why did I ever marry you, remind me of this conversation."

"Will do. I hope you agree with me. Because like you said, Things happen. For all we know I'll get kidnapped and impregnated with an alien-human hybrid myself. I hope you'll love little ET as much as I will."

Laugher arrests her tears. "Maybe he'll have your nose instead of no nose."

"Either way, the poor hypothetical alien-human hybrid," Mulder says mournfully.

On the fourth day of demon-watch Mulder decides to make his own fun. Sitting in the rocking chair while Louie sleeps, he pulls out his cell phone. It's time to light a fire under his kid brother's butt. "Agent Spender, it's Mulder. It's been four days, and I'm really curious about the progress you're making on relieving me of nursemaid duty."

"Actually I was just about to call you." Spender sounds calm. "Social workers called me today. They located a family who has taken in two children with cranial deformities. They're going to take him tomorrow night."

"If you can, make sure that they don't come until after seven-thirty? I don't want the kids awake and underfoot. And these people, have they seen a picture of him? I don't want you coming back late telling me that they got one look at him before running off like they were being chased by the hounds of hell."

"I took a full roll of pictures before getting you and Agent Scully down to Virginia," Spender reassures him. "They realize that this is an unfortunate looking little boy."

"It's nice to hear that they aren't going into this blindly."

"Has he been much trouble?" Spender asks. "What are you calling him anyway? You can't be calling him 'baby' all the time."

"I've nicknamed him Louie. I'm sure whoever adopts him will pick something else."

Spender sighs. "If he's adopted. Special needs babies are hard to find permanent homes for."

"You're pretty sure the murder charges against Betsy Monroe are going to stick, then? Scully told me that she thought that the evidence was pretty conclusive, but you know how jury trials are..."

"There isn't going to be a jury trail. Word came down that it's just going to be a judge," Spender tells him. "That ought to make it easier."

"It could."

During the early part of the day, while Page and Sammy spend four hours of the morning in the 3s & 4s preschool class, Mulder keeps the door to Louie's room open. When the boy is sleeping, he likes to look in on his own infant sons, and his silent little daughter.

The fact that the door is open is what lets him hear Michelle call April. Just a moment later a pair of curious brown eyes are staring into the room. Mulder picks her up and calls down to the nanny. "It's okay, I've got her."

April gives him what can only be a smug smile. Mulder tickles her, which makes her giggle. "Let me guess, Michelle was changing your brothers' diapers and you got away."

April smiles and nods. Then she points chubby fingers at the crib.

"What's in there?" Mulder asks, just like her pediatrician suggested.

Looking a bit puzzled, April eventually signs the word "baby."

"That's right! Doesn't look much like your brothers, though, huh?" April shakes her head. "His name is Louie, and he's going to a new home tomorrow. I hope it's a nice family, because Louie isn't going to have an easy life."

Reaching through the bars of the crib, April gives the baby's leg a sympathetic pat.

"This baby is our secret, okay?" Mulder asks. "Don't tell Sammy or Page, I don't want them to know."

April kisses him on the cheek, and he assumes that's an agreement. In the crib Louie yawns and scrunches his eyes shut, So Mulder carries April over to his chair.

"I'll tell you another secret too. Mommy and Daddy are going to have another baby. It wasn't part of Daddy's plans, but Mommy seems happy about it, so I guess I am too. And in about two and a half years your youngest brother is going to be born. He's going to have red hair like you and Sammy, and Mommy's eyes." Glancing down at his daughter, he wonders if it's nearly naptime. She's sleepily sucking one thumb and playing with the end of his tie; an improvement from when Page used to mistake his ties for a noose.

"I like being able to tell you secrets, but when you're ready to talk, I'll always be ready to listen. No matter what Mommy might say to the contrary."

April is asleep by the time Mulder carries her back to her room.

The Next Night

Standing in the doorway, Scully waves good-bye as the couple carries the eight-pound demon out in his baby carrier. Standing behind her, Mulder watches them leave too.

After the couple drives off, she squirms around so she's facing him. "You okay, Mulder?"


"After a week taking care of that kid, you seem like you're in better shape than I would be," Scully confesses.

He shrugs. "I didn't let myself get attached, because I knew that you and I weren't going to be keeping him. And now that I've met his new foster parents, I'm sure that Louie is going to be just fine."

"Really?" Scully follows him into the house once he stops blocking the doorway. "They struck you as being good people?"

"They didn't even flinch when they saw him, and cooed over him like he was one of our beautiful little boys. But they also seemed cognizant that there's a tough road ahead of that child, when it comes to being accepted by others, so they've got level heads on their shoulders. I don't think I could hope for better than that," Mulder tells her.

"That's great," Scully tells him.

::And I don't think you need to know that they're demons too.:: Mulder adds silently to himself. ::The Dad's eyes flashed a wicked red when he winked at me while we dismantled the crib. Guess they can do glamours after all, so hopefully they'll teach Louie to..:: Mulder bents down and tickles Sammy. "That little boy is going to do just fine with his new family. I can feel it."

Chapter Sixty-Nine

December 24th, 1998
Just before 10 p.m.
Somewhere In Maryland

"This is the first and only year we leave some of our Christmas shopping until Christmas Eve, Mulder. I mean it. Checkout lines were worse than rush hour on the 95. If I heard 'Silent Night' one more time I was going to start taking hostages."

"I broke out into a cold sweat in the toddler toy aisle," Mulder says with a shiver. "If you promise not to have twins again when we should be starting to do our Christmas shopping, I guarantee that we'll never do this again."

"This baby is going to be twins, just because you said that," Scully says with a smirk. Finally realizing that they've stopped driving, she peers out at the huge dark house, and then turns to gives her husband a questioning look. "What are we doing here?"

"Stakeout." He has all he can do not to grin. Knowing the outcome of this impromptu case doesn't make the idea of repeating it any less appealing. For once there's no chance of anyone gets hurt, so he's been thinking of it as a scary sort of fun – like roller coasters and scary rides at Universal.

"On Christmas Eve?" She gives him an incredulous look.

"It's an important date."

"No kidding."

"Important to why we're here," he clarifies.

"Mulder, we've got wrapping to do. It's the night before Christmas."


Scully sighs. "Let's hear it. Give me the details."

"Look, if you think it's more important to wrap presents for the kids who'll barely notice anyway, I guess that we-"

"Mulder, we drove all the way out here. I might as well know why. Right?"

"I just thought you'd be more... curious." He pouts.

"Who lives in the house?"

"No one."

"Then who are we staking out?"

"The former occupants."

"They've come back?"

"That's the story."

"I see. The dark, gothic manor the, uh, omnipresent low fog hugging the thicket of overgrowth. Wait-- is that a hound I hear baying out on the moors?"

"No. Actually that was a left cheek sneak."

"Mulder, tell me you didn't drag me out here on Christmas Eve to go ghost busting with you."

"Technically speaking they're called apparitions."

"You claim we live in a haunted house, Mulder! Why would you want to explore another one?! We've got gifts to wrap. My mom expects us to be up to let everyone in for a family roll call under the tree at 8:00 a.m."

"I'll make it fast. I'll just give you the details."

"Whatever." Scully leans her head back against her headrest.

"Christmas, 1917. It was a time of dark, dark despair. American soldiers were dying at an ungodly rate in a war-torn Europe while at home, a deadly strain of the flu virus attacked young and old alike. Tragedy was a visitor on every doorstep while a creeping hopelessness set in with every man, woman and child. It was a time of dark, dark despair."

"You said that."

"But here at 1501 Larkspur Lane for a pair of star-crossed lovers tragedy came not from war or pestilence-- not by the boot heel or the bombardier-- but by their own innocent hand."

"Go on."

"His name was Maurice. He was a... a brooding but heroic young man beloved of Lyda, a sublime beauty with a light that seemed to follow her wherever she went. They were likened to two angels descended from heaven whom the gods could not protect from the horrors being visited upon this cold, grey earth."

"And what happened to them?" she asks with grudging interest.

"Driven by a tragic fear of separation they forged a lovers' pact so that they might spend eternity together and not spend one precious Christmas apart."

"They killed themselves?"

"And their ghosts haunt this house every Christmas Eve." Unperturbed that his wife is now laughing at him, he concludes, "I just gave myself chills."

"It's a good story, Mulder... And very well told but I don't believe it. And might I remind you that we're supposed to cook a turkey tonight?"

"Use one of those Reynolds bags, it'll cook in three hours," Mulder says dismissively before going on to the more important part of her reply. "You're still pretending that you don't believe in ghosts?"

"That surprises you?"

"Well... Yeah. I thought you believed in our ghosts."

"There's something strange about our house, but that's as far as I'm willing to commit," Scully says, and he snorts. When he gets out of the car, she's not far behind him.

"Changed your mind?"

"As much as I'm tempted to leave you here, something tells me that it wouldn't be a good idea. You'd get into too much trouble on your own."

"What kind of trouble?" he asks.

"Breaking and entering, for one."

They walk towards the house, completely unaware that if they looked back at their car, they'd see that the kids' presents weren't the only things sitting on the backseat.

He turns to her with a smirk when the door swings open with a creak at the lightest touch. "Entering, maybe." He snaps on his flashlight and begins to shine it around the foyer.

Thunder rumbles behind them, and a wind whistles through the house.

Laughing weakly, Mulder says. "Maybe it was a ghost." Scully rolls her eyes –until they both hear a knocking sound coming from above them. Deciding that it would be too obvious to comment on the knocking, he shivers exaggeratedly instead. "That's a cold wind."

"There must be a window open upstairs. You know, the weather report said that there was an 80 percent chance of rain maybe even a... maybe even a white Christmas," Scully says reasonably.

Maybe we should have bought Page and Sammy a sled-" Just then the door slams behind them with a bang, making them both jump. Scully tries to open it, but it won't budge.

"I think the spirits are among us," Mulder proclaims.

Scully doesn't look up as she continues to yank on the door. "Mulder, will you quit trying to scare me and help me get these doors open."

There's more knocking coming from upstairs. "Sounds like there's somebody walking around upstairs. There. You hear that?"

"Mulder, we really have to go. Michelle's leaving at 5 a.m., remember?"

He pulls her to his side. "There's nothing to be afraid of."

"I'm not afraid, okay?" Scully shrugs off his arm.

"Ghosts are benevolent entities," Mulder tells her over the sound of chains clanking from above. "Mostly."

"You are not scaring me, Mulder."

When Mulder begins up the stairs she hangs back, until a lightning flash reveals the silhouette of someone standing on the landing across from where Mulder is headed. The next flash shows that no one is there. Spooked, she's quick to follow Mulder.

"Mulder... These are tricks that the mind plays. They are ingrained clichés from a thousand different horror films. When we hear a sound, we get a chill. We-we see a shadow and we allow ourselves to imagine something that an otherwise rational person would discount out of hand. The whole... Mulder...?" She continues to follow him to the second floor. "The whole idea of a benevolent entity fits perfectly with what I'm saying. That a spirit would materialize or return for no other purpose than to show itself is silly and ridiculous. I mean, what it really shows is how silly and ridiculous we have become in believing such things. I mean, that... That we can ignore all natural laws about the corporeal body that-that we witness these spirits clad in-in their own shabby outfits with the same old haircuts and hairstyles never aging, never... Never in search of more comfortable surroundings-- it actually ends up saying more about the living than it does about the dead." She concludes in a rush while watching her husband try locked doors.


"I mean, Mulder, it doesn't take an advanced degree in psychology to understand the... the unconscious yearnings that these imaginings satisfy. You know, the-the longing for immortality the hope that there is something beyond this mortal coil.. that-that we might never be long without our loved ones. I mean, these are powerful, powerful desires. I mean, they're the very essence of what make us human. The very essence of Christmas, actually."

There's a creaking behind them, and they both turn to see that one of the doors Mulder tried is now partly open. "Tell me you're not afraid," Mulder demands.

"All right. I'm afraid... but it's an irrational fear."

"Most fear is." He grins at her. "Don't worry, I've got your back."

After she pushes the door open and looks inside, she turns back to him. "Mulder, did it occur to you that there aren't ghosts here but that somebody actually might be living in this house?"

"No one lives here."

"But when you and I were sitting out in the car there was not a light on. And look at this."

They walk into an elegant turn of the century two story library. There is a ladder leading down to the lower level. Most of the furniture is covered with white cloth. A Chandelier hangs from the ceiling.

"Must have been some kind of electrical surge," Mulder declares.

The clock downstairs is keeping perfect time. And how do you explain that?" Walking down the ladder, she leads him to the remains of a fire in the fireplace. "This fire has just gone out."

"Yeah. Maybe it a hobo decided to spend the night out of the cold, cold wind."


"Okay, sorry. I mean 'homeless person'. When'd you join the PC police?"

"You and I both know that's unlikely. Don't look so disappointed that someone lives here."

"Why would anyone want to live in a cursed house?"

"Uh, don't you?"

"No, our house is haunted. This one is cursed. There's a difference."

"Mulder, it's not enough that this house is haunted? It has to be cursed?"

"Every couple that's ever lived here has met a tragic end. Three double murders in the last 80 years. All on Christmas Eve."

"You waited until now to tell me that?!" Scully practically shouts.

"Relax. You don't believe in curses, remember?" There's thumps and bangs from above again. "Whoa... There's that sound again "

Then they realize that there's another noise, this one coming from beneath the floor. They peer down at the floor. While Mulder moves furniture about so he can get his ear near the floor, Scully looks over at the ladder – and doesn't see it.


"Yeah?" He lifts his head from the floor boards. "I think there's a hiding space under the floorboards... There may be somebody trapped under there. The hobo who started the fire, maybe."

"Mulder, don't," Scully says when he grabs the poker from the fireplace and begins prying at the floorboards.

"I got to get them out," he insists.

"Not now."

"Hey, you have a gun, right? Rationally, you've been in much more dangerous situations." Once he begins lifting the boards off he exposes a dead man. "I was half right. Looks like I was a little late."

Scully is very pale. "Oh, my God."

He keeps pulls up more boards, exposes another body. "Hey, Scully... Look at this. A woman."

Shivering a little, she shines her flashlight on the two very decomposed corpses. The woman appears to have a bullet wound in her belly, and the man a wound in his chest. "Mulder, it looks like they were shot to death. And you know what's weird?"


"Mulder, she's wearing my outfit." The corpse is wearing an outfit identical to hers.

"How embarrassing," Mulder says dryly, trying to remember to act like he doesn't know what's going on.

"Yeah, well, you know what? He's wearing yours."

He checks what he's wearing- white T-shirt and leather jacket. "Oh... Scully..."

"That's us."

He notices that her gaze lingers for a moment on the corpse's stomach wound, and with a twinge of guilt his stomach jumps when it occurs to him to wonder if she's looking for the tiny remains of their unborn baby. It's on the tip of his tongue to remind her that it would be too small to see, but she turns and runs, and he follows her.

Once they run out of the library, they find themselves running right back in.

"Hey, Scully..."

"This is the same room." She looks shocked.

They try again, and enter the library again. They still see the dead bodies.

He shines his flashlight at both exits. "All right. I'm beginning to... Get this."

Scully shines her light at one doorway. "You go through that door and I..."

"I should come out... This door."


Just as it was before, when he enters into the library, he doesn't find himself back with Scully. "Nice that some things can be counted on." He mumbles under his breath.

"Mulder!" Scully calls from the library she's in.

The doors slam closed, and when he opens one again, the library is empty. No Scully. "Scully! Hey, Scully. Scully, can you hear me?" He shouts while banging on the door.

Once he shoots the lock off the door, he sees that it's bricked up again. He turns around, deciding to try the other door this time when he starts to see a man staring at him. "Hey! Who are you?"

"That's a question I should be asking being this is my house you're standing in. This isn't one of those home invasions, is it?"


"Good. Would you like me to show you the door?"

"That's very funny. The door's all bricked up."

Maurice peers past him. "Uh huh. I see a door with the lock shot off it. You going to pay for that?"

"Do you take checks?" Mulder asks, then waves his hand at the door. "That's a door with a brick wall behind it."

"Okay, sure." The man doesn't look like he believes Mulder.

"You're playing tricks on me," Mulder complains.

"If I am, I'm sorry but I don't know any tricks."

"Yeah? That's a trick in itself, isn't it? You've been playing tricks on us since we got here."

"Am I to take it we're not alone?" Maurice pitches his voice in imitation of ghost and alien movies.

Mulder chuckles. "Ah, that's very funny coming from a ghost."

The old man laughs and slaps his knees. "Yeah, oh... the gun fooled me a little at first. You're a ghost hunter, huh? And you think I'm a ghost, huh? I've seen a lot of strange folks coming around here with a lot of strange equipment but I think you must be the first I've seen come armed."

"Strange folks?"


"Like those folks under the floorboard." He turns and shines his light on the floor, but the corpses are missing, the floor untouched.

"How did you do that?"

"I didn't do anything."

"There were corpses here-- bodies buried under the floorboards."

Giving him a pitying look, Maurice invites, "Why don't you have a seat, son."

"Are you overcome by the impulse to make everyone believe you?" Mulder looks up at him. "I'm in the field of mental health. I specialize in disorders and manias related to pathological behavior as it pertains to the paranormal," Maurice explains.

"Wow. I didn't know such a thing existed," Mulder says, playing along.

"My specialty is in what I call soul prospectors-- a crossaxial classification I've codified by extensive interaction with visitors like yourself. I've found you all tend to fall into pretty much the same category."

"And what category is that?"

"Narcissistic, overzealous, self-righteous egomaniac."

"That's a category?" Mulder chuckles.

"You kindly think of yourself as single-minded but you're prone to obsessive compulsiveness workaholism, antisocialism... Fertile fields for the descent into total wacko breakdown."

"I don't think that pegs me exactly."

"Oh, really? Waving a gun around my house? Huh? Raving like a lunatic about some imaginary brick wall? You've probably convinced yourself you've seen aliens. You know why you think you see the things you do?"

"Because I have seen them?" Mulder asks.

"'Cause you're a lonely man. A lonely man chasing paramasturbatory illusions that you believe will give your life meaning and significance and which your pathetic social maladjustment makes impossible for you to find elsewhere. You probably consider yourself passionate, serious, misunderstood. Am I right?"


"Most people would rather stick their fingers in a wall socket than spend a minute with you."

"No one thinks that," Mulder denies.

"Spend every Christmas this way... Alone?"

"I'm not alone," Mulder tells him. "I'm married, with five kids at home."

"More self-delusion."

"No, I came here with my wife. She's somewhere in the house."

"Behind a brick wall?" Maurice asks. "How'd you get her to come with you? Steal her car keys?"

"They're my keys," Mulder says petulantly, then digs into his pocket to find them.

"You know why you do it-- listen endlessly to her droning rationalizations. 'Cause you're afraid. Afraid of the loneliness. Am I right?"

"I'd just like to find my wife. We need to get home to our kids."

"Good... Easy. Piece of cake."

"Brick wall..." Maurice first points to the doorway, then his head. "Or brick wall? Go ahead, change your life."

"And get a concussion? No thanks." Mulder turns and confidently strides to the other doorway. And walks face first into another brick wall.

In another library Scully backs away from a locked door, and into a woman. Both scream, and Scully dives away, groping for her gun.

Lyda raises her hands innocently. "No, no, please, I won't hurt you."

"I'm a federal agent! I'm armed."

Lyda turns on lights. "You're what? A federal agent?"

Scully has finally gotten her gun out, and he holds it tightly, trying to counteract the shaking of her hands. "Please, I'm a little on edge. Don't come any closer. My name is Special Agent Dana Scully. And, uh, I can... I can show you my I.D."

"My goodness, I... I thought you were a ghost." Lyda smiles.

"I can assure you that I'm not. I, uh, I got stuck in this room looking for my husband."

"Oh, the gangly fellow with the distinguished profile."

"You've seen him?" Scully asks, eyes wide.

"With you in the foyer. I thought he was a ghost, too."

"Oh... That was you." She calms a bit.

"I sleepwalk sometimes. I thought maybe I'd dreamed it. But then here you were again."

Scully catches her breath. "I am sorry... I'm sorry. I didn't mean to scare you. I, uh... It's just that we found bodies."

"Bodies... Where?"

"Right..." She turns and looks at the floor. Which is untouched.

"You look like you saw a ghost. There are ghosts in this house, you know."

"Who are you?" Scully asks, raising her gun defensively again.

"I live here, thank you very much," Lyda says with a pout.

"Where's my husband?" Scully asks loudly.

"Why are you pointing that gun?"

"There were corpses right there underneath the floor!"

"I think maybe the ghosts have been playing tricks on you." Lyda chuckles.

"I don't believe in ghosts," Scully says, still too loudly.

"Then what are you doing here?"

"It's my husband."

"He believes in ghosts?" Lyda asks.

"Yeah," Scully agrees. "He insists we have some in our house too."

"Oh, you poor child. You must have an awful small life. Spending your Christmas Eve with him... Running around chasing things you don't even believe in."

"Don't come any closer." Scully warns. "And I don't have a small life. I've got five wonderful kids, another on the way."

Lyda walks closer. "I can see it in your face... The fear... The conflicted yearnings... A subconscious desire to find fulfillment through another. Intimacy through co-dependency."


"Maybe you repress the truth about why you're really here pretending it's out of wifely duty or loyalty-- unable to admit your dirty little secret," Lyda says. "Your only joy in life is proving him wrong. And him, he just enjoys having you around as his brood mare."

"It isn't like that," Scully protests.

"Isn't it?"

"No it's not." Her hand goes protectively to her belly. "I'm the one who wants a lot of kids. I'm the one who's Catholic."

"But I'll bet being Catholic didn't stop you from using birth control before you were ready to settle down," Lyda guesses slyly. "Maybe you should ask yourself if you're so desperate to have countless babies because sex and parenthood are the only ways you can connect to your husband."

"You don't know me. And you don't live here. This isn't your house."

"You wouldn't think so, the way I'm being treated," Lyda says bitterly.

"Well, then why is all the furniture covered?"

"We're having the house painted."

"Well then where's your Christmas tree?!" Scully's gun hand shakes wildly.

"We're Jewish. Boo."

Scully turns as Maurice enters the room. She aims at him instead. "Hold it right there. Don't make me shoot you. Stay where you are."

Maurice smirks at Lyda. "We really attract them, don't we?"

"Where's Mulder?" Scully asks, her voice now shaking too.

"Mulder? Is that his name?" Maurice asks.

"Where is he?!"

"He'll be along."

Scully gestures to a corner with her gun. "Move over there." They just look at her. "Both of you, move. Move over there. Move other there."

"This violates our civil rights. I have friends at the ACLU," Maurice complains.

"Put your hands up."

They do. Lifting her arms reveals Lyda's midsection - which has a gunshot hole through it. Scully stares at her, then walks over to Maurice and lifts his hat. Hat off, a large round hole is bored through his head, and Scully can see through it. Swaying on her feet, Scully drops in a dead faint.

Mulder is attempting to pull himself up onto the library's landing when Lyda appears, staring down at him.

"Agent Mulder, right? What are you doing using my chair for a ladder?"

"I'm trying to get out of this room."

"Trying to get out? No, no. You can't get out that way," she adds when he pulls himself up to stand next to him. He hesitates for a moment, then pokes her in the shoulder. She is solid. He pushes her against the wall in his eagerness to get past her.

"Masher," Lyda accuses.

"Frump." He opens the door, only to find another brick wall.

"I don't know who you're calling a frump but I don't appreciate that-- being manhandled, or called names. Certainly not at this hour," Lyda says shrilly.

"You're a ghost."

"Oh, more names!"

The ladder has reappeared during their spat, and they climb down it to the chairs near the fireplace.

Looking at her, Mulder asks. "What happened to the star-crossed lovers?"

"Oh, let me tell you the romance is the first thing to go," Lyda says knowingly.

"It's you. You're Lyda, and that was Maurice. But you've aged."

"I hope your wife finds you a lot more charming than I do." She goes to bookcase. "Let's see. Where is it?" Mulder stares as books poke out of the bookshelf on their own while she mutters.

"No, no, no, no... there it is!" Lyda pulls out a book whose spine says The Ghosts Who Stole Christmas. "I was young and beautiful once, just like your wife. Whoo! Look at us. Maurice was so handsome. He didn't have a gut."

She hands Mulder the book which has a picture of an attractive couple in it. The title's chapter is Tale of the Star Crossed Lovers. "I hope you're not expecting any great advantages to all this."

"To all what?" Mulder asks.

"I'm assuming you came here with similar misconceptions," she says suggestively.

"No no. We came here looking for you."

"Oh, yeah? You didn't come here to be together for eternity?"


"Not because you're filled with despair and woeful Christmas melancholy?"

"No, why?"

"Maybe it was your wife then."

"What about her?" he demands, his arms crossed over his chest.

"You knew this house was haunted."


"Maybe you two should have discussed your real feelings about your marriage before you came out here. I'm speaking from experience."

"What experience?"

"I'm not going to get into semantics. A murder-suicide is all about trust."

"I thought you had a lovers' pact."

Lyda laughs at him. "Poetic illusions aside, the outcome, Mulder, is pretty much the same." She stands and holds open her robe exposing the bullet wound.


"I don't show my hole to just anyone."

"Why are you showing it to me?" Mulder asks, looking disgusted.

"It isn't like you're going to be eating any Christmas ham, is it?"

We're having turkey," Mulder explains, then stares at her. "Oh, you're trying to tell me that Scully's going to shoot me. Scully is not going to shoot me."

"Suit yourself, but if you shoot first, for her, the rest is an act of faith."

"I wouldn't shoot her."

"Maybe she shoots herself."

"I wouldn't let her."

"The bodies under the floor-- maybe that was just some kind of Jungian symbolism. Or maybe... there's a secret lovers' pact."

Mulder laughs. "We're an old married couple."

"And this isn't a pure science. But you're both so attractive and there'll be a lot of time to work that out." Lyda holds a gun out to him "Go ahead, take it." He quickly checks his holster and finds that the gun is missing. "Take it. Think of it as the last Christmas you'll ever spend in despair."

"But I'm not in-" The ghost disappears letting the gun fall into a surprised Mulder's hand.

Scully wakes from her faint, and finds her gun. When she does, she sees that's she's not alone. "Stay away from me. Look, I want you to get me out of here. I am quite capable of pulling this trigger."

"I'm glad to hear it," Maurice says. "You may well have to defend yourself against that crazy husband of yours."

"What have you done with him?!"

"Kept him safe from his own mad devices-- at least for now. Do you have any idea why he brought you here to this house?"

"I'm ghost hunting with my husband. That's all." They can faintly hear Mulder pound and call from somewhere in the house.

"Do you realize how seriously disturbed that man is? How dark and unhappy? What he's capable of?"

"Unhappy about what?" Scully demands to know.

Maurice gives her a pitying look. "Lyda told me you're expecting. Has your husband said anything much about how he feels about that?"

Scully doesn't say anything.

"Did he happen to mention a story about a lovers' pact?"


"What a convenient way to get rid of a problem, how to escape a life that has you feeling increasingly trapped with every new arrival," Maurice tells her. Scully shakes her head.

"Scully... Scully, are you there?!" Mulder calls through the blocked doorway.

"I'm here, Mulder!" She cries, then turns to Maurice. "Open the door."

He goes reluctantly to the door. "I've seen it happen too many times in this house."

She's reminded of the three sets of deaths, but rejects the thought. "I don't believe you. Just open the door."


"Open the door!"

Maurice does so, and Mulder enters with his gun drawn. "Where's Scully?"

"Mulder?" Scully asks, getting his attention.

He turns to face her and fires his gun at her. His shot goes wild, shattering a mirror behind her.

"Mulder, what are you doing?" He fires again, missing her. "Mulder!"

"There's no getting out of here, Scully. There's no way home," he says, sounding numb. Then fires again.

"Mulder, come on... Mulder, don't come any closer. You're scaring me. Put the gun down!"

"You going to shoot me?!" Mulder asks wildly.

"I'm not going to shoot you! I don't want to shoot you!"

"It's me or you... You or me. One of us has to do it."

"Mulder, look... We don't have to do this," she pleas.

"Oh, yes, we do."

"We can get out of here."

"Even if we could what's waiting for us? Kids we barely see, raised by strangers. They'll all be better off with another family, instead us poor excuses for parents."

"I don't believe what you're saying! Mulder, I don't believe a word of it."

He lowers the angle of his gun and fires at her. She drops her gun and stares down in shock at the bullet wound in her abdomen.

She slowly falls to the floor, still staring up at him. "The baby," she gasps.

"Merry Christmas, Scully," Mulder tells her, then raises the gun to his temple. "And a Happy New Year," Lyda says, pretending to be him.

Maurice walks over and restrains Lyda from firing the gun. "Let me go!" Lyda shrieks, still looking exactly like Mulder. The two ghosts struggle over the gun, and Scully closes her eyes, making them both disappear.

Mulder runs into another version of the library, and sees Scully lying on the floor. "Scully?"

"Mulder... Is that you?" She barely opens her eyes.

"What did you do?" Mulder asks. There's blood pouring out of her belly.

"I didn't believe it, Mulder," Scully rasps.

"You didn't believe what?"

"I didn't believe that you'd want me to kill our baby... That I would..."

"What? I didn't-" He looks down and sees that she has raised her gun to his chest. "Merry Christmas, Mulder."

"What are you doing?" he asks, still shocked that it seems as though she's shot herself.

Scully fires the gun. In shock falls back bleeding from the chest.

Scully groggily rolls over and begins pulling herself out of the room she's in.

Having left another room, Mulder is stumbling down the stairs, bleeding heavily.

He reaches and falls into the foyer which has a trail of blood across it. He sees Scully a few feet away also crawling to the door.

"Scully?" he asks, dazed. "Scully..."

Rolling over with a groan, she points her gun at him, and he tries to do the same to her.

She lowers the gun and falls back to the floor "Ah... I'm not going to make it."

"No, you're not... Not without me, you're not." He's holding his gun on her.

"Are you afraid now, Mulder?" She gasps in pain. "I am."

"I am, too."

They both drop their guns and roll over painfully.

"Why did you shoot yourself, Scully? I wanted this baby." Tears begin to clog his voice on the final words. "Then you shot me, too!"

"I didn't shoot you. You shot me because you felt trapped by having another kid," Scully growls.

A hand shakes Mulder, and he closes his eyes, not wanting to see Lyda or Maurice. He prays that he was tricked again, and Scully hasn't shot herself or him, but it hurts so badly.

"Stop that," Scully mumbles a few feet away, making him wonder if the ghosts are haring her too.

The shaking becomes more insistent, and he wonders how come the ghosts have such small hands.

Groaning, he rolls over and struggles to sit. Then his eyes widen in shock, and he falls back to the floor. Three little faces look down at him in concern. The problem is that he can see right through them.

"Ghosts!" he gasps.

"I know, Mulder. There, I admit it. Now you can die happy," Scully says tiredly without opening her eyes.

"No, Scully, our ghosts."

The little ghosts gesture frantically, urging him to get to his feet. Obeying their command, he does. He watches as one of them glides towards the door and fiddles with the lock.


"What?" she asks, coughing.

"Get up."

"I can't." She moans.

"Get up... You're not shot." He holds his bloody shirt away from his body.


"Come on. It's a trick. It's all in your head." He helps her to her feet, and holds out her bloody shirt too, showing her that there's no wound.

They run out the now unlocked front door, with their ghosts behind them. Once outside, they look down at their now clean shirts, then run to their cars and drive off quickly. The child ghosts are in the backseat.

Scully looks over the seat, then stares at him, eyes wild. "Mulder! In the backseat, there's-"

"Three little ghosts. I know. They were in the house. One of them got the door open for us."

"Oh god." Scully moans, a hand over her eyes.

"And you thought having our very own ghosts wasn't worth anything," Mulder scoffs.

"Why don't they look like Maurice and Lyda?"

"I'm not sure," he admits. "But I have a theory. Maurice and Lyda were adults when they died. That must have made them more attached to their corporeal forms, since they'd lived in them much longer."

"That's as good an explanation as any," Scully says with a sigh. Then she scrunches her eyes shut, refusing to open them until they get home.

Their house is dark and quiet when they get home. Mulder turns to the backseat, wondering if he can con the ghosts into helping them cart presents inside, but they're not there. Turning his head towards the house, he sees the last of the ghosts melting through the front door.

"Oh well." He sighs, getting out of the car.

"Oh well, what?" Scully asks, pulling open the back door so she can reach in for an armload of presents.

"It's...nevermind, it's stupid."

It takes them three trips to get everything in the house, and looking at the sprawl of toys, Mulder's suddenly glad that they'd gotten about half of them wrapped by scouts. The fewer to wrap, the sooner they could go to bed.

Before they do anything else, though, they check on the kids, and find them all asleep, and under blankets for a change. Sleeping, they look angelic.

"Hey Scully, why don't you start wrapping while I wrestle the turkey into the oven?" Mulder asks once they go back down stairs.

"I can handle it."

"Humor me." Mulder asks, heading for the kitchen before she continues to protest that she can do it herself.

A fast wrapper, she's gotten four gifts done by the time he's gotten the bird based and stuffed into the browning bag.

He reaches a pair of scissors, and some Santa-print paper.

Scully pauses in mid-cut and looks up at him. "Mulder... None of that really happened out there tonight... That was all in our heads, right?"

He's not sure what to say. "I-it must have been." He sticks a bow on a gift, and then looks her in the eyes. "You know I'm happy about the baby, right?"

"Are you?"

"Of course I am. It's ours," Mulder says simply.

"We don't have to have any more after this one," Scully says, giving him a guilty look. "I know I'm the one who is obsessed with babies."

Scooching across the carpet on his butt, Mulder pulls her onto his lap. "Hey. I agreed to your plan, and I'm still happy with it. If things change for me, you'll be the first to know."

Scully leans her head against his chest. "Can you believe it's only one? It felt like we were in that house for hours."

"If there's one thing I'm sure of, it's that something about that house plays tricks on your mind."

She crawls off his lap and reluctantly goes back to wrapping. "I think we'll be done in fifteen more minutes."

"Good." Mulder pulls another box out of the pile and begins to wrap it. "Is there any chance, do you think, of getting the kids to let us sleep until seven?"

She looks at him, wide-eyed. "Maurice is right. You are crazy."

Mulder groans and goes back to his wrapping, hoping they're done before Michelle gets up to pack for her trip home.

By the time they've got the presents all tucked under the tree, they've noticed that their motor skills have slowed to the rate of a snail's. "I can't believe people are coming over in a few hours," Scully groans, closing her eyes as she smothers a monster yawn. "I'm not sure if even grabbing a couple hours' sleep would be worth it."

"Why just a couple?" Mulder frowns, wondering in his sleep-befuddled mind if they've forgotten something else.

She opens her eyes to make a face at him. "Michelle's leaving then, and we need to get the kids' breakfasts ready before our guests come, which would probably be that extra hour between her leaving and the kids tearing down the stairs for their presents."

Mulder groans. "Oh, yeah." Maybe this last-minute ghost-hunting wasn't such a good idea.

Scully nods as they make their way up the stairs slowly like old people. "Maybe I'll just take a long, hot shower, forget about that damn house and that damn Lyda and Maurice, and be shriveled and pruny but awake when Michelle has to leave."

Her husband chuckles as he pulls off his t-shirt and kicks off his shoes. "Only if I can join you in the shower," he says, "I doubt we'll have time to come close to presentable unless we get cleaned up soon."

"You got it," she nods and yawns, shedding her jacket and unbuttoning the slightly wrinkled blouse she could've sworn was bullet-shot and blood-soaked only a couple hours earlier. Unzipping her heeled boots, she notes with some tired detachment how cute Mulder's ass is, and finds herself unzipping and taking off her slacks and socks with more alacrity than she thought possible. "Mulder, could you turn on the hot tap first? I don't want to freeze once the shower's on."

Mulder looks back to find his wife, improbably filled with unborn life in her stomach, looking rather fetching in her tan-colored bra and panties. ::Don't go there,:: he thinks, ::we just finished wrapping gifts, we need at least a few minutes' nap, Michelle's gonna be awake soon, the kids will be up...::

"Mulder, are you okay?" Scully asks, standing before him in nothing but the bod the good Lord gave her.

He blinks, then smiles slowly. "Definitely," he says, hauling her into the shower as she squeals.

"Mulder, we're just going to get cleaned up," she tells him, but the smile on her face suggests much more as she switches the tap to the showerhead.

"Oh yeah, sure we are," he agrees, pulling his drenched wife close to him, and for the next couple of hours, they keep each other awake 'just getting cleaned up.'

As the doorbell rings, Mulder's feeling like a porter or servant in his own home because he's been moving baby bags and suitcases to guest rooms, children away from dangerous areas, extra chairs to the dining room, and snow away from road since the crack of dawn. Still, he doesn't begrudge his wife relaxing, since she's also been awake preparing the damn turkey, doing last-minute cleaning, as well as feeding and dressing the kids. ::Maybe we could train the ghosts to clean up,:: he thinks facetiously, ::it's not they can't make themselves useful::. He may regret the last-minute ghost-hunting, but he sure doesn't regret the reason why he and his wife are still awake... ::We should do that more often,:: he muses, moving a fast-crawling Matthew out of the way.

Already Bill junior's dictating which football game to watch (which reminds Mulder to bug the Gunmen about installing multi-channel views on their TV for such a time as this), Maggie Scully and Tara are working wonders in the kitchen, and Charlie and his wife Elaine are laughing with Scully as they keep an eye on the seemingly hundreds of kids (okay, just his and Scully's kids, plus Charlie's son Brandon and Bill junior's son Matthew) tearing the house with new toys that all seem to be attached to some battery-operated noisemaker. Mulder's surprised that Charlie and his family beat Melissa, especially since Charlie lives clear across the country in Seattle now. Bet that's Melissa and Emily now, he thinks as the doorbell keeps ringing, his long legs taking him to the door.

"Hey, Melis--," his voice trails off when he sees who's been ringing the doorbell with his red-headed sister-in-law and her blonde daughter. "Ah. This is gonna be fun."

"Fox," Melissa says warningly, her eyes sliding to the man at her left, but Mulder puts his hands up briefly with a grin before squatting down.

"Hey, Emily," he says, hugging the little girl, "go say hi to all your cousins." As she runs inside, nearly bowling over her bigger cousin Brandon in the process, Mulder stands and says in a loud voice, "Melissa's here!"

The extended Scully clan pile into the lobby with welcoming smiles on their faces. The smiles are soon replaced by shock, surprise, and confusion.

"WHAT THE HELL???" Scully shouts, stunned that her husband hasn't shot the bastard on sight.

"Who's this?" Charlie asks, confused.

His answer comes quickly enough when his shorter sister pulls out a gun and trains it on the newcomer. "Alex Krycek." She grimaces, and is joined by her older brother Bill with similar expression and weapon.

"Tara, Elaine, take the kids upstairs," Maggie Scully tells the women, and they do so in a daze. When they're gone, she snaps, "Dana, Bill, put those guns away!" As they do so, reluctantly, her dark eyes turn towards her eldest daughter. "Melissa, I hope you have an explanation for this."

"Mom, this is Alex," Melissa says in a deliberately calm voice. Mulder notes in a disjointed fashion that it's the same tone she used back when she wanted him to visit Scully who was at death's door back from an abduction in the other universe. Weird. "Alex, this is my mother, you know my sister Dana, my brothers Bill and Charlie, and you know Fox," she points them out briefly.

Scully looks unamused. "Melissa, are you nuts?" she says succinctly. "He's on the FBI's most wanted list, for heaven's sake!"

"I am as sane as you are," her older sister replies, "and we're freezing to death out here. Can we come inside, or are you going to throw us out on Christmas?"

Scully looks about to answer in the latter, when her husband surprises her. "It's Christmas," he says, stepping around them to close the door behind them. "You want I should check him for weapons or something?"

"Yes," his little-but-fierce wife replies.

Sighing, Mulder drones, "Please assume the position, this is just a precautionary measure, since I really don't wanna call the cops in this early in the day."

As he pats down the one-armed man, he hears Mrs. Scully murmur, "Since when did you carry a gun, Bill?"

Bill junior's saved from answering when Mulder pats the guest on the back. "I'm guessing the nicely-wrapped box in your jacket's a present, huh?"

Before Krycek can answer, the eldest Scully son hisses at his younger sister. "It's just like you, Missy," Bill junior says, his eyes squinting at the man who's been figuratively tarred and feathered the few times he's been mentioned. "Always attracting the wrong kinds of guys, but this time." He shakes his head. "This time you picked a real asshole." It looks like he doesn't trust the pretty boy in the black leather jacket as far as he can throw him, and it's clear he's about ready to throw him in a heartbeat.

Mulder feels obscurely better that Bill's picking on someone other than him, but in a way, it only makes him perversely more sympathetic to the devil. Damn. Melissa takes Krycek's real hand firmly in hers, "I knew you'd be like this. That's why we haven't exactly broadcast our relationship." She looks at Krycek, who, amazingly enough, hasn't said a word since showing up. Whether it's because he's about to throw up or wisely doesn't want to say anything to piss anyone off after the gun show, Mulder's not sure. "I don't expect you to understand, but we're a family. Deal with it."

"You're married?" Maggie asks, surprised.

"No, but he is the father of my child, and we love each other," Melissa says, turning to face her mother. "That's all that matters."

Bullheadedness must be genetic, Mulder thinks, as his wife and Bill junior set their mouths. Mrs. Scully's mouth droops a little when she sees no evidence there will ever be rings on those left hands, but there's something in her eyes he doesn't quite trust, only because he's seen it before when Scully was pregnant with William. Scary.

Then Maggie's hands shoot out, and Krycek automatically tenses until he sees she's grabbed his false hand. Her eyebrows go up slightly, but her voice is firm as she says, "Merry Christmas, Alex."

The fact that the look on his face suggests otherwise nearly sends Mulder into a fit of incongruous laughter. "Merry Christmas," he says in a rough voice, and disengages his real hand from Melissa's to dig out a small gift box. "This is for you."

"How sweet," Maggie Scully says, and pockets it with a small smile, much to the chagrin of her eldest son and youngest daughter. "Come inside."

It seems a truce of sorts has been brokered, and Charlie steps forward, a slight smile on his face. "Welcome to the drama," he tells Krycek, then hugs his sister. "Long time no see, Missy."

"Yeah." Melissa relaxes into her younger brother's embrace.

"Wow, this is one of the most exciting Christmases we've had in a while." Charlie grins. "I should come more often."

"Last Christmas was pretty interesting, too," Bill says, glancing at Mulder and Scully. "That's when Emily joined the family." He isn't surprised to see Scully storm off into the kitchen, followed by their mother.

His younger brother frowns and nods. "Oh yeah, I remember Mom saying something about that." Then he looks at Krycek. "Hey, you wanna beer?"

"Charlie." Bill turns on him.

The younger man shrugs. "Hey, if he goes psycho, there's two FBI agents, a Naval officer and a black belt in the house."

"Elaine's a black belt?" Mulder blinks.

Charlie laughs. "Naw, man, me. You gotta let go of your preconceptions about Asians, man." He claps the other man on the arm.

Krycek finally cracks a smile that seems genuine. "I'd like a beer," he says.

Melissa squeezes his real hand, and Charlie smiles at the man responsible for a great many atrocities in both of Mulder's universes. "Sure thing," the tall redhead nods, and lopes over to the kitchen.

Bill glances at Mulder, then glares at Krycek. "I've got my eye on you," he says, heading into the living room.

"Unless the Huskies starts kicking ass in the third quarter," Mulder notes in an undertone, "the Falcons are gonna keep his attention."

The redhead frowns. "I don't know why you're rooting for the Air Force," Melissa says as she walks into the living room, "if you're a Navy man."

"Because Oregon versus Colorado is boring," Bill replies, his eyes on the screen.

Mulder blinks. "She's into football?"

Krycek shrugs, but looks at the mother of his child with new appreciation. "Who knew?"

Charlie, in his wisdom, brought back beer for everyone. "Knew what?" he asks before knocking back his own bottle.

"That it must be great to be in Hawaii," Mulder notes, "two bowls in the same state on the same day."

"I was thinking of the warm weather, but that works, too," Charlie says.

"Melissa," Krycek says, sitting next to her and away from Bill, "I never thought you'd be into football."

She smiles briefly. "I'm not. But it was a great way to talk to my dad, back when he was alive and apoplectic over the referees."

"You know," Mulder notes when his wife and Maggie join them, "this is definitely weirder than last Christmas."

And the weirdness continues when the Scully women start yelling louder than the men over various calls, turnovers, and fumbles.

And for the most part, the rest of the day goes by in a seemingly peaceful fashion, until lunchtime, when Maggie Scully goes upstairs to retrieve Tara, Elaine and the children. It's as if Maggie's leaving them allows them to drop their masks and behave and speak exactly as they feel, which is less than full of Christmas charity and cheer.

"Look, just because it's Christmas doesn't mean I've got my head up my ass," Bill mutters mutinously to Melissa.

"Just because you're the oldest doesn't mean you have to act like an ass," Melissa shoots back.

"Uh-oh," Mulder sighs, making sure there's no sharp or heavy objects within reach of either.

"I can't believe you're actually putting up with that man," Scully hisses at her husband. In spite of her enthusiasm over the game, she's been shooting dagger-like glances at their unwelcome guest ever since he's been there and she isn't about to let up now.

"Not now," Mulder murmurs as Bill and Melissa's discussion grows more heated.

"Yes, now! Mulder!" Scully snaps angrily. "I can't believe you of all people would allow that snake in here!"

"Since when does your stupid mistake have to be ours, too?" Bill demands.

Melissa's eyes are lit with an unholy anger. "Since when did wanting to have a merry Christmas be a mistake? Or do I have to have everything rubber stamped by you?"

"Hey, someone has to be the responsible one around here," the eldest Scully huffs, "and it sure isn't Ditzy Missy."

"Call me that again and you'll have turkey stuffing up your ass," Melissa snaps.

Krycek laughs, and now Bill turns on him. "Oh, you think that's funny, pretty boy? We'll see who's laughing when they haul your ass away to the gulag. Oh yeah," he smirks as the double agent's eyes widen, "I heard about that. I'll bet Mama Russia can't wait to tear off that other arm."

"Will you stop acting like children and behave?" Maggie Scully has come down the stairs, unnoticed, followed by her grandchildren and daughters-in-law. "No offense," she tells her grandchildren, who don't notice the apology but only how red the Scully kids' faces have become in various shades of anger and embarrassment.

"Mommy, how come everyone's yelling?" Page asks.

It takes everything she has not to pull out her gun again and unload half a clip into her husband and the other half into that traitor Krycek. "Everything's fine, honey," Scully lies through her teeth.

"Yeah," Bill mutters, "just peachy." His glare, matched by his sister's, is aimed at Krycek, however, which doesn't go unnoticed.

"Daddy?" Emily quavers, wondering why everyone's mad at him.

Krycek's eyes look at no one but his daughter's. He bends down and she runs into his open arms, and he holds on to her like there's no one else in the world. "It's okay, baby," he tells her, looking at the floor. For the first time in his life, he regrets being the kind of man he is, if only to spare his daughter this kind of shitty family drama.

"Are you happy now?" Melissa glares back at her two tense siblings.

"Melissa," Maggie Scully attempts to soothe her eldest daughter vocally, but nobody else is cooperating.

"Yes, fine!" Scully declares, not looking at either her mother nor her niece.

Bill echoes, "Fine!"

"Then, fine!" Melissa retorts.

"Fine!" a new voice shouts.

"Fine!" Scully repeats, then spins around. Her mouth drops when she realizes who just spoke.

"Fine!" April repeats, sounding almost exactly like her mother in a higher octave.

Scully sweeps down and embraces her little girl, her anger temporarily shelved. "Sweetie, say it again!"

"Fine!" the little girl shouts, then wonders why everyone is laughing. It's not a bad word, and she's heard them all.

"You know, I'm all for the weird and stuff," Mulder says when everyone is either gone or asleep and he and his wife are finally snuggled in bed with visions of the day's surreality still in their heads, "but I'd settle for normal Christmases from now on."

Scully gives him a wry smile. "How do you define normal?"

He groans. "Maybe one in which your mostly-enemy doesn't show up at your doorstep with your sister-in-law and niece." Then he pauses. "Although hearing your youngest daughter speak for the first time is pretty cool, and hopefully normal, too."

She smiles a little. "Yeah," she agrees, then frowns. "Although I wonder if it's normal for her to be echoing people rather than speaking on her own."

"I think she just has to get used to vocalizing," Mulder says, "she's spent most of her conscious life signing. Besides, she's the only one in the family, not including Krycek, who can actually carry a tune."

"I can't believe we didn't arrest him," Scully agrees, laying her head on his chest.

He runs a hand through her hair. "Yeah, well, Melissa would've killed us if we did." He smiles a little as she snorts. "You know why we couldn't arrest him."

She sighs, then flattens her mouth. "Emily."


Scully rolls her head so that her eyes are looking disconcertingly directly into his. "Even though we just lived it, I can't believe we actually watched a football game, had lunch and dinner, and sang songs with that man. I mean, he seemed so," she frowns and says, "*normal*."

"That's what they all say until he starts wearing a bunny suit," Mulder says.

She blinks. "What?"

"The generic definition is that a crazy person will go on a shooting rampage with just a gun," her husband says in a dry tone she's come to learn will lead to a bad punchline, "while a psychotic will go on a shooting rampage wearing a bunny suit."

Scully frowns thoughtfully as if it makes sense. "I think I've heard it with the psycho holding a teddy bear, but yeah. Although I could see you holding the bear, but not Krycek."

"Why not?" He pouts.

"Because Krycek lets Emily play with her toys, while you mess around with the kids' toys more than they do," she says archly. "You'd probably wear the bunny suit if it fit."

"That does it," he says, "no more dressing up for trick-or-treating."

She snorts again, but this time it leads to a fit of almost loopy-sounding giggles. "Mulder," she wheezes while gasping for breath, "you jerk."

He smiles before kissing her forehead. "I'm not a jerk," he answers, "I'm a teddy bear-holding, bunny suit-wearing, alien-chasing gun nut."

Scully grabs a pillow and smothers her guffaws into it before she wakes the kids and any other unfortunate soul. Then she lightly pounds her laughing husband's chest before they both subside into some well-deserved, long-delayed sleep.

Chapter Seventy

Late January or early February 1999

Just because we're family doesn't make that guy any less of a jerk, Mulder thinks, as he and several other men play basketball on an indoor court.

Playing b-ball these past few days helps him figure out what to do about Cassandra Spender while on shit detail, and whether or not doing anything different would help anyone in the long run. Even as sweat is soaking his torn Knicks sweatshirt and sweatpants, Mulder's inner conflict doesn't prevent him from making a basket, and grins when he sees Scully, dressed in a shorter-than-usual business suit and trenchcoat, walk in. Damn, she just walks, she scores, he thinks, tossing the ball over his shoulder to a teammate, then spins around and catches it, then casually shoots the ball and makes the basket. Smirking at his wife, he calls out, "Game."

His darker teammate shakes his hand, not buying it. "Oh, no, no. Aw, it don't work like that."

Mulder's mind is off the b-ball game and on to the more intriguing X-File as he joins Scully at the side of the court. "Hey, Homegirl, word up."

She raises an eyebrow at the colloquialism and his recent moves. "Mulder it's my distinct impression that you just cheated. And that you're not coming in again today."

He plays it off, knowing his beloved heavenly wife will never buy any line of bull he pushes and loves her the more for it. "Oh, Scully, I got game."

She tries to hold on to the righteous indignation that brought her here in the first place, but only manages to control the expression on her face if not her heart. "Yeah, you got so much game I'm wondering if you have any work left in you."

He shrugs, and decides to push her buttons further. "No, I'm ready to J-O-B just not on some jagoff shoeshine tip."

As before, a reluctant smile tugs at the corners of her lips. "No 'jagoff shoeshine tip'?" she repeats.

He grins back. "No background checkin' jagoff shoeshine tip."

She shakes her head, allowing the smile to spread, even as she crosses her arms under her breasts, the well-tailored suit cut to emphasize her best assets. Just because she's on the job doesn't mean she can't have fun with her husband, she thinks, and watches as her unpredictable partner's eyes predictably goes down to her chest. "Well, about your J-O-B, Mulder," she stresses his name, making him look up to her face, "somebody's been trying very hard to reach you by phone. Somebody who wants you back at the FBI ASAP."

He blinks, knowing what she's about to bring up, even as he still enjoys the vision of his wife just barely this side of proper with her boobs propped up by her crossed arms. "About what?"

"About an X-File," she smirks, knowing he'll probably get more excited over that piece of news than her piece of ass. Maybe.

FBI Headquarters
Washington, DC.

Hello, hello, little bro, Mulder thinks as he comes across Spender sitting at Mulder's bullpen desk writing a note. He'd debated inwardly about showing up in his torn and sweaty Knicks outfit, but figured he'd save that battle for another day. "You looking for work, Agent Spender? 'Cause if you are, I got a whole pile in that middle drawer that I'd love to shove down someone's throat," he vents cheerfully.

"I was just writing you a note," Spender says tersely. "I think you know why I'm here."

Will you never get that stick out your ass? Mulder wonders. "They found your mother," he says aloud.

"She wants to talk to you," the younger agent says, as if trying out something distasteful.

Oh well, since I'll never get to hang with Samantha, pissing off a half-brother is almost as good. "I didn't hear the magic word."

To his surprise, the young man snaps way early than expected. "Look, forget it, okay? My mother's been gone for almost a year. She turns up in a train car where she's been operated on by a group of doctors who were burned alive, and the only person she wants to talk to isn't me, it's you, okay?" He crumples up the note and tosses it backward, the paper ball landing neatly in the wastebasket, but he doesn't notice or care. "I just want the truth, which is what I thought you wanted, too."

Okay, playtime's over, Mulder thinks sadly, time for all of us to grow up. "The truth is out there, Agent Spender. Maybe you should find it for yourself." He merely watches as the other agent shoots him a "fuck you" glare before pulling a file from his jacket and throwing it on the desk, then storming off. He sits down heavily in his chair, waiting until he hears the click-clack of his wife's impossibly high heels sounding in the hallway to open the file full of charbroiled scientist photos.

Later, Mulder and Scully, due to Scully's prompting, sneak into the hospital. As before, Scully is surprised at Cassandra's sudden self-mobility, but gets her to see Mulder hidden in a storage space. "Agent Mulder?" she calls out.

Mulder steps out from his hiding place with a finger to his lips. "Shhh. Shhhh."

"Oh, my god," she laughs, holding her stomach. "To think you'd be hiding in the closet like a little boy for me."

"As long as it's not like a little girl, I can handle it," Mulder says with a nervous chuckle. "When she hugs him, he smiles, wondering why everyone else's mom gives great hugs except his own. When they pull apart, he grins. "Wow, look at you."

Cassandra Spender's smile has gone from merely bright to freakin' incandescent as she does a slight curtsy at her now-strong legs. "I told you about their power." She turns her smile to Scully. "You said you didn't believe it." As Scully flushes slightly, the elder woman turns back to Mulder. "You wondered whether you'd ever see her again, weren't you? Your sister."

Scully's mouth drops. "How do you know about his...?" Her voice trails off when she realizes that seemingly everyone and their uncle knows about Mulder's sister's supposed alien abduction. Her eyes widen when Cassandra Spender lights up a cigarette, and wonders exactly how healthy this once-crippled woman is.

"She's out there, with them. The aliens," Cassandra says matter-of-factly.

Scully's still trying to wrap her mind around the fact that this smoking woman standing before them is the same one who was in such ill-health the last they saw her that she was in a wheelchair. "Cassandra, you were found in a train car. You'd been operated on by doctors."

The blonde woman nods quickly, still puffing away on the cigarette. "Yes, that's right."

The redhead can feel her eyebrows nearly reach the crown of her hair. "And these are the doctors who cured you?"

"No," Cassandra corrects her, "the aliens cured me. The doctors were working with the aliens. That's what I wanted to tell you."

"What?" Mulder asks numbly, wishing he could sink through the floor and skip this part.

But it's no go, and the rest of the exposition goes merrily to hell as before. "I told you that the aliens were here to do good and that I was being used as an oracle to spread the word. Only now I know what the aliens are here for and it isn't good."

Part of him is detached, working out yet another angle on how to best save the mother of his half-brother and a sweet, if now-knowledgeable, pawn in the game the alien conspirators are playing. "What are they here for?"

"To wipe us off the planet," Cassandra says bluntly. "They're taking over the universe. They're infecting all other life-forms with a black substance called Purity. It's their life force. It's what they're made of."

"It's the virus -- the black oil," Mulder says dully.

Scully frowns at her husband before turning her worried glance on the older woman. "But, Cassandra, the doctors weren't infected. They were burned."

"By another race of aliens," Cassandra fills in. "A rebel force that are mutilating their faces so that they won't be infected. This is what I couldn't tell my son Jeffrey."

I hope I never have to be in a situation where me and my kids would be this separated as adults, Scully thinks. "Why couldn't you tell Jeffrey?"

Cassandra looks at her as if knowing her maternal fears. "Because he doesn't believe me... even though his life is in danger by these same rebel aliens."

"Spender's life's in danger?"

Mulder's not sure whether or not he should be insulted by what's turned into a summit of the moms. "He's in with the men that have been working with the alien colonists for 50 years."

"Working to do what?"

"Whatever it is they did to me... and what I'm sure they did to Samantha."

Mulder finally speaks up with the mention of his sister. "And you know who these men are?"

Cassandra sucks in another lungful of nicotine before answering bitterly, "Oh, sure. One of them's my ex-husband... Jeffrey's father."

In spite of the warm and fuzzy Christmas he spent with Agent Scully's family, or maybe because of it, Krycek's in a roomful of the world's slimiest American alien conspirators. He's never before believed in half the shit they've spouted, but when one of them starts talking about siding with the rebels, he speaks up. "It's an option you declined long ago. Resistance was futile then. Why would it be any less so now? That's why you voted against it-- against men like Bill Mulder," and he tastes the irony on his lips, considering the man's son allowed him to live at that not-quite-cosy family gathering. "Collaboration has allowed you to prepare... to stall colonization. I mean, how close are you to developing a human/alien hybrid? That alone ensures your survival." Or maybe he's talking too much. Dammit.

"As slave laborers for the aliens," the Second Elder scoffs at Krycek's defense of the various projects.

Something's wrong, the double agent thinks, could he know about Emily? "What about your vaccine?" he says aloud. "By collaborating, you bought yourself time to secretly develop a way to combat the aliens -- to fight the future."

It looks like Krycek's not the only one with a bullshit detector, and the Smoking Man snaps, "Alex, enough!" The older man looks at the Second Elder thoughtfully as he continues. "For fifty years, we've worked on this project -- fifty years since Roswell. We can't sacrifice ourselves for every new threat, can we now?" He sneers before puffing at his cigarette.

Even if the other old men don't realize it, Krycek realizes that the Second Elder is an imposter, and not one of the Alien Bounty Hunter-types. He's not sure whether he should be relieved or worried by that knowledge, but figures the Smoking Man's gonna take care of it. He always does.

If he wasn't living it, Mulder would swear he was in some kind of demented soap opera or "reality show", with global and intergalactic ramifications. First, he allows himself and Scully to not only get caught snooping around in their old X-Files office by Skinner, but also by his unwitting half-brother Spender. However, he doesn't realize what kind of hold their birth father still has over his half-brother after all these years, and Spender finds himself being physically and emotionally abused by the man he once called "Father."

Unfortunately, Spender doesn't see himself having any sort of weakness, and that, like his father, is his weakness. Unlike his father, however, he's not the retrospective type, so he doesn't see his Achilles heel as clearly as others do. So he waits on a street corner, his jaw working tensely while he believes in his father more than he does his helpless but beloved mother. He watches as a car pulls up and his father steps out, lighting an ubiquitous cigarette. "I waited, like you asked," he says simply.

"Good," the Smoking Man says after a quick puff. "I'm pleased. I was doubtful after our last meeting."

In a way, he almost envies his father for his habit, which allows the older man to fidget, albeit in a seemingly calm fashion. "You have a new job for me?" he asks.

"Yes," his father says through a small cloud of smoke. "I may have been unduly harsh. You deserve a fighting chance to prove your father wrong." He hands Spender a cylindrical palm sized metal object that looks vaguely like either like a futuristic flashlight or a dental tool of pain.

Spender squints at the object. "What is it?" he wonders aloud, hoping it's not his father's idea of a practical joke.

"A weapon," the Smoking Man says in his almost delicate manner. He smiles slightly when his son starts from the sudden stiletto appearance. "A man has infiltrated the group that I work with. That's to kill him."

Most people use a gun, the younger man frowns. "I don't understand." And why am I killing some random stranger?

"He's pretending to be a member of our group disguising himself as a man he's already killed. You will greet him as that man. Engage him in conversation. Then put that in the back of his neck." He holds the car door open. "You can do it, Jeffrey."

Numbly, Spender gets into the back seat of the car, the strange weapon still in hand. He doesn't notice the driver until he says, "Watch where you point that." Startled, the agent retracts the pick and the driver, who looks to be about his age, drives off. No words are spoken as they go, and Spender wonders how often this sort of thing happens. It's possible that the shifty-eyed character driving has done this sort of thing before, too.

It's part of the job, deal with it, he thinks as they pull up to a quaint, almost old-fashioned mansion, the type that looks like a very fancy house compared to rock stars' homes these days. It's not really murder, he tells himself, I'm protecting my father. Over and over again, he feeds himself the excuse, but if he honestly believed his father to be as powerful and dangerous as advertised, he would have more than second thoughts about this whole thing.

Even as he goes through the motions of the polite conversation and subservient messenger-like talk he's mentally rehearsed in the car, a part of him can't believe that this kindly old man before him is supposed to be some ultra-bad enemy of his dad's. He's not sure why his father feels the old man should be assassinated - assassinated rather than merely character- assassinated, but he's not one to question a man of authority like his father. So he holds the folded card in his hand, half-hiding it like a bad magician. "Something I've been entrusted with. It's, uh, it's a name, actually -- one that will have meaning for you." Then he holds out the card, somewhat grateful it's not soggy with the massive sweat from his palm.

As the older man reaches for it, Spender drops the card like a klutz, and doesn't have to pretend to wince as the older man looks at him with disgust. "I'm sorry."

When the older man bends to retrieve it, Spender lunges at him with the strange stiletto-like weapon, but the old man sees it and grabs the agent's arm, effortlessly avoiding the attack. Desperately, as the old man throttles him, Spender scratches at the man's face, revealing the horrifyingly featureless face of something so beyond his ken that he has no words to describe it, that his body freezes involuntarily as his breath leaves him. Without warning, the faceless creature stiffens and falls to the floor as the driver stabs him in the back of the neck with the discarded weapon. Spender and the driver stare at each other for a moment, one not sure what to say, and the other debating whether he should leave right now.

In the meantime, bubbling green fluid oozes out of the creatures neck, and Spender is sure his own face is green as the world reels around him.

Meanwhile, back at the haunted house, Mulder opens the door for the first of many visitors, welcome and not, he knows will be entering his home. "Thanks for coming," the black sheep agent says quietly. "I know it's late and you've been forbidden to have any contact with us."

As their stern boss enters the hallway, he sees Scully feeding David and Jared with the help of an ingenious sling. "You say Cassandra Spender's life is in danger," Skinner says without preamble.

Mulder blinks affirmatively. "Her life's been in danger going on 30 years... just not the way I think it is now."

The bald man looks from one agent to the other. "In danger from who?"

"Men who've conducted medical experiments in what began as a secret government project but what is now the most private global enterprise."

"Enterprising to do what?" Skinner frowns.

"To develop alien/human hybrids that will survive the viral apocalypse when aliens colonize the earth," Mulder says, not surprised that his wife still has a hard time believing all this, even after seeing Agent Fowley's condition, after all these years on the X-Files. Then again, not having experienced a lot of the pain firsthand might also have something to do with her prolonged skepticism.

Skinner also looks doubtful, and with good reason. He's got more to lose. "And I suppose you have proof of this?"

Mulder nods briefly. "Files that Agent Scully dug up that make all the right connections to Dr. Eugene Openshaw to my sister, to my father... to Agent Spender's father."

Their boss shakes his head. "Agent Spender's father?"

"The Smoking Man."

It's obvious it's the last connection he would've made. "What?!"

"Shhh," Scully says in a low tone, rocking her babies lightly. "It's true, sir. We have documented evidence."

Skinner gives her his version of Scully-Eyebrow-Raising. "Then you believe this, Agent Scully? This whole account?"

As Scully sucks in her breath, Mulder steps in. "I know that Agent Scully has her doubts about the purposes of these experiments but I also know that she believes Agent Fowley was a test subject when she was abducted last year."

"If Cassandra Spender's life was in danger, why not Scully's?" their boss asks reasonably.

"Because I believe Cassandra Spender represents the final stages of these experiments -- that she may very well be the first successful alien/human hybrid."

Skinner inhales sharply, then squints at his wayward agent. "What I don't understand is if she was a success, then why is her life threatened?"

Mulder pauses. "Because... the men who created her would rather kill her than let her expose the enterprise."

"She's under 24-hour guard," Skinner protests.

"Assigned by Agent Spender?" Scully asks, looking from her husband to her boss.

Skinner frowns, then turns on his heel with a brief, "Excuse me," and leaves as suddenly as he came. As the door closes shut, Mulder says, "Got everything?"

Scully nods. "You really think...?" her voice trails off.

He nods back. "Call your mom."

Meanwhile, Krycek has decided to stick with the kid, but is drawing the line at holding a bucket under his face. They're still at the deceased Elder's home, with the alien rebel taking its sweet time to just up and dissolve.

The kid, he has to remind himself, is the Smoking Man's son. Who knows what he'll report back to Daddy Dearest? With that, he shoves the car keys back into his pocket and rejoins Spender, who's still staring at the dead alien's body looking ready to puke or cry. "You've never seen one before, have you?" The kid shakes his head. "It's shocking at first," he nods, going on in the same tone of voice he reserves for Emily, practical but personal, "the acceptance of the idea, it's... It's something you thought only children and fools believed in. It undermines your beliefs -- in yourself, in the world... but then you come to understand."

"Understand what?"

With that question, Krycek feels about as old as the Smoking Man himself, who obviously didn't have the balls to tell his kid about basic truths in this world. Truths he'd have to tell Emily about someday, but relishes the future job as much as he does this present one -- not very damn much. "Well, the responsibility that this knowledge demands but the men who have it. The great sacrifice by great men like your father."

The kid squints up at him. "What sacrifice?"

"The sacrifice of your mother," Krycek says matter-of-factly, figuring his old man would've said something about that if he's sending the kid to do a job like this.

"What do you know about that?" the young man asks tersely.

Aw, shit. You stupid bastard, and he's not sure if he's cussing himself or the Smoking Man out. Slowly, he says, "Just that she's... been the subject of an experiment for 25 years."

The kid stares at him in horror. "My father's involved in that? Is he?"

Krycek always thought of himself as a Smoking Man in the making, but now, with a child of his own, he realizes he's much more like Bill Mulder than he'd care to admit. I hope Emily never looks at me like that, he thinks, even as he knows she probably will unless she's got even less morals than her father. "Your father directs the experiments."

It's not very often he gets to see a world crumble, change, so utterly for a person outside of war and poverty that Krycek at first merely thinks the younger man's a little slow on the uptake. "So... I'm protecting her now so the experiments can continue?"

Duh, the double agent almost says, but decides to change this guy's future. Nobody's gonna be the next Smoking Man, Krycek realizes, not his son, not Mulder, and certainly not me. The world's not strong enough for more than one bastard like that. "That's why he put you on the X-Files," he says in a cajoling tone. "That's why your father sent you here tonight. You're protecting the project, Jeff. Making the sacrifices. So that you can be a great man, too."

As expected, the young man suddenly grows a pair and stands quickly, his own queasiness at the dead body forgotten. "I'll be my own great man," he snaps before storming out of a house containing a dead alien and a live double agent.

Krycek smirks, but the expression fades when he realizes he's got to cover his own ass. Cracking his neck, he yawns, then reaches into his pocket for the car keys. He knows his next destination, as he knows Spender's. "Good luck," he says to the empty air, then pulls an aerosol can from his jacket filled with chemicals to speed the alien's decay process. Not that Baltimore PD ever knows what to do with the shit they find anyway, but why make it easier for them?

There is no easy way out, Mulder thinks as the loud pounding on the front door startles the kids, but I'll do my best. He bends down and checks the peephole, then opens the door for a very frightened and breathless Cassandra Spender. "Put this on," Mulder says tersely, shutting the door behind them and handing her a bag.

For some reason, she isn't surprised to find the lights are off, with the nightlights being the only illumination. Still, something bothers her. "What?" The older woman blinks at them, wondering why even the small children are up at such a late hour.

"I can't believe she found us," Scully mutters, even as a squeal of wheels screeches in the driveway. She swallows her disbelief, however, as she knows time is precious, and adjusts the dark wig on the older woman's head. Cassandra Spender, however, casts a terrified glance at the door when there's a loud series of raps. "Oh, Agent Scully, Agent Mulder you cannot let them find me." Her mouth drops open and her eyes are wide when Mulder peeks again, then opens the door. "No, please!" Her frightened entreaties serve to scare the children, and she starts to run towards an exit, any exit.

"Cassandra, it's okay," Scully tells her, blocking, then holding the scared woman. "He's a friend."

"Take her to this address," Mulder tells Frohike, who shoots the bewigged woman a curious glance before nodding.

"Come on, kiddoes, Uncle Frohike's gonna take you on a little adventure," the shortest Gunman says, and Page, Sammy and April join him as he hauls the twin boys' carrier to his chest. "Ma'am, if you could grab that baby bag, we'll be off."

Cassandra shoots Scully a worried glance, but the redhead smiles, puts the bag in her hands, and says, "Take care of the kids, Mom."

Quickly, the older woman nods, and the strange group hauls ass into the waiting VW. Scully waves, and a couple of small hands wave back, as if it's completely normal for her kids to be driven off in the middle of the night. Then again, she's fairly sure her neighbors have noted their odd hours, which is exactly what they're counting on. "Please," she breathes into the cold night, not knowing exactly what to pray, but staring as the van disappears out of sight, "please."

"Your mom's got them," Mulder says in a carrying voice, "get inside before you catch cold."

Reluctantly, Scully nods, hoping that Mulder's plan works, and that nothing bad will happen to her kids or Cassandra. Please, she prays again, holding her husband's hand.

As soon as the door locks shut, they hold each other, one knowing exactly what's at stake, the other with a vague but troubling notion that despite the seemingly easy exit, things are going to get a lot worse.

The sudden pounding at the door startles Scully, and her fearful expression is not lost on Mulder. He nods, and they slowly reach for their weapons as the pounding continues, getting improbably louder. How many thugs do they have working for the CDC? Mulder wonders facetiously, then smiles appreciatively as his wife jerks her head and they take their positions silently with guns drawn. Now it sounds less like knocking and more like someone is breaking the door down, which pisses his wife to no end. There will be blood tonight! he grins inwardly, quoting one of his newfound favorite movies.

"Is it me," Scully asks, "or is it getting cold in here?" Her large eyes squint, and she can almost see the very things she tells her husband she doesn't believe in.

Mulder's eyes widen. The ghost kids. Oops. "It's okay," he tells their not-quite-dead hosts, "the kids are okay, and we will be, too. It's gonna be okay."

Somewhat mollified, they disappear, but it's still pretty damn cold, as if they left the thermostat off. "Mulder!" Scully shouts, and resumes her FBI-approved firing stance. He does the same, and she smiles grimly as the much-abused door flies into the dark hallway.

Chapter Seventy-One

February 1999

That night, Mulder is writing in his journal, unable to talk to his wife about what happened that morning. "Two men, young, idealistic -- the fine product of a generation hardened by world war. Two fathers whose paths would converge in a new battle -- an invisible war between a silent enemy and a sleeping giant on a scale to dwarf all historical conflicts. A 50-years war, its killing fields lying in wait for the inevitable global holocaust." For some reason, he thinks of the black and white photo of his father and the Cigarette Smoking Man, a photo he was going to ask his father about but never got a chance. But for his father's sake, as well as his family's, he's loathe to talk to the man so soon. Disconsolately, he munches on a handful of sunflower seeds as his wife lies beside him, snoring softly.

Earlier, however, there wasn't much time for rumination. "Mulder!" Scully screams as perfect strangers threaten to knock down their door. For some reason, she wishes Mulder hadn't shooed the ghosts away, it would be nice to have some kind of backup. What am I thinking, she thinks in the growing shock as the pounding gets louder, I don't believe in ghosts, conveniently forgetting her Christmas Eve encounter of the apparition kind.

When the door goes flying through the hallway, she and her husband throw themselves at opposite ends of the entryway, she going left and he going right. "Scul-lay!" he shouts as people in biohazard suits swarm through the opening, looking for all the world like alien invaders from a B-movie, hosing down a perfectly clean hallway and lobby with water and God knows what else. His anger rising up in his throat, he rushes to his wife, who's been knocked down by the force of the water, and helps her up. "Who are you!" he yells, more out of rage than curiosity.

Of course, the CDC are helpful as always. "Get down! Get down!"

"What's going on?!" Scully stares in bedraggled indignation, trying to determine whether this is a bad joke or a serious threat in the confusion. She wishes she hadn't lost her weapon in the initial breach, and realizes her husband is similarly disarmed. Dammit.

"Get on the ground! Get on the ground!" the same anonymous-suited man shouts.

Mulder's just about ready to reach for his gun, government agent or no. "Who are you?!"

The loud guy in the suit and helmet kicks him helpfully in the back, forcing Mulder to slip and land ungracefully on the hard floor. "Drop down! Drop! Drop!"

Even as Scully slowly lowers herself down, her eyes are glaring daggers at the intruders. And as they blast the couple again with the hoses, the daggers in her eyes morph into laser beams. How dare they, her entire body language shouts, I'm gonna eviscerate each and every single one. Mulder notes with some amusement that once the hosers are done, they scurry away as quickly as they can, one of them even vainly trying to replace and seal the doorway. Her voice shaking with rage, Scully asks, "Who are you?!"

The yelling man finally replies, once satisfied that they look as helpless as wet cats, "We're with the Centers for Disease Control. Remain calm and where you are for your own good. You're gonna be transported to a quarantine facility as soon as we can secure the environment."

The redhead scowls. "Quarantine for what?"

Another person steps forward, and this time, they see a woman's face through the faceplate of the biohazard suit. "A contagion," Agent Fowley replies, "A contagion of unknown origin."

During the journey, neither agent speaks to each other, a mixture of rage at their captors and fear for their children largely playing a part in that move. As they take their showers, they don't shoot covert glances at each other like they did last time, but instead silently hold hands over the short divide once the water stops. They're quickly shooed out and dressed in medical scrubs, brusquely checked by technicians for radioactivity. He and Scully finally voice their concerns and theories about where they are, and then a pair of doctors, male for Mulder and female for Scully, enter with kits and begin the process of checking them out all over again.

The bitch is back, Mulder thinks sullenly as his ex walks into the room. Almost immediately, his wife sits up straight and her jaw is working. Knew you wouldn't let me down, Scully.He grins inside. "I'm going to beg for your understanding and forgiveness and offer my humblest apologies for the way this went down," the tall brunette says, obviously not meaning a single glib word she's saying. "I didn't have a lot of choices. I owe your neighbors apologies as well. It's going to be some time before they're allowed back into their homes. We're still acting on a CDC Level Four quarantine protocol."

Scully frowns. "Based on what information?"

Agent Fowley looks mildly constipated, or maybe that's a look common to those who have no business in the X-Files. "That Cassandra Spender had contracted a highly contagious vectoring organism which produces a spontaneous cellular breakdown and combustion."

His wife, however, is less astounded at the other woman's expression than her words. "What?"

Calmly, as if teaching a mentally disabled child, the perfectly dressed and coiffed agent says, "She was and remains the only surviving victim of an unspecified medical experiment that killed seven doctors with violent and unexplained burning."

"Who called you?" Mulder asks, and now the agent turns large, hungry eyes on him. Yikes.

"Agent Spender," she says without any of the venom she used on his wife. "What I want to know is, where's Cassandra?"

Scully cuts her off at the pass. "Cassandra Spender was in a general hospital environment for days," she says, as arrogantly as a doctor to a stranger off the street. "We met with her, as well as Agent Spender, with no contamination protocol enacted, and yet on a whim you call in the third battalion. It's unjustified and highly suspicious as to motive."

Fowley raises her eyebrows slightly. "What motives are you suspecting?"

"Your attack on our home, when Cassandra obviously wasn't there." Scully raises her own eyebrow, but only slightly, as if the other woman didn't even rate a full skeptical expression.

"She's Patient Zero," Fowley says, nettled.

Now Scully's fine features go from mild doubt to utter disbelief. "No one is sick or infected here. I mean, I assume that based on you walking in here, dressed to the nines, offering apologies masquerading as explanations."

"Scully..." In the back of his mind, Mulder wants to see what a full-blown catfight between these two would look like, but it probably wouldn't be anything like the porn he used to have. Darn.

"Mulder," she says and turns to him, exasperated, "we're not the guilty parties here, and yet we're being treated as such. I'm just thankful Mom has the kids for the weekend so they didn't have to go through such groundless harassment."

Fowley looks uncomfortable at the mention of the children. "I believe they've had contact with Patient Zero, so we need to--"

"Touch our children and you're a dead woman," Scully hisses. "I don't care if I have to call the CDC, the ACLU, or the president himself, but you are not coming anywhere near them." Then her eyes glint, and Mulder doesn't like the looks of this. "Besides, you yourself was infected with, how did you put it, 'a highly contagious vectoring organism which produces a spontaneous cellular breakdown and combustion.' I'm surprised I'm not inspecting you rather than the other way around."

"I've been cleared of the contagion," Fowley says stiffly. "Cassandra's the one causing the danger."

"Perhaps," Scully says, and one could almost hear the knives sharpening against the grindstone, "but I've seen Cassandra's recent records and can testify to her health, whereas I haven't seen any of your records. In case you forgot, I am a medical doctor."

The tall brunette pauses. "And in case you forgot, a doctor who is suspended indefinitely from her position at the FBI."

Scully angrily pulls the blood pressure cuff from her arm and strides out of the room. Mulder gives the dark-haired woman a pitying glance, and walks out calmly. Fowley stares at the doorway, dismayed, her mouth turning into a thin line.

Scully sighs deeply when she opens a locker and removes a plain gray dress. Wrinkling her nose, she puts it back in the locker. She casts a forlorn look at her husband as he opens his own locker. "They've burned our clothes."

Mulder pulls out a suit jacket and grimaces. At least the last time, the suit looked decent, even if it was small. "I'm sure there's a mental patient missing his clothes right about now."

She folds her arms under her chest. "Mulder, are all your exes complete bitches or just the last two?"

He smirks. "Scully, please, tell me what you really think."

She inhales deeply before launching into her tirade, unconscious of the way his eyes have gone below her eye level. "Agent Spender calling the Centers for Disease Control? Mulder, this is just somebody using their position to stage a hi-tech government kidnapping."

Mulder shakes his head. "Apparently not. I just spoke to AD Skinner. He was at the hospital when Cassandra went missing. He heard Spender make the phone call to the CDC."

Scully smiles a little, finally noticing that in spite of his business-only content and tone, his eyes are squarely on her breasts. Cute, but later. "Eyes up here," she reminds him, and as he grins, she continues. "But she wasn't sick, Mulder. I mean, the remarkable thing is she was well."

Her husband, his eyes now on hers, asks, "Well, then why did she call us for help?"

She blinks, but recovers quickly in the next blink. "Because of everything that had been done to her -- because of the tests, because of the medical experiments and the implant put in her neck -- what nobody should have to go through. She just wants it to stop. And I'm telling you, they have taken her so that it can continue."

"No. It won't continue," he says quietly. "It doesn't have to anymore. She knows what she is, Scully. That's why it's so dangerous for her to be alive. That's why she wanted our help."

"What is she?" she stares at her husband. No longer does she think this is a bad prank, or an FBI reaming gone too far, but truly the threat he warned her about. She almost knows what he's going to say, but is oddly afraid to voice it herself.

His hazel eyes flicker, as if knowing what she's thinking. "I think she's the one, Scully."

Fort Marlene
Decontamination Facility
9:02 p.m.

One of these days, I'll manage to pull a James Bond and stash decent clothes somewhere, Mulder thinks. Even if it's just the second time since that "non-X-File" in Dallas (and elsewhere), it's one time too many to be squeezed into a badly-fitting suit that's tackier than the last. Fowley must be real pissed at me, he thinks, and sees a woman who appears to have gotten her hair the same place he got his clothes.

Who knows, maybe she'll take pity on me this time, and calls out, "Hello? Hello? Oh, oh, Ma'am." He's relieved when she turns, and he points, "These shoes? They're, they're two sizes too small. I was wondering if I could get a..." Again, however, he gets shafted, and pouts. "Get a fuckin' nurse who gave a shit, dammit!" Not that it'll win him any brownie points, but it felt good to get that off his chest.

Limping down the hall, he wonders again if he should help Marita out, but she turned out okay the last time around without his help, much better than his half-brother, at least. Down the hall, Mulder sees a woman in a hospital gown duck out of view, and he sighs. Dammit. He quickly shuffles after her, vowing to shove these shoes up a deserving party's ass. He enters a lab and looks around.

Even though he knows it's her, her hoarse voice from out of nowhere still startles him. "I can't be seen with you."

"Marita?" he frowns in the strange lighting.

Everything in the room is a sterile white, highlighted by the odd blue lighting, including the disturbingly unkempt Marita Covarrubias. "If they catch me with you, they'll kill me this time."

"What have they done to you?" he asks quietly.

She looks at him, her pale blue irises surrounded by bloody whites, and it still gives him the heebie-jeebies. "Tests," she says, holding herself and shivering, "terrible, terrible tests."

"Like the tests on Cassandra Spender?"

The formerly well-groomed UN assistant shakes her head nervously. "No. No, Cassandra Spender is part of a program that's been going on for 25 years. A hybrid program."

"Then what were the tests on you?" he asks, feeling guilty that he couldn't save her from this fate this second time around.

The ordeal, however, has served to make her more human, as well as more canny. Bitterly, she answers, "I was infected with the alien virus -- the black oil. My tests were on the vaccine against it," her odd eyes shifting, looking around corners, "being developed in secret."

"In secret from the alien colonists," Mulder continues, recalling the hell that dragged him from Dallas to DC to down in Antarctica. Sure, he got to see a UFO again, but at what cost? "The hybrid program was in cooperation with the aliens but the conspirators never intended to succeed... to finish the work."

The disheveled blonde nods her head, still shivering. "They were buying time."

"To make a vaccine and build a weapon."

For the first time, the source smiles, and it's the scariest thing he's seen since Scully's fury. "But Cassandra Spender happened."

He presses her, because she expects it, not because he needs to. "She's the first, isn't she? She's the first successful alien/human hybrid."

The smile slides from her face as if it never happened. "If she is," her eyes dart around, "and the aliens learn a hybrid exists... colonization of the planet will begin. With no stopping it." The eerie smile comes back to her face, however, when she adds, "But only if they find her first."

A steady, irritating chirping noise wakes the lone occupant in the X-Files office. It's been a long day, with nothing to show for it except an annoyed partner, two angry suspended (and decontaminated) agents, a suspicious supervisor, a traitorous father, and a missing mother. All that's been missing is a partridge in a pear tree, but since it's February, it doesn't matter. "Spender," the young agent rubs his eyes as he answers his phone. The brief nap, taken while still in his work suit, hasn't helped much.

"Jeffrey, it's me," a warm familiar voice says.

"Mom?" he asks, sitting up.

"Shhh," Cassandra Spender says. "I just wanted to let you know I'm okay. Just let me go, honey, and don't worry about me."

"Mom, where are you?" he asks, worry etched on his face as he flips on the desk lamp and fumbles for a pen and paper.

"I love you," is all she says.

"I love you, too, but where--?" He doesn't get the chance to finish repeating his question, for the connection is gone. Immediately, he digs around the immaculate desk, sending paperclips and pens flying, looking for a number. When he finds it, buried, in all places, a rolodex, he punches in the first two numbers, then stops, his brain finally catching up to him.

For now he realizes the paranoia his mother and Fox Mulder shares is based on fact, and that she took a big risk even calling him. His heart tells him he should call the surveillance people to track her last location, to find her and keep her safe, but his mind, the thing that's kept him out of the loony bin, tells him to save his own ass while he can. His mind's been telling him that for years, and so far, it's worked out.

He stares a long time at his cell phone, then makes the first of many calls, knowing he's playing a dangerous game against an opponent with years of experience in it. He's no Fox Mulder, and he's definitely no C.G.B. Spender, but then, he never wanted to be them. I'll be my own great man, he repeats to himself, his heart in his throat as he waits for his first call to connect to a private office in East 40th St., New York City.

With the help of the Lone Gunmen, both Scully and Mulder dig up the dirt on his "evil bitch ex", and he shakes his head. How the hell did I luck out with Scully? he wonders, not for the first time. Mulder has been debating his next moves as the Gunmen work their illegal mojo on various systems and securities, and decides he really doesn't want to see the Smoking Man or Fowley if he can help it.

Screw it, he thinks, remembering that the last time, he only went to Fowley's because he stupidly believed in her, thought she'd be more reasonable than Scully. And how did I mistake Scully's fervor and reason for simply jealousy? *She* was the one who had my best interests, as well as Cassandra's and dammit, the world's, and I was thinking of my own stupid pride. She was jealous, yeah, but that was only part of the motivation behind her actions. When it came down to it, it *was* a matter of faith, except I put it in the wrong person.

Scully, however, is slumped beside Langly and sighs, her expression not full of righteous indignation, but rather sorrow and pity. "I can't believe it," she sighs before sipping from a hastily-brewed cup of coffee.

"What, the part about Fowley's travel records being purged from her FBI records, or her trips to pretty much every European MUFON chapter collecting data on female abductees?" the blond man asks in his nasal twang.

She smiles wanly. "The fact that she did this after being Mulder's partner," she says, then turns to her husband. "How well did you say you knew her?"

Mulder's smile is just as sick. "Apparently not as well as I thought," he answers, thanking his lucky stars and that crazy Elsbeth again for allowing him to marry Scully this time around, rather than someone like, say, Diana. Then he shudders.

Now Scully smirks. "You think if we bring this information to Skinner, he'll reinstate us?"

Mulder blinks, then groans. "Maybe, but the kid, I mean, Spender, is still officially in charge of the X-Files, so we'd have to ask him first." Then he makes a face. "This is the guy who helped sink us, as well as call the CDC on us, so I doubt he'd be open to the notion of deep-sixing his own partner for us."

Scully groans just when Frohike walks in. "What's wrong?"

"You," Mulder replies as his wife and the short man glare at him.

"It's not you," his wife answers, "it's the fact that we could maybe save the world but not our jobs."

"We could always use some help around here." Frohike smiles in what he believes is a winning smile at the redhead.

She smiles. "That's very sweet of you, but I don't think I could afford to raise our kids on the kind of salary you boys make."

The Lone Gunmen look at each other, their faces crestfallen. "Damn, we're never gonna get married, are we?" Langly says.

"Shut up, moron," Frohike growls, "not everyone is suited for married life. Besides, we should enjoy the bachelor life while we can."

As the short and the blond gunmen bicker, no one except Mulder notices the pained look that briefly crosses Byers' face, but he doesn't comment on it. Instead, the suit-and-tie man of the group says in his calm voice, "By the way, has anyone thought to check on the current whereabouts and actions of Agents Spender and Fowley?"

They all look at him like he's grown two extra heads. "Good idea," Mulder finally says, and as the Gunmen start tracking the "current X-Files agents" in their own fashion, Scully calls her mother about their children while Mulder calls Danny, not wanting to attract unwanted attention from the Syndicate or the agents in question just yet.

10:13 p.m.

It just keeping getting better and better, Spender thinks as he hangs up on his partner. Someone called in from a recycling plant, claiming that some old woman beat up the security guards, then plowed through glass doors without a scratch. Ordinarily, he'd ignore the damn thing, except this time, the description of the old woman matches his mother. And if he's got the call from his X-Files office, he knows as sure as hell's hot that his dad's probably listening in and on his way. So, as he breaks several driving laws getting to the plant, he called up his ever-so-helpful partner, who sounded like she just woke up. Tough.

"I don't know why you're acting like the Terminator all of a sudden, but I hope that's enough to go against Dad," Spender mutters, jumping out of his car and racing into the building.

It smells like hell as he flashes his badge, sidestepping the fallen guards and looks at the small bank of security cameras behind the desk and seeing a woman racing from one camera view to another. Hope I get there in time, he thinks, running down the halls. "Mom! Mom!" he calls out, not caring if he looks or sounds like an idiot doing so.

As he turns a corner, a door slowly closes, and he practically skids down the hall to reach it. "Mom!" he yells, all protocol for approaching a fleeing fugitive who may be in danger flying out the window. "Mom, where are you?"

"Jeffrey!" a woman's voice says, and he spins around.

Agent Fowley, he thinks, slightly chagrined. She must live close by if she caught up this fast. "She's here," he tells his partner, "I saw her on the cameras not too long ago."

"Then we have to move fast," the brunette tells him, and he nods. "I've come in from the east side, what about you?"

"West, going through north," he says, "I guess we better check out the south."

"That's where the incinerator is," Fowley says, "you don't think...?"

"No," Spender says resolutely, but hauling ass. He's surprised to find his partner doing the same, and a few minutes later, they manage to catch up with his mother as she breaks off the metal chains from the incinerator door.

"Oh, Jeffrey," she sighs, even as he stands dumbstruck at the fact that his previously wheelchair-ridden mother has not only gained the ability to walk, as she did when he first saw her, but to break metal with her bare hands. What happened to her? Then she smiles same quick smile comes to her face, the same one that came after every horrific "return," and he realizes that something is terribly wrong. "I didn't want you to see this, but if I don't die, everyone dies." And before the stunned agents' eyes, she walks into the fiery furnace, the heat so great that her heavy clothes burn instantly and they are forced to stagger back. Unbelievably, her body is still whole as she glances over her shoulder, her figure silhouetted by the intense heat and light, and she smiles briefly before closing the heavy metal door shut behind her.

Now Spender breaks out of his stupor. "Mom! Mooooooom!" he screeches, running to the incinerator door and tries to open it. "Try" being the operative word, because his hands barely touch it and he yelps, the skin on his flesh blistering as he tries to shake off the pain. "What the hell?" Tears are falling down his face, but he doesn't wipe them away, partly because he's afraid it'll pain his hands further, and partly because he doesn't give a damn what his stone-faced partner thinks.

"I can't believe it," a voice cuts through the sudden gloom.

"You," the young agent's voice is filled with venom, "you did this to her!"

"She did it to herself," the Smoking Man replies, his cigarette smoke making the large room seem improbably claustrophobic. "Are you saying I pushed her in?"

"With all the tests, kidnappings, experiments, brainwashing, yes!" his son shouts at him. "I can't believe you honestly thought I'd join you after knowing what you did to her!"

"You had proof right in front of your face," his father says calmly, puffing away.

"You neglected the most important part of your work, that you were the cause of all her suffering," Spender says, hissing as he pulls out his gun and trains it on the man he regrets calling "father."

"You dare shoot at your father?" The old man looks mildly affronted, but somewhat pleased.

"I don't have a father," Spender says, but the old man is quicker than he thinks, and only hits the old man's arm. "Damn."

"Would you shoot your partner?" The Smoking Man is holding Fowley as his shield, holding a gun to her forehead.

"You bastard." The young agent squints, but can't find an easy way to shoot his assholic sperm donor without getting Fowley hurt or killed. Still, he holds his weapon in a two-handed grip that's nothing but sheer agony on his burned hands.

"Excellent." The Smoking Man walks backward, his hostage serving as an unofficial "badge" as he makes his getaway.

"Something's wrong," Mulder says as Scully drives.

"A disturbance in the Force?" His wife raises an eyebrow.

They're heading to their FBI office, since he even he can't claim the extreme hunch of heading to El Rico AFB from nothing at all, but it beats sitting at home wondering if the world will end. His pretext is maybe they can find Skinner and confront him with the truth about Fowley. It's not much, but if even his wife's going stir-crazy with the suspense, he's glad he's in good company.

He grins before shaking his head. "Spender's not answering his cell, and neither is Fowley. And, surprise, surprise, nobody's picking up at the basement number, either. It's a conspiracy."

"Oh, Mulder." She rolls her eyes, then hits the gas when the light turns green.

To his surprise, his cell phone starts to chirp with an unfamiliar number, and he answers, "Mulder."

"This is Agent Spender," his half-bro's perennially strangled voice says at the other end.

The Force is definitely disturbed, he thinks as he asks, "What's wrong?"

"My mother killed herself and my father's kidnapped Agent Fowley," he says tersely.

"What?!?!" Mulder's eyes get big. It's a good thing Scully's driving, or they'd run into another car. "How?"

"Incinerator, gunpoint," Spender replies in a ghastly parody of no-nonsense "Dragnet" types. "I know you have sources, call me when you find anything."

"Yeah," Mulder says numbly before hanging up.

"What was that?" Scully asks, concerned.

He doesn't get a chance to reply because his cell phone rings again. "Oh God, Fox, oh, thank God," a distraught woman says in a hushed voice before he finishes answering, sounding like she's at a construction site or something.

"Who is this?" He frowns.

"Diana," she identifies herself, "the Smoking Man, he took me instead of Cassandra."

And the shit just keeps hitting the fan, he thinks. "Agent Spender just called," he says, "do you know where you are?"

"On a train heading for El Rico Air Force Base," she whispers hurriedly, and now he recognizes the rhythmic pounding in the background as such. "I can't talk too long, I think they're gonna kill me if they know I'm talking to you."

It's the second time in so many hours that he's heard that, except now Frohike's quesadillas are sitting in his stomach like lead. "We're coming to get you," he promises before hanging up.

"Mulder, what's going on?" Scully asks.

"Turn around," he says, "get us to El Rico AFB. Cassandra killed herself, the Smoking Man's kidnapped Fowley and taking her there."

"Why kidnap Fowley if they're on the same side?" Scully muses before pulling a dangerous U-ey in the middle of D.C., not an easy feat for even professionals.

As Mulder hangs on to his stomach, he replies, "Maybe they're on different sides if Cassandra's out of the picture and Fowley's the next best substitute."

"Oh, she's gonna love being considered sloppy seconds," Scully remarks, but there's a grimness to her face that belies her lighthearted words.

They've managed to catch up to Fowley's train at the train yards. As the warning bell clangs, Scully drives the car alongside the moving train. "Turn around," Mulder tells her, hoping maybe this cockamamie idea will work this time around. "Turn around, Scully."

Again, Scully makes a hard U-turn. The train whistle blows as train accelerates, the clatter of wheels on rails getting louder and louder.

She pulls car in front of train, then she and her husband get out, weapons in hand. They fire repeatedly, nearly emptying their clips, hoping that the clang of the bullets against the metal monster bearing down on them gets the engineer to brake. Instead, they jump the hell out of the way as the train smashes into their car, and Mulder has an odd disconnect of the DeLorean's fate in "Back to the Future III."

Scully closes her eyes. "Ah, shit," she sighs, her hands on her back as her shoulders sag. Then she frowns as Mulder is dialing away on his cell. "Are you calling Agent Spender?"

He shakes his head. "Someone higher up the chain of command with less hair." He smirks, unconsciously straightening up a little when the Skin-Man answers.

Fort Marlene

Spender goes to the place he most likely would suspect they'd take his partner, the medical facility where he mistakenly sent Agents Mulder and Scully more than a couple hours ago. He sees how busy everyone looks, and figures it's to his advantage, nobody will question why he's there. Going from room to room, he finds nothing but empty beds and wonders how often this place gets used, anyways. The last empty room he comes to, he sighs and turns around. To his surprise, a disheveled blonde woman shuffles through the door, her bloodshot eyes darting nervously around as she closes it. "Please help me. They're going to leave me here."

Whatever she's infected with, he hopes it's not contagious, and finds himself backing away a little. "Please stay away from me. I can't help you," he says nervously.

"They're packing everything up. They aren't coming back here," the crazy-looking lady pleads with him. Then her expression gets canny. "I know you. I can help you."

Yeah, right. "You can't help me."

She shakes her head violently. "I know where they're taking her. I know how they're taking her. You've got to trust me, Jeffrey."

His eyes widen when she says his name, and they keep getting wider as she tells him about the tests they've done on her, things that have been done to his mother, and things that will surely happen to his partner. He calls Mulder's, then Scully's number, but gets a busy signal both times. Figures. Guess it's up to him to actually do what's right and save the damsel in distress, he muses, grabbing a wheelchair and motioning for Marita to sit down.

Steadily, stealthily, they make their way through the chaos of rats fleeing a sinking ship, for that is exactly what this situation is. Nobody questions him, and nobody wonders why he's wheeling an obviously ill-looking woman down the halls. They turn a corner just a block away from freedom, only to find a familiar face. "Krycek," he says.

Alex Krycek looks just as surprised to see them as they are him. "Guess you do run into everyone at least twice," he mutters.

"You've got to help us," Spender says. "My father did this to her. She wants to tell her story."

Krycek snorts at his naiveté. "You sorry son of a bitch. You don't get it, do you?" He decides to enlighten the kid again. "It's all going to hell. The rebels are going to win. They took it."

The agent squints, figuring he means "rebel aliens," like the kind Krycek killed in the fancy house. "They took what?"

The dark-haired man in the leather jacket and the blonde woman shivering in her hospital gown share a look, and then Krycek leaves without explanation.

Spender is about to ask Marita about Krycek, about what "it" is, but decides to save it for later. For now, they've got to get out of here, find a safe place for her, and maybe he can go to sleep tonight knowing he's saved at least one person, even if it's not the person he wanted to.

He doesn't believe in karma, but a part of him thinks that if he hadn't joined up with his father in the first place, his mother would still be alive. He's surprised when they come to his car, it's as if he sleepwalked here. Not wasting any time, he opens the back seat, and once she's in, he doesn't bother with a seatbelt as he reverses, then drives out like a bat out of hell.

The next morning, it looks like a funeral at A.D. Kersh's office, despite the bright sunshine outside. Everyone associated with the X-Files, Skinner, Spender, Mulder, and Scully are there, and one can almost sense the heavy burden they carry facing a strange new day. Kersh is looking at photos of the burned bodies from the Air Force base, his jaw working as he controls his emotions. "The way these people died... the loss of life here -- it is beyond words." He puts the photos back in the file and looks up. "I can't imagine how it must be for you -- losing your mother and your partner on top of all this."

There's an odd strength in the young agent Mulder never noticed before. He's always been too serious, but this time, this time, it's less the arrogant know-it-all serious that's the curse of every new agent, but a gravity brought on by knowledge and pain. "Yes, sir. But that's not why I asked for this meeting."

The A.D. is curious in spite of himself. "Why did you ask for it?"

The current head of the X-Files calmly replies, "Because I'm responsible for the deaths of those people at the Air Base hangar in no small way. I certainly didn't prevent them."

From the glint of his eyes behind his glasses, Kersh decides Spender can handle some hard questions. "I can assume then you can explain how they died? Because I have yet to hear any explanation."

They've barely talked since riding in the same elevator up to the A.D.'s floor, the only words being spoken was Mulder's confession that he roped his father into helping Cassandra, although it was all for naught. Spender's voice breaks through Mulder's wandering mind. "Agent Mulder can explain it. I think Agent Scully can as well, to an extent." The young agent nods at the couple. "They might have even prevented what you see in those photos."

"Agents Scully and Mulder have been suspended by the FBI," Kersh says, steel in his voice.

The young man nods, "Also my doing... and my mistake."

The A.D. starts to speak, "I would ask..."

Spender interrupts him, "I'd ask, sir -- before you tell me that it's not my business -- that you do everything you can to get them back on the X-Files. Far worse can happen... and it will." He stands, looking at Mulder and Scully with a steady gaze, knowing that they can do the job he was never meant to.

The black A.D. is insulted that this whelp is taking off without permission. "Where are you going?"

"To pack up my office," Spender says simply, and heads for the door.

"Agent Spender..." He looks irritated now that Spender's started to act insubordinate like the former, now current, agents of the X-Files. His irritation only increases when Skinner abruptly leaves the room as well. He glares at Mulder. "You have answers now? Why didn't I hear about those answers before?"

Mulder had forgotten that he liked how much Spender pissed off Kersh. Classic. "I've had answers for years," he replies. Behind his placid façade, Mulder hopes Skinner will catch up to Spender in time. As he recalls, this was the last time anyone saw Spender alive, or at least, uninfected by the black oil.

They can almost hear the man's teeth grind into dust. "Then why didn't we hear about them?"

"No one would ever listen," the agent says blandly.

"Who burned those people?"

Mulder looks at his soon-to-be-former supervisor steadily. "They burned themselves. With a choice made long ago by a conspiracy of men who thought they could sleep with the enemy. Only to awaken another enemy."

It's obvious Kersh has had enough of the non-answers. "What the hell does that mean?"

"It means the future is here, and all bets are off."

Kersh turns to the seemingly more sensible agent. "Agent Scully, make some sense."

"Sir, I wouldn't bet against him," Scully says flatly.

How the hell could everything go so wrong so fast? Mulder wonders as debates what next to write in his journal. Skinner found Agent Spender's headless body lying in a pool of his own blood, his brains splattered across the wall. The fact that Spender managed to fire in self-defense, according to evidence of discharge from his weapon gave Mulder a small measure of satisfaction, but not much. The fact that the Smoking Man could kill his own son, sanction experiments on his own wife and daughter only proves to him that there is nothing human about the man, in spite of his genetic makeup.

He looks at his last words, tempted to erase them, or at least black them out, but decides to leave them for now. Scully sleeps soundly, already in the throes of REM sleep, in spite of the horror of the past days. He closes his eyes, but instead of sleep, he feels a deep sorrow that threatens to rob him of sleep for the next week. He sighs, then scribbles, "Two different fathers abandoning two sons, who, like their fathers, were young, idealistic. Two different sons, warring against each other, joined forces unaware. One son, the product of skepticism, belief, betrayal, and hope, has become another inspiration in the fight against a future which must not come."

There's so many different worlds
So many different suns
And we have just one world
But we live in different ones
Now the sun's gone to hell
And the moon's riding high
Let me bid you farewell
Every man has to die
But it's written in the starlight
And every line on your palm
We're fools to make war
On our brothers in arms
--"Brothers in Arms" by Dire Straits

February 2, 1999

The doorbell rings, and Scully checks her watch. "They're early," she muses as she goes to the door. "Hello, John," she says, a friendly smile on her face, shaking his hand.

"Hey, Dana," he says, holding a little girl's hand. "Hey, Hannah, this is Daddy's friend Dana. Say hi, honey."

Hannah had scootched behind her father's long legs, but after the prompt, she steps out, looking too cute for words. "Hi," she says softly.

"Hi, Hannah," Scully's smile deepens. Then she looks around. "Where's Luke?"

Doggett turns, then sighs when he sees his son isn't beside him. "Probably playing those video games that makes him double over like a hunchback," he says in his inimitable blend of Southern and New York accents, then chuckles. "Not like that stops him from hitting homers."

"Baseball fan, huh?" Scully comments as she lets them in. "Hopefully you and Mulder like the same teams, or there could be a civil war on our hands."

"Hey, I can be a gentleman," he protests, "but if Fox is gonna try to convert my son--"

"I highly doubt that." She laughs, thinking of how odd it is to hear her husband's first name, and walks out to the truck parked out in the driveway. The U-Haul attachment looks well-traveled, but none the worse for wear. "Mulder should be home soon, so you can leave the unloading for later," Scully says, and knocks on the backseat door. "Luke? Are you hungry?"

The boy's head whips up from the videogame, his eyebrows up. He says something, but it's hard to hear from behind the rolled-up window.

Scully squints. "What?"

Doggett rolls his eyes, then opens the door. "Of course he's hungry," he says, hauling his son out, even as the boy good-naturedly groans against the treatment. "There's no fillin' his stomach at his age."

"Da-aaad." Luke scowls, embarrassed, as they follow the small red-haired woman into the house.

His father gives him the most innocent look he can muster without cracking up. "Hey, no use lyin' to the lady, we're gonna be stayin' at their place for a while."

Scully waves them to the living room, with the age-old gesture to sit down. "I've only got messy food today," she apologizes.

"S'okay," Doggett says, stretching out on the couch. "Hey, where's the kids?"

"When they smell it, they'll come." Scully smiles, and disappears into the kitchen.

"Messy food?" Hannah stares up at her father.

He shrugs, but it isn't long before Page slides down the banister, followed by her brother Sammy, while April does an interesting sit-walk down the stairs, with her feet hitting the next step, then her butt. "Hi," the blonde girl says, staring at their visitors.

"'Member me? I'm your folks' friend, John Doggett," Doggett waves, sitting up a little, but not moving towards her so as not to startle her.

Scully comes out with sandwiches, cookies and drinks precariously balanced on a large tray. At the same time, Mulder comes in through the front door, and he's got a big smile on his face. "Nice timing," he says, grinning when his kids rush up to grab his legs. "Hi, John."

"Hey, Fox," Doggett says, standing up and walking over to shake the man's hand. "Thanks for having us."

"Call me Mulder, and we'll be friends for life," Mulder says, shaking his hand as Scully pries their children off his legs.

"Mol-dah," Doggett says, trying it out. "Okay." He turns around to re-introduce his kids, and groans. "Luke," he chides his son, who's already stuffing his face with cookies.

Mulder laughs. "He'll develop a normal stomach by the time he gets to our age," he says, shucking his coat before picking up little April. "So," he says, leading his family over to where the food is, "are you ready to go through basic training all over again?"

The other man shrugs, joining his son on the couch. "I been workin' the streets of New York all these years, how much harder can it be?"

Scully raises an eyebrow but says nothing, while Mulder chuckles. "Well, let's see, you probably won't have too much trouble with counter-terrorism, ethics, with practical law enforcement applications, communications and interviewing, informant development, evidence collection and handling, equal opportunity employment and cultural sensitivity, counterintelligence, human behavior, communications and interviewing, constitutional criminal procedure, physical fitness and defensive tactics, firearms, and practical problems." If he notices his wife giving him a suspicious look, he doesn't acknowledge it. "What about computer intrusions and fraud, or computer search and seizure?"

Doggett whistles. "Sounds like somebody memorized the handbook," he says. "I'm okay with basic word processin', but Luke here's got me beat in pretty much everythin' when it comes to computers. I figure I'll pick up what's necessary, ask around for help." He shrugs. "Hey, if I can handle thirteen o' those, two more shouldn't hurt."

Now Mulder struggles to keep a game face on. The guy actually counted? Either he's more anal than Jeffrey, or he's got pretty damn good recall. When he sees the guy's smirk, however, he realizes there's another wiseass in the house, and he grins. He forgot to never underestimate this guy. "I'm sure you'll do great these next couple of months."

"Eat up, guys," Scully tells them. "You'll need that energy to move all those boxes instead of your mouths."

"You're not going to help?" Mulder looks shocked.

"Love you," she answers, shoving a sandwich into his mouth.

February 4, 1999

Scully looks up at the clock. "I can't believe we got home before he did," she says. "It's nearly midnight."

Mulder looks up from his reading, articles on Tibetan beliefs and artifacts temporarily forgotten. Blinking from behind his reading glasses, he also glances at the clock and nods. "Have you forgotten those long days of nonstop researching, physical training, and teamwork-building?"

Now she gives him a look. "What are you talking about? Between our job and our family, it seems like it hasn't ended."

He takes off his glasses, grinning. "Fun, isn't it?"

Scully rolls her eyes. "I put a box of Epsom salt in the guest bathroom, along with some heating pads, bandages and aspirin. Think he'll need anything else?"

Mulder makes a face. "Wish I'd known you when I was going through training, you could've been my replacement mom."

She laughs. "Mulder, *any*one who knows how to take care of you could be your replacement mother. Besides, John's not young anymore, and I shudder to think how nonstop training is going to affect him now." She shakes her head and pats the space next to her on the bed. "Besides, you staying up for him makes it seem like you're the worried parent, not me."

He grins. "He's got a key, a cell phone, and is a grown man. Why would I worry about him?"

"Because he's your friend who's going through a rough time on top of dealing with Quantico?"

Mulder puts away his papers where the kids can't get them, smiling away from her. "Okay, Miss Mind Reader, what am I thinking of now?"

"I'm thinking, Mr. Worrywart, that if you don't get to bed soon, I'm going to have to drag you to bed."

"Is that so?" Mulder leers over at his wife.

She rolls her eyes, and they hear someone stumbling through the hallway downstairs. "Sounds like he's home. Get over here, you."

Mulder blinks, then locks the door. "Are you hitting on me?"

Scully laughs, undignified chortles escaping her normally temperate demeanor. "Shut up, Mulder."

"Make me." He grins, jumping into bed with an aplomb Sammy would admire.

What would follow, however, wouldn't be suitable for his son's or any of their children's or guests' eyes.

Chapter Seventy-Two

Hoover Building
February 20th, 1999

Skinner looks faintly amused when his agents come in to discuss their new assignment.

"What's the case?" Scully asks.

"There have been several disappearances in a gated community," Skinner tells them. "The missing are presumed dead."

"You want us to start an investigation?"

"Not exactly. We're arranging to rent the house the last suspected victims lived in, for a couple with young children."

"Us?" Mulder asks knowingly.

"You two and, I hope you don't mind me being presumptuous that you'd give permission, your little ones."

"You want us to bring five children on a case?" Scully asks, sounding shocked.

"Actually, no. Page and Sammy are cute kids, but they're also smart enough to ask questions or make remarks that might blow your cover. We'll pay for child care for them while you're gone. What about April, is she talking yet?"

"A little," Mulder tells him. "Not enough to carry on a conversation yet."

"You can bring her and the twins. That'll look wholesome."

"Uh, okay," Mulder says less than happily. It's not a case he really wants the babies around for, but to object would seem highly suspicious. "When do we move into 'our new house'?"

"The twenty-fourth of this month."

5:54 p.m.

When they get home, Mulder looks for Doggett and finds him in the study. The other man reading over a book for class. "Hey, John, something has come up that I wanted to talk to you about."

"What's that?"

"Scully and I have been assigned to an undercover case, posing as a couple with three young children."

Doggett raises his eyebrows. "Three?"

"Skinner doesn't want the older kids to come because what they might say is a threat to our undercover status. So they'll have to stay behind with Michelle and you guys."

"You're not going to say that I'll be the man of the house while you're gone, are you?" Doggett smirks.

"Wouldn't dream of it. Though it's true. You're okay with this, I hope."

"As long as Michelle can get them off to preschool in the morning so I'm not late to my own classes, sure. We'll be fine."

"Good." All he could do was hope that the case went as safely as the last time around. "Remind me to show you where we keep the cat food. Though I'm sure that Page would show you if I forget. She likes to feed them. Um...just don't let her measure out the dry food herself."

"No problem."

Washington, D.C.
February 24th, 1999

Things get off to a slow start, because when they check in with Skinner in the morning, Scully begins to have second thoughts about leaving Page and Sammy behind.

"Maybe we should ask Skinner if we can bring them," she suggests while he gathers the equipment they need from their office.

"We didn't pack for them," he reminds her. "They wouldn't have any beds. Or clothes, or toys."

"I know but what if they think we're playing favorites?" Scully frets.

"They're too young to think that," Mulder tells her as he packs their casefile into April's diaper bag.

"But what if they're not? Then we won't be there to explain to them that we don't love the little ones more, and it's just for work."

"Scully, Michelle is a trained professional, and John's a father. I think they could reassure them if they by some chance do worry that we don't love them as much as the younger kids. Besides, with Hannah and Luke there to play with, they probably won't even know that we're gone."

"But what if-"

Mulder waves his arms in exasperation. "If we don't leave now we're going to miss our flight, lose out deposit on the moving van and minivan, won't get the moving van filled on time and Skinner will kill us!"

"I guess we need to get going," Scully says contritely. It's all he can do not to roll his eyes.

San Diego County, California
The Falls at Arcadia

When Mulder pulls their borrowed minivan into the driveway, he leaves room for the moving truck that's following them to get into the driveway too. Very little of the stuff in the truck is actually theirs, but borrowed from some place that the FBI in California uses to store props for undercover missions. The mini-van has most of their clothes and baby stuff in it, though.

Along side the driveway sees a nervous looking woman standing to the side, holding a ridiculously large basket with a ribbon emblazoned with "welcome neighbors."

"Hope you like Bath and Body," Mulder whispers to his wife.

"Be quiet, Rob."

"You know, Laura, I've always wanted to broach the idea of play-acting to spice up the old marriage, but until now I didn't think you'd go for it," Mulder whispers in what he hopes is a seductive manner.

Scully dashes that hope by laughing at him as she climbs out of the minivan.

Frowning a little, Mulder adjusts the sweater Scully insisted on wrapping around his neck, despite the fact it makes him look like a complete dandy. Or, he suspects, because it does. Before his thoughts get too deep into fashion, he reaches into the back seat and lets April out of her car seat. "Go see Mommy," he commands, then turning to the task of seeing to the boys.

"Up we go!" Scully swings her daughter up to settle on her hip while Mulder carries over the babies.

Putting on his best yuppie smile, Mulder exclaims, "Wow. Take a look at this. Honey, what do you think? Is this place us or what?"

The nervous woman soon joins them with a bright look. "You must be the Petrels. Hi. Welcome. Welcome to The Falls." She looks down at the basket she's holding, then at the little ones. "I'll bring this in for you."


"I'd shake your hand, but I've got mine full. I'm Rob and this is my lovely wife, Laura."

"Rob and Laura Petrie," Pat says, making it sound like the TV characters the names were in fact borrowed from.

"We pronounce it 'Pee-trie,' actually," Scully corrects.


"Like the dish," Mulder supplies helpfully.

"Well, it's so nice to meet you. I'm Pat Verlander. I live six doors down. I'm the neighborhood welcome wagon."

"Pleased to make your acquaintance, Pat," Scully tells her.

"Who are these little folks?"

"I'm not sure," Mulder replies with a straight-face. "We bought them off a band of roving gypsies just last night, and haven't thought of names yet. Got a pretty good deal, on them too."

"You'll have to excuse my husband's odd sense of humor. He's under the impression that he's funny. This is our daughter Morgan, and the twin boys are Riley and Bailey," Scully replies, using the names she and Mulder agreed sounded pretentious enough to be appropriate for the setting.

"They're adorable," Pat gushes. "How old are they?"

"Morgan will be two on April Fool's Day, and the boys are going to be six months later this week," Mulder tells her. They figure there's not really any point to lying about the kids' ages, since it's fairly easy for people to figure out their approximate ages anyway.

"I wish I'd had my kids that close together," Pat laments, and it takes a lot for Mulder to keep from blurting out that of all their kids, April and the twins are the farthest apart in ages. Good sense prevails when it reminds him that they're only supposed to have three kids, not five. Pat, meanwhile, is giving her watch an anxious look. "I really must say, it's already ten after 5:00. I don't think you're going to make it."

"I'm sorry?" Scully asks, giving her a puzzled look as she hitches April higher on her hip.

"The 6 o'clock cutoff? All move-ins are required to be completed by 6 pm." She frowns a bit when she sees Scully's genuinely blank look, and Mulder's faux one. "It's in the CC&Rs. It's one of our rules. We shouldn't waste any more time out here." She leads them into the house.

"Wow. The photos did not do it justice," Mulder remarks as he sets the boys on the rug. "I'm going to nip out to the truck and grab the playpen. We don't want Morgan underfoot, now, do we?"

"Thanks Rob," Scully tells him as she sets the toddler down and leans over the now fussing babies.

By the time Mulder gets out to the truck, with Pat hot on his heels, the neighbors have assembled as if by magic.

Like a general gearing her troops up for battle, Pat quietly instructs. "Guys, fast, fast now. Come on."

Mulder smiles to himself, glad that the people here are still so predictable. Before he can straighten up from plopping April in the playpen, there are neighbors already in the house.

"The previous owners left it so clean." Mulder remarks to Pat, who is back nearby, apparently satisfied that her wishes regarding truck emptying are being carried out. "I don't think we'll even have to disinfect the floors before letting the boys have blanket time."

"What do you do for a living Mr... Petrie? That's right, isn't it?"

Mulder grins and hugs his wife. "Yeah, I, uh... I work mostly at home which is great for Laura because she gets me all to herself. I'm a part-time writer, and full time dad." Pulling a face, he adds, "Before you ask, I compile research for a pair of scientists studying a rare species of jellyfish, so no one's read my work."

This makes Pat laugh. "Oh."

"This place really is immaculate, Pat," Scully says, trying to be cool and calm. "I, uh, I wouldn't mind sending a thank-you note to the previous owners."

"Th-that's sweet. Um..." She pretends to be interested in looking at what the neighbors are doing. "Good." Then she wanders off without giving Scully any indication that she'll be providing that address.

Things go okay with the unloading, until Big Mike drops the box with Scully's scientific equipment in it. Mulder winces, thinking to himself that some things really do never change.

"Oh, no. I'm... I'm so sorry. I'm really sorry. Send me any bills. I'm... I'm sorry."

"Ah, don't worry about it," Scully tells him. She looks relieved when one of the women sends him back outside so he can't apologize any more.

Her savior introduces herself. "I'm Cami Shroeder, by the way. Win's wife."

"Nice to meet you. I'm Laura."

"Mama!" April shrieks from the playpen.

Scully turns long enough to catch her daughter's imploring look. Turning back to Cami, she says, "Sorry, it looks like our oldest has had enough of the people going in and out."

"I bet you have too," Cami remarks, earning a smile from Scully.

Outside, Mulder and Win discuss the basketball hoop. After Win expresses concern that it's against the rules, Mulder gives up. "Just... put it in the garage."

Everything is moved in by exactly 5:59 pm. And people looked thrilled that they made the deadline. Standing on the steps, Mulder and Scully wave good-bye while they disperse.

Scully starts to go in, but Mulder stops her. "Hey... ooh, wait a minute. You didn't let me carry you over the threshold."

"Nice stall tactic. You ready?"

"Let's get it on, honey."

"All right, then," Scully says with a smile. Then she hands him a pair of gloves before rummaging in the box Big Mike dropped.

"Jesh, that looks like something Sammy would do," Mulder comments as he looks over her shoulder.

Scully sighs. "Thanks to our friendly neighbors there will be no fluorescein bloodstain enhancement."

Nodding, he bends over and tries to pull up the carpet in the corner of the room. "Not that it makes much difference. This place is so clean my mother might eat off the floor."

"She wouldn't."

"Hey, she might," he tells her while watching her pull out a video camera. ::we could have such fun with that.::

"Okay. 6:01 p.m., February 24. Agents Scully and Mulder-"

"And junior g-men and g-woman Jared, David and April," Mulder adds.

Ignoring him, Scully continues. "-in the former home of David and Nancy Kline who disappeared without a trace last July. The Klines were the third such couple to disappear since this neighborhood was built in 1991. All were apparently stable professional people with no history of violence, domestic discord or mental illness and it took a family member or employee to realize that they were gone including their cars and a few personal items. What local police found in each case was nothing-- just impeccably-manicured homes and a community of neighbors who professed total ignorance that anyone had disappeared," Scully tells the camera.

"That's pretty surprising considering how nutty this bunch is about being neighborly," Mulder remarks.

"The local police department were at a dead end so they turned to the FBI. AD Skinner, in assigning us this case, thought a fruitful approach to the investigation would be if we went undercover posing as prospective home buyers as this planned community would seem to hide a dark, possibly murderous conspiracy of silence," Scully concludes.

"You want to make a sequel to our honeymoon video now?"

She smirks at him and turns off the camera. "We've made several sequels of another nature, don't you think?"

"What the kids? Sure. But you know, Laura, we're supposed to preserve precious memories on tape too," Mulder says solemnly.

Scully smirks at him. "You consider our passionate, but occasionally sweaty, moments precious?"

"Oh yeah," Mulder replies with enthusiasm.

"That reminds me, Rob and Laura Petrie?"


"Mulder, if we ever go undercover again I get to choose the names, okay?"


"This name choice tells me that you're not taking this seriously."

"I'm taking it seriously. I just don't understand why we're on it. It's our first official case back on the X-Files. This isn't an X-File."

"Sure it is. It's unexplained. What do you want, aliens? Tractor beams?"

"Wow. Admit it, Laura, you just want to stay in a non-haunted house."

Before she can reply, the doorbell rings. It is Big Mike holding a hastily filled box of china.

"Hi. Well, you didn't need to do that," she says, trying not to let her dubiousness about the cleanliness of the china show.

"Oh, please take it. I have more dishes than I need. I just usually use one and then... wash it. Uh... I'm... uh, Mike Raskub, by the way," he says, offering his free hand.


"Big Mike, for obvious reasons. I just live the next street over."

Her eyes light on his necklace. "Oh. That's a caduceus. Are you a doctor, Mike?"

"No, a vet. Veterinarian. If you folks are thinking about getting a dog or any pet I'd be happy to check it out for you, no charge. Just, uh... you're not allowed to have over 16 pounds of pet. That's one of the CC&Rs."

"Mighty nice of you, Mike. I, uh... gosh, with all this hospitality, I can't believe the Klines ever left. That, uh... that was their name, wasn't it? The, uh, the Klines?"

Big Mike looks uncomfortable until April wanders over providing a reason to change the topic. "Aww, she looks just like you, except for having her daddy's eyes, looks like. I love kids."

"Do you?" Scully asks. "Have any of your own?"

"No, not yet. I'm still looking for the right woman who's willing to put up with me. It was nice talking to you, see you around."

She's just closed the door when Mulder calls to her. "Scully, take a look at this. I found it on a fan blade," Mulder says, trading her the china for an evidence bag. Inside the bag is something brown and only an inch or so in length. "Looks like whoever cleaned this place maybe missed a spot. That look like blood to you?"

"Mm-hmm." Both of them look at the ceiling fan. "How'd it get way up there?"

"Flying squirrel?" he blurts out his thought before he can stop himself.


"It's just that...nevermind. I think the boys need to be changed. I go do that." he mumbles, leaving her to stare at the fan and contemplate rodents.

Late That Night

After lacing up his sneakers, Mulder pauses to kiss Scully on the cheek.

"What are you up to?"

"I'm going to jog. Be back soon."

"Stay out of trouble!" she calls as he heads out the door.

Once outside he brushes his fingers against the pocket of his sweats. It's still there.

Trying not to be too obvious, Mulder takes a meandering path to his destination: Big Mike's house.

Jogging close to the house, he quickly finds what he expected to. The light near Big Mike's front door is broken. Looking around to make sure that no one, including Big Mike, is watching, he quickly pulls the fresh bulb from his pocket and changes out the broken one.

When he jogs away, he's whistling to himself. ::Things are going to be different this time.::

Ten Hours Later

Except when he pushes the twins' carriage past Big Mike's house the next day, he sees that things aren't different at all. Win is washing what looks suspiciously like blood off the steps again. The bulb he replaced is shattered.

He barely listens as Win offers explanations as to why he's cleaning up for the neighbor and invites them to dinner. Why hadn't replacing the bulb changed anything?

That Afternoon
Gene Gogolak's house

While Mulder tries to juggle his fussy sons, Gene looks through the rule book for the community.

Pretending that David isn't crying right next to him, Gene finds his place. "All right, then, let's see. Basketball hoop and backboard. Portable. Nope, I'm sorry. It's not allowed."

"You're kidding?" Mulder asks. "I was hoping to be able to teach the boys to shoot hoops."

"I'm afraid not. Rules are rules...I suppose when they're older you can bring them to the community rec center. It may not sound like anything-- a simple basketball hoop-- but from there, it's just a few short steps to spinning daisy reflectors and a bass boat in the driveway."

"In other words, anarchy," Mulder deadpans.

"It may sound tough but ours is a system that works." Gene gives the book a look like it contains the wisdom of the ages. "That's why The Falls is one of the top-ranked planned communities in all of California. Most of our homeowners have been here since day one."

"But not all of them, I suppose," Scully says, relieving Mulder of Jared so he can better attempt to calm David.

"No, a few have left," Gene admits. "This community isn't for everyone," he adds pointedly.

Mulder gives Scully an innocent look, but she doesn't buy it.

Scroeder Residence
6:37 p.m.

"Open up, Morgan," Scully demands, and April shakes her head. She sighs, wondering why Sammy is the only child they have with with a full set of teeth who'll eat without being held down.

"I was a picky eater when I was little too," Win remarks fondly. "So... Where'd you two meet?"

Taking advantage of Scully's preoccupation, Mulder says, "Actually, it was at a UFO conference."

Win nearly chokes on his tuna casserole. "Flying saucers? Interesting. Wouldn't have thought you folks would have been into that."

Mulder gives Scully's arm an affectionate pat. "Well, it's not me so much as Laura. She's quite the New-Ager. I mean, she's into those magnetic bracelets and crystals and mood rings, what have you. I mean, God bless her, she's a sucker for all that stuff."

"Well, I wouldn't have guessed that, would you?" Cami asks her husband.


"No kidding," Scully says, faking a smile.

"I was always something of a scifi buff, so as far as I was concerned it was a match made in heaven," Mulder continues. "Although I didn't take my friend Mel's advice about renting a Star Trek costume to wear while proposing. It didn't seem appropriate for a restaurant setting."

Beside him Scully nearly strangles on her laughter.

Smiling, Cami looks down at Jared and changes the subject. "Your children are beautiful."

"Thank you." Mulder grins, then tickles April to make her laugh. "We've agreed to try to give them a more grounding in reality than Laura's secret interests, though. If they want to believe in power crystals when they're adults, though, that's their choice."

Instead of replying to the comment, Scully bolts up suddenly and mumbles 'excuse me' before covering her mouth and racing to the bathroom Cami point out during the brief tour of the house.

Mulder watches her, then affects a sympathetic tone. "I don't know why they call it morning sickness. It strikes poor Laura at all hours of the day."

Cami shoots him a surprised look. "She's pregnant?"

"Yup. More than three months gone. She should start showing in just a few weeks."

"But your babies are so young!" Cami blurts out, and immediately looks horrified that she has.

"I know. But she insisted that waiting a whole nine months after our daughter was born to conceive the boys was far too long." Looking to make sure that Scully wasn't on her way back, Mulder smiles at Win. "I don't know any woman who loves being pregnant more than Laura, bless her heart. She thinks three months was still too long, and resents her doctor's sticking to that six weeks guideline."

"Reminds me a bit about those redhead jokes," Win says, earning a dirty look from his wife.

"All the rumors are true," Mulder confides. "And if you'd like to see the famed redhead temper, tell her one of those jokes."

"Don't worry, I won't," Win promises.

"I took a look in the regulations," Mulder offers. "I'm glad that there's nothing in there about a limit on your family size. With Laura's baby lust, and how strongly twins run in my family - my sister Pam is eight months pregnant with her third set - I wouldn't be surprised if we end up with enough kids for a basketball team. Or maybe a state record for most children."

"Wow," Cami says faintly.

"As nice as the house is, I can't see it holding more than six kids. I don't think we'll be here more than a couple of years."

The neighbors are still working the math out in their heads when Scully comes back. "Sorry."

"Don't worry about it. Your husband explained that it was morning sickness rather than my cooking," Cami tells her.

"Yeah. You know, Win, uh, when you, uh... when you told me this morning that Big Mike was out of town on business... I don't think that's true," Mulder says without looking to see how Scully reacted to that, referring to a conversation they had before seeing Gene.

"You don't?"

"Mmm. No, 'cause we called his office, didn't we, honey?"

"We did."

Win looks distinctly uncomfortable.

"We're thinking about getting a puppy for Morgan - got to teach kids responsibly young - so we wanted to call him and ask him his advice, whatever, and see if maybe his office had a forwarding number and they said, you know..."

"That he wasn't there. They didn't know where he was," Scully concludes.

"Yeah." Mulder pauses. "So, do you know where he is, Win?"

Cami Shroeder looks at her husband and he laughs uncomfortably. "I really couldn't tell you."

"Mmm. It's got to be something really freaky-deaky, hunh? I mean, for him to lie about it like that? Maybe he's got some wild secret life going on." He and Scully exchange a look. "But every community has its dark underbelly don't you think?"

"We don't have any underbelly. As far as I'm concerned this community is the American Dream," Win says defensively. Mulder nods, but his expression looks far from convinced.

Cami gets up abruptly. 'Um... I'm sorry. I, um... realize that it's past time that I walk Scruffy".

"Would you like some company?" Scully asks.

"Yeah," Cami says, looking grateful.

"I'll, uh, keep an eye on the kids, then," Mulder says.


"So is this the American dream? This place?"

"Oh, uh... nice neighborhood, you know... just a lot of people who want the best for their families."

"So it's just not your dream," Scully says, and Cami shrugs. "Do you and Win plan to have a family?"

Cami looks terrified for a second, "No, um, no." Then her pleasant mask falls back into place.

"Oh. It's just that you clearly like children."

"I do but, Win..."

Scully nods, but she looks around her. "You know, Cami, I-I've noticed that you've, uh, walked us past Mike's house... twice. Are you worried about him?"

"No... I don't really know what you mean," Cami says, sounding nervous. Just then Scruffy pricks up his ears, then gives a hard tug on the leash, making Cami let it go. The leash trails behind the dog until he disappears headfirst into a storm drain.

Cami winces and looks down at her abraded palm before yelling for her pet. "Scruffy! Scruffy, come here! Scruffy, no! Scruffy! Come out here!" When she pauses for breath, they both hear barking. "Scruffy! Scruffy, come out of there."

Both women kneel and Scully shines her flashlight into the drain. Cami looks over Scully's shoulder, and asks, "Do you see him?"

"Uh-uh," Scully replies, distracted. The dog isn't the only thing she can see: Big Mike's caduceus necklace is caught up in the drain too. She tries to grab it, but can't reach. And the dog rockets out of the drain yelping, anyway.

Cooing to the dog, Cami picks it up. "Oh, Scruffy, Scruffy, it's okay, it's okay. I got you. I got you. Oh..."

"What you got there?" Scully asks the dog, noting that he's got a brown smudge on his face, while Cami continues to fuss over him, she reaches for a handkerchief. "Let me wipe that off." He lets her so she gives him a pat. "That's a good boy."

"That's a close one, huh? Yeah? Thought I lost you down the drain! Okay, let's get you home. Come on."

"Rob and I had a dog," Scully remarks wistfully. "The sitter let him out, and he got run over."

"That's so sad," Cami says sympathetically, holding her dog tighter. Before they go back in the house to find Mulder and Win, Cami grabs Scully's arm and hisses. "I lied. This isn't a good place to raise a family. If I were you, I'd grab my babies and run."

"But wh-" Before Scully can finish, Cami is back in the house, acting like she never said anything odd.

Late That Night

"Okay, sweetie, I love you...yes, I love you too, Sammy. Behave for John and Michelle, okay?" After he closes his cell phone, Mulder heads up to the bedrooms. The little ones are all sleeping in their cribs, and Scully is speaking to the Lieutenant on the land line.

He holds out a small plastic bag to her. "It was still there," he says, meaning the necklace she told him about.

"Thank you, Lieutenant. We'll keep you updated." Once she's hung up, she looks at the necklace. "Local PD came up blank on Mike Raskub. No activity on his credit cards. No sighting of his '97 Mercury Villager."

"Yeah, there's no sign of him in his house. I didn't see him in the storm drain, either. I take it he's dead, Scully. Which is a damn shame since he seemed like a nice guy."

"That doesn't mean much, Mulder. They all seem nice, but someone's the killer. Do you suspect Win?"

"Mmm, maybe. I did see Win cleaning up, but that doesn't mean he did it."

"Cleaning up for who?"

"I don't know."

"Hey, what do we know about the stuff I found on the fan blade and you wiped off the dog?"

"I'm driving down to San Diego tomorrow and have it analyzed. I'm not taking the kids."

"All right."

"Why kill Big Mike?" Scully asks. "What's missing here is intent. What would be the motive?"

"Compulsive neatness, or a lack thereof. Have you noticed how everybody around here is obsessed with the neighborhood rules and the CC&Rs? You know what? You fit in really well here."

"And you don't. It's a wonder we keep the house clean."

"We do have five kids, that makes things less than sterile."

"You say that like I don't remember the state of your apartment before we married."

" me." He pats the bed beside him seductively and waggles his eyebrows at her. She raises her eyebrows at him. "Laura, come on. We've got to christen our new house."

"This isn't 'our new house', dear."

"What will the neighbors think if they never hear moans of passion coming from our place?"

"Do yuppies make moans of passion?"

"I don't know about yuppies, but you sure do."

Smirking at him, Scully climbs into bed, and then scales him. "Kettle, meet pot."

"Hey, I never said I didn't."

If any neighbors are listening, they'll soon realize that all is right with Rob and Laura's marriage.

The Next Morning

Mulder is lying on his back with his eyes closed when he feels a small tug on his sweat pants. Opening his eyes, he looks down at April's happy face.

"I see that Mommy has set you loose."


"Arrr?" he repeats, confused. "Have you been watching pirate movies with Sammy?"

April extends two chubby fingers, and points at the window. "Arrr!"

"Huh. Okay..." There's obviously something she wants him to see, and he's beginning to hope it's not a bear eating the garbage.

Once he looks out the window, the blood drains from his face. There, out on the lawn, is an enormous play structure, shaped like a pirate ship. "Oh, that's not good, April." He turns his head towards the door. "Scully!"

She appears in a moment, holding a baby with a half-snapped onsie dangling around his toes. "What's the problem?"

"Um... you didn't buy that, did you?" he asks, pointing out the window.

"No, I can't say that I did," Scully says. She then lays Jared on the bed and finishes snapping him up. "Maybe it's a gift."

"I don't think we should send a thank-you note," he mutters, thumbing though the rule book. When he finds what he fears, he sighs. "I know you wanted to get an early start dropping that stuff off, but could you put if off a while? I need to take that thing apart before anyone notices."

"Yeah, sure," Scully tells him. "I'm going to finish getting them dressed anyway."

It's chilly out, but Mulder hasn't bothered to waste time getting dressed, so goosebumps raise on his arms while he pulls the play structure apart. His anger helps to keep him warm, however. He hadn't intended to duplicate any of his earlier antics, since he didn't want to risk having the babies hurt, so this against the rules addition to their lawn was most unwelcomed.

Gene must have seen him changing the light bulb. And what's more chilling is the nature of his little gift – a child's toy. It makes him scared for his children.

Scully returns from the lab with the results and a rose bush. She thrusts the bagged bush into his hands. "Plant this. Don't worry, it's allowed. I check the book."

"Sure." He finds a shovel out in the garage, next to the basketball hoop and the pieces of the pirate ship.

He's about half-way through digging the hole when Scully joins him out on the lawn. "Don't worry, they're napping." She stares at a spot of grass a few feet away. "What's that?"

Before he can say anything, she's squatting down and tugging at the sod. "Damn, Rob, it looks like a tunnel!"

"If there's one of these in every yard, it would explain how the killer got from house to house without the neighbors seeing anything," Mulder remarks.

"If there is a killer," Scully says. "These are the lab results from the San Diego PD. First of all, the stuff that we found on the fan blade-- the dried blood and scalp hairs? It's neither. The blood is predominantly ketchup and brake fluid and the hairs are bristles from a scrub brush and the same goes for the sample we found on the dog's muzzle. It's coffee grounds, eggshells and motor oil with about 50 other constituents with a little mercurochrome for color. In other words, Mulder, it's garbage. Which makes perfect sense because this entire neighborhood has been built upon an old landfill."

"A landfill?"

"Mm-hmm. We found this stuff everywhere because it is everywhere. It's just beneath the topsoil and that protrusion in the front yard may occur from the venting of methane gas but... Mulder, I don't see how any of this has to do with the disappearances that we're investigating."

"If someone's using these tunnels, they're bound to track this stuff wherever they go." Mulder points out.

"Suppose this stuff was left by the killers. Where are the Klines now?" she asks. "They never found any bodies..." She trails off and gives the lawn a horrified look. "Rob, what if they're still here?"

He shrugs. "Even if they are, we can't just go digging up the yard. Our cover would be blown."

"Yeah..." She starts when the baby monitor receiver gives off a burst of static. "Let's go inside, Rob."

The Next Day

A rumbling sound pulls Mulder out of his sleep. Yawning, he goes to the window to see what's making all the noise, thinking perhaps that it's the trash truck. It's not.

"Oh my God!" Mulder howls. "Laura!"

"Hey Rob," Scully greets him. "They got here earlier than I expected."

"What about not wanting to blow our cover?" he sputters, staring at the backhoe that's ripping up their lawn.

"Don't worry, I'm having them put in a Japanese rock garden." She smiles. "And if they happen to dig up a body, well..."

"A rock garden?"

"There's nothing in the rules against it. Pat seemed a little upset when she saw it though."

::Are you trying to mark us for death?! This isn't going to end well.::

For the rest of the day he stares out the window, watching the backhoe, and waiting for the monster.

The rock garden isn't planned for the same spot as the long ago tranquilty pool Mulder had put in, and this makes all the difference. There's a bunch of alarmed shouting at twilight, and both agents run out to see what the commotion is.

"An arm!" the foreman shrieks. "I think this is a human arm!"

Looking down into the hole, Mulder sees dull white. "I think you're right."

Scully grabs his arm. "Rob, you've got to go to the police."

"Let's talk about this inside," Mulder hisses, and pulls her into the house. "Go to the police, Scully?"

"You're the one concerned about not breaking cover. A normal, non-law enforcement man would drive off to the cops immediately. He wouldn't have connections to the force already that he could call up."

"Um, okay. Let me bring the kids," he says, thinking fast.

"Take April if you want, but the babies are sleeping."


"Rob, this isn't a dangerous situation, so a person wouldn't drive off with their kids like the hounds of hell were after them."

"Maybe they would," he whines. "I just want to be authentic."

"Go on, would you? I don't want you to wake them and have them both up all night."

::Please God, let things be okay.:: Mulder thinks as he straps April into her car seat and pulls out of the driveway. Instead of heading to the police, he calls them and drives to Gene's house.

There's a thump somewhere in the house, which makes Scully jump in alarm. Then both infants started to wail. What scares her more is that while she hunts for her gun, the babies' crying seems to get closer. And there are footsteps.

She nearly screams when a large figure comes into the room cradling her sons. "It's come for you, Laura. You can't make a noise. Shh. Shh."

Big Mike holds the babies out to her, and she grabs them before looking her neighbor over. He's dirty and bloody. "Mike. What happened to you?"

"You have to get out of here. Now."

"Why?" There's a huge thud downstairs, and Mike shakes his head. Then he begins pushing furniture in front of the door.

"Wait a minute, who's downstairs?" Scully asks. "It can't be Rob."

Big Mike holds a finger to his lips. "Shh, shh, shh."

"Mike... who did this to you?"

"The ubermenscher. It's our fault. The original homeowners-- we asked for it and now we can't stop it." He gives the boys a sad smile, and they look up at him wide-eyed and silent. Mike finds the gun she misplaced and picks it up.

"Stop what, Mike?" she demands to know. He just shakes his head. "Mike, listen, settle down. Okay. Just give me my gun. I'm a federal agent..."

"The ubermenscher wants you, Laura and your husband. Digging up the yard was a big mistake." As his words fade away, something smashes against the door. He pushes Scully behind him.

"Mike, just give me the gun. Give me..."

"How are you going to shoot and protect them?" he asks, shaking his head again. "Closet. Now."

Finding that he's got a point, Scully turns and puts her little sons on the floor. Before she can back out to help Mike, he swings the closet door closed, locking it.

Her view is obstructed through the closet door's slats, even more so when Mike slides a bureau in front of the door. Something breaks down the bedroom door. There are shots, and screaming. She fears the worst.


Gene struggles on the passenger side of Mulder's car. It took Mulder longer than he thought to cuff him and force him into the car. It probably would have been easier to put him in the back, but that'd mean he'd be next to April.

"I'm going to make it my goal to see you in jail for the Klines' murders," Mulder growls as he pulls up to the house.

"When the judge asks you how I killed the Klines what are you going to tell him?"

"A tulpa. It's a Tibetan thought-form. It's a living, breathing creature willed into existence by someone who possesses that ability-- an ability I think you picked up on your whirligig-buying excursions to the Far East. Why'd you do it? I mean, is it so damn important for everybody to have the same color mailbox?"

"It's important that people fit in."

"But you didn't know exactly what you were getting into, did you? I mean, you can summon its existence, but... you can give it life, but you can't control it. The best you can hope for is to stay out of its way."

"Son, my lawyers are going to make you sound so stupid that not only will I never see the inside of a jail cell but you'll be signing all your paychecks straight to me." Gene gives him a nasty smile as Mulder pulls him out of the car. "You're going to wish you didn't interfere at Big Mike's house."

"Screw you," Mulder growls, and yanks him over to the mailbox. Unlocking one of Gene's wrists, he slips the cuff around the mailbox pole before Gene considers trying to get away.

"Rob?" Cami's voice floats across the lawn. "Is everything okay?"

"No, it's not," Mulder tells her. "Could you come get my daughter, please?"

Cami looks a bit frightened, but she takes April into her arms. "We've lied to you. My wife and I are FBI agents here undercover to see if we can solve the disappearances of the Klines. Please take her with you."

"What about the twins?"

He doesn't bother to answer, but runs into the house instead, calling his wife's name.

To his relief, Scully and the babies are both safe in the closet. And to his surprise, Mike is still there, lying on the floor. As soon as he frees Scully, she climbs out and check on him. "He's alive."

::He is?::

"I think the sound of you coming back scared it off." She looks up at him, suddenly alarmed. "Where's April?"

"Cami's got her. After I call an ambulance I'll go get her."

Outside, they hear a scream. Rushing to the window, Mulder sees Gene being battered by a large dark figure. Mulder tears outside, just in time to see the thing deliver a killing blow to the complex's owner.

The creature turns towards Mulder, but when Gene's last breath escapes in a death rattle, it crumbles away. Looking behind him, he sees Cami staring out the window while holding April.

Once she lets him in, she hands the little girl over. "He deserved it," Cami hisses.

Mulder can't find it within himself to disagree.

Two Days Later

Something blunt pokes Mulder in the leg. Looking down, he sees Sammy smiling up at him under a felt pirate hat, while brandishing a plastic sword. "Walk the plank."

"Never, you have to catch me first!" Mulder yells, dashing away from the little boy. He runs around the play structure that Doggett and Luke helped him put back together.

"Avast me hardies! Don't let the scoundrels get away!" Luke roars from the front of the pirate ship. He too wears a felt pirate hat. "I say, get them!"

"Yes captain!" Some of the kids shout in response.

Giggling, Sammy, Page, Hannah, Emily, and even little April chase after Mulder and Doggett with plastic swords as they pretend to try to get away.

"Look at them," Missy remarks from the back porch as Scully returns with Jared, who woke up a couple minutes before. "Can you believe how little difference there is between the little kids and the big ones? You wouldn't see me out there running around."

"Speak for yourself," Scully says, dropping the baby into her sister's startled lap. Then the kids realize that Scully's joined the game and give her chase too.

Chapter Seventy-Three

March 1999

It's a lovely, brisk March day, and Scully had decided to catch the Metro to and from work today. There's a young man, thin, with dark hair, goatee and mustache and piercing blue eyes, sitting in a seat across the aisle from her who has been staring at her for quite some time, making her feel rather uncomfortable. Is there a zit, she wonders, not daring to take out a compact to check, since her hormones have been acting up and she wouldn't be surprised if acne's broken out all over her face since this morning. Dammit, she thinks, it *used* to be a nice day until we got this case, the nanny, Michelle, has been sick for a few days, April and Hannah just got sick, and I feel like a bloated toad.

When she gets off the bus, she's surprised to find the goatee'd man getting off at the same stop. There's a vague feeling of paranoia as she quickens her pace slightly, but is relieved when his footsteps fade and she turns to see him going up the driveway to the house just before theirs. New neighbor. Okay.

She sighs, unlocking the door and calling out, "I'm home." No answer. Maybe Mulder's drugged the kids, which would be nice, she smirks, locking the door behind her. Scully walks upstairs into the bedroom, shucking off her work clothes as she does so, and is surprised to find Mulder washing his arms like a surgeon in the bathroom. "Hey," he says, "the girls are finally asleep and the others are watching 'Fresh Prince of Bel Air' reruns in the guest room, but if we don't keep them away from the sickies..." His voice trails off when he sees the odd look on her face. "What?"

Scully shakes her head, dropping the file on the bed. She doesn't want to sound like an overanxious pregnant chick, which is exactly what she feels like. "These are, uh... these are my autopsy reports from the second victim." She shows him some pretty gross autopsy pictures, still proud that she made it through the actual process without spewing like an "Exorcist" star. "As you can see the heart was removed in the same manner as the previous victim. No incisions, no scope marks, no cutting of any kind."

"No indication of how the killer did it?" Mulder asks, his tone somewhat constipated.

She's not sure if it's been the last case or this one that's made him touchy. Or maybe ever since they found out she was pregnant. Damn. "No. There's no prints, no DNA material, no hair and fiber," she says evenly.

"And yet, you still refuse to believe my theory -- that what this is psychic surgery?" he asks. He's actually surprised that the jerk is still around, since he would've thought that Scully being married with kids would've scared him off. Damn.

Scully gives him a familiar "skeptical" look, to put it kindly. "Mulder, psychic surgery is some man dipping his hand in a bucket of chicken guts and pretending to remove tumors from the sick and gullible," she shoots back.

"Or... it's a grossly misunderstood area of alternative medicine," he replies, then grins. "Hey, you think I could do a magic sickie snot removal from Hannah and April?"

She rolls her eyes. "Only if you're using a wet washcloth and wash your hands in hot soapy water," she says, keeping a straight face.

"Well, absent another theory how else do we account for the impossible extraction of this man's heart?" Mulder says, feeling distant from his wife. It's not fair he has to wait to lock up that asshole, it's not fair that he can't tell Scully about his second chance, it's not fair that this case is happening all over again.

Scully feels him withdrawing, but doesn't know why. "I don't know," she states simply. "I have no idea."

I have an idea, he continues to grouse inwardly. Let's pretend like I've gained clairvoyant powers for a couple of years, save ourselves the trouble, and have a good life. Let Doggett and Reyes knock themselves out while Scully, the kids and I take a siesta on some semi-deserted island for a bit. Aloud, he says, "I mean, we have no evidence -- no MO to speak of." Yet. "This could be the perfect crime."

Both a corner of her mouth and one of her eyebrows go up. Nice. "Well, a crime is only as perfect as the man or the mind that commits it. Even if it were perfect -- even if he made not one mistake -- there's still his motive. You find his motive and you find the murderer."

Mulder grins bleakly. "You make it sound so simple," he says, putting the photos back into the file and putting it inside a locked drawer. They've learned the hard way not to leave files lying around the house, and he sighs, closing his eyes as he falls backwards on the bed. "Your turn," he says, not opening his eyes, "David and Jared are fed and changed, they should all be in the guest room."

"Oh," Scully says, pausing in the unbuttoning of her blouse. "'Kay." Disappointed, she rebuttons the top two, then walks tiredly to the guest room where, it seems, all the healthy kids have congregated on Luke's bed.

FBI Headquarters
7:07 a.m.

Scully's wearing a skirt paired with a slightly thick coat, just so she can feel feminine without thinking of being with child. Thank goodness the nanny got better today, so both she and Mulder are free to work the case without worrying too much. The phone rings when she enters the basement office, and she jogs across, answering breathlessly, "Scully."

My God, Mulder licks his lips unconsciously, does she have any idea what she does when she sounds like that? "Hey, Scully, glad I caught you," he says, keeping his tone professional. "We got a third victim -- 16-year-old kid out on Lover's Lane." He looks down at the teenager's body, still lying where he was killed, and wishes to hell he could cut this case short.

"Are you sure?" his wife breaks into his thoughts.

He keeps up the banter, but it's like he's just phoning it in. "Yeah. I'm sure many a person's had their heart broken out here, but not quite like this. I was hoping you'd be here to explain it in medical terms to the local PD."

"I'm not sure that I could," she replies, and he could almost swear she's frowning at the other end. "Did anybody see anybody? Anything?"

"No, nothing," Mulder answers, frustrated in more ways than one. "I mean, it's like there's nowhere to start on this case. Nothing to ask, nothing to say."

She wants to be encouraging, really, she does. "Well, there's got to be something, Mulder..." Her eyes catch sight of an envelope lying on the floor and picks it up. "Something about his victims -- why he chooses them, a pattern."

"If 'clueless' was a lucky lottery ticket, Scully, we hit the jackpot. It appears to be just a series of random attacks."

"Maybe your luck's about to change," Scully says, "an envelope's been slipped under the office door."

"Yeah?" Mulder tries to inject some enthusiasm. Inside, however, he's seething. "From who?"

"It's unmarked," she answers. She rips open the envelope and takes out a small flat object on a chain. "It's some kind of a pendant. Like a charm." She stares at the burning heart imprinted on it, feeling like she should know what it is, feeling it tug at distant memories.

"Her prompt mind ran through the golconda of possibilities -- was this trinket from the killer? Was there a message contained in its equivocal symbolism? Was he a religious fanatic who had, in fervid haste licked the envelope, leaving the telltale DNA that would begin his unraveling? She had a condign certainty the killer was a male... and now, as she held the cold metal at her fingertips she imagined him doing the same trying to picture his face.

"It would be a plain face, an average face... A face people would be prone to trust. She knew this inherently, being naturally trusting herself. But the image she conjured up was no better than the useless sketch composites that littered her files. Preconsciously, she knew this wasn't her strength as an investigator. She was a marshal of cold facts, quick to organize, connect, shuffle, reorder and synthesize their relative hard values into discreet categories. Imprecision would only invite sexist criticism that she was soft, malleable not up to her male counterparts. Even now, as she pushed an errant strand of titian hair behind her ear she worried her partner would know instinctively what she could only guess. To be thought of as simply a beautiful woman was bridling, unthinkable. But she was beautiful... fatally, stunningly prepossessing. Yet the compensatory respect she commanded only deepened the yearnings of her heart... to let it open, to let someone in."

Later, once Mulder joins her in the X-Files office, Scully shows Mulder the milagro, giving him both explanation as well as basic description of the man who had dropped it off. Even as she gives him the data, leading towards a possible suspect, Mulder's lack of enthusiasm is worse than doubt. "Did you see that it's a burning heart?" she asks, finally tossing it at him.

Mulder props up his long legs, sitting at the desk and spinning the charm around by the chain. "I see it has a burning heart," he says dryly. "But we're dealing with a killer that leaves absolutely no clues. Why would he do something as heavy-handed as this?"

She sighs in exasperation. "I don't know, I'm not the profiler, you figure it out!" she snaps.

He blinks. That's different. Then he stretches the corners of his mouth into a parody of a smile. "Maybe it's a secret admirer," he says, finding it sounds less blithe and more biting than he expected.

She sighs, grabbing the charm. "I think I'll check it out," she says flatly.

"Actually, let me," he says, sitting up. "You've got a 9:00 a.m. with the DC medical examiner. He's going to let you autopsy the latest victim."

She stares at him, and he finds it's not just disbelief, but dislike in her eyes. "Thank you for making my schedule, but I think I'm going to have to be late for that appointment."

His eyes are still wide when she walks out, those high high heels doing wonders not just for her legs, but for that nicely round ass. "Damn," he sighs, wondering why he's gotten to be such an adolescent around his wife all of a sudden.

True to her word, Scully makes a detour to a Catholic church. She briefly crosses herself before going straight to a painting of Christ holding a burning heart. Her mouth hangs slightly open as she looks at the painting, and before she can pull her cell phone out to debate with Mulder, someone joins her.

It's the new neighbor, the goatee guy. "I often come here to look at this painting," he says familiarly. "It's called 'My Divine Heart' after the miracle of Saint Margaret Mary. Do you know the story... The revelation of the Sacred Heart? Christ came to Margaret Mary his heart so inflamed with love that it was no longer able to contain its burning flames of charity. Margaret Mary... so filled with divine love herself, asked the Lord to take her heart... and so he did placing it alongside his until it burned with the flames of his passion. Then he restored it to Margaret Mary sealing her wound with the touch of his blessed hand."

She stares at him. "Why are you telling me this?"

He looks back at her levelly. "You came here specifically to see this painting, didn't you?"

Scully nods reluctantly. "I know you," she says, deciding to go on the offensive. "You live next door. Why are you following me?"

He doesn't feign ignorance, but answers, "I'm not. I'd only imagined that you'd come here today."

Huh? "You imagined it," she repeats.

"I'm a writer," the goatee'd guy explains. "That's what I do -- imagine how people behave. I have to admit I've noticed you. I do that... Notice people," he adds quickly. "I saw that you wear a gold cross around your neck so I was taking a chance with the painting -- explaining something you may have already known. I saw Georgetown parking permits on your car dating from 1993 and a government-exempt sticker that lets you park anywhere you like. You don't live in this area but as a federal employee, you have reason to frequent it. You're not just a beautiful government agent, but also married and a mother of five," he adds quickly as her eyes widen a little in alarm, "There's a popular park nearby that you might bring the children to after work. You'd have noticed this church in passing and though parking is always a problem in this part of town your special privileges would make it easy to visit... not as a place of worship but because you have an appreciation for architecture and the arts and would want to share it with your children... and while the grandeur is what you'd take away from your visit... this painting's religious symbolism would have left a subconscious impression jogged by the gift you received this morning."

"That was from you?" Scully stares at him, a sinking feeling in her slightly rounded belly. Great, I've got a stalker, she wails inwardly. I marry Mulder and all the weirdos come crawling out of the woodwork.

"I have to admit to a secret attraction." She doesn't bother hiding her ooged-out reaction from him, obviously not wanting to deal with this. Then again, he doesn't seem bothered by it. "I'm sorry I didn't include a note explaining that but you didn't know me then."

"Yeah, and I don't know you now and I don't care to," Scully snaps, wishing he would just go away. God, any longer and she's gonna pull out her gun, if not her badge.

"I see this is making you uncomfortable and I'm sorry. It's just that I'm taken with you." He smiles briefly, and for a moment, there's something about those stark blue eyes over that goatee and moustache that could almost be called attractive. His unsettling gaze finally shifts back to the painting, giving her something of a respite. "You're tired of the everyday drudgery, and, while your work is exciting, it's not exactly what you'd wanted, is it? That much, I'm sure, we have in common." The corner of his mouth turns up, and she's fairly certain he's smiling all the way around when he adds, "To find passion in something like a painting, I suppose, is the means to find the heart of the matter in anything."

Her mouth drops, and she's about to give him a piece of her mind when the church bells toll. I guess the bells do toll for me, she thinks, walking quickly out of the now-uncomfortable church, now's a good time to hit that autopsy.

Busted, Mulder thinks as his petite wife walks into an autopsy bay full of the living MEs and a few dead bodies. "Hey, you weren't joking about being late. I was about to start slicing and dicing, myself."

"God forbid," she says, shucking off her coat and replacing it with scrubs. "I'm sorry."

He sighs. "Where were you?" he asks in a low voice.

"I was doing some research and learning that I owe you an apology," she says, not looking at him.

"For what?" he prompts her, knowing exactly "what" and hating it.

"The Milagro charm," she replies, "you were right about its insignificance."

He shakes his head, disagreeing quickly, "No, I think I was wrong. I think it's very significant. I think it may be a communication from the killer. Most of my research shows that most credible practitioners of psychic surgery believe themselves to be imbued with the Holy Spirit -- that their hands become the miracle tools of God."

She holds up the charm like a dead squirrel. "Mulder, this... is nothing more than a tool used by a lovelorn Romeo who just happens to be our new next-door neighbor."

"Is it just me, or are we starting to get bad luck with creepy neighbors?" he wonders, not so rhetorically.

She smiles, but it doesn't quite reach her eyes as she puts on the plastic cap to cover her hair. "Must be -- this one's turned out to be a secret admirer who claims to know the mysteries of my heart."

"You're kidding," he says flatly.

"No, I wish I were. He cornered me today and told me my life story. It was kind of frightening, actually."

"Frightening?" Mulder repeats, feeling Neanderthal. That asshole! How dare he make a move on my wife, sic his created killer on innocent victims, and pretend to have feelings of love like a normal person! Even though a part of him, well-trained by Oxford and years in the VCU, tells him there's more to Padgett than that, he's still pretty damn pissed off that the prick had the gall to try and move in on a married woman. *His* married woman, dammit.

" 'Frightening' as in too much information and intimate detail," Scully corrects him. "What kills you is his audacity."

"Did you get his name?"

The eyebrow goes up. "No, but that shouldn't be too hard to find out, should it?"

Mulder nods, not quite sure what to say, and decides to leave her to the slicing and dicing while he rummages through their new neighbor's mail. He's thinking of creating a tulpa to get rid of both Padgett and his created monster, then quickly chides himself for his childish revenge fantasy, since that kind of thing never works out the way you want it, anyways.

This is a mistake, Scully keeps telling herself, this is a mistake. She sees her husband's car in the driveway, but rather than grab him, she has decided to confront the smug writer by herself. She knocks nervously, looking around as if she were the criminal rather than the law. The goatee guy opens the door, and she paws through her purse. "Hi. I, um," she stammers when she nearly pulls out one of her "trashy novels," and nearly sighs with relief when her fingers grasp the small charm. "I thought that I'd return this," she says in a more steadier voice, holding out the milagro.


Simple question, simple answer, right? "Because I can't return the gesture," Scully says quietly, wondering why her tone isn't firmer. "I can't."

His face is devoid of disappointment, of embarrassment, or any emotion, really, as he lets her in. "You're curious about me," he states.

Well, duh, she almost answers, taking off her coat and draping it on her arm as there's no coat rack. As she looks around at the sparsely furnished home, it almost looks as if someone's just waiting to buy it and he's just keeping it tidy until then. "You hardly have any furniture," she remarks, the only things serving as such being a table and chair in the middle of the spacious living room. They continue talking, she questioning, he answering, in between the drinking of tea until she's not quite so uncomfortable as when she first walked in. His life sounds rather Spartan, not unlike her partner's before they got married. I wonder what would've happened to Mulder if I hadn't married him, she thinks suddenly as she continues to question the goatee guy, who turns out to be named Phillip Padgett. Would he have stayed this sparse, living only for his work and nothing else? That would be sad, indeed. "How is it you think you know me so well, Mr. Padgett?"

"I'm writing about you," Padgett replies.

She smiles a little in disbelief, and he smiles back. "Right." When she realizes he's serious, the smile slips from her face. "Since when?"

"Since I first noticed you. You lived in my old neighborhood."

"And you moved into this house by coincidence?" she asks, thinking, Please, please, say yes!


Her eyes widen. Damn. "You moved here because of me?"

"I-I should've said something but I just couldn't get it all down fast enough," he nods. "To really write someone, I have to be in their head. I have to know them more completely than they know themselves."

Somewhere in her head, alarms are going off, but either it's the hormones or her husband's chilly behavior that keeps her there, looking at the thick manuscript next to the old-fashioned typewriter sitting on the otherwise bare table. "This is all about me?"

"You're an important part," he acknowledges.

"May I read it?"

For the first time, he looks almost bashful. "It's not finished," he dismisses the thick stack of paper, and his large blue eyes fasten on hers again. "I can't tell you how helpful it is having you here -- being able to talk with you like this. Would you sit and stay a minute?"

She almost smiles again. "You don't have anywhere to sit." To her surprise, Padgett leads her into the bedroom and sets his cup down on the bedside table and messes with the lamp. It doesn't come on. His money must go to the exorbitant rent rather than food and electricity, she surmises. Time to cut this interview short before it gets dark. "I'm due next door," Scully says, putting her cup down.

For an obsessed guy, he's paying no attention as he plugs the lamp in. "You haven't finished your tea," he says in a reasonable voice.

"I'm very uncomfortable with this," she finally admits.

He looks at her with the same steady gaze. "Why? You're armed, aren't you?" he says logically. As he turns on the bedside light, the bulb burns out. "Imagine that," he says with almost no irony. Padgett pushes the curtain away from the window to let a little light in. "I'll get a bulb."

As he goes to get a bulb, Scully looks out the window facing her own home. It's odd, seeing her home like this, the windowless side facing her like a blank page. At least it's not like he can see in our bedroom, she thinks, and blushes when she thinks of how often they've never thought to close the drapes. Padgett walks in with a new bulb, his eyes following her gaze at the whitewashed wall. "A view only a writer can appreciate," he deadpans.

"If you know me so well, then why am I standing here when my instincts tell me to go?" she asks, even when he sounded uncomfortably like Mulder just then.

He answers while changing the bulb, not looking at her. "Motive is never easy. Sometimes it occurs to one only later." The lamp fills the nearly bare room with a soft light. "Please," he motions to the bed, less like a lecherous invitation and more like a strange courtesy to make oneself comfortable on the only piece of furniture in the room. "Sit." He puts the shade back on the lamp and they sit together on the foot of the bed. Behind them, the bulb burns out again. "Imagine that," he repeats.

She turns to ask another question, only to find Padgett is leaning towards her, his hands on her forearms and his lips parting. Oh my God, she thinks, starting to shove him away when the door crashes open and Mulder bursts into the room, gun drawn. She's fairly sure that her face looks about as shocked as his. "Mulder!" she says.

"Scully," he says, and to her surprise, there's less worry and more sadness when he says her name. "What were you doing?"

"Nothing," she says pointedly, glaring at the very unembarrassed Padgett. "Thank goodness." She follows Mulder to the living room and they begin looking through the manuscript. A few pages flutter to the floor. Her husband looks intently at one of the pages. "Mulder... what are you doing?"

He hands her the page, then grabs the goateed man and handcuffs him. "Putting this man under arrest," he says abruptly, snapping the metal cuffs with more force than normal.

She sees the words on the page and feels a chill, the words a ghastly parody of the romance novels she'd been reading lately: "...his fantasy come to life..." "... and felt his warm, beating heart."

This time around, it's not just Mulder hammering at Padgett, but Scully as well. At one point, she's about to tear Stalker Boy a new one, but Mulder guides her out of the prison interrogation room before she can touch the asshole. Padgett, of course, asks solicitous questions about her, which nearly makes Mulder want to tear the asshole's head off, but manages to restrain himself. When he comes out, he finds his fiery-haired partner pacing the hallway.

"What the hell was that?" she demands.

He blinks, but is inwardly relieved to find she's not tempted by the guy, but angry at him. "I was interrogating him," he answers. "Was it not to your liking?"

Her fists are on her hips as she glares up at him. "I've seen you go after child molesters with less heat," she says between her teeth.

Oh, I get it now, Mulder thinks as the reasons why she's been so pissed-off hits him. Damn. It's hard enough getting into the minds of criminals, but women, they're just complicated. But she's not the only one, he sighs inwardly as he nods curtly. "There's more than one culprit here," he says, "there's his accomplice, the Brazilian psychic surgeon."

She almost looks bored as she holds up a folder. "I know. Dr. Ken Naciamento, Sao Paulo, Brazil, emigrated here in 1996." As he pores through it, she adds, "Two years dead, Mulder. I'm having them fax me a certificate of death."

He sets his jaw. "Padgett couldn't have done this alone."

"Why not? I'm fairly sure he relies on research as well as his imagination, why isn't it possible that he could've gone after those teens and use Dr. Naciamento as a, a mentor or guide of sorts into how to commit these murders?"

Wow, she's been hanging around me a long time, he almost smiles. "Maybe he did just imagine it," he argues, this time on his usual side of devil's advocacy. "Like Shakespeare or Freud or -- or Jung. I mean, maybe, maybe he has some gift and he has a clear window into human nature."

"No one can predict human behavior," she shoots back. "No one can tell you what another person's going to do."

What do you call reverse déjà vu? He wonders. "Well, that's pretty much what I do as a behavioral profiler, imagine the killer's mind so well that you know what they're going to do next." Then he decides to switch back and use his own words rather than Scully's, since he's starting to get that weird, almost vertigo-like feeling again. "Of course, if he imagines it, it's a priori -- before the fact. I think that's pretty clear from what he wrote about you." He looks at her levelly as she stares at him. "You know you're in here, don't you?"

"I read a chapter," she mumbles, looking away. "What does he say?"

He decides to go easy on her this time, since it's really not her fault Padgett's a nutcase. Quietly, he answers, "Well, a certain redhead and "the stranger" get X-rated on a bed in an unfurnished house." He pauses. "That is, of course, just his imagination."

"Of course," she says, not looking at him. "I think you know me better than that, Mulder."

"Mmmm," he says, and his cell phone rings. "Mulder." He listens, then says, "Oh, okay. Yeah, they do good work. Hannah's doing better, she and April were playing dolls when I left. Yeah, see ya." When he hangs up, he tells Scully, "Doggett's car crapped out on him again. He says he can fix cars, but he doesn't have time with training." He makes a face. "So he's gonna be coming home late." Then he handing her the manuscript, his features now expressionless, "You might want to finish it."

He leaves her with the novel from hell, and decides to swing by the cemetery, since there's nobody to call him in on it and hopes he gets there in time to save the girl. His pace increases as he leaves the police station, not even aware that he's behind the wheel until his hand turns the key in the ignition.

Police Station

Mulder exhales noisily, knowing it's not the road construction crew's fault he got to the cemetery only in time to see Maggie dying on the ground rather than alive, her life oozing from her as quickly as her blood. The ambulance came, but with no heart and no way of stopping that much blood loss, the girl died in the emergency vehicle. "I didn't like him before and I sure as hell don't like him now," Mulder scowls as they walk through the police station to Padgett's cell.

"What do you mean?" Scully frowns.

Ah, hell. "I mean," he says evenly as they turn the corner, "I didn't like him when he was your secret admirer, and I really don't like him now that he's definitely our killer."

"How did you know, Mulder, that Maggie would be killed in the cemetery?"

There's no mirth as he puts a finger to his forehead, Karnac-style. "I imagined it."

"How the hell did he know," Scully asks and frowns, "how did Padgett contact him from his guarded cell?"

"I don't know how they communicate. This is the only way I can think to catch him," he says grimly, then forces himself to act humble, as well as a little embarrassed as he opens Padgett's cell. Handing over the plastic wrapped manuscript, Mulder says, "Mr. Padgett... you can go. We apologize for our mistake. You're free to finish your book."

"Thank you," Padgett says, leaving the cell, then turns back to the couple. "I made a mistake myself."

"What's that, Mr. Padgett?" Mulder asks almost congenially, swallowing the bile that threatens to choke him.

Padgett smiles. "In my book, I'd written that Agent Scully escaped a life of drudgery, but that's obviously impossible." He looks at Mulder, who already wants to kill him for saying that. "None of us can escape our fates."

After they watch him go, Scully turns to him. "Mulder, are you sure I can't kill him for saying that?"

He grins. "Only if you beat me to him."

Thanks to FBI-sanctioned surveillance (Scully insisted, since they were officially back on the X-Files, everything should be accounted for), they watch from the comfort of their living room as Padgett walks around, stares at nothing in particular, then starts typing. "This is boring," Luke declares, and leads the kids to the guest room past their host bearing glasses of water.

Mulder shrugs at the nanny, who shrugs back as she follows the kids. Then he looks over at the laptop and comments, "This is the most exciting thing this guy's done so far." He hands his wife a glass, and she takes a sip before holding the headphones up to her ear. The two agents watch the monitor as Padgett pulls the paper out of the typewriter. Then he picks up the entire manuscript and walks out of frame.

"Now what?" Scully squints, putting her glass of water down. She watches as Mulder taps some keys, then another, to get views of different rooms. "Anything?"

The living room is empty, and Mulder barely misses one camera's view of a closing door. They look at each other, "Which one is it?" Mulder frowns.

"The back door," Scully stares at the view, then she pulls out her gun, "Look after the kids!"

"Scully, it's not safe!" Mulder puts a hand on her arm. "You're the one he's after, lock the doors!"

"I'm gonna kill that bastard!" she glares, her own hand restraining Mulder's arm.

Mulder stares at her. "Right now, you're the primary target, and he might try to get at the kids," he says, knowing he's striking a low blow using the "kids as victims" card. "If you hear any gunshots, call for backup, okay?" Her jaw is set and her hand hasn't lifted from his arm, so he repeats, "Okay?"

"If I hear gunshots, I'm definitely killing him," is all she says before letting go.

He nods, then runs out the door, praying that this time, she'll be okay. It doesn't take long before he crashes through the hedge dividing their property, and finds the so-called Romeo clutching his manuscript to his skinny chest. "Padgett!" he hollers, pulling his gun out. "Freeze!"

The goateed man pauses, then stares. However, he's not staring at Mulder, but at something behind him. Oh, shit, Mulder thinks as he turns around. And just like something out of a horror movie, the hooded man grabs Mulder and throws him to the ground. He tries to shoot the assailant, but it's all he can do to hold on to his weapon as the implacable killer thrusts his hand into his chest. "Aaaaugh!!!" he screams, kneeing the guy in the nuts, but it does no good. The pain is unbelievable, since the would-be dead guy is performing surgery without anesthetic, and he's crying as he manages to aim his weapon properly. "Die, you bastard!" he grits his teeth, shooting the whole damn clip, but to no avail.

Oh, shit, he thinks again, I can't die like this!

"Dammit," Scully swears as she hangs up. The Metro may be dependable, but it's taking Doggett too long to get there and the cops have yet to show up. Taking the safety off her gun, she looks at the nanny. "Michelle, make sure none of the kids leave this house," she says, and the young woman nods, her eyes wide as saucers. "I love you." She smiles a little at her babies, and tears out of the house like a bat out of hell.

She crashes through the same hole Mulder made to save herself time, and sees a man lying on the grass. Not sure if it's Mulder or Padgett, she keeps her gun aimed at the body, then runs when she sees it's Mulder, his blood staining the grass.

"MULDER!" she cries, tearing open his shirt to find the source of the wound, to stop the blood loss, to find a heartbeat that has mysteriously disappeared. "NOOOOOO!!!!" Desperately, she puts her hand over his chest, but there's no apparent incision, nothing to indicate the extraction of the organ that seems to have vanished, and he coughs up blood.

The redhead looks around wildly, but can find no sign of the goateed bastard that did this to her husband. "Mulder," she sobs, fear constricting her throat, "please. Mulder... I can't..." She cradles him, her arms wrapped around his limp, bloody body so that it looks as if she's bleeding to death, too. "Don't leave me," she whispers, even as his life drains from his body with every drop.

Suddenly, Mulder's eyes fly open, and he thrashes around. Scully continues to hang on until he realizes who's holding him. He stares at her, then hugs her back tightly, gasping shallowly, "Scully." She nods, tears still running down her face, and he buries his face into her chest, shuddering with shock.

Neither of them notice the house behind them is in flames until the fire truck's bells and alarms ring loudly. They continue to cling to each other, even as they're taken away by ambulance, watched by their children, the nanny, and Doggett's children.

"I'm sorry," Mulder says, lying in the hospital. Even though he was, for the most part, unbelievably healthy, they were still keeping him in one night for observation. His family surrounding him, his friends beside him, lying here instead of Scully, he knows he's incredibly lucky.

"Are all your cases like this?" Doggett frowns. "Weird, and ending up wid one a you in tha hospital?"

"Yes," Skinner says, with something of a grin on his face.

"No!" Mulder shoots back, trying to sit up.

"Not always." Scully puts a hand on his chest, and he subsides. "Well, sometimes," she amends.

"Sometimes?" Doggett stares at the couple. "I may've been NYPD, but I didn't see the inside of a hospital more'n a couple times," he glances at his son, who nods.

"Usually, FBI agents aren't as," Scully pauses, "busy as we are, but then again, neither do they work on the kinds of cases we do." After another pause, not looking at her boss, she adds, "For instance, even though Mulder was drugged, we were okay against the vampires--"

"Maybe lay-duh," Doggett interrupts her as Luke gets wide-eyed. "We'd bettah get the kids home, they had an exciting day."

"Yeah," Mulder says, and hugs each one of his healthy kids. "Hug April for me."

Doggett smiles. "Now that she an' Hannah're gettin' bettah, they're gonna be up gigglin' all night. Bedtime's seven, right?" He grins as the man on the bed gives him a thumbs up, Luke starts whining, and Scully rolls her eyes. "Get bettah soon, Fox," he adds as he and Skinner lead the small herd of children out.

Scully smiles as her husband scrunches his face at the use of his first name. "You scared the hell out of me," she says, when the last of the small crowd is gone.

"How do you think I feel?" Mulder smiles weakly. He takes her hand in his IV-attached one, and the smile gets bigger. "Finding you in Padgett's bedroom, reading his sick love story..."

"And winding up here," she finishes. "Doggett's right. The nurses know us by name."

He chuckles. "At least they call you 'Doctor.' Me, they call 'Fox'," he wrinkles his nose.

She rubs her thumb inside his palm and smiles. "Well, maybe you'll get a good night's sleep with all the drugs," she says, then a guilty thought hits her.

"Or maybe once you empty the bed of all that chick porn, I mean, trashy romance novels, I mean, ow!" he pouts, making a show of rubbing his arm.

"Shut up, Mulder." She glares, but it's not a proper glare, so the effect is wasted.

He sighs. "I'm sorry," he repeats. "I was acting like an ass, and that was before what's-his-face showed up. It's just that," he exhales heavily again and frowns, not sure what to say or how to say it. Hell with it. "It's just that guys still go after you, even if you're married with five, soon to be six, kids. And it pisses me off."


"No." Now he looks up at her. "Okay, maybe a little. But mostly it pisses me off because nobody respects that we're already taken. Like being married means nothing and it doesn't matter if you're a psycho or a celebrity, you can do whatever the hell you want. I almost wish it was the olden days, when you stayed married forever and ever unless the guy was a cheating crook."

Scully chuckles and brushes his bangs away from his forehead. "I know. But then again, in this day and age, I get to be a mommy and a wife and a doctor and an agent. People respect our jobs, even if they might not always understand our relationship or, well, unusual cases." She smiles. He smiles back reluctantly, and she says, "But I promise there won't be any more books under the mattress that aren't mine," and his smile gets wider, "they'll be sent to the library or Goodwill."

Mulder shakes his head slightly. "Well, I kinda figured Page was a bright girl, but not that precocious." Before she smothers him, he adds quickly, "Before that happens, mind reading me a slutty bedtime story? I know there's at least one in your purse." He gives her the full-on puppy dog eyes, and she laughs.

"Only if you're a good boy and stay in bed." He raises one eyebrow.

Damn, I *am* lucky, he thinks. "I'll be good in bed." He grins, lowering the bed and pulling the sheet up to his chin.

Scully raps his head lightly with the paperback, but smiles anyway. "The Runaway and the Rapscallion, by Carla Prospera," she reads, and casts an almost schoolmarm-like look over her reading glasses, almost daring him to interrupt. When he doesn't, she proceeds to read the titillating tale of a bodice-ripping, petticoat-tearing scoundrel who ravishes the previously prim heroine, and their exploits in and out of bed makes Mulder think all those tapes and magazines that weren't his lacked something in the imagination department before he fades into sleep.

Chapter Seventy-Four

April 1999

Mulder picks up the phone in mid-ring, not even opening his eyes. "Mulder."

"Good," the masked voice says, "I need you on the next flight to Las Vegas."

The Gunmen, he almost groans aloud, but knows how damn paranoid they can be if he even breathes their group name. "Why?"

"It's something big," the voice says, and Mulder can't be sure which crackpot it is.

"Duh," Mulder says, and now he has to open his eyes to roll them.

"Who's that?" Scully mutters, not bothering to move or open her eyes.

"Gunmen," he tells her, only to get shushed, sworn at and scolded by all three conspiracy theorists. "Sorry. Anyways, what's in Vegas that can't be done here?"

"Look, I can't talk over an unsecured line. Please just get here. It's an emergency," the disguised Gunman says.

Mulder sighs. "She's gonna kick our asses when she wakes up," he mutters as his beloved wife lets out a snore. "Why not both of us?"

"Then the whole munchkin patrol comes with, and then what?" the voice says, and now he recognizes Langly. "She's preggers, right? Look, dude, get her some free munchies and we're all good."

"And that's why you'll never get married," Mulder says, "see you in a few." After he hangs up, he kisses his wife's forehead lightly, only to be rewarded with another snore. "Guess I'll find out exactly what happened to you in Vegas," he says in a low voice. Then he drags his tired-ass body out of bed and starts to scribble a note for her before packing and grabbing a flight.

"It's so nice of you boys to think of Scully's welfare," Mulder drawls when the trio greets him in the Vegas hotel lobby.

He's grateful things have slowed down casefile-wise, or he wouldn't have left Scully back in D.C. by herself. It's funny, but knowing Doggett earlier, as an agent-in-training and recently-divorced dad, has kinda made him trust the guy around his wife - at least this time he has a choice, rather than being abducted out of the picture only to find some super-skeptic barging into *his* division. "Anyways, where were we...?" he asks, already taking in his hectic surroundings with a deceptive nonchalant air.

"Let me bring you up to speed," Byers says quickly, nervously. He's about to go on, when four people pass by walking quickly, a female manager, a security guard and two paramedics. The Gunmen stare blatantly as the mad procession goes past, Mulder seemingly more low-key as they listen in.

Langly looks at his friends as he blurts out, "Aw, man, Jimmy!"

It doesn't take long for them to follow the emergency crew outside, joined by three guards, to a stopped bus. The bus driver is just standing there, looking distraught. "He just jumped; no warning, no nothing. He just, just dived right out in front of me."

Now the crew backs away to formulate how to remove the jumper, and Mulder and the Gunmen can clearly see the bloody human smear. "Oh God, that is Jimmy." The blond Gunman looking severely grossed out rather than sad.

The bus driver continues to babble, "It's not my fault. He was just standing there, and then he just dives under the bus."

"This wasn't suicide," Byers says solemnly, and they all start walking away.

"No, really, what the hell is going on?" Mulder asks, staring at the body before joining them.

Clark County Morgue

"You're absolutely sure you wanna be here for this?" Mulder looks at the blond Gunman with some concern.

Langly nods quickly, not wanting to wuss out on either man in front of him. "Oh yeah," he says a little nervously, "I'm cool. Let's just find out what killed him."

Mulder shares a look with the middle-aged ME, who looks equally dubious. "Okay." The only reason he's there is to make sure his friend doesn't pass out on the dead body.

The heavyset examiner glances up at the two tall men, and Mulder can see him mentally debating if they're gay. He doesn't care, really, but when the ME uncovers the body, Langly looks horrified. Uh-oh, the FBI agent thinks, as the older man obliviously clicks on the overhead microphone and begins the autopsy. "James Bellmont, age 29," he says in a thick voice tinged by years of smoking. "Visual exam reveals injuries consistent with massive trauma. Multiple rib fractures with concomgent hemorrhaging, both internal and external. His spine is fractured and partially exposed."

Langly says in a low voice to Mulder, "What if 'they' did something to him? You know, to make him pancake himself?"

The ME looks up at them curiously. "Who's 'they'?"

Before Mulder has a chance to respond with a smart-aleck remark, the Gunman says seriously, "You know," he pauses, "'them'."

The examiner looks at the blond man, then the brunette, his expression clearly saying, Damn nutjobs. "I'll begin with the Y-incision," he says, invoking one of Mulder favorite Scully phrases. The middle-aged man pulls the surgical mask over his nose and mouth, puts on a pair of goggles and proceeds to slice the torso skin in an obvious "Y" pattern.

As he penetrates the flesh, Langly looks around uncomfortably, not unnoticed by his federal compatriot. When the incision is finished, the ME peels back the first flap of skin, at which point Langly looks away. While the sight of blood and exposed ribs doesn't faze Mulder much these days, he sees his friend is less sanguine, as he can't stop shaking. As the ME proceeds, Langly looks more and more ready to vomit.

"Mr. FBI, while you're here, mind passing me the striker saw please, it's right there on the counter," the examiner asks, startling Langly.

Mulder does so, but when he turns around with the saw, Langly's finally lost it, rushing out through the double doors to throw up in the next room. "Sorry about that," he shrugs, but the older man sighs.

"Shoulda known," the ME says, going into the other room, "he might puke all over evidence. Don't touch anything, okay?"

Mulder nods, holding his hands up. He watches with some curiosity as the older man slaps the younger man's back and pulls his hair from his face.

He absently remembers he's still got the saw in his hand, so he tries to put it down on the tool table, "try" being the operative word. "Aw, man," he mutters, picking up the small tool from the floor and hopes he didn't break it. As he stands up, he notices a small needle-puncture wound behind Jimmy's right ear. "What the hell," he murmurs, squinting at the mark.

He's about to call the ME back when a hand clamps over his mouth, and something small and sharp is jabbed into his neck. "Ow," he groans, his eyes rolling before he tumbles to the floor.

"Now what?" the ME grumbles when he hears a thud in the autopsy room. At least the blond guy has pretty much heaved everything out, and the water just runs, washing everything down the drain and some of the smell from the room. "Mr. FBI?" he asks, walking quickly back into the autopsy room.

Langly stumbles after him, only to find Mulder unconscious on the floor. He hurries to him and slaps the guy's face lightly. "Dude, Mulder. Wake up. Are you okay?" He hauls the guy up as best he can to something like a seated position.

"What happened?" Mulder groans, wondering who the big old guy is and why Langly's holding him like a little girl.

"I'm thinking that you got a little queasy and took a header. You know blood and guts can bother some people," Langly says, with no sense of irony whatsoever.

Mulder's trying to keep the room from moving, and crossing his eyes a little does the trick. For now, that's all that matters. "Yeah, I guess."

"You gonna be all right?"

The federal agent swivels his head to look at the old guy, who snorts and goes back to work on the body, then to the blond guy. "Sure, Cutie."

Langly's taken aback and quickly scoots away. Mulder struggles back to his feet, swaying slightly. He grabs some of the sheet covering Jimmy's body as he stands, then quickly covers the body while the ME swears.

"So... you're done with Jimmy?" the blond man wonders.

"Hell, no," the old man says, pushing the suddenly-tipsy FBI man away from the body. "If you're lucky, we'll find some pavement on this guy's back."

Then he scowls at the still-weaving agent, and wonders if the guy's self-prescribed a drink to chase away nausea. Wouldn't be the first, but he's tired of people heaving around his workspace. "Mind taking your friend outta here?" he asks the nerdy-looking blond guy.

Langly nods, looking less queasy but more panicked. "Uhhhm, Mulder? You okay to move?"

Mulder nods, tries to come to a semblance of a dignified stance, but loses his footing and slips, falling to the floor again.

"Dammit," the ME grouses as Langly tries to haul his friend to his feet and out of the autopsy room.

Frohike's on a losing streak, but the interruption by his buddy isn't welcome. "What?" he asks tersely, dropping more tokens into the machine.

Langly isn't offended by the shorter man's attitude, merely shoving his hands in his pockets. "Dude, I dumped Mulder in his room not too long ago, so check on him before you head back to our room, okay?"

"What's wrong with him?" Frohike asks, not looking at him as he yanks the crank.

The blond man shrugs. "We tried staying for the autopsy, but Mulder got really dizzy and hit the floor," Langly replies. "The ME will ring Mulder with the results as soon as he's done."

Now Frohike turns and sees his pal fidgeting. "Where are you going in such a hurry?"

"Memorial game for Jimmy," Langly answers, "we grieve for the man, but Lord Manhammer's gonna kick some ass."

"Uh-huh," Frohike snorts and turns back to his slot machine as Langly leaves.

A few more losing rounds at the machine and he's ready to kick the damn thing when his attention is caught by a familiar laugh. He crosses the floor to find Mulder surrounded by a horde of loud men and empty beer mugs, looking for all the world like some mini-sports bar crowd. "Mulder?"

"Aw, hey! Long time, no see!" Mulder yells exuberantly, clapping the shorter man on the back so hard he stumbles.

The man to Mulder's right leans in and whispers something in his ear. Mulder guffaws, but shakes his head. "Naw, man, I like Melvin. Melvin's the man!" he says, rubbing a scowling Frohike's head, messing up what little hair the Gunman has left. He raises his mug of beer. "To Melvin!"

A cheer goes around for "Mel-VIN! Mel-VIN!" One of the men in the crowd, a tall, slightly heavy blond guy in a suit, also joins in the cheer.

When Mulder sees him, however, he flips out. "You!" he yells, grabbing the other man by the collar. His eyes bulge, and so does the other man's, but for entirely different reasons. "You fucking asshole! You screwed my wife!"

"I think I'd remember that," the blond man chokes out, to the amusement of everyone except Frohike.

"That's it," the short man tries to haul him off, but no go. Time to enlist some patriotic help. "This is Special Agent Fox Mulder of the FBI. If you don't help me separate these two, you may be committing a federal offense!"

It's clear nobody believes his bluff, but some guys are helpful enough to pull the homicidal agent off the shaken suit. "Thanks," he mutters to the guys who salute him with a "Mel-VIN!" In a low voice, he tells his clearly inebriated pal, "Come on, before you kill someone else."

There are some "awws", but as Mulder gamely waves his newfound friends goodbye, the balding blond guy makes the mistake of shaking out his lapels and huffing, "As if I'd ever come near your stupid wife."

"Dammit!" Frohike glares, as Mulder swiftly spins out of his friend's grasp, takes a couple of steps forward, and lands a solid punch on the other man's face. There are some whoops and cheers as the blond guy reels but remains standing, so Mulder hauls off and swings with his left fist, landing a decent uppercut. "TKO," the short man mutters, part of him insanely glad Mulder knocked that sonufabitch out for dissing Scully. "Come on, frat boy, let's go."

Mulder raises his hands like Rocky as he's led away, and somebody even hollers the Rocky theme, joined by more claps and cheers for the self-declared middleweight champion.

Frohike throws the hotel room door open, allowing a stumbling Mulder to flop in, "singing" the Rocky theme. "Hey, guys." He grins a wide, goofy grin.

As the others stare at the giddy agent, Frohike mutters, "Settle down, man, come on." It takes some doing, but eventually he gets Mulder to sit down on the bed.

Unfortunately, he's still throwing shadow punches, even while laughing and grinning. "I'm gonna knock you out," he sing-songs, "Scully said knock you out!"

The short man explains, for the benefit of his friend and the Mata Hari he's with, "Agent Mulder nearly killed a perfect," he ducks another shadow punch, "stranger down there!"

The bearded man frowns. "I've never seen him this drunk before..."

The thin blonde woman checks Mulder's eyes. "God, this can't be," she breathes.

As Modeski tries to check Mulder's hair and head for a needle puncture, Mulder pouts and swats at her ineffectually. "Hey, only Scully can check me out," he argues.

Modeski gives the Gunmen a look, and Byers says, "Mulder, Susanne is a friend. She's a doctor, like Scully, okay?"

Mulder squints, then nods. "Okay." Then he grins up at the blonde woman, and she blinks. "But if Scully finds out, she's gonna kick your ass."

"I'll take my chances," the blonde woman finds herself smiling back, but the smile fades when she finds a needle puncture just behind his right ear. "He's not drunk, look at this," she tells the two Gunmen. As they step in for a closer look, she explains, "That was made by an injector gun."

Frohike looks aghast. Geez, how many times is this guy gonna get drugged whenever Susanne Modeski's involved? "Well, what the hell was he injected with?!"

"P-funk, baby, that puts a dip in yo' hip and a glide in yo' stride, baby," Mulder intones in something like a George Clinton cadence, surprising everyone.

Recovering, Modeski explains in a more serious tone, "It's derivative of AH gas. AH, anoitic histamine, my latest creation." Ignoring the drugged man's "shpooky" response, she goes on. "I could have developed it years ago, but I held off. I wasn't about to let those bastards I work for get their hands on it," she says bitterly. "Grant thought that if we secretly developed a small batch, and then destroyed the notes, that we would have the proof we needed to go public. We'd also have a weapon we could use against them."

"Who else has access to this anoitic histamine?" Byers asks.

"Grant and I are the only two people that ha...," her voice trails off as she realizes what this means, "... that have the samples."

Mulder is oblivious to any life-shattering implications, his bottom lip jutting out and head bobbing back and forth in a white man's groove to music only he can hear.

"Well." Frohike looks at his blissfully oblivious friend, then to the blonde woman and demands, "do something."

Modeski nods, then fills a syringe with some chemical. Nobody turns around when Langly enters the room. "This will counteract the anoitic effect," she says.

Belatedly, Mulder notices his blond friend and grins, "Hi, cutie." When Modeski injects him, he pouts, "You poked me..." Then he promptly passes out.

Langly raises his eyebrows over the black rims of his glasses. "Bad trip?"

The blonde woman shakes her head, "No, he'll be fine. He just needs to sleep it off."

Frohike frowns at the unconscious agent. "I don't understand, why would the government want to turn Mulder into a frat boy?"

"That's just a potential side-effect," Modeski replies as Mulder lets out a buzzsaw snore. "Anoitic histamine impedes higher brain functions. It promotes suggestibility."

"Mind control." Byers looks at his friends as if he's found the Holy Grail. "Brainwashing."

The short man nods. "That explains Jimmy. They told him to commit suicide."

"And Mulder." The bearded man nods. "They made him delay the autopsy findings. But what is their larger purpose? What are they planning?"

"Well, whatever it is, we better find out fast," Frohike comments.

Saguaro Room
10:05 a.m.

The conference speaker, a nondescript older man in a suit, declares, "This brings us to the notion of acceptable risk. Of course, risk is defined as exposure, during both utilization and post-project evaluation. Now in a secure proving-ground, i.e. a domestic engagement, we have had great success. Now off-shore utilizations can afford a more comprehensive definition of acceptable risk. Proper target appraisal can provide a risk-free trial environment. A combination of political instability and lack of efficient infrastructure can offer a, uh, target area of nearly-zero risk potential."

A bespectacled blond man in a black track jacket slowly scans the room, only to settles his gaze on Susanne Modeski and Grant Ellis seated at the speakers table. After smiling tightly at something Ellis says, Modeski checks her watch. The time is 10:13. She looks impatient. Outside the Saguaro Room, Mulder approaches the door.

The security guard looks bored as he says, "Authorized attendees only."

Mulder flips open his badge. "I'm an FBI agent."

The guard's eyes barely flicker as he repeats, "Authorized attendees."

Mulder shoves his badge back into his coat. ::Why am I not surprised::, he thinks, surreptitiously checking his watch.

Meanwhile, Langly checks his watch and then Ellis checks his own as the speaker drones on, "Of course, risk management goes hand-in-hand with operational preparedness, and that happens to be our topic for the remainder of the session..."

"Al, I think this would be a good time to take a break, shall we?" Ellis smoothly interrupts.

The older man blinks, then nods. "Oh, yeah. Let's take five everybody. Smoke 'em if ya got 'em."

As everyone rises to leave for their break, Langly stands and casually walks toward the front of the room. Modeski is at the front of the room, shaking hands with attendees, and ignoring the Gunman. In what seems like minutes rather than seconds, Langly pulls the gun from his jacket and aims at Modeski, firing three rounds, each hitting her chest. The last one splatters blood on his glasses.

"Oh my God," Ellis says, staring in horror as Langly simply replaces the gun in his jacket and walks out.

Someone in the room cries out, "Somebody help her...somebody...!"

The suavely-dressed Ellis cradles the bleeding woman in a showy display of grief, "Susanne..."

Mulder swiftly sidesteps the security guard into the room, followed by him as he approaches Modeski. "Federal agent," he flashes his badge to anyone who cares. To the guard, he snaps, "Call for help."

The big man nods, and talks into his walkie-talkie, "Winston Warbler, we need an ambulance, a woman's been shot. She's bleeding, hurry."

Ellis is crouched over Modeski. "Who did this?" He stares at Mulder. "Who did this!?"

Mulder puts on his best expressionless FBI man face. "Shooter got away," he says tersely. Looking up at the security guard, he says, "Detain this man, get him outta here."

Frohike and Byers arrive in their paramedic guises as Ellis is taken away. In a low voice, Frohike murmurs, "Good work, frat boy."

Mulder frowns for a second before following Ellis. Frohike and Byers load Modeski onto the stretcher and wheel her out of the room smoothly, as if they've been doing this for years.

An elevator door opens, and Mulder, Ellis and the security guard take a step forward. Mulder puts a hand on the guard's arm. "I'll take him from here," he says, taking out his gun. The guard nods, and steps back into the elevator, and Ellis' eyes look panicked as the door slides shut.

"Wait a minute, where... where... where're you taking me?" he asks. He exhales with a sigh of relief when he sees it's his room, but when he sees the look in the FBI agent's eyes, that relief is short-lived. He starts when the door opens, and a bearded man walks inside, followed by -- "Susanne?"

The blonde woman, still looking as if she's bleeding copiously from three mortal wounds, turns to the three men. "Can we have a moment, alone, please? I'll be fine."

Mulder, Byers and Frohike look at each other, then at her. "We'll be right down the hall," Byers says firmly.

She nods. "Okay."

As Frohike passes Ellis, he holds up the black chip he gave him. The short man smirks, "Thanks for the tip."

"Okay, now what?" Mulder asks when they come to his room right next to theirs. He unlocks the door and only resumes speaking when the door's locked behind them. "I'm guessing Grant's either gonna be hunted by his organization when they learn he's failed," he says, taking off his fake blood-stained tie, "or they're gonna try finish the job with Susanne before taking care of him."

"Sorry, man," Frohike says from behind him.

"Sorry for what?" Mulder asks, digging his cell phone out to call Scully.

"For this," his friend says, and for the third time, Mulder gets drugged.

"Are you certain it's safe to keep injecting him like this?" Mulder vaguely hears Byers' worried voice.

"Your girlfriend said it was okay," Frohike's voice seems to float across a great distance.

Hey, guys, I'm right here, he wants to say, but the world is fading out just as Byers replies, "She's not my, never mind."

Later that night, Mulder wakes up to the sound of his cell phone ringing. He blindly flails around, his hand hitting a button, only to turn the TV on. "Police confirm an arrest has been made, this man, Timothy Landau of Aldonaberta, New Mexico, has confessed to the murders of Grant Ellis and Susanne Modeski," a female reporter declares. "Both victims were government employees attending a conference in Las Vegas."

Why does that sound familiar, Mulder squints as the phone keeps ringing shrilly, the pounding in his head being matched by a nasty dead mouse taste in his mouth. "Yeah, yeah," he finally locates his cell phone, which happens to be inside his coat pocket. Even as he takes in the realization that he's lying in a hotel bed fully clothed with a raging headache, several bad scenarios come to mind. "Mulder," he answers, even as the TV blares on.

"Mulder, where are you?" his wife says as if from a great distance.

"Good question," he says, sitting up and groaning. "I'm in," he locates the TV remote and shuts it off, "some kind of hotel."

"In Las Vegas? Why did the Gunmen want you there?" she asks.

"The Gunmen are here?" He frowns, trying as hard as hell to remember.

There's a pause, and then Scully says, "Oh man, I am gonna kick their asses. And when you get home, I'm gonna kick yours."

"Don't bother," he grumbles, thankful when it's apparent those idiots haven't tampered with his overnight bag or his wallet, as far as he can tell. "I'm gonna kill them, and then this hangover's gonna kill me."

"Hangover? Mulder, what the hell's going on?"

He sits down, then wishes he hadn't sat down so hard as the room's starting to wobble. "As soon as I find them, I'm going to ask them," he says, trying to enunciate since it feels like consonants and vowels are slipping out of his control. "Then I'm going to kill them. Then the hangover's gonna kill me. Or you could kill me, whichever comes first. God, I feel like hell."

Scully snorts, then says, "I love you, Mulder, but if I find out that there's even a strip club involved-"

"Death, instant, immediate and irrevocable death," he supplies, "I love you, too, Scully." She snorts again, and hangs up.

Mulder sighs, closes his eyes, and groans. If this damn hangover keeps up, the boys will be lucky to escape with a simple maiming rather than death, but right now, it feels like all the Yankees who ever lived are doing warm-ups in his skull. "Ugh, kill me now."

Chapter Seventy-Five

Three Days Before Easter 1999

"Agent Reyes! I wasn't expecting you," Mulder says in surprise after opening the door one afternoon. Behind her, he can see Gibson. The boy looks tense.

He opens the door and lets them both in. Just as they walk in, Hannah barrels into the room. "Hi," the little girl says shyly.

"Is this your daughter?" Reyes asks, peering down at the child. "She looks...nothing like you."

The little girl scowls, making Mulder grin. "No, Scully and her mom have ours for pictures with the Easter Bunny. This is Hannah. She, her brother, and Dad are staying with us."

"Hannah?" Doggett's voice proceeds him. "Muldah, is Hannah with you?"

Doggett's daughter throws herself at her father's knees when he comes in the room. "Oh. Uh hi." His cheeks pink when he notices other people in the room.

"John Doggett, agent Monica Reyes," Mulder introduces, then gestures towards the silent boy. "And this is Gibson Praise."

"Nice to meet you. Gibson, you're about twelve or thirteen, aren't you?" Doggett asks, apparently sizing the visitors up.

"Yes," Gibson replies shyly.

"My son is about your age, then. Why don't we see if he wants to play a video game while the feds talk?"

Gibson takes things in stride as usual. "Okay."

"You haven't said why you dropped by," Mulder reminds Reyes.

The serious look on Reyes' face worries him. "Gibson is pretty sure that they know where he is. One of the kids must have said something to exactly the wrong person...He doesn't want to admit it, but he's scared to death. I'm not sure what to do, besides not send him back to that school."

"We'll work something out," Mulder assures her. ::I guess it's about time to sweet-talk the people at the school for the deaf.::

"I...I was wondering if I should adopt him."

He gives her a pained smile. "That's a noble aspiration, but it's a hard row to hoe. A friend of mine once tried to adopt a special needs child...they didn't want to approve the adoption because she was a single woman who had a dangerous job - FBI agent."

"You said they 'didn't want to'. So what did happen?"

"The child died before a decision was made either way."

"That's terrible. I don't know, maybe my idea is dumb anyway. Gibson said that they don't seem to suspect a connection between him and I, so maybe doing this would be making it obvious."

"I'd like to tell you that you're being silly but..." He puts up his hands helplessly. "These men are ruthless."

"Yes...I just feel so bad for him. He doesn't have anyone. I know how happy I am that people who cared adopted me when I was orphaned."

Mulder nods knowingly. "You know that Gibson reads minds. You don't need to adopt him in order to prove to him that you care about what happens to him."

"I know but..." Reyes wrings her hands. "You don't know what it's like to have no idea what life would have been like if you stayed with your real parents. I was fortunate. I was adopted by people who really loved me. Gibson doesn't have that."

He frowns. "I'm not trying to say that's not something important, but his safety is even more important right now. Maybe someday..."

"Yeah," Reyes says heavily. Doggett reappears just then.

"Why don't I go make a few calls to see if I can find a safe place for him," Mulder says, giving Doggett a sidelong look.

"Sure," Reyes replies, not really looking up at him.

As Mulder is leaving the room, he hears Doggett ask "Agent Reyes, would you like some coffee?"

It takes Mulder about twenty minutes to convince the school for the deaf to take Gibson in. He never told Scully the first time around, but the school was founded by an old NICAP friend of Max Fenig's so it wasn't hard to find a sympathetic ear...given that the friend was not deaf.

His next step is to poke his head into the room where the boys are playing video games. "Hey, Gibson. Let's go talk to Monica."

"Yeah, okay."

"Aww, does he have to go now?" Luke asks. "We're in the middle of a game!"

"Sorry, Luke, this is important." The boy grimaces, but he nods resignedly.

Downstairs, Doggett and Reyes are in the middle of a pleasant conversation. Mulder isn't sure what it's about, exactly, but he suspects that from what he caught that Doggett's been grilling her on what it's like to work for the FBI in the Big Easy.

"So," Mulder announces to get their attention. They look up sheepishly. "I've found a school out west that will take Gibson in, no questions asked. I've booked two plane tickets for this evening. And here's how to get there once your flight lands."

"Good." Reyes sounds relieved. She holds out her hands for the directions Mulder has printed out for her.

Gibson just nods.

Mulder turns to him. "I'm confident that you'll be safe there, because no one will be able to tell your secrets. All of the other students, and some of the staff, are deaf."

To Mulder's surprise, Gibson grins. "So they won't know my secrets, but I'll be able to know theirs."

"I guess so," Mulder agrees. "I'm sorry that it didn't work out where you are now."

"It's okay. I didn't make too many friends anyway," Gibson tells him without self-pity. "I think a lot of kids thought I was spooky."

"Yeah... they used to call me 'Spooky Mulder' around the Hoover building, so I can relate."

"But not often since you got married."

Mulder blinks. "That's right."

"Speaking of your wife, tell her I'm sorry I missed her," Reyes says, standing.

"I will. But I'm sure you'll see her yourself at some point or another."

"Fate you mean?" Reyes asks with a teasing smile.

"I was thinking of inevitably working together on another case, but if you want to chalk it up to fate..."

Before she and Gibson leave, she shakes Doggett's hand. "It was really nice to meet you, John. Who knows, maybe fate will force us to cross paths again too."

"I think I'd like that," Doggett says, sounding a bit star-struck.

Mulder couldn't fail to notice this, so it comes to no surprise when Doggett asks him later that night if Reyes is married. "No. I think she's waiting for 'The One'," Mulder tells him, and has to stifle the urge to match-make.

"I don't blame her," Doggett says, then whistles as he wanders off to do homework. Mulder can only shake his head and smile.

April 1999

I'm blessed
God knows I'm blessed
As I look all around me
I realize, I'm blessed

FBI Headquarters.

Scully groans, her arms filled to the brim with thick files, and carefully negotiates her way down the stairs. The janitor jerks his head away from the TV as she passes, and she shakes her head at his unspoken offer to help. Almost there, she thinks, waddling into the office and drops the large books onto Mulder's desk with a satisfying thud.

Mulder, to her gratification, jumps a little as he looks up at her, pushing his reading glasses up his nose in a stereotypical scholarly fashion before going back to reading the record book. She makes a face, steps up on the boxes stacked against the back wall and gazes wistfully out the window.

"Mulder, it is such a gorgeous day outside. We could be playing with the kids in the park, or taking a drive, or doing something *normal* for a change."

His nose still looking at the record book, Mulder replies distantly, "Normal can be overrated." The sound of a paper bag being opened catches his attention, and he grins expectantly at the dessert. "Did you bring enough ice cream to share with the rest of the class?"

She looks like their marmalade bobtail cat as she manages to both lick the ice cream and be smug about it. "It's not ice cream," she says between licks. "It's a nonfat tofutti rice dreamsicle."

He makes a grossed out face, going back to his book. "Ugh," he says, not knowing how much of a nerd he looks like as he buries himself behind the large tome. "Bet the air in my mouth tastes better than that. You sure know how to live it up, Scully."

Scully rolls her eyes. "Oh, you're Mr. Live-it-up, Mulder, you're really Mr. Squeeze-every-last-drop-out-of-this-sweet-life aren't you? On this precious Saturday you've got us grabbing life by the testes stealing reference books from the FBI library in order to go through New Mexico newspaper obituaries for the years 1940 to 1949 and for what joyful purpose?"

He blinks behind his reading glasses. "Looking for anomalies, Scully," he answers in an oh-so-reasonable tone. "Do you know how many so-called 'flying disc' reports there were in New Mexico in the 1940s?"

She indulges herself in a huge sigh. "I don't care," she says simply, before indulging in another large bite of her frozen dessert. "Mulder, this is a needle in a haystack. These poor souls have been dead for 50 years. Let them rest in peace. Let sleeping dogs lie," she waves a free hand dramatically.

He grins, taking off his reading glasses. I love you, he thinks, even as he says aloud, "No, I won't sit idly by as you hurl cliches at me. Preparation is the father of inspiration."

"Necessity is the mother of invention," she shoots back.

"The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom."

"Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we may die," Scully says, taking another bite.

"I scream, you scream, we all scream for nonfat tofutti rice dreamsicles," Mulder says as he lunges for the dreamsicle, taking an obnoxiously large bite. The cone breaks and pieces of the dessert splatter, not on the book, but on her black tank top. "Uh-oh."

"'Uh-oh' is right." She frowns, scooping what she can salvage off her dark top, but her efforts causes some of the dessert to fall inside her cleavage rather than her mouth. "Ohhh, no..."

Mulder watches the journey of the leftover dreamsicle with great interest, until he can't take it anymore and grabs his wife. Ignoring her squeals, he bares her right breast and licks the remains of the fat-free dessert, his tongue trailing to her exposed nipple and sucking on it.

"Mulder," she weakly protests, but her eyes are closed. "The door's unlocked."

"Mm-hm," he mutters against her breast, and she groans. He doesn't want her other breast to feel neglected, so he reaches under her black top and fondles that, too, until she's rocking against his chest. With his free right hand, he unzips her slacks, curious to see if she's wet for him, and grazes the bottom of her panties. When she gasps his name sharply, he smiles against her nipple, finding she's very wet, and slips his hand inside, his fingers rubbing against and inside her clit until she cries out --

"Mulder!" A hand snaps in front of his face. When snaps out of his daydream, he sees his wife looking amused. "I'm guessing you weren't thinking about an X-File for those few seconds," she says dryly, futilely wiping at her black top with a paper towel, her breasts very well covered and her slacks still on, unfortunately.

It may have been a daydream of a few short seconds, but he's managed to build up a bit of wood with his active imagination. Baseball, he thinks, falling on the diversionary cliché, gotta stick to baseball. "Uh, no." He grins, then grabs the record book and pretends to be studiously reading it like the good agent he's supposed to be.

"Yeah, right," she says, grabbing the book from him, and since he forgets to turn the page, she finds his true reading assignment -- baseball. Scully tries for righteous indignation, but either it's the pregnancy hormones or the fake dairy that's got her in a ridiculously good mood in spite of herself. "Mulder! You cheat! I can't believe that you've been reading about *baseball* this whole time."

Taking advantage of her good mood, he smiles, not apologizing in the least. "Reading the box scores, Scully. You'd like it. It's like the Pythagorean Theorem for jocks. It distills all the chaos and action of any game in the history of all baseball games into one tiny, perfect, rectangular sequence of numbers," he says, pointing on the page. "I can look at this box and I can recreate exactly what happened on some sunny summer day back in 1947." He looks back at her. "It's like the numbers talk to me, they comfort me. They tell me that even though lots of things can change some things do remain the same. It's..."

She interrupts him, on cue. "Boring," Scully says, still smiling at him. "Mulder, can I ask you a personal question?"

"Of course not," he says, pouting down at the record book.

Scully's smile shifts into a smirk. "Did your mother ever tell you to go outside and play?" She tilts her head as he seems to stare at something on the page that has nothing to do with baseball or ice cream. She's seen that look before, and she realizes that, whether she likes it or not, he's got himself hooked on some kind of alien- or conspiracy-related clue. "Mulder?"

Wiping away the ice cream, Mulder looks down at a picture of two white men and one black man in a baseball jersey standing in front of an old bus with "Roswell Grays" on the side. One of the white men is the ever-present ABH, his square jaw and nonexistent neck distinct features for an alien. The headline reads, "Local Roswell police officer Arthur Dales chats with Diamond Star Josh Exley." Mulder smiles as he murmurs, "Arthur Dales, huh?"

"Mulder?" Scully repeats.

"Ah... Choo!" Mulder pulls off the worst fake sneeze, ripping the page out of the book.

His wife stares at him in disbelief. "You just defaced property of the U.S. Government," she says as if he didn't know. Carrying the torn page, Mulder grabs his leather jacket, gives her a quick peck on the cheek, and runs out of the office. As she watches him go, she has a slight smile on her face. "You rebel," she says, shaking her head before pulling out her cell phone.

If Mulder's confident enough to go chasing down who-knows-what without her or the Gunmen, it can only mean it's a relatively small clue, and she can spend time with the kids without worrying too much. "Hi, Page." She smiles when her oldest child answers. "Mommy's coming home soon. No, but I think Daddy will be home in time for supper. Yes, I'll bring something home, okay? Love you."

Washington, D.C.

Here we go again, Mulder thinks as he walks down the hall of an old apartment building that seems to have gotten crappier since the last time he visited. He steps over an unconscious drunk and knocks at one of the doors. A balding, round old man answers, barely opening the door as he snaps, "What in hell took you so long?"

Despite knowing who this guy is, there's something about him that puts him off, just like the guy's brother. "I'm-I'm sorry, sir, I'm-I'm looking for Arthur Dales," he stutters like a novice.

"I'm Arthur Dales." The man's jowls become more pronounced as he scowls.

Mulder fights back his impulse to laugh as he retorts, "No, you're not."

The old man stares at him levelly. "Don't be a wiseass, son."

The agent shakes his head mulishly, "No, I-I'm sorry, sir, I know Arthur Dales and you're not Arthur Dales."

Now the old man gives him a magnanimous, if condescending, gaze. "Arthur Dales is my brother. My name also happens to be Arthur Dales," he intones in a manner reminiscent of W. C. Fields. "It's the same name, different guy. The other Arthur, he moved to Florida, the lucky bastard. Now, our parents weren't exactly big in the imagination department when it came to names. If it would help you wrapping your little head around this stupefying mystery, Agent Mulder, we had a sister named Arthur, too, and a goldfish."

Mulder stares at him suspiciously, only because it's expected. "How do you know my name?"

He allows the old fart to smirk. "My brother told me all about you. He said you were the biggest jackass in the Bureau since he retired. Yeah, we're big fans," Dales says sarcastically. "Sometimes we'd stay awake hours at night just talking about you. Just fascinating. Now, unless you're hiding some Chinese food, let's call it a day."

Mulder barely blinks as Dales shuts the door in his face. He waits a moment, then unfolds the paper he took from the office and hollers at the door. "Mr. Dales, I have a, uh... I have a photo here of your brother. Maybe it's you. It's from many years ago and you're, you're standing in Roswell, New Mexico."

"Roswell," Dales says from behind the door. "That's me. I was a cop once in Roswell."

Mulder allows himself to smile, since he knows what's going to happen. And even though the discovery is fifty years too late to change things, he figures spending the afternoon with someone who had a close encounter of the fourth kind is a pretty cool. "Okay, and you're standing with Negro League legend Josh Exley, who disappeared without a trace during a season in which he reportedly hit 60 home runs," he continues.

"Sixty-one," the old man corrects him.

"61 home runs in 1948," Mulder nods.

"Forty-seven," Dales retorts from behind the door.

Mulder folds the torn newspaper and shoves it into his jacket. "'47, whatever, I don't really care about the baseball, so much, sir," he shouts, knowing it'll piss the old guy off. "What I care about is this man in the picture with you, I believe to be an alien bounty hunter."

As expected, the old fart, that is, Dales, opens the door a crack, glaring. "Of course you don't care about the baseball, Mr. Mulder," he says in his impeccable drawl. "You only bothered my brother about the important things like government conspiracies and alien bounty hunters and the truth with a capital 'T.'"

"Wait a minute," the younger man furrows his eyebrows as he smiles, sensing a challenge. "I like baseball."

It's obvious Dales doesn't believe him. "You like baseball, huh?"

Mulder facially shrugs. "Yeah."

"How many home runs did Mickey Mantle hit?" Dales questions.

After a beat, Mulder replies, "A hundred and sixty-three." As the old man snorts and starts to close the door, Mulder pushes it back open with a smirk. "Righty. 373 lefty. 536 total."

Now the old man grudgingly gives him props and allows him into his cluttered apartment. It isn't long before Mulder seats himself on the couch, the only safe place to sit, while Dales goes through drawers and boxes. "What you fail to understand in your joyless myopia is that baseball is the key to life -- the Rosetta Stone, if you will," he says in his droll tone. "If you just understood baseball better, all your other questions your, your... the, uh... the aliens, the conspiracies they would all, in their way be answered by the baseball gods."

I've got a bad feeling this is what the Gunmen or I could've turned into had we veered into the baseball card-side of things, Mulder thinks. Then again, it was probably healthier for this Dales to get into baseball rather than the X-Files like his brother. Still, he plows on. "Yes, sir, that may be true," he says, falling into an odd sort of politeness rarely seen outside his family. "I'm thinking that your experience in Roswell could be germane to a conspiracy between men in our government and these shape-shifting alien beings."

The old man, however, dismisses both politeness and theory. "Oh, don't bore me, son. My brother Arthur started the X-Files with the Federal Bureau of Obfuscation before you were born. He was working for the FBI hunting for aliens when you were watching My Best Friend's Martians. You say 'shape-shifting.'" His pale, baggy eyes bore into the hazel eyes of the agent. "Agent Mulder, do you believe that love can make a man shape-shift?"

"I guess... women change men all the time." He smiles, thinking of Scully.

Dales snorts. "I'm not talking about women. I'm talking about love. Passion." He smirks, "Like the passion you have for proving extra-terrestrial life. Do you believe that that passion can change your very nature? Can make you shape-shift from a man into something other than a man?"

Again, even though he knows better, Mulder gets paranoid and defensive. "What exactly has your brother told you about me?" As before, this Dales keeps his mouth shut and his eyes on the mess he calls a home. "Mr. Dales, if you and your brother have really known about this bounty hunter and plans for colonization for the last 50 years, why the hell wouldn't you have told anybody?"

"Nobody'd believe me."

Mulder frowns. "I would have believed you."

Dales pauses in his search. "You weren't... ripe."

As before, Mulder's caught between wanting to strangle him and hit his own head against the wall. Instead, he leaps to his feet. "Not ripe?" He gets in the old man's face. "Let me tell you something -- I have been ripe for years! I am way past ripe! I'm so ripe, I'm fucking rotten! This cuts to the very heart of the mystery of what I've been doing with my life for the past ten years!" Okay, a little histrionic, but he doesn't feel like killing the old bastard any more. At least, not yet.

Dales takes the rant in stride. "Oh, the heart of the mystery, the heart of the mystery. Ah, there you are," he beams as he holds up a model of a kneeling baseball player, an old child's toy bank in disguise. "Mr. Mulder -- maybe you'd better start paying a little less attention to the heart of the mystery and a little more attention to the mystery of the heart. You got a dime?"

"What is this?" Mulder squints, wondering if the thing would be durable enough to withstand Sammy's inquisitive hands.

"This little fellow goes by the name of Pete Rosebud," Dales replies, showing off the bank. "If you keep pumping coffee money into him, he'll tell you a story about baseball and aliens and bounty hunters."

As he puts a dime into the toy, Mulder mumbles, "Isn't this a little childish?"

"Sometimes you need a fresh pair of eyes, a child's eyes, to look at things the right way," Dales says as the toy batter begins the windup. "Now, the first thing you got to know about baseball is... it keeps you forever young."

Later as Mulder gets a bottle of mustard out of a refrigerator that contains only beer, liquor, and condiments, he smirks. "I've got to give it to you, Arthur. Calling a Negro league team from Roswell the Grays is pretty clever. E.T. steal home, E.T. steal home," he does a bad imitation of the Spielberg creature. Then he squeezes the mustard onto the two hotdogs the other Dales is holding, taking one of them.

The heavy old man scowls at him. "I didn't make that up."

I know you didn't, the agent thinks, but hell, free hotdog, pizza and beer and a good story? Like I'd pass that up. Outwardly, however, his demeanor is, oddly enough, skeptical. "You seriously want me to believe that Josh Exley, maybe one of the greatest ballplayers of all times, was an alien?"

"They're all aliens, Agent Mulder," the old man intones in his W.C. Fields delivery, "all the great ones."

"Babe Ruth was an alien?"

The old man beams. "Yeah."

"Joe DiMaggio?" Mulder mumbles around his hot dog.


"Willie Mays?" Mulder prompts.

A snort. "Well, obviously."

"Mantle? Koufax? Gibson?"

"Bob or Kirk?" This Dales doesn't wait for a response as he plows on. "See, none of the great ones fit in -- not in this world, not in any other world." Someone knocks at the door and Dales walks over to get it. "They're all aliens, Mulder, until they step between the white chalk lines -- until they step on the outfield grass." The old man opens the door for a little boy in overalls, carrying what looks like a liquor bottle in a paper bag. "Like clockwork. Poor boy with my medicine." He grins, walking away with the bag, then nods at the agent. "Give the kid a tip, will ya?"

I hope our kids never have to resort to delivering liquor to reclusive old theorists, Mulder thinks, digging into his pocket. "So I assume you're speaking metaphorically?"

Dales snorts again, pulling his "medicine" from the bag. "Speaking metaphorically is for young men like you, Agent MacGyver. I don't have time for that. I only have time to speak the truth."

Mulder finally frees his hands, holding the hotdog in his mouth, and hands the kid a dollar.

The kid squints at the dollar, much as Mulder would've if he were the same age now rather than in the late '60's. "You're a regular Rockefeller, ain't ya?" Before Mulder can retort 'How do you even know who Rockefeller is?', the kid's running down the hallway and jumping over the drunk in the hallway.

Neither man pays attention to the black and white commercial on TV, as they are more wrapped up in the story unfolding from the old man's lips. They are sitting on the couch, surrounded by the bachelor's décor of empty pizza and Chinese takeout boxes. As Dales drinks his beer, Mulder says, "Let me get this straight: a free-spirited alien fell in love with baseball and ran away from the other non-fun-having aliens and made himself black, because that would prevent him from getting to the majors where his unspeakable secret might be discovered by an intrusive press and public and you're also implying that..."

Dales looks at him wryly. "You certainly have a knack for turning chicken salad into chicken shit," he remarks after a large swig of beer.

Mulder plows on. "You're also implying that this baseball-playing alien has something to do with the famous Roswell UFO crash of July '47, aren't you?"

Now the heavyset old man chuckles. "You're just dying to connect the dots aren't you, son? Look, I give you some wood and I ask you for a cabinet. You build me a cathedral. I don't want a cathedral. I like where I live. I just want a place to put my TV. Understand my drift?"

The agent blinks, then nods. "Drift it is, sir," Mulder says, still oddly polite.

Dales grins. "Trust the tale, Agent MacGyver not the teller. That which fascinates us is by definition true. Speaking metaphorically, of course."

"Okay, so was Ex a man who was metaphorically an alien or an alien who was metaphorically a man or a something in between that was literally an alien-human hybrid?" Mulder asks. The old man frowns, then hands him a pint of liquor. Mulder takes it and grins. "It's official. I am a horse's ass," he toasts, and he's fairly certain that, if Scully were there, she'd agree, but not drink the beer.

"What is it to be a human, Fox?" Dales asks, and Mulder has to control his wince at the casual use of his first name. Hell, "Agent MacGuyver" is preferable to his name. "Is it to have the chemistry of a man? In the universal scheme of things a dog's chemistry is nearly identical to that of a man. But is a dog like a man?"

"Well, I have noticed over the course of time, a man and his dog will often start to look like one another," Mulder grins again, thinking of how Scully and Queequeg resembled each other, although she'd kick his ass if he said that out loud.

"Of course not," Dales says. "To be a man is to have the heart of a man. Integrity, decency, sympathy: these are the things that make a man a man and Ex had them all had them all, more than you or I." Even as he returned to the story, Mulder notes his eyes soften again. As the previous time, he wonders, ::Will this be me in the future, holding on to past brushes with the incredible things I've seen and done, unable to face the present clearly and the future hopefully?::

Mulder's got the hugest shit-eating grin on his face as he pulls up to the driveway. This is gonna be fun. Or painful. Whichever comes first. Like a dream, his wife comes out, with David and Jared on each hip and a quizzical smile on her face. "So, uh... I get this message marked "urgent" on our answering service from one Fox *Mantle*," and his grin gets wider, "telling me to get the kids in their grungiest clothes for my very special surprise. And, Mulder... I don't see any nicely wrapped presents lying around, so what gives?"

"You've never hit a baseball, have you, Scully?"

"No, I guess I have, uh... found more necessary things to do with my time than," she raises an eyebrow when he hauls a large duffel bag from the back of the minivan, "slap a piece of horsehide with a stick."

"That's about to change," he says as their more mobile kids join Scully at the front door. He leads them around to the backyard, where they're less likely to hit balls into a neighbor's window, or worse, into the street. Fortunately, because of his paranoia of folks sneaking through an unlit area around the house, the backyard is lit better than some ballparks. Then he grins at Luke, tossing him a catcher's mitt. "You're on ball duty."

"Aw, man," the tow-headed boy grumbles, but it's a good-natured grumble.

Scully would cross her arms if they weren't full. "This my very special surprise, Mulder? You shouldn't have," she says flatly.

"'Course I do," he says lightly, "I love you." As she rolls her eyes, he hands Luke a Wiffle ball and Page a Wiffle bat. "I'm guessing your dad taught you the finer points of the game, but for her sake," and Mulder nods vaguely in both Page's and Scully's direction, "go easy on her."

As the boy grins, he walks over to his older daughter and nods at Sammy and April. "Now you guys watch carefully, 'cause you'll be next." As they stare in frank curiosity, Mulder kneels on the ground and hunches over. "Okay, honey, when you see the ball coming at you, whack it." He positions his daughter's arms so that they swing the bat effectively. "Just like a piñata," he adds.

He isn't sure whether that was the right thing or the wrong thing to say, because when Luke tosses it, Page swings so hard she spins around, nearly beheading him in the process. As Scully and Luke laugh, Mulder can only give a shaky grin and silent thanks that it's only a Wiffle bat and not a real one. "Page?" he says, making sure to keep his voice steady.

"Yeah, Daddy?" she asks innocently, even as she brandishes the foam bat like a weapon of death.

::My God, I love you so much, sweetie,:: he thinks, and now, even more than ever, does he realize that, unlike either Arthur Dales, he's not going to end up alone and drunk and despairing of the future. It's Scully, and Page, and everyone else in his life, that saves him from that. Out loud, however, he says, "Page, honey, try to hit the ball, not Daddy's head."

"Okay!" she says brightly. Then she adopts what can only be called Scully's Stance of Death, and her proud mommy doesn't bother to hide a snigger at the expense of her hapless daddy.

Mulder suppresses a shudder. "All right. We're going to wait on the pitch. We're going to keep our eye on the ball. Then, we're just going to make contact, I mean, hit that sucker." To his surprise and sudden pride, his little girl swings and hits the ball. "Yes!!! High-five!" After she triumphantly does so, he hugs her. "Who's next?"

It isn't long before Luke becomes the pitcher to not only Mulder's kids, but for his sister as well, and everyone is cheering, whether or not they hit the ball. Mulder joins his wife and two youngest sons on the door stoop, and as he wraps his arms around her, she leans into him. "So, Mr. Mantle, what brought this on?"

He shrugs. "Sometimes, when you concentrate on hitting that little ball... The rest of the world just fades away-- all your everyday, nagging concerns." Scully giggles as Sammy does a little football touchdown dance, irregardless of hitting the ball. "Having to spend more sleepless nights for our upcoming child of looooooooove." This time, Hannah hits the ball, and they clap for her, even as he's sure Scully wants to roll her eyes at him. "How you probably couldn't afford that nice, new suede coat on a G-Woman's salary, but sure as hell look good in it." She shakes her head, smiling. "How you threw away a promising career in medicine," he lowers his voice as he murmurs into her ear, "to hunt aliens with a crackpot, albeit brilliant, partner and husband." Now she snorts and he sports a mock-wounded look. "Getting into the heart of a global conspiracy. Wondering how soon I can bed my favorite redhead -- Oh, I... I'm sorry, Scully. Those last two problems are mine, not yours." She elbows him, and he rubs his arm. "Ow."

There's no sympathy on her face as she hands him the twins with a big smile. "Shut up, Mulder. I'm gonna play baseball."

He pouts, then sits David and Jared near the door. "You guys aren't gonna run away, are you?" he asks, pulling off his jacket. "Daddy's gonna shag Mommy, I mean shag some balls... Why am I explaining to you?" he asks, putting one drooling boy on his leather jacket, then the other before joining his wife.

"Mulder?" Scully raises The Eyebrow as he pulls a regulation bat and ball from the bag.

"Catch," he says, tossing her the bat. She does so, and he pulls another mitt from the bag. "Ready to take a whack at horsehide with a stick?"

"Bring it on." She smiles back, and now the kids pause in their game to cheer her on.

"Go, Mommy!"
"Hit it, Mrs. M.!"
"You can do it!"

There's a song in Mulder's heart as that smile nearly blinds him. "Okay, Scully, hips before hands!" He throws her some easy ones, most of which she misses, and she pouts. He wishes he could give her that up close and personal lesson he did before, but now, he's afraid that he'd end up dry humping her in front of their children, so he sucks it up and gets ready for another toss. He curls two fingers and stretches his right arm way back as if to give her a vicious curveball, but the delivery's surprisingly soft and as she swings, she connects.

Scully laughs with delight, and everyone cheers and claps. She bows deeply and repeatedly, "Thank you, thank you!"

Mulder chuckles, "Okay, my turn."

"But I wanna keep going!" Scully pouts.

"I never got a crack at that nice piece of ash," he points out, "the bat, Scully, the bat."

Her eyebrow's raised, but she hands it over. As he takes it, he hears a familiar voice call out, "Hey, is this a closed game, or can anyone play?"

They turn to see Doggett wearing an FBI trainee polo shirt and slacks, the weariness dropping off his face when he sees what's going on. "Dad!" his son says, and Mulder's again surprised to see how young this guy looks as his eyes brighten.

Mulder tosses the ball to the other man. "Go easy on me, John," he says, walking over to the unofficial "plate."

"Hell, no." Doggett grins, and as Mulder groans loudly, the kids laugh. "Ready?"

Mulder winks at his wife, then gets comfortable with the bat. "Bring it on."

"Uh-oh," Luke says, and isn't surprised when Mulder misses, the ball bounces off the door, hits the garbage can, and lands in David's lap. "Nice catch."

Scully giggles as she picks up the ball from her baby boy's chubby hands. "Your worries fading away yet, Mulder?" she asks, then tosses the ball back to Doggett.

"Hell, no." He grimaces, and Doggett laughs. It was gonna be a long night.

I made many mistakes and I haven't done right all the time

But the Lord keeps on blessing me

Not by my goodness, you may not understand

The Lord keeps on blessing me

I can't explain it, it's so amazing

(The Lord keeps on blessing me)

I can't explain it, it's so amazing

(The Lord keeps on blessing me)

"We played baseball until our arms fell off," Mulder yawns, staggering into the bedroom, "so why was it still so hard to put five kids to bed?"

Standing on the bed, Scully kisses her husband after chuckling. "I love you, Mulder." She smiles.

He smiles back. "What was that for?"

"At the end of the day, even after talking aliens and drinking beer with a strange old man, you still manage to come home and play with the kids." Her smile becomes reflective as he pulls his shirt off. "Come here, you."

His slightly confused expression melts into an "oh, yeah" one when she takes off his jeans. "Someone's getting lucky tonight."

She snorts, dragging him down to a sitting position on the bed. "Luck has nothing to do with it," she says briskly.

His smile becomes lazy as he remarks, "How about fate? Destiny? Or what about reincarnation?"

When she puts her head between his legs, he groans as her long red hair brushes his thighs. "I'd say it's a miracle." She smiles, her blue eyes dancing wickedly before she pulls his boxers off, "that we're both awake and horny for each other after five kids and an impromptu ball game."

"Then thank you, God," he sighs happily when those plump red lips wrap themselves around his cock. Then a thought occurs to him as she's busy blowing his... mind. "Scully, we should lock the door," he mumbles breathlessly as her nimble hands join her lips in the effort.

"Mm-mm," she shakes her head slightly, causing him to moan and grab the blanket as he thickens in her mouth.

"Scully," he repeats, but she sucks harder, and his eyes roll, causing some leakage. Somewhere in the back of his sex-addled mind is something about ladies shouldn't talk with their mouths full, which only makes him that much harder. He pleads one last time, whispering, "Scullyyyyy..."

Finally, she drags her mouth off of him, visibly swallowing before pouting. "Never argue with a woman giving you head, Mulder," she mutters, locking the door before returning to the bed.

Now he gulps, both his Adam's apple and his cock bobbing for her. "Sorry. I didn't want the kids to..."

She nods, her lower lip jutting out in a "uh-huh" expression. "Now, where were we?" she asks in a practical tone of voice, even as she divests herself of the dark blue silk pajamas in a very seductive fashion.

"Scully, I love you," Mulder says, dazed, as she lowers herself back down in front of his painfully hard shaft.

"Mm-hm," she says, engulfing his engorged penis.

"Ahh, mmm," he groans, smiling as her cheeks hollow from the suction. Then her tongue rasps his sensitive underside as she fondles his balls.

He pounds the mattress, gasping, "Omigod, omigod, omiGOD!" He's ready to explode, and he's fighting the effort not to thrust his hips at her, fighting, but starting to lose the battle. "I'm coming," he grunts.

Without warning, she withdraws, and both he and his penis are sorely disappointed. "Good," she says, licking her lips.

"Omigod," he breathes again when she sits on his lap, "you just want me for the sex, don't you?"

Her nether lips are surprisingly wet, and he groans in gratitude as she slides down his hardness with an eagerness he'd describe as, well, joyful. "Damn, your wood's bigger than the bat," Scully gasps, rocking on him with both practiced familiarity and incredible horniness.

His eyes, predictably, go to her bouncing breasts as she rides him like a horse. "Mind if I hit a few homers?" he growls, grabbing her ass and causing her to squeal.

"Unh, yes, omigod, yes!" she shouts, grasping his hair painfully as she throws her head back. Yeah, it looked like it was going to be a long night, but Mulder mentally thanked the Creator, if there was one, for making such an incredible woman like Dana Katherine Scully and putting her in his life all over again.

Blessing me (Blessing me)

Blessing me (Blessing me)

The Lord woke me up this morning

Started me on my way

So I got on my knees

And gave God the praise

- "I'm Blessed" by Chicago Mass Choir

Chapter Seventy-Six

June 1999

It's a beautiful day in D.C., and thankfully, an ocean breeze is there to cool off the attendants and participants of this occasion. Everyone is dressed in their Sunday best, some more comfortably than others, and more than a few fans are flapping as speech after speech drones on. Mulder and Scully are doing their best to ensure that their children behave, while Luke and Hannah are trying not to yawn as it's their father's big day. "Did you see Daddy graduate from cop school?" Hannah asks her older brother as another old man verbally meanders onstage. She's sitting with April, who, as usual, is sitting quietly.

Luke grins, the same face-splitting grin his father has. "Dad was always a cop when I was growing up. I guess this way, he gets to be a supercop all over the U.S. instead of just New York."

Page, sitting between her parents, looks up at her mother. "You and Daddy are supercops?"

Scully smiles. "I've never thought of it that way, but that's one way of putting it."

Mulder leans over Page and Sammy to whisper in his wife's ear, "We'll play 'Good Cop, Bad Cop' later." She reaches around them to swat her husband, shaking her head when their children ask what's going on.

Name after name is called, and each graduate is handed a certificate and shakes hands with the FBI director. People clap politely for other graduates but make more noise for their own, as is the tradition for most graduations. However, when John Jay Doggett's name is called out and he walks down the stage, he wants to hide. In the audience, his kids are making a lot of noise and standing on their chairs, as is Mulder and some of his kids. Scully, however, is clapping politely and pretending she doesn't notice the obnoxious people she knows or is related to. Doggett's grateful to the FBI couple for putting his family up, but honestly, he's glad he's never met Mulder before New York.

"Hey, congrats," Mulder waves when the man leaves the stage with the other graduates, clapping Doggett's shoulder. He's got the twins squooshed in his left arm, and he frees them slightly by holding them out to the newly-certified agent. "David, Jared, congratulate your Uncle John," and they dutifully slobber on the poor graduate, who dutifully grimaces and wipes it off. "Wow, after that first night, I thought we'd have to wrap you up like a mummy before sending you back out."

"Hah, hah." Doggett smiles ruefully as he's mobbed by the rest of Mulder's family as well as his own. "Glad you could make it," he tells a slightly older man with the same build but with a lighter complexion and darker hair marked with streaks of silver.

"It's a good idea to make federal connections," Doggett's older brother drawls. Like a lot of people in attendance, he's dressed in a suit and tie, but unlike his younger brother, he actually appears comfortable in it. He turns his professionally congenial smile onto Mulder and Scully. "I'm Joseph, John's older brother. You must be the nice couple who took him in, Mueller, was it?"

Scully, likewise, turns a social smile to the tall man. "I'm Scully, this is my husband and partner Mulder." Page takes her cue from her mother, also smiling politely, while Sammy runs with April and Hannah around Luke.

"Ah," Joseph Doggett says, but manages to convey a wealth of disapproval with that one word.

"Stray dogs get taken in, Joey," Doggett butts in, "these're friends."

The elder Doggett's winces slightly at the contraction of his name, but nods. "It's nice that you've got friends to watch over your young ones."

Putting a restraining hand on his wife's shoulder, Mulder says blandly, "So, Joey, what do you do?"

"It's Joseph," the other man says, nettled, "I'm in real estate. If you're ever in the Georgia area, look me up." He passes them a card, then shakes his younger brother's hand. "We'll be seeing you at home?" The question was phrased in something like a command.

Doggett gives a noncommittal grunt, and Joseph Doggett walks away. Once he's gone, Luke rolls his eyes. "Jeez, Dad, he's still as stuck-up as ever."

"Don't talk about your uncle like that," he scolds, but it's a half-hearted one at that.

"All right, old man." Mulder wraps an arm around the guy's neck. "Now that you're officially an FBI agent, it's time to hit the house for one last par-tay!"

"I'm *not* an old man." Doggett glares at his so-called friend. "I'm less'n a year older than you, remember?"

"Hey." Mulder grins. "The fact that you slipped past the bureau's mandatory cutoff age thanks to military duty only endears you to me, you rebel, you."

Now Doggett shrugs out of the man's grasp. "You've just slipped from 'Spooky' to plain creepy." He makes a face, looking more like his son than his brother.

Scully laughs. "Mulder, behave." She doesn't say anything about Doggett's brother, who's already left the premises, but she can't help but feel a little sad for the guy. Instead, she focuses her energy on getting everyone, stray children and husband, loaded into the minivan, without killing anyone in the process.

The party at Mulder and Scully's house is, for the most part, a festive event, in no small part to Frohike's food preparation and Melissa's, well, interesting taste in decorations. The Lone Gunmen had expressed curiosity at the new agent, while Melissa and Emily enjoyed the excuse to have a party with family. "You shouldn't have," Doggett murmurs, and Mulder merely grins.

A piñata, being the head of a green-skinned alien with its long arms outstretched, hung from the basketball hoop with a sign saying, "Don't forget us." Of course, they proceeded to whack the everliving heck out of the piñata, and lots of unhealthy goodies came spilling out of the "alien," much to the kids', and at least one Gunman's, delight.

"It's too bad that doesn't happen in real life." Mulder sighs deeply, while Doggett rolls his eyes.

Nobody really touched on why Doggett's older brother had left, nor any other troublesome issues. Today is a day for rejoicing, and they do a lot of it over burritos, soda, and other food Scully would have had a problem with had not Frohike also offered alternative, or rather, healthier fare as well. The TV plays lots of kiddie VHS tapes, while the adults share stories and good-natured jibes with each other.

Being a lovely summer day in D.C., it isn't long before an impromptu baseball game erupts in the backyard, and with a mishmash of adult and child players, both standard and Whiffle equipment are used with great aplomb. Even Langly joins in, to Mulder's delight and the shock of his fellow Gunmen, albeit with a Whiffle bat. Frohike and Byers declare themselves unofficial scorekeepers, while Melissa is content to be a cheerleader for all sides, and Doggett and Mulder keep up their not-so-secret rivalry on the mound. Of course, both men declare themselves the winner, but then Mulder concedes defeat, "only," he says, "because it's John's graduation day." Whereupon the graduate makes a face, everyone claps, and his children earnestly declare him "the real winner."

It's well past dark by the time the game, and the party, wraps up, and, for the most part, a good time is had by all, young and old alike.

Of course, it took Mulder and Scully at least four more hours, dinner, and mild bribery to get everyone in bed early. "Uncle John's leaving early in the morning, so you need to sleep now," Scully had told each child at least fifteen times that night.

By the time she reached her bedroom, however, she yawns a monster yawn. "Tell me again why John wanted to go back to New York."

"Your brother's a better briber than we are," Mulder replies around a mouth of toothpaste.

"I think you just scared him off with the X-Files," she retorts, "and goodness knows, he's going to be a more-than-capable agent in any division."

Rinsing out his mouth, Mulder makes a face at his wife, then steps behind her as she takes off her bra. "We both know it's for Luke and Hannah's sake. They've got friends, school, a familiar life. Besides, should he ever change his mind," he murmurs, his hands fondling her breasts, "the basement office is open for new recruits."

Scully smiles up at him, yanking his sweatpants off to find him going commando. Of course. "You sure you want to let a skeptic like him on the team?"

He's nuzzling her neck, but chuckles, and the vibrations along her skin makes her ticklish. "He's hardworking, intelligent, and able to deal with any kind of crap life throws at him. And he's my friend. He's a good man, even if he doesn't believe in aliens yet."

"Are you sure you're going to bed with the right person?" She leans against him, reaching up to wrap her arms around his neck.

He snorts as he drops her pants. "Never let it be said I don't appreciate a ruggedly handsome man," he declares, making her chuckle, "but the only person I've ever wanted to make love to is you."

"Good," Scully declares, twisting around so that her entire naked body is facing his. "Because I've waited all day to do this."

And Mulder is awash in appreciation for his wife as she simultaneously kisses him hard and fondles him expertly. Whatever regret he has about John Doggett leaving is now forgotten as his glorious wife ravishes him with an energy he wasn't sure she had after tucking the kids in. ::Ooh, I'm definitely awake,:: he thinks, as they stagger towards the bed. ::No sleep for either of us tonight.::

Late July 1999

"What do you think of the name Christopher?" Mulder asks his wife one lazy summer afternoon.

Scully, who is lying draped across his lap while the kids play in the back yard, looks up at him. "I like it."


"Yup. And I know the perfect middle name too. Reeve."

Mulder gives her a suspicious look. "It's not nice to tease like that, Scully."

"Who says that I'm teasing?" she asks.

"So if they ask me to fill out the birth certificate, and I write 'Christopher Reeve Mulder', you won't be mad at me?"


"Hmm," Mulder says, easing her off his lap. "I'll be back in a minute."

"I'll be here."

When he comes back he's carrying a piece of paper and a pen. "Page, come here!" He calls.

Page runs over. "What, Daddy?"

"Mommy wants to know too," Scully remarks, twisting to try to see what he wrote.

Mulder hands Scully the pen, then bends a little to address Page. "While you watch, Mommy is going to sign her name. Then you'll print your name on the bottom."

"Okay," the little girl agrees.

A smile plays on Scully's lips as she reads what's written on the paper. Instead of asking if it's necessary, she takes the pen and signs her name with a flourish.

When she hands the pen to Page, Mulder points to where she signs. Page wrinkles her nose. "What's wit-n-ess?"

"Witness. It means you watched Mommy sign."

"Okay." It takes Page three times as long to print her name, because she's concentrating.

Mulder kisses them both on their cheeks. "I need a frame for this."

Scully smiles and shakes her head. Only her husband would want to notarize an agreement about what to call a baby. "Maybe we can get her made a justice of the peace when she's ten."

"That could have all sorts of uses," Mulder says gleefully.

August 14th, 1999

Sammy looks up at his father while they walk down the hallway. A couple of steps ahead Page is leading their sister by the hand, and Mulder has Jared and David in front and back baby carriers, which they're close to outgrowing.

When Mulder doesn't notice his stare, Sammy stops dead in his tracks. "Da-ddy!"

"What, Sammy?"

"A boy baby, right? A little brother."

"Sisters are nice too, you know," Mulder tells his son. ::Four boys. Five when William comes in 2001. Whoa. What have we gotten ourselves into?::

"Daddy!" Sammy squawks impatiently.

"Yes, you have a baby brother. Haven't we talked about that a dozen times since this morning?"

"Yes, but I wanted to know if you're sure!" Sammy says earnestly.

"I'm 100% sure, Sammy. I changed his first diaper before I came to get you."

"Okay," Sammy says sunnily, and they proceed to Scully's room without any further delay.

"Mommy!" The kids shout when they see Scully. Mulder gives the nurses talking in the hallway a sheepish look before following his kids.

Sammy and Page are already clamoring for their mother's attention, but quiet little April looks confused. Seeing this, Mulder picks her up and stands her on the chair by Scully's bed.

Her eyes widen when she notices the blond infant nestled in the crook of Scully's arm. "Oh," April says. "A baby."

Mulder tries to get David and Jared's attention, but they're too little to have much of an interest in what's going on. Giving up, he smiles at April, Page and Sammy instead. "This little boy is your new brother, Christopher."

"Hi Christopher" they chorus as if on cue.

Before Mulder gathers them to go, they've each given their mother a dozen kisses and told her how much they like the baby (because it's a boy, Sammy can't help but add.) She looks misty, and Mulder is sure that she misses them for some reason.

"Love you." Mulder kisses her goodbye. "Enjoy your last 36 hours of quiet."

Scully looks down at the baby and laughs softly. "You can't think that's true."

He shrugs. "Compared to these five missing their mom, it will be. I'll be back to visit tonight." He looks at the older kids. "a-l-o-n-e."

"See you then," Scully says. "And you kids behave for your father."

"Okay, Mommy." They agree before Mulder leads them out.

On the drive home Mulder wonders what it will be like now that they have six children. And if he can get the five of them in the back of his car to take a nap, since he needs one. He's been awake since he and Scully headed to the hospital late the night before. Looking into the mirror at the excited little faces, he decides that the answer is probably no.

August 17th, 1999

"Come on, Scully," Mulder tells her, while gently shaking her arm to wake her up. "We've got an appointment."

Yawning, Scully sits up. "For what?" She couldn't imagine where he wanted to go the day after bringing their newest son home from the hospital.

"To have pictures taken."

"A family portrait?"

"Okay, sure," he says a bit vaguely. "Everyone's dressed and fed but you, including Christopher, who I gave a bottle of the milk you put in the fridge. I'll have everyone in the car. I picked out clothes for you."

"Oh really?" she asks, but he's already wandering off somewhere else in the house.

His taste isn't too bad, she decides as she pulls on the blouse and skirt that seem to match the shirt and slacks Mulder has on. When she gets into the minivan, she looks over the kids and sees that they're wearing similar outfits. Even the twins are wearing tiny slacks and button down shirts.

Scully gives the building they pull up in front of a dismayed look. "Here's our first stop," Mulder announces.

"Mulder, I thought we were going to get a family portrait done."

"We are. Our appointment is at 11:30. We just need to stop off here really quick too."

The conversation ceases as Mulder does most of the work getting the kids out of the minivan. Once Christopher's in her arms, and Mulder is wrangling David and Jared, she gives him a suspicious look. "This is a place to have passport photos done."

"I realize that."

"But we have passports."

"Yes, we do. They don't." He moves his head to nod at the children.

"Why do they need passports?"

"Because we're going on vacation before Page starts kindergarten," Mulder announces. "Surprise."

"Do you think that's a good idea?"

"I think it's a great idea. We'll go some place nice for Labor Day weekend, and the kids will have a blast. I haven't made travel arrangements yet, but I'm hoping to find some place with great fish," Mulder tells her, and she knows that he's thinking of Jared and David's fascination with their fish tank.

"Okay, what the hell," Scully says. Then she and Mulder watch as their antsy children are photographed, with the promise that the passports will be ready in seven days to twelve days.

"Seven to twelve days?" Scully asks on the way out the door.

"The guy who runs this place is a friend of the gunmen's, and he insisted on giving us preferential treatment," Mulder tells her with a slight shrug of his shoulders, which is barely perceptible under toddler weight leaning on them.

"So he wants to get on your good side if he ever runs into trouble," she guesses.

"Either that or he really takes the whole 'any friend of whoevers is a friend of mine' thing to heart."

"You take shameless advantage, Mulder."

"Hey, he volunteered, I didn't suggest anything. Let's get the crew into the van before we're late for our appointment."

Getting everyone back into booster and car seats, she couldn't help but wonder if she was being hypocritical. In his shoes, she probably wouldn't have waved off special treatment, either, if it benefited their children.

August 30th, 1999
5:55 a.m.

Christopher blinks bright blue eyes as he lays sleepily cradled in his mother's arms. Scully uses her foot to slowly rock the chair. With everyone else sleeping, she can pretend that her newborn is her only concern, as if he was firstborn like Page. Not sixth.

Sixth! It should be six times harder to raise six kids than one, but somehow it's not that hard. Probably, she decides while stroking Christopher's downy blond head, because she wanted every one of her children. They are living proof that something good could be born into what is often a scary world.

Each child is hope for the future that she and Mulder bestow upon the world. As she thinks this she smiles to herself. Put that way it sounds so selfless, the way Mulder once teased her about doing their duty to balance out dumb people by creating a bunch of smart ones. Potentially. But the older kids already display precociousness that promises least in her opinion.

No, though it probably does the world good to have the young Mulders in it, the simple truth is that she loves having babies. The pregnancies are a mixed bag, but once the babies are there it's mostly forgotten. At least enough to hope that each baby is not the last addition to their family.

The doorbell rings, and she hears Mulder's footsteps as he heads for the door. Still rocking, Scully hopes he'll send whoever it is away, then go back to bed himself. She's not ready for her quiet time with the baby to be interrupted.

But raised voices below shatter that hope. Holding Christopher close, she goes to see what has Mulder so upset. When she sees, she wishes that she'd left the baby upstairs.

Standing on the doorstep, Diana casts her an arrogant look. "I see the other baby is blond too. You must have a lot of blonds in your family tree, Fox."

Scully's mind tunes out everything after the words 'other baby' because she notices that Diana is holding a baby carrier in her right hand. The baby in it is also new, wrinkled and blond. "Diana, you have a baby," Scully says, surprised. She hasn't seen the other woman in months, she realizes then.

The nasty triumphant look the other woman gives her makes her feel a hot pit in her stomach. "Yes, we do."


"Scully, she's lying!" Mulder yelps. "I've never been unfaithful."

"This suggests otherwise," Diana hisses, thrusting the baby carrier at him. He refuses to take it.

"That is not my baby," he says firmly.

Without saying a word, Scully turns and carries Christopher back to his room, where she locks the door. Rocking and crying, she ignores Mulder's demand that she come out.

Finally giving up, Mulder slumps up against the wall. At least Fowley left. At least the argument didn't wake the kids.

His ex-girlfriend is out of her mind. There's no way that baby is his. It's completely impossible. He hasn't laid a finger on her since she left him in 1992. If she'd shown up with a seven-year-old it would have been a nasty surprise, but plausible. This, on the other hand, is completely crazy.

But he hasn't failed to realize that the infant that she showed up with is very close in age to his lastborn son. If Morris had no qualms against using his body to have sex with Scully, how could he be sure that the man hadn't used him to sleep with Diana too?

The thought makes him feel sick to his stomach. Of all the women Morris could pick to use his body to commit adultery with...::But how would he ever met her? She took off as soon as she was released from the hospital, months before Morris crash-landed into my life. She's lying. She has to be.::

If he'd of known that Fowley would be doing her best to fuck up his life now, he would have let the baby aliens have her instead of rescuing her. Maybe.

He's not sure how long he leans against the wall, wallowing in his misery. Eventually he hears the lock to the door release, which make him look up. Scully stares at him with an unreadable expression.

"You wouldn't cheat," she says finally.

"No," Mulder agrees. "I haven't and I wouldn't."

"I believe you," she says, pulling him out of hell. But then she plunges him back in. "But that doesn't mean that the baby isn't yours."

"How could it be mine?"

"Don't be naïve, Mulder. Have you spoken to Missy and Krycek about Emily?"

"What about her, in particular?" he asks cautiously.

"About how Krycek's genetic contribution came about."


"It was procured when he was comatose all those years ago."


"If they'd do something like that to someone on their side..."

"But I haven't been comatose," he points out. ::Yet::

"Maybe not, but you're been both unconscious and in the hospital several times," Scully reminds him. He can't argue with that, unfortunately.

Four Days Later

Scully slams a folder onto the table. "This is some kind of game."

Mulder looks around the kitchen, glad that the kids aren't up yet. "How so?"

"These are the DNA results for the baby. It's definitely not yours. It's not even Fowley's."

"Then whose baby is it?"

"I don't know."

That Afternoon

"What the hell is wrong with you?" Mulder shouts at Fowley. "You know damn well that she's not ours, not even yours. Whose baby is this, Diana? Did you kidnap her?"

Fowley gives him a look that is partly smug, and a bit pitying, but not at all sorry. "She's nobody's baby. An experiment like your wife's that failed in a different way. They think she's too human. I wanted to get her out, and using her to complicate your life was the only way I was going to get approval."

"Why didn't you just come to us and ask for our help instead of tormenting us?"

She shrugs. "Your reactions were more genuine this way. And I don't like your wife."

"Dammit, Diana..." Mulder growls. "Why do you care about this baby enough to get involved anyway?"

"I don't know. I saw her and knew that I couldn't let her grow up to be my competition."

"Your competition?"

"Don't be naïve, Fox." Fowley says, fully unaware that she's the second person to tell him that in less than a week. "The syndicate has a philosophy about waste similar to that of ancient Native American tribes: there is nothing that can't have a use found for it. Little ones who are too human can be raised to take the reins thirty years from now."

"Are you going to hand her over to them now?" Mulder asks.

"Of course. I wasn't able to slip her into your nest, so back she goes."

Feeling a pang of guilt, Mulder says, "That's sad."

"That's life."

Chapter Seventy-Seven

Mid-September, 1999
FBI Headquarters
Washington, DC

"How are agent Scully and the baby, agent Mulder?" Skinner asks one afternoon.

"Good, sir. Christopher is already sleeping through the night, and Scully refuses to believe that means we came home with the wrong baby, though," Mulder says with a naughty little boy's grin. "I think she's looking forward to getting back to work in a couple of weeks, but also enjoying her time at home with him."

Skinner nods. "Do you mind if I ask you a personal question?"

"Probably not," Mulder allows.

"I know that your wife is Catholic...are you two practicing the rhythm method?"

Mulder nearly chokes on his tongue, but recovers himself. "No, it's hard to explain if religion does or does not play into our family planning but... how about 'my wife loves babies and we can afford them' as an explanation?"

"I suppose both of those things are true," Skinner agrees. "And she does miss very little time, all things considered."

"Given that I spend almost as much time in the hospital as she does..." Mulder trails off.

"Ha, yes. Let's talk about a new case that's been sent my way."

That Night

"Daddy!" Page shrieks when she sees her father come through the door. He winces a little, because his head aches already. "Lookit what I made in school!" She thrusts a piece of painted on paper into his hands.

"What's this?" he asks, though he's got a good idea what it is. A stick figure man holds hands with a stick figure woman holding a baby, and six smaller stick figures roam across the page.

"Us. You and Mommy, me, Sammy, April and the babies," Page says, touching the appropriate stick figures as she explains.

"Who is this, though?" Mulder asks, touching a tiny figure off to the side. It's about the size of the baby stick figure that Stick-Scully is holding.

Page shrugs. "Don't know yet. But there's always more babies."

"You sound like my boss," Mulder tells her, and she smiles at him despite not understanding the joke. "Where's your mom?"

"In the living room," Page announces then skips off.

He finds her sitting on the floor with Christopher on her lap, and the twins nearby playing with large foam blocks. "Hey, Scully. How's everyone doing?"

"Fine. What's your new case?" she demands to know, affirming his suspicion that she feels almost ready to go back to work.

"A murder. A professor, Dr. Solomon Merkmallen, who was a biology professor at the University of Ivory Coast, arrived at the American University yesterday, and was promptly murderer. At least that's the assumption given the amount of blood found in the lab of one doctor Steven Sandoz, also a Professor of Biology."

"What's their connection?" Scully asks, looking interested.

"Both men espouse a fringe theory called "Panspermia. It's the belief that life originated elsewhere in the universe."

"I know, Mulder. It's the idea that Mars or other planets were habitable long before Earth and that, uh, cosmic collisions on these planets blasted microbes into our solar system - some of which landed and flourished here. You don't think this has anything to do with his death, do you?"

"Yes and no," he tells her, taking the rubbing out of his pocket. "Dr. Merkmallen found an artifact in his country. This is a rubbing of that artifact. According to Skinner Merkmallen claimed it contained a message— one that not only lend credence to his Mars theories, but also helped to explain mysteries here on Earth."


"Fringe theory or no, that's the connection between the two biologists. Doctor Sandoz made a nearly identical claim in a science journal about another artifact of a similar nature."

"Maybe the murder was inspired by professional jealousy," Scully suggests. "Has anyone questioned Sandoz yet?"

Mulder rolls balls back to Jared and David, then waits for their squeals of delight to die off before answering his wife. "No. At the moment he's missing."

"Why does Skinner want you on the case, Mulder? It sounds like a garden variety murder with the murderer skipping town, afterwards. That's the sort of thing the police can handle."

"I don't know, Scully. He must have his reasons," Mulder says, reaching up to rub his temple. It took longer, but it's clear that he's still not immune to the effect of the drawing. Without saying anything, he gets to his feet and goes into the kitchen. Once the piece of paper is folded and stuffed into a drawer, he feels better.

The next night, after Mulder had visited the acerbic doctor Barnes alone, Scully found her husband sitting at the table and staring at the drawing he'd shown her. His eyes were glassy, so it worried her.

"Mulder, are you okay?" she asks.

He doesn't look up. "Barnes said that Sandoz was convinced that the writing on the artifact is alien in nature."

"By alien you mean strange?"

"By alien I mean little gray men."

"Well, that shoots Sandoz's credibility to he-" Trailing off, she gives Mulder a startled look. Whether he's aware of it or not, he's grimacing in pain. "Mulder, are you okay?"

"I don't know. In my head. It's, uh... a hollow noise. The same thing that happened to me at work in the elevator earlier today after showing this to Barnes."

"Are you sick? The flu, maybe?"

"No. This is going to sound weird but I think it's that thing." He points to the paper.

"How could a paper make your head hurt?"

He gives her a weak smile. "Never been served papers, huh?" Looking more serious, he says, "My head aches only when I look at that paper."

"It's got to be something else," she insists. He doesn't look convinced, but does look relieved when she's the one to fold up the rubbing and put it away.

Instead of continuing the conversation, he completely changes the subject. "How would you feel about having company before I go into the office tomorrow?"

"What sort of company?"

"An old friend who has been neglected for too long. I'll bring home take-out for breakfast when I get him."

"Okay, Mulder." She kisses his forehead. "Take some aspirin, and if you feel worse, I'll bring you to the ER."

"Yes, Mom, I will," he tells her dryly.

The Next Morning

The kids are fascinated when their father arrives home less than an hour after he left, this time returning with bags of breakfast food from McDonalds and a man they don't know. The breakfasts don't come with any toys, so it's Daddy's friend they're most interested in. He comes with toys.

Mulder and Chuck Burks set up the projector in the kitchen, so they can supervise breakfast with Scully. Of course, Christopher disrupts that immediately by demanding his breakfast too, so the men are left in charge of getting food into the kids, and keeping food out of the projector.

"Six kids, Mulder. Who would have thought?" Chuck asks, smiling at the older kids who are eagerly eating breakfast before it's time for school. Their sense of time isn't great yet, but they know that Michelle will be taking them in her car soon.

"I think my wife might have," Mulder deadpans.

By now Chuck's gaze has turned to David and Jared, who are both sitting in their high chairs, and picking up pieces of pancake to shove in their mouths. "Are the twins identical?"

Mulder glances at the spikey brown-haired boys, and they look back at him with two sets of hazel eyes. "We haven't had their DNA tested to be 100% sure, but my guess would be yes."

If Scully could stand Diana, she'd probably have asked her if there'd been one placenta or two when she delievered the babies, but Mulder thinks hell will freeze over before that conversation happens.

"The Olsen twins aren't identical," Chuck remarks. "They're fraternal."

"If they decide that they want to know, I'm sure they'll be able to talk their mother into getting the test done. For someone scientifically-minded she shows an appalling lack of curiosity about the subject."

"I heard that, Mulder," Scully says, and he turns so she can glare at him. "Chuck, it's nice to see you."

"Nice to see you too, agent Scully."

Before the adults can get anything accomplished, Michelle collects Page and Sammy to cart them off to preschool and kindergarten. This requires a lot of the kids going to their parents for hugs, and reminders not to forget their snacks.

Finally the dust settles, and Scully shows Chuck the rubbing. Taking it, he nods. "I recognize the ideography."

"Mulder feels that this is causing his headaches," Scully tells him.

"You know me. This is right up my twisted little alley. So, uh... what exactly are you experiencing, Mulder?"

"Noise. Aural dissonance. It comes and it goes."

"Is it happening right now?" Scully asks.

"No, but it was a minute ago."

"And it's only affecting you, triggered by the rubbing. Wow. That blows me away."


"Because the rubbing is a fake and I'm not the first one to say so," Scully says. "Being at home has given me time to do some research of my own."

"The writing is Cree—phonetic Navaho—but no literal interpretation makes any sense."

"And the fact that it was found in Africa makes it all the mores suspicious as a fabrication."

"Suspicious of what?" Mulder asks.

"Do you know what a Magic Square is?" Chuck asks him.

"Yeah. It has to do with the occult."

"Very cool. They first appear in the ninth century in history but, uh... When you talked to me last night I got a few slides I thought might be relevant." Chuck changes the image on the projector to show a Magic Square. "As the story goes God himself instructed Adam in their use and then handed down the secret to all his saints and prophets and wise men as a way of trapping and storing potential power to the person whose name or numerical correlative exercises that power."

"That's what this thing is?" Mulder says.

"Well," Scully says dismissively. "That's what someone would have you believe this is."

"How do you know that?"

"Look what I found in the library." Scully shows him a magazine. "You mentioned a science journal, so it didn't take long to find it." The article was written by Doctor Barnes. "Science Update – God Spelled Backward – Manufacturing Religious Artifacts for Fun and Profit." "Barnes documented Sandoz's fakery once before. You said he was blunt about his colleague when you met him, in here, but in here he is downright brutal."

"Does he back any of that up?" Mulder asks, knowing it's futile.

"Well, it's quite scholarly, actually."

"I looked Barnes up when you said you spoke to him, too. Barnes has made something of a career exposing science and religious fraud." Chuck says, putting up another article about Barnes onto the projector. "Name your wonder of the world—he's been there, debunked that."

"Yeah, but wouldn't it be in his great interest to hide something that he couldn't disprove with his scholarship?" Mulder protests.

"Mulder, if it were real then why would an American Indian artifact be fused in rock on the west coast of the African continent?"

"In 1996, a rock from Mars was found in Antarctica. How did it get there?"

"It was from outer space," Scully says, and Mulder gives her a triumphant look.

"Begs the question, doesn't it?" Chuck asks. "Why produce a fraud with Navaho writing... in Africa?" Chuck stabs the rubbing with his finger.

When Mulder looks down at it, the noise fills his head again, and he throws his hands over his ears. This time his pain is witnessed not only by his wife, younger daughter and Chuck, but by his little sons. The look on their daddy's face scares the twins, and they begin to fuss. To their surprise and outrage, no one comes to comfort them immediately.

Instead, both Scully and Chuck are absorbed with Mulder's condition. "You look like you're in real pain, Buddy," Chuck says nervously.

This time he doesn't try to deny it. Let someone else make the horrible discovery at Sandoz's house. "Yeah. Feels like razors in my brain."

"I'm calling an ambulance," Scully tells him, and she looks at Chuck. "You don't have to stay."

"I think I'd rather."

She makes her call quickly, then returns to Mulder's side. He grabs her wrist. "You've got to tell Skinner. I think I know what's causing this and I know what happened to those two professors and that artifact. I got a sense of it yesterday when I met that man Barnes."

"You had a sense of it?"

"Yes. This man Solomon Merkmallen is definitely dead. Barnes knows it. He killed him—killed him in that lab."

"Okay, I'll tell him."

The ambulance arrives, and Scully and Chuck follow along in Scully's car.

Scully decides that she loves Chuck when he volunteers to look after April and the older babies so she can watch Mulder's MRI. "I think they like me, anyway," Chuck tells her, and it looks to be true. Neither boy has taken their eyes off of Chuck since they got to the hospital, and April has been unabashedly studying him too.

No one minds that she has Christopher with her, because he's sleeping peacefully, strapped to her chest.

In the next room Mulder lays as still as death, and Scully's anxious eyes cross from looking at him through the glass to looking at the monitor with the technician. She has better than a layman's knowledge of brain scans, but it doesn't stop her from asking, "Do you see any sign of a tumor?"

The technician shakes his head and she nearly yells out in relief. "There's no sign of a tumor, but there is some strange electrical activity in his brain."

"Strange how?" she asks, peering at the monitor.

"See these lights?" He points at small bursts of yellow and red. "People's brains don't usually show activity in those sections of the brain concurrently."

"Is it dangerous?"

"To be honest, I don't know. I'm a technician, so I'm not supposed to diagnose. We'll have to see what his doctor thinks of the scans."

In the end the doctor decides that the scans don't mean much, and she sends them home with a prescription for migraines.

Washington, D.C.

Mulder leaves Scully sleeping in bed, and heads into the office before she wakes up. He decides that asking for forgiveness is easier than asking permission, and he doesn't feel he should have to ask anyone if he's allowed to go to work anyway.

As soon as he's in Skinner tells him all about the gruesome discovery that other agents made the day before. The AD assumes that he must be okay if Scully approved of him coming in, and Mulder doesn't bother to rebuke the assumption.

"So you think Dr. Sandoz is innocent?" Skinner asks.

"He's afraid for his life because of what he knows and what he has."

Skinner pushes the rubbing towards him. "This."

"Put that away!" Mulder barks, and Skinner is so startled that he does. "Sandoz has the genuine artifact—one of several pieces of an unknown whole. Dr. Barnes has one now, too. That's why he killed Solomon Merkmallen."

"The way his body was disposed of..." Skinner trails off meaningfully.

"It was to incriminate Sandoz, to make him look like the killer. It's also to hide something. Something that no one would think to look for."

"Which is what? His identity? They didn't do a good job of that, because they left his head."

Mulder shakes his. "Not his identity. The body parts taken would retain telltale traces of radiation. If you do tissue samples you'll see that I'm right, since all tissue will retain some traces."

"Radiation from what?" Skinner wants to know.

"The artifact. It's giving off C.G.R. radiation. Cosmic Galactic Radiation. It's a kind of radiation that's found only outside our solar system."

"How would proving that there's this sort of radiation help us make an arrest?"

"Oh, forget the arrest. We've got to find these artifacts," Mulder says.

"Agent Mulder-"

"I know where to look."

When Mulder rushes out of the office, Skinner picks up his phone to warn Scully that Mulder's behavior has become more questionable, and that she should keep him from going off on a hunt for the artifacts on his own.

She thanks him for the information, but Mulder doesn't come home to pack to go anywhere. He just doesn't come home.

Southwestern General Hospital
Gallup, New Mexico

Before entering the room, Mulder watches as an unconscious Albert Hosteen is wheeled out of it by several orderlies. Once in the room Mulder finds another rubbing of the artifact on the bedside table and, fighting his instinct to recoil from it, eventually picks it up. On the back of the paper is a crudely handwritten copy of Genesis I:28

A concerned looking nurse comes in, obviously troubled that there's someone in the empty room. "Is there something you're looking for?"

"I've come to speak to Albert Hosteen, but he's not here."

"Mr. Hosteen cannot accept any visitors at this time."

"Yes, I understand. I saw him taken away. Can you tell me what's wrong with him?"

"I'm not allowed to give out that kind of information."

"I'm sure that he wouldn't mind you telling me," Mulder says, flashing his badge. "Mr. Hosteen has been working with the FBI for years, on and off. He's our Navaho expert."

The nurse gives him a sad look. "I think you'll soon need another. Albert has cancer. He's suffering from its effects...To be perfectly truthful, he's dying."

Hours later

Doctor Sandoz is startled to find that he's not the first person to welcome Albert back to his room. Mulder is standing in the shadows, and his gun is drawn.

"Are you here to arrest me?" Sandoz asks raggedly.

"No, I think we can just settle for talking, as long as you don't plan to run off before they conversation is done."

"Yeah, okay," Sandoz agrees. He shuts the door most of the way and sits in one of the room's two chairs. Mulder hostlers his gun and sits in the other.

"Why are you here?" Mulder asks the doctor.

"Albert was the only translator who didn't dismiss me out of hand. When I showed him the original artifact he sensed immediately its power and importance. The trouble was, it was only one fragment—not enough to read. But then other pieces surfaced. Dr. Merkmallen found two more in the tidal shallows. He sent me a rubbing. Suddenly, Albert was able to make a real translation."

"Why do the aliens have text to our bible?" Mulder asks, leaning forward on his knees.

"They gave it to us. The text came from them. I can prove it. It's written here. I'm sure of it." He pulls another fragment out of his pocket. As soon as he does, Mulder grabs his head. "Are you okay?"

"No," Mulder says through gritted teeth. "Go on. But hurry."

"Albert was working to translate another section when his health turned." Sandoz says quickly. He looks alarmed because Mulder is starting to sweat, and his eyes are watering.

"What does it say?" Mulder asks thickly.

Sandoz shrugs in apology. "I don't know. So far it's just random letters to me."

Mulder's mouth opens and says the last thing his brain wants it to. "I need to take a rubbing of that too."

"Okay," Sandoz agrees, completely unaware that the illness he thinks Mulder has is caused by that very artifact. "Maybe you should see a nurse while you're here."

"No. Don't worry about me. Just a headache."

When Sandoz completes the rubbing, he takes his hand off of it. It begins to spin itself around, making him exchange a puzzled and horrified look with Mulder.

New Mexico
Ramada Inn

The cell phone in Mulder's discarded suit jacket buzzes angrily. He stumbles out of bed and gropes for it. On the second try he manages to open it.


"Mulder! I've been trying to reach you for hours. Where are you?"

"New Mexico."

"Why the hell are you in New Mexico??"

"I came to see Albert Hosteen. And found doctor Sandoz here too."

"Okay, so why are the both of you there to see Albert?"

"He was translating the writing on the artifacts. The one Sandoz has with him has a biblical passage on it. From Genesis. A space artifact with part of our bible written on it."

"Mulder, it can't be both real and from space."

"Do you have any idea how this could change everything we know?"

"It's not real. It wouldn't mean anything or change anything."

"No, it would mean that our progenitors were alien, that our genesis was alien, that we're here because of them; that they put us here."

"Mulder, that is science fiction. It doesn't hold a drop of water."

"You're wrong. It holds everything. Don't you see? All the mysteries of science everything we can't understand or won't explain, every human behaviorism- cosmology, psychology, everything in the X-Files—it all owes to them. It's from them."

"Mulder, I will not accept that. It is just not possible."

"Well, then, you go ahead and prove me wrong, Scully."

"Come home, Mulder."

"I'm coming. Tomorrow." Mulder flips the phone closed, and crawls back into bed. Before he closes his eyes, he gives his suitcase a hateful stare. That's where the voices are coming from.

Washington, D.C.

When the phone rings early the next morning, Scully snags it, expecting to hear her husband's voice on the other end. "Scully."

To her disappointment, it's not. "It's Skinner. I'm calling with some bad news. Mulder's in serious condition here."

"Where's here?" she asks, sitting up in her chair.

"A hospital in Georgetown."

"What happened to him?"

"Nobody knows, Agent Scully. He was found like this at the airport about an hour ago. I'm sorry that no one called you first, but he didn't have his wallet with him, just his badge. You should do whatever you can to get here as soon as possible."

"I will. Don't let anything happen to him before I can get there."

"I'll do my best, agent Scully."

As soon as she hangs up she goes to wake up the nanny to let her know that she's leaving the house for an indefinite amount of time.

Georgetown Memorial Hospital
Washington, DC

Skinner looks up from his hallway vigil as an angry-looking Scully approaches him at full speed. "They just told me he's in the special psychiatric unit."

"I told you on the phone..."

"No, you said that there was bad news. You didn't tell me what was wrong."

Skinner hangs his head. "I don't know what to do, Dana. No one else does, either. I knew you'd want to be here to see him, to talk to the doctors." After a long tense pause, he alarms her more by taking her hand.

The fact that he used her given name gives her a nasty jolt, and she's afraid to ask Mulder's condition, but she has to. "What? What is it?"

Scully and Skinner enter a room where a doctor is standing in front of several monitors of patients in psychiatric cells. One of the patients is Mulder, pacing the small area. He is wearing a hospital gown.

The doctor doesn't look up. "You really shouldn't be in here."

"This is agent Mulder's wife," Skinner says sternly, and the doctor doesn't argue.

"What's wrong with him?" Mulder chooses that moment to face the camera in his room and scream Scully's name. She flinches.

The doctor looks chagrined. "We don't know what's wrong with him and we don't know what to do for him. He's got extremely abnormal brain function but there are no signs of stroke. We're waiting to run more tests."

"Waiting for what?"

"He's extremely violent. With what we've given him he should be in a barbiturate coma but there's brain activity in areas we've never seen before."

"That's what a doctor said earlier this week, too, but she didn't think it was anything to worry about. Obviously she was wrong." Scully sighs. "I want to talk to him."

"No, I won't allow that. Right now he's a danger to everyone."

"Not to me," Scully declares. The doctor gives her a doubtful look. She turns and gives Skinner an accusing look. "This is your fault."

Skinner takes her arm, and she shrugs it off, but follows him into the hallway like he wants. "My fault how?" he demands to know.

"You assigned him to work on this case, his problems are related to the case, ergo this is your fault."

"That's not really fair," Skinner grumbles. "And this case is now closed. The X-File was a fraud."

"So what, Skinner? Declaring it closed doesn't fix Mulder!" A sea of heads turn in their direction when she shouts.

"Keep your voice down, Agent Scully!" Skinner demands. "We'll resolve Mulder's problems too."

Staring at him, she wonders how he dares to make a promise like that.

It's not an easy night. The older children whine and demand to see their father when Scully tells them that he's sick, and they aren't put off by the explanation that they're too young to visit that particular hospital. Out of sorts, Sammy and Page squabble with each other, and hurt April's feelings by ignoring her. And the younger ones sense the discord too, which makes them cry inconsolably.

By the end of the night Scully is a bundle of frayed nerves herself. To top it all off, she's just gotten the kids to bed when the phone rings, demanding her attention too. Since she doesn't dare ignore it in case it's news about Mulder's condition, she has to answer it.

Before she can say hello, the man on the other end begins to speak. "Agent Mulder, Dr. Sandoz. I'm sorry, I didn't know how else to reach you. There's something-"

"Doctor Sandoz, this is Dana Scully. My husband is in the hospital."

"Oh dear. I had something to tell him of vital importance." The man sounds fretful. "Could you pass along my message?"

Instead of bothering to mention that he's not well enough to receive any message, she lets her curiosity get the best of her. "Okay, sure."

"Your husband and I were speaking of what Albert was trying to translate for me. I realized something a bit ago. The letters Albert translated on the artifact... I know what they are."

"What they are?"

"Yes. They're coordinates, Agent Scully."

"For what?"

"For genes. They're symbols for gene clusters- the human genome." Scully lets a pause grow and stretch out. "Are you still there?"


"I think it's all here. The map to our human genetic makeup every gene on every chromosome—proof of what I've been saying. If only we could find more pieces." He trails off then adds brightly, "But there's supposed to be more here in Africa. Perhaps if your husband feels better, we could look for it together."

After his burble, there's an even longer silence. Scully wonders if he's still there. "Doctor Sandoz? Hello?" Then she hears something over the phone that sounds like a gunshot. Then there's just dial tone.

Washington, D.C.

As she waits for someone to talk to her, Scully wraps the cord to the phone around her fingers, letting it coil and uncoil. Eventually the insipid 80s adult contemporary song cuts off abruptly, and a chipper voice asks what they can help her with. "Hi, I need a flight to Africa. I'll be traveling with a one-month-old...yes, he'll have his passport and of the perks of being a federal agent, you can get a rush put in on these things...I'd like to leave within the next two days...Thank you."

When she hangs up, she begins to cry without realizing it. No part of her wants to drag an infant to halfway around the world, but she can't bear to leave him behind. And even less of her wants to leave the rest of her children, but she owes it to them to do the best that she can to find help for their father. Even if it means running off and leaving them behind.

It may be a long shot, but it's the only one she has.

Ivory Coast
36 Hours Later

An African man is speaking Swahili and showing the rubbing of the artifact to several other African men. They answer him and he turns to Scully. She's shading her newborn from the startlingly bright sun overhead.

"It's the same," the man who spoke to the group explains. "I'll take you, but they are afraid."

The men lead Scully down to the water's edge, but stop well short of it. The spokesman takes her to a certain spot, then leaves her, himself retreating. She kneels down and brushes the sand away from a much larger metal plate with inscriptions on it. She looks around and slowly stands. It stretches under the water as far as the eye can see.

The chapters from season seven and beyond will now be found on the newly created 4th page click here. This page was getting too big to edit!

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