Seasons 1 & 2 Seasons 3 & 4 Seasons 5 & 6 Chapter 78 Chapter 79 Chapter 80 Chapter 81 Chapter 82 Chapter 83 Chapter 84
Chapter 85 Chapter 86 Chapter 87 Chapter 88 Chapter 89 Chapter 90 Chapter 91 Chapter 92 Chapter 93 Chapter 94
Chapter 95 Chapter 96 Chapter 97 Chapter 98 Chapter 99 Chapter 100 Chapter 101 Chapter 102 Chapter 103 season 9 & beyond
Manips by NeoX. Found in chapters:
89; 99

Title: The Family G-Man

Authors: Neoxphile and FelineFemme

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

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

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

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

Spoilers: Seasons 1-9

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

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

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

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

Plain text up through chapter 127 here

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



Chapter Seventy-Eight


Late September 1999
Ivory Coast, West Africa

A soft yellow glow illuminates the inside of Scully's tent near the ocean. Christopher sleeps peacefully in a mosquito-netted cradle that sits just a few feet from his mother's side.

Scully glances at the baby, again, and once she's satisfied that he's sound asleep, she goes back to looking at the rubbing of the artifact which first affected Mulder. Putting it aside, she bends her head over a letter she's writing.

My dear babies,
I hope your Grandma will read this to you. I know that you are too small to understand why I'm not with you...all you know is that Daddy is sick and Mommy is gone. I'd much rather be at home with you, but I'm looking for a way to make Daddy better.

I came in search of something I did not believe existed. I've stayed on now, in spite of myself. In spite of everything I've ever held to be true. I will continue here as long as I can... as long as your father is beset by the haunting illness which I saw consume his beautiful mind. What is this discovery I've made? How can I reconcile what I see with what I know? I feel this was meant not for me to find but for him ... to make sense of-- make the connections which can't be ignored...connections which, for me, deny all logic and reason.

What is this source of power I hold in my hand-- this rubbing-- a simple impression taken from the surface of the craft? I watched this rubbing take its undeniable hold on your Daddy, saw him succumb to its terrible effect."

Scully takes off her glasses and rubs the bridge of her nose, yawning. The children won't understand most of what she's writing, but she's mostly writing for her own sake anyway. An insect with large wings lands on the rubbing. She picks up her pen once more.

"Now I must work to uncover what his illness prevents him from finding. In the source of every illness lies its cure. I promise you all that I'm doing everything I can to find a way to make your father better. I miss you.

Love,
Mommy "

She folds the letter, then notices that the lamp is attracting the bugs, so she turns it down. When she turns to check on the baby, she sees a native man holding a primitive staff standing at the opening of her tent, but when she spins to confront him, he's gone.

"Who's there? Who's there?!" Scully calls, not daring to leave Christopher's side to investigate.

Nothing responds but the crash of the surf. She picks up a near by machete, turns the light off all together, and settles in a chair next to her son. Hours pass uncomfortably, but the native man does not return.


Georgetown Memorial Hospital
Washington, D.C.

When Mulder's miniature form on the monitor curls into the fetal position, Skinner has to look away.

Doctor Harriman looks saddened as well. "He's been quiet for the last 36 hours, but he doesn't sleep. There's activity in the temporal lobe we've just never seen. It won't allow his brain to rest or shut down, manifesting in episodes of aggression ... sometimes against himself."

"You can't sedate him?" Skinner asks.

"Yes. We slow him down for short periods and put him in the neuro ward. It's the only way we're able to run tests. But over time... his brain is going to just die."

"He can't die!" Skinner says brusquely. "He and his wife have just had their sixth child."

Harriman gives him a helpless look, but Skinner has an idea.


A short time later Maggie arrives with Page and Sammy at Skinner's request. Both children quietly hold onto their grandmother's hands, and peer about, obviously hoping to catch sight of their father.

Maggie gives Skinner a wary look when he meets her in Mulder's ward. "Are you sure that this is a good idea?"

"No," he says bluntly. "But if anything will snap him out of this, it's going to be his kids."

"What exactly is it that you think my grandchildren can do for him?" Maggie looks skeptical.

"Motivate him to try and get past this. A lot of healing has to do with will."

"You sound like my daughter Melissa."

He lets this pass without comment. "Wait here, and if I get permission, I'll come back for the kids."

"Okay," Maggie agrees. She settles Page and Sammy into chairs in the hallway, but Sammy climbs up onto her lap only a few seconds later. Not minding that, she wraps her arms around his small waist.

"We're going to see Daddy?" Page asks, her blue eyes filled with puzzlement.

"I think so, baby. We'll wait until Mr. Skinner gets us."

"Mommy and Daddy's boss is helping Daddy," Sammy declares.

"He's trying to," Maggie agrees.


Down the hall Skinner waits while the door to Mulder's padded cell is unlocked so he can enter it. Mulder is sitting on the floor, staring into space.

"Agent Mulder?" Skinner says softly. When there's no response, he kneels down next to him. "Agent Mulder, can you hear me?" Mulder stares at him for a moment, then drops his gaze to his fingers, two of which are bandaged. Skinner tries again. "Do you know who I am? It's Skinner, Walter Skinner."

Mulder doesn't respond.

Skinner sighs and stands. Turning to Doctor Harriman he asks, "Can we get him out of here and get him some fresh air, at least? Maybe it would do him some good to spend a few minutes with his oldest kids and his mother-in-law-"

Without warning, Mulder suddenly lunges at Skinner and grabs him by the throat and begins choking him against the wall. As he chokes his boss, Mulder's face remains calm and impassive. He doesn't seem to even notice when Doctor Harriman attempts to restrain him. "Let him go! He can't breathe!"

Mulder pushes Skinner to the floor, maintaining the choke-hold. Meanwhile Dr. Harriman runs out of the room and rings an alarm on the wall. Mulder still has Skinner pinned to the floor.

"Let go, Mulder. I don't want to hurt you," Skinner whispers harshly. Something flickers in Mulder's eyes that suggest that both men know that Skinner could hurt him, if necessary. His grip on Skinner's throat slackens.

Harriman returns with two orderlies who pull Mulder away from Skinner and shove him up against the wall. No one seems to realize that another person has followed them into the room until Sammy screams "Don't hurt my Daddy!" and launches himself at the nearest orderly and pounds at the man's leg with his small fists.

The orderly looks down at the little boy, obviously nonplused to be attacked by a four-year-old. Skinner, now that he can breathe, picks the child up and holds him tight. "It's okay, Sammy. They're not hurting him."

"Yes they are!" Sammy sobs. Maggie arrives a second later, white-faced and holding tightly to Page's hand.

"I'm sorry," Skinner apologizes as he passes Sammy to his grandmother. It's not clear who Skinner is apologizing to - Sammy or Maggie.

Maggie shoots Skinner a disgusted look, then walks off without another word. Sammy's crying fades from hearing as she pulls the kids down the hallway, but from the doorway Skinner clearly sees Page turn her head and look back at him before hurrying to keep up with her grandmother.

He remembers Mulder when he hears the doctor angrily order, "Five milligrams of Haloperidol IM! I want him in five-point restraints!"

Mulder gives him a hopeless look that mirrors how he feels about the situation.

"Let's keep him locked down all night," Harriman tells the orderlies before looking at Skinner. "I don't think you should see him again tonight."

"No," Skinner agrees and leaves. While still in range to hear the alarm and the voices, Skinner feels something in his breast pocket and pulls it out to find a small square of fabric from Mulder's hospital gown. The bandages on Mulder's fingers are explained, because written in blood are the words, "Help Me." Skinner looks back at Mulder's room, too.


Ivory Coast, West Africa

Scully stands at the mouth of the tent, staring out at the beach. Two trucks full of men have just reached Scully's camping site. Already, they're exited the vehicles and are running toward the ocean and the buried craft.

Two people have lingered at the trucks, one of them a tall, dark woman. Scully doesn't react when the young woman walks to her.

The other woman, upon seeing the infant slung across Scully's chest, does. "That's a very little baby." She pauses, considering, when Scully doesn't reply. "They said you speak English."

Scully is gruff, which covers her curiosity as to what other language choices seemed likely to the locals. "What do you want?"

"I am sorry. You must wonder who I am. I am Amina Ngebe. I've come to see your discovery."

"I asked that no one be told about it... nor that I'm here."

"Yes. Well, uh, it is still a secret but a well-known one, I'm afraid. Dr. Merkmallen called it the African Internet, God rest him." Amina grins.

"You knew Dr. Merkmallen?" Scully asks, not really looking at the other woman. Instead she's peering down at Christopher, wondering if he's going to cry, or just yawning.

"I, too, am a professor of biology at the university but, uh, hardly one qualified to say what must have gone on here."

"Here? Nothing has happened here," Scully protests, then blushes when she notices that Amina's eyes are riveted to the machete still propped against her chair. "Uh, I saw a man who vanished... and it seemed best to be armed."

"You must not let the men know what happened to you last night-- the vanishing man, none of it," Amina says, but she's looking around the tent, perhaps for more signs that something odd happened.

"Why?"

"They'll take this as a sign to leave what you have found alone, a bad omen."

"Caused by the ship out there?"

"Mm. Caused by God... who will be much less helpful than those men if we are to continue this work."

Scully thinks to protest this, but decides against it. If God is guiding her steps, he's doing so quietly.

Outside, the men are working in the water to uncover more of the craft. One of the men begins screaming for help. Amina gives Scully a startled look. "He says the water is boiling!" Both of them dash outside.

The screaming man splashes around as if in agony, like people in movies about shark attacks. The other men exit the water, followed by the man in pain. They reach him just as he's able to flail his way to the shore and fall out onto the sandy beach. One look at him reveals that he's is covered in second and third degree burns.

"Let's get him in the truck! He's got to get to a hospital! Hospital!" Scully waves her arms, but doesn't try to lift him, because she's scared that Christopher will be squashed. Two men quickly, but gently, lift him into the back of the truck. Scully taps on the side of the truck. "Okay! Go!"

As they drive away, Amina gives her a disquieting look. "You see? Another warning."

Scully watches the truck kick up sand as it drives off towards the hospital.


Mulder-Scully Residence

Maggie watches as David takes a few steps, and tries to remember when her daughter called to tell her that both of the twins had taken their first steps. It had been after Christopher was born, so it had to have been within just the last couple or three weeks. It seems like longer ago to her.

The kids seem to be getting big so fast that it sometimes scares her. Even little April has just started clamoring not to be left behind when her older brother and sister go to school. Mulder says that it's going "fine" when she finally does go the next year but Dana recently confided that it worries her that the girl is so quiet, how will she cope in a classroom setting? Maggie tried to tell her a lot can change in a year, but she's not sure her daughter listened.

Right now April is very carefully using a plastic watering can on a trio of potted plants set at a height above her little brothers' heads. This means that she's standing on tip-toe to make the reach. Drops of water roll of the leaves and splatter the dark potting soil below.

"Those are pretty flowers, April," Maggie remarks.

"Yup. This one violet."

And that's the thing that grabs Maggie's attention about her granddaughter's vocabulary. She uses big and little words indiscriminately, which probably means she knows a lot of them. "Violet means purple, just like the flowers are."

April nods. "Leaves is green, though."

"Yes they are." Maggie bends to pick David up when he trips over his own feet.

"Gramma? Daddy listens," April tells her.

"To what, sweetie?"

"The people. Talking in his head."

This alarms Maggie so much that she asks her, "You mean he's hearing voices that aren't there?" As if a child of two and a half understands why that's bad.

"No. He hears us," April says calmly, and lets the conversation drop.

Still confused, Maggie pats her on the head. "Can you ask everyone to come down so we can go to dinner?" She's planned with Michelle to take the kids out since neither of them feels much like cooking given how upset Sammy still is about his visit to his father.

"Yup, okay." April runs off, and Maggie wonders what exactly the girl was trying to tell her.


Georgetown Memorial Hospital
11:32 p.m.

Skinner moves furtively down the corridor, and doesn't realize that he's more noticeable than if he wasn't trying to avoid detection. Mulder's room is empty when he pokes his head in, so he slips in quickly and shuts the door most of the way. Mulder's lying rigidly on the bed, and the sight of his uncovered bare feet fill Skinner with unexpected pity.

He approaches the bed and speaks softly, hoping no one else will hear. "I want to help you. I don't know what to do. I don't have much time." Mulder taps the bed with his bound right hand impatiently. Seeing this, Skinner asks, "Can you write?"

Mulder nods minutely, so Skinner gives him a pen and helps him hold it. Mulder slowly and carefully writes down what looks like a name. Puzzled, Skinner looks at it once Mulder finishes writing. "I recognize this name, but I'm not sure where from. It's someone from an X-File, right?" Mulder nods again. "I'll figure it out. Try to hold on, Mulder."

Mulder doesn't seem to notice when he leaves the room a minute later.


The Beach
Night

The tent is a yellowish color, turned gray by the moonlight. Lying on her back, Scully stares at the ceiling. Near by Christopher and Amina sleep peacefully.

The sound of an engine and a glimpse of lights through the tent wall have Scully bolting out of bed. She shakes Amina's shoulder, and then points to the sleeping baby when the half-awake woman gives her a questioning look. Scully hesitates only long enough to pick up her machete before going out to see what's going on.

There's a truck parked a hundred yards away, and the driver gets out and begins to speak to her. Scully listens to him for a moment, then gives it up as a lost cause. "Look, I'm sorry. I don't speak your language."

Undeterred, he waves his flashlight in the direction of the water and takes a few steps towards the submerged craft. She makes no move to follow him.

"Perhaps you need an interpreter," a voice says behind her.

Turning quickly, she finds doctor Barnes standing behind her, and recognizes him from the photos Mulder and Chuck showed her at the house. She holds up the machete warningly, "I know who you are! Stay away from me!"

"Are you going to hack me up in front of my driver? Word is you're under suspicion already." He nods towards the local man who is now inching his way towards the craft.

"You're the murderer here."

"Murderer of who?" Amina calls from the mouth of the tent. Christopher is in her arms. Scully motions for her not to bring him closer.

"Dr. Merkmallen!" Scully calls to her.

"I murdered no one but I won't be sent away from here. I know what we've got. This craft that's come ashore? It's extraterrestrial origins?"

"You don't even believe in that," Scully accuses.

"Nor do you. But here we are."

"I'm here only to help my husband."

"I realize that. You don't strike me as the type to haul a newborn out of the country on a less desperate mission. Let me help you... to read it. I've spent my life looking for what's out there ... the answer to what theologians have pondered for millennia... the key to everything... to life itself. I've already been threatened by men in Washington about what I know. How long would your secret keep if you were to send me away?"

At the water's edge, Dr. Barnes' driver calls to them, beckoning them to the shore.

"What is it?" Scully asks, peering into the darkness.

A sudden light illuminates the water, and Scully realizes that Amina has gone back into the tent for a powerful flashlight. A horrified awe fills her voice. "It is a sea of blood."

Barnes and Scully walk towards the driver and find that it's true. The water around the craft has turned blood red. She wants to believe that it's a trick of the light, but she knows that it is not. Behind them, Christopher begins to cry.


Georgetown Memorial Hospital

The nurses' station is curiously abandoned as Skinner walks by it with Michael Kirchgau. It had taken him longer than he wanted to figure out where he'd seen the name before, and the man gave him a less than welcome reception when he arrived to bring him to the hospital.

"No nurses. There must be a problem elsewhere on the floor." Kirchgau remarks. "They don't hire many for this time of night."

Instead of replying, Skinner ushers him into Mulder's room. Mulder is still restrained, and his blank eyes aren't looking at anything in particular. A nearby monitor registers his brain activity.

Kritschgau stares at Mulder. "Can he even recognize me?"

"To be honest, I don't know. He wrote out your name, so he still knows who you are, anyway." He turns to Mulder. "Agent Mulder?" The monitor notes that Mulder's heard him, but he doesn't move.

Sighing, Skinner points to the monitor. "I got a crash course in neurology from his doctors. His brain is on constant redline. They've got him on Haloperidol just to keep him on the monitors."

"Haloperidol?" Kritschgau asks with raised eyebrows.

"He becomes violently agitated. He just won't speak or sleep even when he's medicated. There's activity in part of his brain they've never seen before."

"Was his..." Kritschgau stops speaking and flicks his eyes towards the read out on the monitor.

"Was his what?"

"I started to ask you a question about his prior mental state but he anticipated it. Second time. Agent Mulder?" The monitor records more activity.

"He claimed to be hearing something. Babbling voices."

Kritschgau nods and sighs. "I might know why Agent Mulder asked for me. Doesn't mean I can do anything for him."

"What just happened?"

"I think he responded to a question... I didn't ask."


Later on Skinner feels like a felon. He's just pushed an unresponsive Mulder down the hall, and now in a deserted lab, is watching Kirtschgau pick a lock on a cabinet.

"I don't know how long we can keep him out of that unit. We can be held responsible," Skinner says anxiously.

"You asked me to come down here. You better be prepared to accept the responsibility, Mr. Skinner." Kritschgau finally pops the lock and begins to ready a syringe.

"You're going to inject him with something?"

"No. You are. With a thousand milligrams of Phenytoin."

"I'm not injecting him with anything, not now and not till after I've talked to his doctor," Skinner says firmly.

"He's being given the wrong treatment."

"You're not a doctor."

"No, but I've seen his condition. Who do you want to trust?"

"Seen it where?" Skinner demands to know.

"In a study. There's something like E.S.P. called 'remote viewing.'"

"Whose study?"

"The company's-- the CIA, Mr. Skinner. Extreme subjects would go into arrest their minds working harder than their bodies could sustain. They became, in effect, all brain. Phenytoin was the only thing that could slow the electrical impulses to a normal rate."

"Agent Mulder knew about this. That's why he asked for you." Skinner reluctantly holds out his hand, and injects the syringe into Mulder's IV line. Instantly, Mulder's body starts to relax.

Mulder stares up at Skinner and rasps, "They're coming."


Skinner goes alone to return Mulder, and sees an angry Fowley lurking in the room. Tried of theatrics, he orders her out of the room after commenting that he'd just found Mulder wandering the hallway. The nurse, spooked by the subtle complain, evaporates too.

"She knows," Mulder says as Skinner helps him back into bed.

Skinner blinks, surprised. "You can read her mind?"

"Yeah. We got to act fast."

"The doctor's on his way."

"No doctors. Get me Scully."

"I can't Mulder. She's not here."

"Look... I know you've been compromised. I know Krycek is threatening your life... Blackmailing you. You don't think I can trust you but it's not you that I need."

"Then who?" Mulder looks towards the door, where Kritschgau is lingering.

"Him. Kritschgau. Ask him to prove it."

"Prove what?" Kritschgau asks.

"What's causing this."

"It's a brain abnormality. It's how you're able to read minds."

"What's causing this is alien. That's why my doctors can't help me."

"I don't believe in aliens, Agent Mulder. I think you know that."

"I do. That's why I need you."


The Beach
The Following Day

Scully and Amina sit on the floor of the tent and move around pieces of paper. Each piece is covered with rubbings that they've made of craft.

When Barnes enters, Amina looks up at him, then glances at Scully. "Now that you're both here I have something to show you...more pieces of the puzzle. I couldn't believe it. I thought I was making it up in my head, that it could not be true."

"What?"

Amina points at the papers in front of her. "What this is. What the symbols spell out is a passage from the Koran." She speaks an Arabic word, which she then translates for them. 'The day of final judgment.' On a spacecraft? Teachings of the ancient prophet Mohammed?"

"I found more, too," Scully says, leaning over carefully so she doesn't disturb the baby in his sling. She touches rubbings that she's pushed together. "24 panels... One for each human chromosome. A map of their makeup-- maybe a map of our entire genetic makeup..." She sighs, sounding overwhelmed by the wonder of it. "A complete human genome. I mean, it's like... it's the most beautiful... intricate work of art."

"It is the Word of God," Amina says reverently.

"You're wrong." Barnes objects. "There is no God. What's out there on the water... is only what we call 'God'...What we call 'creation' - the spark that ignited the fire that cooked the old primordial soup... made animate from inanimate... made us."

Amina glances at Scully. "I believe he is mad from the sun."

Barnes snorts. "Mad? I'm perfectly sane... because today I understand everything beginning and end, alpha and omega, everything in between. It's all been written. But the word is 'extraterrestrial.'"

Scully begins to feel concerned, finally realizing that Amina was not be sarcastic. "You're sick, Dr. Barnes. You need to get off your feet, lie down."

Dr. Barnes picks up Scully's machete and holds it threateningly. "You think you're going to take the credit? This is my discovery. "

"I'm only here to help my husband."

"You can't help him. You're wasting your time reading it."

Amina glances towards the baby. "Have a care, Doctor Barnes. You're speaking about that child's father."

"It has power," Scully insists, ignoring the inner voice that has also told her she's wasting time.

"It is power... the ultimate power. Your husband just got too close. " He stalks across the tent and sits in front of the opening. "No one leaves here before me."

Scully and Amina Ngebe exchange glances and watch him nervously.


Georgetown Memorial Hospital
Mulder's Hospital Room

Mulder watches with interest as Kirtschgau sets up three laptops in front of, but facing away from him.

Looking to Skinner, Kritschgau explains, "We developed this to test remote-viewing capabilities. It works much like a card trick. You tap the monitor where the saucer image appears when it appears or when you think it does. Okay?"

"Who ya gonna call?" Mulder asks, but the joke falls flat. After Kritschgau tells him to begin, he touches the top of the monitors one after another. "Now. Now. Now. Now. Now. Now. Now. Now."

Skinner gives Kritschgau a look: most of the attempts are wrong.

"All right, Agent Mulder, fine. You're at about five percent accuracy," Kritschgau says.

"I'm assuming that's low?" Skinner asks.

"Yeah. At the CIA a high degree of ability was 20%. 25% was extraordinary."

"But I see them in my head," Mulder protests.

"You saw his ability earlier. It was you who pointed it out," Skinner says.

"Well, our tests showed that some people have psychic abilities, sure. I mean, E.S.P. clairvoyance, remote viewing but it was never attributed to aliens."

"You don't want to believe," Mulder says. "You're not looking hard enough."

When Kritschgau starts to turn off the monitors, Skinner stops him. "One more time, faster."

He does, but there's a doubtful look on his face. Mulder taps each of the speeded up images at exactly the right time.

Kritschgau stares at Mulder in awe. "He's ahead of the images. He's anticipating."


The Beach
Night

Scully and Amina Ngebelie sit on their the cots, awake. Doctor Barnes is still manic -still holding the machete -still guarding their only exit. Everything begins to shake without warning, and the sound of clinking glass fills the tent. The bag in Doctor Barnes' lap begins to writher, and he looks in it with an amazed expression on his face. He reaches into the bag and extracts a handful of live fish.

"They've come back. They were dead. They've come back to life! The ship-- it brought them back to life!"

He's so consumed by surprise that he doesn't notice the chair in Scully's hands until it's impacting with his skull. He tumbles over backwards, knocked out.

Scully and Amina pause only long enough to grab the baby and the rubbings. Then they race out to the truck, throw themselves in it, and speed away.

"We have to get to the police," Scully tells Amina.

Amina nods without taking her eyes off the road. "That is where I'm going. This is the road to Abidjan."

Just ahead of them, in the middle of the road, Scully sees the Native man who bothered her once before. He makes no attempt to get out of the way, so Scully shouts, "Stop!"

Amina stomps the brakes, and tires squeal as if being tortured. They brace themselves for an impact that never happens. When Scully looks back, the man is gone, as if he was never there. "That was him," she insists. "That was the man I saw in the tent... in the road."

Scully turns back to Amina Ngebe, but in the woman's seat, she sees the native man glaring back at her. "Some truths are not for you," he intones in a voice filled with power. Before she can shy away, taps her on the face, and she freezes up, as if paralyzed.

Then, just a moment later, Amina is back behind the driver's seat. She touches Scully's face, making her flinch. "Are you all right?"

Scully gasps loudly, her hands automatically touching her baby to make sure he's okay. He howls at the indignity of being woken up. "Oh, God. What were you doing?" Scully asks Amina.

"You were cold. I was just feeling to see if you were still alive."

"What happened to you?"

"To me?" Amina gives her the same look she gave Barnes when she declared him sun-sick.

"You slammed on the brakes. There was a man."

"That's right- in the road."

"No. He was right there- sitting right where you are in your seat."

Amina shakes her head. "The men were right. This is a bad sign. A sign to give up." She starts the engine and pulls back onto the road.

"Turn us around, please," Scully begs.

"Not back to the beach."

"No... I'm going home."


Georgetown Memorial Hospital
Mulder's Hospital Room

If Mulder realizes that he's not alone in the room, he gives no sign of it. Skinner puts his hand on Mulder's forehead, trying to get his attention. "Agent Mulder, I don't know if you can hear me but we're going to try to get you out of here." Mulder doesn't react as Skinner undoes the restraints holding down his arms.

Kritschgau bursts into the room looking agitated. "a.m. nurse is on in five minutes. We got to move."

"I don't think he's in any shape," Skinner protests.

Kritschgau pulls a bottle and syringe out of his pocket. "I'm going to hit him pretty hard. Maybe we can get him on his feet."

"What are you doing?" Skinner barks. "I know what you're doing."

"I'm trying to help him."

"No, this isn't about him - it's about you, it's about revenge against the government for trying to destroy your life."

"I was destroyed to protect what Mulder knew all along. Now he's the proof- he's the X-File," Kritschgau declares in what is obviously meant to be a reasonable tone.

"We can't just keep shooting him full of drugs." Skinner pulls the needle away from him. "It's gone too far."

"How far should it go? How far would Mulder go?"

After a moment of staring at Mulder, hands the drug back to Kritschgau. Monitors begin to beep as frantically as toy breed dogs announcing the presence of an invader. Kritschgau is still pushing the plunger when Fowley, nurses, and doctor Harriman swarm into the room.

Doctor Harriman looks angry and alarmed. "Hey! What's going on here?"

"Let me see your hands. Hands!" Fowley yells at Kritschgau. Skinner is idly wondering if she'll pull a gun on him when he finally complies, holding up empty hands. "Step away."

"Agent Fowley, what the hell do you think you're doing?" Skinner asks.

"What am I doing? What are you doing, Sir, with this?" She waves the used syringe that had fallen to the bed. She turns to the other man. "I want you to face the wall. Do you hear me? Face the wall."

"Let me explain," Skinner says, but no one listens.

"What was this man given? What was in this syringe?" Harriman asks.

"Phenytoin," Fowley reads.

Skinner tries again. "Let me tell you what it does."

Harriman sounds even angrier. "How much did you give him? What dosage was this?"

"Let me tell you why we did it-" Skinner begins, but the monitors attached to Mulder begin a siren song as he goes into convulsions.

"He's going into seizure," Harriman tells a nurse, who is swooping in to assist. "Watch his head. Mr. Mulder? Can you hear me? Hold him. Hold him."

Skinner steps away, completely forgotten about. He doesn't really mind.


Airport
An Hour Later

It seems like people are speaking a thousand different languages as Scully waits impatiently for her plane. Mostly, it's just that the words of a hundred different conversations in just a handful of languages have melted into the sounds that remind her strongly of the ocean waves on the beach. Sighing, she reaches into her pocket and pulls out her phone, determined to add to the din.

"Skinner, it's me, agent Scully," she says as he answers on the second ring.

"Where have you been?" He sounds almost angry, which fills her with a nameless dread.

"I'm in Africa. We're waiting for our flight home. Is Mulder still at Georgetown Memorial?"

"He's in the neuro-psych ward but it's not good, Agent Scully."

"How not good?" she demands to know. "I'm going to be on the plane for twenty-two hours. I need to know what I'm coming back to."

"He's not in immediate risk of dying, so I'm sorry to panic you. It's just that you should know what you're going to see if you can even get on the ward. There's been some trouble."

"What kind of trouble?"

"I got this man, Kritschgau, involved. It's a long story, but it ended badly. They've got Mulder under security now around the clock. I take full responsibility."

"Responsibility for what?"

"He can't even communicate, Agent Scully. They won't treat him because they don't know what's wrong with him. They said he was dying sooner than later. I had to do something."

"He's not dying," Scully says calmly.

"I'm afraid it's true."

"He's not dying. He is more alive than he has ever been. He's more alive than his body can withstand and what's causing it may be extraterrestrial in origin."

"I know. But there's nothing to be done about it. When you get here, I'm afraid that they're going to deny you access."

"Maybe as his partner... but not as his doctor. Not as his wife." She pauses. "Are you there in the room with him?"

"Yes, why?" he asks, sounding cautious.

"Give him the phone."

"He can't hold it," Skinner protests. He doesn't want to say that Fowley and Harrison are now supervising each of his visits. Both of them are glaring at him.

"Then hold it to his ear!" she snaps.

"Okay. I'm doing it now."

After a moment of moving noises, she begins to speak to her husband, not caring if Skinner can hear what she says. "Mulder, it's me. I know that you can hear me. If you can just give me some sign." She listens hard, but hears nothing but the faint sound of breathing. "I want you to know where I've been... what I found. I think that, if you know, that you could find a way to hold on. I need you to hold on. I found a key... the key... to every question that has ever been asked. It's a puzzle..." Her voice begins to break. "But the pieces are there for us to put together and I know that they can save you if you can just hold on. Mulder... please. Hold on."

After a minute Skinner takes the phone back. "Have a safe flight, agent Scully. I'll do what I can for him until you get here."

"Thank you," Scully says, then snaps her phone closed. An announcement has just listed her plane for boarding.


Chapter Seventy-Nine


October 1999

A distant voice drones, "We've exhausted all medical and scientific evidence. By that I mean nothing we can find-- no disease, no hint of disease, only symptoms. The brute fact is he's experiencing so much activity in his temporal lobe that it is effectively destroying his brain."

"Enough. There's only so much bluntness a mother can take," Tenna Mulder says, before wiping an errant tear away. "I shouldn't even be the one making decisions. That's what wives are for...but his is chasing some quack cure, dragging my month-old grandson with her."

"I'm realize this is difficult, Mrs. Mulder. I just..."

"All you do is sedate him. You're turning him... into a zombie," she accuses, stroking Mulder's cheek. "I know you can hear me, Fox. Can you give me a sign?"

"I can hear you, Mom," Mulder replies.

"Fox. Come on now. Your family needs you." She pauses. "I need you too." She shakes her head lightly. "I even called your dad, and you know how unusual it is for us to talk. He hopes you'll hurry up and get better as well."

"Mom, I can hear you. I'm here," he tells her, puzzled by her refusal to hear him.

She bends down and kisses his forehead like she'd done when he was young and too sick for school. "I love you, my darling boy." Then she shakes her head again, this time sadly, and walks away.

"Mom, where you going? Mom! Mom! Come back, Mom! Mom! What did you mean about Scully? Please come back, I need you! Mom!! Mom!!!" Exhausted from his futile screaming, Mulder doesn't fight the darkness when it rolls in.

Eventually it lifts. "When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes. Ah, but your mummy will still love you. All a mother wants is to shield her boy from pain and danger. Safe in the world as he was once in the womb. But maybe we think a father demands more than mere survival. Maybe we're afraid a father demands worldly adulation success, heroism..." the smoking man whispers in Mulder's ear. "I know you can hear me."

Looking up at his biological father, Mulder tells him, "I could always hear you. Even when my mind is jammed with a thousand voices I can hear you like a snake hissing underneath. How the hell did you get in here?"

Giving no indication that he heard Mulder's response, the smoking man busies himself filling a syringe from a bottle. "How does anything I do surprise you now? Aren't you expecting me to sprout vampire fangs?"

"You've come to kill me," Mulder accuses him.

"It would be better than living like a zombie, wouldn't it?" the smoking man asks as he delivers the injection into Mulder's temple. Mulder gasps and grimaces in pain. A bolt pierces his brain. "I'm giving you a choice."

"What choice?"

"Life or death. Your account is squared--with me, with God, with the IRS, with the FBI. Rise out of your bed and come with me."

"I'm dying, you idiot. If I could get up, I'd kick your ass," Mulder croaks.

"Don't be so dramatic. Only part of you is dying. The part that played the hero. You've suffered enough - for the X-Files, for your partner, for the world. You're not Christ. You're not Prince Hamlet. You're not even Ralph Nader. You can walk out of this hospital and the world will forget you. Arise."

Mulder startles himself by sitting up with ease. "Wh... wh... what the hell are you doing to me?"

"I'm showing you how to take the road not taken. Take my hand."

"Why should I take your hand?"

The old man gives him a faintly surprised look. "You can't read my mind?"

"No..." Mulder realizes with relief. "I can't. All the voices are gone."

"Take my hand, Fox. You have to take the first step. Take my hand. I am your father."

"I guess that makes me Luke Skywalker," Mulder says, but he does take the man's hand.


Hours Later
Washington National Airport

Scully and Christopher are swept along a tide of fellow passengers disembarking from the plane. As they head towards the baggage area, the crowd thins enough to allow Scully to escape the press of bodies. She's about to grab her bag when she hears a shout:

"Agent Scully!"

Looking over her shoulder, she catches sight of Skinner, and to her surprise, Michael Kritschgau.

"What's going on?" Scully asks, suddenly compelled to shift her sleeping son closer to her chest.

Skinner's expression is anything but reassuring. "Thank God you're back. Agent Scully, you need to go to the hospital with us right now."

"Why? What happened?"

"Mulder's gone. He's disappeared," Kritschgau says, and Skinner nods in grim agreement.

"If you don't have any objections, Kritschgau will ride with you, and fill you in. I'll follow in my car."

"Uh, okay," Scully agrees off-hand.

Kritschgau watches while she straps Christopher into his car seat, then climbs into the car with her. Once she starts the car, she glances at her passenger. "I take it you 'filling me in' was your idea?"

He nods, and glances back at the baby. "As his wife, you are the only one with access to Mulder. I need you to use it wisely."

"Like you?" she hisses. "Almost killing him by shooting him full of Phenytoin for a few moments of lucidity."

"Skinner's kept you informed," Kritschgau says sardonically. "It's what Agent Mulder wanted. He knows what's wrong. What he wants now is to prove it. It's why he asked for me, not you."

"I don't believe that."

"Close to three years ago your husband was infected with a virus he claimed was alien. A virus reactivated in him by exposure to a source of energy also alien. Agent Mulder is living proof of what he tried so long to substantiate: the existence of alien life."

"Well, whatever it is, it's killing him. And we have to get it out of him."

He leans close, threateningly. "You destroy this and I'll destroy you."

"Threaten me again and I might accidentally discharge my firearm," Scully growls, and shoves him back towards the passenger door with one hand. "I'll do what's best for my husband, not you."

Neither of them say another word to each other until they rejoin Skinner at the hospital and are informed that it seems that Mrs. Mulder checked Mulder out of the hospital.


That Night

It's rainy and dark when Mulder wakes up and discovers that he's in his hospital gown still, and handcuffed. The smoking man doesn't react when he realizes that his passenger is awake. "You've been asleep quite a while. I expect it'll be some time before your sleep patterns return to normal. Would you like an explanation?"

"I'm not sure," Mulder admits.

"While you were lying unconscious in the hospital this afternoon my doctors worked on you."

"Why?"

"At some point I realized that if the Syndicate didn't kill you the FBI would. If the FBI didn't kill you your own misguided heroism would. There's really no way out for you. There's no way for you to cheat death except by disappearing," the smoking man explains.

"A man can't just disappear," Mulder protests. "Specifically I can't just disappear. I have responsibilities, a wife and children."

"Oh, we've made entire cultures disappear. Surely you learned about Roanoke in school. Like me, now, you'll... you'll become a man without a name. But even while you miss your former identity, you'll learn to love life's simpler pleasures," the smoking man tells him.

Mulder holds up his cuffed hands. "Well, that'll be kind of tough with these on."

"When you no longer want to run, those will come off. How do you feel?"

"I feel better than I did." Mulder sighs. "I've got to tell Scully that I'm better. I've got to tell her."

"If you do have contact with her you'll put her in danger. You're entering a kind of, uh witness protection program, for want of a better term." The smoking man lights a cigarettes in his mouth.

"What about my kids?" Mulder asks plaintively.

"You said that twice now." The smoking man gives him a puzzled look before turning his eyes back to the road. "What children?"


Meanwhile

The house is quiet when Scully arrives. Sighing wearily, she drops her keys on the kitchen table, sets Christopher's carrier on the floor, and goes to the fridge for a drink. There's a gurgle behind her, and she turns expecting to see Michelle holding one of the twins. Instead Michelle there's a man holding Jared. Alarmed, she gropes for the gun at her waist and wishes that she'd thought to turn on the light.

"Don't move. Who's there?"

He steps into the light, and she knows him. "I don't mean to frighten you. Albert Hosteen." Unalarmed, Jared waves at his mother, excited to see her.

Scully takes her son from the elderly man, and gives him a look of disbelief. "What are you doing here? How did you get here?"

"A young woman let me in. I'm sorry to surprise you."

"Surprise? That you're standing here... The last time I saw you was in New Mexico, when Mulder took ill years ago."

"I was hoping to see your partner," Albert says. "He came to see me in the hospital, but I wasn't well enough to speak to him, then."

"He's missing," Scully replies heavily.

"You must save him."

"He's very ill," she says, and then adds. "I'm trying."

"You must find him before something happens not only for his sake-- for the sake of us all." Albert casts a meaningful look at the child cradled in Scully's arms. "You don't want him growing up in the world that will follow if you fail."

Scully gives him a confused look, but he lets himself out of the house without elaborating further.


Meanwhile

"What do you mean, 'what children'? I have six kids!" Mulder yelps.

"That's news to me." The smoking man gives him a long look. "There's one boy, William, but I don't know of any others. I'm sure they'll be fine with their mothers."

"Mother," Mulder snaps. "I'm not the man you are, to have children with whatever women catch my eye. They all have the same mother. Scully."

"Oh?" The old man asks. "I'm sure that would be news to her. To me too, since we didn't authorize any more births from her ova after the disaster the first time."

Bewildered, Mulder falls into a dismayed silence until the smoking man brings the car to a stop. He pulls up in front of a nice house.

"Where are we?"

"Home. This is your new life."

The smoking man holds out a key. Eventually Mulder takes it.

"I don't understand."

The smoking man gets out of the car, and when Mulder doesn't he leans against the open window. He points a finger at the car's key, still in the ignition. "You can drive away right now. Drive back to Scully and your X-Files and imminent death, and look for your imaginary children if it brings you comfort. And I wouldn't be surprised if you did drive off now but I think you should take a look around. I mean, why leave something behind until you... until you know what it is you're leaving?"

Without another word, he turns and walks off down the street. Considering the man's words, Mulder looks up at the house.


Not long after Albert Hosten's visit, Scully tucks the kids into bed, lets Michelle know she's leaving and heads back to the hospital to see if there are any new clues about her husband's whereabouts. There seems to be a development and Agent Flagler shows her a security tape.

"Mulder was taken out of the hospital at just before 2:00 a.m. His mother's signature's on the hospital documents. It's her handwriting, she checked him out a.m.a; against medical advice. It's all legitimate, until you go to surveillance. This is the camera in the hall outside Mulder's room." He points out black paint sprayed on other camera lens in the hallway, blinding them. "Here's inside his room. And two other cameras on the ward. We're guesstimating there were at least three others involved. Check this out. Where's Waldo? She's talking to someone."

In the tiny bit of one frame not covered with the black paint they watch Teena Mulder talk to a man who is smoking a cigarette. "Yeah. I know who that is," Scully says, silently fuming.


Mulder's Home
Late Night

There's no one in the house, as best as Mulder can tell. He only takes a cursorily look, however. As soon as he's through the door he's overwhelmed by a sudden lassitude. Telling himself that it's just the effects of having been so ill, he wanders the ground floor until he finds the bedroom.

The bed is ice cold, and he misses Scully's smaller, warm presence beside him. It's also too quiet, and the noise that six kids, even asleep, produce is completely lacking. Somewhere in the dark a clock ticks, and a few self-pitying tears roll down his cheeks as he sleepily vows to get back home.


X-Files Office
Obscenely Early

The last thing Scully did before tearing out of the house was to speak to April, since she was the only one of the kids awake. The little girl had looked up at her with curious brown eyes, but hadn't asked her any questions – not that Scully really expected her to. She explained anyway. "I'm looking for your daddy. Don't you worry, baby, I'm going to find him." April had looked like she believed her, which was the only reason she could bear to go into the office rather than stay with the kids, and hold them close so they didn't disappear on her too.

Phone calls to Mulder's parents are her first order of business, and she only feels a little bad to have woken Bill Mulder. He sounds worried too, and he promises "If I hear anything I'll call you immediately. Teena told me that he's quite ill, so I'm concerned about him too." Feeling a bit bitter about that declaration, Scully momentarily wishes that she could douse her worries in alcohol, the way Bill surely does. Even if she did drink, it wouldn't be good for Christopher, so she squelches the impulse.

Teena Mulder isn't even home, or at least not answering her phone, because her cool message plays in Scully's ear. "This is Teena Mulder. I'm not in to take your call. Please leave your message."

"Teena? This is Dana." She pauses when an office courier enters the room and hands her a large envelope. "As before, you can reach me at our office at the FBI. I plan to go home at four, and you know that number, obviously. Thank you."

Scully hangs up and opens the envelope. Inside is a large book. "Native American Beliefs and Practices." The envelope pretends to have originated from interoffice mail, but there's nothing on the envelope to indicate the sender.

Flipping the book over, she sees that there is writing on the cover that matches the panel of the ship she'd encountered in Africa. Skimming the table of contents, she sees that chapter three is called "The Anasazi - An Entire Native American Indian Culture Vanishes Without a Trace - History as Myth and end of the world symbolism. Apocalypse and The Sixth Extinction." That gives her chills. She reads the chapter, and feels chills of a different kind.

Picking up her phone once more, she calls Skinner. "Sir, did you send me this book?"

"Excuse me?"

"This book. It explains everything that I found in Africa... using the same symbols that I found on the ship."

"Agent Scully, I asked you not to involve me in this."

She ignores the comment. "It's all here, sir-- a foretelling of mass extinction; a myth about a man who can save us from it. That's why they took Mulder. They think that his illness is a gift-- protection against the coming plague." Skinner hangs up on her rather abruptly.

Annoyed, she goes up to his office, and his assistant tries to bar the way. "I'm sorry, Agent Scully. The Assistant Director has given me express orders not to let you in."

Scully side skirts her and opens the door in time to see a man run out the other door, leaving Skinner slumped over his desk in pain. Scully runs to his side when he groans.

"Sir... Are you hurt? Are you cut?" Scully looks up to see his alarmed assistant peering into the office. "Get on the phone."

As soon as the other woman nods, Scully skitters out into the hallway after the assailant. He moves so quickly that she has trouble keeping up with him.

"Hey! Stop that man!"

Without missing a beat the man pulls the fire alarm and gets lost in the crowd.


Mulder's New House
Morning

When Mulder wakes up in the morning there's a woman sitting at his kitchen table, sipping a mug of coffee. He stares at her, because he knows who she is, and wishes that she wasn't there.

Lowering the mug, she gives him a long look, piercing him with green eyes. "Fox."

"Elsbeth," he replies shakily. "I didn't expect-"

"No, I'm sure you didn't," she says evenly.

"Um...why are you here?"

"You screwed up."

He's suddenly alarmed. "Where are Scully and the kids?"

"Gone."

"What do you mean 'gone'?" Mulder demands to know.

"Scully's dead."

"What? What happened to her? I heard my mother say she'd gone off somewhere, taking Christopher with her. Was there an accident? Oh God, what about the baby?" Mulder babbles.

Elsbeth shakes her head. "You know how she died, Fox. As for Christopher, he doesn't exist."

"What do you mean? Christopher exists. He was born in August."

"No."

"Yes! He's my sixth child. How can you say that he doesn't exist?"

"You have a child, one. William. You couldn't get him back, and Scully killed herself."

"No! No! You sent me back to keep her safe!" Mulder wails.

"Did you?" Elsbeth asks. Without another word, she stands and walks away from the table. "Did you keep anyone safe?"

Elsbeth!" Mulder shrieks. "Elsbeth tell me what's going on!"

The short blonde woman never turns to acknowledge his screams.


Michael Kritschgau's Apartment
That Afternoon

After knocking rather insistently on the door, Scully rouses the apartment's occupant, who steps aside to let her in, mostly because she gives him no choice.

"You told someone, didn't you?" she accuses. "You let the information out."

"What are you talking about?"

"A man attacked Skinner in his office."

"For what?" Kritschgau asks.

"For what he knows about Mulder."

"I haven't told anyone."

She's about to accuse him of lying again when she sees a laptop on his table. Lifting the screen, she sees copies of the photos of the inscriptions on the ship in Africa. "What is this? These are mine. You've hacked into my files. What are you doing with these?"

"I was having them analyzed."

"By whom?"

"National Institutes of Health."

"What?" she asks, giving him a blank look.

"The material you have there-- encrypted data that describes advanced human genetics-- where did you get it?"

"This was not supposed to go public," she announces, then erases the file off his hard drive.

Kritschgau doesn't look as angry as she expects him to. "Wherever you got it that data supports what's happened to Mulder. It proves what he's become-- biologically alien." She stares and he stares back. "What are you hiding?"

"It doesn't matter," she says heavily.

"It matters to someone. Whoever it is it sounds like they're looking for Mulder, too."

Once the files are completely gone, Scully leaves.


Meanwhile

When it's clear that Elsbeth has no intention of returning, Mulder goes upstairs for the first time. The bedroom he slept in was on the ground floor, so he's had no need to go up there the night before.

Now it serves as a necessary distraction. Most of the doors stand open, revealing a couple of closets, a bathroom, a small bedroom and an office. One door is firmly closed.

Trepidation coils in his stomach as he puts his hand on the knob. The office is full of books and office supplies, and their slightly disordered appearance suggests that they've been used. What's behind the closed door? He swings it open.

There's no light, so he reaches out a trembling hand and flicks the switch. The far wall is plastered with news clippings.

Woman's Body Washes Ashore
The body of a drowning victim washed ashore early this morning...

Truck Driver Kills One After Falling Asleep At Wheel
A Virginia truck driver fell asleep at the wheel yesterday day, and drove into an on-coming car, killing the driver instantly...

Moaning, Mulder pulls his eyes away, and finds that he's staring at a pair of obituaries instead. Dana Katherine Scully. Died December 23rd, 2003. John Jay Doggett. Died December 17th, 2003. A calendar to the far left is turned to May 2004.

Recoiling in horror, Mulder flees the room and runs into the hall. He covers his eyes with his palms and screams.


Unknown Location

Mulder's prone body is lying on a metal table. His face is peacefully slack – completely unaware of his surroundings...or his company. He doesn't flinch at all when the smoking man and Fowley speak next to him.

"A father has high hopes for his son but he never dreams his boy's going to change the world. I'm so proud of this man-- the depth of his capacity for suffering." The smoking man proclaims.

"Like father, like son," Fowley replies with a sycophant smile. It took some doing to get back into the smoking man's good graces after abducting the baby in order to add tension to Mulder and his wife's relationship, but he seems to have forgiven her.

"They think what he has is killing him but, in actuality, he's never been more alive." His voice holds a note of awe.

Fowley watches the sleeping man twitch for a few seconds. "Do you think he dreams?"

"He flinches and whines. I'd say nightmares."

"About what, I wonder."

He shrugs. "What haunts the sleep of all great me. Our failures. What we could have accomplished if there hadn't be others standing in our way..." The smoking man leans down. "Your path is clear now, my boy."


Hoover Building
Three Hours Later

Scully sees red when she notices her least favorite agent in the hallway. She hasn't seen hide or hair of her for weeks, and had naively hoped that she'd taken off after the stunt with the baby.

"Bum a cigarette, Agent Fowley?" Scully asks as she comes up behind the other woman.

Fowley notes her unfriendly look "I don't smoke."

"Really? I could swear I smell cigarette smoke on you."

"Let's cut the crap, shall we?" Fowley suggests.

"Yes. Let's." She leads the other woman into an empty office. "Where's my husband?"

"Maybe before you go around blaming everyone you can find for what's happened to Mulder you could think about what you could've done to prevent it. If you weren't so wrapped up in your children you might have noticed-" she begins, but Scully cuts her off.

"I just want you to think. Think of Mulder when you met him. Think of the promise and the life in front of him. Think of him now. And then try and stand there in front of me, look me in the eye and tell me Mulder wouldn't bust his ass trying to save you." She gives Fowley a long look. "Did, actually, or have you forgotten our little trip to Antarctica?"

"I'm thinking, Agent Scully. I'm always thinking," Fowley says tightly, and then walks past Scully.

Scully lets her go, suddenly convinced for no good reason that she's gotten through to her.


Location Unknown

Taking a set on a table set near the one holding Mulder, the smoking man rolls up his sleeve so a doctor can insert an IV.

The doctor places the IV, then stares down at Mulder in awe. "It's a chance none of us ever expected... let alone hoped for. After all these years trying to develop a compatible alien-human hybrid and to have one ready-made."

"All these years... all the questioning why... why keep Mulder alive? When it was so simple to remove the threat that he posed?" The look on the smoking man's face is one of gloating.

This makes the doctor frown. "There was no way you could have predicted this."

"The fact remains, he's become our savior. He's immune to the coming viral apocalypse. He's the hero here."

"He may not survive the procedure," the doctor cautions.

"Then he suffers a hero's fate."


Mulder's House

The sound of laughter out on the street draws Mulder's attention. Groaning, he climbs to his feet and goes to the window. The laughter had sounded happy, but it takes on a sinister tone as he looks out.

Two children are looking up at him. They're both clearly dead. Even in the moonlight it's possible to see the molting of their blue-gray skin... Dirt darkens limp blond hair. Their dead eyes know him, and they're angry. Even from the other side of the glass their hatred of him is palpable.

A voiceless whisper winds around the room. "You let us die."

Mulder stumbles backwards, suddenly sure that they'll come in through the window for him. The glass doesn't break.

Eventually he becomes brave and looks out again. The children are disappearing down the street.


Mulder's House
Later

After the children came by to scare him, it takes Mulder a while to gather up the courage to go outside and try the car. It's on his mind to drive home to Scully and the kids, but when he tries to start the car, it won't turn over.

Sighing, he gets out of the car, and heads back in. His thought is to call a tow truck, but a noise deep in the house makes him freeze in his track.

"Hello? Anybody there?"

"Agent Mulder."

Turning around, Mulder is startled to see that his visitor is Deep Throat. The unexpected joy at seeing him dies suddenly when the man walks out of the shadows. His skin shares the same deathly pallor as Emily and Luke's. "You're dead."

Deep Throat chuckles, which is a deeply unpleasant sound. "What else did you expect? Your wife saw me die, bleeding out on that bridge years ago. One, uh, well-placed bullet..." Deep Throat pulls up his shirt to show a gruesome gash that can't heal in dead tissue. "Ended a lifetime of trying to put things to right."

"I felt responsible for your death," Mulder tells him, sitting down.

"You are. I died for your quest," Deep Throat announces, strangely calm.

Horror-stricken, Mulder stares at him.

"I'm not the only one to fall victim to your crusade for the damnable truth. Scully's sister, your father, Duane Barry...all fell in your wake. Even Scully's cancer, barrenness, and suicide are charges to be laid at your feet. You thought you could control it all if you just tired hard enough, and we suffered for it."

"No...no.." Mulder sputters.

"No? Take some responsibility, Man!" Deep Throat roars, coming to his feet. "Do it before it's too late for your boy, too."

Deep Throat turns and begins to walk away.

"Wait!" Mulder shouts. "Damn you, why won't anyone listen to me?" Deep Throat doesn't respond.


Washington D.C.

It's just after five when Scully arrives home. Though it pained her to do so, she waited until four for Teena to call back, but her mother-in-law never did. A black mood descended on her as she fled the office.

The kids are all very quiet, and no one fusses when Scully and Michelle put them to bed. After closing the door to David and Jared's room, Michelle lingers in the hallway.

"Is there something you wanted to say?" Scully asks when the nanny just silently stares at her.

"Will you be okay if I run out to the store for a while?"

Puzzled, Scully says "I'm glad you helped me get them to bed, but you know that when Mulder or I are home, you're not on duty. You can leave whenever you want."

"I wasn't asking permission," Michelle says softly. "I asked if you'd be okay."

It takes Scully a lot of effort to keep herself from dissolving into tears. "You shouldn't have to worry about something like that."

The nanny shrugs. "I can't help it. You and your husband are good people, so I worry about you."

"Thank you. But I'll be fine, really."

"Okay," Michelle replies. "I'll be back in a couple of hours."

After listening to the nanny leave, Scully decides to see if Christopher is awake. It's less than an hour until he needs to be fed, so she tells herself that it wouldn't be too horrible if she woke him up so she had one of her babies to hold. But before she reaches her room, she hears a footstep behind her and turns.

Albert Hosteen is behind her, and he gives her a stern glance. "You're running out of time."

Scully is worn out with worry and on the verge of tears. "Why do you come to me like this? Why? When I can't find him."

"You look, but not in the right place."

"I don't think you're hearing me," Scully snaps.

"You don't know where he is?"

"Even if I did I wouldn't know how to save him. This science makes no sense to me."

"Have you looked for him here?" He points to her chest, right above her heart.

"Are you asking me to pray?"

Instead of answering, he reaches for her hand and gently pulls her to her knees as he drops to his own beside her. "There are more worlds than the one you can hold in your hand."

They lower their heads and begin to pray. By the time Michelle returns, Albert has long since let himself out, but Scully is still praying, silently, a desperate mantra running through her head.


Location Unknown

Mulder and the smoking man are on separate tables, but their heads are nearly as close as those of conjoined twins. Mulder, with a tube shoved down his throat, is obvious to the other man, the pair of doctors, and Fowley. On the other hand, the smoking man is wide awake.

Looking up at Fowley he smiles grimly, saying "I hope you see the poetry in this, Diana."

She doesn't smile back. "You're removing genetic material that may kill your son."

"We're forcing the next step in evolution to save man. We're doing God's work, Diana. Without this immunity, everyone would die. This knowledge is God's blessing. I'll carry on for Mulder from here." He reaches out and squeezes her hand. She takes it, but looks upset.


The Next Morning

Scully's knees ache when she wakes up the next morning. At some point during the night she'd been fueled by a compulsion to pray on her knees again, as if the ache brought her closer to the god she was praying to, or at least showed that she was serious. Thinking hard, she couldn't remember when she finally crawled into bed.

The only goal she had upon wincingly climbing out of bed, was to head for a glass of water and two aspirin. She was still shuffling towards the kitchen, which for reasons she couldn't fathom, was where she and Mulder kept pain relief, rather than in the much closer medicine cabinet, when she noticed something pushed halfway through the mail slot.

Opening the envelope, she finds a Inside is a keycard for a door in the Department of Defense. Stamped on the front is "MSF 1226 L1."

Three minutes later she's dressed and running for the car, her aching forgotten.


Unknown location

Mulder's eyes are open, but they don't see anything in the room while the doctors probe his brain. Instead his sight is focused inwards.


Mulder's House

He never escapes.

Every time he tries to, something goes wrong. Cars won't start, cabs won't come, and if he actually does make it out of the yard, inclement weather springs up. Once he got about four blocks away before a tree fell and hit his shoulder with a glancing blow. Even so, he thought it might have been broken, and it took weeks before he got full use of it back.

Eventually, he stops trying to get away. Some deep down, defeated part of him comes to accept the fact that Scully is dead, and most of his children were imaginary.

And slowly he grows old.

One quiet afternoon, which is much like the years of quiet afternoons stung out before and behind it, Mulder's tired old eyes open when he hears someone walking in his room. A much younger man, perhaps thirty-five, approaches the side of his bed. For a moment Mulder wonders who he could be, but then he recognizes the longish red hair, bright blue eyes, and a copy of Scully's mouth.

"William! I thought I'd never see you again!"

His son looks at him with hard eyes. "You never looked for me."

"No, that's not true," Mulder protests. "We tried to get you back."

"When I was a baby. I've been grown a long time. Why didn't you try to find me after I grew up?"

"I didn't think you'd want to see me, not after your mother-"

"-killed herself. You let her die."

"William, there was nothing I could do!"

"And you've done nothing. You've let yourself wallow in self-pity, and have scarcely noticed that they've come and taken over." William gestures to the red sky outside. "If you hadn't maybe my life, all our lives, would be worth living now."

"William, why rehash the past now... I'm dying," Mulder snivels.

"If you die now, you kill us all!" William shouts. "You're the only one who can bar the door against the wolves baying outside. Get up and live, dammit."

Before Mulder can react, William has grabbed him by the wrist, and pulled him to his feet. Age falls away from Mulder, and he sees Scully standing in the doorway, smiling encouragement at him. "I thought you died," Mulder whispers, forgetting that William is there and taking a step towards her. She holds out her hand in anticipation.


The heels of Scully's shoes click and echo in the deserted hallway as she rushes towards the room the keycard belongs to. A hint of green light illuminates a few inches of floor in front of the closed door. She almost drops the keycard, but somehow manages to grip it long enough to shove it home.

The room is deserted, except for the man lying on a metal table with his arms out-stretched. She looks around, frantically trying to assess the situation. Has Mulder been abandoned, or are they laying in wait for an opportune moment to jump out at her?

Hand shaking, she reaches out and touches his bandaged head. He doesn't respond, so she leans towards his left ear and speaks softly, hoping not to be overheard. "Mulder. Mulder, you've got to wake up. I've got to get you out of here. Mulder, can you understand me?"

His eyelids flicker slightly, and he lets out a weak moan.

Next to him, his wife begins to cry. "Mulder, you've got to get up. I don't know how much time we have. You've got to get up, Mulder. No one can do it but you, Mulder. Mulder, help me. Please, Mulder."

When tears splatter his face, he opens his eyes, this time really seeing her. "Will...If you... help... me."

So she does.


One Week Later

When Scully gets home early from the office, she goes to their bedroom and is surprised to see that although he's playing with the twins on the bed, Mulder is dressed. It's only been a little over a day since he was released from the hospital, where he'd spent several days under observation and receiving treatment for a minor infection caused by his impromptu brain surgery.

"Why are you dressed? You look like you were going somewhere."

"Scully, I, um... I was coming down... to work to tell you that Albert Hosteen is dead. He died last night in New Mexico. He'd been in a coma for two weeks. There was... no way he could have been in our house."

"He was there-- we... we prayed together. Mulder, I don't believe that. I... I don't believe it. It's impossible."

"Isn't it any more impossible than what you saw in Africa or what you saw in me?"

"I don't know what to believe anymore. Mulder, I was so determined to find a cure to save you that I could deny what it was that I saw and now I don't even know... I don't know... I don't know what the truth is ... I don't know who to listen to. I don't know who to trust."

Unexpected tears well in her eyes. "Diana Fowley was found murdered this morning. I never trusted her... but she helped save your life just as much as I did. She gave me that book. It was her key that led me to you. I'm sorry... I'm so sorry. I know she was your friend."

"Yes, but not like you. You were my friend, and you told me the truth. Even when the world was falling apart, you were my constant... my touchstone."

"And you are mine," Scully tells, him then kisses him until the twins begin to squeal for their parents' attention.


Later

There's the sound of footsteps, and Scully looks up from writing a report just time to see David run unsteadily into the room wearing only a diaper. Michelle appears seconds later and gives her a sheepish look. "Sorry, he got away from me while I changed Jared."

"It's okay." Scully pauses and gives the young woman a measured look. "I've been meaning to ask you this, but with everything going on it's slipped my mind. A friend of mine, an elderly Navaho code talker Mulder and I worked with, stopped by to visit a couple of times while Mulder was missing. Did you let him in? He was in the house when I got home the first time."

Michelle looks confused. "No. I don't even remember seeing him."

"Ah." Scully looks down at her smiling son, who looks impishly proud of himself, and casts for a change of topic. "You behave for Michelle."

"Ha ha," he declares, clapping gleefully. Mulder's sarcasm is obviously rubbing off on him, too.

Scully shakes her head and watches the nanny take him away. When she's alone a flicker of movement in the corner of her eye catches her attention. Turning her head, she sees the briefest impression of a figure fading from view.

Perhaps Mulder was right, and Albert hadn't been alive to visit her. Perhaps it wasn't the nanny but one of the resident ghosts that was the "young woman" who let him in that night...but if it was, she'd never admit to her husband that a suspicion to that end had ever crossed her mind.


A Few Days Later

"Scully, we need to talk."

"About?" she asks.

He gives her a sad smile and then reaches into the drawer of his nightstand. After he fishes a small box out, he hands it to Scully. "I bought these today when I picked up my new prescription for antibiotics." It's the third one they'd put him on since releasing him from the hospital.

"Mulder," she says, giving him an imploring look.

Shaking his head, he says, "We talked about this sort of contingency. Until we know that I'm going to be okay, it'd be foolish to risk another pregnancy. I'm not going to leave you with another baby to look after all by yourself if I die."

"You're not going to die!" She starts to get up, but he puts his hand around her wrist, gently.

"Do you think that you're God, now?"

"Of course not."

"Then you can't know that. You can hope, and you can pray, but you can't know."

"Okay. You win. We'll do this... Right up until you get a clean bill of health."

::Right up until it's time to conceive out seventh and final child.::


Late October 1999

When Mulder wakes up one morning his head feels too big for his thoughts. Too big for his pillow, too. Because he can't bring himself to explore with his fingers, he lurches out of bed, heading for the bathroom mirror. His unsteady gait makes him dizzy, and he vaguely wonders if the unstable feeling in his belly compares to morning sickness. Maybe he'll ask Scully to compare notes.

As he stares at the image in the mirror, he thinks about movies where someone grows a second head. The lump on the back of his skull does have any facial features but maybe his hair covered them up.

As he shakes Scully awake, words he never expected to say poured out of his mouth: "Something is really wrong with me. I think you need to bring me to hospital."

Scully practically bolts out of bed, and her eyes fill with horror when she sees the knob on the back of his head. "That's where they cut into your brain."

"I realize that," he says tiredly, then lies back down while Scully gets dressed and wakes Michelle.


Memorial Hospital

The end up admitting him almost immediately. Since Scully is a doctor, the doctors treating him tend to forget that he's not following the conversation that they're having with his wife, and they mostly speak to her.

Once they wander off, Mulder looks up at her. "So what's going on?"

They're going to give you a cat-scan, but the theory is that there's an infection in the bone and tissue around the incision the smoking man's people made."

"So the infection they thought they cleared up before releasing me before-"

"-had just gone into hiding," Scully finishes. "In a way, it's good that you swelled up like this."

Mulder glares at her for being insensitive. "Sure. I always wanted a hideous lump on the back of my head."

"If not for the swelling, we might be talking about more serious things."

"Things like what?"

"A brain abscess."

"Damn." ::Well, this sucks more than last time. I guess I had to realize that not all the changes would be improvements.:: "So what happens next?"

"They do the scan, then probably put you on antibiotics."

"How long will I be here?" he asks plaintively.

"Honestly, I don't know. There are a few things I'd like to throw out to your doctors, but I'm not sure if they'll go for them."

In the end, he goes home after three days, with a far less swollen head and a sheave of instructions for him and Scully to follow...and the fear that it could happen again.


October 31st, 1999

"I was deep within the woods when suddenly I spied them. I saw a pair of pale green pants with nobody inside them."

Since he isn't yet three months old, Christopher is sleeping in a bassinet parked near the couch. It's a new piece of furniture for the room; unlike their older siblings at their age, the twins are inordinately fascinated with the new baby, and now that they're walking well won't leave him alone when he naps in a baby seat. Both of them fell into the seat twice while admiring their little brother, so Mulder retrieved Sammy's old bassinet from the attic to keep all three of the little ones safe.

At the moment, however, David and Jared aren't causing trouble. Instead they're sharing their father's lap. Also sharing Mulder's lap is one of Doctor Seus' less popular works "What Was I Scared Of?" Sammy loved it so much that Mulder bought him a copy, and the twins decided they like it too.

David seems to enjoy the nearly mono-chromatic illustrations, because he keeps patting the pages, saying "blue." Mulder thinks that some of the pages are more green than blue, but decides that it's not worth interrupting the story to try to teach him a new word.

Jared, on the other hand, has picked up on the fact that the protagonist is frighten and stares wide-eyed at the pictures. At least he does when his brother isn't pounding on them.

The grandfather clock ticks contently in the background as he reads.

"Those spooky empty pants and I were standing face to face! I yelled for help I screamed I shrieked I howled I yowled I cried. 'Oh save me from those pale green pants with nobody inside them!'"

At this point, Mulder closes the book, since of the four of them, he's the only one still awake. Sighing softly, he wonders how long it will be before Scully brings the older kids home from trick or treating.

To his delight, it's just a couple of minutes before he hears the sound of a key in the lock.

With whoops that somehow fail to wake the littler kids, Sammy, April and Page tumble into the room. April looks sleepy and rubs an eye with the hand not clutching her candy in a death grip, but Page and Sammy look wired.

"Scully," He looks up at her. "I think someone snuck some candy on the walk home," he whispers.

She reaches down and plucks each sleeping toddler off his lap. They don't seem to notice that they've been moved to the playpen.

Next she examines the bag suspended from a metal pole above his left arm. "Good timing, the bag's nearly empty."

Mulder holds out his arm as she releases the IV from the small tube stitched into a vein. The process of receiving IV antibiotics has taken nearly two hours, as it has for every day that week.

He would complain, but he realizes that in some perverse way, he's lucky. Not terribly long ago, this sort of treatment would require hospitalization for the duration. That would mean four weeks in the hospital 24/7 rather than a couple hours a day confined to his seat. And if Scully weren't a doctor, he'd be enduring visiting nurses for those hours too.

"You didn't bring them back early for this, did you?"

"No. April was starting to flag, and Sammy and Page seemed to not mind."

"Hmm. How far did you get?"

"About four blocks North. Why?"

"I have a feeling that their not minding is a polite ruse." He looks over at his two oldest children. "Now that I'm done with medicine, does anyone want to do more trick or treating?"

Sammy and Page trade a look. "We do!"

Mulder smiles at them before kissing Scully on the forehead. "My love, you've been had. We'll be back in a while."

"Be careful, guys," Scully says, but she's smiling.

As for Mulder, he's thrilled by the prospect of being free of tubes and pretending that he's as healthy as any other man accompanying costumed children that night.


Chapter Eighty


December 1999
Chicago, Illinois
9:17 a.m.

It's been four months since little Christopher was born, but four months seems to have flown for Scully as she pays the cab driver before grabbing the baby bag and shifting the sling so her baby won't hit the door as she opens it. She steps out onto a busy street corner, covering Chris' ears as horns blare and colorful words are exchanged. Sweet home, Chicago, she thinks sarcastically. In four months' time, however, she's starting to get back to a comfortable pre-baby weight, with more than enough curves to fill out her black scoop-necked pant suit. As she walks across a metal grate on the sidewalk, she pulls out her cell phone out of the baby bag and dials, hoping like hell she doesn't look as stupid as she feels, paying another of Mulder's games. He answers, predictably, with an unhelpful monosyllable. "Hello."

She squints around, trying to find her tall husband among the passersby.

"Hey, Mulder, it's me," she says on her cell. "What now?"

Mulder had debated long and hard, but decided to bring the kids with. As the platform elevator rises through the open sidewalk grate, he bends down and, for the umpteenth time since the phone call, he puts his fingers to his lips to shush his kids. On the phone, however, his voice is improbably calm, nonchalant even. "Are you in Chicago?" Then he claps his hand over Page's mouth when he sees her start to give into a giggle fit like her mommy.

Her back still facing them, Scully projects over the tiny cell, causing Chris to burble. "Yes, I'm in Chicago." She rolls her eyes. "I'm on the northeast corner of 7th and Hunter just like you asked. Only you're not here," she frowns. It would be her luck if Michelle happened to get sick or something and Mulder had to stay home with the kids. "So where are you?"

By this time, Mulder's not only shushing his kids, but the passersby as well, even as Sammy threatens to charge at his mommy and the twins are squirming in their stroller. Page is valiantly clamping down on her giggles, while April calmly holds the stroller. In feeding and dressing the kids this morning, he nearly forgot to dress himself, and made do by throwing on a brownish suit, dark blue shirt, and a dark patterned tie. Not as sexy as Scully, but then, he never thought he was. Keeping up his Academy Award performance, Mulder continues in the same droll tone, "Oh, around."

Yep, he's probably home with the kids, she grumbles inwardly. "Yeah," she sighs.

There's no containing Sammy any longer, and as he hangs up the phone, Mulder calls out, "Hey, sexy momma."

Scully turns to face him, and before she can put her phone away, her redheaded boy slams himself against her legs, followed by Page, while April waves shyly by her daddy. Mulder, for his part, is grinning at her while trying to control their restless twins. Scully smiles and waves back, making her way slowly with a child clamped on each leg.

"Hey," she says, wondering whether kids as leg weights would count towards the FBI's physical fitness mandate, "what's down there?"

"Before you check out down there," Mulder says, finally releasing David and Jared only to arm-carry them, "check out up there." He jerks his head towards the top of the tall building. "Top two floors are leased to one Jimmy Cutrona, whose name you might be familiar with."

She blinks. "Organized crime. The Bureau's been trying to build a racketeering case against him for the past few years. Gambling, extortion, murder."

He nods. "Which is why last night there were two agents parked across the street in surveillance. They witnessed a man being thrown from Cutrona's roof at 10:40 p.m. This man fell for thirty floors, plus the distance down this shaft, because these doors just happened to be open -- straight through, nothing but net."

"Ouch." She grimaces.

He smirks. "I'm guessing that's what he said. That is, after he got up, climbed out of here and scampered off into the night." They all get on the platform and Mulder is about to push the button to lower them to the basement level, when Sammy starts jumping up and down. "Okay, your turn." He grins, setting David back in the stroller, lifting Sammy, and letting the boy punch in the button.


Scully hides her smile as Sammy crows about his power over the elevator button, much to the disgust of his older sister. "Mulder, you keep saying 'this man.' Who is this man?" When the elevator touches bottom, she takes out her flashlight and begins looking around.

I could tell you, but then I'd have to wake up and you'd all be gone. No thanks. "No idea," he says aloud, tapping on his own flashlight to give the kids an idea how to use theirs. "He got away. The agents gave chase, but no clear description."

She comes back to them, tickled to find that everybody, including the twins, is playing with flashlights. Well, Sammy's swallowing his, lighting up his mouth, Page is playing Scully junior, the twins are shaking theirs like rattles, and April is making hand shadows. "Was this basement thoroughly searched?" she asks, pulling the flashlight out of Sammy's mouth. A part of her wants to give the flashlight to Chris, but he'd probably try to swallow it, too. Or drool on it.

Her husband grins, watching Page continue to snoop around. That's my girl, he wants to shout, but instead replies, "No. Technically, falling 300 feet and surviving isn't a crime."

Scully catches most of it as she tells Sammy about the flashlight, "This is not food." Then she looks up and prompts, "And your theory is?"

"What if this man had some kind of special capability?" he muses, as David scoots out of the stroller and Jared tries to wiggle free from his arms. "Some kind of genetic predisposition towards rapid healing, or tissue regeneration?" He gives up and lets the boys play a sort of laser tag with their flashlights around the stroller and his legs.

She shakes her head as Chris starts crying, bouncing him around in the sling. "So, basically, we're looking for Wile E. Coyote? You're saying that he is invulnerable, right?" Mulder starts to say "Yeah," but stops when she lifts her shirt and starts breastfeeding their baby, leaving his mouth hanging open. Fortunately for him, she doesn't notice, as her eyes are on her baby boy, and she remembers something as Chris pulls at her nipple. "You know, in 1998, there was a British soldier who plummeted 4,500 feet when his parachute failed and he walked away with a broken rib."

He grins, still in awe of her amazing mind housed in that amazing body. "What's your point?"

"My point is that if there's a wind gust, or a sudden updraft and, plus, if he landed in exactly the right way, I mean, I don't know." She looks up and shrugs, causing Chris to sputter and she coos, replacing her nipple in his mouth. "Maybe he just got lucky," she mumbles.

Mulder snorts as Jared tumbles over David and they start wrestling. He takes away their flashlights before they can use them as weapons, and teases his wife, "What if he got really, really lucky? That's your big scientific explanation, Scully?" Then he laughs as Scully blows a quick raspberry at him. Undaunted, he continues, "I mean, how many thousands of variables would have to convene in just the right mixture for that theory to hold water?"

She makes a face, patting her baby's back. "I don't know."

Keeping an eye on the twins and another on Sammy, he wonders if it's possible to clone himself and his wife if they have even one more child. "Well, thousands," he presses on.

Meanwhile, Page finds something interesting, or at least, something her parents should see. "Mommy?"

"Yeah," Scully turns, and walks over to where her blonde daughter is staring fiercely. "What is it, honey?" she asks, squatting beside her daughter next to the laundry cart marked Grayson's Linen Service.

"It's broken," Page declares. "Is somebody busted?"

"Maybe," Scully says, waving Mulder over. As he joins them in squatting, she says, "Look at this. If this cart were on the platform when he hit, that would explain the condition of these wheels. And what if this whole thing had just enough give to save his life?"

Mulder nods, then briefly squeezes his daughter's shoulder. "Good job, Page."

She beams. "Mommy, are you and Daddy are gonna find the man who broken this?"

Scully smiles a little. "Yeah, we have to find him." Then she stands, but slowly so as not to dislodge Chris from his feeding. "Page, why don't you help me look for clues while Daddy looks after the boys," she pats the cart.

He chuckles, and while Page enthusiastically helps Scully sort through the towels by tossing them out, a small round object flips out onto the floor. It's Sammy, however, who pops out of nowhere and scoops it up. Before he can pop it in his mouth, Mulder scoops him up and plucks it from his chubby fingers. Page grosses out when she sees it's a prosthetic eye, while that only ups the cool factor for both father and son.

"Scully!" he calls out, holding the fake eyeball aloft. "Looks like maybe we've found part of our mystery man already."

"Goody." She makes a face, mirrored by Page.


Melrose Park, Illinois
10:23 a.m.

The not-so-little family is standing outside a low rent apartment building. This time, Page is pushing 313's buzzer, while Sammy whines for his turn. Pushing her bangs out of her eyes, Scully says, "I think you're taking a flier here, Mulder. There's got to be at least 600 people with prosthetic eyes in the greater Chicago area."

And yet, I always manage to get lucky, he smirks. "Yeah, but only this one Henry Weems made an appointment this morning to get a new one." Page continues to hit the buzzer again and again.

Now the Eyebrow goes up. "Maybe he can't see his way to the door."

Mulder smiles, and as an elderly lady with a rolling shopping basket comes out of the building, he catches the door before it closes behind her. Then he winks at his partner. "Come on, Scully. I'm feeling lucky."

He isn't surprised to see the heavyset blonde woman stopping them as they get out of the elevator. "Can you help me? It's an emergency."

Scully, being Scully, nods, pulling a reluctant family behind Ms. Lupone's lead. It's only when they see the kitchen sink is spurting water all over the floor. Now the redhead's blue eyes are wide. "Ma'am, we're not plumbers," she says politely.

Lupone snorts, "I didn't say you were. I just want the da-- the water turned off so that I can go to work," she says, correcting herself in front of the small kids. Then she hands a plumber's wrench to Mulder. "Look, you've got to be stronger than me, right? Valve's under the sink."

I can do this, he thinks, what're the odds of me screwing up again? He reluctantly goes over to the sink, wrench in hand. "Your building super -- Henry Weems -- he isn't around?" he asks, gingerly crawling under the sink and debating whether there's a better way to find Weems.

"Mr. Dependable? Might as well wait for Jimmy Hoffa to show up," Lupone scoffs.

A young boy with a dark curly mop of hair walks into the kitchen. "You're turning it the wrong way," he notes.

His mother, however, reacts to his appearance with loving concern. "Hey, Richie sweetheart, back in bed."

"But, Mom..."

Now she has the no-nonsense look Scully often wears when dealing with her children and husband. "'Buts' are for sitting and I want yours back in bed." She herds her son out of the room, then turns back to Mulder who is still turning the joint the wrong way. "He's right, you know. Clockwise."

He nods grimly, still twisting the wrench. "I know that. Clockwise." He pauses to look at his watch for help, then sees it's digital and sighs.

And, just like clockwork, the joint pops open. Now, instead of just having waterworks above the sink, it's happening beneath as well. Well-soaked, Mulder stands up slowly. Scully, his dear sweet wife and the love of his life, is snorting behind her hand, while his children are simply laughing out loud. The floor creaks, and, even though he's expecting it, his eyes still fly open when he crashes through the floor to the room below, with no time to yell.

"Daddy!" Page yells, and it's all Scully can do to keep them from following their father down the hole. Like her children, she peers in, worried. "You okay, Mulder?" She sees him among the ruins and smiles with both relief and amusement.

Always a pleasure to put a funny in your day, he thinks sourly. "Yeah, I'm okay," he calls up. "My ah, butt broke the fall. Guess who I found." He looks over to his left. "Henry Weems, I presume?" A short, balding man with a black eye patch over the right socket joins him and looks up through the hole.


Later, Weems, carrying a toolbox, leads the FBI family into his apartment. The living room is full of homemade Rube Goldbergesque machines. As Scully cautions their children not to touch, Weems hands Mulder a towel, and Mulder makes good use of it on his hair, if not the rest of his clothes. "Next time, leave the plumbing to a professional," the manager cautions in a thick nasally accent.

"Uh, yeah," Mulder mutters. "You want to try this on for size, Cinderella?" he asks, holding out the fake eye wrapped in the wet towel. The manager takes it and begins cleaning it off.

"Mr. Weems, why were you hiding in a vacant apartment?" Scully asks.

He doesn't exactly look at them, but at their kids. "Not hiding - avoiding."

Uh, yeah, Scully echoes her husband inwardly. "Avoiding whom?"

"You people." Weems turns away now. "Now that you found me let's just get it over with. No way am I testifying against Jimmy Cutrona."

Either in spite of or because of the child strapped to her chest, Scully is persistent. "Last night, Cutrona had you thrown off the roof of 1107 Hunter Avenue -- is that correct?"

Weems holds up his hands. "You didn't hear it from me. I'm not letting you people move me to Muncie, Indiana to milk cows."

"You milk cows?" Sammy looks interested.

"No, he doesn't." Mulder grins quickly. Back to the witness, he continues, "More to the point, you survived a, uh... 300-foot fall essentially un..." he pauses as Weems squishily puts his fake eyeball back in, "harmed." Part of him observes that most of his children are as curious and grossed out by the gesture, while only Page and Scully have totally averted their eyes during the whole procedure. Another part of him is disconcerted that he still thinks having a fake eyeball is cool, and hopes that it's just another offshoot of his "peg leg" desire.

"I don't know." Weems shrugs, facing them now. It was odd how normal a simple plastic eyeball made the picture. Huh. "Maybe... The wind was just right and I landed on a bunch of towels -- no biggie."

Scully's eyebrow goes up. "You got lucky?" she asks, ignoring her partner's slight grin.

"Yeah, I guess, except," he pauses, "you should look at my... bruise." And like their children, he shows off his "owie" on his elbow.

Mulder's not impressed, and neither are his kids, having amassed their share of big bandaids. "Uh-huh."

"Plus, I didn't get to keep my poker winnings."

"So that's what you were doing there last night -- playing poker?" Scully prods.

"Cutrona thought I was cheating. I wasn't," Weems adds quickly in front of the kids. "But like I said, you didn't hear it from me."

"Must have been a high-stakes game, I imagine," Mulder notes. "Did you win a lot of money?"

The short man shrugs again. "I don't know... A little." But now his attention is on Sammy, who is poking around one of the machines. "Hey, you like it?"


The redheaded boy nods. "How do you work this?" Weems points to the lever, and Sammy tugs at it before realizing he should push it down. When he does, the contraption goes through a series of elaborate actions, rolling, hitting, flipping, and finally, the hanging of a little wooden man. "Cool." He grins. While his younger brothers are tugging at various parts of the machine, he asks, "Are you a Gunman, too?"

The manager is taken aback. "What?"

::Hoo boy,:: Mulder thinks, ::maybe our kids shouldn't hang around their godparents too often.:: But Sammy goes on. "My uncles make cool stuff, too. But they won't let me touch it."

Weems is still puzzled by the "gunman" part, but gamely answers, "Yeah, grownups usually don't let kids do that. But this is made of junk, so it's okay." David pulls out the duct tape, while Jared grunts and pulls at one of the "pillars". The manager chuckles when the little boy finally succeeds. "That, and it's easy to put together again."

I can't believe I had my head up my ass for so long about this guy, Mulder thinks, no wonder Weems was being so careful. He loved Maggie and Richie Lupone, but there was no guarantee that if he made them a part of his, well, luck chain reaction, part of his life, that they wouldn't get hurt. But nobody can promise that. He looks at Scully, who tilts her head at him. The sad thing is, I thought the same thing for so many years, before she finally broke me of that idiotic idea. I still can't believe it took us so long... I'm so glad we have us, this, now. To cover for his sentimental musings and recover momentum, he asks, "So, this thing, is it all about cause and effect?"

"What?" Weems blinks.

Mulder waves blandly at the thingamajig before pulling one of the ball bearings out of Sammy's mouth. "Your machine. Or is there some other meaning?"

"There-there's no meaning," the manager stutters, uncomfortable. "So, are-are we done here?"

"Mr. Weems, can I ask you to reconsider testifying against Cutrona?" Scully asks, concerned.

Now the little man is firm. "Nope. No way, Jose."

"Well, it would be in your best interest," she says seriously. "He's tried to kill you once and he will undoubtedly do it again."

"Yeah, we can protect you," Mulder agrees.

Weems looks dubious, and it's obvious he's wondering how a couple saddled with children could protect him. "I'll take my chances," he mutters, dismissing them.


As they're standing at the elevator, Sammy and Page are pushing each other as well as the down button. "So," Scully states matter-of-factly, separating them and pushing the button herself, "here's the plan, as I see it: we inform the Chicago field office about Weems, leaving it to them to secure his testimony, you change your clothes," Mulder raises his eyebrows, and she smiles, "we fly back to D.C. by sunset and all is right with the world." She beams optimistically, sensing that there's more amiss between her two elder children than with the situation in Chicago.

Mulder, however, utilizes his puppy-dog eyes. "Come on, Scully, you're going to dump this case just as it's getting interesting."

She's not buying it, in fact, she's rolling her eyes. Darn. "'Interesting,' Mulder, was when we were looking for Wile E. Coyote." She pounds the elevator button. "Come on, Mulder, this guy just got lucky. There's no X-File here."

He waggles his eyebrows. "Maybe his luck is the X-File."

She sighs and steps away from the elevator. "Stairs," Scully declares, hustling their family down the staircase. As the door closes, immediately the elevator bell dings, but only Mulder, lagging behind, hears it. I guess we're already part of Weems' contraption, he thinks, as it confirms what's going to happen ever since he fell through the floor.

As they herd their family out the front door, Mulder digs around in his wet pockets, but in no real hurry. C'mon, Weems, do your mojo, he thinks, then turns quickly to try to catch the door before it closes. Of course, he misses. To his wife's questioning look, he explains drily, "Oh... car keys. Must have lost them when I fell."

Mulder reaches up to hit the buzzer, but Page and Sammy start bickering over who gets the honors. Just to be perverse, he lets April do it, ignoring his wife's warning look. When an old lady lets them in, Mulder and Scully hears the gunshot and stare at each other.

They both pull out their guns, but Mulder puts a hand on his wife's forearm and glances at their kids. Her lips flatten but she nods, and he races towards the elevator while she stays back with their children. When he gets to Weems' apartment, his gun is at chest level when he sees the door lying in the frame. Walking carefully, still not sure if Weems made it out or if Bellini is dead, he makes his way into the living room, where a very dead hitman is hanging by one shoelace from the still spinning ceiling fan. Weems, however, is nowhere to be found, and Mulder exhales in relief.


The police photographer is snapping pictures of the hanging body as well as snapping at Mulder's children for standing too close and gawking at the crime scene. At first, Mulder's proud that his kids can handle such a gruesome scene until Sammy asks, "Can you get candy from that, too?" As he shakes his head and sweeps them away, much to the photographer's relief, he tells himself, no more piñatas even remotely looking humanoid, and joins Scully, who's actually doing some work and getting info from a cop.

Scully smiles at her children, including the one sleeping on her chest, and says, "They've searched the entire building and there's no sign of Henry Weems. I'm guessing that he's on the run."

Joining in the share time, Mulder adds, "The dead man's name is Angelo Bellini a.k.a. 'Angie the Animal.'" As their kids look back at the corpse with interest, he corrects them, "Uh, not like that. It's a nickname. He's an enforcer for the Cutrona family and I don't think his visit was friendly."

"You think that Weems could have killed him in self-defense?" Scully asks.

Mulder grins. "Skinny guy with no depth perception against a man nicknamed 'The Animal'? I don't think so. You and I both know Weems didn't kill anybody. Besides, we were just gone for two minutes. This guy doesn't have a scratch on him. I'm thinking it was a heart attack."

His partner looks around the room, then at him, her expression flat. "What the heck happened here, Mulder?"

"Cause... and effect," he states solemnly.

She's obviously not buying his "I've got a deep theory" act. "Meaning...?"

He grins, and his enthusiasm is as much for the kidlings as it is for Scully. "Okay, so... watch," he says to his family, ready to dust off his acting skills. "So Bellini kicks down the door -- whaa gaa! -- poised to kill Weems, right?" So far, the older kids look amused by their father's bad Bruce Lee moves, while the younger ones and his wife are nonplussed. "And just as he's about to pull the trigger a noise startles him," he pauses, "the buzzer -- when April buzzed to be let back in the apartment." April beams, even if she's not quite sure what's going on. "So when he does pull the trigger, his aim is off, right? And he hits the lamp," he points, and their eyes follow, "which falls over and knocks over the ironing board, so as the bullet ricochets, Weems dives over the sofa. Now, when Bellini goes for him, he trips over the ironing board, bounces off the chair, flips end over end," and he feels as if he's giving a speech in sign language, his arms are flapping around so much, "and his shoelace gets caught in the fan -- QED." For the benefit of the little ones, he adds, "The bad guy dies, the end."

The kids clap, and Scully chuckles a little. Then the shoelace breaks and the body hits the floor.

"Cause and effect," he says as he leans in to his wife, "seemingly unrelated and unconnected events and occurrences that appear unrelated and random beforehand but which seem to chain-react in Henry Weems' favor."

There goes the eyebrow again. "Dumb luck?"

Mulder nods. "Yeah, he seems to have tapped into it somehow. He-he won big at poker; he-he survived getting thrown off a skyscraper... and now this."

Nobody notices the brown-haired boy wandering in, probably because Mulder's family already looks like it's swarming the apartment. Page does, wanders over and says, "Hi. Your name's Richie, right?"

Richie looks taken aback, but obviously not threatened. "Yeah."

"I'm Page," the little blonde girl declares, sticking out her hand.

"Hi," he says, shaking it.

Now Scully sees the two and taps Mulder on his forearm. "Give us a minute, okay?" He nods, and she joins Page and Richie. "Hi, I'm Page's mom," she finds herself saying. Immediately, while part of her is indignant at the unfeminist appellation, another part wishing she'd simply introduced herself as Scully, and another part calmly telling the other parts to grow up and be friendly so as to get information and get the boy away from the crime scene, she adds, "Why don't we, uh, head back to your room? I'm sure that's what your mom would want." Richie nods reluctantly, his eyes staring at the body on the floor before they leave.


Both mother and daughter stare at the sports posters, banners and whatnot on the walls. Scully hopes it'll be a long time before her children want to decorate their rooms, while Page is getting ideas about redecorating.

"So, I'm guessing you're a sports fan." Scully smiles at the boy lying on the bed. "Which one's your favorite?"

He shrugs. "Well, it used to be basketball. But now the Bulls suck, so I think maybe baseball."

Page grins. "I like baseball, too." Then she walks over to the weird-looking thingee on the floor. "Did Mr. Weems make this for you?" Richie nods, and Page starts up the toy. After a number of events on the board, a little ball flies through the hoop. She laughs, "That's cool."

Richie smiles, too. "Yeah. He made it for me when I was in the hospital. He said... it's 'cause... everything happens for a reason... only just sometimes it's hard for us to see."

Scully's also observed the medical equipment and asks, "You went to the hospital because of your liver?"

His lower lip juts out as his eyes go down. "It doesn't work so good." Then he looks at her. "Is the police looking for Henry?"

She nods. "Yeah. They just want to talk to him. Do you have any idea where he might have gone?"

He shakes his head briefly, looking at Page starting up the toy again. "Mm-mm. Since I got sick, he hardly ever goes out."

Scully nods again, then tells Page, "We'd better let him get some rest."

Page looks up at her mother, then at the boy. "I hope you feel better soon," she waves, and Richie waves back as they leave.

In the hallway outside Weems' apartment, Page tells her siblings about the new toy she got to play with. Mulder smirks, then asks his wife, "Boy give you any leads?"

She shakes her head, and they begin walking down the hall. "Mulder, as to your theory..."

Okay, nobody died during this part, but the delivery guy got hurt, Mulder thinks, geez, what should my next move be? And will it throw everything off at the end if I stop it? This is worse than a pool game. Ah, what the hell... "What about it?"

"Why would the world's most supernaturally lucky man work as a building superintendent? I mean, why doesn't he just run down to the Illinois state lottery, enter, and, you know, he'd win automatically?"


It isn't long before Mulder and Scully dig up Weems' history, while Weems gets busy and wins the lottery but trashes the ticket, leaving them to deal with the aftermath and very happy, if dishonest, store clerk.

Then they continue the search for Weems, telling their kids Weems was playing "hide and seek." They get into the spirit quickly, even if Mulder feels a little dishonest himself letting the kids join their mother on the roof while he searches the "dirty, stinky" basement. He may be trusting Weems' QED luck, but hell if he's gonna place his kids in danger to test the hypothesis to the limit.

As before, he finds the little rat, that is, Weems, hiding conveniently behind a vent, and hauls the short man out. He's not as rough as he was last time, but Weems still whines as he sits sullenly in the chair. Okay, they should be well out of harm's way, Mulder thinks, wonder if I should call her yet. When the manager's eyes widen, that's when Mulder pulls out his cell phone and hits the speed dial. "Oh, crap. Not again," Weems sighs, and Mulder mutters inwardly, Story of my life, pal.

The crazy thing is, even though he's gone through this before, it doesn't cease to amaze him. The bullet bounces off Weems' chest, grazes his arm, bounces off two walls and lands in the center of Sal's chest. Two for two, Mulder thinks as Scully and the kids fill the doorway. They all stare at Weems, who pulls a dented metal tool out of his breast pocket and shows it to them.

Things don't go smoothly at the hospital, as Mulder "encourages Weems' delusion of luck," as Scully puts it, while Scully "pesters Weems to get protection", as Mulder puts it.

They're both staring daggers by the time Weems leaves the hospital, still on a lucky streak card-wise. Then Page flips over the ace of hearts from the card deck. Scully scoffs, saying, "Luckiest man in the world? Mulder, Page just beat him."

::Okay, *that* I wasn't expecting,:: Mulder thinks as he grabs his jacket and runs toward the exit.

"Mulder?" Scully frowns.

"I gotta go," he says, running out of the hospital and sees Weems just as Switchblade Dominic is approaching Weems. "Henry!" he shouts.

His sense of self-preservation intact, Weems runs into the street and, like the hapless delivery guy earlier, is hit by a truck. Damn. Mulder chooses to get to Weems rather than Dominic, then reaches down to feel for a pulse. The fake eye has once again popped out and is resting on the pavement. Mulder looks up at Scully with something of an apology and something else she can't quite name. But there's no time for questions on expression as their kids and the EMTs swarm the area.


Weems is in Richie Lupone's hospital room, looking down at the sleeping, horribly discolored boy. The manager looks up as Mulder and family walk in. "Did you find her?"

Scully hates to say it. "No."

"You know Cutrona took her," he says while he looks from one agent to the other. "He did it to keep me from testifying."

Part of Mulder wishes he'd put some kind of guard over Ms. Lupone, while another continues to caution him about messing too much with the major details. "And he's who we're focused on but there's no sign of a kidnapping, there's no ransom note."

"He's too smart for that," Weems says sourly.

Mulder nods grimly. "Which makes it very hard for us to obtain a search warrant."

"We'll get one, though," Scully adds quickly, on Weems' side, even if she doesn't understand how or why things are suddenly taking a turn for the worse for this man.

Only now, when the death threats affect the ones he loves, does Weems start to show any kind of backbone and snaps, "When? Tomorrow? Next week?" His voice softens a little as he asks, "Could someone sit with him at least?" He walks out, but Mulder catches up with him in the hallway.

"Hold up, Henry," he says, grabbing the man's arm so he doesn't skedaddle just yet. "Henry, what if what I said before wasn't true? That your luck hasn't changed? Maybe all this is happening for a reason."

The look on Weems' face is pure disbelief. "So you're saying that Maggie getting taken is a good thing?"

"No, I'm saying that what looks like it might be bad luck may not be bad luck, but we can't tell yet. We're not in that position." Mulder frowns earnestly, even as he's comforting himself with this last decision. "But sooner or later, we'll see the big picture."

The short manager isn't buying this, and he jerks his arm away, shoving his jacket on angrily, but the sleeve rips. The man is a study of frustration and determination, and Mulder is again startled at how much this man, if not outwardly, resembles him. Slowly, he walks back into Richie's room. "How is he?" he asks his partner.

"Not good," she says in a low voice, even as Page keeps a careful watch on the sleeping boy. "If we don't find a donor in the next few hours..."

Now he springs his revised theory on her. "Scully, what if everybody that becomes involved in Henry Weems' life somehow becomes an integral part of his luck, including you, me, and the kids?"

She frowns at him. "Mulder, you're speaking as if we're all trapped in one of those contraptions that he built. When he starts to leave again, she asks, "What are you doing?"

"Looking for Maggie Lupone," he replies. From the nurses' station, he helps himself to a phone book, and returns waving it at his wife. "Luck is the overreaching force in this investigation. I say we roll with it." Closing his eyes, he opens the book to a random page, waves his hand in the air like a magician and lets his finger fall. Husband and wife look at the ad. It reads, "MUHAYMIN DAYCARE - Nurturing the Children of Islam Since 1983."

::Huh. I'll bet that's one of the companies under investigation post-9/11, ::Mulder thinks anachronistically, even as he drawls, "Yeah, let's call that a dry run."

Just as drily, Scully smiles, "Yeah."

With less drama and his eyes closed, he opens to another page and lets his finger fall. This time it lands on Grayson's Linen Service. Whoa, on the money, he thinks, I couldn't have landed it better if I tried. Looks like Weems is getting lucky again.


While Mulder is rounding up a uniformed posse, Scully and their children are at Richie Lupone's bedside. When the lights flicker and surge, Page screams and some of her brothers whimper, but Scully makes soothing noises and pats them gently to calm them down. Even the sign for the center outside, "R.I. CHILDES Pediatric Care" flickers. When the backup electricity kicks in, Page pipes up, "Mommy, look." Scully looks outside to where her daughter is pointing, and a couple of the letters aren't lit up. "That's Richie," she says, "right?"

Scully nods, her right hand going up to the cross hanging from her necklace. God may not play dice, she thinks, but he certainly isn't subtle about some signs, either. Putting a hand on Richie's limp arm, she closes her eyes. Please, she prays, I'm not sure how you're going to do it, but let Richie be okay. Let his mother be okay. Let Weems be okay. Please.

"Mommy?" Page's voice is very small. "Are you okay?"

Scully opens her eyes and smiles, as her daughter's unconsciously echoing her prayer. "Mommy was just praying," she answers.

"That means you were talking to God, right?"

Scully nods again. "I was just asking him to take care of everything."

"Then Richie's gonna be okay." Page smiles, leaning against her mother, since Christopher was still taking up most of the lap space.

Give me the faith of a child, her mother sighs, even as she smiles outwardly and hugs her daughter.

Meanwhile, Mulder and a small battalion of policemen slam through the basement door of the laundromat, only to find Weems and Lupone looking down at the very deceased Joe Cutrona lying in a laundry cart, a large hook lying on his crushed head. Cutrona's medical ID bracelet is visible, proclaiming his blood-type as B-Neg. So much for saving the day, he thinks, and would shrug sardonically at someone, except the authorities are busy swarming around and gathering evidence, while the witnesses are stone still. Then Mulder looks at the couple, who look relieved and shocked, and he smiles, figuring they don't even realize they're holding hands. "I can tell this is gonna be a good one," he murmurs, walking down the metal stairs. "Henry!"


Half a day has passed, but what a difference that has made. Richie is in bed, joined by his mother at his bedside. This time, however, he looks much better and is smiling. Weems, Mulder, Scully and their kids are watching them through the window out in the hall. Mulder grins at the shorter man. "What are the odds for Cutrona being a perfect match? A thousand-to-one? A million-to-one?"

Scully lifts an eyebrow and a corner of her mouth. "Maybe higher. Maybe everything does happen for a reason... whether we see it or not." Page squeezes her hand, and she smiles at her daughter.

Mulder glances at the mother and son before looking back at Weems. "Maybe your luck is changing," he says, mostly straight-faced.

The usually reclusive and dour look on the manager's face gives way to a reluctant smile, which he tries to smother. "Maybe." Weems joins the Lupones in the hospital room.

The FBI family watch as Weems starts the toy and turns to Richie. Like clockwork, one action causes more to happen, until the little ball finally pops into the basket. Scully smiles up at Mulder, "I'm so glad they got a happy ending. It's too bad they had to wait until things reached such a critical point before they realized how much they needed each other. I mean, things could have gone so wrong, and they wouldn't have..." and her voice trails off. For some reason, it felt like, well, like someone walked over her grave.

Mulder hugs her, wondering if somehow she knows what they've been through before this lifetime. It can't be, he thinks, as he says aloud, "But aren't you glad it worked out? And isn't it great to reminded of how much we have?"

"Hm?" she blinks, the strange feeling dispelled. "Yeah, yeah, it is." Then she says in her mommy voice, "Okay, we've got forms to fill, clothes to pack, and a plane to catch in a couple of hours. Before we get the van, does anyone need to go to the bathroom?"

"Nooooo," her children chorus, and she gives them a look.

"You're still going to the bathroom anyways." She marches them on like a general to her soldiers. Mulder, amused, lags behind the small procession.

"Oh, wait!" Page says, and spins around. Mulder runs to follow, and he returns Scully's unspoken question with a similarly nonverbal reply. When he catches up to her, the little blonde girl is at the window, waving. "Bye, Richie!" she calls out.

Hoo boy. He scoops her up, and she continues waving over her father's shoulder, waving harder when Richie waves back. ::My little girl is *not* gonna have boyfriends,:: he scowls all the way to the restrooms. When Scully comes out, she raises an eyebrow. "What's wrong?"

"Page likes boys," he mutters in the same way he would say that everything bad was the Smoking Man's fault.

She laughs and pats his uninjured forearm. "Maybe you need to go to the bathroom too, Poopyhead." She smiles.

He sighs, "I thought girls only started liking boys in their teens. Is she trying to get a head start on driving me nuts?"

She snorts. "Maybe boys are late bloomers, but I liked boys when I was her age." Then she grins. "Of course, aside from holiday cards, my way of showing affection was beating them up."

"Well, that hasn't changed." Mulder grins, and she grins back before slugging him. "Ow, that was my bullet arm." He pouts.

Her eyes are positively wicked as she smiles, "I'll kiss it and make it all better, among other places. Once we get back home, that is."

He smiles back, kissing her quickly. "Home sweet home, here we come!" He runs in to grab the remaining kids splashing around in the bathroom sinks, making her laugh. "Let's go, let's go!"

The sound of children complaining and Scully laughing fill the hospital hallways, while Mulder's got the biggest, goofiest grin plastered on his face. How did I get to be so lucky? he wonders, not for the first time. Whether it be Elsbeth or someone else entirely, he's never gonna take this current lucky streak for granted.


Chapter Eighty-One


December 29, 1999
The Mulder and Scully haunted hou -- I mean, mansion

They're having a New Year's Eve party with family and friends, ::which is the way it should be::, Mulder thinks, ::not some crazy-ass shit out of a George Romero movie.:: His gut twists, knowing they have to face the remnants of the Millennium group, Frank Black, and enough of the living dead to last him a lifetime within the next 48 hours and wishing they could put the whole thing off without tipping anybody off.

Yeah, right.

That fringe group makes even the Gunmen seem sane, and he wonders, not for the first time, if other countries or cultures have to deal with calendar-based psychos. As far as he can tell, Chinese, Mayan, Islamic, Hebrew, Hopi and other time-based prophetic cultures haven't spawned any apocalyptic nuts, but then, 2012 hasn't happened yet and we've already passed a number of Middle Eastern ages without Armageddon happening... ::Damn. Friendly zombies my ass,:: he thinks, and doesn't realize his face twists until Scully comments, "Uncle Bob's tricks aren't that bad."

Mulder grins, focusing on the infamous uncle Scully'd mentioned on their case in the Florida sideshow town, where was it? Oh yeah, Gibsonton. Neat place. Then he groans as Uncle Bob explodes yet another would-be animal balloon. "Wanna bet?" he says. "We'll be lucky if our kids aren't traumatized by clowns *and* balloons."

She chuckles, leaning against him. "Wait'll you see what he does with those remains."

Mulder frowns. "What do you mean?" Against his better judgment, he watches the "magic act," and is just as startled as his kids when the portly old man "sneezes" -- and shredded balloon skin flies out his nostrils like multi-colored snot. "Cool." He grins as the kids laugh and clap.

Scully rolls her eyes. "Toldja." She smirks as Sammy and the younger kids play with the "snot."

"Okay, once in a while, he does good," her husband grudgingly concedes.

"Did Bob do that balloon thing again?" Scully's mom comes out of the kitchen, a bemused look on her face.

Her daughter nods. "Even Mulder jumped."

"I did not!" he protests, but it is in vain against the Scully women laughter. He smiles weakly. "I don't suppose it's dinner time already."

"Just a few more minutes," Maggie Scully says, and turns to the kitchen. "Emily and Page are growing so fast, I can't believe they're helping prepare the meal."

"Just in case, you taste it first, okay?" Mulder asks his wife, who promptly slugs his arm. "Ow. You know I love you, right?"

Mrs. Scully chuckles as she heads back to the kitchen, where it may be hot, but certainly not as fiery as her youngest daughter can get. Even as their voices rise, Uncle Bob's voice can be heard above the din to ask the kids, "Hey, do you want to see me eat bugs?"

"Sammy already does that," April informs the old man.

Uncle Bob laughs heartily. "Yeah, but can he make it come out without being gooey and in one piece?"

"Nooooo," Sammy says.

And it isn't long before Uncle Bob leads them outside like a mad version of Santa and has them digging up insects and earthworms from the cold earth. With a twist of his hand and wink of his eye, he cheerfully "ingests" each creepy, crawly creature for a few moments. Then he snaps his fingers, and suddenly the digested critter would appear, alive and spit-free, wriggling in his hand or behind some hapless child's ear. "Ta-daaaaaaaaaaah!"

This went on until Mrs. Scully calls everyone inside to eat. "Not bugs," she adds quickly, "normal food like turkey and gravy, mashed potatoes, sweet rolls, and hot cider."

And she steps back before the small herd runs her over in their rush to get to the dinner table.


January 13th, 2000
Santa Monica Pier

Scully tries to keep an eye on the kids while Mulder compares a picture of Maleeni's van to the real thing. As if anything in this carnival-like atmosphere could be real, Mulder muses, then walks over to his partner, who is busy trying to keep the kids from contaminating the crime scene. Mulder waves to his older kids through the open driver's side window, and Sammy and Page waves back. April and the twins are chasing each other around the stroller, while Scully looks in the passenger side window, Christopher on her hip.

Mulder grins at the almost Rockwellian scene juxtaposed against the crappy van. "Neat trick, huh?"

Rather than waving at her partner, she snorts. "I can think of a neater one. How you convinced me to drop everything and get on the first plane to Los Angeles not long after we dealt with the apocalyptic New Year zombies," she deadpans.

"Come on, Scully." Mulder grins. "This isn't intriguing enough for you? A magician turns his head completely around 360 degrees to the delight of young and old alike after which it plops unceremoniously onto the pier... see the picture?" And like a goof, he holds up the photo from the file.

She rolls her eyes. "Yeah, I saw the picture. And as for this Amazing Maleeni turning his head all the way around, like you said, Mulder, neat trick."

"But..." Mulder interjects, joining his madding crowd on the other side of the van.

"But," Scully continues as he scoops up his rambunctious redheaded son, "I'd guess this event was completely removed from the subsequent murder."

Mulder looks up, swiftly tossing away the gravel-covered thingamajig Sammy had just picked up. "You think this was a murder?"

She frowns. "Don't you?" In answer, he wiggles his eyebrows. Oh brother. "Mulder, his head was cut off," she says in a tone reserved for slow students and her husband on his crackpot theories.

Hefting his son on his hip, Mulder dramatically proclaims as he waves his hand in a Vanna White-like fashion at the van, "Ah, observe the nearly complete absence of blood. Observe the paucity of fingerprints as evidenced by the LAPD's liberal use of lycopodium powder."

"Why are you talking like Tony Randall?" Scully says, not giving him the benefit of a smile.

Undaunted, he continues on, bolstered by Sammy staring intently into the van. "Know that the Amazing Maleeni was alive one moment and expired the next. Know also that no one saw his fleeing attacker nor heard the dying man's cries."

Scully shifts Chris so that he's on her other hip, then uses her free leg to block her twin boys from entering the vehicle. "Mulder, I admit that I don't know how it happened but I still say that it was a murder. So what's your theory?"

::That, once having traveled through time, I can solve nearly all our cases in my sleep, including this one,:: Mulder wants to say. ::That's why I feel safe enough to bring our kids on what seems on face value to be a serious crime investigation at a really cool place.:: Aloud, he replies, "A magic trick gone horribly wrong. One that claims the lives of all who attempt it."

He asks a nearby cop, "Can I see that camcorder again? Thank you." He turns back to his wife. "A tourist videotaped Maleeni's performance. Look at this."

And for the benefit of everyone, he squats down so that the kids can see the coolest trick in the world on tape, heckler included. Of course, he doesn't say that it's also the beginning of the biggest financial trick ever.

Scully, nonplussed by the act, which even her Uncle Bob could outdo, asks, "Who's the heckler?

As the heckler keeps it up, Mulder answers, "I don't know." Then, Maleeni's head does a slow reenactment of the Exorcist girl's head-spinning trick, sans the green spew. Then he repeats his question. "Neat trick, huh?"

His partner, however, frowns. "Hang on a second. Let me see this. That heckler was pretty hard to impress wouldn't you say?" she points out. "Look, and then he just takes off in a huff."

Both his eyebrows go up. "What, you think he's a murderer?"

"Well, it's worth checking out, don't you think?" she says reasonably.

He grins. "That'll be a neat trick in itself. You never see his face."

On cue, she rewinds the tape to show the heckler throwing away the cup. "Ah, but observe," she proclaims, borrowing his cheesy voice, "his discarded soda cup." Then she smirks. "The hand may be quicker than the eye but it still leaves fingerprints."

"Provided they haven't dumped the trash," Mulder shoots back, scooping up his eagle-eyed second daughter.

"Skeptic," his wife says, seeing he's too distracted with blocking the twins with his legs to retort, and grins sweetly.


North Hollywood, California

They're inside an old theater, where they find the heckling dude practicing card tricks as Mulder, Scully and their children walk in.

"Mr. LaBonge? We're Agents Mulder and Scully from the FBI," she says as they show their badges. LaBonge glances up at the badges, smiles briefly at the kids, then continues shuffling his cards. Scully, unsure whether he's unimpressed with their credentials or their children, is miffed at the notion of both and presses on. "Were you at the, uh, Santa Monica Pier yesterday morning?"

"Yeah."

"You attended a magic show," Mulder takes up the line of questioning as his kids watch the card shuffling. Yep, distraction in action. "The Amazing Maleeni."

"Yeah, he sucks," LaBonge replies, still not looking up. "Why?"

Okay, she's officially miffed. "He's dead, under extremely suspicious circumstances."

The card shuffler is nonplussed. "He still sucks. How'd you find me?"

"Your fingerprints," Scully says flatly. "You have a criminal record."

"A conviction for pick pocketing," Mulder adds.

LaBonge sighs, finally squarely looking up at the adults, rather than the corner of his eyes, as Mulder noticed. "Man, that was performance art," he explains. "And besides, it's ancient history. What are you saying, you think I killed him?" he scoffs.

"Well, you're on videotape heckling the deceased," Scully answers.

"What did you have against Mr. Maleeni?" Mulder asks, and LaBonge gives them the same song-and-dance tale about real vs. fake magicians while making coins disappear and reappear, to his children's delight, and butts in. "What about the trick where he turns his head completely around?"

"Check it out," LaBonge says, kneeling down on the floor and places his hand flat on the floor, then proceeds to turn it 360 degrees around. While the adults give him grudging respect, the kids attempt to copy him. He smirks as he stands, "No problem. Did you like that?"

"Yeah," Sammy says, his eyes wide.

LaBonge's expression grows canny. "Watch." He pulls out a quarter. "Coin in the hand... blows away," he blows on his fingers, and it disappears. "Maybe it's a little bit hard for you to see." He grins at the agents' kids. "Let me make that... Bigger for you," LaBonge says, revealing a very large coin in his other hand.

Mulder is deliberately straight-faced as he needles the guy. "Those are great, but I don't see how they're any different or better than the ones Maleeni did."

Now LaBonge focuses on the coin trick, seemingly ignoring the guy while answering him. "Mozart and Salieri. They sound pretty much the same to a layman. But they ain't. You know what I'm saying? It's about," he pauses as he does a little flourish while switching coins, "originality. Style. And more than anything else... soul. Because that's what separates the great ones... from the hacks. We can't do this halfway. We're dealing with powerful forces at work here. Energies far beyond our mere... mortal... understanding," he says, finishing.

Mulder's glad the kids are providing the adoring audience, even as he can't help but admire the trick himself. "Enough to make a magician lose his head?"

"Could be. That, and I hear Maleeni racked up some pretty big gambling debts. Who knows who he might've pissed off." He shrugs.

Scully starts to herd their children away from the magician, already distrusting him because of his skill. "Well, thank you, Mr. LaBonge. We'll, uh... be in touch," she says, her back already turned.

"Please do. Oh, and agents..." And as they turn around, LaBonge uncrosses his arms, revealing the FBI agents' badges, one in each hand. Mulder almost swears, wondering why he'd forgotten to really strap that sucker down, and he and check their empty pockets, then take their badges back from the smirking man. He makes a mocking bow, but the children, not quite used to irony, clap.

Scully steers her husband out before he can take a swing at the bastard, nodding at her mobile kids to follow.


Later in the autopsy bay, Maleeni's decapitated body is on the table. Scully's done up in blue scrubs and snaps off one of her bloody examination gloves and turns to Mulder, who is balancing Christopher in his arms and David and Jared on his legs. "All right, I'm stumped." She smiles at her hapless husband. "And I think I'm supposed to be."

"What do you think?" he prompts her, moving quickly in spite of the adorable leg weights, and snatches a scalpel away from Sammy's grasping fingers.

"Well, first of all, and sorry to disappoint you but, uh, Mr. Maleeni's head didn't just magically fall off," Scully states. "It was very carefully sawed. Very slow and exacting work probably with a fine-tooth meat saw. And check out this little detail." Mulder watches in fascination as his partner fingers a stretchy yellowish substance around the body's neck. Even as Page makes a face, Scully explains, "Spirit gum, Mulder. It held the head to the body. Just barely, of course."

"So he was murdered."

She tilts her head, and if his hands weren't so full, Mulder would reach out and brush her bangs away from her face. "Well, no," she says. "As far as I can tell this man died of advanced coronary disease."

"Natural causes," he restates, wondering, not for the first time, if it's possible to screw with the magicians as much as they plan to screw with them. Hell, yeah, he answers inwardly, and almost grins.

"Yeah."

"So, basically he died of a heart attack, somebody crept up behind him, sawed his head off and then glued it back on all in the space of 30 seconds," Mulder says, miming the actions as he says them. Grinning goofily at his kids, he shrugs. "Does that make sense to you?"

Why did I marry this man? Scully asks herself, even though one of the many hundreds of reasons why is the fact that he's got the weirdest sense of humor and timing on the face of the earth happens to be one of them. "No," she says, clamping hard on her goofy giggles which threaten to join those of her children's. "Which makes it even stranger still because, as far as I can tell this body has been dead for over a month. I see signs of refrigeration."

"And yet he performed yesterday.." He smiles at her, knowing she's sitting on her laughter. "What a trouper."

I hate you, she thinks, even as the giggles start to escape, "Well, *somebody* performed yesterday."


Cradock Marine Bank
Los Angeles, California

The not-so-little FBI family walk through the bank, nobody paying them any mind because they look like any other family passing through, for the most part. Mulder tries not to give the guy in the neck brace and wheelchair the evil eye, but it's really hard to keep a poker face. "The plot thickens," he deadpans to his partner.

"He might try and run," Scully replies in a low voice.

After they knock and enter the office, the balding, heavyset man behind the desk waves them in. "Come in," Albert Pinchbeck tells the small crowd trooping into the small room. "Good morning, Mr. And Mrs...?"

Mulder smiles as he and Scully pull out their badges. "You can call us Agents... Mulder and Scully. FBI."

Pinchbeck looks resigned. "You're not here for a home loan, I take it."

"It's paid for," Scully says as she waves the kids over to sit down. "We are investigating the death of a magician who called himself the Amazing Maleeni."

The bank clerk starts to nod, then makes a face instead. "Herman Pinchbeck, my twin brother."

Duh, Scully thinks as she says, "Yes, we know. We checked his next of kin."

Even as he and his wife badger Pinchbeck about his accident, Mulder's tempted to tip his own hand and knock the bastard on his back. But then, his own life would crumple like one of Pinchbeck's cheap tricks, leave him alone and with multiple deaths on his hands, and then where would he be? While his thoughts have taken a lovely, depressing turn, Scully pipes up, "Do you know magic, Mr. Pinchbeck?"

The ugly man's face brightens. "Yes, I do. Back in the '70s, my brother and I performed together."

"Why did you stop?" Mulder asks, as if he doesn't know the answer.

"You never really stop," Pinchbeck says smugly. Pulling a deck of cards from his desk, he fans them out in his hands, and holds them out to Mulder.

"Pick a card, any card?" Mulder says, and as he pauses, Sammy's hand shoots out, grabbing a card, just as his daddy thought he would. "That's the King of Diamonds," he tells his son, noticing the slight disappointment on the other guy's face fade when he pays full attention. "Put it back in the deck," he prompts his son, who does so. Pinchbeck expertly shuffles the cards, then lets them cascade from one hand to the other. The last card he holds up is the King of Diamonds. Mulder grins in spite of himself. "Hmm. Very impressive."

The old dude in the wheelchair beams. "My brother and I both wanted to do the absolute best magic the world had ever seen. The difference was I knew he'd never get there but he always believed we would. We didn't talk much after I quit the act," he says regretfully.

"I have a theory, Mr. Pinchbeck and I'm going to tell you how it goes," he says, standing. He knows he's gonna play the fool, but better now than tip his hand. After all, why disabuse the old trickster into realizing he's not the only magician out there? "I think that your brother Herman died of heart disease having never made it as the world's greatest magician and I think that hurt you just as your estrangement from him hurt you. And I think what you did was perform his last act for him," he goes on, ignoring his wife's warning glance, "one last act for which he'd always be remembered -- one last act that would end with such a shock, such a denouement as would be forever remembered in the annals of magic. That's what I think."

"I so wish that were true, Pinchbeck says, and, as before, pushes his wheelchair back from his desk, revealing legs cut off at the knee. "It was a very bad car accident in Mexico," he says, almost smugly.

As they hurriedly leave the bank, Page asks innocently, "You're not going to arrest him?"

"Uh, no," Scully says simply, trying not to laugh at the chagrined look on her husband's face. Then she says, in what she hopes is a more businesslike tone, "What now?"

Mulder, pushing the stroller and carrying the baby bag, mumbles, "A guy's head falls off. It's the greatest trick in the world. Only there's no discernible point to it." He allows his temporary frustration at not being able to show the hands behind the trick show through. "What's the reason for doing that in the first place?"

She shrugs. "Why do people do magic?"

Page, not knowing it's a "grownup" question, answers, "To keep Sammy out of trouble."

"What?" Mulder blinks.

"Uncle Bob ate the insects instead of Sammy," the little blonde girl goes on, "and made balloon snot come out of his nose."

Scully tries to keep the laughter bottled up, honestly she does, but it bubbles out of her. "Oh, oh, Page," she finally says after wiping tears from her eyes and getting her breath back, "that's not the only reason Uncle Bob does that."

Page gives her mother a practical-but-inquisitive Scully look. "How come?"

"Why is that," Scully automatically corrects her, then replies, "to, uh, impress you, to delight," and pauses when she sees her daughter understands but is neither impressed nor delighted by said magic tricks, "to gain attention." Or gross small children and their parents out, she almost adds, but that's too obvious.

Mulder grins at her. "This one's gained mostly police attention. Maybe that's the point," he says, getting back to the point.

"Well, maybe we should consult an expert," Scully shifts Christopher to her other shoulder, "maybe he can help us figure that out."

Mulder rolls his eyes. "Mozart."

His wife looks about as enthusiastic as he does, probably more because Christopher is fussing and the kids are getting antsy again. "Yeah."


Being the steadfast and dutiful FBI agents they are, however, Mulder and Scully invariably consult LaBonge, find the marker in Maleeni's van, and Sammy disconcerts Mulder when he shouts, "A clue! A clue!" His twin brothers take up the chant, and Scully frowns, puzzled, as she quickly pockets the evidence in a small plastic baggie.

Mulder murmurs, "When will 'Blues Clues' get off the air? Or when will Steve start solving homicides?"

Scully makes a face at him when she realizes the reference, then hustles her family out. They eventually find themselves in the perfect locale for hustling, that is, a pool hall, occupied by said owner of marker, Cissy Alvarez, and question him accordingly. The interrogation is more of a warning than an actual shakedown, and they give indication as much, since Mulder decides to play fair with chronology for now.


Having left the pool hall, the marker in Mulder's pocket, he looks at his wife. "Don't you find it odd that the amazing Maleeni's a lousy poker player? I mean, this is a guy who's adept at manipulating cards."

She shrugs, grateful not only that the kids behaved, but that none of the pool hall punks even tried to mess with her children. "Maybe he wasn't so adept. LaBonge certainly doesn't have a high opinion of his skills."

"There's another possibility." He squats down to his kids' level and declares, "Behold -- an ordinary household quarter." Said quarter appears in his hand, and now he's got mother and children's attention. "I'm going to take the quarter from my right hand and place it into my left hand," he says, doing it with a LaBonge-like flourish. "Where is it?"

Page taps her father's hand. "It's in your right hand," she states.

"Oh, no, no, no," he says, opening an empty right hand.

Scully smiles, since she would've guessed the same. She watches as Sammy taps his father's left hand, and Mulder opens it. It, too, is empty.

Nodding in spite of her elder children's disappointment, she says, "Not bad, Mulder, not bad at all."

He grins up at her, then grabs April's nose. "Blow your nose, honey."

"Daddy." April pouts, batting at his hand in spite of her elder siblings cheering their father on.

He holds on to her nose between his fingers, knowing that she really is more observant than most take her for. "Just blow your nose, April."

Seeing there's no way out of it, she surprises him with a loud, practically Al Pacino-level, "Ah-CHOOO!" The quarter flies from April's nose into her father's other hand.

Wiping gingerly, he holds up the quarter. "Ta-da," Mulder says, and dips his head for a bow. And April, her heretofore hidden thespian talent now on display, curtsies while the others clap.

"Amazing!" Scully beams, kissing April on her bangs, making the little redhead smile shyly.

"The great Muldeeni and his lovely assistant," Mulder says proudly.

Scully snorts while her other children clamor to be assistants, too. "And what's the point?"

"It's misdirection," Mulder says, flipping the quarter up with his thumb. "That's the heart of magic. I made you look one direction. The quarter went in the other."

"And that's what's happening in this case?"

"I think we're being led around by our noses," he says, standing up.

"Ew." Page makes a face.

"It's a figure of speech," Scully says, smothering a smile. "By whom? Maleeni is already dead."

Mulder nods. "It certainly would appear so, but then again, you thought the quarter was in the right hand." He waves the quarter at her and smiles before pocketing it. It takes them a while, because Page keeps asking how he did that, Sammy keeps begging for the quarter, the twins are being less than cooperative in getting into the child seats, and Christopher needs changing, but they eventually get into their rental minivan and drive off.


They go back to the bank and reveal Pinchbeck's actual identity as the Amazing Maleeni, or, in other words, his own twin brother Herman with two whole legs. Scully's shocked, but it's Page who screams, Sammy laughs, the twins settle down with a thump, and April says nothing, her eyes taking it all in. ::Why am I not surprised,:: Mulder thinks, as he hauls the man to his feet.

Maleeni spills some, not all, about what he did with his brother and why he did it, along with his "gambling debts" with Alvarez. As he talks, he shuffles and plays out a deck of cards, more skillfully than he did while at the bank, Mulder beats Scully and asks him why he didn't cheat. She kicks her under the table, even as Maleeni looks shocked at the question, dropping his deck. Picking the cards up, Mulder doesn't mind the dressing down for the second time in so many days in front of his kids, since it beats Scully taking it. Besides, Maleeni admitted that Mulder was right in his reasons for pulling the head-twist trick, and even proffered up his wrists for the handcuffs.

Ha, ha, Mulder thinks as he leads the guy out to a bank staff who is not only shocked at the switch, but that he was given handicapped privileges as well. He and Scully question the bank officers about financial access that the wrong Pinchbeck might've had, as well as other bank business. Meanwhile, Maleeni's slipped out of the handcuffs as easily as a porn star out of a dress, holding them up with a big smile at Mulder, who glares at him.

Scully grabs their attention by pointing out, "Mulder, it says here something about a robbery attempt yesterday."

The bank officer shrugs, unimpressed. "Yeah, that wasn't against us but the armored transport service we deal with. No money was taken, and no suspects were caught." No harm, no foul, in other words.

His wife looks at the clipboard, noting, "Yeah, well, Mr. Pinchbeck was the employee who signed out the truck. He knew the schedule."

"I had nothing to do with that," Maleeni says, handcuffs still dangling from his fingertips.

She gives him a quelling look. "Maybe, maybe not."

Mulder grabs his handcuffs back, then grabs Maleeni. "We'll hold you till we find out, make sure you don't pull a vanishing act."


Mulder's debated long and hard inwardly, but decides to let the terrible duo, Maleeni and LaBonge, reunite in jail rather than put them in different jails. Hell, it's not like being jailed, period, stopped them before. Therefore, he's not terribly surprised when Alvarez is picked up for robbery on tape, ratting out LaBonge when he's caught. However, Alvarez isn't the only one caught on tape, and Mulder and Scully have fun reviewing surveillance, their theories holding more water now that they've got evidence of the magicians doing their impersonation of Houdini.

Temporarily placing their children in the care of police officers, Mulder and Scully halt the release of Maleeni and LaBonge, telling them their deductions, and, while the pair protest initially, each argument is knocked down by the pair of FBI agents. "Don't you think we have pretty good alibis?" LaBonge finally points out, gesturing at the prison.

"You have great alibis." Mulder smirks. "You have the best alibis in the world, which is why I think you two got arrested in the first place."

"With your expertise at sleight of hand, pick pocketing, and escapology I think you were both able to get out of here by pilfering a guard's key," Scully continues.

"You could have escaped, stolen the money, framed Alvarez, and been back here in time for breakfast," Mulder finishes.

"Scrambled eggs and sausage. That would be the world's greatest trick, wouldn't it?" Maleeni smiles.

"One that would be forever remembered in the annals of magic," Mulder agrees, then produces a VHS tape with a flourish. "Fortunately for us, we get to see the masters in action."

LaBonge looks from one FBI agent to the other, then at the tape. "What happens to us?"

"To you? You go free," Mulder says, putting the tape into his trench coat, "provided the magic is over."

"The great ones always know when to leave the stage," Maleeni says, his chin high as if he were a dignitary on a visit rather than a recently-imprisoned con artist. When the buzzer sounds, Mulder opens the door, and the old magician stands, also. "Billy, let's get the hell out of here," the older man says in a normal tone of voice. Maleeni and LaBonge leave, both of them eyeing Mulder's coat pocket none-too-subtly as they do so.


"They are the world's greatest." Mulder grins as they, too, leave the interrogation room to rejoin their children.

Scully gives him a look. "We saw through their magic, Mulder, we've even got it on tape."

"Yeah," Mulder says, "right," and he pauses, then frowns when a search of his pockets reveal nothing. "Those bastards picked my pockets."

"What? You're kidding." Scully frowns, and quickly frisks her husband. "Oh, no."

He grins. "Search lower, G-woman, you're turning me on." She smacks him, but he still chuckles. "Just kidding, Scully. Relax. They didn't take the real tape, the one they stole had a thousand and one episodes of Barney, Elmo, and whoever else PBS comes up with."

As she sighs with relief, his grin grows wider. "But wait, there's more." Making a big show of his empty sleeves, he wiggles his left fingers up in the air. His beautiful long-suffering partner and wife obediently watches the fingers while Mulder fumbles around his jacket with his right hand, then "magically" whips out a large wallet which she'd earlier assumed was his. "Behold! The Amazing Maleeni's wallet."

Her mouth hangs open, surprised he got the drop on the old man twice. "You picked his pocket?"

His grin turns sheepish as he admits, "No, I pilfered it from the evidence room to prevent them from completing their final act of prestidigitation."

She frowns. "What are you talking about?"

"I began to wonder, why did they need so elaborate a setup? Why so high profile? Why draw the attention of the FBI in the first place?"

He can see the wheels turning in her head. "We were the last piece of the puzzle."

He nods, "Yeah. Framing Alvarez was just another misdirection. This trick was about EFTs -- electronic funds transfers at the bank. Maleeni, Pinchbeck -- he didn't have security clearance for them so he needed a little federal law enforcement intervention -- specifically, my badge number that we so helpfully show to suspects and victims alike, and my fingerprints on those cards he dropped. With those two items, they could pull off an EFT and steal enough electronically as to make that $1.8 million look like cigar-lighting money. But they can't do it without these." The grin returns to his face. "Pick a card, Scully... Any card." He pulls the plastic-encased card deck out of the huge wallet, then shoves it back in before pocketing the whole enchilada.

Scully pauses as she muses, "You know, Mulder, there's still one thing that you haven't explained."

Mulder keeps his poker face on, waiting for what comes next. "What's that?"

"How the Amazing Maleeni was able to turn his head completely around."

He shrugs nonchalantly, "I don't know that."

Now Scully grins. "I do. I'll show you. Observe," she says in her imitation of Mulder's "magician" voice. When she gets down on her knees in front of him, Mulder grins broadly and waggles his eyebrows. She rolls her eyes, placing her hands awkwardly but flat on the floor and turns her right arm a full 360 degrees, then gets up and smoothes her sleeve.

He whistles, hoping this time around she'd actually tell him. "Wow! Nice, very nice. How'd you do that?"

She gives him her poker face, which, since her face is usually expression, is rather daunting. "Well," she says slowly, like a parent to a child, "magic." Then she resumes walking down the hall. "Come on, the kids are waiting."

Aw, man! "No." Mulder pouts, following after her. "Seriously, Scully, how'd you do it? You know, it's not the same thing. Hands are different than heads. Come on." He resorts to tapping her on the shoulder and saying, "Hey, look at this." And proceeds to do the disappearing thumb trick that even Uncle Bob didn't stoop to. "Scully..." he whines.

Before they reach the door to where their kids are waiting behind, Scully turns around and smiles widely. "I'll show you when we get home and the kids are tucked in bed."

As she opens the door, Mulder feels a sudden disloyalty to his children, whom he loves dearly and are soon attaching themselves to his legs. I can't wait to get home, he thinks, even as Scully hustles them into the rented van in her usual brisk, motherly demeanor.


Chapter Eighty-Two


March 2000
Hoover Building

Mulder's computer is hissing when Scully comes into the office. A glance at the screen shows her an animated snake. She doesn't ask her husband what kind, because a phone is glued to his ear.

"Not as far as you know? ... All right. ... Not this time of year. ... All right. Thank you, Doctor. Good-bye."

"Snakes," she says as he hangs up.

"Lots and lots of snakes. Very pissed off ones, from the look of it," he agrees and hands her a folder.

When she opens it, she recoils at the sight of Jared Chirp's swollen, disfigured, corpse. "Jesus, Mulder! You could have warned me!"

"And miss that reaction?" He ducks away. "That's the former Mr. Jared Chirp of McMinn County, Tennessee."

"Extremely former from the looks of it."

"116 separate bite marks. Judging from the wound measurements there were 50 different snakes involved-- mostly copperheads and rattlers."

"But it says here that he was found dead in his car."

"Yeah, with a pistol in his hand. He fired six shots, into the floorboards, into the passenger seat, even into his right kneecap, and the windows were shut and the doors were locked."

"But, uh, what happened to all the snakes? Don't tell me that they were magical snakes that could evaporate into thin air."

Mulder shrugs. "No one seems to know that. There was not a scale found. I just got off the phone with a herpetologist at the Smithsonian, and he's stumped - especially because these rattlesnakes tend to hibernate in winter."

"So you think that, uh... Mr. Chirp was murdered? By whoever let the snakes out or took them away?"

"Well, it certainly would appear that way but the question is 'how?' There's no physical evidence at all-- no tire tracks, no footprints. I can't see how anyone could have accomplished this. And then you got to ask yourself 'why?' Why would anybody use poisonous snakes as a murder weapon?"

"Maybe it's symbolic. I mean, serpents and religion have gone hand in hand. They've represented the temptation of Eve-- Original Sin. They've been feared and hated throughout history as they've been thought to embody Satan-- to serve Evil itself."

"Maybe these ones actually do," Mulder says darkly.

"These particular serpents actually were serving Evil?" He refuses to meet her eyes. "Are you going to type that on our travel request?"

"Mmm ... No. But at the very least this case does seem to center around religion ... and you're not the only one to think that by the way."

It's on her mind to ask him who else does, because although he believes in evil, she knows it's usually not of the biblical kind.


Later That Night

Only when the loose floorboard near the doorway creeks does Scully realize that someone is there. Sammy is giving her a concerned look, and she beckons to him with the hand not holding clothes. He walks over, more sedately than usual.

"You look like there's something you wanted to say," she prompts.

"You look sad, Mommy. I thought going away was funner than going to your here-work."

This theory surprises her, but she's never given it much thought. "'Funner' isn't a word, Sammy. We say 'more fun' instead."

This grammar lesson doesn't deter her son. "Are you sad?"

"Well, I'm always sad when we have to leave you kids-"

Sammy shakes his head. "More."

Scully sighs and pats a spot on the mattress so he'll sit. "The case Daddy and I are working on is about snakes. I don't like snakes."

"But they're not slimy, they're dry. Just worms are slimy," he explains earnestly.

"I know. There's a different reason I don't like them. When I was a little bit older than you, I hurt a snake and it died."

"Why'd you hurt it, Mommy?" Sammy looks shocked that his mother has ever hurt another living creature. "On accident?"

"By accident. No, I'm ashamed to say. I played with Uncle Bill's b-b-gun, and shot it without thinking. Even after I didn't think it would die, but it did. It's not fair to snakes that I don't like them now, but it's hard to make yourself stop feeling something."

"Like guilty," Sammy says, nodding.

"Exactly." He gives her a hug. "Try not to kill any more snakes so you don't haft to feel more guilty."

"I'll try."

"When it's April's birthday party, can we make her worms and mud?" Sammy asks, referring to a desert consisting of chocolate pudding with crushed Oreo cookies and gummy worms mixed in. "She really likes it."

"We all do. But cake usually goes with ice-cream, not pudding. I think we'll have to have mud and worms sooner than that. Maybe when Daddy and I get back."

"Okay!"

When he runs off to tell his sisters, Scully quickly finishes packing.


Blessing Community Church
Blessing, Tennessee

Their first stop is a small church with elaborate stained-glass windows. Inside there are fewer people than expected for a funeral. One of them, a young, heavily pregnant blonde woman, is crying. An older woman stands next to her, murmuring comforting words and handing her tissues.

Reverend Mackey approaches the women. "Jared is in a better place now, Gracie. He's at peace."

The older woman, Iris Finster, says to the other. "You know, Reverend Mackey's right, honey. He is in a better place."

After giving the tiniest of nods, Gracie leans down and gives the casket a sad kiss. Then she allows herself to be lead outside, past Mulder and Scully who have thus far been lingering at the doorsill. Once the women are gone, they step inside and hold out their badges.

"Reverend Samuel Mackey? My name is Fox Mulder. This is Dana Scully. We're with the FBI. May be speak with you, sir?"

Scully is distracted by the sight of Iris helping Gracie into a car. She refocuses when she hears Mulder say, "We apologize for our timing. We'd like to ask you a few questions about Jared Chirp."

The reverend balks. "I've already spoken to the Sheriff about it... though I'm not sure that was a good idea."

Mulder doesn't back down. "Specifically, you had suspicions about the manner in which he died?"

Reverend Mackey sighs. "I should be the last one to point a finger or say a harsh word. Our church is founded on acceptance and tolerance of all people, all beliefs..."

"But...?" Scully asks.

"Before Jared joined us he belonged to a fundamentalist congregation outside of town-- the Church of God with Signs and Wonders. It practices snake handling."

Mulder nods knowingly. "As a sign of faith, worshipers handle deadly snakes or drink poison, right?"

"They believe that the Holy Spirit protects the righteous. Jared grew up in that church but it is very difficult to walk away from a belief system that one is raised in. It takes great courage.

Scully raises her eyebrows but says nothing.

Mulder doesn't seem to notice her reaction. "Why did he walk away?"

"He and Gracie, his girlfriend -you probably saw her leaving the church just after you arrived- left it together. They found that a rigid interpretation of the Bible was not for them, especially when it involves risking life and limb in the act of worship, but again it is not for me to judge. I will say, however, that both Jared and Gracie were persecuted by the members of their former church. All this animus... stems from their church leader-- Enoch O'Connor."

"Animus enough to motivate a murder?" Scully asks.

Reverend Mackey just looks at them, but his expression offers his opinion clearly.


Later
Church of God with Signs and Wonders

This church looks little like the other. It is smaller, run down, and unadorned but for a hand-painted sign that states: "Look unto me and be SAVED: all the evils of the Earth; for I am GOD, and there is none other- Isaiah 45:22 "

As they walk up the steps, Mulder notices that all the shades are drawn.

Snake handling. I didn't learn that in catechism class," his wife remarks.

"Not even from Sister Spooky? That's funny. My boyhood friends bragged about a few Catholic schoolgirls who were expert at it."

Scully rolls her eyes and follows him into the darkened church.

"Enoch O'Connor? Federal Agents," he calls out before asking Scully "Where's the light switch?"

"The nearest one? Probably ten miles from here," she says, making him laugh quietly.

The doors swing close behind them, casting the church into darkness. So they turn on their flashlights and begin to look around. The beam of Scully's lands on a crudely rendered painting hang on a side wall.

"Rattlesnakes and medieval visions of damnation. Well, I for one, feel a whole lot closer to God," she says ironically.

"I don't know, Scully. When you... when you get right down to it is snake handling any harder to buy into than communion wafers or transubstantiation...?"

"Or believing in flying saucers, for that matter."

"I'm just saying that-that your faith and O'Connor's seem to be based on the same book."

The first thing of interest that Mulder finds is an empty mesh cage. He points at it with his flashlight. "Uh-oh, Scully. What do you think O'Connor keeps in here?"

"Something slithery?"

"It's all right. It's empty," he says, picking it up and shaking it.

"Good thing, or it would have bit the crap out of you for shaking it. The question we should worry about is, why is it empty?" Scully asks.

A rattling noise behind them startles them badly enough for them to draw their guns. A river of snakes begins to flow towards them from under pews and out of dark corners. Then a man enters the church, flooding it momentarily with light.

"By what right are you here?" Reverend Enoch O'Connor asks disdainfully.

Without looking, Scully holds out her badge. She's afraid to take her eyes off the snakes that are still hissing on the floor. "Reverend Enoch O'Connor, we're Federal Agents. We're, uh... with the FBI."

"Reverend, do something about these snakes, please," Mulder requests.

"You got nothing to fear if you're righteous people," O'Connor declares smugly.

"Just in case we're not, we could use a little righteous help here," Mulder tells him.

"What do you want?" Reverend O'Connor bends and puts the snakes into a bag with an easy air about him, as if he's certain that the snakes would never bite him.

"We're here to ask you questions about a former member of your church-- Jared Chirp," Scully says nervously.

"That boy strayed from the path and was lost to the dark one. I'm sorry for his soul. There ain't much else to say." Says O'Connor.

Mulder presses on. "He died from multiple snakebites. We thought maybe you'd have a special insight into that."

Reverend O'Connor drops another snake into his bag. "I do. It was a test."

Scully shoots him a suspicious look. "A test? What do you mean?"

"A test of faith. A test of righteousness. When the Devil aims to test you, you'd best be ready and you sure better know which side you're on." Once all the snakes are in the bag, they stop rattling, as if they were just waiting to be reunited before settling down.

"Are you speaking about the Devil's test or your test?" Scully asks.

"I don't think you people realize which side you're on. I do. You can leave now." Reverend O'Connor doesn't wait for them to go before turning away himself.

The agents glance at each other before putting their guns away and walking out into the bright sun shine. Scully glowers at her husband. "Tennessee. Snakes. Thank you, Mulder. Thank you so much. I say we arrest him and catch the first flight out of here."

"He does seem like a likely suspect, only the local sheriff's office ruled him out. Apparently, he was in Kentucky the night Jared Chirp died."

"Well, Mulder, there are other people in his congregation."

"Jared Chirp died with a packed suitcase by his side. There's got to be somebody that knows where he was headed."

They get into their car and drive off.


Days Inn
8:25 p.m.

In an effort to make it up to Scully for dragging her down there, Mulder has gone to get them both milkshakes. She'll protest that they're fattening, and he ought to have gone with something less so, but he knows for a fact that she likes them just as well as he does. The two black and whites freeze his hands through the bag, and it's with some relief that he's able to remove one hand long enough to work the keycard.

Scully doesn't seem to hear as the door opens. Instead, she's sitting on the bed, staring at the blank TV screen. For a moment he worries that they brought a snake back with them and its bite has paralyzed her, but then she looks over to him.

"You okay, Scully?"

She blinks, and drops the TV remote control he just realized that she was holding. "I'm fine."

"You didn't look fine when I opened the door," he says, setting the bag with the shakes down.

"I just saw something upsetting on the news." She pulls the shakes out of the bag and tries to hide her delight. "Mulder, milkshakes? Do you have any idea how fattenin-"

"Isn't there a rule that a woman your size isn't allowed to ever complain about gaining weight, least other women rise up and throttle you?"

"How did you get a look at the secret handbook?" Scully asks him. "Luckily, you're not a woman."

"Oh, so you're noticed," he says in his best seductive voice, and reaches for her.

She pulls away. "Mulder, the shakes will melt."

Trying not to be disappointed, Mulder reminds himself that it's his fault there are potentially melting shakes to worry about in the first place. Their straws are barely to the bottom of the waxed paper cups before the phone rings, alerting them of a new development in the case.


Blessing Community Church

Mulder and Reverend Mackey stand aside to let paramedics wheel the body of Iris Finster past them.

In the hallway, Reverend Mackey wrings his hands. "I don't understand it. None of us saw or heard anything. Just her scream. When we ran in, she was lying on the floor. I cleared everybody out of the building once I saw the bite marks, but..."

"Reverend," Mulder interrupts. "How close was Iris to Jared Chirp?"

"Not...particularly close but I'd spoken with her not 15 minutes earlier about him."

"What'd you talk about?"

"She was upset. Something about Jared calling her the night he died looking for Gracie. Something about him... paying for his sins. Well, I don't know. We didn't get to finish our conversation."

"Maybe that was the point." ::Or not, given you're the one who killed her.:: he thinks.

After exchanging a completely contrived glance, Mulder and Mackey walk into the room where Scully has gone to talk to Gracie. They arrive in the middle of a conversation.

Gracie is teary. "Why Iris? Why is this happening?"

"Gracie," Scully begins gently. "We're investigating the leader of your former church, Enoch O'Connor. We believe that he may have had something to do with what happened here tonight." To Scully's surprise the girl looks hurt.

"We would appreciate anything you could tell us about him," Mulder says.

Gracie shakes her head violently. "No, he didn't do this. No. He didn't do this. This... this is Satan's work, not man's."

Scully's voice is still gentle. "Gracie, that sounds like something that Reverend O'Connor might say. Now, you're not a member of that congregation anymore. And I understand this because you're someone who thinks for herself."

"Keeping an open mind, Gracie, is it conceivable that O'Connor could have done any of this?" Mulder asks.

"No! Don't you think I would know, me, of all people? He couldn't have done this. He just cou...." Gracie dissolves into tears.

"Gracie might be biased," Reverend Mackey says softly.

Mulder looks at Gracie. "O'Connor is your father." This makes Scully sigh.

Reverend Mackey nods. "When Gracie got pregnant..."

Mulder is quick to 'guess'. "O'Connor barred her from his church. She and Jared Chirp."

"His church and his home," Mackey agrees.


Church of God with Signs and Wonders
10:06 p.m.

Mulder doesn't hesitate as he opens the door and steps in. Scully does, hanging back. "Scully, you coming in?"

"I think I'll check around back." She's quick to go back down the steps.

Inside, Mulder looks around. One wall is covered with pictures. He reads aloud what is written above them. "Pray for the souls of our brothers and sisters ... some passed, some lost to us." Among the pictures he spots Gracie's, which makes him realize that "lost" does not necessarily mean "dead." Jarred's and a one of a woman named Alice O'Connor hang on the wall as well.


Behind the church, Scully finds a trailer and decides to investigate it. She only enters after drawing her gun. The trailer is clearly the snakes' home, because there are boxes and boxes of snakes, as well as a cage of hapless white mice who are their future meals. Some of the snakes realize she is there and rattle their tails.

Spooked, she turns to leave the snakes in peace but is grabbed around the shoulders. The hands belong to Reverend O'Connor.

Scully yelps. "Oh!!" The hissing gets louder as O'Connor knocks her gun away.

"You must be judged," he says emotionlessly, and pushes her against the screen of a cage holding one of the bigger rattle snakes. Before she can react, he's forcing her hand into the cage with the snake. She fights him, but can't pull her hand out. "Repent! Pray for the Lord's quickening power. Into the hands of God."

At that moment Mulder enter the trailer with his gun drawn. He points it at O'Connor, yelling, "Let her go!"

The reverend ignores him until he cocks his gun. Then he reluctantly lets Scully go, and watches her jerk her hand from the box. "You should have more faith," he chides her even as Mulder puts him into handcuffs.


Mcminn County Sheriff's Station
Interrogation room
11:22 p.m.

Reverend O'Connor gives Mulder an angry look. "Your FBI partner could've learned something about herself if you hadn't stopped me. Some powerful good news, maybe."

"My wife," Mulder snaps. "I'd say it's good news for you that she's not here right now ... considering what you tried to do to her. Is that what you did to your wife?" He puts the picture of Alice from the church wall on the table. "Alice O'Connor... succumbed to multiple snakebites in June, 1994. It happened during a church service or at least that's what you told local police. You got away with it... almost. What was, uh... the problem with your wife? Was she not... righteous enough for you? Just like your daughter's boyfriend ... or Iris Finster?"

"Educated man... too smart to know any better," O'Connor pronounces.

"Smart enough to know you're a murderer."

O'Connor doesn't look stung. "Satan is near, and you don't even have eyes. You're just proud and fancy free."

"No one quite passes muster with you, huh? You feel the need to exact some kind of Old Testament revenge? What about your daughter? What were your plans for her?

"I pray for her soul. I pray and I pray because she's lost."

"Because she no longer believes as you do?" Mulder asks.

"You think because you're educated you're better than most? You ain't." O'Connor points to Mulder's chest. "Unless you're smart down here the Devil's going to make a fool of you and you ain't even going to know it."


Gracie hesitates outside the interrogation room, and Scully stops short too. Gracie looks deeply unhappy. "I changed my mind. I don't... I don't want to see him. Besides, I won't do any better than you people in getting him to talk."

"Gracie. You still don't believe your father did it?"

"It don't matter what I believe. He'll be judged as he deserves. Can't nobody avoid it."

Scully grabs her arm as she turns to walk away. "Don't you want justice for Jared? One of my little boys is named Jared...I can't imagine not seeking earthly justice if someone hurt him."

Gracie gives her a long look. "Then you an' me are different." She walks away without another word.


The Next Morning
ICU hospital room

O'Connor has been admitted with snake bite wounds not dissimilar to those that killed Jared and Iris. Mulder is already looking down at his bruised and bloated body when Scully joins him.

"Deputy found him about an hour ago. There's no telling when he was attacked."

"I guess it's looking less and less like he's a suspect," Scully says, bending over the injured man for a better look.

"Unless he somehow managed to do this to himself." Scully gives him a sharp look "...as a test of his own righteousness."

"Well, if so, Mulder, the jury's still out. I just spoke to his doctors. It's a toss-up as to whether he's going to pull through this."

"What about antivenin treatment? There's still time for that."

Scully shakes her head slightly. "He's not receiving it."

"Why not?"

"Gracie stepped in. She's trying to forbid treatment on religious grounds. It's not clear whether she has a legal claim to do it, but she says that it's up to God as to whether he lives or dies," Scully says, her voice a tinge sardonic.

"And you're thinking that her actions may not be entirely motivated by concern for her father's eternal soul?"

"More to the point what if she did this? She told me that her father would be judged as he deserves."

"Do you think this is what she meant?"

"Well, she grew up around snakes, Mulder. Who's to say she isn't every bit as adept at handling them as he is?"

"I can see her being angry enough at her father to attack him, but... what about the others?"

"I don't know, Mulder. The last thing we talked about is how she and I are not alike because I believe in real world justice, and she's content to leave it to God...until now I'd of said she was sincere when she said it. Now..." She trails off, looking down at O'Connor.

"Come on, we've got permission to investigate a new venue for clues." Mulder takes her arm and they walk away.


Jared Chirp Residence
10:58 p.m.

The state of Jared Chirp's bedroom begins to paint them a picture. Mulder explores that out loud, beginning with the obvious disarray. "He left in a hurry. Packed one suitcase and a gun. Earlier that night he calls Gracie. Gets Iris instead. Starts rambling about paying for his sins. He's frightened... wants to leave town, presumably with Gracie."

"So, what's he scared of?" Scully asks. Mulder looks in another drawer as she continues to speak. "Though I don't understand it, O'Connor's church exerts a strong pull on these people."

Mulder picks up a shed rattle on the dresser and gives it a shake, making Scully cringe a little. "It's not so hard to understand. It's a culture with a very well-defined set of rules."

"It's an intolerant culture, Mulder."

He thinks of other intolerant religions briefly, but doesn't bring them up. "I don't know, Scully. Sometimes a little intolerance can be a welcome thing. Clear-cut right and wrong, black and white, no shades of gray. You know, in a society where hard and fast rules are harder and harder to come by, I think some people would appreciate that."

Scully's look is incredulous. "You're saying that you, Fox Mulder, would welcome someone telling you what to believe?"

"You mean besides you?" He smirks. "I'm just saying that somebody offering you all the answers... could be a very powerful thing."

The toe of Mulder's shoe kicks into a crumpled ball of paper, which he bends to pick up and uncrumple. "It's lab results. Am I reading this right? That Jared Chirp had himself tested for sterility?"

Scully looks over his shoulder. "Yes. Which turns out to be more or less the case. Based on this, that means that Jared can't be the father of Gracie's baby."

"It's dated the day he died."

"So maybe he was killed because he discovered the truth." Her cell phone begins to ring.


Hospital

They can tell from a distance that Reverend Mackey is upset. He turns from the nurses when he notices that they're there. "Agents, Enoch O'Connor is gone. I was away for five minutes. His bed's empty. Gracie is gone, too. She was talking to him when I left."

Scully startles. "How could Gracie possibly have gotten him out of here?"

"Maybe he took her," Mulder suggests.

"Mulder, he was on his deathbed; that's impossible. And besides, what's his motivation?"

Reverend Mackey speaks up. "I may be able to answer that. Jared Chirp wasn't the father of Gracie's child."

"We know that. What about it?" Mulder asks.

Scully on the other hand, looks horrified but not confused. "Enoch O'Connor is."

Reverend Mackey is grim. "That's why she wanted to get away from him and his church as fast as she could. And I tried to teach her to forgive him."


The Following Morning
Church of God with Signs and Wonders

There are paramedics tending to Gracie when Mulder and Scully arrive, having just been told that the girl was found unconscious, ostensibly by a member of her father's church. Several members of the church look on as the paramedics do their work.

Scully approaches one of the EMTs. "How is she?"

He shrugs. "Deep shock. Some loss of blood."

"What happened here? Where's the baby?" she asks.

An annoyed looking cop answers her. "These folks aren't talking. We've got people looking all over."

Mulder waves over to Scully, and squats down to examine the floor. "Scully. Take a look at this."

Scully also kneels down near the bloody puddle on the floor, and her eyes trace the small trails that spoke off the puddle. She looks up as a member of the church joins them for no apparent reason. "Snakes," Scully says numbly to the woman. "She gave birth to snakes."

"The devil has been cast out," the woman remarks.

"Stay with her," Mulder tells his wife as he stands to leave. "See if they'll talk about what went on here last night."

"Where are you going?" Scully asks.

"To find her father. He's going to want to tie up some loose ends." ::Or someone will.::


Blessing Community Church

Mulder enters the church in just enough time to watch O'Connor threaten Mackey with a knife. For a moment he's tempted to let O'Connor go through with it, but something tells him that there would be more hell to pay for all present if he let the attempted murder expose Mackey's true nature, so he finally yells, "Drop the knife!"

O'Connor ignores Mulder, and continues to attempt to cut Reverend Mackey's throat, halting only when Mulder shoots him in the shoulder. O'Connor crumples, and Mulder steps over him to get to Mackey and pretend concern. "You all right?"

Mackey takes his offered hand, and sighs in relief.


Inside an Ambulance

The paramedics have let Scully go with them because she's a doctor, so she's sitting with Gracie when the girl begins to wake up, still disoriented. "Daddy. Daddy," she mumbles.

"Gracie, it's Agent Scully. We're taking you to the doctor right now, okay?"

Gracie tries to sit, but is too weak. "No. I... got to..."

"Can you tell me what happened, Gracie?" Scully asks patiently.

"Where's my Daddy?"

"You're safe, Gracie," Scully soothes. "My partner's gone after him. Gracie, you're going to be okay. He can't hurt you anymore."

Gracie eyes clear. "You don't understand. He saved me."


Blessing Community Church

Mackey gives Mulder a towel to press against O'Connor's wound before claiming he's going to call for an ambulance. Mulder wonders how many a small town like Blessing has.

O'Connor flinches when Mulder presses against the wound. "Relax. Help's on the way."

O'Connor stares at him. "No, it's not. I told you, boy. You still don't know which side you're on. Be smart down here." He touches Mulder's chest.

Mulder walks Reverend Mackey's office, where the other man appears to be on the phone. "Yes, please hurry." Mackey hangs up and looks to him. "They're on their way." Mulder responds by pointing his gun at him, and Mackey seems confused. "Agent-"

"It wasn't O'Connor. It was you. You killed Jared Chirp," Mulder tells him.

"You're joking."

"No, I'm just beginning to see it now. Jared must have come to understand that he wasn't the father of Gracie's baby... that you were. Did he confront you earlier that night only to see you for who you really are?"

Just who is it you think I am?"

Mulder continues to ask questions. "Is that what happened with Iris Finster? Was she beginning to catch on? Is that why you killed her? Or was it just to further frame Enoch O'Connor? Is that what this is really about? Ruining O'Connor? Seducing his daughter? Destroying him by any conceivable means?"

Reverend Mackey gives him an intense, measuring look. "Are you a righteous man, Agent Mulder?"

"Stay where you are."

"It's just a simple question. Most people believe they're on the side of angels. But are they?" The doors to the office slam shut, as if a strong wind, or an invisible hand, pushed them. "If you were put to the test... how would you do?"

Snakes begin to pour out of Mulder's clothing, and he does his best to keep from screaming as he pulls off his jacket.


O'Connor is alone, holding a towel to his own wound, when Scully enters. He looks gray-faced.

"Where's Mulder?" Scully asks him.

They both look up when they hear a shout from the next room. Scully starts to stand, but O'Connor reaches for her. "You can't help him. This is his alone." Scully stares at him, and he lets her go.

In seconds she's outside of Mackey's office, looking for a way in. "Mulder!?" When there's no reply she begins to kick at the door. It splinters and eventually lets go with a groan.

Inside, Mulder is backed into a corner with his eyes closed. She can see that his lips are moving, but can't hear what he's saying. Several large, hostile looking snakes cover the floor between them. Then, when Mulder opens his eyes, they fade away, as if they were nothing more than a shared hallucination.

"Mulder, where did the snakes go?" she asks, eyes wide with shock.

"As long as they didn't go out to our car, or our hotel room, I don't care." His voice is shaky.


Days Inn

Still completely shaken, Mulder made no objection when Scully dropped him off at the hotel to pack while she when to speak to the police.

He looks up when she comes back in. "What did you find out about Mackey?"

"There's still no trace... even though every law enforcement agency in Tennessee's out looking for him."

"They won't find him," Mulder says heavily. "People think the devil has horns and a tail. They're not used to looking for some kindly man who tells you what you want to hear."

"He's just a man, Mulder. Just like O'Connor."

"Not like O'Connor. If this was some kind of test looks like I failed. I let the wicked man free to save myself." ::Either way, you fail. Not a nice test.::

"I'd say if it was a test, you passed with flying colors. You're alive, aren't you?"

Mulder smiles minutely. "Proud and fancy-free."

"Come on, let's go home." Scully takes his hand, and drags him out of the room.


Three Days Later
Washington D.C.

Scully waits until Mulder spits out the thermometer before speaking. "You have a slight fever again."

He groans. "Then the infection is back. I was beginning to think it was gone..."

"Maybe it's not an infection this time."

"Sure, there are lots of other reasons for a low-grade fever," he says sarcastically. "Good thing I've got an appointment with Doctor Sake tomorrow. Not that I relish the thought of more IV antibiotics."

Scully doesn't smile. "I don't want you to be sick again."

"Well, neither do I. But I appreciate your concern."

The look on her face doesn't change. "You don't..." She sits on the bed. "I was watching the news right before you brought back milkshakes."

"And?" he asks, confused by the apparent non sequitur.

"And they were talking about a recall. Of birth control pills. The kind I've been taking since November." She'd quickly tired of the lack of spontaneity inherent to condoms, and had gone to birth control pills instead once Mulder had been talked into it.

"Scully..."

They apparently didn't formulate the pills correctly, adding too little of the hormone, or maybe leaving it out all together. I haven't gotten a straight answer about that yet."

"Scully."

"So, you just can't be sick again," Scully tells the wall. "Because it wouldn't be fair, not after we tried so hard to keep this from happening until you were well."

"You're sure you're pregnant?" Mulder asks tightly.

"I had them do a blood test at the lab since it's more accurate..." Scully sighs. "It looks like I'm due in October. We'll work things out. Besides, we don't know for sure if you really-" She trails off, looking at him now. "Mulder?" He's putting on his sneakers.

"I'm going for a run," he announces calmly. Then he mechanically laces his shoes.

"It's raining!" Scully protests. "You might already be sick!"

"I need to go for a run." Mulder brushes past her, and doesn't look back to see her standing in the doorway.

His headlong flight to nowhere brings him to the nearby park that he and Scully like to bring the kids on Saturday. The wet swing sets look like they're hunkering down in the sand, and there's something faintly menacing about the way the dark wraps around them. Mulder doesn't look at them after the first few seconds but finds a slick bench to sit on instead. Then he looks down at his hands, the same way he did at Doggett's funeral, the way he did when he waited for Maggie Scully in the hallway immediately after identifying Scully's body....and he's filled with the same sort of grief.

He's failed. Even though he saved Luke, Emily, his father and Melissa, and even though he probably has rewritten history thoroughly enough to keep Scully and Doggett from their graves in three more years, he's still a failure. His broken promise squeezes his heart, making him gasp in pain.

There's no way that they can have them both. A baby conceived in February would be too early to live if born in July. He did the math six times on the run there.

A crash of thunder roars, making his words nearly inaudible. "This isn't what I meant to happen. I wasn't trying to lie to you. I'm sorry William, I'm sorry William, so sorry William..."

Rain soaks his clothing, and runs rivulets through his hair and down his face. He doesn't notice. It's proof. He's not a god, just a mortal man who couldn't keep a promise made to a two-year-old son he never really knew and now never would. A boy who now would never exist.

The worst part is that he'll never be able to tell Scully. Going back in time has up until now been more pleasure than burden, since it hadn't meant losing something important from his "old" life. But now he'll suffer in silence, unable to share his burden with anyone else.

And he's afraid that the cracks will show. Maybe someday Scully will wonder why he'll love this child less well than its brothers and sisters. Maybe he or she will know too, and he'll be sorry for that, but unable to warm to him or her the way he did Christopher despite his unusual conception. It won't be fair, but emotions seldom are.

Eventually the rain trickling down the inside of his collar registers, and he heaves himself off the bench with a strangled groan. In the steady rhythm of his shoes hitting the pavement he hears "I'm sorry - William. I'm sorry - William."

If he's lucky, the rain will have completely masked his tears.


Chapter Eighty-Three




March 21st, 2000

Mulder's fingers hover above the keyboard when he's interrupted before typing the first word to a report. "Mulder, I can't find April." He tries his best not to sigh in frustration, since it seems that he and Scully are at odds a lot lately.

Which is something he takes full responsibility for, given that no matter how often she demands that he tell her what's wrong, he won't admit that he's in agony over her unexpected, and in his opinion unwanted, pregnancy.

"Did you ask Page?" he asks at length. Page had been playing with her sister the last he'd seen either of the girls.

"Yes." Scully sounds tired. "She said April brought something outside a few minutes ago." Before he can ask why she doesn't look out side herself, Scully adds, "I looked for her, but I didn't see her."

"Well, don't panic yet," he mutters.

"I'm not panicking."

"Yeah. I'll find her." He jabs the power button on his laptop before hurrying out of the room.

He fully expects to see April the second that he walks out the door, but the yard looks empty in the gathering twilight. A squall of fear rises, but he does his best to tamp it back down. April wouldn't leave the yard, and he'd know if a stranger were around, wouldn't he?

She has to be around somewhere, but hidden somehow, which probably isn't that hard for someone three feet tall to do. His glance sweeps the yard, and he spies a flicker of movement in the distance. It only takes him a minute to get there.

When he finds April, she's on her hands and knees in a remote corner of the garden. Stepping closer he sees that she has a plastic beach shovel in her left hand, and that a small section of ground has a slightly dug look to it. Surprised that grass can be dug up with a plastic shovel, he squats on his heels. "What are you doing?" he asks in a friendly tone.

She holds out her small hand, revealing an apple seed.

"Oh," he replies, his thoughts going a mile a minute. April's displaying an interest in a hobby! Pushing down the urge to run out and buy her hundreds of dollars of gardening equipment - which would probably overwhelm her and kill the fledgling interest - he decides to keep things small. "My mom used to grow a lot of beautiful flowers when I was a kid. Still does, actually. Would you like to have a garden too?"

"Yes."

"You know, it's going to be too cold to plant outdoor flowers for a while yet. Would it be okay to start growing them in pots inside, and bringing them out here when it gets warm?"

"Okay, Daddy." She places a trusting hand in his, and gives him a look of adoration he'd kill to see on his wife's face lately.

"April, Daddy's not mad, but you scared Mommy by not telling her you were going outside. From now on I want you to only go out if you ask, okay?"

April's brown eyes show that she's giving serious consideration to his demand. "Yup."

"That's my good girl. Let's go show Mommy that you're fine."

Hand in hand, they walk back to the house.



April 8th, 2000

All three of the littlest ones are down for their nap, and Michelle looks over the older kids who are still wired from their morning activities, wondering what she's going to do with them on a rainy day. Out of ideas, she decides to ask them. "What do you guys want to do?"

"Watch TV," Sammy suggests.

"Yeah!" Page and April agree.

She chews on her lip for a moment, then decides that her employers probably won't mind if they watch a little TV. "Okay, but April picks what we watch," Michelle tells them. To her surprise, Sammy and Page don't pout, but seem to think this is a fair idea.

April grins and runs over to the small collection of tapes. She picks one out of the case and brings it over to Michelle. "I put it in?"

"Sure, why not," as she says it, Michelle realizes that it says "Mom and Dad's Tape" and hopes hard that it's not something that should have been kept in the Mulders' bedroom.

April stands on tippy-toe and pushes the tape in. The screen turns blue and she rejoins her siblings on the living room couch.

Far from what Michelle expects, a familiar song begins to play as a police cruiser whizzes across the screen.

Bad Boys whatcha want, whatcha want?
Whatcha gonna do when Sheriff John Brown come for you?
Tell me, whatcha gonna do? Whatcha gonna do?

Before Michelle can wonder why the tape is labeled like it is, April points to the screen. "Look! Daddy and Mommy." And the people on the screen do bear a striking resemblance to her employers.

An announcer grimly proclaims. "Cops is filmed on location with the men and women of law enforcement. All suspects are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law."

"How come your parents were on Cops?" Michelle asks, but the kids just shrug.

There's a shot of a full moon, then Sammy complains to his younger sister, "I don't like this part. Fast-forward to Mommy and Daddy." With surprising skill for someone who only turned three a week earlier, April does.


Willow Park, California

On-screen an officer named Wetzel is explaining...something. Michelle has no idea what, to his superior Sergeant Duthie. "You know, I didn't get a good look. Maybe..."

Wetzel's radio squawks. "417, suspects on foot just one block north of Holly!"

Sergeant Duthie looks at his men and calls, "Armed suspects! Bring some units around on Holly Street!"

There's a lot of shouting and running, and when the screen stops shaking, Mulder and Scully are being surrounded by cops.

"Uh oh, trouble," April says.

"Get your hands up!" an officer yells.

Scully yells back. "FBI!"

"Michelle, how come they don't know Mommy and Daddy are super-cops?" Page asks.

"I guess they're confused," she replies, wondering that herself.

There's quite a bit of shouting on screen, but eventually the cops seem to wise up and actually check their IDs. Sergeant Duthie shoots the camera a disgusted look. "Telephone the FBI! Give 'em back their guns!" He hands Mulder back his badge.

"We're investigating a case," Scully tells him.

"What case?" the Sergeant asks.

Mulder tells him, "Same case you're working on."

"So who we looking for?" he asks Mulder.

"Not who, what." Just then it's clear that the FBI agents have noticed the camera crew, and they look understandably confused.

Scully begins to say, "Mulder, what the he-" but Michelle reaches over and pushes the fast forward again. There's a flash of a person's injury on the screen, then the tape resumes at normal speed.

Mulder is speaking to the injured officer, Wetzel. "Deputy? Deputy, can you describe for me what you saw?"

"Um, it was pretty dark. I didn't really see. I don't know. I don't know."

"Well, you must have seen something in order to run away from it, huh? You were responding to the same call we were-- of a monster prowling the neighborhood."

"A monster!" Sammy gasps. "Tilly Newton's got one in her closet."

"Does not," Page retorts. "She's a sissy-girl. Scared of clothes in the dark, Billy says." Billy Newton is in Page's kindergarten class, Michelle realizes. But she wonders who'd name their kids Tilly and Billy.

On screen, the Sergeant is explaining that he thinks the woman is off her meds.

"Maybe, but she's not the only one seeing monsters. There's been half a dozen such sightings in this area in the past 60 days. Are you aware of that?" Mulder asks.

There's a pause. "No. I mean..." Wetzel flounders.

"Yeah. Also, these sightings only occur on nights when there's a full moon which tells me something."

Sergeant Duthie stares at Mulder. "What?"

"What you saw was large, right? Maybe seven, eight feet tall when it stood up on its two legs? And it was covered in fur and had glowing red eyes and claws..." When Mulder puts his hands up like claws, Sammy does too. On screen the sergeant is looking at Mulder like he's an escaped mental patient. "Claws sharp enough to gouge the wood off that front door."

"You're not serious."

"And dare I forget teeth. It bit you, didn't it?" He unexpectedly grabs Wetzel's wrist. "Look at that. Deputy, how long were you going to hide that from the E.M.T.S?"

The cop's boss looks down at his wrist. "Where did you get that, Keith?"

"I don't even know where that came from. I mean, I didn't see anything that he's talking about."

Sergeant Duthie smirks at him. "Big teeth, eight feet tall? What the hell are you describing?"

"A werewolf," Mulder says firmly.

Page squishes the remote while dragging Piper onto the couch, and the tape fast-forwards again. Piper flicks her tail menacingly, but her young mistress doesn't seem to notice. Then, to be perverse, Telico jumps up onto Sammy's lap.

When Michelle turns her attention to the screen again, Mulder is speaking.

"Unfortunately there, Deputy, you've been bitten. The skin is broken. Werewolf lore pretty much universally holds that someone who's been bitten by such a creature is going to become such a creature himself, so..."

"Wait a minute. I mean, that's not what really happened, though."

"I'm sorry, but you're going to have to be isolated and kept under guard."

Sergeant Duthie stares at Mulder. "With all due respect what the *bleep*-" Michelle snags the remote control and pushes fast-forward, but the damage is done.

"That man said *beep*!" Sammy says, wide-eyed. His beep sounds little like the one on the TV.

"*beep* means 'god damn'. Isn't really a swear-word," Page says confidently.

"Actually it is," Michelle says, trying not to groan. The last thing she wants is her employers to think she's encouraging that sort of language. "I don't think your mommy would like you to say that."

"Uncle Frohike does," April points out.

Having met him more than once, Michelle feels justified in saying, "He uses a lot of words you kids shouldn't repeat."

"Okay... keep fast-forwarding, Michelle. That lady doesn't say things in our kind of talk anyway," Page commands. Michelle shrugs and acquiesces. As she does, she catches sight of a drawing of Freddy Kruger, which strikes her as odd.


Mulder stands by Deputy Wetzel's car as a tow truck readies it for moving. Scully drives up and parks near-by.

Mulder looks over to her. "How's Deputy Wetzel?" She nods towards the patrol car, from which Wetzel is exiting. Mulder looks alarmed, probably thinking that Wetzel will transform before their eyes any second now. "You let him get released?"

Scully doesn't look him in the eye. "Well... those weren't teeth marks, Mulder. They turned out to be insect bites..."

"Oh."

"Individual welts or stings of some sort. Together, they just looked like a larger pattern especially when we want them to... although it was an understandable conclusion that I'm sure anybody would have made."

Her husband smiles at her. "So, what did Skinner say?"

Scully sighs. "He said that the FBI has nothing to hide... and neither do we."

"Well, if it makes you feel any better, Scully, I'm not entirely convinced that we're looking for a werewolf anymore."

"Oh." She sounds surprised. "All right, good."

"No, something else. I'm not sure what. Some other kind of creature, though. That I'm sure of."

There's a loud noise, and Mulder grabs a cop who's running by. "Hey, hey, hey, what's going on?"

"Six blocks from here-- could be what we're looking for."

"800 block of Belmont."

The agents rush to their car, then Scully gets into a minor squabble with the camera crew who dives into the car with them. She admits defeat and brings them to the scene. Once they're there, the camera crew is left in the dust by the running cops and federal agents.

Scully gets to the sketch artist first, and finds that he's lying in the doorway of a closed store, and bleeding from five slashes across his chest.

Scully waves the crowding officers away. "Guys, watch out. I'm a doctor."

They step back to give her some room, but Deputy Juan Molina looks distraught. "Oh, man, it's Ricky."

Trying to be gentle, Scully presses on the torn Kevlar vest. Blood seeps from the wound.

Mulder is grim. "That's what I was afraid of, Scully."

On the couch, Sammy gasps. "That guy, he's deaded!"

"Nuh uh," Page corrects, shaking her head. "He's bleeding, so he's alive."

Michelle stares at her, amazed that a kindergartener knows this. Then she remembers that the children's mother is a sometimes-doctor. "Did your mom teach you that?"

"Nope. Daddy did. He says lots of movies get it wrong."

To prove Page right, the next scene is of Ricky being loaded onto a stretcher. His face isn't covered, confirming that he'd been injured, not killed.

Wetzel looks away from the ambulance and back towards the screen. "Well, when a fellow officer goes down in the line of duty or even if this... even if it's not a fellow officer-- if it's just somebody working part-time with the department in a, uh, support, um... a-arti-artistic capacity, uh, like R... like Ricky, there-- we all feel it. Uh... Back there is every cop's worst nightmare... But that's when you got to cowboy up and give 150%... catch the bad guys."


Mulder, Scully and their entourage of cops and camera men are looking for clues at the site of Ricky's attack.

"Last call from this phone was made to the Road Club-- Ricky Koehler requesting roadside assistance for his flat tire. He asked them to hurry. He said he didn't feel safe," Scully says.

On screen Scully realizes that Mulder is looking at the drawing of Freddy Kreuger that they'd seen in fast-forward before. Bumping his shoulder, she asks, "What's that?"

"Our suspect, apparently," Mulder says with a rueful look as he wife begins to laugh. "Slash marks match up pretty well, wouldn't you say?"

"Ugly guy," April declares, pointing at the TV.

"He used to play a bad guy in old movies," Michelle explains. "I used to watch them in high school."

"That's real big kids," Page says, sounding awed. Michelle smiles at her.

Scully's busy looking at something on the ground, and eventually holds up a small object. "Somebody lost a nail."

Page looks down at her hands in alarm. "They come off?!"

"Only fake ones, kiddo," Michelle reassures her. "I bet your mommy wouldn't be caught dead wearing fake nails."

TV-Mulder smirks. "Nice color."

"Check out this color, Mulder-- blood red."

Mulder glances over to the cops. "Hey, uh... who called 911 on this?"


Sergeant Duthie leads Mulder and Scully to the home of people called Steve and Edy. As he knocks, he smiles and tells the agents, "They're good folks. They usually call us if there's trouble in the neighborhood."

The two men who open the door to the officers are clearly a couple. Steve is wary, but Edy seems excited to see the film crew who is following the cops and feds around.

Edy is wide-eyed, "Oh, my God, look at this. Look at all these people, Lord."

Sergeant Duthie adopts a friendly tone. "How are you two doing this evening?"

"Uh, uh, we're fine," Steve says.

"Can y'all tell us what happened out here this evening?" Sergeant Duthie asks.

"Not with me looking like this, mm-mmm. Now, you should know better than that, Sergeant Paula." Edy flees deeper into the house.

"Like she going to run from a camera." Steve snorts. "Lookit here... we heard all this screaming. Peeked out the window and this boy with crazy hair was having a conniption fit all rolled up there by the phone."

"You didn't see his-his attacker?" Scully asks.

"Mmm... Mm-mmm."

At this point Edy returns wearing a bright robe and a turban. "I'm ready for my close-up."

Steve tells Edy that there's something more important going on, and Michelle wishes he'd picked kinder words. "Now, I didn't see...What you say-- "attacker"? No, he was just kind of all rolled up and yelling."

Undeterred, Mulder shows them pictures of a werewolf and Freddy Kruger. "Did you see anything... that looked like this?"

"Ooh, stop," Steve says after the first picture.

"Or this?" Mulder holds up the second.

"Ooh, excuse me?"

"That's going to give me nightmares," Edy declares.

Scully looks disappointed. "So, you didn't see anything at all?"

Edy shakes his head. "Mm-mmm, no, mm-mmm."

"Did you, uh, did you see a woman?" Scully asks, holding up the bag that contains the fingernail.

Both men make humming noises. And Edy looks scandalized. "Chantara. I know that skanky color anywhere."

"Sure do. Chantara," Steve agrees.

Sergeant Duthie gives the men an intent look. "Chantara the streetwalker?"

The men agree that this Chantara is both a prostitute and a drug addict, so the group decides to go and speak to her. They move away from the house, but the camera lingers.

Edy looks directly into the camera. "Hey, hey... When am I going to get my own TV show?" He begins to sing, "If I didn't care ..."

"Oh, she's showing off now." Steve groans. After a few seconds more, he pushes Edy back into the house. "Stop. Get in the house. Stop. Get back."

Edy goes but continues to sing. "Would I feel this way?"

"Bye, y'all. Bye." Steve gives the camera a long suffering look and closes the door.

Michelle has noticed Sammy studying the men on screen, so it doesn't surprise her when he looks up at her. "Those guys live together, huh?"

"I think so," she agrees, wincing at the possibilities of where the conversation might go.

"Like our uncles!" Sammy declares with a big smile.

"Hmmm...I think they're a little different than your 'uncles'," Michelle blurts out, and instantly wishes she hadn't.

"How?" Sammy demands to know.

"Uh-"

"That guy is gonna be on TV," Page tells her brother. "Our uncles write a magazine. So they're different."

"Exactly," Michelle declares, feeling a flood of relief. It doesn't last long, because there's a howl over the baby monitor. "You guys sit right here while I change Christopher."

"Okay!" they all agree. Oddly enough, she knows they will do as instructed. Still, she wants to get to Christopher before he wakes the twins, so she hurries up the stairs.


To Michelle's dismay, Jared and David are both sitting in their cribs when she peeks into their room after changing Christopher. Neither of them looks like he's about to start crying, but David greets her with a sleepy "hi."

"Oops, little brother woke you guys up after all, huh?" she asks in a soothing voice.

They both nod, since at twenty months, they're old enough to follow some conversation. "Woke up" is definitely a concept they understand.

"It's okay, the baby is sleeping now. You look sleepy too," she tells them, gently getting one, then the other to lie back down. They give her identical pouts, but neither attempts to stand up again.

It takes a good ten minutes of waiting, but in the end, the dark-haired twins are both sleeping soundly. Looking at them, she wonders if the Mulders have any pictures of Fox as a toddler in their room. Of all the kids, they look the most like their father.

On her way out of the room, Michelle tucks both portable baby monitors into her pockets, and her mind summons up a fleeting image of the Gunslinger novel she's been reading.


Fulfilling expectation, the older kids are where she left them. "You missed a boring part," Page tells her, apparently as consolation.

"Mommy and Daddy just talked to people," Sammy adds.

"Died," Aprils comments as well.

"Who died?" Michelle asks, but April shrugs.

"The girl they talked to, and some guy at a house," Page explains.

Sammy's eyes widen. "Broke neck, Daddy said. Necks break?"

"Sometimes," Michelle admits. "That's why parents don't like kids to do really dangerous stuff, like try to jump off the roof." She pauses, thinking about how Fox recently bought them Mary Poppins. "Even with an umbrella. In real life they don't work to keep you safe like in the movies."

"Oh." Sammy looks disappointed. "Get hurt real bad, huh?"

"A person might, like not ever being able to walk again. Sometimes they'll be okay, but there's no way of knowing, so it's best to never ever do it."

Page and Sammy exchange a disappointed look before crying, "Okay!" in a semi-convincing way.

Michelle makes a mental note to tell Fox and Dana that they might want to lock up the umbrellas for a while.

On screen the police are talking about something that Michelle apparently missed while trying to convince the twins to finish their nap.

Sergeant Duthie defends his man with a conviction in his voice that the kids' agreement lacked. "I wish someone would explain to me what the hell is going on here. It just doesn't make sense. Keith Wetzel may be a little green but he is a solid deputy-- a squared-away individual. Nothing could have gotten past him and killed that woman."

Another officer shows them a discharged bullet. "There's no sign of what he was shooting at. This was all we found. Nine millimeter. It's our issue."

"Where'd you find that?" Scully asks him.

"It was lying in the middle of the street. Doesn't look like a ricochet."

Mulder nods. "Maybe Wetzel hit what he was aiming at. Excuse me."

Then he and Scully go over to where a shaken Wetzel is busily staring at his shoes. "Hey, Deputy. You ready to talk to me now? You and I both know you saw something. We're way past claiming you didn't."

"I only know what I thought I saw."

"Well, describe it for me," Mulder invites.

The young officer takes a deep shuddery breath. "The wasp man."

Mulder gives him a skeptical look. "The wasp man?"

"It's ridicu..." He pauses, suddenly remembering the camera. "It's ridiculous. The scary stories my older brother used to tell me when I was a kid about a monster with a head like a wasp and a mouthful of stingers instead of teeth. He said that it would come get me in my sleep and that... and that it would sting me to death."

Mulder makes an obvious attempt to sound like he believes the other man. "So you're saying that the, uh, the wasp man attacked you both times here, and earlier in the patrol car?"

"I - I'm not saying that that's what it was, okay? I mean... they didn't see it." Wetzel waves a hand in the direction of the camera crew. "It's not on the videotape. This... this can't be real."

"I think maybe it can," Mulder says slowly. "Just... just relax a minute. Excuse me. Scully?" They walk a few feet from the shaken cop. "We came on this case looking for a werewolf, right?"

"Well, you did, that's correct." Her emphasis on "you" makes Michelle wonder what Dana expected to see.

Mulder is unperturbed. "Hyman Escalara claimed he was attacked by a werewolf and the wounds that he sustained would seem to bear that out, right? And then, Wetzel over here sees a wasp man with stingers for teeth and he gets a bite mark that you say is irrefutably insect-like, right?"

"Mulder, that's not exactly..." She trails off with a sigh.

"And then another eyewitness claims she sees Freddy Krueger. Scully, what if we're dealing with one creature, one entity that, when it attacks, appears to you as your worst nightmare? Fear. Maybe that's what this thing feeds on."

"Okay, well, for the sake of this argument..."

"Yeah."

" ...How would one catch something like that?" she asks.

Mulder looks distant for a moment, obviously trying to puzzle that out. "Probably by... by figuring out how it chooses its prey. I mean, there... It seems to spread like a contagion, doesn't it? One person's fear becomes the next. There's a definite chain of victims. Tonight it went from Mrs. Guerrero to Wetzel and the sketch artist and then from the sketch artist to Chantara Gomez and then..."

Scully picks up the thread. "Chantara Gomez back to Wetzel."

"Right."

"But you're missing someone, Mulder."

"Who?"

"Edy. Steve and Edy. They're a part of this chain, too and, and according to your theory they would have been attacked, right?" They look at each other.


Just after her on-screen employers revisit the couple introduced earlier in the episode, the living room floods with sudden light. Michelle blinks, half startled.

Page jumps off the couch. "It's not raining any more!"

"Yay!" Sammy exclaims, dashing over to the TV to turn off the VCR.

"Wain, wain, go 'way," April sings under her breath, but she stays on the couch.

Either sick of napping, or having been woken by their other siblings' enthusiasm, the twins begin making noise over their monitor as if on cue.

"I take it you want to go outside?" Michelle asks, knowing the question is rhetorical. Three eager looks settle the matter instantly. "C'mon upstairs and I'll get everyone dressed to go out."

The kids are half-way up the stairs before she even has time to look at the darkened TV screen with regret. Maybe she will have a chance to watch the episode from start to finish some other time, since the idea of a creature morphing to be what you fear intrigues her.


Out in the yard the sun is shining, but it only serves to jewel the drops of rain that cling to the grass and bead on the lawn furniture and swing set. The kids wear identical yellow rain coats that look like they're out of the Paddington Bear books, that their grandmother bought them, and five pairs of sneakers are protected from the wet by old fashioned slip on rain boots in colors ranging from pink to blue. Only April's match her coat.

Sammy and Page play tag, the twins chase each other as usual, and April squats down to check on the season's earliest flowers. Christopher watches them from the safety of his carriage, and seems content to be a spectator yet.

Not long later the sound of a car and the opening of the front door alerts Michelle that her employers are home from work. "They're out here, Mulder," Dana calls.

Fox doesn't smile when he brushes by his wife. He saves his glad looks for the kids who run to greet him.

The obvious distance between her employers over the past few weeks makes Michelle uneasy. There's clearly something going on, but she hasn't been clued in as to what. From the way Dana has been excusing herself to run to the bathroom lately, Michelle is fairly certain that she's pregnant again, but neither of them has said anything to her, which strikes her as odd. They've always been excited about new babies before.

But then, glancing at Fox's pale face, it occurs to her if the strain is because of the timing. He has been sick on and off over the past six months, and doesn't seem like his old self a lot of the time. If he's more seriously ill than either have them have let on...

"-ready for dinner?" Dana asks her, giving her an expectant look.

Michelle flushes. "I'm sorry, I didn't catch that."

"I asked if you had plans tonight, after we get the kids inside and ready for dinner."

"Oh! Yeah, actually. I'm supposed to meet up with my friends Heather and Kevin to go to a poetry slam. I shouldn't be home too late."

"It's your night off, be as late as you want," Dana tells her. The older woman's voice is calm and pleasant, but there's a pinched worry lurking in her eyes.

"Thanks."

As Michelle helps herd the kids inside to take off coats and boots, it makes her wonder when the video they were watching was produced. Not within the last month, that she's sure of.


Chapter Eighty-Four


Spring 2000

In the shower, Scully is masturbating, fondling herself with one hand while shoving up the decent-sized dildo up into herself with the other. She takes no joy with the action, even as she moans loudly and comes under the heavy rain of the showerhead. Then she briskly extracts and cleans off the battery-operated device, putting it aside as she scrubs herself down.

In the bedroom, Mulder is shoving his feet into his shoes with more force than necessary. He's heard his wife's cries, but pretends he hasn't heard. After all, she's made no secret of her 3-week-old purchase, and knows it's his fault, but he doesn't want to fix the problem. Besides, he was busy whacking off in the shower less than twenty minutes ago, thinking of Jade Blue Afterglow. He hasn't felt so cheap or dirty since, well, his first round of bachelorhood, buying porn featuring redheads or calling 1-900 numbers with voices similar to Scully's. Shit. He grabs his duffel bag and goes downstairs, his sneakered feet thumping loudly.

When he rounds into the kitchen, he offers Michelle a tired smile and a more genuine one to Christopher, his face decorated with some ungodly orange and green mess.

His eldest daughter, however, is the first to greet him verbally this fine April morning. "How come you hafta go all the way to California? Isn't our uncles here?"

And now he regrets buying that big-ass U.S. map to show the kids where their cases are relative to their house. "They've got another job over there," he says, pouring himself a half-cup of coffee and drinking it black.

"But you'll come home soon, right?" His blonde angel pouts.

Mulder nods dutifully, "Right." And his legs are suddenly bound by the arms of a redheaded boy. "Hey, Slugger, I'm gonna need those to get to the airport." He pretends as if to shake off the boy, but is unsuccessful in freeing himself.

"Uh-uh." Sammy clings tighter.

"Uh-huh," Mulder returns, twisting some more.

"Uh-UH!" his son retorts, burying his face in his father's jean-clad legs.

"Uh-HUH!" Then he looks up and sees Scully frowning in at him, looking oh-so-professional yet very feminine in a tailored black suit and long skirt, a proper navy blue blouse underneath. Damn. No sexy black leather jacket for this lady, she's all business. He bends down and gently pries his son's arms off. "Sorry, gotta go," he says, ruffling Sammy's already-mussed hair.

His wife is closer to the nanny, and she says warmly, "Thanks, Michelle." Then she looks at her children. "Behave." And she kisses Christopher's head, waving at the kids.

Michelle smiles. "No prob. Have fun." She feels like sinking into the floor when she sees the look on the couple's faces, then waves Christopher's chubby arm. "Wave bye-bye." She sighs with relief when they leave, even though she feels uncomfortable at how they seemed like strangers to each other when they did so. Hope they check into therapy soon, she thinks, cleaning off the youngest boy's face, for their kids' sake if not their own.


FPS Corporate Headquarters
Inland Empire, California

Everything goes rather smoothly, Scully in her full-blown Ice Queen mode, Mulder in his Serious Denial style, while they get identified, go through the Lone Gunmen's alternate bragging and shying away from the actual body, and then they meet Ivan the Caffeinated Chihuahua and Phoebe the Shrinking Violet. Scully has made it abundantly clear she neither indulges nor infantilizes the men, her husband especially, although Ivan doesn't seem to recognize a threatening female when she glares him in the face. Mulder's torn between laughing at the situation and yelling at himself for fucking things up so thoroughly they can't even enjoy a simple weird homicide. Either way, Scully still ends up calling the cops and Ivan still bursts a blood vessel as she does so.

::Maybe I should just pop a cap in Ivan's ass and get this over with::, Mulder thinks glumly as he follows the Lone Gunmen and Phoebe to the control room, where they will view the gruesome virtual replay of the very real death of the gamer formerly known as Retro. And then let Scully shoot me again, 'cause it can't get much worse than this. He looks over his shoulder, but as before, Scully isn't there. This time, however, she's got a pretty damn good reason not to be hanging around. Him. Shit. Not even the Gunmen's surprise and muted respect for his suggestions can dull the pain of her not being there.


At the security desk, Scully is talking to Detective LaCoeur as Retro's body is wheeled out. "Let me get this straight, Agent Scully," the heavyset black man says, "you've got no murder weapon, no forensic evidence, no motive, no suspect."

"Scully." Mulder waves, coming up the stairs, followed by the Lone Gunmen.

She doesn't bother hiding her displeasure from the cop, the Gunmen, nor her husband, as she makes the introductions. "My partner, Agent Mulder. This is Detective LaCoeur."

LaCoeur looks at Mulder expectantly. "Have you got something?"

"Yeah, our killer, I believe." Mulder unfolds and displays the videogame girl to the detective, who makes a face as he takes it.

"Hey, I'll put out an A.P.B.-- for Frederick's of Hollywood," the black man scoffs as he leaves.

"Are you trying to piss me off, or look like a complete idiot? Either way, you're doing a great job." Scully manages to look down at him, despite being shorter.

"Hey." He shrugs, deliberately nonchalant. "It's all in the computer."

She rolls her eyes. "Uh-huh. Some bored programmer, I'm guessing either Ivan or Frohike, got really lonely one night and put her in the game. Big deal. She's not the killer," she states, as simply as she would say the moon is *not* made of cheese, you idiot.

Mulder deliberately gives her a wide smirk, something bordering on a leer. "If you want, we can show you the instant replay of how Miss Fantasy killed Retro in real time and in real life."

Before she can retort, however, an Asian man walks into the building and heads straight for the staircase, ignoring everyone. The men, however, are in awe. "Daryl Musashi. You see who that is? Daryl Musashi, dude!" Langly enthusiastically slugs his shorter comrade, who isn't fazed at all.

"As I live and breathe." Frohike stares after the disappearing man, then he and his blond friend follow Musashi down the stairs.

"Who's Daryl Musashi?" Scully frowns, wondering if he's some kind of rock star. He certainly was cute enough to be one.

"The O.G.-- Original Guru," Mulder says, but it's a rote response. He respects the living legend enough to try to make him stay that way, and he runs down the stairs after them without another word.

Byers looks apologetically at Mulder's abandoned partner, wondering what's going on but too polite to enquire. Instead, he answers Scully's question. "Word is he slums as a game designer when he's not contracted to the CIA. The boy wonder of virtual mayhem, if you will."

Doesn't matter if I will or won't, Scully thinks, it doesn't change the fact that Mulder's an ass. "What's he doing here?" she wonders aloud, but has a bad feeling it's another one of Ivan's brilliant ideas.

The bearded man smiles like it's Christmas. "Ivan must have called him to go in and slay the ninja babe," he replies before bounding down the staircase, too.

She sighs, her hands on her hips. "Gee, I guess I'll do my autopsy on Retro, then," she says to the empty air. "Sure beats watching some stupid game." And she tromps outside in her three-inch thick heels, feeling more and more irritated, with humanity in general and men specifically, by the second.


It's not the best idea he's had, but it's the only one he's got. "Stop the game!" Mulder yells.

"What, are you crazy?" Ivan screeches, looking pretty nuts himself. Or maybe it's the lack of sleep and stress. Whatever. "The legend's gonna show you ladies how it's done."

"There's a killer on the loose who's connected to this game," Mulder argues as Byers walks in, "you've gotta get him back in here."

"Hey, is that Musashi?" Byers asks as the Asian man stands confidently with his weapons crossed over his chest.

"Hell, yeah," Langly drawls, "Mulder's suddenly got cold feet." Then he looks speculatively at the FBI agent. "Got something to do with Scully?"

"Shut up," Mulder mutters, but his words are lost as the room erupts into cheers. Musashi has just wasted the Biker Nazis easily.

"Yes!" Ivan shouts triumphantly, pumping his fist.

"Unbelievable." Byers smiles behind his beard.

"Standing heart rate is 68," Phoebe reports with a smile while the most of the guys are still hooting and clapping.

Mulder, however, watches the monitor anxiously. He's hoping that Musashi will suddenly wise up, or, barring that, a fluke will shut the game off. None of that happens, and the young gamer runs into the dead zone. "Generally speaking, the Way of the warrior is resolute acceptance of death," he sighs morosely, quoting Miyamoto Musashi while the others perk up.

"What are you talking about?" Ivan grumbles at the interruption, his bulging eyes still on the screen.

He's not the only one. In fact, even Mulder's engrossed in the action, and it unfolds just as it did before, the dominatrix appearing behind Musashi like a bad horror movie. The Asian man turns just as the psycho swings a katana down across his hands, severing them at the wrists. He screams, holding up his bloody stumps. Everyone's eyes are wide, and Langly turns around and runs out of the room, barely holding in his vomit with his hands clapped over his mouth.

"What just happened?" Ivan says numbly, sounding something like human for once.

"She cut off his hands," Mulder replies, his face a study in guilt.

Nobody notices, because, sans Langly, they're all watching as the gamer screams again, then stops suddenly when the killer talks to him in Japanese. Nobody understands her, and it's clear neither does Musashi, for there's a look of incomprehension as the katana swings again, taking off his dumbfounded head.

In the control room, Phoebe and the guys stare at the dead body, horrorstruck. Frohike turns away with a grimace, seemingly in disgust, but Mulder knows it's to hide his own fear and self-loathing. God knows he's got enough of that to share with the class.


Meanwhile, in the autopsy bay, Scully's taking on a task less futile than her husband's. Somewhat. Peeling off her latex gloves, she reports to the tape recorder, "Preliminary external examination of deceased, a twenty-ish male, name listed only as 'Retro'," she grimaces, "offers no additional clues as to actual cause of death." Twisting the dead man's arm, she reads the tag with the same unhelpful gamer name. Men, she thinks with disgust before turning the machine on again, are so stupid.

"Scratch that. Cause of death is from a large entry wound at the sternum, resulting in trauma to the internal organs and blood loss. Wound is consistent with a high-velocity impact from a large projectile which passed through a three-ply Kevlar jacket." Then she pauses the machine, rolls her eyes, then hits the record button. "Scratch that. Wound is result of high-velocity impact from an unknown object, which even if it did enter the body left no damn trace evidence whatsoever -- no powder burns, no chemical signatures of any kind of explosive propellant ..." Which is just the way my idiot husband likes his cases: Insane, unhelpful, and irritating.

Speaking of the devil, he walks right in. "No luck?"

She favors him with a simple "fuck you" look. "At first, I thought the suit's battery pack, sending a 12-volt jolt when the player is shot virtually, went haywire. Perhaps one of the charges had blown inward."

"At first?" Mulder says, seemingly distracted by the vest as he runs his hand over it.

She pretends not to notice his observation, focusing on his distraction. "What a waste of technology, going into a stupid game. What purpose does this game serve except to add to a culture of violence in a country that's already out of control?"

He almost grins as they fall into another pattern. Perhaps humans are victims of character, he thinks, both of strengths and weaknesses. "Who says it adds to it?"

Her look has changed from "fuck you" to "are you fucking kidding?" A slight improvement. "You think that taking up weapons and creating gratuitous virtual mayhem has any redeeming value whatsoever? I mean, that the testosterone frenzy that it creates stops when the game does?"

"Well, that's rather sexist, isn't it?" He grins, but she doesn't grin back. Well, some things have changed. He plows on, making the same excuse he did last time. "I mean, maybe the game provides an outlet for certain impulses, that it fills a void in our genetic makeup that the more civilizing effects of society failed to provide for."

Now she smiles, but it's laced with an edge sharper than the videobabe's sword. "Well, that must be why men feel the great need to blast the crap out of stuff."

Mulder shrugs, used to facing danger. "Well, testosterone frenzy or no, the only suspect we have in this man's murder is a woman," he replies, holding out the picture of 'the goddess'.

She brushes both him and the picture off, looking down at the body. "Yeah, I've seen it. A computer-animated woman, Mulder, with a computer-animated weapon."

"A flintlock pistol," he says as he gestures at Retro's gaping hole, "which would leave a very large entry wound."

"Reality check, Mulder," Scully retorts, "real corpse." She waves at the body. "Fake lady." She barely nods at the picture.

"Well, the fake lady got herself another dead body," Mulder says as the coroner wheels in another sheet-covered gurney. He takes it upon himself to lift the sheet, revealing the man's head between his bloody wrist stumps. "The world-renowned Daryl Musashi," he says, with a touch more sobriety than Scully would've expected.

His cell phone rings, and it gives him a chance to school his face and emotions. The call, however, is expected, and he grunts affirmatively while Scully checks out the new body. When he turns around, he tells his partner, "I am vindicated, Scully. L.A. Sheriff's department just picked up a female suspect for the murders, who happens to match this," and he waves the picture. "Carry on." He nods at the autopsy. "I have to interrogate the suspect." The leer carries him out the door, and manages to buoy Scully behind him.


Scully walks through the gauntlet of male police officers, her irritation level rising to near-volcanic levels, already having a clue of what to expect as some give her husband knowing looks, while others ogle her as well. Brother. When she walks into the interrogation room, a tall, very attractive, outrageously dressed woman is sitting in a chair with her legs crossed. Figures. She doesn't see her partner behind her, but whatever he did, a bunch of cops chuckle and hoot. God. She hears, rather than sees, Mulder shutting the door and closing the blind. In a straitlaced parody of her voice, she says, "For the record, can you state your name, please?"

Incredibly enough, the woman sitting in from of them looks exactly like the woman in the game, although in a different scandalous metallic outfit. "For the record again, my name is Jade Blue Afterglow. I reside..."

"Your *real* name, please?" Scully interrupts, not buying it.

"That *is* my real name," Jade replies in the same tone. "What were you expecting? Mildred?"

Scully picks up the report and barely stops herself from making a face at the snide comments. She isn't sure which is worse, sexist men or the women catering to their "wants." "You say that you have no knowledge of Ivan Martinez or a company known as First Person Shooter or F.P.S.?" she asks quickly.

The woman smiles at Mulder. "I meet a lot of men."

He smiles back, but there's something so distant that Jade doesn't feel reassured. "Would it surprise you to know that you have been placed at a crime scene in the offices of F.P.S.?"

"Let's just say it takes a whole lot to surprise me," Jade drawls, swiveling in her seat either in imitation of Sharon Stone's infamous leg-cross, or she's got to go to the bathroom.

Scully isn't sure whether the woman's a bad actress or bad hooker. Either way, she's ready to wrap this up. "You might want to start telling the truth."

Jade tilts her head like a child feigning innocence. "And what truth am I not telling you?"

"That you murdered two men." Mulder tilts his head, as if trying to get a better view of the outrageous jewelry on her impressive bosom. "One with a 14th century broadsword and the other with a flintlock pistol."

"Oh. You must have had me confused with my sister -- Xena, Warrior Princess." She smirks.

For the umpteenth time in as many hours, Mulder pulls out the printed image of Maitreya and proffers it like Prince Charming with the glass slipper. She looks at it with realization. "Are you denying that this is you?" he says, almost too casually.

Jade frowns. "Now I get it."

"What?" Scully prompts her.

"The medical imaging place in Culver City," the woman says, for once talking normally and not some crazed idea of a porn star. "I got paid to let them do this body-scan thing."

Both Scully's eyebrows go up. "They paid you to scan your body?"

Jade's eyebrows echo the motion, but with a smile. "You think that's the strangest thing I've been paid to do?"

Inside, Mulder thinks, ::Finally, done, let's go.:: But he's the picture of perfect sleaziness as he helps her out of her chair, "We're very sorry, Miss Afterglow but," he says and waves to the door, "you're free to go." Then he sits in her seat and wiggles his ass, as if trying to get the mojo from it.

Jade smiles seductively from habit, but she sees there's nothing behind his eyes and suppresses a shudder. She'd intended on making a grand exit, but it would be wasted on these two. Besides, whatever's wrong with this couple, and it's more than the rings telling her this, acting up won't help matters. She pastes a 1000-watt come-hither look on her face when the door opens, only because the boys in blue expect it, and saunters out.

Scully shakes her head, wondering at the young woman's tacky behavior, but dismisses it. Besides, her husband's behavior is even more perplexing, as he's tilting his head to catch a view of Jade's ass.

While she completely blocks his view with the folder, Mulder says with a leer in his voice, "I don't know about you, Scully, but I am feeling the great need to blast the crap out of something." He's got the world's biggest smirk on his face, as if knowing that it'll piss off Scully to no end. Which, of course, it does, and he walks out in front of his partner, winking and grinning at the cops on their way out.


A Generic California Motel Room
11:25 p.m.

Mulder and Scully make it to the door at the same time, which they were hoping to avoid. Without a word, Scully unlocks the door and walks in, followed by her husband. They'd gotten a setup similar to one they'd had before they married: a room with two bedrooms and baths. Mulder goes to the left, Scully to the right, neither says anything as they lock the adjoining doors to their rooms, and both tiredly close their eyes as they lean against the door. If there was a window between rooms, they'd be surprised to see they are simultaneously peeling their clothes from their bodies, turning on the water taps, working the kinks out of their necks, and entering the showers. Drying themselves efficiently, both pick up their cell phones from habit and start to hit speed dial. Fuck that, they both think, both robed in white terry cloth garb, and flop on the bed, each on their accustomed side.

Then Scully hits the arrow button and selects her home phone number. "Hi, Michelle," she says, "how are things?"

"Oh, fine," Michelle answers tiredly. "It's amazing how wiped out kids can get when you have them race around the house until someone wins."

Scully smiles, a tired but genuine one, for the first time that day. "So who won?"

"April," the nanny replies. "The older two kids were too busy fighting with each other and the twins are still too small to make any real challenge yet. And Chris managed not to spew most of his dinner, only a third."

"Great," Scully says, "tell my babies I love them and I'll be home soon."

"Sure thing," Michelle says before hanging up.

Scully closes her eyes, pulling the sheets up after grabbing around. What was frustrating was that, aside from the video the Gunmen helpfully provided, there was no other suspects for Retro and Musashi's deaths other than the ninja babe, as Byers so helpfully called her. And Musashi's autopsy proved to be as fruitless as Retro's -- cause of death seemed cut and dry, but only if you believed a videogame caused real-life damage. Impossible.

Her cell phone rings, and she answers it automatically, her eyes still closed. "Scully," she says, vowing inwardly to turn off the lights before going to bed after this call.

"Scully, I know we're not talking, but for the benefit of this case and solving the damn thing, I propose a truce."

Dammit, she should really break herself of certain habits. "What is it?" she says flatly. If she were actually facing him, her gun would still be held in a steady grip, not backing down in the least. Too bad I can't kill him over the phone as easily as the mystery woman in the videogame, she thinks.

"The guys have been going over the schematics with Phoebe, and they're gonna try to root out the problem through the hardware," Mulder says, his eyes also closed, but also praying that the trio manages to stay out of the game area this time. Schematics, that didn't sound dangerous to him, so he encouraged them. "At the same time, Phoebe and Langly are gonna try a software attack, hopefully rout the intruder without any more casualties."

"Good," Scully says.

Not giving an inch, Mulder thinks, good girl. But at the same time, it pisses him off, so he asks, "And what have you been up to, O Partner and Wife of Mine?"

I hate you, she thinks. "Cutting open, weighing and testing body parts of dead men who thought they were filling a void in their genetic makeup that the more civilizing effects of society failed to provide for," she says, turning his weak-ass logic on him. If the game wasn't so physically lethal, she'd actually applaud the video woman for handing these men's asses to them. Oh well. "Superficially, it appears that a very sharp long blade severed Musashi's head and hands."

"Superficially?"

She sighs. I hate when you do that, lead me on into your stupid, insane conclusions, dammit. "From the bodies, all I can tell is that the killer is expert with various weapons, ambidextrous, over 5'6", and strong. Honestly, if you gave these bodies to any other coroner, they'd probably tell you these men were killed by a young man with military or martial arts background."

"But you examined the bodies, and you also watched the video," Mulder presses her.

She hits her head against the headboard, as if that would make the world right again. Nope, she's still alone in her bed, still angry at Mulder, and still wishing there were a more plausible suspect than a computer-generated killer. Argh. "We should check on the Gunmen's progress in the morning," she finally answers, and hangs up. Cracking open her eyes, she reaches over and turns off the light, then turns off her phone.

Mulder, however, stands up and paces in his room restlessly. He really, really wants to go to FPS HQ now, to keep the Gunmen out of the game space, but without a valid reason, he sees no reason to drag Scully out of bed. He sighs. His insomnia's returned with a vengeance ever since... He sighs again, then opens his laptop and checks out various websites, as if hoping for a miracle program, virus, patch, whatever, that can stop things from repeating themselves fully. He rubs his eyes, but his mind's still going a million miles a minute. Well, that's still the same, too, but last time, he was single and obsessing over Scully as much as the case. This time, he's married, but still obsessing over her, although in not quite the same way. Dammit.


FPS Corporate Headquarters
5:42 a.m.

The lights are off as Mulder and Scully walk into the control room. "Hello," Scully calls out, peering in the darkness, looking for a light switch.

"Hey, this is just like home." Mulder smirks at his partner, trying to quell the foreboding in his gut, "lights off, who knows what lurking in the shadows..."

"Shut up, Mulder," she snaps at him, then nearly falls over something. Correction, someone. Phoebe is lying on the floor, and while Mulder unsuccessfully tries the light switch, she bends down and shakes the young woman. "Phoebe? Hey, you okay?"

To her relief, Phoebe stirs and yawns, blinking up at the two agents. "Oh, I must've fell asleep. I... I was just going to take a nap. I've been up for 70 hours straight, analyzing code, trying to fix the game," she groans, sitting up.

Scully looks around, concerned. "Where is everybody? Where's Ivan?"

"Um, he's with the money guys." Phoebe shrugs. "They're all freaking."

"Well, we need to talk to him right away about a woman named Jade Blue Afterglow," Scully says, managing not to grimace at the name. "He scanned her body and he created a character out of her. He put her in the game."

Oh shit, Mulder thinks when he sees the Lone Gunmen standing in the game area via the monitor. "Phoebe, the Lone Gunmen are on the floor," he says, his voice amazingly monotone.

Phoebe nods. "Yeah, Langly and I wrote a software patch. We're going to run a rez-up test on the game."

"What for?" Scully frowns.

"To bypass the problem," the young woman replies, standing up and watching the monitor.

Onscreen, they watch as the scene shifts from blank white room, to the game street scene. "What the hell...?" Scully breathes.

"What just happened?" Mulder says, doing his damndest not to let his panic show.

"I don't know," Phoebe says, her eyes now on the auxiliary and program computers, scanning them for any signs of weirdness.

"They're in the game," Mulder reports in a maddeningly flat voice.

Downstairs, in the game, the Gunmen are freaking. "Hey, what's going on?! Phoebe, are you paying attention? We're not ready yet! Who's running the program? What the hell's going on? Phoebe? Come on!"

"I don't believe this, the program's running itself," Phoebe says, and for the first time, she sounds really scared. "This can't be happening." She's typing like a madwoman, but the sound of the pounding keyboard barely masks the sound of gunfire from the monitor.

As the Gunmen run for cover, Scully's tone matches her partner's, "Somebody's shooting at them."

"This was supposed to be background only," Phoebe says, panicking. "There wasn't supposed to be any gameplay."

"They need help," Mulder says, determined not to repeat the same mistakes as he walks out of the room.

Scully watches him leave, but says nothing.


As before, Mulder's in full battle gear, but this time, he doesn't give a rat's ass about being the hero, he just wants to get the guys out, killswitch the ubervixen, and go home. "You guys okay?" he asks, jogging over to the Gunmen.

Langly states the obvious, "Byers's been hit."

"I'm okay," Byers grunts in spite of the huge yellow splotch on his chest. Then he winces as a jolt of electricity hits him. "It's a flesh wound."

"She's out there." Frohike jerks his head towards the main game space. "She nailed Byers with that flintlock."

At least he's alive, Mulder thinks as he says, "Okay, on the count of three, I'm gonna lay down some cover for us. Ready? One... Two... Three!" With his handy-dandy "automatic" weapon, he does his best Rambo impersonation while the Gunmen run to the entry hatch.

"Mulder!" Frohike hollers as Maitreya, clad in a black bodysuit, runs across the game area, sword in hands.

Wait, this didn't happen before, Mulder panics inside as he races towards the entry hatch. Why isn't she staying in her own damn space? He attempts to run backwards and fire at the same time. Unlike what action movies would have viewers believe, however, it's not an easy thing to do, and he trips over his feet as the hatch closes. "Aw, shit," he mutters when she catches up.


"Mulder?" Frohike knocks on the door when they don't hear anymore gunfire. The Gunmen hit the door and run back out. Halfway there, the image of the game digitizes, then goes to the plain room.

"Oh, no." Phoebe is staring at the screen, her hands suddenly still.

Scully's down in the game area, running to meet the Gunmen. "Where's Mulder?" She looks around, but there's no tall, big-nosed asshole in black gamer gear there. "I said, where's Mulder, dammit?"

Langly shrugs, worried. "We don't know. She came out of nowhere,

but he was right behind us, and the door just closed..."

"I know, I saw," Scully says, exasperated. "I just want to know why the hell isn't he here?"

Frohike looks just as frustrated, as if the world suddenly decided that 2+2 = 3. "He should be right here," his head keeps whipping around, as if expecting Mulder to materialize. "There's gotta be a reason why the game kept Mulder instead of us."

"It's impossible," Byers argues, aghast at his compatriot's lack of logic, "it's a digital environment. It's just a game."

Scully stares at Byers' yellow paint-spattered chest. "A game that you managed to escape while Retro and Musashi didn't. Interesting."

Now Phoebe joins the crowd. "Agent Scully. I found him."


While Phoebe and company discover Mulder's whereabouts via the computer, Mulder's waking up from something like a massive concussion. Thankfully, there's no psycho bitch in black standing over him, but, as before, his headset's broken. Swearing, he throws off his broken headset, gets up, looks at the sword imbedded in the wall next to him. "At least I've got my little friend," he mutters, checking to see if his weapon's okay, then goes out into the main area, gun at the ready.

Out of nowhere, Maitreya does her insane back-flipping thing again, and Mulder fires, then runs. Somehow, she dodges those bullets with all those flips, and lands the opposite direction, away from him. He doesn't care, he's just glad that she isn't within sight, and starts collecting himself, hoping against hope that Scully doesn't hate him enough to leave him in the game with a woman who can't be destroyed. At least, not from where he's standing. "I'll make it up to you," he promises, then wonders how he's gonna keep a promise when he's not even sure he can change his heart or his mind.


Meanwhile, Scully shoots down Ivan's ill-placed congratulations and questions him about scanning Jade, in even less polite terms than before. As before, he spaces, and Scully's about ready to send him to the tooth fairy, until Phoebe runs out of the room. Scully follows her. "Hey, Phoebe."

The young programmer looks like a wreck. "I don't know how it happened."

"You knew about her?" Scully's eyebrows go up. Then she puts two and two together, "Then it was you. You scanned that woman's body."

"Into my computer," Phoebe explains. "She was my creation. She was mine."

Scully frowns. "But why?"

Phoebe wipes away her tears with her sleeve. "You don't know what it's like -- day in and day out choking in a haze of rampant testosterone."

Scully makes a face. "I wouldn't be so sure."

"I mean, she was all I had to keep me sane, my only way to strike back as a woman," she says desperately. "She was my goddess. Everything I can never be."

Without my degree, without my badge, where would I be? Scully wonders. "But, Phoebe, she is still a killer. I can't explain it, but she is," she says, leading up to the kill. "And you put her in that game."

The young woman shakes her head. "No, I didn't. I was creating my own game in my own computer. It was totally secret. I never told anyone!" she declares. "But somehow she jumped programs and she's feeding off the male aggression. It's making her stronger and stronger." She grabs the other woman's arms, "I need your help. You're the only one who can understand."

I understand that you're smart, you're creative, and that you could very easily do more than grunt work for someone like Ivan, Scully thinks. "You've got to destroy her, Phoebe," she says aloud, knowing time is ticking down for Mulder. Part of her debates whether to even save his sorry, ungrateful, assholic, stupid ass in there, while her more forgiving, albeit much smaller part, says she should save him and then beat him up herself. With that, she thinks maybe shooting him again would be a good idea.

"I don't know how," Phoebe pouts.

"Well, there's got to be some way," Scully says, steering her back to the control room. "There's got to be some vulnerability or a weakness somewhere." She wishes she knew more about videogames now, but knowing Phoebe is on the ball should be enough. She hopes.

"She has no weakness anymore," Phoebe says, her monotone tinged with respect for her creation.

Shit.


Meanwhile, back in the game, Mulder bangs on the entry hatch door. Nothing. He pulls out his gun and starts shooting, hoping that'll do the trick. Nope, they just bounce off as if polarized negatively, and he jumps out of the way. "Dammit!" He hears the click-clack of high heels and turns around. Shit. He hauls out his gun and pulls the trigger, but nothing happens. "Not again!" he yells when he sees the digital display flashing "No Ammo". He drops the gun and raises his hands. "I surrender!"

She tilts her head, then kicks his head. As the digital scenery swims, he thinks, Scully, please...

Back in the control room, Scully's finding that Mulder's vitals have suddenly gone haywire, the Lone Gunmen are desperately typing, rewiring and doing everything short of witchcraft to try and get Mulder out of the game. Ivan, however, flips out when he sees Phoebe enter the storm. "This is your fault," he yells, getting in her face. "You put her here."

Why does everyone act like children when these stupid videogames are involved, Scully sighs inwardly, stepping between the two lead programmers. "Hey," she says, shifting her feminine jacket to show she's packing real, not virtual, heat. "No fair picking on a girl."


Meantime, back in the game, Maitreya's kicking Mulder in the head. As he drops to the ground, his head bleeding, he blinks furiously against the pain and nausea. Her leg makes a lower arc now, but Mulder grabs her foot and throws her to the ground. All right, gotta get that sword, maybe I can pry that damn door open, he thinks, running back. Pulling the katana from the wall, he's oddly reminded of the Arthurian legend, but he's pretty sure Morgana le Fay wasn't some VR witch that brought on the pain personally, but who knows. The Japanese sword firmly in hand, he turns only to find the scene is shifting, and he groans. "Hell's teeth," he mumbles, now standing in an Old West ghost town, complete with rolling tumble weeds.

In the control room, however, Scully and the gang find that Mulder's reached level two. She demands that they shut the game down, or at least turn the damn computer off. Ivan, as expected, flips out, and Langly tries his level best to shut it down, but no go. Or stop, rather. The damn thing keeps going and they're all watching the monitor. This time around, Maitreya's traded her dominatrix outfit for a Coyote Ugly-style western getup, pistols included. Like a horror movie, they watch as she walks up behind Mulder, but have no way of warning him.

"God, how could you be so useless!" Scully shouts, and storms out. Frohike looks grim and goes back to work, Langly grumbles but does the same, Byers is embarrassed but resumes checking code, and Ivan and Phoebe resume their shouting match.

In the meantime, Mulder finally turns around to see the Cowgirl of Death moseying up. "Here goes," he mutters, gamely raising the sword samurai style. When she draws her pistols, he grimaces. "Fine, I'll be John Belushi, you be Piper Perabo." And, as before, she suddenly clones herself into quintuplets. Damn. "You know, any other time and place, I'd be enjoying myself." He smirks. "But if those are my last words, I can do better."

Behind him, the entry door slides open. Scully's wearing the game combat gear over her white blouse and short black skirt. Oh yeah, and hefting a huge-ass rifle probably meant for Arnold Schwarzenegger. Mulder nearly drops to the ground, ready to worship this spitfire of justice, who somehow makes her ensemble work and the ginormous gun scary rather than silly. "One side, Mulder," she says flatly, and points the damn thing at him.

"Scully," he croaks, then hits the floor when the Maitreyas, not waiting, fire at her. He sees her ducking out of sight, then running towards the metal barricade, firing as she does so. How does she not trip with that, he wonders, especially when it's so big? Then again, she's naturally dealt with big things that would bring most people to their knees, whether it was cancer, working in a male-dominated environment, or... and he finds the blood unexpectedly rush to his groin. Ah, shit, not now, he tells himself as she continues to blast away. Still, she looks like a goddess to him, taking out the five Maitreyas, one by one. God, I love you, he thinks, slowly picking himself off the ground.


"You okay?" Scully says, less like a concerned wife and more like a military commander.

"I'm fine," he says, "the door..." They both turn and run when they hear the door slide shut. Remembering the sword didn't do shit last time, Mulder peels off his vest and shoves it underneath, where the door crunches it down. There's enough space for a snake to wiggle through, but not a grown man nor a pregnant woman. Dammit.

And, of course, Maitreya decides to show up again, armed and dangerous. "Got it?" Scully asks, not turning around to check on him since she's facing down yet another of the damn videochicks. She's really, really starting to hate this game, and wonders if the thing feeds off female aggression as well.

"I'm trying!" he says, looking around desperately to find something to give him leverage, or at least something bigger to prop the door up. All he sees, however, is seven more Maitreyas popping up, and them shooting up a storm. Fortunately, Scully shoots back, and, oddly enough, they die spinning like those old-fashioned penny arcade figures as opposed to more realistic keeling over or even blowing up with a satisfying explosion.

By this time, however, Mulder's shed all his game gear in an effort to use them as leverage, and vainly trying to pit his human strength which, while considerable against a normal opponent, is worth jack shit against a metal door with who knows how much weight and mechanisms behind it. "How much ammo you got?" he asks, grunting.

Having killed off the last of the pistol chicks, Scully looks down. "Enough," she says, mentally crossing her fingers for luck. Then a WWII tank appears with a Maitreya, dressed as a soldier, straddling the gun barrel. "You've gotta be kidding," Scully groans, then aims and fires at the tank, blowing it up but good.

Then another appears.

Shit.

Pull the trigger, boom.

And another tank shows up.

The hell??? Scully would scream, if she had the energy. Trigger, boom.


At the hotel, Mulder waits until he locks the door behind him to explode. "What the hell did you think you were doing?" he yells.

Scully, in the process of shrugging out of her suit jacket, lets it fall to the floor. "What?"

"You could've been killed!"

Her eyes flash dangerously, even as she retorts sarcastically, "Oh, and you're welcome for saving your sorry ass."

His jaw works as he grinds out, "I wasn't *planning* on getting stuck there!"

"No! Of *course* not!" She waves her hands around. "You ran in there wanting to play the hero and beat the sexy videogame babe, and as usual, you didn't have an exit plan!"

"I DID!"

She tilts her head. "Oh yeah? Like what, having the Gunmen prop open the door for you?" His sullen face gives her the answer. "Brilliant," she deadpans, "absolutely brilliant".

"And if Phoebe and the Gunmen didn't get the killswitch in time, what was *your* brilliant plan, Rambolina?" he shoots back.

"'Rambolina'?" she scoffs. "Is that the best you can come up with?"

"Argh!" Mulder shouts in frustration. "I am this close to either choking you or punching you out!" He pinches his thumb and forefinger together.

"So what's stopping you?" Scully swaggers up to him, her attitude sharpened by weeks of irritation and noncommunication. "What, this?" she slaps her belly, and takes some satisfaction in seeing him wince. "Doesn't matter, you obviously don't give a shit about either of us. Come on!"

Mulder stares at her. "What, are you crazy?"

"Me, crazy?" she says, anger hardening her words. "Am I the one who turned a back on our marriage and family for no reason?" Her eyes glisten with tears as she goes on, "I was willing to chalk up your assholicism to your illness, or possibly even a new threat by the conspiracy. But you've made it abundantly clear you don't want either me or our new child..."

She turns away and says nothing, and after a while, even Mulder breaks and asks, "Scully?"

She sniffles, then squares her jaw before looking at him. "I want a divorce."


Even though those four words echo in his ears, he repeats dumbly, "Are you kidding?"

Scully doesn't even bother repeating herself. Head bowed, she walks into the bathroom and locks the door behind her. Before she can turn away, she catches a glimpse of herself in the mirror, tears running down her face, her eyes and nose red, her shoulders bowed in defeat. That's not me, she thinks distantly, no Scully woman has ever looked like that.

But she drops the toilet cover down and sits on the lid, burying her face in her hands as she sobs, unable to stop the pain in her heart manifesting itself in her tear ducts and shuddering breath. She doesn't answer the pounding on the door, nor his childish calling of her maiden name. Perhaps it's best, she thinks, perhaps that was the reason why I allowed him to call me Scully, my identity not subsumed by his, my strength not diminished by his, nor my self being lost in his.

On the other side of the door, Mulder has stopped calling out her name, tears running a face contorted by disbelief and deep pain. He balls his hands into fists, intending to break down the door, but a small, rational part of him tells him it won't help matters, so he walks away. He still has the desire to hit something, so he punches the wall nearby. It hurts like a bitch, but it's nothing like the chasm inside his mind and heart, so he keeps punching, slamming into the plaster and concrete until his hands are fractured, bloody messes.

He leans against the slightly cracked and bloody wall, sliding down until he slumps over, curled up with his hands held to his chest like dead birds. ::I never thought it was possible,:: he thinks, ::that I'd be worse than my father. At least he had a pretty good reason for breaking up the family, losing his daughter to an alien conspiracy and his wife to a chain-smoking bastard. Me, all I had to do was blame my gorgeous, brilliant, forgiving and loving wife and partner for having a baby timed too damn wrong to have William, and like that, I lose everything.:: He looks up briefly, wondering if he should tell Scully everything. It's not like he has anything more to lose at this point.


Having had a good cry, as her mom used to say, Scully sniffles, then wipes her nose. She feels only a fraction better now, but only the minutest of fractions. If possible, she'd stay in the bathroom forever, but she knows that's impossible, since her babies are at home and depending on her, and it's not like the FBI would let her stay in there. Besides, she tells herself, washing her face and brushing her hair, somebody has to be the grownup. She finally looks up at the mirror to see a deep scowl. Doesn't mean she has to like it.

Then she unlocks the door and opens it slowly. "Mulder?" she says softly, a hand on the gun tucked in her the back of her slacks, just in case. She peeks around the doorframe and sees him hunched over, his back facing her. "Mulder?"

He slowly turns around and looks up at her, and she sees the dead look in his eyes before registering the tears on his face or his raw, bloody knuckles. She may not be an incisive profiler, but she does know how to deal with injuries, so she walks over and pulls out a first aid kit from her overnight bag, then kneels beside the man she used to call her husband and pulls him to his feet to the bathroom. Wordlessly, she tends to his hands, washing out the paint chips and plaster from the wounds, dabbing iodine on the scrapes and steadying his hands as he hissed and winced, then wrapping them efficiently with bandages. She fills a glass with water, then pops a pill into his mouth and hands the glass over to him, watching him swallow. Then she walks out, intending never to speak or see him again as long as she can help it.


Mulder puts a bandaged hand on her arm. "Thank you," he says roughly in a low voice. She hasn't run off yet, so he presses his luck. "For this, and for saving my sorry ass more times than I can count. For putting up with me as long as you have. For being there when I don't deserve it. For," his voice breaks, "for being my partner, my wife, and the mother of our children, and my friend. I'm sorry. I..." His hand drops, and he doesn't look at her face when he says, "Whatever you want, I won't contest it." It's not until he's finished that he realizes he's just said a eulogy for their marriage. Dammit.

It seems like forever until Scully turns around, and her face is unreadable. "Then fight for me."

He blinks. "What?"

She grabs his arm. "Fight for me, dammit!" she says, tears filling her eyes. "After all we've been through, after building a life together at work and at home, after seeing what we've seen and doing what we've done, are you so willing to give that up so easily?" She's shaking, but she slugs him. "Fight!"

How? He wants to ask, but in that plea, he sees that he hasn't lost it all, that in spite of his idiocy, she still wants him. Wants *them*, he corrects himself, as he pulls her in to a kiss. The pain in his broken hands are agonizing, but not as much as if he'd let this chance go by. She returns the kiss hungrily, her hands covering his, tears still falling from her closed eyes.

"I'm sorry," he says, wiping her face gently, "I'll try not to be such an idiot."

"You can't help it," she says, but without heat. Her face softens when he rubs her tummy. "Are we okay?"

"Are we?" She looks up to see naked insecurity so painfully clear on his face, it hurts to look. "Scully?"

She wraps her arms around him, hugging him tightly. In a way, it reminds him of Sammy, and he feels ashamed for having his head so far up his ass he didn't realize how much the kids were affected as well. "We're good," she says, leaning against him. Then she pulls away to look at him. "But if you *ever* pull this shit again--"

"Feel free to shoot me," he finishes, hoping she won't take him up on that.

"Been there, done that," she says blithely, taking off her shirt, "what I was *going* to say," she smiles, unzipping and yanking down his jeans, "is that I'd cut you off," she finishes, grabbing his dick.

Uh-huh. "And not in the mafia way," Mulder says breathlessly, since his wife's literally got him by the balls.

"We could arrange for that," Scully chuckles. How long has it been since I've heard that? he wonders. "For now, however, I think we'd better make up for lost time. I've been wanting a good fuck since I kicked that game's ass."

He smiles back. "I love you, Dana," he says, tracing his wife's face.

She shakes her head. "Shut up and give it to me hard and fast," she says, pulling him to the bed.

He doesn't care if his hands hurt, he happily pulls off his t-shirt while she finishes tearing off her clothes. He tilts his head, taking in the sight of his wife's buck nekkid body and getting harder than he's been for quite some time. "Hard and fast, coming up." He grins, pinning her down and making her squeal. And making her gasp, moan, cry out and explode, but that came later. As did he.


Chapter Eighty-Five


April 2000
Darryl Zanuck Theater
20th Century Fox
Hollywood, California

::I'm so glad we got free tickets, free flight, and free time,:: Mulder thinks, ::and that things are finally looking up between me and Scully.::

Last time they were here, he muses as he and his wife steer their family through the madding crowd, they were somewhat flattered to be among the company of celebrities and stunned to be in each other's company dressed to kill, metaphorically speaking. This time, however, they have to contend with strangers (paparazzi, celebrity, or otherwise) gawking at or making a nuisance to their children. Jeez, haven't they seen kids before? Mulder grumbles inwardly. You'd think they were aliens or pets or something, the FBI man sighs, shifting Christopher on his hip, who the hell's in charge of setting this thing up, anyways?

The last straw for Scully is when Federman grabbed the twins' stroller and spun them around. "My children are NOT PROPS!" she declares in a voice to freeze hell over ten times. For once, the hyper writer-slash-whatever looks abashed, and some cameramen snap pictures of Scully haughtily turning away, children in tow. Meanwhile Page happily waves at all and sundry, Sammy runs ahead too many times, and April clings to her mother's long black dress, half-blinded by the flashbulbs and phoniness.

"Hey, can we sit in the back for a quick getaway?" Mulder says in a low voice to his wife as they walk into the gaudily-decorated lobby. It's as if someone took all the bad parts of Easter and threw it up in the room, and monster-sized cutouts of Garry Shandling, Tea Leoni, and Frankie Muniz are surrounded by what seems like a small herd of children, the backdrop being menacing zombies and some kind of maniacal bishop waving a staff. The actors themselves are greeting the paparazzi with practiced smiles, ignoring the originals of the story as they pass by. He's surprised the Catholic church isn't protesting outside, but then again, they probably don't want to add publicity to a P.O.S. movie.

"For you or the kids?" Scully retorts, an eyebrow arched.

"For the kids, of course," he replies piously, "those celebrities are weird and scary."

She gives him a tired smile. "Any other time, I'd argue, but after Federman did what he did, I say we should grab the seats by the door." She doesn't even protest when the ushers hand them all heavily buttered popcorn in large plastic bowls made to look like the Lazarus Bowl. Instead, she focuses her attention on seating everyone, from the smallest to the largest in their group, and trying to take the twins out of the stroller, folding the stroller, and carrying it over the space between children and chairs without hitting anyone. Truly, she is a force to be reckoned with.

Still, it takes them a little while to calm the kids down, only because the adults around them seem so hyper themselves. ::Please, please, don't let it be too stupid,:: Mulder prays as the lights go down. After seeing the lobby, he doesn't have high hopes, but at least, it should be entertaining. Maybe.

Then some kind of boppy synthetic pop that shows up in every "kid-friendly" movie plays as the scene opens with a nice suburban house in a nice suburban neighborhood. It quickly shifts to the interior, where the audience finds Garry Shandling struggling to feed, diaper and calm down several small children. The audience laughs, recognizing the archetypal Bumbling Dad. Then Frankie Muniz stomps down the stairs in a bleached white suit, vainly pulling at a tie tied tightly around a starched collar. "Mo-om," he whines, "I don't wanna wear this! Can't I wear something more comfy, like a noose?"

The audience laughs again, and Tea Leoni comes down the stairs, dressed in her Sunday best, her huge cross hitting her chest with each step. "Billy, I've told you a thousand times, God is--"

"Watching us, yeah, yeah," Frankie grumbles, giving up on the tie, but ruining his collar in the process. "But can't I look good without looking like I'm at my own funeral?" Then he looks at his movie father, who's dressed in black from head to toe. "Never mind."

Shandling glares at his movie son, having triumphantly wrapped a diaper around one of the clearly inanimate babies. "Son, it's Easter Sunday, and we are going to meet what may be the first American pope looking our best if it kills us!"

"It just might," Frankie mutters, and the audience titters.

Mulder groans, and Scully shoots him a warning look. He holds up his hands and schools his face, all innocence. She's obviously not buying it, but at least the ushers haven't kicked him out yet. Darn.


Once Shandling and Leoni start calling each other "Mulder" and "Scully," the older kids realize the movie's supposed to be about their family. "That's not my daddy!" Sammy shouts, pointing with a pudgy finger.

"We know," Scully says in a calming tone, pulling him back into his seat. "They're just pretending to be us."

Moments later, child number one decides to join in the Asking Parents Embarrassing Questions game. "Do we have a brother named Billy?" Page asks, looking at her father.

::No, not in this lifetime,:: Mulder thinks sadly, but smiles a little, thankful Scully happened to take a bathroom break. "It's make-believe," he reassures her, "just like when you guys play princesses and pirates."

"Ohhhhh." The little blonde girl nods. "I thought we'd have a new older brother like Emily is our new cousin."

Uh, yeah, he starts to slump in his seat. Then the "new older brother" proceeds to fall into a catacomb, landing on a skeleton. The kids and more impressionable audience members shriek, then laugh as the bones start to dance, much to "Billy's" amazement. I still think Wayne Federman's on crack, Mulder thinks mutinously, if he can't even tell the difference between what's possible in real life and movies. Then again, the stuff he and his family have seen, well, that would stretch even current CGI standards. Okay, maybe his whole family's smoking crack, and he sniggers at an inappropriate moment, earning shushes all around.

Then zombies jump out, and Mulder's wondering what the hell's going on. Isn't there even a semblance of plot, cause and effect, he thinks, while Shandling and Leoni charge through the catacombs, shouting for Billy, and shooting wildly. It reminds him of those Scooby Doo interludes, where the monsters chase all the characters all over the place, to the tune of some random pop group, which this movie almost faithfully reproduces in live-action. "That's not how you kill zombies!" Page declares. "And you killed them on New Year's, not Easter!"

And that's when the penguin mafia, that is, the ushers, came to hustle Mulder and company out of the theater. "Wait, my wife--" he says, but it's all in vain. Oh well, at least we've got cell phones, he thinks, as he and the kids are banished from the theater. Then he grins at the "Mulderlings". "Hey, you wanna see something cool?" he asks.

"You're not gonna pull your thumb off, are you?" Page asks.

Ordinarily, he'd feign being hurt, but he's so happy to be out of there that he laughs. "No, much better." He shifts Christopher a little in the baby sling to make them both a bit more comfortable, then hefts the baby bag onto the stroller handles so he'd have his hands free for April and Sammy. "Wanna help Daddy push the stroller?"

"Okay!" the little blonde girl agrees, proud to be trusted with the responsibility. And they make their way to the movie set, where really fake graveyards with really fake dead people are.


Scully finds Mulder sitting on a hill in the graveyard movie set, Christopher scootching around his legs, watching as Sammy pretends to be a zombie, gleefully chasing David, Jared, and April. April does really good girly screams, and then Page comes charging from around a gravestone, holding her hands together and using her pointer fingers in the traditionally-accepted version of a gun. Shaking her head, Scully goes over to sit beside her husband. "I can't believe I'm saying this, but I'm actually glad the kids are playing in a graveyard rather than watching that ridiculous movie." She smiles.

He smiles back. "Welcome to the dark side, Scully."

She playfully swats his arm, then leans against him. "I got a page from the Washington Bureau," she says quietly. "Micah Hoffman was murdered tonight. Murdered in his own home by Cardinal O'Fallon who then hanged himself. A murder-suicide."

Mulder sighs. He'd tried to convince Hoffman of the danger before they'd left for California, tried to talk sense into the Cardinal. Perhaps some things were meant to happen, a result of fate and choice all at once. And, not for the first time, he wonders about people (or whatever) like Elsbeth, who seemed to have immense power, but still unable to change things unless prompted by certain actions by certain people. "It's Jesus and Judas all over again, Scully."

Scully closes her eyes. "Well... It's all over now."

"No," he shakes his head stubbornly, "it's just beginning. Hoffman and O'Fallon were these complicated, flawed, beautiful people, and now they'll just be remembered as jokes because of this movie." Then he frowns. "Scully?"

"Yeah," she answers, her eyes still closed.

"What about that body you autopsied?" When she looks up at him, he continues, "Did you ever find out who he was?"

Now she looks at her hands in her lap. "We couldn't find a match. We went through missing persons, the FBI database, everything... Nothing came up. It's as if he didn't exist before he died." Then she shakes her head, more vehemently than he. "That's crazy, of course he did, he must've fallen through the cracks..."

"Probably," Mulder notes. "But he bore enough of a superficial physical match to Hoffman that was uncanny, right?"

"Something like that," Scully admits, uncomfortably. "His approximate age judging from bone growth was similar to Hoffman's, his build and height around the same, his reconstructed facial features remarkably--" Now she looks at him suspiciously. "What are you thinking?"

He shrugs. "Just curious. The last loose end, I guess." Then he looks at their kids. "So, aside from making us look like bumbling idiots whose kids needed to save the day, what was the movie like?"

"Exactly like that," she sighs. "Even Page would've been mortified at how stupid it was."

Mulder grins. "Well, her shining honesty's what got us kicked out." Both Scully's eyebrows go up. "I told them she got it from your side of the family -- ow!" he rubs his arm. "At least our kids know the difference between reality and movies. The rest of the world's going to have to rely on Hollywood to show the future how we lived and it'll all become... oversimplified and trivialized and O'Fallon the O'Fallenized and become as plastic and meaningless as that stupid plastic Lazarus Bowl on Sammy's head," he gestures to their rambunctious redheaded son, now acting like the cardinal.

She smiles, first at Sammy, then at Mulder. "I think the dead are beyond caring what people think about them. Hopefully we can adopt the same attitude. Her smile becomes a little goofy when she giggles, "I can't believe they called him O'Fallon the O'Fallen. What were they thinking?"

"Apparently, not very much," Mulder intones stentoriously, and Scully falls into a giggling fit, feebly whacking her husband's side whenever she can. "I'm simply agreeing with you," he adds in a more normal tone of voice, albeit slightly injured and innocent.

She snorts. "Anyways. Skinner was so tickled by the movie and our thousand and one kids..."

He winces, "Yeah, I'll bet..."

"That he has given us a Bureau credit card to use for the evening." She holds up the card and giggles like a loopy lady. He grins back in a similar fashion. "Come on, let's hit the toy and baby stores before Kersh knows what's hit him."

She stands, then takes his arm and helps him up, then dons the baby sling before putting Christopher inside. Together, they gather up the rest of their children, running down the steep slope of the hill to a path, heading into a Hollywood version of sunset painted on a scrim.

"Daddy?" April asks as they turn the corner by a gnarled tree, while Scully and the rest go on ahead.

"Yeah?"

She smiles. "I'm really happy now."

"That's good." Mulder nods, finishing off the last of his popcorn and putting the bowl upside down on her head.

"Daddy!" She laughs, batting it off, then brushing her hair. "I'm glad you're happy, too."

Now he smiles, and brushes the last of the popcorn bits off her hair. ::My princess::, he thinks, ::intuitive as always.:: "Me, too," he says, then takes her hand in his. "Come on, we better catch up before they start fighting over the front seat."

She giggles, and squeezes his hand before he picks her up and runs toward the rest of their family, before they do something unforgivable like actually painting the town red.


A Few Days Later

Mulder shuffles his feet, then pats Jared on the head. "Be a good boy for Auntie Missy."

"I'm sure that he'll be just fine," Missy says in a reassuring tone.

"Yeah..." Mulder agrees half-heartedly while looking down at David, who is still in the playpen.

"Jared will have a good time playing with Emily." Missy shifts him, securing him on her hip. "This almost makes me want to have a little boy of my own."

"With Kry...with Alex?" Mulder squeaks in alarm.

"Of course, Fox. But I think my mother would prefer that at least on of her daughters be married before she gets pregnant."

He winces. It's one of the only things Missy has, decorum-wise, to hold over her sister's head, and sometimes she can't seem to resist the temptation. "Well, Missy, you're already sleeping with the enemy, so how much difference could it make?"

She rolls her eyes at him. "And I thought for sure you'd faint at the very idea of me marrying him."

"It doesn't warm the cockerels of my heart, but I've accepted that you have incomprehensible feelings for Alex. If he makes you happy, I guess that's the important thing," Mulder says grudgingly.

"How diplomatic of you to say," Missy says drolly. "We'll be back in a couple of hours."

Then, before he even is quite aware of it, Missy is heading for the door with Jared on one arm, and a baby bag on the other.

"Bye Jared," Mulder says faintly. In the playpen David climbs to his feet and looks around, alarmed.

Mulder turns to Scully, who has been hanging back by the door. "Did we have to do this?" he asks plaintively as David begins to whine.

"You know I didn't want to do this any more than you do, but you heard what doctor Peters said-"

"I know. 'It's not healthy for twins to never have a chance to experience time apart,'" Mulder recites in a heavy voice.

"She may be right. They're almost two, and this is the first day they've ever been apart."

"They like being together," Mulder says petulantly.

"I know!" Scully bursts out. "But maybe they'll like being apart too. So far they've never had the chance to find out."

"Yeah."

"And when they go to preschool-"

"Not for over a year!"

"-they're not going to be allowed to play just together." She looks up at him, anticipating his next objection. "Or just with their siblings and cousin."

"Maybe we should stay home, in case Missy has trouble with Jared and needs to bring him home-" he begins again, but she cuts him off.

"Go, Mulder. If she brings him back, he'll be fine with me." To give him the idea, she slings a diaper bag over his shoulder. "If you don't hurry, you're going to be late."

"Yeah, all right," he says, sighing deeply, and reaching for David.


When Mulder gets to the library, the young librarian gives him a warm smile. "You look nervous, Dad," she says, as people file in for story time. "Don't worry, we don't bite."

"Oh, I know...It's just, this is his first time being without his twin brother," Mulder explains, sounding a bit self-pitying.

"That is a big deal," the librarian remarks. "Hopefully he'll like the story so much he won't notice."

"Maybe..." Mulder says doubtfully. He and David pull up a piece of floor and wait for story time to start. David seems delighted to see other little kids, and he makes faces at the nearest toddlers.

Eventually David bores of this and looks up at Mulder expectantly. "Dada, Jar?"

"He's with aunt Missy," Mulder tells him, bracing himself for a tantrum.

"Oh," David says and then turns his head when the librarian stands up.

"I'd like to welcome all the moms, dads and little ones to the ages one to three lap sit story time. Today we'll be reading..."

Mulder doesn't pay much attention to the reading of the storybook, but to his utter shock, David does. Just as the librarian predicted, he likes the story so much that he seems to have forgotten to have a fit over his brother not being there.

On the way out, the librarian stops Mulder. "So it looks like this went pretty well."

"It did. It surprised me," Mulder replies. "Here's to hoping that his brother did as well today."

"Good luck! Don't forget that the boys are both welcome to story time whenever you'd like to bring them."

"Thanks."


Missy's car pulls in right behind him when he and David get home.

She's all smiles, and happily hands over his other son. "He was as good as gold."

"David did pretty well too. Thanks, Missy."

"No problem, Fox. I've got to run."

"You weren't really serious about wanting a baby with Alex, were you?" He calls as she walks back to her car. She just smiles at him. "Oh, dear," he says as he puts the boys on their feet and opens the door.

"How'd it go?" Scully asks as soon as he's in the house.

"Good. Missy said Jared did fine too."

"That's great."

"Yeah...It makes me a little sad, though," Mulder tells her as they watch the boys run off.

"Why?"

He shrugs. "It's hard to see them get more independent."

"All babies grow up someday," Scully reminds him.

"Yeah, then you want another one," Mulder teases, ducking out of his wife's reach.


Chapter Eighty-Six



Squamash Township Pennsylvania
May 7, 2000

It's a dark and stormy night, but it's obvious the man doesn't care about the cliché right now, running down the rural road, sprinting desperately as the rain soaks his skin and clothes. When he comes to the house, there's a circular symbol with a cross in the middle of it on the front door, and he stumbles through the door. His body is a mass of wounds, blood still clotting over open scars, his matted hair still dripping water across his eyes as he comes across a man in his thirties, who is startled but recognizes him. The man of the house yells at the intruder, "You're too late!"

The intruder pushes the man aside, going through the house. There's nobody but the two men, one an outsider and one the owner. One of the room's floor is covered in blood, and the intruder drops to his knees in anguish. The owner's anger overrides his fear as he grabs the intruder's arm. "You're done here," he says, his pale eyes glinting with desperate determination.

Without hesitation, the intruder pulls out a Walther PPK from an ankle strap, pointing it at the man. "Where are they, Paul?"

Paul stammers, trying to find a weakness in the heavily wounded man before him, but finding none, says resignedly, "What do you want?"

Mulder looks dispassionately at the man. "This ends tonight," he says, his gun never leaving Paul Hangemuhl's face.


MAY 6, 2000

Mulder's Migraine from Hell is easily covering up not only his previous knowledge of this couple and this town, but also his loathing of each and every one of them. He's still debating the best course of action as he talks to Paul and Marie Hangemuhl, but concentrating is difficult when every other thought is a swear word in time with the pain.

He presses his fingers against the bridge of his nose, as if that would help, then looks up to resume his interview. "You told your sister you were going to disappear, Mrs. Hangemuhl," he states, concentrating on keeping his tone level, if not empathetic. Yeah, right. "Tonight."

Of course, having the good sheriff, Kurt Frey, in all his swaggering glory, standing next to the couch, isn't helping anyone, much less Mulder. Perhaps that's the point.

Paul snaps impatiently, "I told you already. We had a fight, she was going to leave, not disappear." He's already got that "you pathetic moron" look on his face that Mulder's so familiar with. Even if he wasn't a profiler, Mulder could tell this guy was nervous and hiding something, using anger as a shield.

Mulder actually finds himself in a better mood now as he replies, "I'm talking to your wife." This is comfortable territory for him, pissing off everyone in sight and not giving a damn, and again he can see why, the first time around, Scully chose to throw herself into her work rather than let the pain and fear consume her. He asks again, his urgent yet sympathetic tone surprising everyone, including himself, "Mrs. Hangemuhl."

The frail redhead answers softly, "It's what he said. My sister lives out of state." She tries for a smile, but it doesn't work. "I was going to go." She fidgets. "I didn't want her to worry."

Mulder leans forward, his voice also soft. "You told your sister a story, a story you were afraid of?"

Paul explodes, "This is crazy. There is no crime here!"

The FBI agent ignores the outburst, still focused on Marie. "I don't think you were going anywhere tonight, Mrs. Hangemuhl," he says, his voice certain. "I think someone or something was coming here. And I think maybe it still is." She doesn't look at Mulder, but then again, she doesn't have to.

"We had a fight," Paul snarls, apparently ignorant of Hamlet's observation that "the lady doth protest too much". "We patched things up and that was the end of it."

Mulder nods, seemingly dismissive as he flips through a notebook he doesn't need. "I take it that's your wife's dialysis machine?" he says, almost absently.

The husband's anger takes on a self-righteous tone as he replies, "My wife suffers from end-stage renal failure, Agent Mulder. She's very sick and she doesn't need this stress."

Mulder nods again. "So was it stress that made her tell her sister about the sin eater?" Everyone looks shocked. Well, at least he's not wasting time here. "I take it you know what I'm talking about. Local Indian folk legend about a creature that lives in the woods, curing sick people by eating them alive and regurgitating a completely healthy version of themselves. But of course, that would have nothing to do with you, now, would it?"

Nobody moves or says anything as he leaves, but Mulder can feel the bull's-eye on his back as he steps out the door. Well, on to my next stop, he thinks, hoping nobody will find out about this visit this time around, not his family, not Doggett, nobody. That way, if he fails to save a life, it will be just him that carries the sin to the grave.


Mulder knocks on the door, coming in broad daylight rather than the dark of night as he did last time. Then again, he's on a different mission this time around, since he's not here for either Marie Hangemuhl's sake nor his own. "Ma'am." He flips open his badge when the weary-looking blonde woman opens the door. "My name is Fox Mulder, I'm with the FBI."

She looks startled but nods. To her credit, she doesn't budge an inch from the door, keeping her body squarely in the frame. "Yes?"

"I believe we share a mutual friend," he says, and while she looks confused, he presses on, "may I come in?"

She steps back, and he closes the door behind him. "Please, let me help him," he says.

The woman looks scared, and he doesn't blame him. "Who are you? Did the sheriff send you?"

"No, I'm..." Mulder starts to put his hands up, but the migraine finally brings him to his knees, and he crumples to the floor, the pain bringing tears to his eyes. "I'm sorry."

"It's all right," the woman says softly, kneeling beside him to pat his back. "It's no shame to ask for help."

He's holding his head, as if his brains would explode any minute, but he musters up a small, wry grin. "You're right," he says in a rough voice, "so why haven't you asked for help?"

"What?" She draws back.

He takes a couple of deep breaths before forcing himself to sit up. Looking her straight in the eye, he asks, "Your friend is in even more pain than I am. You've been caring for him all this time, haven't you?" When she nods slowly, he adds, "What's stopped you from ending his pain?"

She hiccups, then puts her hand over her mouth as she stares at the man who has the same look in his eyes as she does. "I know, I know he wants to stop suffering," she says miserably, "I know that, but I can't do it."

"Then let me help."


Like a scene out of a b-movie, some idiot is digging in a cemetery at night. ::Too bad that idiot is me,:: Mulder groans inwardly. It grosses him out, it really does, but from that lone conversation with Doggett, grudgingly pulled out after at least two 6-packs of beer, this is the only way to finally give the poor guy a break. Or so Mulder tells himself as he continues to shovel away, wishing that these people believed in shallow graves, while he excavates a corpse all by his lonesome. Fortunately, nobody seems to have driven past to report him to the sheriff, but it's only a matter of time in this small town.

With that thought in mind, he digs faster, wincing slightly as the migraine starts drumming in his skull. "Not now," he grunts, pitching the shovel in harder than he should and nearly wrenching his back in the process. "Shit."

He'd told the blonde woman to keep the sin eater hidden, hold everyone off with a rifle if she had to, but to keep him safe until he gets back. He'd vaguely outlined the idea, but she got enough of the gist to agree, even if she did look a little ill herself. Not that he blamed her, he thinks, wondering when in hell he's going to hit the payload. Or a body. He'd probably reach China before that happens, and already, the hole is only up to his waist. It may be May, but the soil's as hard as concrete, and he wishes he'd had the foresight to rent one of those backhoes or some bigass moving excavation vehicle. Oh well. He had enough foresight to pack a change of clothes, but he's not sure how he's gonna explain why they're a mess when he gets home. ::Oh yeah, that's what laundromats are for,:: he remembers, and just then, a blue and white car pulls up. ::Ah, shit.::

"Evening," Sheriff Frey says, walking over with some mild curiosity and more than enough amusement. "Find anything interesting down there?"

"I was hoping to save money on a trip to China," Mulder grunts, resuming his work. "Any tips?"

"As a federal agent, you should know it's a crime to be digging up somebody's grave, especially without a warrant," the sheriff says dryly, "things like desecration and vandalism come to mind."

"Oh yeah." Mulder nods, still digging. "I forgot about that."

He stops when he hears the click of a gun being unsafetied and pointed at his head. "Give it up, Agent Mulder," the sheriff says, "you've been acting suspiciously ever since you stepped foot in this town."

"Really?" Now Mulder looks up at the heavyset man, not letting go of the shovel just yet. "I was unaware that conducting a federal investigation was considered 'suspicious activity'."

"Why don't you let go of the shovel and we'll have a little talk at the station?" Sheriff Frey suggests, emphasizing his suggestion with the barrel of his gun. "Come out of there nice and slow, and keep your hands spread apart."

Mulder lets go of the shovel, then spreads his arms out like he's Jesus, and walks out of the grave. His irreverent side wants to tell the sheriff frisking him, "Noli me tangere," but it's likely the older man won't get the joke and if he did, he'd shoot him. Keeping his mouth shut for once, he allows the local lawman to cuff his hands behind his back and is led towards the cop car. I'll be back, he thinks mutinously, as the sheriff drives off with him in the backseat.


Squamash Sheriff's Station

The wooden portable looks less homey and more ominous at night, especially considering what's happening in the sheriff's station right now. ::This is gonna suck,:: Mulder thinks, as the sheriff backhands him for the umpteenth time since he's been "interrogated" with his hands cuffed behind his back. He has no illusions about the kind of people that would keep a man hostage because of his healing abilities, but this is ridiculous. "You didn't say pretty please," he mumbles through his bleeding lips, still sitting upright only because his arms are wrapped around the chair's back.

That gets him another blow, this time a regular right hook to the jaw. ::Yeah, this sucks all right.:: "My men are searching all over town because you happened to tell a nice little lady not to cooperate," he says, unadulterated meanness all over his face. "If you don't give us some answers, we may have to be a little rough with her, too."

"She doesn't know anything," Mulder says, blinking against the pain of both the right hook and the damn migraine. "I hid him."

"Where?" Left hook to the stomach. "Where?!" Right cross to the temple.

Mulder coughs. "You'll never find him if you kill me," he wheezes, feeling blood trickle down his forehead.

"I don't have to." The sheriff leans into the other man's face. "I'm sure we can come to a mutual agreement."

He doesn't know where, but he dredges up a smirk from the depths of his pain. Yup, his penchant for perverse reaction is rearing its ugly head again. Goody. "Why, Sheriff, I didn't know you felt that way about me," he says and winks at his torturer with his one good eye.

The next blow sends him flying out of the chair and into the wall. Yeah, that's gonna leave a mark. If the good sheriff doesn't kill him, his wife probably will when he comes home like this. "Looks like I'll have to bring her in." He sneers over the broken body of the federal agent.

"No, don't do that," Mulder says quickly, opening his eyes against the inner and outer pain. "I'll talk."

"Good." And the sheriff waits for an answer. "He's in my car trunk," Mulder says reluctantly. "The key's in my jacket." "Fine." The sheriff grins unpleasantly, walking out. "Just in case, we've got the dogs out looking for him around her place. Because he always comes back to her." "No, don't--" Mulder's entreaties are silenced by the door. He closes his eyes, unable to keep them open. The last thought going through his mind is, ::Damn, Scully's definitely gonna kill me.:: And he passes out.


When Mulder wakes up, he finds he's the only one in the station. The implications don't strike him at first, mainly because not only has his migraine returned, but the rest of his body has become an orchestra for a symphony of pain. Goody. Then he realizes that the reason the blonde woman isn't there is because they found the sin eater, and that they've probably got him holed up at the Hangemuhls' right about now.

He winces, and finds that the reason his shoulders hurt like hell is because his hands are still cuffed behind his back. ::No problem,:: he thinks, shaking out a lockpick from his right shoe, and, because of the pain, gets out of the handcuffs a little slower than usual. He staggers to his feet, and is relieved to find that the room isn't spinning. Okay.

He looks around the four-walled prison, and figures his best way is through the door. Then he tries the door, and finds to his surprise it's unlocked, probably because the sheriff thought he was harmless all handcuffed and beaten up. Mulder grins unpleasantly as he races out into the night, ready to bring down the whole damn town if that's what it took to stop the madness.


MAY 7, 2000

Nobody talks on the drive over, partly because Paul Hangemuhl's concentration is on the rain-spattered windshield and the muddy road, and partly because Mulder, still in a helluva lot of pain and holding the gun, wasn't really in a chatty mood. When they come to a stop, Paul looks at Mulder nervously. "Keep the headlights on and get out," Mulder says, jerking his head towards the muddy ground.

Paul nods, slowly getting out of the car. "Now what?" he asks, thinking the federal agent has snapped, bringing them to a graveyard.

"Over there," Mulder says, and they walk over to a water-filled pit. "Dig."

"What?" Paul stares at the man in horror. "You understand English, don't you?" Mulder says, cocking his pistol. "Dig."

Reluctantly, the man picks up the shovel and starts to dig, making a mess as he does so. The water goes from his waist to his chest as time goes on, but Mulder's gun never wavers from its target. "Are you gonna kill me?" he asks at one point.

"I've thought about it," Mulder says honestly, "don't stop."

Then another pair of headlights cuts through the night. "What on earth are you doing out here?" Sheriff Frey asks.

"I might ask you the same thing," Mulder replies, still holding Paul at gunpoint.

"Paul, get back to your wife," the sheriff says, "I'll deal with him."

"Don't stop," Mulder says.

The man in the grave looks from the closer man with the smaller gun to the farther man with the rifle. "Help me!" he yells as he tries to launch himself from the watery pit.

Both men fire, but only one hits their target.


Paul screams as Mulder's body joins him in the grave, then scrambles to get out. Mulder draws in a shuddering breath, but only breathes in muddy water as he floats face down. ::This isn't how I'm supposed to die,:: he thinks, stunned, ::I'm supposed to be in bed, with my wife and kids around me, maybe even a cat or two. I'm not supposed to die like this.::

But his weakened body, deteriorating mind, and exploded heart won't let him fight his way out of this watery grave. He tries to call out a name, but only ends up inhaling more water and he suffocates, the bubbles ceasing to rise against the rain.

Without another word, Paul and the sheriff haul heavy stones over and sink Mulder's body, then cover it up with the recently removed mud before leaving. Neither man looks at the other as they leave in separate vehicles, both intending never to speak of it again.


Mulder blinks slowly, noticing there's some sticky thing on his eyes. No, wait, he's sticky and covered in slime all over... because he's completely naked. ::This isn't exactly my idea of heaven,:: he thinks, ::unless God is kinkier than I thought.:: He groans as he sits up, wiping the goop from his eyes and face, and looks around for his clothes. It takes him a moment to realize he's in the blonde woman's dirt basement, and slowly walks over to her as she leans over the sin eater's body. He kneels beside her, his face contorted in a grimace of sorrow as he sees how amazingly peaceful the dead man looks.

"You were right," the blonde woman says, the tears still standing in her eyes, "it took a dead man to free it."

"That, that's not how it was supposed to happen," Mulder says softly.

Still looking at the dead man, she replies, "He wanted to die, Agent Mulder. You helped him, just like you said."


Washington D.C.

"Mulder, where have you been?" Scully asks when he walks into the kitchen in the wee hours of the morning. "Your cell phone was turned off..." She frowns a little as he walks slowly towards her. "Mulder?"

The lonesome, rain-drenched burial of a man whose name he never learned suddenly hits him, and without a word, he wraps his arms around her, holding her to himself, trying to will the tears that refuse to fall. "I did something stupid," he says, his voice muffled in her hair, "and a good man died for me."

She's holding him right back, but the frown is still on her face. "Mulder, what happened?"

"A lot," he says, unable to look her in the face right now.

Now Scully's frightened, not only because of the lack of communication for over 24 hours, but because she knows there's something different about him. She can't put her finger on it yet, but she hopes like hell he's got a good explanation.

About half an hour later, she knows everything, more than Doggett did when he first visited Squamash, in fact, and she slugs him. "You idiot!" she yells. "At the very least, you should've brought me as backup so I could pull you out of your stupidity!" She hits him again, but tears are spilling down her cheeks. "You stupid, stupid idiot!" she says, punctuating each insult with a right or a left shot.

"I'm sorry," Mulder hangs his head. Well, at least I haven't been cured of masochism, he thinks, bracing himself for another hit.

But it doesn't come. Scully hugs him fiercely, her fingers twining themselves in his hair. "You nearly died without me knowing," she says, "I thought I told you never to do that."

"I'm sorry," he repeats, hugging her back, then winces as she knocks his skull. "What was that for?"

"For scaring me half to death," she says, "we need to schedule an MRI and full physical."

He chuckles, surprising himself. "I love you, Scully."

"I know." Then she yawns. "It's a good thing Mom took the kids to church, I'm bushed."

"Why?"

She glares at him. "Waiting for your stupid ass to come home or call me, that's why," she says, and he ducks out of her reach. Then she sighs. "Come on," she says, dragging him out of the kitchen and up the stairs. "Let's get some rest before everyone gets back."

"Yes, dear," he says, following faithfully behind her up the stairs. "Speaking of back, did I ever tell you how nice your ass looks in that robe?"

She stops and looks down at him, and for a moment, he's afraid she's gonna throw him down the stairway. "Suddenly, I feel like test-driving that new bod of yours." She grins. He picks her up, making her, and carries her to their bedroom, where they do, indeed, put it to a test drive.


Chapter Eighty-Seven



June 1st, 2000
5 p.m.

Something pops in Scully's back as she stands up, and she tries not to groan. Until the pop she didn't realize how sore her back had gotten after sitting all day and working on case write ups. Instead she glances at the clock, and then at her husband, who is currently hunched over his keyboard.

"Hey, it's getting late," she tells him. "Are you coming home now?"

He looks up at her with a lazy smile. "Give me another hour and I can probably finish this one off, and get Skinner off our backs."

"Okay, sure," she agrees, absently rubbing her back. "What case is it any way?"

"The crop circles one from April."

"Wait, you investigated that alone, why would Skinner be on my back about it?"

Mulder shrugs. "Guilt by association?" He kisses her quickly on the cheek. "Drive carefully."

"Always," she tells him, and walks out on her own.


Mulder-Scully home

The first thing that Scully notices when she gets home is that is Christopher whining fretfully and rubbing at his gums, a sure sign that there's a new tooth in his immediate future.

"Aww, sore, huh?" she asks her youngest son, and pats him on the head. "Let me see if I can do something about that."

Two minutes later Scully closes the cabinet door with a frustrated bang. She was sure that they'd just bought a box of teething biscuits for Christopher, but there were none to be found. No waffles either, and the teething rings are both out at room temperature. Sighing, she grabbed her keys and went looking for Michelle.

The nanny is on the living room floor, reading a book with David. She looks up when she notices Scully. "Sorry, Michelle. Would you mind if I ran to the store real quick? Christopher is going to be miserable if I don't get him something to chew on."

"No problem," Michelle tells her, and then goes back to reading with the little boy. Before long his twin joins them on the rug.

"Thanks. Mulder should be home any time now." Then she's out the door.


"See, the storm has broken
in the middle of the night
nothing left here for me,
it's washed away
the rain pushes
the buildings aside... "

Fortunately, there are few people in the store, so Scully is in and out just as she hoped. Even if she does see six other things she ought to grab just in case they're running low on them too, and her memory is unreliable. Most of the time it isn't, but she's not taking chances since nothing gladdens her heart like two impromptu visits to the grocery store in the same week.

A heavy fog has descended over the area, and Scully feels like she can nearly touch it as she walks out to her car. She tosses the grocery bag onto the backseat before sliding behind the wheel. It only takes her a second to flick on the fog lights.

At the red light a couple of miles later, she finds herself smiling a little as she thinks about what her husband's case file write-up for the crop circle case he investigated might contain. At least Skinner was the one to badger him into staying late to write it up, rather than forcing her to give him the message. The case sounded like fun, but she wasn't speaking to him just then, so he'd gone alone and came back gloating about his adventures. It isn't hard for her to imagine him running around a corn field, given that they'd once done that too. Apparently he hadn't been running from any helicopters this time, though.

Eventually the light turns green, so she takes her foot off the brake, and begins to press on the gas.

The fog is so thick that she doesn't even see the car that runs the red light across from her and plows into the driver's side of her car.


Hoover Building
Twenty Minutes Later

Mulder hefts a pencil in one hand and gives the ceiling a speculative look. There are some holes in his pencil pattern, and it might be a good time to supplement the aerial writing material supply.

He begins his throw, but before he releases the pencil, his phone rings. He puts it down on his desk like a frightened school boy, but then chides himself that even if it was Skinner calling, he couldn't possibly know what Mulder was about to do. Unless someone had installed a camera in the pencil somewhere. Perhaps he ought to have the guys check - "Agent Mulder."

"Mister Mulder?" an unfamiliar and uncertain voice asks. "This is a nurse at Washington National Hospital-" Mulder straightens in his chair. "I'm sorry to inform you that your wife has just been brought in."

"What happened? Is she okay?" Panic laces his voice.

"A car accident. You should be here-" The voice probably continues, but he's already thrown the handset on the desk and is half-way out the door.


Washington National Hospital

Pieces of memory float randomly through Scully's brain, but she has trouble concentrating on them, so she doesn't. There were flashing lights, someone pulling her out of the car, a gurney being shoved into the back of an ambulance, and then everything faded away.

The next thing Scully is really aware of is the world tilting sickeningly as she's transferred off the gurney and onto an exam table. The light is harsh, and there are a lot of people scurrying around her, and she just wants them to go away, so she closes her eyes and they do.

In the new darkness a surprised voice that's far away sounding says, "Dana Scully? Are you sure that's what her ID said?"

In a vague sort of way, she wonders why that's surprising.

A voice intrudes again, a second speaker, much closer. "Dana, can you hear me?"

She tries to say yes, but whimpers instead. A pain she has only been vaguely aware of until now intensifies, and she feels like she's going to pass out.

"Dana."

Against her will, she opens her eyes, and looks up into a masked face.

"We need to know how far along you are, Dana." When he speaks she can tell that it wasn't the one who sounded surprised a minute ago.

It takes a few seconds for her brain to catch up to this. How far along what? They slid her onto the table so oughtn't they be the ones to know? Then she realizes that the doctor is asking her about her pregnancy, not her physical location.

"Tw...Twenty weeks," she gasps.

The look the doctor gives her is so sorrowful that she wants to scream, because she understands why they're asking that now. Her back arches when pain flairs again. If only it was just the sore back she'd had earlier.

"We've sent someone to call your husband," the doctor tells her.

In her pain and misery, she barely hears him.


An Hour Later

Mulder is by her side when their daughter is delivered, despite everyone's best attempts to halt Scully's labor. Even though the doctor told him immediately that the baby had no chance, he still held out hope for a miracle, and prayed hard that somehow, this reluctantly wanted child would survive.

All prayers are heard, but sometimes the answer is no. The baby doesn't take even a single breath.

Scully is sedated, which he thinks is just as well. He wishes that he were too.

"Do you want to see her?" a nurse asks in a gentle voice. When she waves away from Scully, he realizes which "she" the nurse means.

Every fiber of his being screams no, but his head nods mechanically. He owes his child to witness her. The nurse leads him over to a glass sided table, and he looks down. The stillborn infant is recognizably human, but only about a foot long from head to toes. When Mulder reaches on trembling hand out to touch her, he feels that she's still warm.

At this point he promptly bursts into tears.

"I'm so sorry, Mister Mulder," the nurse tells him, her voice full of practiced sympathy.

Mulder shakes his head sharply, and she takes the hint and walks away. ::Not as sorry as I am. I'm so sorry little one. I'm sorry I didn't want you sooner. I'm sorry you'll never know your family's love. I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry...::

He uncovers his face when a hand taps him on the shoulder. Looking up he sees the young doctor who saw Scully through the pitifully quick delivery. "Mister Mulder? We need to bring Dana to have an ultrasound-" That confuses him, since she's no longer pregnant. "-to make sure that she doesn't have any internal injuries that weren't readily apparent when she was first brought in."

"Okay," Mulder sniffles.

Instead of going with Scully he stays with the baby and wishes that what had happened was just a cruel joke that someone would come along and retract. No one does.


Later

Since Scully is still out like a light, a nurse gently suggests that Mulder might want to go home and look in on his children. He agrees to, but promises to be back shortly. The nurse nods. Obviously this is something she's seen before.

He's barely in the house when the nanny appears. "I should have called you back..." He'd called home as soon as he'd gotten to the hospital so the nanny wouldn't wonder where they had disappeared to. "But things got complicated. Bad."

Michelle's eyes widen with fear. "Is Dana-"

"She's okay." Mulder sighs. "I mean, physically. I'm not even sure she realizes what happened yet. The baby...didn't make it. A little girl. Stillborn."

"Oh God." Michelle's hand goes involuntarily to her mouth, as if not saying the baby is gone would keep it from being true. Then she does something unexpected, and gives Mulder a brief hug. "I'm so sorry."

"Everyone is," he says with a nod. "I need..." he never finishes his sentence, but leaves her staring after him, but he doesn't look back. The pity is already too much to bear.

The next thing he does is to go wake up Page and Sammy. The sleepy children follow him into his and Scully's room, and he gathers them onto his lap. They look up to him with curious eyes.

"Something bad happened today, Kiddos," he begins.

"What?" Sammy asks, beginning to look alarmed already.

"Mommy had a car accident. It was very foggy out and someone didn't know that their light had changed to red until it was too late, so he hit her car."

"Is Mommy hurt??" Page squeaks.

Mulder shakes his head. "Besides some cuts and bumps, she is okay." Tears begin to gather in his eyes again. "But, um, the baby Mommy was going to have died. She was born too soon, and couldn't live outside of Mommy's body yet."

"Oh no," Sammy says. Then he sticks his thumb into his mouth, which is something Mulder hasn't seen him do since he was younger than the twins.

"Did dying hurt her?" Page wants to know, in that casually cruel way children don't even know they have.

"I don't think so," Mulder tells her, although it's a guess. Babies at twenty weeks gestation can feel pain, but since she didn't survive, he hopes she died immediately during the accident.

"Good," Page says fiercely. "Babies shouldn't hurt." Sammy nods his agreement.

"After Mommy gets home from the hospital, we're going to have a funeral for the baby. Do you know what that is?" he asks, and they shake their heads. "Okay, when someone dies, they get buried in the ground-"

"And have stones with their names on them," Page says, obviously thinking of movies or TV, since she's never been to one in person yet.

"Right. There won't be a stone right away, though, since we have to order it. Anyway, when they put people into the ground their family and friends are there to say goodbye. That's called a funeral."

Sammy stops sucking his thumb and looks up at his father. "We don't get to see the baby again until we're in heaven, right?"

"Right," Mulder tells him before dabbing at his eyes with a tissue.

"God will take good care of her," Sammy tells him.

"I know." ::But I just wish it was us.::

"Mommy can have another baby someday, right?" Page wants to know.

"Um, yes. The doctor checked to see if her insides got hurt in the accident, and she's okay."

"Poor baby," Page says mournfully. "Poor Mommy too."

"And Daddy," Sammy adds, throwing his arms around Mulder's neck. The little boy doesn't protest when he feels his hair getting wet. Page hugs them both, too.

In the background a faint burst of song from Michelle's stereo drifts down the hall.

Broken heart pushing us, hear the rain fall
See the wind come to my eyes
See the storm broken now I'm nothing
Speak to me, baby in the middle of the night ...

A door closes, and the music fades away. Mulder pulls away from his children, and tries his best to smile at them. "You're good kids. I'm going to go back to the hospital soon, and it's time for the two of you to go to bed."

"No time for a story, huh?" Sammy asks, looking a bit downcast.

"Actually, your mommy is probably sleeping, so maybe there's time for a quick story."

"Okay!" Sammy starts to scramble off the bed, and is soon out the door.

Page is immediately on his heels. "No stories with babies!" she hisses to her little brother, and Mulder feels himself well up again.


Meanwhile...
Washington National Hospital

A low black fog has descended into Scully's room. She's comfortable in its thick velvet, but an annoyance a distance off pushes some of the fog away. A voice.

"Dana?"

With effort, she manages to open her eyes, and realizes that the fog was in her head, not her room. Looking up, she sees a ghost out of her past.

"You're awake," Daniel Waterston says, looking mildly pleased.

"Doctor Waterston," she says stiffly, horrified that her old mentor seems to be the doctor treating her. When the nurse had gently reminded her the last time she'd been awake that she'd lost her baby, she hadn't been told who her doctor was. It hasn't been interesting enough for her to ask, either.

As if reading her mind, Waterston says, "I'm not your doctor, Dana. I was in the hospital earlier tonight, and heard that they brought you in."

"Oh." Scully relaxes a little. It occurs to her that he was probably the one she heard asking about her when she first got to the hospital. "Why were you here? In the hospital, I mean," she adds when her question sounds ruder to her ears than she intended.

He grimaces. "I had a heart attack in April, and I was getting a checkup."

"I'm sorry to hear that," she tells him.

"Not as sorry as I am to hear about your accident," Waterston tells her. "You'll have to forgive me for eavesdropping, but I heard your husband talking to a nurse about making funeral arrangements for the baby you lost." When she looks around, he adds, "From what he said as he left, I think he went home to check on your children. He promised not to be gone long."

"Thank you."

"I never thought of you as a mother," Waterston remarks.

"Surprise," she says, feeling a stab of indignation.

"I didn't mean to be insulting-"

"-but it comes naturally to you," Scully finishes the thought for him.

He shakes his head slowly. "I just didn't think you'd be happy with a life like this."

"Like what?" she asks icily.

"An FBI agent, married to her partner, mother to his children... those sorts of things are hardly passions. Not like medicine."

The fact that Waterston seems to know a lot about her life after leaving him upsets her, and she lashes out. "Is that why you wanted to see me? To remind me once again what a bad choice I made?" She struggles to sit up a little. "That's in rather poor taste, considering what I've just been through."

"You're only angry because it's true," Waterston says mildly.

"What's true?" she asks, suddenly feeling unbearably tired again.

"You left medicine because you couldn't handle what we had between us. You were scared."

"What was between us was the wife you never bothered to mention."

Waterston gave her a pitying look. "I know I scare you...because I represent that which is ingrained not only in your mind but in your heart-- that which you secretly long for."

Scully makes a derisive sound. "There's nothing I want that's related to you."

He gives her a long look. "Maybe you actually believe that, Dana. But we both know that's not true. I'm the life you could have had, and you know it."

"Get out!" Her hand reaches for call button. "Or I'll get someone in here to make you leave."

"I'll go. But you'll want me to come back later." He turns on his heel and leaves.

She allows herself to slump onto the pillow.


Later

"Scully?" At first Mulder thinks that his wife is sleeping, but he sees that instead she's staring at the ceiling. He feels a twist somewhere low in his belly, but walks in anyway. "Hey."

She seems to shake off some of her lethargy, and looks at him, but without expression. "How are the kids?"

"Okay. I explained what happened to Page and Sammy. I think they understand, at least as well as they're able to."

"Page isn't even six yet, Mulder. All they'll know is that there was going to be a baby, and now there's not."

::Which is not much less than we know, too.:: he thinks to himself. "Sure."

"I've been thinking. Maybe God took the baby away because we didn't deserve her. Didn't want her enough." Despite her words, it doesn't sound like an accusation. At least not one solely aimed at him.

This time the pain is in the center of Mulder's chest. "Scully, you know it's not our-"

Her face scrunches up. "Do I know? Do I know that it's not our fault that she died without even knowing us for a single second?"

"You do," he insists. ::God help me, even though I didn't want this child at first, I know that it was nothing we did wrong, nothing we did made this happen.:: he thinks, and actually believes with some effort. "You know that there are babies who are completely unwelcome that make their way into this world by the dozens every day. Babies whose parents are druggies, children themselves, or even worse."

"If it's not our fault, then why our baby?" Scully practically shouts. "What did she do, we do, to deserve this?"

"Nothing." He looks at his hands. "This just happened."

"I don't accept that," Scully tells him. "I think you should go home."

"Scully-"

"Please."

Since he can't bear the look on her face a moment longer, he leaves and curses himself for being weak enough to do so.


The Next Morning

Scully glares when the man enters the room. He smiles, as if he feels welcome.

"I thought I made it clear that I didn't want to see you again."

"Come now, Dana, we both know that you don't mean that."

"The hell I don't," she growls.

"In fact," he says smoothly, "It occurred to me after I left last night that I'm not the one you're angry with."

"Right."

"Seeing me has made you angry with yourself," Waterston tells her, sounding completely sure of himself.

"I'm angry at you for intruding on my life, and annoyed with my husband for insisting on combating emotions with logic. Me I'm not angry at beyond picking the wrong time to buy teething biscuits for my youngest child." She feels a dull ache as she says this. Christopher will still be the youngest now. "Nothing about you has made me mad at myself."

He shakes his head with an unbearably smug look that makes Scully want to punch him. "I did some research last night, Dana. Married for six years, six children under the age of six... You weren't that Catholic when I knew you."

"I come from a big family and my husband was an unhappy only child after losing his only sister. That we'd welcome many children into our lives is hardly surprising." Her voice trembles at the end and she reminds herself that Mulder had begun to show some enthusiasm about the baby once he'd regained his health. "Every one of our children has been a gift."

"And you've wasted yours," Waterston tells her. "If you hadn't run off like a frighten child when things got too intense, you could have been a great doctor by now-"

"Under your tutelage, you mean?" Scully asks suddenly.

"I'd like to think so," Waterston agrees. "I'd like to think we'd be happy together now."

Scully slowly shakes her head. "Daniel. Even if I hadn't left medicine, I still would have left you."

"Dana-" he begins his protest, but she cuts him off.

"As soon as your daughter Maggie confronted me, I knew that I couldn't stay with a man like you. I could deal with one who was ruining his own life by inches, but not one who didn't even acknowledge that he was doing the same to his wife and daughter.

"That's why I left. Not because I was scared of medicine, or scared of you. I was afraid that if I didn't make a clean break I'd become cold and callous too. Just like you," Scully concludes.

"If that's how you feel..." Waterston says stiffly.

"It is. Maybe it's not too late to make things up to Maggie. I think you should go and find out. Immediately."

He gives her a smoldering look, but leaves without another word. Mulder passes him at the doorway and Waterston doesn't spare him so much as a glance.

"Who was that?" Mulder asks, sinking into the chair next to her bed.

"Someone I once thought I knew, but didn't," Scully says, and changes the subject. "Did you make the, uh, arrangements?"

"Yeah, I did. They're all set."

Tears begin to glint in her eyes as she asks the harder question. "Did you see her?"

"Yes. She would have been perfect, Scully," he tells her with a deep sigh. "Do you want to see her? I think you still are allowed to."

"No," she says quickly. "I don't think I can."

"Okay. I thought you might want a closed casket service, but I can change that if you change your mind."

"Thank you, Mulder."

"I, um, they had outfits at the funeral home, which surprised me. You know, really tiny ones, to fit babies that small. They said the one I picked is something called 'eyelet lace'. It's a beautiful white dress anyway..." Mulder wraps his arms around her, and they spend the next several minutes sharing their grief for what might have been but would now never be.


June 4th, 2000

At the funeral, Emily clings to Missy's hand, and Mulder feels haunted when he looks at his blonde niece. This was the child that his manipulations kept Scully from losing. But the universe has once again conspired to have her mourn the loss of a daughter. And this time, her loss is truly his as well, not one that he shares from afar.

As the service concludes, Mulder looks down so intently at the small white casket that's nearly hidden by the white roses on top of it that he doesn't realize at first that his mother-in-law spoke to him. "What?"

"I asked if the kids were ready for me to take them," Maggie repeats calmly.

"Oh. Sure, I guess they are." He looks over his shoulder and sees that they're crowded around Scully.

"Okay, then. I'll bring them by tomorrow afternoon."

Mulder puts his hand on her wrist to stop her. "Thank you for doing this, Maggie."

She shakes her head slightly. "I just wish there was more that I could do."

"So does everyone," Mulder tells her quietly.

The kids go willingly enough with their grandmother, and Scully kisses each one good-bye before rejoining Mulder. They're standing together when they're approached by Teena Mulder.

Although he feels terrible for being surprised, it does startle Mulder that his mother has chosen to attend the ceremony. His father is there, silent and red-eyed, but Mulder never doubted that he'd care about the fate of his lost granddaughter.

After a moment Teena speaks. "Fox, Dana... I'm sorry that you've had to experience the loss of a child as well. It was something that I hoped would never happen given how healthy and lively your children have invariably been, but then, so was Samantha. I'm just... so sorry for your loss."

"Thanks, Mom," Mulder says as warmly as he possibly can. Teena's words clearly cost her, and he doesn't want her to think he doesn't appreciate her effort. "I guess of anyone, you'd know how we feel."

Teena nods slowly. "God willing, neither of us will ever repeat the experience of out-living one of our children."

"Yes," Scully says faintly, and she tightens her grip on Mulder's hand. He can't blame her.

Thankfully, the rest of the goodbyes to funeral goers are less unsettling.


That Night

For the longest time the only sound in the house is the cats' sleepy purring and the pump for the twenty-nine gallon aquarium Mulder long ago insisted on setting up in the living room because the twins have shown his affinity for fish.

On the couch, Scully rests against Mulder's chest, and his arms are loosely wrapped around her. She tilts her head back to look at him. "I wasn't entirely honest at the hospital."

"No?" he asks curiously.

"That man, the one I said was no one, he used to be someone I was involved with a few years before I met you."

"Oh."

"While I was at the hospital he visited me twice, and arrogantly tried to convince me that I would have been better off staying with him than ending up with you. I'd forgotten what a condescending prick he could be."

"You still like him that much, huh?" Mulder asks lightly.

She shakes her head emphatically. "I once considered spending my whole life with this man. What I would have missed!"

"I don't think you can know what you would have missed, Scully. I mean, how many different lives would we be leading if we made different choices. We...We don't know." ::Or you don't, I mean, Love. I know. Would that I could tell you...:: he thinks to himself.

"What if there was only one right choice and all the other ones were wrong?" she asks. "And there were signs along the way to pay attention to."

"Mmm. And all the choices would then lead to this very moment. One wrong turn, and we wouldn't be lying here together."

"No," Scully says, pushing her head back under his chin.

"No?" Mulder asks, puzzled.

"I don't believe that. No matter what, you and I would be here, be here together tonight. No matter what choices we made along the way."

"You really believe that?"

"With all my heart," Scully tells him firmly.

His arms tighten around her. "Me too."


Chapter Eighty-Eight


Summer 2000
Melissa Scully's home
6:53 a.m.

Melissa Scully has just finished hanging up the phone when she hears the familiar whaps of the newspaper and bundled junk mail hitting the doorstep. Tying the dark robe around her waist, she opens the door and finds the expected delivery at her feet. Absently, she tosses most of the mail into the trash, save for a couple of bills, and then unfolds the paper. Then she frowns, puts it down, and walks out the door.

A few conversations later, she is none the wiser, but it appears none of her neighbors subscribe to "The Goochland Guardian." She isn't surprised, but she is curious, since someone's taken the time to attach a note to it. This sounds like something Dana would be interested in, she thinks, munching on a hummus-filled pita bread. She almost picks up the phone, but thinks better of it and decides not to bug her younger sister this early in the morning.

It isn't long before Emily wanders into the kitchen, her face solemn with sleep. "Hello," she says.

Melissa smiles at the little blonde girl. "Good morning, Emily."

"Today's when I get shots, right?"

The redheaded woman nods. "I've got an idea, honey. Why don't we go someplace different today?"

Emily stares questioningly. "Where?"

Melissa taps the newspaper. "How would you like to talk to someone who was actually touched by an angel?"

This gets the little girl's attention. Melissa thinks it's funny that her daughter's into angels, but then again, she was into fairies when she was Emily's age, so she supposes it's not too far off. "Really?"

"Really. We'll be back in time for the doctor, and maybe Alex, I mean, Daddy will take you out for some ice cream afterwards."

"Okay!"


Goochland, VA.
10:03 a.m.

Melissa Scully's surprised that she has anything in common with these people, or that she'd feel some sort of bond, but she does. Like her, Cameron and Irene McPeck's child was stricken with a disease, but they chose their own path rather than conventional medicine. Unlike her, however, it looks as if young Jason will be healthy for a long time, the "angel" having granted him with long-term healing, rather than continual shots like Emily. She sighs, watching the children play. Then again, Jason wasn't the product of alien experimentation, so it makes a strange kind of sense to her.

"Can you describe this angel to me?" she asks Irene McPeck.

The other woman shakes her head. "I think Jason can do it best. Jason! Could you come here, please?" she calls to her son, who is playing catch with his friends, as Emily prefers to sit quietly with the grownups.

The tow-headed boy runs over, his face ruddy and covered with a light sheen of sweat, as are most of his friends. "Yeah?"

"This lady, Mrs. Scully, would like to ask you about the angel."

Melissa's about to correct her, but she's wearing enough finger jewelry and accompanied by a child to give that impression. "Jason, what did the angel look like?"

The boy is a picture of shining honesty as he tells her, as it seems he's told everybody, "They looked like men. They came from the sky in a ball of light."

"Did they say anything?"

The McPecks are surprised that it's Emily who asks, but not her mother. Jason turns to her and answers, "They said not to be afraid. Then one of them pinched me kind of hard and then I was better right away."

Melissa blinks. "He pinched you? Where?"

He turns around. "Right here," he says, points to the back of his neck. Melissa stares at the fresh scar at the base of the neck, feeling chills go up and down her spine. That's what Alex had when he got sick, she remembers, he said he pulled something out, but it made him sick. And when he came back from Mexico, the scar was gone.

"Perhaps we're not so different after all." She musters up a smile, patting the boy on his head. He takes that as a sign to leave, and his friends pick up their bats and mitts, ready to play ball again.

"You're a believer, too, aren't you?" Irene McPeck nods her head. "I knew it."

"I wish I could see an angel, too," Emily says, looking at the boys playing.

Cameron McPeck smiles warmly at the little girl. "I'm sure you will," he says, "if God blessed my Jason, I believe He will bless you, also."


When they get back to the car, Melissa and Emily are surprised to find an older man sitting in the passenger seat of the car. He has just used the cigarette lighter to light his cigarette when he looks up to find a redhead and a little blonde staring at him. "Who are you?" Melissa asks as he starts to smoke away.

"Just a messenger," he says, sounding like a dry academic rather than passionately devout like the McPecks.

There's something about this man she doesn't quite trust, but she's learned to go with her instincts. "Could you get out of my car and put out that cigarette? My daughter is sick."

His large pale eyes are sharper than his wrinkled face, traveling from the mother to the child. Then he steps out, and crushes his cigarette under his foot. "You know, your daughter could have that same miracle," he says conversationally.

She fights a shudder as she tells Emily to get in the car, but feels the goosebumps on her arms nonetheless. "Who are you?" she asks again.

"Someone who knows what Alex Krycek suffered from, what your daughter's illness is," he says, "someone who could cure it."

"You did that?" Melissa finds herself blocking her daughter's view of this man. She turns her head slightly towards Jason, oblivious to any man-made machinations about his miracle.

"You're not at all curious? About the chip that's been put in that boy's neck?" He shakes his head. "I've taken considerable trouble to prove my intentions. The newspaper at your door. The elaborate demonstration of curing this boy's cancer. You see, I'm dying myself." He raises his hand, realizes there's no cigarette, and smiles pleasantly enough. "A dying man who wants to make right; to share his secrets; to bequeath this cure to millions of others just like that boy."

"So you want to give it to her." Melissa frowns slightly as she gets into the driver's seat.

The tall gentleman shakes his head, bending down to talk to her through the open door. "To you, Melissa Scully. Your sister and brother-in-law would never appreciate the gift I'm giving."

"Why are you telling me this?" She stares at him. What does he have to do with Alex? she wants to scream. Or Dana? Or Fox? But there's something about him that forbids these questions, that seems to prove by mere mention of these relations that he's a dangerous man.

"I've made you my offer." He nods at her. "If anyone at the FBI, even your erstwhile lover, hears a breath of this, rest assured," he says andcloses the car door. "I'll take it to my grave."

She starts the car, leaning forward as if to block his view of Emily, then drives off without looking back.

"Mommy, who was that?" Emily asks, worried because her mother, who never drives fast like her daddy, is going really, really fast.

"Nobody," she says, then glances at something her daughter's holding. "What's that?"

"I dunno," the blonde girl says, bending the edges of the business card absently. "It's not mine."

"It's not mine, either," Melissa says, "I think we should stop at Grandma's house."

"Okay!"


U.S. Botanic Garden
Washington, D.C.

Melissa Scully is walking through the garden, but it's with hesitation and fear, two previously unknown emotions than her usual peaceful meditations in this place. Her large green eyes nervously skitter about, trying to find the tall, disturbing old man who seems to have infected the plants, even the atmosphere, with his hidden presence. She starts when a voice from behind says, "I'm glad you came."

She taps the bent business card. "The number was fake, there was no way I could call you." Her dark red lips turn downward disapprovingly.

The old man lights a cigarette, oblivious to the once-healthy and placid atmosphere. "I know you're a caring mother," he takes a quick puff, "a woman of compassion."

"Why me?" she asks, feeling bolder since they're in public. "Why not Dana or Fox? Why not even Alex?"

He smiles around his cigarette. "Please. Your dear Alex would try to sell it to the highest bidder, you know that's the truth. As for your sister and brother-in-law, they would squander it... either way, what I've worked for my entire life would be less than nothing..." He exhales, then taps the filter at the smoke. "My legacy would be as substantial as this smoke."

She tilts her head slightly, raising an eyebrow. "Are you dying of lung cancer?"

He coughs a little, taken aback, then chuckles. "It would be poetic, but no. Cerebral inflammation -- a consequence of brain surgery I had in the fall. The doctors give me just a few months."

"So if you have this miracle cure, why don't you use it?"

He nods approvingly, and the rebellious part of her rankles at the thought of even coming close to being liked by this dubious old man. "We'll need to take a trip," he says. "It'll require a few days."

Melissa dismisses him, "My daughter is waiting for me." As she turns to leave, he puts a hand on her upper arm.

"I know I'm a perfect stranger to you, Melissa Scully, and you have no real reason to trust me. The truth of the matter is, I do have access to these miraculous chips, but the genetic research that makes them work is closely guarded. There are men outside this garden who would kill me if they knew what I'd offered you."

As she looks around, he adds, "They'd kill you, too, in the blink of an eye. I've destroyed a lot of things in my life, including the people most precious to me. All I want is a chance to do something in service to man before I go."


Maggie Scully's Home

A man in a dark jacket and sunglasses walks up the neatly trimmed path, tries the doorknob, and opens it easily. Walking inside, he can hear an older woman talking with a little girl, and they laugh, out of sight. He sees a light blinking on the answering machine, and wonders if they even heard the phone ring, then hits the play button. The machine states in its disjointed, pre-recorded fashion, "Call received, 8:01 p.m.." Then a woman's voice says, "Mom, I'm sorry to leave Emily with you, but one of my friends needs me. Emily, be a good girl for Grandma. Talk to you later."

Krycek frowns, then pulls out his cell phone. Tapping out familiar numbers, he hears is Melissa doing a friendly, if generic message, then the beep sounds. "Melissa? Don't worry about a thing, I'll be sure to warm something up for you when you get back, okay? Bye." Then he disconnects the voice changer from the cell before turning it off. Walking into the kitchen, he calls out, "Emily? Mrs. Scully?"

"Daddy?" a girl's voice asks.

Krycek comes face to face with his little angel and the Scully matriarch. "Hey, sweetie," he says, smiling as he picks Emily up from the chair. "Did you get your shots today?"

She nods, making a face. "Mommy said you'd get me ice cream."

He shakes his head, adjusting her weight on his torso. That woman will never cease to get him in trouble. "I guess Mommy didn't tell you Daddy's short on cash." When she gives him an uncomprehending look, he sighs. "Never mind. Where is she?"

Emily shrugs. "I dunno."

Her grandmother shrugs as well, but when the girl turns away, she gives Krycek a concerned look. "Melissa still has her, well, bohemian moods," she says, "but I'd think this is one of those days she'd stay at home."

"Yeah," Krycek agrees, then focuses his attention on Emily. Now he wonders how Mulder and Scully do it, risking their lives, and, by default, their children's, with what they do, and yet still keep fighting. Not like he's suddenly on the side of the angels by any means, but he knows Melissa's just a pawn in this game, most likely started by one of the FBI agents' erstwhile foes. He hugs his little girl, conceived by the worst means possible, and his eyes suddenly glitter coldly, like dark emeralds. Those idiots have no idea they're messing with the wrong asshole, and the corners of his mouth turn up as his mind reels with stratagems of how to get Melissa back.

"Alex?" Mrs. Scully's voice interrupts his thoughts.

"Mrs. Scully, would it be all right if Emily stayed with you tonight? I'm gonna find Melissa. "

The older woman nods slightly with understanding. "Should I call Fox and Dana?"

Krycek shakes his head, kissing his daughter's cheek before putting her back onto the booster chair. "You be good for Grandma, all right, devochka moya?"

"Dad-DY!" Emily pouts. "I'm moy angelochek!"

"Are you teaching her Russian?" Mrs. Scully asks, a little surprised as father and daughter embrace each other quickly, then give each other a solemn look.

Krycek's head jerks up. "Oh no," he says quickly, "she just picked it up."

"It's all right." Maggie Scully smiles. "I think it's marvelous that she's learning another language."

He nods to both females, and leaves. He wants to talk to Melissa soon, about Emily's education, about raising kids in general, about families, about... anything, really. But right now, he's gonna rip heaven and hell open to find her first.


At the same time, the old man is driving down a dark road, and lights up a cigarette. Melissa gives him a pointed look, "Could you not smoke?"

He glances at her, then back at the road. Then he sighs, rolls down the electric window, tosses the cigarette out and rolls the window back up. "It's time I quit," he says simply.

"By the way," she says, "what's your name? You could have at least had the courtesy to leave a false one on your business card, like the phone number."

"At this point, names are unimportant," he says, taking a left turn.

She snorts, looking out the window. "Liar."

"I've been called worse," he says placidly in his cultured tone, and she doesn't doubt it. "Would it surprise you to know that even Mulder and your sister don't know my name? What makes you think I'd tell you my name when these FBI agents can't even look me up in the phone book?"

In spite of herself, Melissa laughs. "For precisely that reason. Otherwise, I'll be calling you Mr. Chimneystack, Old Geyser, Mr. 7-Eleven--"

"7-Eleven?" he sputters. "Whatever for?"

"For the really cheap smokes," she says. "For you, at least. I'd rather have chili and cheese nachos for my carcinogens."

To her surprise, he doesn't toss her out in the middle of the road. Instead, he chuckles. "I see. Well then, you can call me Mr. Spender, for lack of a better pseudonym."

She nods, then does a double-take. "Do you know an Agent Jeffrey Spender?"

The fact that she knows that name seems to startle him, and she'd revel in her small nugget of knowledge if she still weren't so damn scared of him. "How do you know that name?"

"He helped me once," she says, looking at him carefully.

"Ah," he says, and doesn't say anything else for the rest of the drive. Neither does she push it, because, for just a moment, she saw something other than the calm, calculating façade the old man seemed to carry so naturally. Something that looked a little like fear, like sorrow, and to her, something like hope.


The morning sun wakes Melissa Scully, who is slumped against the window of the passenger seat. Blinking, she turns to look at the driver and sees she hasn't awoken from her nightmare at all. "Where are we going?" she asks.

"To see an old friend," the old man says, his eyes on the road.

"I could take over if you let me know where to go," she offers. "You look like you could use some rest, Mr. Spender."

"I'm fine," he says shortly, and is surprised when she chuckles.

"It doesn't take a psychic to see you're far from 'fine'," Melissa says, "I've been on enough road trips to know when someone's five minutes from a car crash."

"I see," Mr. Spender says brusquely, and, like her younger sister, seems very reluctant to relinquish even a little control. "Very well, then," he says, pulling over to a wide shoulder of the road, "we shouldn't be too far off."

"Good," she says, waiting for him to unbuckle his seatbelt before doing so herself. Much as she'd like to ditch this guy, she has no money, no idea where she is, and certainly no protection if the people who would kill him for the miracle cure would try to go after her. They do a trudging version of a Chinese fire drill, then fasten their seatbelts before she pulls back onto the road. "Forward, I take it," she says dryly.

"Yes," he answers. He closes his eyes, then asks, "Have you ever looked back?"

"Why, is there someone following us?" Melissa adjusts the rearview mirror, giving the old man a look when he chuckles.

"No, I mean at your life," he says. "You have lived like a gypsy, wandering from city to city, never permitting yourself to put down roots or be attached to one place or person. I believe only recently have you come close to anything like settling down with your daughter Emily. Do you intend to keep her once she gets better?"

"What do you mean?" She frowns.

"Unlike your sister, you like to follow your heart, rather than your head," Mr. Spender says, his eyes still closed. "But you have a restless spirit, and wandering feet, with a willingness to new ideas that would put even Agent Mulder to shame, and I'm wondering if it is only your daughter's illness that keeps you bound to one location this long."

"Of course not!" Melissa snaps. "I love Emily. I wouldn't leave her, healthy or otherwise!"

He opens one baggy eye. "Are you sure?"

"Even a phony astrologer could string enough constellations to snow me better than that." She shakes her head. "I've had better readings out of a tea bag."

Mr. Spender glances at her. "You should know I don't believe in any of that hocus pocus," he says, "just know that this old man has been around long enough to know better than you think, even if I've had more than my share of regrets. And before I die, I'd like to prove that I'm capable of something more." As they come up to a small road branching off the main one, he adds, "Turn here, on the left."

As she turns, Melissa feels like she's heading down a dark path, and feels a strange sensation she can't quite name. Déjà vu? A past life? Or something more mundane, like fear?


Melissa Scully pulls up to a small house in the woods. Far from abandoned, a woman looking to be in her 60s, is tending the plants around her house. "Her name's Marjorie Butters," Mr. Spender says by way of explanation. "She's got quite a green thumb. Plays a mean game of Scrabble if you're interested."

"Is she your sister?"

He chuckles. "Not quite. You could say that I'm her angel. Marjorie's 118 years old." They get out of the car and he calls out, in a manner of one expecting a friendly welcome, "Marjorie!"

"Hey!" They laugh as he embraces her. "I'm glad to see you," Marjorie says, her eyes crinkling at the corners.

He smiles, "I thought I'd surprise you."

The older woman waves at her dirt-spattered attire. "I look an absolute wreck. I've been trying to get in some bulbs before spring."

And suddenly, Mr. Spender remembers his manners. "Oh, Marjorie, this is Melissa Scully. She's a very good friend of mine."

Melissa resists the temptation to roll her eyes at the obvious lie. "Nice to meet you," she shakes the other woman's dirty hand, feeling a kindred spirit, even if it was through the unfortunate knowledge of Mr. Spender.

"My pleasure," Marjorie says warmly. "Well, come inside. I baked some fresh bread this morning and there are tomatoes in the garden."

As she walks in the house, Melissa notices the scar at the base of Marjorie's neck and fights to keep her expression normal. She recognizes it recently matching Jason's, and the old man leans in next to her, speaking in a low voice, "To have such compassion... to visit this woman and see her joy... must be why you would do anything for Emily." Without another word, he walks into the house after Marjorie.


At the same time, Mulder's at home reading page 25 of "The Washington Post," thankful that nothing paranormal's jumping out at him from even the seediest parts of town. Scully's still taking the baby's death hard, but is throwing herself into family and work rather than taking time off to actually grieve. ::Guess some things don't change,:: he thinks, flipping the page and wondering if perhaps there's a secret code to be worked out using every five letters in the politics section. He's fairly certain that the kids would poop out from their mother's doting and nonstop schedule this weekend than the other way around, so he wisely decided to stay out of their way.

He's still squinting at the paper for his newly-developed code when the kitchen door slams open. He looks up and frowns. "You're not Scully," he drawls.

"And you're as observant as ever," the intruder glares at him. "You've got to help me."

Mulder's bored enough to toy around today. "Why?"

"Melissa wasn't there for Emily's doctor's appointment yesterday, and she would never leave Emily with her grandmother because of that." Then the one-armed man throws down a paper with his human hand, "This was on her kitchen table."

Mulder picks up the paper, and his heart sinks. The banner reads "The Goochland Guardian" rather than the local D.C. rag. A note has been taped onto the front page story, "Miracle Ends Controversy". He doesn't need to read it to know that the damn note says, "You are the God who performs miracles. You display your power among the peoples. Psalm 77:14." Mockingly, the top of the newspaper reads, "If It's News It's News To Us".

::Yeah, it's news to me, too,:: he thinks, what the hell is the Smoking Man up to with Melissa? Aloud, he says, "Okay, so she reads hick newspapers and flakes out on appointments. Is there a problem?"

"She'd never flake out on a Transgen Pharmaceuticals appointment and she left her cell phone at home," Krycek says succinctly, "and Emily told me about her quote-unquote 'field trip with Mommy' to Goochland yesterday morning. Surprise, surprise, she mentioned an old man who smoked a lot."

"Aw, shit," Mulder sighs, putting the paper down.

"Yeah," Krycek seconds that emotion without irony. "So, you gonna help me or what?"

Mulder pulls out his cell phone. ::The things I do for this man,:: he thinks, hitting speed dial. "Ordinarily, I'd wait until you said 'please', but the world would end before that. Hey, Scully," he interrupts himself, "mind swinging by your mom's place? I got a feeling Emily needs more people to watch over her," he answers his wife's question, "No, she's not there. Don't worry, we're looking for her." Mulder pauses, listening, then nods as if she can see him. "Thanks. And yeah, if we need more help, I'll call." He hangs up. "One of the benefits of having an FBI wife is that she's got a gun."

"Yeah, well, Melissa knows how to use her switchblade," Krycek retorts, dragging Mulder out of the house.

"Please tell me she stabbed you." Mulder makes a face as they jump into Krycek's car. "I can't be the only one injured by a Scully woman."

Krycek smirks, peeling out of the driveway at an alarming speed, "Guess I don't like the rough stuff as rough as you."

"Just drive," Mulder says sickly, and not just because Melissa's been kidnapped by the Smoking Man.


When they stop at a gas station, Melissa saunters over into the dingy little building, tossing a quick "I need to use the bathroom" over her shoulder while Mr. Spender fills the tank. When she gets into the cramped restroom, she exhales, then tugs at the choker on her neck. She never thought she'd have to resort to using one of Alex's toys, but then again, she never thought she'd get caught up in what she usually deemed her sister and brother-in-law's world. What is she thinking, it's also Alex's world, too.

She twists the crystal attached to the choker, hoping against hope that her lover is right and that the tracking device, whatever he called it, is doing its job. Looking at the mirror, she sees it blink once, making the gem sparkle, and then it winks out, as he said it would. Please, please, please, she prays to whoever is listening, let Alex find me.

Satisfied that her choker's normal, she uses the toilet, flushes it, and washes her hands, proceeding as if it's a normal stop on the road. Mr. Spender's back in the driver's seat, and she gets in the passenger side.

He offers her a roll of candy. "Lifesaver?"

She shakes her head, feeling the irony even if he doesn't say so. Even though it's daylight, she can see his aura's darker than even Alex's has ever been. Shrugging, he starts the engine. Neither of them see a black-haired man staring after them, then getting into his black car.


1:04 p.m.

Later, in a motel near a lake, the erstwhile Mr. Spender parks the car. Melissa Scully is asleep. The old man puts on a pair of black leather gloves with practiced ease, then looks over at the sleeping woman. He tenderly brushes a lock of hair out of her eyes and looks at her wistfully. "You'll do," he says softly, then carries her out of the car.


At the same time, someone is pounding on Mulder's door. Mulder answers it in a gray t-shirt and jeans, pretty much the same thing he's been in since this whole mess started. Checking the peephole first, he sees a familiar trio in somewhat familiar gear. Switching their outfits around, Frohike's in Byers' attire, Langly's in Frohike's sleazy outfit, and Byers, for the second time in Mulder's recollection, is casual in Langly's t-shirt and jeans. Or at least, he hopes the former FCC guy has something in his closet other than suits. "If you came in clown suits, you'd be less likely to scare the neighbors," he drones.

"Ha, ha." Langly brushes past him into the house, followed by his two compatriots. "Hey, who's the Frohike-wannabe?"

"Who's Frohike?" Krycek scowls up from what looks like a giant remote control.

Oh yeah, they haven't exactly met, Mulder remembers, until now. "I am, you punk." Frohike scowls back at the other man in a black leather jacket. "I'm guessing you're the one in need of our kung foo."

Krycek stares at them. "*These* are the guys?" he asks Mulder. "You're gonna get her killed!"

While various Gunmen grumble, Mulder makes quick introductions. "Alex, this is Frohike, Byers and Langly. Guys, this is Alex, who's, uh, living with Melissa."

"You're what?" Frohike looks aghast.

Oh boy. "Guys, focus. Did you find anything on Melissa?" Mulder asks the Gunmen.

"We started with her credit cards to see if she purchased any airline tickets," Langly says.

"And ended up hacking into some Defense Department node..." Frohike butts in, glaring at Krycek while he pulls out Melissa's laptop from his suit jacket.

"Where they demanded we immediately identify ourselves or face prosecution for espionage or crimes against the government," Langly finishes.

"Okay, what does the DOD have to do with Melissa?" Krycek frowns.

This time, it's the mustachioed Gunman who answers, "When we went into her computer we found a series of deleted transmissions." He boots up the computer, then shows them the incriminating evidence.

"E-mail that had been erased from her subdirectories but not her hard drive," Frohike adds, then says slowly, "a series of communications."

"From someone named Cobra," Langly says quickly, sensing danger his shorter friend didn't seem to from this 'Alex' guy.

"Who the fuck is Cobra?" Krycek leaps to his feet, and now the Gunmen see the man's in fighting shape. "Melissa would have told me about him."

"You'd think," Frohike says bitterly. "Guess she's not one to kiss and tell."

Bullshit." Krycek glares down the shorter man. "You guys are tech heads," he says, tossing them his strange contraption. "Melissa set off her GPS device, but the damn antennae hasn't got a specific fix on her. Do something with it."

Now Mulder goggles at the one-armed man. "She's got a GPS device?"

"Hey, as long as you know what to look for, you can find any signal." Langly shrugs while Frohike tinkers with the machine. "But if your friend's got a specific signal, it should be okay if there's no outside interference."

"Well, we can find where she is, but what about the why?" Mulder says when Krycek grabs the laptop from Byers. "Uh, what are you doing?"

"Finding out the why," he says, opening up the laptop and typing away with one hand, using his false left hand for the larger keys. "If this Cobra is working with the Smoking Man, I know some other ways to get some intel."


Later that afternoon, Melissa wakes up in what looks like a woodsy cabin. She's wearing a green silk nightgown, but can't remember getting here, or dressing herself in this outfit. Hurriedly, she feels the choker around her neck, relaxing when she feels the small crystal. Looking in the mirror, she makes sure it's not blinking or doing anything to attract attention, and then she finds her clothes in a folded pile on the drawer.

It doesn't take long for her to don her long red dress and storm out, finding Mr. Spender pouring coffee in the kitchen. "How do you take your coffee?" he asks.

"I don't," the redhead snaps. "I don't care who you are, 'Mr. Spender,' you're not winning my trust by treating me like some Barbie doll in my sleep. I can see why Dana and Fox, much less Alex, don't trust you."

His expression grows grave. "I was only trying to make you comfortable," he says, then takes a sip of his coffee.

Her large green eyes take in the rustic view from the window. "Where are we?"

"Milford, Pennsylvania," he replies simply.

"Pennsylvania. Well, I've hitchhiked farther than that," she says, leaving the cabin. To her chagrin, he follows her out, and she takes a deep breath, facing her executioner.

"Keys are in the ignition," Mr. Spender says, surprising her. "You're free to go, if you wish. The choice is still yours."

What choice? Melissa thinks darkly. I could take my chances and probably get blown up along the way back home, or get molested in my sleep by some weird old man. Either way, it's not looking pretty, and now she understands why Alex was so reluctant to even mention his relationship to this skeezy old man. She's about to curse Alex, but then remembers Emily, the initial reason why she went along with this shit in the first place. Emily. Dammit.

She doesn't see the black-haired man watching from the bushes as she heads back to the cabin, resigned, but neither would she care at this point. Her life isn't hers anymore, and she realizes sharply that it's been Emily's for quite some time, but it took this sick old man to show her that. Mommy's coming home, she thinks, not looking at Mr. Spender as he closes the door behind her, but I'm taking this old man in a body bag if it goes that way.


It takes less time than Mulder did for Krycek to not only read between the lines, but connect the dots. The one-armed man slams his real fist on the table. "Fuck it all," he mutters, slouching in the chair.

"What, no roses?" Frohike mutters, still hunched over the tracking device.

"Fuck your little dog, too, Mulder," Krycek says dully. "Turns out Cobra's a federal fugitive, e-mailing Melissa from the DOD. Bastard's working on a shadow project for advanced research."

"Okay, so she attracts nerds, too." Langly shrugs. "So what's the big deal?"

Krycek turns his cutting green gaze at the tall blond man, who withers quickly. "Somebody pretending to be Melissa hacked into her computer and was catching all her e-mail. I'm guessing the smoking bastard was passing himself off as a MILF in distress in order to win Cobra's trust. You guys notice the last five exchanges hint at a meeting where they're going to exchange information on the project Cobra's working on?"

The Lone Gunmen look at each other sheepishly. "Well, we thought they were gonna hook up for something else," Frohike mutters, and Mulder stands between his old friends and current semi-fugitive sister-in-law's lover... man, he's really gotta make a few normal friends to make up for weird family relations.

Krycek stares at the Gunmen. "Whatever you have to do, fix the damn machine," he says, "if you think the smoking man's rough with his colleagues, you should see what he does with his women."

At that, Mulder gets to his feet. "What's your weapon status?" he asks the man in black.

The double agent looks mildly surprised, and then a lazy grin slides across his face. "Now you're speaking my language, tovarich."

Mulder scowls. "Don't call me that."


6:22 p.m.

Melissa finds herself plotting numerous ways to kill her captor, not knowing that her lover is thinking the exact same thing. She starts when there's a knock at the door, and then rolls her eyes. Took him long enough to develop some idea of courtesy, she snorts inwardly as she opens the door.

The old man, however, drops any semblance of being a gentleman as he states without preamble, "We'll be getting final instructions from our contact tonight. He's invited us to dinner. I took the liberty of getting you something to wear." From behind his back, he holds out a very revealing black dinner dress.

Why am I not surprised? Melissa thinks as she takes it. "I see," she says noncommittally. He may be a perv, but at least he's a perv with expensive taste.

Mr. Spender notes her appraisal. "I'm glad you like it. I look forward to tonight." Then he leaves the room, closing the door behind him.

Of course you're looking forward to tonight, Melissa shakes her head, as the damn thing seems to be a glorified apron, you're looking forward to seeing my bodacious tatas fall out and my ass on display. If she had any shred of philanthropic illusions about this whole affair, they are quickly flushed down the toilet.


That evening, Melissa's wearing the glorified apron, er, dress as well as her crystal choker, and of course, Mr. Spender's gussied up in a tuxedo. Figures. They walk into an elegant restaurant and are smoothly seated by the window. Not looking at the other diners, Melissa takes a sip of water and asks, "So what does he look like?"

"I'm not quite sure," the old man admits.

She smiles briefly, At least he's honest about something. "Do you even know his name, or is that a mystery, too?"

Now the old man's got his steel back. "He is to human genetic science as Oppenheimer and Fermi were to the advent of nuclear warfare."

Oh, goody, Melissa thinks, we're dealing with Dr. Frankenstein. Aloud, she says, "Aside from arm candy, why am I even here?"

Mr. Spender smiles tightly. "This man -- call him Cobra -- he needs assurances that the science he's going to hand over won't fall into the wrong hands. I've told him about you, about Emily." He pauses, then nods his approval for the waiter to pour the red wine. When the waiter is gone, he continues, "He's expecting to meet you here." Then he raises his glass in a toast, "Well, to the future." Melissa raises an eyebrow, then raises her glass before taking a polite sip. "I also have a bit of a confession to make."

"Oh?" It's the only thing she can say that's short and won't involve a string of curse words.

He leans forward, unaware of what murderous thoughts are going on in her head. "What we are being given is not the cure for cancer." He enjoys her look of sickening shock, then adds, "It's the cure for all human disease."

"What?" Melissa blurts. "How?"

He points up. "Mostly extraterrestrial."

Of course. And then the other puzzle piece falls into place. Fuck altruism. "You'd be cured, too."

His smile turns indulgent. "Theoretically, yes, I can be cured. But for what?" His expression changes, and Melissa finds a disconcertingly familiar look on the old man's face. "At the end of the day, I don't have anything to look forward to. Or anyone, for that matter, Melissa." As she stares at him, he seems to realize what he's just said, and stands, "Would you excuse me?" Without waiting for her reply, he leaves the table.

What the fuck? Melissa goggles, not even bothering to scope out the restaurant even though she's left to her own devices. I guess you have to be pretty damn cocky to be a part of a global conspiracy to fuck with both people and aliens, but this Mr. Spender is something else. In a daze, she polishes off half her red wine, plus a chocolate dobash slice.

It isn't until the waiter returns to remove her empty plate that she notices a piece of paper tucked under it. "Calico Cove, first light of day," it reads. Careful not to show surprise, she scans the room without seeming to, a habit developed from years of being in strange bars in strange places, but aside from the waiter, nobody's nearby to have dropped it off. Damn that old man, she thinks, I would've paid more attention otherwise.


Early the next morning, Melissa Scully and Mr. Spender drive up to a motor boat tied to a dock. When she gets in the boat, the old man unties the mooring. "Calico Inlet's 15 minutes out. South end," he says briskly, talking to her like some office gopher rather than mad scientist bait.

"Then what do I do?"

He doesn't look at her when he answers, "I don't know. Wait, I suppose. And be careful."

If I was careful, I wouldn't be here, she thinks mutinously, then starts up the motor. And if I hadn't grown up around Dad, I wouldn't know how to work this damn thing. Sighing, she takes the boat down the lake, not seeing another soul and regrets being here under these circumstances. Alex would love this place, she thinks, quiet, secluded, woodsy, and I could teach Emily how to fish like my father taught me. Aside from the forced football education, she'd really loved spending time out on the boat, just sitting peacefully with her father, occasionally touching on recent events in their lives, but mostly doing nothing while taking in the tranquility of very little luck with fish.

A dreamy smile on her face, she notices she's got company when she hears the other motorboat before she sees it. The driver, Cobra, she assumes, is a fairly good-looking man in his 40s, more Dana's type if she weren't already married. "Finally we meet," he says, his voice full of intensity and admiration. "You're just as you described yourself, certainly more so last night at dinner. I only wish we could continue to correspond, but it must end after this. I hope one day we can take some time and meet your daughter as well, when I'm not a marked man." Without waiting for a response, he hands her a diskette. "This is it, the science I promised you."

Melissa's put two and two together, and she doesn't like the results. "No, keep it," she says, putting it back in his hand. "I love Emily, but you don't have to risk your life for hers. I'm sure she'll do just fine with her current treatment." She smiles, but he looks confused.

"Melissa?"

She nods, then pushes his boat away from hers. "Take care," the redhead says, hoping against hope that he's able to elude Mr. Spender and anyone else.

He nods back reluctantly, but then falls into the water as a gunshot echoes around them. Melissa yelps, diving to the floor of the boat, her heart pounding. I'm going to die, she thinks, her fear overwhelming her mind, I'm going to die here and never see Emily again, or Alex, or Mom... Another shot echoes across the lake, disorienting her. She has no idea where the shots are coming from or who's shooting, and frankly, she doesn't care. Facedown, her breathing is fast and shallow as her arms are wrapped over her head, a futile protection against any bullet. More shots follow, and she thinks she hears a car screeching away, but isn't certain. It's only when there's silence does she breathe easily. Perhaps they killed each other, she thinks deliriously, perhaps Mr. Spender was killed by the others, or he killed them and ran off, or perhaps the others killed him and are waiting for me.

She doesn't move, frozen by fear, the motor boat floating with the current of the lake until she hears a man call out, "Melissa? Melissa!" Her heart beats quickly again, but doesn't dare raise her head just yet. Then the man yells, "Ty v poryadke? Vsyo pad kontrolem!"

She smiles in spite of herself. Only her idiot would ask if she's okay and tell her everything's all right after a shootout. "Alex!" Melissa sits up in the boat, and a familiar figure in black waves at her. She looks around, seeing the other motorboat empty of its driver, with no telltale bubbles showing Cobra's location or life. Her heart heavy, she starts the motorboat up again and steers towards her lover. A small part wishes she'd kept the diskette, but seeing Alex's face banishes any fears or doubts she has about her decision.


That evening, back at Maggie Scully's home, there is a tearful reunion with mothers and daughters embracing, and sisters holding on to each other. And for a while, Krycek's concern was touching until Melissa finally lost her temper. "I'm fine!" she snaps, punching his shoulder. "Dana checked me out, and I'm okay!"

An understandable silence follows, and then Mulder's oddly timed sense of humor makes him guffaw. "Even though the smoking man got away," he says, "just seeing Alex Krycek getting slugged makes my day."

Krycek glares at him, his pride and anger keeping him from rubbing his arm. "I'm glad you feel that way," he growls, "since it was your fault he got away in the first place."

Mulder stares at him in disbelief, then at the others. "Hey, I blew the damn windshield out, but I didn't want to be roadkill," he says, his hands up in apology.

Scully shoots him a look. "Language."

"Roa'kill, roa'kill, roa'kill," Sammy singsongs, and Page chases him out of the room, followed by Emily, into the kids' playroom. For the sake of furthering the peace, Frohike's in another room watching over the rest of the kids rather than facing a losing battle against Krycek. However, Byers, along with his blond compatriot, remains with the rest of the adults.

"So that's it, then?" Langly asks. "No body, no disk, no smoking man?"

The Scully sisters and their men look at each other. "Nope, not a thing," Mulder says.

"Yeah," Krycek mutters, looking at the floor.

"That's too bad," Byers says, "it would have been nice to have seen even some of the research, or gotten a hint from Cobra."

"But if there was a disk, that means it's possible there is a cure," Melissa says, holding Krycek. "I'm sure Cobra wasn't the only one working on it, even if he came the closest. And I hope they come to you next time," she looks at her sister and brother-in-law, "I'm sure the professionals could keep them alive better than I could."

Mulder can't say anything out of guilt and knowledge, but is saved from trying when Scully clasps her sister's arm. "I'm glad you're all right," she says, giving the double agent a grudging glance, "but if Kry -- um, Alex, hadn't given you that GPS device, I don't think you would've been found as quickly as you were."

Melissa smiles, her fingers on the crystal at her neck, then kisses Krycek on the cheek. "Isn't he sweet?"

The FBI agents and Lone Gunmen gape at that description, while Mrs. Scully smiles back. "All right, we'd better get dinner ready," she says, and manages to bring a semblance of normalcy to the odd gathering.

"Okay if I bring Frohike to help?" Langly asks.

Mrs. Scully nods. "Tell him to go around through the kitchen," she says, looking at her eldest daughter and her boyfriend. She's glad Melissa's not only found someone who makes her happy, but loves both her and Emily, even odd biological bonds aside. Now, if only she can find some very tolerant ladies to make Fox's odd friends happy....


Later that night, after Emily has been tucked in bed, the reunited lovers are sharing the master bed in Melissa's home. "Alex?" Melissa asks. He's been fidgety all night, and she wonders if the recent events have pushed him away from her. "What's wrong?"

"Did my aura turn purple again?" he says laconically, then turns away, his breath escaping in a hiss. "Sorry, you're the last person I want to be assholic to tonight."

She smirks. "Please don't walk on eggshells on my account."

He chuckles, then wraps his arms around her. "You're amazing, you know that?"

"Of course," she says, lifting her chin reminiscent of her mother and younger sister, wrapping an arm over his shoulder. "It's about time you realized that. But since you're not as spiritually intuitive as I am, you're forgiven."

"Thank you," he shakes his head slightly. "Too bad it took me this long, but-" He digs awkwardly into the pillowcase until he finds what he's looking for. "Melissa Scully, ti viy-desh za me-nya?"

She stares at him. "What?" Her arms are still around his neck, but it looks like she's in a state of shock.

Amazing, Krycek thinks, she can handle a weekend with that smoking bastard with no life-threatening effects, but the moment I propose, she's all catatonic.

Or maybe her Russian's not as good as I thought. "Will you marry me?" he restates the question, popping open the little box to reveal a gold ring sparkles with her birthstone set on top. "Is that a yes or a no? Your reaction's not what I expected, but I'd rather hear yes."

Instead of looking at the ring, she looks into his eyes. "Do you mean it?"

He forces himself to look back at her, to be honest with her as well as with himself. "I've been meaning to do this for a while," he says softly, "but seeing how easy it was to lose you, and possibly Emily, too..."

Melissa nods, and places a hand on his cheek. "It scared me, too," she says. "But if I'm marrying you, it's out of love, not fear."

"So," Krycek says, hoping third time's the charm, "is that a yes?"

"Da!" she laughs, and grabs the small box out of his hand. "For someone who deals with shady characters and conspiracies, you don't seem to like things vague, do you?" she teases.

He smiles. "Only the really important things," he says, kissing her. As she slides the ring on her finger, he notes, "Wow, nice fit."

"Yes, we are." She smiles at him, admiring not only the ring on her finger, but the thought that actually went into it. "Should I call my mother with the good news?"

An unfamiliar, embarrassed look sweeps across his face. "I, uh, asked her first before we left her house."

For the second time that night, Melissa Scully is stunned. "Oh..."

"She said it was okay," Krycek says quickly, "but she wasn't sure what you'd say. For that matter, neither did I."

"Does Dana know?"

"Does she have to?" he says huskily, kissing her ring before moving to her lips.

When they come up for air, it's all she can do to stay on topic. "Ah," Melissa closes her eyes as he trails kisses down her neck, his hands exploring her body, "mmmmm, not yet..."

"Ti ochen' nuzhna mne," Krycek moans when her hands dive into his boxers. "Oh!"

She smiles at him. "I need you more," the redhead breathes, and shows him just how much she needs him as she spreads her legs. For the rest of the night until well into morning, they continue to discuss in both Russian and English how to increase the simple pleasures between a man and a woman.


Chapter Eighty-Nine



August 13th, 2000
5:30 p.m.

Colorful mylar balloons hang a mere foot above the two women's heads, but Teena and Maggie still manage to look dignified anyway. As Mulder herds some young partygoers by, he throws the pair a nervous look. Their mothers never talk, so seeing them with heads bent, in deep conversation, can't be a good sign.

He lets his guard down as he snaps the traditional baby-smears-cake-on-self photos of Christopher. The happy little boy thoroughly enjoys the frosting that's a much deeper yellow than his hair, and squeals with delight as he gets some into his mouth. Turning, Mulder expects the grandmothers to be watching the baby, but they're glancing meaningfully at him and Scully instead.

He decides to bite the bullet and walks over to them, the camera still in hand.

Maggie smiles brightly at him. "Fox, can you believe that little Christopher is already a year old?"

"Time flies," he says, trying to think of a way to ask what they were talking about.

His mother saves him the effort. "Yes, time does fly. Maggie and I were talking about how big Page is getting, too. Six years old next month."

"Six years old and starting school," Maggie adds.

A sinking feeling opens in the pit of Mulder's stomach, and he's not the least bit surprised when his mother says, "Public school."

For the past several months, Maggie has tried to convince them to send Page to Sacred Heart. Teena, on the other hand has been lobbying for a secular private school. Neither he nor Scully haven't dreamed of them joining forces...

He puts on his best smile. "She's looking forward to attending that school with several of the children she's gone to preschool and kindergarten with. Dana and I agree with many of the other parents that having familiar faces around will ease the transition for the children."

"Oh," Teena says faintly.

"That is nice." Maggie's voice sounds reluctant.

"Yes," he says brightly. "We think it's especially nice for Page considering that first grade will be the year she won't have siblings to play with during the school day." They nod, and he thinks they look faintly uncomfortable, and perhaps ready to change the subject. "Why don't we get some cake? I think Scully is saving us pieces with yellow roses."


10:30 p.m.

It ends up being a late night. Mulder insists on putting the kids to bed and letting her get ready for bed, since, as he put it "You did the lion's share of getting the party ready." Which is true, but it makes her feel a little guilty to leave him the task of settling all six kids for the night. Fortunately, even though it's Sammy's birthday the next day, his party is going to take place at school and spare them the tedium of two days in a row of entertaining.

When he finally joins Scully a half hour later, she puts her book aside. There's a pensive look on her husband's face that arouses her curiosity. "What are you thinking about, Mulder?" she asks at length.

"Something I want," he says in what she considers an unnecessarily cryptical manner.

"Which is?" she prompts.

To her frustration, he just shakes his head. "I can't say."

"Oh, come on, now, Mulder. We've been married a long time, nothing you could request would shock or modify me. Though I have to draw the line at public fornication. We have our reputations, such as they are, at the FBI to think of." She expects him to smile at the mental image of doing it in the street, but he doesn't.

"Do you really want to know?" he asks softly.

"Of course."

"I want another baby." And when he turns towards her, she can see from the look in his eyes that he's being completely honest. "I don't want to pressure you if you're not ready to try again, but... I'm better now. Completely recovered. I can't think of a better way to celebrate and affirm that. But like I said, if you're not ready-"

She cuts off his comment by throwing her arms around him. "I love you, Mulder," she tells him fiercely.

He looks a little surprised. "I figured as much, but I'm not sure where you're going with this."

"I love you because you're kind, considerate, and willing to let me believe that having another baby is your idea."

"It is my idea," he protests.

She shakes her head. "Half your idea, maybe."

"So I take it that you're amicable towards the idea?" Mulder asks, and she likes the way hope lights up his eyes. It's something that she's only been seeing again for the past couple of months, and until it returned she didn't know how much she missed it.

"Definitely."


Later, Mulder watches Scully as she sleeps. He stretches out on his back and sends silent thoughts up to God, or whoever it is that might be listening. ::Please, please let me have William back. I've done all I can to bring my promise to life. Don't let us have lost our baby daughter only to lose him too. Please.::

"Mulder?" A sleepy voice startles him, and he looks down at Scully with a sheepish expression. For a second there he was wondering if God had chosen to respond aloud.

"Yes, dear?"

"Are you still awake?"

"Given that we're having this conversation, I appear to be," he deadpans. "Is all of you awake?" she asks, and he has to stifle a laugh. Not because her busy-fingered investigations are humorous, but because she's inadvertently discovered a ticklish spot he wasn't aware of before. "Oh, yup." She sounds happy about that.

It only takes a moment before he hardens in her grasp. "I notice you're awake too," he says in what is an admirably normal voice, considering what she's doing to him. "Whatever shall we do to pass the time?"

"Well," she says without stopping her stroking of his sensitive parts. "You know what they say about trying, right? Try, try, try again. By my count I think we're up to try, try tonight. We should cover try again, shouldn't we?"

"Absolutely," Mulder tells her, and it's only a moment before he's deep within her. Trying to conceive a baby is hard work, but he for one is willing to sacrifice his time to the effort.


Hoover Building
Late August 2000

For a long period of time, the only noise heard in the basement office is the sound of an adding machine. The man using it, special Agent Chesty Short, begins to mutter in Mulder's direction. "Lariat car rentals. Totals..." He holds the tape up to his face and whistles. "Would you like to see the figure?"

Mulder gives it the briefest appraisal before handing it back. "Is that a lot?"

The look on Agent Short's face is one of outraged surprise. "A lot? Gas, expenses...the motel rooms alone. By FBI standards these numbers are out of control."

"Since we're married and it doesn't violate protocol, Agent Scully and I usually save the FBI money by sharing rooms," Mulder says in a deadpan.

The look the accountant gives him is anything but amused. "You're under evaluation. There has to be a point when we say no."

"You can't really compare what we do to other departments in the Bureau," Mulder protests.

Agent Short nods grimly. "Right. This business with aliens."

"Well, there's more to it than that," Mulder tries to explain.

"But, at the end of the day you'd say aliens are your real focus."

"That's the reason I got started, yeah," Mulder says, becoming defensive.

Short shakes his head and consults a folder. "Investigating your sister's abduction and the government conspiracy around it. Both of which have been resolved, correct?"

"Nothing has been resolved," Mulder tells him.

Short doesn't seem to be a sympathetic man. "You haven't done any investigating on her in quite some time, Agent Mulder. I assumed this meant that you closed the case."

Mulder glances down at it. "Yeah, I guess so," Mulder reluctantly agrees.

Agent Short gives him a long look. "So, what exactly is left to investigate?"


Washington D.C.
Krycek 's Apartment

It's a rare afternoon that Krycek is actually at his apartment rather than at Missy's place, and he receives an unexpected guest. On the other side of the open door stands Marita Covarrubias, looking a whole lot healthier than she'd been the last time he'd seen her.

"You're not an easy man to track down these days, Alex," she says dryly. Her eyes wander the place and he squelches the urge to explain that it's sparse because he's moving in with Melissa officially, not just a box at a time, now that they're engaged.

Instead he says, "Marita. I thought you'd be dead by now." Then he pauses. "Not that I wish you were, just-"

"Save it, Alex," Marita snaps. "This isn't a social call."

"I didn't suppose it was," Krycek says wryly and steps back to let her in.

Ignoring him, Marita studies the photos on the wall. She points one slender finger at a photo of Emily and Page playing dress up. "Which one is your daughter?"

"The one with the shorter hair," Krycek tells her nervously. "Why?"

"And the other child is?"

"My niece. More or less." There's another brief urge to mention the engagement, and he wonders if it will keep happening. Good news wants to be told to everyone, he supposes, even to someone like Marita.

She nods, then pulls something out of her purse and hands it to him. "This is her, too, isn't it?"

His eyes widen as he looks down at the photograph. Its green cast makes it clear that it was taken with night vision equipment. In the photo Scully is sleeping on a hotel bed with an infant Sammy and toddler Page at her sides. "Where-"

She hands him another photograph, which takes his breath away completely. "And this is your daughter's mother, right? Agent Scully's sister." It's a photo of him and Missy the day they met. Before he can recover his breath, she hands him third photograph, this time of Emily as a two-year-old.

"But, but this is before Missy even found Emily," he squeaks, bewildered.

"Someone has been watching you all for a very long time," Marita agrees. She spreads out the remainder of the photos, which include ones of Mulder and Scully's kids playing in puddles, and others of an outing he and Missy took with Emily just that summer.

"Why? Who??" he demands to know.

She just shakes her head. "I don't know. I thought you should know that someone's keeping tabs on you, though."

"Why do you care?" Krycek asks, honestly curious.

She gives him a feral smile. "In a way we're like siblings, Alex. Two kids abused by the same family. I don't feel that I owe you much, but I think I owe you this."

The thought of someone else having ties to him makes him uncomfortable, so he changes the subject. "How did you get the photos?"

"I stole them out of the smoking bastard's mail."

Krycek is surprised; his first thought was that the old bastard was suspect number one. "You've seen him?"

"He's going downhill fast."

"Good." He hadn't looked great through the sight of his weapon, but it had been hard to tell at a distance. Her confirmation is reassuring.

"There was no return address on the photos, sad to say," Marita adds.

"At least I know there's something to look for," he says fiercely. "Thank you."

"Don't thank me, help me," she tells him, and he actually listens as she outlines a plan to get revenge on the man who took so much from them both.


X-Files Office

When Mulder returns to the basement, he finds his wife inexplicably staring at his poster.

He gives her a sheepish look. "I think I'm in big trouble."

"Oh, Mulder, how many times have they tried to shut us down?" Scully asks.

"Yeah, but I never actually assaulted an auditor before."

The look she gives him is one of amused disbelief. "Did you hurt him like you have Skinner?"

Mulder grins at her. "I reduced his vision a little bit. And which time hurting Skinner did you mean when you asked that?" Just then the phone rings. Mulder flips on the speaker phone. "Mulder."

"Agent Fox Mulder?" a voice asks, "My name is Billy Miles. I don't know if you remember me."

"Oregon, seven years ago," Mulder says promptly. "You had multiple abduction experiences. I'm here with Agent Scully."

"Billy, are you all right?" Scully asks.

"Yeah. This may seem weird, me calling like this, but, um, I don't know where else to turn."

"It happening again, Billy?" Mulder asks with concern.

"Yeah, but not to me this time," Billy tells him. Then the dial tone begins.

Mulder's first impulse is to turn to Scully and ask her if she'd like to go and waste some taxpayer's money, but the thought leaves him with an icy feeling in the pit of his stomach. If they go off to Oregon, one of them won't be coming back. And since things have confounded him with surprising changes, he can't be positive that he'd be the one taken. He stares at the phone held in his hand.

"Mulder, are you okay?" Scully asks, giving him a worried look.

"Yeah. I just wish Billy hadn't hung up like that."

"Oh," Scully says, and takes the phone from him. She hits three buttons and hands it back. "The magic of Star six nine."

"Sixty-nine is the magic number," he tells her with a leer that makes her roll her eyes at him. There's a click on the line that tells him that the call has connected, even though there's silence at the other end. "Billy? It's agent Mulder. We seemed to have been disconnected."

"Sorry about that," Billy replies nervously.

"That's no problem. Look, what I was going to tell you is that if you'd like to come to D.C. to discuss the problem, I'd be happy to meet with you. I'm sure agent Scully would be as well. Unfortunately, we just got reamed out by accounting about travel expenses, so I don't think there's enough cause to justify us coming to you at the moment."

"Uh, okay. I'll buy a plane ticket and let you know when I'm coming." Billy sounds surprised rather than annoyed.

"Okay, then. See you soon," Mulder tells him. When he hangs up he notices Scully's look of disbelief. "What?"

"You're not going to suggest we fly out there just to piss off accounting?"

"'I do not bite my thumb at you, sir, but I bite my thumb, sir,'" Mulder mutters. There's not a snowball's chance in hell that she'd believe him that going off to the west coast is going to lead to their kids having a single-parent family, so he has to improvise. "That's what they expect of us. It's more fun to keep them off balance by playing nice."

Something like relief passes over her face. "I knew there had to be a reasonable explanation."

"Don't worry. I fully expect that you'll leave me and take all my money if I ever do anything crazy like staying on the straight and narrow."

"My husband, the stand up comic," Scully complains, but she doesn't seem too upset to him.

Mulder hands her a pair of sharpened pencils and waves towards the ceiling. "You know you want to, Scully. And if we're here in the office, we'll naturally go through more office supplies."

For a second she looks uncertain, and then surprises him by throwing one of the pencils at the ceiling. It flies straight and true and embeds itself in a small section of naked tile where one of its predecessors had fallen out. He gives her a suspicious look. "You've done that before. You must have."

"Beginner's luck," she tells him with a perfectly straight face.

"Uh huh."


The Watergate Apartments
Washington, D.C.

Marita and Krycek arrive at one of the apartments and knock. A blonde woman whose name badge identifies her as Nurse Greta, opens the door.

Sitting in his wheelchair, the smoking man's complexion is nearly as gray as the wreath of smoke about his head. He turns tired eyes to his guests. "I've been hoping to see you, Alex."

"Cut the crap, old man," Krycek snaps.

"You haven't changed," the smoking man says with a sigh. "I hope we can all move forward... Put the past behind us. We have a... singular opportunity now."

"A singular opportunity?"

Some life returns to the old man's face, and Krycek can barely stand to witness his pitiful enthusiasm. "There's been a crash in Oregon. An alien ship has collided with a military aircraft. Recovery is all-important. It's Roswell and Corona all over again-- 50 years later. It's our chance to rebuild the project."

Before Krycek can ask him what makes him think that they'd be interested in resurrecting the project, Marita asks the old man, "How do you know someone hasn't already recovered it?"

"It's never quite so easy," the smoking man tells her, but he doesn't look like he feels that there's much of an obstacle in their way.

"You've always liked things the hard way," Marita says with such bile that Krycek stares at her. For a moment he finds himself wondering what manner of abuse she was alluding to earlier.

He pushes the thoughts away, suddenly horrified by the possibilities. "What makes you think we'll help you?" he asks, mostly to distract himself.

"My golden boy and girl, who else would I turn to?" the smoking man pontificates, neatly ducking the question.

"If we're at the top of your list, I'd hate to see who's on the bottom," Krycek retorts. "I can tell you have a plan in mind. Spill it."

The smoking man turns pleased eyes to him. "I've always admired your directness, Alex. Now..."


That Night

There's a knock on the door, and Scully is more than a little startled to see Krycek standing on the steps, without Missy or Emily to act as a buffer.

He smiles at her. "Can Fox come out and play?"

"Hi, Alex." She tries not to let her confusion show. "What can I do for you?"

Krycek pulls a piece of cardboard out of his pocket. "I got this ticket for a free game of bowling and your sister suggested, well insisted actually, that I ask your husband if he'd go with me."

"Oh, that's sweet," Scully tells him, mentally adding 'and very odd'. "I'll ask him," she says, leaving him in the living room.

To her surprise, Mulder is actually willing to go. "Really, Mulder?"

"I like bowling," Mulder tells her. "And it's well-lit and public. We'll have to behave."

"Are you sure?" Scully asks, feeling deeply confused.

"I'm pretty sure things will go fine. And if I were ever going to murder him in public, I wouldn't use a bowling ball to do it. Much too messy."

"Well, okay. Have fun." She reaches up to kiss his cheek and wrinkles her nose when she feels stubble against her lips. "You need to shave when you get home."

"So you're saying the Miami Vice look isn't doing it for me?"

"I just don't like the scratchiness, Don."

"Okay, as soon as I get home," he promises.

She shrugs after he leaves, wondering if she ought to call the Vatican and report a possible miracle.


Mulder keep up his easy-going façade until he and Krycek are seated in the man's car. "So what is this really about?"

"What, the husband and boyfriend of two sisters can't spend a nice night together drinking and bowling?"

"Sure they can. As long as those two men aren't us," Mulder tells him as Krycek shifts into drive. "We're obviously not bowling."

"Yeah, we are. But first we're going to my apartment. I have something I need to show you."

Krycek lives entirely too close for Mulder's comfort, so it doesn't take long before they're pulling up in front of his building. "How did you manage to hang onto this place?" Mulder asks him as they get out. "This neighborhood is in fair demand, and you disappeared for a while."

"Being a bad man pays well enough," Krycek says shortly. Mulder doesn't comment since it's clear that something other than his presence has the man agitated. "Come on," Krycek tells him. He pushs the door to the apartment open and leads the way to the table in the small kitchen. "Well, look."

Mulder's first worry is that they're going to be crime scene photos, but they're both more benign and sinister than that. He studies them carefully before looking up at Krycek. "I didn't know that you were a photographer. They're a little rough, but they've got some promise."

"I didn't take them," Krycek says sourly. "They were given to me."

"Why?"

"Why were they taken or why were they given to me? They were given to me by a sometimes friend who found them and was concerned. As to why they were taken... someone's watching us."

"Someone's always watching us," Mulder tells him without emotion. "This doesn't change much. Why are you showing me?"

"Because this worries me!" Krycek bursts out, surprising them both. "Someone is watching our kids. I'm used to being under the microscope, and I'm sure you are too. But there's something more vicious about this. They've never made overt threats towards little kids before."

This made Mulder raise his eyebrows. "Uh, what about my sister? What about how Emily came into being?"

"All right, you've got me there." Krycek sighs. "I thought you had a right to know that the kids are being watched, though."

"Thank you," Mulder tells him, meaning it. Krycek shrugs.

::He's changed.:: Mulder thinks to himself after noticing that simple gesture. ::He's not the bastard who is only looking out for his own skin. I guess Missy and Emily are to blame for that.:: Because of these thoughts, his tongue seizes control before his brain can object. "Alex, if something happens to me, will you help Scully watch out for the kids?"

Krycek looks shocked. "Are you actually admitting that you're a mortal man?"

"I guess. But if something keeps me from protecting them, will you help her?"

"Yes," Krycek says simply. "If something happened, I'd help her."

Mulder's curiosity gets the best of him. "Why?"

"Because Missy would want me to."

"Fair enough."

"Nothing is going to happen to me, though," Krycek tells him confidently. "So I won't ask you to promise to look after Emily." He gives Mulder a sidelong look. "And I know that a boy scout like you wouldn't even need to be asked anyway."

Mulder holds up his fingers. "Scout's honor."

"Whatever." Krycek snorts. "You're buying the first pitcher of beer once we get to the bowling alley."

"I thought you said that being a double agent pays well."

"It does." Krycek smirks at him, and Mulder can't find it within him to argue against mere cheap bastard-ness.


Three Days Later

"I'll get it!" Mulder quickly volunteers when there's another knock at the door. He's been trying to evade Scully's questions about bowling since the last time they had a visitor, so he doesn't want to be the second to greet again.

His welcoming smile turns to a look of confusion when he realizes that Billy Miles didn't arrive alone. Instead a young woman carrying an infant is standing by his side. Billy doesn't seem to notice Mulder's reaction, because he holds out his hand. "Agent Mulder."

"Nice to see you Billy."

Scully's arrived by this point, and she threads her arm around Mulder's waist. Now that there are two puzzled people looking at him, it seems to finally sink in with Billy. "This is Teresa, you helped her too."

"I know," Scully says warmly, but she gives the ring on Billy's finger a pointed look. "Are the two of you...?"

Both Billy and Teresa turn bright red. "Uh, no. No," Billy stammers.

"Oh." Scully doesn't look embarrassed by her mistake. "Agent Mulder and I married not terribly long after we met you."

"I thought I saw toys in the yard," Teresa says shyly.

"Six kids require a lot of toys," Mulder says lightly.

"Six!" Billy whistles. "You folks have been busy."

"Like you wouldn't believe." Scully's voice is dry. She turns to Teresa. "You can put your baby in the playpen if you'd like. Our youngest is taking a nap. Actually the twins are too."

"Thanks."

The baby's feet have barely touched the bottom of the playpen when there's a small stampede. April and Page immediately go to Scully, but Sammy looks sheepish when he notices that there are strangers in the living room with his parents. "Oh, guests."

"Hey Buddy, this is Billy and Teresa. When we first met them Mommy started to believe in aliens."

"Yeah?" Sammy asks, looking interested. "Mommy believes in aliens?"

"I said 'started to.' She still has a ways to go, son."

"No ghosts, though," April comments. "I don't see nuffin' she tells me. But there are ghosts!"

Sammy gives his sister a wide-eyed look. "You see ghosts too?"

When she notices the amused looks on their guests, Page says "Our house is haunted" in a rather matter of fact tone.

Billy Miles grins at her. "I wouldn't expect less from your folks."

"Hey," Scully snags Sammy and draws him and the girls into a hug. "Why don't you guys go and play? We're going to be talking about boring grown up stuff."

"Like taxes?" April asks, earning four strange looks from the adults.

"Something like that," Scully agrees, but she looks up to Mulder when they run off. "How does she know about taxes? She's three."

"Who knows," Mulder replies, as mystified as she is.

The adults settle on the couch. Scully glances at their guests. "If you two aren't involved, there must be a different story behind the two of you coming here together."

"Uh..." Billy trails off and shoots his friend a look. She nods, so he continues. "The problem I started to tell you about on the phone? It's her husband. He's disappeared."

"Billy and Ray work together," Teresa tells them. "For the police department."

Billy Miles grimaces. "I've never thought of myself as a cop but it's been three years now. My dad got them to fudge the psych qualifications. People look at me askance anyway, as if they expect me to draw my gun and point it skyward any minute now."

"You've never, um... have you ever been able to get over the abductions?" Mulder asks.

"Well, I have. But, um, people haven't. No one really believes it." He fingers his wedding ring. "The woman I recently divorced sure didn't. And my dad still denies it ever happened - that any one of us was taken."

"Does he deny that it's happening now?"

Billy Miles repeats what he's been told by his father by rote. "There was a crash. A Navy pilot hit an unidentified aircraft outside of town. Now, the military found their jet but the other craft hasn't been recovered."

"Why not?" Scully wants to know. "Why hasn't the military gotten involved in locating the other craft too?"

Billy shrugs. "It's our county and we're in charge of coordinating efforts but my dad has really been no help even though we have a deputy missing." Beside him Teresa stiffens, and he gently touches her shoulder to reassure her.

"You find the UFO and he won't be able to deny the truth," Mulder tells him. He pretends not to notice Scully's questioning look. She might think that he's going to volunteer to aide in the search, but nothing could be farther from his mind.

"The truth is well and good," Billy tells him, his voice suddenly firm. "But I'm more interested in finding Teresa's husband."

Scully give the young woman a gentle look. "Do you mind telling us what happened?"

Teresa nods. "Ray and I have less difficulty than Billy and Felicia did. Ray and I have abductions in common, so that wasn't a problem for us. And you can imagine, it has the potential to be a big problem."

"So he was taken like the two of you?" Scully asks.

"Yes, but he kept it a secret from almost everyone. No one where we live wants to hear the a-word, and he saw how bad it's been for Billy...." She pulls a folder out of the baby's diaper bag, which is something Mulder can relate to. He's used baby bags to carry definitively unbaby related things over the years too. "His experiences were a lot more terrifying than mine. He was taken many times and tested. I have extensive medical records on him and photos of his scars."

Scully glances down at them to be polite, but she wants to hear more of Teresa's story. "Are you under the impression that he's been abducted again, and that's why he's missing?"

"I saw him taken with my own eyes, Agent Scully," Teresa says stiffly. "There's no impression about it."

"I'm sorry for my wording-" Scully begins, but the other woman cuts her off.

"It was last week. We'd stayed up late after going to a family b-b-q. I'd just put the baby down when I heard Ray shout. I ran towards are room, and it was absolutely flooded with light... Ray was holding his arms up over his face, but somehow he sensed I was there. 'Go hide!' he yelled, but I didn't. I meant to, but I couldn't leave him alone like that.... then he was gone in a flash of light."

"I'm sorry," Mulder tells her sincerely. At a loss, he wonders what it is that he might be able to do for the people sitting in front of him. Go with them or not, he's not going to be able to keep either of them from being abducted. Then inspiration hits. "Aren't you concerned about yourselves?"

"What?" Billy Miles asks.

"You've been abducted before. Aren't you worried that they're coming back to your town to collect the whole set of you?" Both of their guests' faces look immediately alarmed. "Maybe you should spend some time over here on the East Coast. Until things blow over."

"I don't know..."

Scully frowns a little at the young police officer. "If you stay maybe we'll think of a way to help Ray. At the moment I'm drawing a blank, and if Mulder had anything he'd of blurted it out by now."

Billy looks like he's going to object, but Teresa gives him a beseeching look. "Okay, maybe a few days. Can you recommend a good hotel?"


11 p.m.

To Mulder's surprise, Scully looks very sad when she lies down. Drawing her into his arms, he kisses her forehead and asks, "What's wrong?" ::You're supposed to be happier this today, but you don't look it.:: He thinks to himself.

"I feel bad for Teresa," Scully confesses. "To have gone through what she has, and to lose her husband too..."

"We don't know for sure that he's really gone," Mulder objects. "At least not for good. She and Billy came back, didn't they?" ::And Krycek did too. Oh shit, will they be looking for him now? No, no, we're not in Oregon. It will be fine.::

"Yes. But they weren't gone so long. Ray's been gone almost a week."

"He'll be back," Mulder tells her with a conviction he doesn't dare explain. ::Someday. He'll be back someday. And this time neither of us are going anywhere, love. The danger is on the other side of the country.:: Yawning, he kisses her again. "Aren't you familiar with the expression 'don't borrow trouble'?"

"Of course."

"We'll think of something to get him back, Scully. But not now. It's late. We're both tired."

"Are you really tired?" Scully asks innocently, but she's trailing a lazy finger down his chest.

"Well, not that tired," Mulder tells her, before making her squeal in surprise by pushing her over.


Outside

Krycek turns on his car, but doesn't bother with the headlights yet. Instead he drops his binoculars and flips open his phone and hits a number on his speed dial.

"Your worries seem pretty baseless to me, old man." He's still mentally cursing himself for peeking into Mulder and Scully's bedroom at the exact wrong time. Scully's an attractive woman, though he thinks she pales in comparison to her sister, but he'd just seen quite a lot more of Mulder than he ever bargained for. Missy would tell him it was karma for spying on family, he was sure. "It doesn't look like either of them have any intention of going to look for that UFO you misplaced."

"Are you sure?" The old man's voice is stringent.

"Pretty damn sure," Krycek growls into the phone.

"Then you won't have to look over your shoulder when you go and get it."

"Who says I'm going out there?" Krycek asks. Mulder isn't the only one who enjoys sharing a bed with a fiery redhead, and he's loath to leave Missy now, not with their engagement still shiny and new. It's had quite the positive effect on her libido, not that there was anything wrong with it before.

"Of course you will, Alex. If you don't-"

"If I don't, what?" Krycek asks harshly. "You're too weak to harm me, and in case you haven't noticed big chief, all your braves have been captured and executed by the Calvary."

"You'll do it, Alex. I know you."

"Fuck you," Krycek snaps the phone closed and puts on his lights. It's too late to tell Emily a bedtime story, but maybe he can tell one to Missy. One that involves acting scenes out. Perhaps something out of the Victorian age erotica collection The Pearl.


6:30 a.m.

"Mulder. Mulder, wake up."

At first Mulder squeezes his eyes more tightly shut and tries to hang onto his dream which involves him and Scully frolicking naked on a beach, but she's shaking his shoulder hard enough to make him dizzy. He looks up at her blurrily. "What?"

She looks upset. "They're gone. The hotel called and Teresa and Billy are gone."

"What?" Instantly awake, Mulder sits up quickly. "What do you mean they're gone? They checked out?"

"No. The baby was still there. Teresa wouldn't leave her. Get dressed, I told Skinner that we'd go and check it out."

Swearing silently, Mulder throws on some clothes and follows Scully out to the car.


Drawmore Hotel

Feeling a sick sense of déjà vu, Mulder quickly turns his head when a police officer walks by cradling Teresa's daughter in his arms. ::This can't be happening.:: He thinks to himself, but when they reach the room he knows that it is.

At first the room might just be mistaken for one that had hosted a wild party, perhaps one for bulls who had been thrown out of china shops. But there's more there than can be explained away by drunken exuberance.

Near the baby's borrowed crib, there's a puddle on the floor. It's mostly dry now, but it's faintly green and the carpet it rests on is singed, blacken by a chemical burn. Scully is looking down at it with concern. "We've seen something like this before. I lost a shoe to this stuff."

"I thought they'd be okay here," Mulder confesses, and his voice sounds a little broken. "I can't believe it came here after them."

"Don't blame yourself, Mulder," Scully soothes him. "You couldn't have known. I thought that they'd be okay here too. And if they weren't safe here, who's to say there's anywhere on Earth that would be safe?"

The thought sends a chill crawling up his spine. ::What if there are no safe havens?::

Both of them jump a foot when Billy's phone lets out a shrill burst of complaint. Mulder bends down and pushes talk, mostly to make it stop. "Hello?"

"Who's this?" a voice on the other end demands to know. "It's not Billy, I know that much."

"My name's agent Mulder. I'm an FBI agent. I'm sorry to tell you this, um,"

"Ritchie," the man supplies.

"Right. Ritchie. But it seems as though Billy and his friend Teresa have disappeared out of their hotel room. We're investigating that right now."

"Oh, shit," Richie moans. "I was calling to warn them because they got Gary, too."

Mulder doesn't need to ask who they are. "I'm sorry to hear that your friend is missing too."

"No man, you don't get it. He's not just missing, they fucking took him!"

"Who are you talking about?" Mulder feels he has to play dumb now.

"Do you know Billy, or are you just investigating him disappearing right now?"

"I worked on a case when he and his friends were abducted years back," Mulder tells him.

"Then you know about the aliens," he says, and waits for Mulder to object. When Mulder doesn't he goes on. "Me and Gary saw something last night, out in the woods. I figured that it could be one of those UFOs that everyone said Billy claims to have seen, so we went out there to take a look. I was shining my flashlight in the dark looking for the UFO and uh, the beam hit this spot in space-- like it bent the light."

"And then what happened?" Mulder asks.

"Well, I yelled, 'Gary!' And I looked... but he wasn't there, you know? He wasn't anywhere, Man, and then the flashlight got really hot and I dropped it. I think it's still out there. Melted, probably."

"You got a pen, Richie?" Mulder asks him abruptly.

"Yeah, why?"

"Take down this number. Someone heading the investigation ought to be able to keep you up to date on what's going on here, and maybe you can tell them what you've told me. It might help."

"Sure," Richie snorts. "As if anyone is going to be able to bring him back."

"Stay positive," Mulder tells him before hanging up on him.

"Mulder, where are you going?" Scully asks as he quickly heads for the door.

"Men's room," he says, knowing that she won't follow him there.

Huddled in a stall, Mulder pulls out his own phone and dials a number. "Krycek, listen. There have been several abductees taken again in the last week. I know you've never talked to us about your experience, but given what Duane Barry was claiming before you disappeared, it doesn't take a genius to figure out what happened to you. Two people have disappeared from Oregon and two from D.C. too. Watch your ass."

"I will," is all Krycek gets out before Mulder disconnects the call.


Krycek's Apartment

Marita Covarrubias gives Krycek a somewhat interested look as she sips tea from a cup Missy gave him at one point. "Who was that?"

"Mulder," he says shortly. "There's been a change of plans. We're not going to Oregon."

"Why not?"

"Because we're being set up, that's why the hell not!" Krycek paces. "The old bastard is trying to get us sent off in the UFO, not have us find it. I don't care how much he's planning to pay us, I'm not going back with them again."

"It was terrible, then?" she asks, but her voice is almost totally devoid of sympathy.

"You know it was. They experimented on you too. Though in your case from the comfort of Earth."

"But you got her out of it." Marita points her thumb in the direction of Emily's photo.

"My only consolation, believe me. I'm not putting myself in the position of losing her now to make that old asshole happy. He can find some other patsy to do his dirty work when we fail to show up."

"We're going to see him, Alex," she says mildly. "I think we owe him an explanation in person. And perhaps something more..."

Krycek listens in rapt attention as she outlines what she has in mind. In another life, maybe he and this frosty blonde might have ended up together, he decides. But maybe they wouldn't because they're clearly two sides of the same coin.


Hoover Building

"Are you sure?" Mulder asks his wife. Who looks annoyed.

"I told you twice already that I don't mind staying here to talk to the gunmen while you and Skinner go run an errand. Although I wish I knew what that errand was."

"So do I," Mulder tells her. He can't imagine what Skinner is asking him to go and look at. His phone call fifteen minutes earlier had come as a complete surprise, especially considering that it was already after the time they ought to have left the office. On a normal night they might have missed him all together.

She throws her arms around him. "Be careful."

"Sure," he tells her. "I'll be back soon."

"Get a room," a sour voice says from the doorway. Mulder isn't surprised to see that it's Frohike.

"Jealousy is so unbecoming," Mulder quips and heads for his car.

"This is some really strange stuff," Langly comments a few minutes later. All three gunmen are pawing through the copies of medical records that Scully had faxed to her from Oregon.

Scully barely hears him because her attention is on the file she's holding. "This just can't be."

Frohike appears at her elbow and tries to make sense of what she's holding. "What are you looking at?"

"More medical records. Billy Miles and other known abductees from Bellefleur, Oregon all experienced anomalous brain activity."

"Electro-encephalitic trauma," Byers says, having located that in a file he's holding himself.

"Which is exactly what Mulder experienced earlier this year," Scully says in a small voice.

"Which means what, exactly?" Langly asks.

"It means we have to tell Mulder that he's in danger, too, not just the returnees." She reaches for the phone.

"What if it's just coinci-" Langly trails off as Scully pitches forward in a faint. He tries to catch her, but she manages to hit her forehead on the corner of the desk.

"Oh shit, that's going to leave a mark," he says as he lowers her the rest of the way to the ground. "Don't just stand there! Call an ambulance. And get Mulder on the phone."

The other gunmen are startled by his unusual assertiveness and pull out phones.


Meanwhile...
The Watergate Apartments

When Krycek and Marita arrive, the smoking man is looking out the window with a disappointed expression.

"Looking for your ship?" Krycek taunts. "No one went to find it."

"We've failed, then. Perhaps you never meant to succeed. Anyway... the hour is at hand, I presume."

The nurse tries to keep Krycek from wheeling the smoking man out of the room, but Marita blocks her.

Nurse Greta looks alarmed. "What are you doing?"

"Sending the Devil back to Hell," Krycek says grimly. He then pushes the Cigarette Smoking Man's wheelchair to the top of a flight of stairs.

The Cigarette Smoking Man gives Krycek an ominous look. "As you do to Mulder and to me... you do to all of mankind, Alex."

"As if you and Mulder are the same type of man." Krycek snorts. "He's a fool, not evil."

After a moment he gives the wheelchair a fierce push, and watches impassively as the old man flies down the staircase and lands in a boneless heap at the bottom. However he does wince when the empty chair lands on the man. He and Marita exchange a look, then walk down the stairs, shove the chair out of the way and step over their nemesis.

Somewhere inside of the house there's a forlorn little cry. Neither Krycek nor Marita hears it as they walk off into the night.


Meanwhile...
Somewhere in the Woods

"So," Mulder looks around where they're standing. "What are we doing out here? I'm guessing it's not for a weenie roast."

"There was a sighting out here last night," Skinner tells him. "I do pay attention to your reports now and again, Mulder."

::And of all the times to decide to!:: Mulder thinks nervously. ::I'm supposed to be avoiding UFOs not looking for them, dammit.:: "Right... Well, I don't see anything out here, do you?"

"No, not yet anyway," Skinner tells him as he studies the sky. It's dark earlier than usual, most likely because they've predicted rain.

"Maybe it was just a crackpot," Mulder suggests.

"I guess-" Both of their phones begin to ring. Skinner is quicker to answer his, and looks over at Mulder. "Scully passed out and hit her head. The gunmen are bringing her to the hospital. You can talk to them while we drive."

"Right," Mulder says before beginning to speak to Byers. "Do you have any idea why?"

He and Skinner climb into the car and take off. All thoughts of aliens are pushed out of Mulder's mind as his friend explains to him that she just fell for no apparent reason. "There's got to be a reason, Byers. People don't just faint for no-"

Skinner's car stutters to a stop. The lights won't work, and nothing happens when Skinner pushes on the gas. "Of all the times to break down..." Skinner mutters. "Hand me the flashlight under your seat, would you?"

"Sure." Mulder fishes it out and hand it over. "Do you think it's the alternator? My dad used to whack ours when it stopped working."

"Maybe," Skinner grunts and gets out of the car.

Skinner is still trying to get the hood up when it happens - a flood of white light fills the interior of the car. It's so bright that he's got to use an arm to shade his eyes, but he still sees Mulder's face. The other man looks both surprised and horrified.

"Mulder!" he shouts, running to the passenger side of the car. Before he can make it all the way there something like a giant invisible hand throws him back, and he lands heavily in the dirt. By the time he's on his feet the car is empty.

"Mulder?" Skinner looks up at the sky, and sees that the light is retracting towards a triangular ship that he hadn't noticed before. It hovers there for a moment, then zips away leaving Skinner to stare at the dark night sky in anguish.


That Night
Memorial Hospital

Skinner looks a little lost when he timidly enters Scully's hospital room. She doesn't seem to notice him at first, but then she looks in his direction, and he's instantly tongue-tied.

"Agent Scully. How you feeling?" he asks at length.

"I'm feeling fine. They think it's just dehydration," Scully says thinly and touches her forehead. "No concussion, but I'll have a goose egg for a while. They ran a few tests to see if there was anything else that could have made me pass out but I'll probably be out of here tonight."

"Well... um..." Skinner looks pained, and it's clear that he's not going to be able to say what's on his mind.

Scully looks like she's about to cry herself, but she takes pity on him and softly says, "I already heard."

"I lost him," Skinner says in a broken voice. "I don't know what else I can say. I lost him. I'll be asked... what I saw. And what I saw, I can't deny. I won't."

"We will find him. I have to." Scully's tears overflow. Skinner is about to leave, but pauses when she begins to speak again. "I can't raise six kids on my own. I mean...I'm capable, but I just can't do this without him."

"We'll get him back," Skinner repeats.

"Yes," she agrees because neither of them can allow themselves to think otherwise.


Later
Missy's House

Missy gives her fiancé a frustrated and confused look. "I still don't understand."

"I told you. There's someone watching the kids. They could be in danger."

"I know. But explain how that connects to your bizarre desire to move yourself and Emily into my sister's house," Missy complains.

He takes a deep breath. "How else am I going to keep them all safe? I told you when the twins were born that I'd look after those kids. I mean to do it."

"Alex, that's noble but..." It is only with effort that she doesn't snap at him that nobility is not something that's normally one of his motivating factors.

"And Fox asked me to look after them. You don't want me to break a promise, do you? Besides, I'm just talking about nights. When they're most vulnerable."

"But what if I'm not willing to include my child in this plan?" she asks, beginning to sound angry.

"Our child," he snaps. "You know you want her to be safe, Missy. You know it."

"But I don't want her away from me every night!"

He gives her a long look. "We don't always get what we want. Sometimes we have to do what's best for others instead. If I could be two places at once, I would be, but it's not possible."

"You have all the answers, don't you," she says icily.

"This time I do," he says evenly.

Eventually Missy succumbs to his logic and gives in.


Chapter Ninety



Early September 2000
Hours Later

The sky is beginning to bleed pink into dark blue as Skinner's car pulls into Mulder and Scully's driveway. He glances over at his passenger and sees that her eyes are closed. "We're here," he says purposely a little too loud, hoping that he won't have to do more to wake her.

"Thanks for the ride," Scully says to his relief.

"No problem. One of Mulder's strange friends said that they'll bring your car by later this morning."

"Great." Scully covers her mouth to trap a yawn.

"Whose car is that, though?" Skinner asks, pointing.

"You don't even want to know." Skinner stares, since for the first time in hours she's showing emotion. Annoyance. "I'll call you later, okay?"

"Right." Skinner tries to think of something supportive or otherwise inspirational to say, but fails. She's already heading for the door, so he shrugs and backs out of the driveway.


It's very quiet in the house. Scully feels guilty for not having been there to help Michelle get the kids to bed, but morning will come soon enough and with it the necessity of telling the kids that Mulder is missing.

There's light spilling out in the hallway from under the door of Michelle's room, so Scully knocks softly.

When she opens the door, Scully finds herself struck by how young the nanny looks. Scully is only ten years older, but the weight of the world is making her feel twice the girl's age. If not more. "Dana! I wasn't expecting you to be home for hours."

"You weren't waiting up?"

"No. I couldn't sleep so I decided to read for a while." Scully could see a book lying spine up on a chair. "So, they released you. You're okay, then."

"It was just dehydration. I'll be fine." She finds herself thinking that it's nothing 48 hours of sleep couldn't cure. Not that she'd even be getting eight.

"I'm sorry-" Michelle begins, but Scully cuts her off.

"Right now we're operating on the assumption that he'll be fine. Please don't offer condolences just yet."

A faint pink creeps across the nanny's cheeks, and Scully feels a modicum of guilt when she mumbles "Of course."

"Where's Alex?" Scully asks, glad for a change of subject. "I saw his car out front. Did he come with my sister?"

"In the guest room, and no." Michelle gives her an anxious look. "He insisted on spending the night since you weren't here. That's okay, isn't it?"

"Yes. I'm going to go talk to him. Good night."

"You too." The light is doused seconds after Michelle closes the door, so Scully decides that she must be trying to sleep again.

It's not okay with her that Krycek is there without Missy, but she upset the girl enough without complaining about that too. And it's not as though the nanny could have kept him out if he was bound and determined to get in.

Too tired to spare any diplomacy for her sister's beau, Scully opens the door without knocking and flips a switch, flooding the room with light.

"Krycek."

He sits up and rubs a fist across his eyes. "They let you out sooner than I expected," he says before yawning.

"Why are you here?" she demands bluntly.

"I promised."

"Promised who?"

"Mulder. I promised if anything happened to him I'd help you protect the kids."

"From who?"

"It's a little complicated-"

"Never mind. We'll talk about it later." Scully walks away, unaware that she'd see a look of astonishment on his face if she turned around.


Morning

Without Mulder there, Scully barely sleeps. It's not the first time that he's been gone, and not even the first time she didn't know when he'd be back. But it is the first time since she met him that she ever truly wondered if he would be back. Given this, she only makes it to the shallows of sleep, rarely pulled under by deeper waves. Any time that she does manage to dream, it's of terrible things happening to Mulder, and that makes her afraid to sleep, too.

When she forces herself to get out of bed, she feels as though she didn't sleep at all. It hardly comes as a surprise to find both nanny and pest in the hallway when she exits the room.

"Are the kids still asleep?" she asks them.

"Yeah."

"Good. Let them sleep in."

"Okay," Michelle says quickly. "What are we going to tell them when they wake up?"

It was a good question. It was her first instinct to just tell them that Mulder was away on a case by himself. Since he'd done it before, they'd accept that explanation. It wouldn't work, though. People were bound to forget that Page and Sammy were old enough to understand if someone slipped up in front of them.

"The truth," Scully says at length.

"Are you sure that's wise?" Krycek asks worriedly.

She glares at him. "They're bound to find out, so they'd feel scared and betrayed, instead of just scared. And I want to talk to you in private. Now."

Michelle excuses herself, but the other two barely notice. "Why did you say that Mulder asked you to protect the kids?"

"Because he did ask me to."

When she looks at his face, he seems to be telling the truth, which only convinces her that he has become a better liar. "Why would he do that?"

To her surprise, he sighs. "I knew you'd never just accept the simple truth. Here, let me show you."

Once he's in the guest room, he digs through a duffel bag and takes out a folder which he hands to her. "He asked me to help you protect the kids if anything happened to him just after he saw these."

As she looks through the photos, it becomes much more plausible that Mulder extracted that promise from someone he can't stand. "He asked because you're ruthless."

"Yes. And an interested party." His finger points at Emily in a picture. "Someone has been watching the kids for a long time. I don't know who."

"The smoking-"

Krycek shakes his head. "No. Marita stole the pictures from his mail. He didn't send them to himself."

"So we have other enemies," Scully says bitterly.

"Don't we always?" Krycek doesn't sound cynical, which makes her unaccountably sad. "I know you'll hate me for it, but I'm going to stay here until Mulder gets back. I owe him a debt and it's time to repay it."

He didn't say 'if he comes back' which is probably why she doesn't refuse immediately. Instead she tries a different tactic. "What about your kid? Whoever our 'friend' is, they've been watching her too."

"I know. I've been giving Missy some shooting lessons, but I think she'll be safer spending the nights with us."

Scully grits her teeth. The idea of not one, but two more people in the house doesn't fill her with joy. The thought of boarding houses is summoned up and quickly dismissed. "Right. We can put a bed in Page's room."

Krycek studies her face, but she doesn't protest, which is obviously what he's been expecting. "Missy wants her tonight, though. So she can get her ready for the first day of school."

Which, Scully realizes, is the next morning. "Fine."


When the kids wake up later in the morning, Scully kisses the little ones but gathers Page, Sammy and April and brings them to her room. Although she doesn't realize it as she settles them on the bed, this is the second time they've received bad news there in just a few months.

Before she can even think of where to begin, Sammy gets to the point. "Where's Daddy?"

"That's something we need to talk about," Scully says softly. "Daddy is missing."

"What's missing?" April wants to know.

"It means we don't know where he is," Scully tells her.

"He's lost?" Page asks.

"Yes. He's lost."

"He should ask for directions."

Even though she's depressed, it's all Scully can do not to laugh. "Not that sort of lost, sweetie. I mean that we don't know where he is, not that he doesn't know where he is."

"Why not?"

Scully stares at her children. Even though she swore to tell them the truth, there's no way that she's going to tell her children that their father was abducted by aliens. It would frighten them, and despite her high opinion of Skinner, she's not sure she believes his account. "His phone isn't working, so we can't figure out where he is."

"Is he hurt?" Sammy asks. "Like in the hospital?"

"No. I don't think he's hurt." And she hopes that he isn't. "Just lost."

"Will he be home soon?" Page asks.

"I don't know when he will be home. We'll all have to pray that he will be home soon," Scully tells them.

"Okay."

"Guys, even though we're going to pray, it might be a while before he's home. I hope not, but I want you to know that now."

"But I want him home now!" April says, surprising her mother with her outburst.

"So do I. So do I."


The Next Morning

Mulder is missing, but life goes on. Even for Scully. Less than 36 hours after being released from the hospital, she's already submerged in day to day life. Still, her mind wanders constantly.

"Are you done, Mommy?" Page looks impatient and Scully feels mild surprise that she's been holding a hairbrush for who know how long.

"Uh, sure." Page's straight blonde hair looks neat, so Scully must have brushed it. "You look great."

"Thanks. Is Emily gonna be in my class?"

First grade, Scully thinks. Her first day of real school and her Daddy is missing it.

"Mom?"

"Yes. I forgot to tell you that Auntie Missy called me a couple of days ago to say so." Just then a car appears in the driveway. Scully looks out the window and a familiar redhead is behind the wheel. "It looks like they're here now."

"Yay!" Page grabs Scully's hand and pulls her towards the door. Mulder was going to bring Page to school so Scully could take Sammy and April to meet their new teachers. Missy volunteered to fill in for Mulder, and though Scully's grateful to her sister, she can't help but feel that Page ought to have a parent their too.

Page, however, doesn't seem upset that her mother has made the painful choice between her and her timid three-year-old sister. In fact, she smiles up at Scully and says, "Tell April that preschool is fun and the teachers are nice."

"I will. Give me a kiss."

Page does, and is about to skip off when Scully stops her. "Wait. I almost forgot to take a picture of you."

"For Daddy," Page says, quietly breaking Scully's heart.


Missy is in no hurry to get the kids to school, so Scully takes the opportunity to speak to her while the girls go to look for something they absolutely must bring with them. A toy of some sort. She wishes her life was so uncomplicated.

"You have to talk to him, Missy. The last thing I need is your boyfriend underfoot-" Scully says as soon as they're alone.

"Fiancé," Missy corrects.

"What?" Scully gapes at her.

"I'm sorry, Dana... I was hoping to break the news at a happier time, but I'm not sure there's going to be one any time soon."

"Are you pregnant or something?" Scully asks impatiently.

"I don't know yet," Missy admits.

"So Krycek asked you to marry him, what, to do the right thing? That's a first."

"Dana! First of all, I said I don't know yet. And second, I hadn't planned on saying anything to him until after I know one way or the other, so you can just cross that off your list of possible motives. Not all men are like Fox."

Scully stares at her, torn between saying it's a pity, or a blessing. Missy doesn't notice. "Aren't you at least a little happy for me? It's the stable family thing you and Bill have been wishing on me forever."

"Missy-"

She hurries on before Dana can make a swipe at Alex's likelihood at providing stability. "And I think a little brother or sister would be a good thing for Emily. She's a sweetheart but even I can tell she's not as mature as Page. And I've wanted a little boy since you and Fox had David and Jared..."

Scully gives her head a slight shake in effort to clear it. "You just caught me by surprise, that's all."

"So this is surprise, not disapproval?" Missy asks archly.

"Yeah. I'm happy for you. Really. But I want him out of my house, and in yours."

"So do I. But he's a stubborn man."

"You're well matched there," Scully says pointedly.

"Yes, of course. I'm the only hard-headed Scully," Missy says dryly. She notices that the kids are back and grabs her purse. "Come on, girls."


As Scully's fingers brush the lump on her forehead, she hisses in pain and drops the foundation she's been trying to apply to it into the sink. Her fingers automatically reach for it, but she stops. It's not as though a bit of flesh colored makeup is going to disguise her injury.

Instead she stares hard at her reflection. Although it has only been a couple of days since Mulder's disappearance, and since she was last able to sleep soundly, unattractive purple rings her eyes like faint bruises. The fact that she's pale only serves to accentuate them. Without quite planning to, she grips the edges of the sink and leans her head against the mirror with a sigh.

"Mommy?"

She looks up quickly, and sees that her younger daughter is staring at her with some concern. "What's up, sweetie?" Scully asks, trying to pull herself together, if only for April's sake. April didn't have too much to say about anticipating her first day of preschool, so Scully wonders if that's what's on her mind now that she realizes that she'll be going soon.

April sits on the closed lid of the toilet and doesn't say anything at first. She seems occupied by swinging her feet and letting her slippers bump against the porcelain. Eventually her bright brown eyes lock onto Scully's tired ones. "We're going to miss Daddy for a long time."

Something like fear ceases Scully's heart for a second, at least it doesn't until she chides herself for being dumb enough to believe even for a second that Mulder is dead and their daughter somehow knows this. "Why do you say that?" she asks carefully.

April shrugs her little shoulders. "He's far and far 'way."

"We don't know that for sure," Scully tells her quickly.

"Uncles said," April replies stubbornly.

Scully sighs. She knew that telling the kids was the right thing to do, and clearly this has just been proven. There's no way the lot she knows would be able to keep a secret of that magnitude. "They're good guys, April, but they're just speculating." Upon seeing her daughter's blank look, she adds. "I mean they're just guessing. Daddy could be back very soon."

"Yeah," April says, slipping off the toilet and running for the door. "But he won't."

Bewildered, Scully just stares after her. There's still twenty minutes to go before she has to drop Sammy and April off, and it's already been a long morning.


Hoover Building
An Hour Later

Scully's way into the basement office is blocked by several men who are ransacking the office. None of them bother to look up when she gets there.

She blinks in disbelief before asking "What are you people doing? This is my office."

One agent looks up and gives her a cool look before returning to what he was doing. "I realize that."

"Why are you here?" she demands to know.

"We're gathering evidence."

"For?"

"If we're going to locate agent Mulder, we need these things."

"You're wasting your time here-"

"With all due respect, Agent Scully, your opinion doesn't count for much."

This makes her bristle. "How am I supposed to work with all of you in here?"

"Scully?" She looks up at a touch to her shoulder.

"Skinner, did you know about this?"

"Not until I got here a few minutes ago."

"How am I supposed to get anything-"

"Don't worry about that for now. We're supposed to go have a conversation with someone. The one in charge of looking for Mulder."

"Who?"

"Our brand-new deputy director. Alvin Kersh."

"You're not serious."

"Wish I weren't," Skinner says. He steers her towards their destination.


Kersh's Old Office

Kersh looks up from packing things from his desk into a box. "A.D. Skinner, Agent Scully. Thanks for getting right over. I don't want to lose any time. We have one of our own missing and the only acceptable outcome is that we find him safe and alive. I'm sure the two of you agree."

"That goes without saying, sir," Skinner agrees, but he grimaces, as if nearly choking on the "sir."

"Doubly for agent Scully, I'm sure." Kersh bobs his chin in her direction. She doesn't in any way dispute his assumption. "Good. This comes at a stressful time, with my new appointment. But I'm thankful for your cooperation in the hunt for Mulder."

Scully gives him a look of mild disbelief. "Our cooperation? With due respect, there aren't two people better qualified to be directing this action, sir. We could be doing so much more if-"

Kersh shoots her a disapproving look. "We never assign people this close to a case like this, I'm sure you're aware. Right now, you and A.D. Skinner are our best leads to explain Mulder's disappearance. I want your statement taken ASAP."

"Your tone makes us out to be suspects, sir," Scully says and Kersh stares at her.

"Taken by who?" Skinner asks, trying to redirect the conversation.

"My task force leader on this, Special Agent John Doggett. He's waiting to hear from you now." Scully's eyes widen in surprise, but she starts to follow Skinner. Kersh stops them with a look. "One more thing. Anything leaves this building about aliens or alien abductions or any other nonsense that might cast the Bureau in a ridiculous light - you can forget about helping to look for Agent Mulder. You'll both be looking for new jobs instead." He looks back down at his packing. "That's all."

Once they're out in the hallway, Scully looks up at Skinner. "I don't believe this."

"This isn't about finding Mulder. This is about Kersh covering the FBI's ass," Skinner gripes.

"Why do I get the feeling they'd be happy if we never found him at all?"

"Look... I saw what I saw. I have to make a statement in there. I'm not going to tell them it didn't happen," Skinner reassures her.

"Well, you heard Kersh. They don't want the truth. You give them the truth, and they'll hang you with it."

Skinner shakes his head. "They can hang me with a lie, too. I'm not going to sell Mulder out."

"What good are you to Mulder if you give them the power to ruin your career?" she asks, and he doesn't answer. "We will find him, but not by committing career suicide."

Even as she says it, the memory of April's innocence conviction that it would be a long time until they saw Mulder again returned unbidden.

"We'll bring him home soon," Skinner says, which doesn't reassure her much.


They no sooner enter the bullpen than a man they know to be agent Crane is rushing over to accost them.

Crane exudes an air of all business, which briefly reminds Scully of the old saw about all work and no play. Something that definitely does not apply to her boyish spouse.

His attention, however, is focused on Skinner rather than her. "Assistant Director, you can come on back with me. Agent Scully, I'll ask you to please wait on the wall until we call you." Skinner reluctantly follows him, and the look he gives Scully makes her worry what he's going to say when they take his statement.

Scully goes to sit, but a man already seated stands suddenly and crosses the distance between them. It only comes as a mild surprise when he enfolds her in a hug. "Dana, how are you holding up?" His blue eyes are filled with concern.

"About as well as can be expected, John," Scully says, sighing deeply. "I was startled when Kersh said you'd be heading the task force to find Mulder."

Doggett nods slightly. "I volunteered for the duty. They probably think I thought it would be a good career move." He doesn't need to elaborate on which They he means. "How are the kids taking it?"

Scully spreads her hands helplessly. "The big kids are upset, the little ones confused. Christopher looks for Mulder everywhere..." Tears begin to prick at her eyelids, but she forces them down. "And to make matters worse, my sister's finace decided to move in to help out."

"Why does that make things worse?" Doggett asks curiously.

She laughs, a short, brittle bark. "There's nothing like having a double agent in the house. I don't even want him in her house."

"If this guy worries you-"

Scully pats Doggett on the arm. "That's sweet, John, but he's not like that. I might dislike him intently, but I'm not worried about him being a danger to me or the kids. To strangers, maybe, but he takes this family business seriously. He and my sister have been dating for years, and they have a daughter. Who is also living with us at night, but that's a different gripe."

"Ah," Doggett says, seeming to be at a loss.

"So," Scully says, trying to sound more cheerful. "Which one of the kids hates you more for the move?"

Doggett smirks. "That would be Hannah, surprisingly. I thought that Luke would be the more upset given that he's in high school, but he said that his school was full of 'losers' so he doesn't mind the fresh start. Hannah, on the other hand, is devastated by the loss of her preschool classmates who are going to be in kindergarten together without her. She's spent the last 36 hours sulking."

"Maybe you can make her happy by bringing her over to play with my girls and my niece. If there's anything my house has, it's an excess of playmates."

"That would be nice. We should do that sometime soon."

When Skinner comes back out to tell her Crane wants to speak to her next, he looks surprised to see her chatting easily with Doggett. Before she goes to Crane, she says "This is agent Doggett. Mulder broke his son's leg a million years ago...so we've known each other a while."

"My kids and I crashed at their house for four months," Doggett tells Skinner cheerfully.

"Oh, you were the house guest," Skinner says a bit gruffly, but more nicely than Scully would expect him to treat what he must consider an interloper.

They're already beginning to talk about Mulder when Scully leaves them.


That Night

It makes Scully ache when she notices that Page and Sammy are putting on brave faces and trying to distract the twins, who have been clingy since she got home. Trying not to sigh again, she calls them over and kisses them both on the tops of their heads. "Hey, I've got to get these guys into the tub. Why don't you go play Legos before bed?"

"Okay, Mommy," Sammy agrees with a serious nod of his head.

"Don't leave any on the floor for the baby to find later, okay?"

"Yeah," they agree, then go and find April and Emily to play with them.

It doesn't take her long coax David and Jared up the stairs ahead of her and Christopher. Five minute later the tub fills while she undresses the three little boys. All of them are fascinated by bubbles, so she puts a lot in to distract them before sitting Christopher in the tub chair. Then she gives them their toy boats.

While her youngest sons laugh and splash each other, she takes a pregnancy test. It's not the best time of the day for it, but she's pretty sure, so it'd only be confirming what she thinks she already thinks she knows.

Five minutes more tick by while she washes the boys' hair.

Once she looks at the results she flips down the toilet seat and sits down. Then she covers her face with her hands and cries. It's the first time since they've been married that Mulder wasn't nearby to learn the results of a pregnancy test. Deep in her heart she's already sure that it'll be longer before he finds out than when she was nervous to tell him that she was carrying Page. Something tells her it might be much longer.

When the three little men in tub get bored, she dries her face, rinses them off, and dries them too with big fluffy towels. Just a few minutes later all three are dressed in blue sleepers that are decorated with stars, and she at least is ready for them to go to bed.

Christopher is asleep almost as soon as his head hits the crib mattress, but David and Jared don't seem to look at their younger brother as an inspiration, but watch impassively from the vicinity of their mother's knees until she takes them by the hand and leads them down the hall to their room. "Come on," she encourages gently, and they toddle along willingly enough.

One bedtime story later, both pairs of hazel eyes are beginning to droop. Eventually they both sigh and lie down in the cribs that she and Mulder have been meaning to replace with toddler beds. Standing, she closes the book and puts it back on the shelf. She's about to leave the room when a small voice stops her. "When Daddy home?"

She turns back, and sees David's inquisitive look. How do you explain a situation like this to someone barely two years old? Shaking her head, she just says "Soon, baby," and turns off the light.

A quick look into Page's room reassures her that the other children are still playing peacefully, so she goes to the master bedroom to write an e-mail to the gunmen.


Her fingers are flying across the keyboard as she fills the gunmen in about Kersh's insane manhunt, but even over the steady clicking, she hears the familiar squeak of the floorboard outside her bedroom door. Glancing at the doorway, she notices that something is blocking the dim light that spills under it at the edges.

She gets up, and hauls the door open, expecting to see one of her children on the other side. To her surprise, there's a faint noise as something plastic breaks, and it only takes her a second to realize that the hallway nightlight has just been assaulted. She turns her head to see who could have kicked the light out of the socket and soon sees a shadowed figure moving rapidly down the hallway.

A figure much too large to be one of the kids or even the nanny.

"Alex?" she calls tentatively, but the man, and she's now sure that it's a man, doesn't turn to look at her. She's only a couple of feet from her room, so she makes the decision to grab her gun out of the nightstand. It seems to take her forever to unlock that drawer and jam a clip into her weapon, but she and Mulder agreed when Page was a baby to always keep their weapons unloaded and locked away.

The figure is already thundering down the stairs when Scully returns to the hallway. "Stop!" she calls, but she is ignored. Thankful that she's not wearing any shoes that would slow her down, she races down the stairs herself, barefoot.

He gives her chase, and she's soon running in the yard, trying not to slip on the grass that the sprinklers have watered since dark. Whoever he is, he races ahead, and she collides with someone who steps out into her path.

Before she can land on her butt, strong arms catch her. "What are you doing?" Krycek asks her, giving her a look that seems to wonder if she's lost her mind.

"Following someone. I saw someone in the house- There!" She points, and Krycek turns to see someone run past the potting shed. In the faint light still exuded by the solar spotlight, they see a glimpse of a man's face. A face that looks a lot like Mulder's.

"Mulder!" Krycek shouts, and gives chase himself. It doesn't surprise Scully much when her future brother-in-law returns, alone and panting. He bends over for a second, with his hands on his knees. When he's able to talk again, he looks up at her. "He just disappeared. Why would Mulder run away from us?"

"I'm not sure that was Mulder," Scully says.

"What are you talking about?" Krycek asks, then understanding dawns on his face. "Do you think it's one of... them?"

"Mulder wouldn't run from us," Scully says grimly. "We better go in. In case it comes back."

Krycek shivers, despite the fact that it's still in the 70s. "Are you worried that-"

"I'm worried about everything," Scully says before heaving a heavy sigh.


Hours Later

Krycek's bladder wakes him out of a sound sleep, and he pads down the hallway towards a bathroom. The nanny's room, like the master bedroom, has a bathroom attached, but not the room that he's crashing in. As he leans a hand against the wall to help him keep his sleepy balance, Krycek finds himself marginally grateful that the toilets in these other bathrooms are full-size and not extra small like those in the elementary schools.

While he washes his hands he notices bathrobes that can only belong to Sammy and Page. There's as much stuff in the room that speaks of little boy ownership as for his sister, but Krycek imagines that will change in a few years. At least there are four boys, not four girls, given they'll be sharing bathrooms during their teen years.

He's about to return to his room when he hears snuffling coming from the baby's room. Before his daughter landed in his life, he would have been able to walk on by without any pangs of conscience, but fatherhood has changed him, so he finds himself opening the door.

Christopher is standing up in his crib, his tearstained face turned towards the door. For a moment he looks surprised to see Krycek, and then a little scared. Krycek smiles at him. "Hey, Chris. It's Uncle Alex. Remember me?"

At the sound of his voice, Christopher calms down and holds out his arms. Krycek picks him up, only a little awkwardly, with his good arm. "Let's go see Mommy, huh?"

Krycek knocks softly at Scully's door before turning the knob. To his dismay, she hadn't woken up. He considers waking her for a moment, at least until he realizes that she's sleeping with one of Mulder's shirts clutched in her hands. The tail end of it is near her nose and he bets that it smells like the missing man.

It's not something she'd want people to know, he realizes instinctually. She wouldn't want people to know that she's missing her husband so desperately, that there are cracks in the stoic facade she's thrown up since they got the news that Mulder is missing. He backs out of the room as quietly as he can. He won't even tell Missy.

Back in the hallway he wonders if he ought to wake up the nanny, but that seems like a bigger hassle than just helping the baby himself. "So which is it, Kid, hungry or wet?" He eyes the little boy speculatively, and decides that he's probably too old to be waking up in the middle of the night to be fed. Probably.

At the changing table he discovers that his instincts were correct. It doesn't take him nearly as much effort to change a diaper as he thought it would. Then again, if Mulder could do it, why couldn't he? "If Missy and I give you any more cousins, I guess I could do this part," he whispers to Christopher.

Christopher smiles up at him, but his eyes are drooping. Once he's gotten the sleeper buttoned back up, he ruffles the little boy's hair. "You know, I wonder if you and your big sister are going to stay blonds. Missy said that her dad was a blond too, until he was in his mid-teens. Your mom's pretty lucky having a sister and brothers. You too, of course. Who has more brothers and sisters than you? I always wanted some myself." It doesn't strike him strange to be confessing this to a one-year-old, given that the boy won't tell on him. "What I really wanted was a big brother, but it's sort of hard to get one of those."

Eventually the regularity of Christopher's breathing tells Krycek that it's safe to go back to bed. For just a second he finds himself pretending that he's the one who grew up with a houseful of siblings who might have protected him.


Hoover Building
Morning

Although efforts were made to clean up after agents ransacked the office, everything looks slightly off. At first Scully was determined to set things to rights, but she ran out of steam not long into the project.

Feeling tired of everything, she sits down and stares at Mulder's poster. Its single line of text is wrapped against her ring finger, and she wonders if Mulder's still wearing his wedding ring, or if it has been taken from him too.

"Dana?"

She looks up at the use of her first name, since it's a rarity at work. "Yes?"

"I've been hoping to talk to you alone," Doggett says, closing the door.

"Why?"

"I've talked to a lot of people, but I haven't gotten to ask you what you think happened to your husband."

"I don't know," she says, suddenly feeling wary. The look on his face suggests that he's heard a theory, and doesn't like it.

"Really? You're the only one who doesn't seem certain that they know what happened to him." Scully has to concentrate on not squirming like a naughty child when his icy blue eyes lock onto hers. "I'm sure you've heard the prevailing theory, though, that he was abducted by aliens?"

"I've heard it."

"But do you believe it?" She doesn't say anything, and he seems to take it for a yes. "I guess I just find it hard to swallow that a scientist, a serious person, could buy that. Ever see an alien, Dana?"

Scully bristles, hurt that someone she thought of as a friend could divorce that relationship from a case. "You want me to go on record? I will go on record to say this - that I have seen things that I cannot explain. I have observed phenomena that I cannot deny. And that as a scientist and a serious person it is a badge of honor not to dismiss these things because someone thinks they're B.S."

"So you think he was abducted?" Doggett asks.

"I don't know." She shakes her head. "Wherever he is now, he didn't go willingly."

Doggett is beginning to look frustrated. "Let's look at this logically. I know you trust AD Skinner, so I understand why you want to believe him. But what exactly does his story amount to? He put the hood to the car up, and while he was looking at the engine the interior of the car was filled with a bright light. He tripped. Agent Moldah wasn't in the car when he picked himself up. Why does that story say 'alien abduction' rather than another type of abduction? The man has enemies. Maybe the bright light was the headlights of an SUV."

"And the shape Skinner said he saw in the sky?" Scully asks.

"A low flying aircraft," Doggett says dismissively. "Can you tell me it's less plausible than the theory your boss has pinned his beliefs on?"

"No."

"All right then." Doggett looks somewhat relieved. The phone in his pocket begins to ring. "Sorry. I have to take this."

"You won't get much reception down here. Too many metal beams in the basement You're better off stepping outside," Scully tells him with a straight face.

"Thanks for the tip."

As soon as he leaves, she picks up the phone on Mulder's desk. "Skinner? Doggett's not going to be any help. He's dead-set against the mere possibility of alien abduction... I thought we could keep him in the loop, but it doesn't seem wise."

Doggett returns a couple of minutes later. "That was security. They have a record of Moldah having been here late last night."


Scully, Skinner and Doggett meet with the rest of the Taskforce in the Bullpen. Agent Crane is wearing a pained expression. He motions for them to take a seat, and they do with some reluctance.

"As you probably know, someone came into this office after hours and removed some material. Files. We don't know exactly what just yet," Crane says. He seems to think that they know exactly what he's getting at. They don't.

"Who did?" Skinner asks.

"The office here is secured by a pass-card lock and whoever came in last night used the pass-card belonging to Agent Mulder."

"You think Agent Mulder took the files?"

"We're wondering about Agent Mulder's state of mind. In your statement you said prior to his disappearance Agent Mulder had felt threatened by the FBI."

"No, no," Skinner denies. "No, that's not what I said. I said he felt the X-Files were threatened by budget cutting. There was an accountant here just last week, and he made the usual threat."

"Is there anything you're not telling us about Agent Mulder or his attitude? Do you think he'd ever retaliate against the FBI?" Crane asks.

"Agent Mulder was only after the truth."

"As are we, Assistant Director," Kersh says, glowering at the agents. None of them are cowed. Scully bites her tongue to keep from voicing her opinion on his personal quest for the truth.

"Agent Scully, Where were you last night?"

"I was at home," Scully tells him calmly. "With my children."

Crane nods, then turns to Skinner. "We see from your phone log, you were here until at least after 10:00."

"You think I came in here last night using Agent Mulder's pass-card?" Skinner asks, disbelief evident in his voice.

"You were the last person to see Mulder."

"Am I being accused of something?" he asks belligerently.

Crane doesn't have an answer for him. At least not one that comes from speaking aloud. He gets up and walks off without another word, and Skinner is hot on his heels, repeating his question.

Scully looks at Doggett. "Skinner is telling the truth. There's no way he'd lie about Mulder going missing in his presence."

"I believe him," Doggett says. "But that still doesn't tell us who used Moldah's card to get in there."

"You think it was Mulder?"

"If not him, then who?"

Scully doesn't answer him.

Doggett sighs. "All right. I got some light on this. Maybe you can help me out here, Agent Scully."

Scully gives him another wary look; his sudden use of her title strikes her as too business-like after his earlier familiarity. "What is it?"

Doggett hands her a file. "Agent Moldah's medical records—recent stuff, over the last year. Did you know about a medical condition? Either of you?"

"Yes, of course," Skinner says impatiently from the doorway. Scully only nods.

"So a year ago, he was hospitalized. Something to do with his brain?"

"There was a problem with his temporal lobe," Scully acknowledges.

Doggett pokes a finger at Mulder's file. "An undiagnosable condition, it says. Irregular brain activity."

"For a little while, yes. Then he got better," Skinner tells him.

Doggett shakes his head. "But he was back in the hospital again in October, wasn't he?"

Scully looks away. "Someone tried to 'cure' him by doing some brain surgery. It seemed to work. But he got an infection and it was hard to shake it. He was back in the hospital in October and sick again, though not as badly, off and on for months after that."

"But he recovered," Skinner objects. "There was a full recovery."

"When was that?" Doggett asks.

"In May," Scully tells him. "He was given a clean bill of health on the tenth of May," she adds, unwilling to talk about how Mulder had come home miraculously cured after his encounter with the sin eater.

"You're sure about the date?"

"Positive. It was just three weeks before we lost our youngest daughter."

Doggett blinks in shock. "You lost a baby?"

She shrugs and has trouble meeting his eyes. "I was involved in a car accident and the baby came too soon. She was stillborn."

"I'm so sorry," Doggett sputters.

"It's hard, but you go on. We both tried to move on." Scully thinks about Mulder coaxing her to try again. The thought of whether or not that had been a good idea considering current circumstances surfaces, but she pushes it firmly away. Mulder will be back soon.

"Did he?" Doggett asks softly.

"What are you getting at?" Skinner demands to know.

"It's clear that this has been a rough year for him. To be so sick, to lose a baby... any person might crack under the strain."

"Don't be foolish," Skinner snaps at him. "You make it sound like he lost his mind and ran away."

"Mulder wouldn't leave his kids," Scully says adamantly. But even as she says the words, she's reminded of the close call their marriage had in the spring. Mulder was prepared to walk away then, if that was what she wanted him to do.

"Are you sure? I would have said the same thing about my ex-wife, right up until the day she told me she was leaving me." There's bitterness in Doggett's voice. "How far would Moldah go to find his truth? Are you sure he wouldn't take the opportunity if it arose?"

"The opportunity for what?"

"To end the mysteries in his life. Whatever it was he was trying to prove, how bad did he need to prove it?"

Scully feels a weight crushing her as she admits the truth. "It was his whole life once upon a time. But that was before. Before we got married."

Skinner looks confused. "Agent Doggett, what are you trying to say?"

"That Agent Moldah probably found himself in a place none of us want to go. Life-threatened, work-threatened, and all for naught. Nothing proven. The effort in vain. No motivation to go on left. Unless he rolled the dice, took one big last chance to make it."

"You think that Mulder was here? That he broke in to steal those files?"

"I don't see who else it could have been."

"Why?" Skinner asks. "To prove what he's known all along?"

"Or cover it up. Create doubt. To protect his kids by destroying evidence. I get Moldah, I really get him. I understand obsession, believe me. But the question is, how far would he go? I mean, so far as to stage his own disappearance?"

Skinner looks outraged. "Scully, I know what I saw. I not going to sit here and listen to this. I watched it happen."

Scully stares at Doggett. "Please don't report your suspicions. As a friend, John, I'm asking that you don't tell anyone that you suspect anything like that."

"I don't plan to. It wouldn't help anyone to find him, since we have no idea where he'd go." Doggett leaves them there, and they watch him, suspicious of what he's up to now.

When they're alone, Skinner puts his hand on Scully's shoulder. "I don't believe any of that."

"Neither do I," Scully says, but her voice is a bit shaky. "He wasn't depressed. He wanted to..." She trails off, not quite ready to tell anyone about her pregnancy. "He wanted to celebrate the fact that he's better. We had plans... he wouldn't leave on his own."

"I know."

Thinking about what Doggett said, however, she wonders briefly if he would leave to protect the kids. It's possible that he got a lead on whoever it was that was watching their family and Missy's and went to find the guilty party. She dismisses the thought. He wouldn't have gone away like that, even if it was his plan. He would have told her and Skinner. Wouldn't he?


Scully and Mulder's House
That Night

"Who wants to hear a bedtime story?" Langly asks after they've been there for twenty minutes.

"We do!" Page says, speaking for the group.

"Upstairs then," Langly tells her. He picks up the twins, and the older kids nearly trip over each other in their eagerness to hear what they call "Uncle Stories." Langly looks over his shoulder. "You guys owe me one."

"Yeah, you love it," Frohike grumbles good-naturedly.

Skinner picks up a map and shows it to Scully. "These are records of microburst activity. What we read is UFO activity since Mulder's abduction."

"I think this is a waste of time," she says skeptically.

"No, it's not. Just look at them."

"I'm looking, and what I'm seeing is activity all over the southwestern states."

"That's right."

"Mulder, Billy and Teresa all disappeared from the northeast, not anywhere on this map." She reminds them.

"But if Mulder is on that ship, this is where he is now." Skinner points at the map.

"In the Arizona desert?"

"This is what we have to go on."

"Okay. Say this is true ... then how do we even begin to start finding him?" There's a long, awkward pause.

"We..." Frohike trails off. "Knowing where they're going, that's got to help us in some way."

"I get it," Scully says, suddenly animate.

"You get what?"

"What you saw, why they took Mulder, why they're in Arizona now—it all makes sense. Why do people refuse to believe in aliens and UFOs after all these years of sightings and eyewitness accounts? Why?"

"Because there's no real proof," Frohike says.

"Because, maybe, if there are aliens they're simply going around and they're... and they're removing all of the evidence before it becomes proof," Scully says. "This isn't Mulder who's going around and collecting this stuff. It's them. Someone is trying really hard to clean up any proof that might change people's minds about aliens."

"Why would they be in Arizona, then?" Skinner asks.

"Because they are looking to find that which is not in my computer or Mulder's computer or in the files that were removed from the FBI. They are looking to find the whereabouts of good, hard proof. That in this case exists in a person, in a boy named Gibson Praise."

"If that's true, then the boy is in danger," Skinner tells her.

"I know. But only if they get to him before we do," Scully says.

"Do you even know where he is? The last I knew, Mulder hadn't told where he'd put the boy."

"I'm not exactly sure, but I know who knows."

"Can you get in touch with that person?"

"Yes. You ought to go home and pack, Sir."

"Me?"

"I can't do this alone, and I don't think we can get John Doggett involved in this. He's just going to be getting in the way, looking for Mulder. He's not there, but John won't believe that if we say we're following a lead. No matter his faults, John is a good friend. And as a good friend, he's going to be completely dedicated to finding Mulder. Right now, that's only going to hurt us."


The Following Day

"Skinner, pull over," Scully demands.

He does as she asks, and she hastily unhooks her seatbelt and stumbles from the car. She gets a few feet away before she throws up the chicken salad sandwich that she'd eaten earlier in the day. Without having to be asked, Skinner hands her a bottle of water so she can rinse out her mouth.

"Food poisoning?" he asks a little sardonically. Neither of them had thought much of the meal that they'd been served on the flight.

"No," she says as she settles herself back into the passenger seat. "Bad timing." She wonders if he understands the subtext, but isn't up to talking about her condition.

Seeming to sense that, Skinner just glances at her before turning his face back to the road. "You feeling better? I need some navigation."

Scully nods, mostly to herself. "Agent Reyes said that we should meet her at a diner about ten miles from here. There's a turn off about five miles up and we take it."

"You sound as though you trust her," Skinner remarks.

"Mulder and I worked a case with her once, and Mulder's been in touch with her on and off since... so yes, I trust her."

"Good. It's nice to be able to trust someone in this mess."


Frank's Diner

As Skinner parks, Scully looks through the windows and catches sight of a familiar brunette sitting alone in a booth. Despite everything, she finds herself beginning to smile. Skinner is right, it is nice to be able to trust someone.

Reyes looks up when the bell over the door to the diner chimes. "Agent Scully."

"Agent Reyes," Scully replies, sliding onto the seat across from the other woman. Skinner looks uncertain for a second and chooses to sit next to Scully. "This is my boss, AD Skinner."

Reyes offers her hand for a shake. "Nice to meet you, sir."

"You too. I just wish it was under better circumstances." Skinner's voice is a little gruff. "Could you catch us up to speed?"

"Right." She nods to herself. While she gathers her thoughts a waitress appears and Reyes and Skinner order coffee. Scully asks for juice, instead. Reyes speaks in a low voice when the waitress leaves. "I got a call last night from Gibson telling me that something was wrong. I asked him what, and he said that agent Mulder was there in the dorm room with him."

"He said Mulder was there?" Scully asks, surprised.

"Actually, he said 'At least it looks like Agent Mulder. It's something that looks like him.' Before I could ask him to elaborate, I heard the sounds a struggle and him telling someone to let him go. After that I made two phone calls. One was to his school to have the resident advisor check on him, and as I suspected his room was empty. The second was to book a flight to get out here."

"I'm a little confused," Skinner says, and both women look at him. "What is your relationship to Gibson? I know that you're not his mother, at least."

At this, Reyes looks surprised. "He doesn't know?" Normally amicable, she shoots the waitress an annoyed look when the woman returns with their drinks.

"I guess it didn't come up," Scully says apologetically. "Skinner, this is the person that Mulder brought Gibson to when he needed to keep him safe."

"I guess you could look at it like my place was a stop on a modern underground railroad," Reyes says cheerfully. "Gibson and I have been in touch since, and agent Mulder and I placed him at the current school after it seemed like he was being made a while ago."

"So you're definitely an interested party, here," Skinner surmises. "Good."

Reyes holds out her hands. "At the moment, there's nothing more important to me than getting Gibson back safely. If the two of you are ready, to leave, I'll show you how to get to his school."

"I hope we get there first," Skinner says. The women exchange a glance. They hope so too.


Less Than an Hour Later

To Scully's vast dismay, Doggett is at the school, marshalling agents. He approaches as soon as he notices that they're there. "How did you know we were here? I tried calling you both early this morning, but I couldn't get through to either of you."

"It's a long story," Scully says halfheartly.

Doggett eyes Reyes. "Uh, hi."

He doesn't look any less confused by their presence, but he ignores them in favor of the business at hand. Addressing the gathered agents, he says "Footprints outside the boy's window suggest that they went out that way. Spread out!"

Agent Crane bellows, "The kid's on the loose! You have the photo! Move!" and everyone scatters.

Everyone but Scully, Skinner and Reyes, who just stand there and exchange helpless looks.


Chapter Ninety-One



Arizona

Sand is kicked up when the other agents speed off. A hot sun beats down on the sand creating a hazy glare that waters their eyes.

"What do we do now?" Skinner asks Scully. This surprises her at first, since she's used to him being the one with orders.

She shrugs. "Same as them. Look for Gibson."

"Right."

Scully grabs Reyes' arm. "It's too complicated to explain, but whatever happens, don't shoot the thing that's pretending to be Mulder. And if he's shot near you, cover your face."

The look Reyes gives her is curious, but it doesn't hold the skepticism that Doggett's would. "I trust you'll explain later."

"I'll try."

The three of them go off in different directions, each calling Gibson's name.


Scully is still playing at looking for Gibson under Doggett's direction when she hears the boy yelling. Startled, she darts in that direction, keeping out of sight as much as possible.

When she catches sight of them, it feels like she's been doused with something cold. Although her eyes want to believe that the man dragging Gibson by the arm is her husband, her mind and heart know it isn't. Mulder couldn't radiate such an alien coldness.

Gibson doesn't seem to think that it's Mulder, either. He never uses Mulder's name, and she can't imagine Gibson ever being that terrified of someone he knows. "Stop it! Please! Let me go! Stop it! Let me go! Let me go!"

As she watches from behind a stunted tree, Doggett runs into sight. He, unlike she or Gibson, clearly believes that it's her husband. "Let the boy go! Let him go, Moldah!"

Mulder's imposter stares impassively at him. In his grip Gibson continues to struggle.

"Let him go, or I will be compelled to use my weapon. Now, I don't want to do that, Agent Moldah. I don't want to shoot."

"That's not Mulder," Scully says, coming forward.

Doggett looks stunned. "Where did you come from? And what are you talking about?"

"That's not Mulder," she repeats. "That's not my husband."

Doggett looks at her like she's lost her mind. "Of course it is!"

She shakes her head. "Let Gibson go! He won't tell anyone. None of us will."

"What the hell-" Doggett mutters to himself.

Its eyes study her, seeming to consider her words. To her surprise, it throws the boy roughly aside. Gibson lands on the ground with a yelp.

Concerned, Scully runs to him. Gibson looks up at her, cradling his ankle. Tears shine in his eyes and he points at a large stone half buried in the ground. "I hit that."

She quickly examines his ankle. "I think it's broken. I'll have to find something to splint it before we can move you."

"Yeah, okay," Gibson says through gritted teeth. He catches her eye. "It's not him, you know."

"I know," she says, and starts to pay attention to Doggett. Though she and Gibson know that it's not Mulder, it's clear that her new partner doesn't. The man and alien have edged towards a ledge.

"Moldah! Where are you going? Jesus, no!"

The thing pretending to be her husband takes a deliberate step backwards and falls over the edge of the cliff.

Doggett is staring down in horror when Scully joins him. The body splayed on ground below looks very much like Mulder. And also dead.

The fact that the imposter might be dead doesn't bother Scully, but it clearly does Doggett. He turns to her with anguish filled eyes. "Oh God Dana. I didn't think that he'd do anything like that. He had to know that he was at the edge..."

"He knew," she says calmly.

Which irritates him enough to snap at her. "How can you be so... So cold? That's your husband lying down there!" Doggett points a finger before realizing that he's pointing at empty sand.

"The thing that you watched fall wasn't my husband," Scully tells him. "So why should I care what happens to it?"

"How can you say it's not him?"

She gives him a long look. He looks hot and tired, and pissed at her. "Do you think Mulder has super powers? Because I can tell you that he wouldn't just walk away from a fall like that. No man could."

Doggett is clearly at a loss for words, and doesn't have a reasonable explanation for his team when they catch up to him.

"Agent Doggett, where did he go?"

"I'm..." Doggett looks down at the bare patch of sand below them. Using the back of his hand he wipes sweat out of his eyes before looking at agent Crane. "He fell."

"Fell where?"

He just points down. Crane gives him an incredulous look. "How could he have fallen and then just gotten up and walked away?"

"I don't know!" Doggett snarls. "He just did."

"Right." Agent Crane pulls out his walkie-talkie. "Suspect was last seen below this ridge. Convene the search there." When Doggett makes no move to join the pack of agents that are scurrying off, Crane looks at him from over his shoulder. "Aren't you joining us?"

Doggett shakes his head. "I can hear the ambulance coming for the boy. I'm going to go with him to the hospital, and see if I can get anything out of him."

Crane seems to accept this. "I'll keep you posted on our progress."

"You do that."

By the time the ambulance arrives Skinner and Reyes have found Scully. Doggett looks at a loss when the paramedics load Gibson onto a stretcher. Scully gives him a tight smile. "Why don't you ride with the boy? We'll follow you."

"Thanks." The expression on his face suggests that he has no idea why he's thanking her.


Even though it's a weekday afternoon the emergency room is full of activity. Doctors and nurses fly by them, trailing the hems of white lab coats in their wake. There's not a lot for the agents to do while they wait for Gibson to be treated. None of them was asked to be in the exam room, and they hadn't insisted.

Of the four of them, Reyes seems the most uncomfortable with the silence. Something like relief appears in her brown eyes when she thinks of something to say. She turns to Scully "How is your son or daughter taking all of this?"

"My son or daughter?" Scully repeats blankly.

"Agent Mulder told me that you were pregnant when he brought Gibson to me..." Reyes trails off anxiously. What if something had gone wrong and she was bringing up a very sore subject?

To her surprise agent Doggett suddenly looks delighted. "You don't know why she's confused!" He turns to Scully. "Go on, tell her how many kids you have."

"More than one?" Reyes asks, and Doggett's smile gets bigger.

"Six," Scully says, suddenly sounding tired.

"Six?" Reyes repeats as though she's sure she's misheard.

"When we first met you, Mulder and I already had two children," Scully tells her. "Our oldest, Page, turns six this month. Sammy is five. April is three. David and Jared just turned two. And our baby, Christopher, is one."

Reyes notices that Skinner darts his eyes towards her with a questioning look, but Scully doesn't acknowledge his gaze. She chooses not to make an issue of it, because surely it has nothing to do with her. "Wow."

"That's what everyone says."

She tries to think of something to say, something reassuring to a person who might very well end up raising six children on her own. Nothing comes to mind. She could say that they'll find him, but how many times has the poor woman already heard that?

A doctor striding towards them spares her any further efforts to come up with something meaningful to say. The doctor's gray eyes scan their faces. "You're with the FBI, right?"

Scully quickly scans the waiting room, and Reyes believes that she knows exactly what she's thinking. They are the only people there who are not wearing shorts and sleeveless shirts, so I did not take a psychic for the doctor to figure out which particular group people were the FBI agents.

"Yes," Skinner says, speaking for them all.

"Gibson suffered a pretty bad break. At first we were not sure if he was going to need surgery to have a pin put in, but we x-rayed a second time and decided against it. We've put him into a plaster cast. It's old-fashioned, but more rigid which is what he really needs. It will be quite heavy though, so he will probably tire quickly on crutches." The doctor looks around the room again, for what they are not certain. "His parents haven't arrived yet? I should really be explaining this to them."

"The boy is an orphan," Skinner says gruffly.

"Oh. Then who-"

"He is to remain in FBI custody. So you're speakin' to the right people," Doggett informs the doctor.

"Okay then. As I said he's probably going to have difficulty getting around. He'll need help."

"And he'll get it. I assume that you will have some sort of written instructions for us," Doggett suggests forcefully.

The doctor looks faintly intimidated. "Of course. I'll have a nurse type them up for you."

"Thank you very much, Doctor," Doggett says dismissing him.

It only takes a second before the doctor wanders away looking for much out of sorts.

Scully stares at Doggett. "What was the plan? Find Gibson, and then?"

He looks chagrined. "The plan was to find Gibson, find Moldah, and bring Moldah back to D.C.. Moldah was no longer supposed to be a threat, so Gibson was not supposed to be in danger, and therefore there was no plan to continue to have anything to do with the boy. Obviously that has changed now."

"Obviously," Scully repeats.

Rather than get defensive, Doggett begins to question Scully and Skinner. "Why are you here? Unless someone broke protocol there was no request for your presence on the task force here. How did you even know that we were out here looking for him?"

"They didn't," Reyes tells him. "I called them and asked them to come."

"Why?"

"When Gibson was in danger two years ago agent Mulder brought him to me. I helped agent Mulder find a private school for Gibson. Later on, when Gibson thought that his cover might have been blown, we arranged for him to attend school out here," Reyes explains. "When I got a call from Gibson last night telling me that he believed he was in danger again, I immediately called agent Scully. Until she arrived we had no idea that the danger that Gibson perceived was connected to an agent Mulder's disappearance." Which, strictly speaking is not true, but she does not think that agent Doggett needs to know that. "Actually, until I spoke to her, I had no idea that he even was missing."

Doggett swings his hard-eyed stare toward Scully and Skinner. "You didn't know that we were looking for Moldah out here?"

They are very good at feigning innocence and their expressions do not give them away. Or perhaps he just doesn't know them well enough to see the lies that their eyes hide.

He still looks suspicious, but he doesn't seem prepared to call them liars. "Since you are not part of the task force, and our only objective with the boy was to follow his trail in hopes of finding Moldah, perhaps the three of you ought look after him until Moldah is found."

"In D.C.?" Skinner asks.

"No. Here."

Scully shoots him an alarmed look. "Here? Wouldn't he be safer in D.C.?"

"If he's with three agents, I hardly see the venue adding to or detracting from his safety," Doggett says blandly.

"You're using this child. You're hoping that he will lead Mulder to you," Skinner says angrily.

Doggett shrugs. "I believe in utilizing all available resources. From what I've heard about you, you have a similar mindset."

This assessment clearly irritates Skinner. "I don't understand how a father could have consider a child a resource."

"I guess we'll have to agree to disagree," Doggett says, effectively ending the conversation.


Oasis Hotel

It surprises Scully somewhat that Skinner proves to be very adept at making hotel arrangements considering that it had always been Kimberly's job to do that for him. He decides that rather than rent two rooms he would instead rent them a two-room suite. That way there are still two separate bedrooms but they share common room, so they can more easily look after Gibson.

The first thing that Scully does when they get to the hotel room is to have Skinner help her settle Gibson for a nap. Even though the boy claims not be tired. Her next order of business is to go to the bedroom that she and Reyes will share in to make a phone call home.

While she talks on the phone Reyes unpacks her own overnight bag. It doesn't bother Scully that her phone call is overheard.

"Alex... no, I just wasn't expecting you to answer... I don't think he's out here. John Doggett has different opinions, but... hopefully it'll only be a day or two before he realizes this is futile, and then we get back home... good. I'm glad they're doing okay. Yeah, can you tell them I missed them too? Thanks... no, sure put her on... Hi, baby. I wish I was home too... looking for Daddy. You knew that... I'll tell him that, soon as we find him... love you too. Be a good girl for Michelle and Alex. Bye."

Reyes gives her a curious look. "One of your daughters?"

"That was April. My three-year-old," Scully tells her. "She wanted to make sure we're looking for father."

"Agent Scully-"

Scully tries to ignore the feeling of unshed tears pricking at the corners of her eyes. "A couple of days ago, she told me that we weren't going to see her father for a long long time. It's easy to dismiss that, I mean she's three. But then, she already has a knack for knowing things that she couldn't possibly know."

"She sensitive," Reyes suggests in a tone that indicates that she's using a different definition of the word sensitive than the most people do. "I was like that too when I was little kid."

Scully sighs. "I bet no one wanted to believe you either."

"Pretty much."

"But I think no one would want to believe her," Scully says. "Nobody wants him to be gone for very long."

"Of course," Reyes says quickly.

"I'm going to go check on Gibson," Scully announces before heading for the door.


In the next room the boy is lying on one of the full-sized beds, thumbing through a comic book instead of making any attempt to nap. The smile that Scully gives him is genuine. "X-Men, huh? I think it's only a matter of time before my oldest son gets into those comics too. He begged his father to bring him to that movie this summer."

"I saw it too," Gibson says, and winces as he pushes himself up with his arms. "Is that my pill?"

For a moment Scully is confused, because she's forgotten that she's holding a plastic cup of water and his pain medication. "Oh, sure. Here."

"Thanks." Gibson quickly downs the entire glass of water. He then gives her a hesitant look. "Do you want to know?"

"Know about what?"

"About Mulder," Gibson tells her. "He's not dead."

"I know he's not..." She trails off, realizing that any denials about her fears are useless when it comes to a mind-reader. "Maybe know is too strong a word, but I think I'd feel it if he were dead."

"Those dreams you've been having. Those come from him."

"You mean the nightmares?" she asks, thinking of Mulder being trapped, held down and tortured.

Gibson gives her a disapproving look. "They're not nightmares."

"Gibson, those are the worst dreams I've ever had-"

"Dreams aren't real," Gibson says making a finger of ice run down her spine. "These aren't nightmares. He's reaching out to us."

"Are you saying that we're dreaming about things that really happen to him?" she asks in a strangled voice.

"I wish I could tell you that they're not real, but I don't want to lie to you." Gibson's eyes are sad. "There is one good thing about these dreams, though."

"What could possibly be good about them?!"

"As long as we have them, you know he's alive," Gibson says softly.

"You'll have to forgive me that it doesn't give me much comfort." It costs her a lot of effort to keep her tone even.

Gibson's eyes are luminous. "At least you don't have to claim them. You're entirely human."

"Sometimes I doubt that," Scully tells him. "You know... you know that nobody blames you for this. Not even a little bit."

He gives her a hard look. "I know you believe that. Now." Before she can reply he's picked up the comic book and started looking again.

Not knowing what to say, she leaves him to his own devices.


Washington, D.C.
Meanwhile...

Still slightly resentful of Alex's decision to bring Emily to her sister's house every night, Missy has picked the girls up from school and brought them to her house for the afternoon. That way she has some time with her daughter.

Things are going pretty well as she engages them in making paper dolls. Once Emily gets up to use the bathroom, however, Page fixes her with a serious look. "Aunt Missy, I want to ask you something."

"Go ahead," Missy encourages.

To her surprise, Page looks around, apparently making sure that Emily isn't on her way back down stairs. "Is my Dad with the baby?"

Missy's brow creases. "What do you mean, sweetie?" At first she thinks Page means Christopher.

Page doesn't mean her brother. "Did he die and go to heaven to be with the baby?"

"No!" Missy exclaims. "As far as anyone knows, your Dad is fine. He's just lost."

"Are you sure?" her niece presses.

"As sure as anyone else. Why do did you think he might be in heaven? Did someone tell you he died?"

Page shakes her head. "No one told me. I just thought it."

There has to be a reason, Missy decides. "If someone at school was teasing you, it's okay to tell me. It's not tattletaling. "

"No one said," Page insists. "I just thought... the baby couldn't stay here. So maybe Daddy went to take care of her."

"No... I know she was really little, so you're thinking that she needs to be taken care of like your little brothers." Missy notices her nodding. "But when a baby goes to heaven like she did, God is the one who takes care of them. He wouldn't take one of their parents away from the rest of the family to look after them because the rest of you need them more."

"Are you sure?" Page asks in a small voice.

"I'm sure," she tells her firmly, but a new worry arrives. "Page, did you tell Sammy and April about your theory?"

"Nope."

"Okay."

Emily returns a minute later, and the girls go back to playing like nothing important had happened. Missy wonders what she herself was thinking about at their age. It certainly wasn't about dead siblings, but missing fathers... that one she could relate to.


Oasis Hotel

The rest of the day passes rather slowly into night. Skinner looks more annoyed by their enforced sloth than anybody else. Gibson still pretends to be entertained by his comic books and Scully and Reyes try to watch a Lifetime movie on TV but the reception is fairly snowy. Skinner makes no attempt to amuse himself. Instead he paces the room.

Considerately, he waits until there's a commercial before he begins ranting. "I can't believe we're stuck here in this stupid hotel. If they want to find Mulder they ought to have us go back to D.C.. That's where he disappeared from. No matter what Doggett thought he saw today, it wasn't Mulder. It's asinine for us to stay here-"

A sharp knock on the door cuts him off in mid-sentence. Still looking aggrieved Skinner stomps over to the door and opens it. A surprised looking Doggett is standing on the other side.

He pushes his way past Skinner. "Good. You're here. I need to talk to you."

Skinner does not bother to conceal his impatience. "We're all ears."

"Has Moldah come by here?"

"Of course not," Scully says sharply.

For just a second Doggett's shoulders sag, but he quickly straightens up. "He's just disappeared. We combed every inch the grounds around the school, but we didn't find a single sign of him." He turns to Scully with accusing look. "And you don't look like that surprises you."

Scully gives him an icy look around. "I told you earlier. That was not my husband. The thing you saw? It's long gone by now. There's no point in continuing looking for it."

"Right. Because it's an alien. And it's beamed itself back to the mothership," Doggett says sarcastically. "I don't know what you guys are playing at. Maybe it's some sort of' haze the new guy thing'. I don't know. All I do know is that it's not very funny."

"Look at us. None of us are laughing," Scully tells him.

"New guy?" Skinner asks. "That makes it sound like you intend to stick around."

"Maybe I might," Doggett says stubbornly.

Before sparks can fly Gibson crutches his way over to the two men. "It's not gone."

"What?" they both ask simultaneously.

"The thing. The one that you were looking for," Gibson says, looking at Doggett. "It's not gone."

Doggett seems confused but Skinner pierces the boy with a look. "How'd you know it's not gone?"

The boy shrugs his shoulders. "I'm not sure where it is, exactly, but it still near enough."

"Near enough to what?" Doggett asks. No one seems inclined to answer him.

"To be a threat," he says cryptically.

"Then we should go look for it," Skinner says abruptly.

He makes a move to go for the door, but Doggett stops him. "Wait. Where are you going? Why are you ready to run off at a child's say so?" The new agent is clearly agitated.

Reyes looks surprised. "You must know that Gibson reads minds."

Doggett puts his hands on his face. "Another one." He groans. "I should have known. The second I saw you in Moldah's house..."

"They're not crazy," Gibson tells him. "You just don't understand."

"Clearly," Doggett scoffs.

Skinner ignores Doggett's breakdown. Instead he turns to Gibson. "Where do you think it is?"

"Still out there. Somewhere near the school. He doesn't know I'm gone."

"Right," Skinner says decisively. "Doggett. You and I, let's go look for it."

Doggett laughs abruptly. "Sure, why the hell not? But you two-" He points at Scully and Reyes. "Stay here and protect the boy. 'It' might not know that it's supposed to be out in the desert still."

"Okay," Scully says calmly. Reyes gives her a questioning look, but doesn't otherwise contradict her. "Call us if you find...anything."


An unexpected calm falls over the hotel suite once Skinner and Doggett have departed. Scully flicks through the TV channels, and Gibson begins to yawn. And keeps yawning.

"I'm going to take a nap," he announces. "For real this time."

"Sure, let me help you-" Reyes began, but he cut her off.

"I can do it. I'm not a baby, you know," he says, groping for the crutches leaning against the couch.

"No one said you were..." Reyes trails off as he leaves the room faster than she thought possible.

Scully looks over at the puzzled look on Reyes face. "Don't take it personal. Kids get like that."

"At how old?"

Scully lifts her shoulders and lets them fall. "Four? I hear it gets even worse as they hit adolescence. And it can't be easy for him, being so small for his age. People probably underestimate him on a regular basis."

"You sound like the voice of experience," Reyes remarks.

"I'm five-two fully grown. I was always small for my age," Scully acknowledges.

"His whole life is rough. We keep in touch through e-mail, and I can tell you beyond a shadow of a doubt that he's not happy," Reyes tells her, sounding depressed. "I should have done what I wanted to last year."

"What was that?"

"Try to adopt him."

"Why didn't you?" Scully asks curiously.

"Your husband didn't think it was a good idea. He thought trying to give Gibson a normal life wouldn't work out, and that he'd still be a target. Well, now he's got an abnormal life and he's still a target."

"I'm kind of surprised that Mulder told you that."

"He must have had his reasons. Can I ask you a question?"

"I guess so." Scully is instantly wary. That's usually code for uncomfortable topics.

"Why do you call him Mulder instead of Fox?"

Surprise makes Scully smile. "I tried calling him Fox, back when we first worked together. He grimaced and said 'I even made my parents call me Mulder. So please call me Mulder.' Ever since, he's been Mulder to me too."

"Fox is a lovely name. I can't imagine why he hates it."

"I've never gotten a good explanation, either. But I can tell you this - we have four little boys, and the words 'Fox Junior' have never come out of his mouth."

"We'll have to ask him someday," Reyes tells her, and Scully feels an unexpected welling of gratitude. There's nothing tentative in the other woman's statement. She really believes that he'll come back.

"Sure. Right after 'Where have you been?'"


Skinner returns alone about an hour later. He looks grim.

"No luck?" Scully asks eventually when he doesn't say anything. She's been trying to read a book and ignore the reality TV fair that Reyes finally settled on. It irritates her with its mindlessness.

"No. We looked everywhere and we didn't any sign of him."

"Maybe Gibson was wrong," Reyes offers from the couch. "Maybe he left the area."

"Maybe," Skinner says with a sigh.

Scully's phone begins to buzz, so she grabs it off the end table beside her. She notices that Skinner's expression is a little off, but doesn't think much of it. "Scully."

"Hey. It's Doggett. We didn't find anything."

"I know. Skinner told us."

"Who did?" He sounds really puzzled, which irritates her even more than the idiots pretending to be pirates on the TV.

"Skinner. You know, the man you brought with you to investigate the school again?"

"Agent Scully..." Doggett's slow voice says over the phone-line. "Skinner's right next to me in the car. We're pulling into the parking lot of the hotel now."

"That can't be-" Scully starts to say, but she drops the phone when Skinner approaches angrily.

She's still fumbling for her weapon when two crashes happen at the same time: the door to the suite bursts open, but behind her she hears Gibson shout "That's not mister Skinner!" She turns her head in time to see a crutch fly through the air.

It hits a Skinner. Which Skinner, however, she can't be sure since she turned her back when Gibson shouted. Each of them is dressed in an identical fashion, and has identical scowls.

The one nearest her looks alarmed when she trains her gun on him. Looking past him, she catches Doggett's eye. "Which one did you come in with?"

A bewildered Doggett points at the one on the left. "Him. But Dana, how can there be two of him? Does Skinner have an identical twin?"

"Were you with him every second, Agent Doggett?" Reyes asks.

"No. We split up. Could someone explain-"

"Then which one he brought here doesn't prove anything," Reyes says. "It's impossible to know if the one he arrived with is the one he left with."

"Gibson?" Scully asks. "Which one is Skinner?"

The boy's face falls. "I can't tell. Not with them standing together like that. I'm not even sure I can tell while they're in the same room."

"Okay then," Scully says calmly. She pulls a long slender object out of her pocket. "I thought to bring this with me before we came out here."

Only one of the Skinner's eyes react to the revelation, but she's not sure how good a tell it is considering that the real Skinner probably had found out about it long ago.

Scully presses on the device, and the sharp metallic spike reveals itself. Looking at the two men claiming to be her boss, she asks them "Who goes first?"

"What do you mean?" one demands to know.

"The way I see it, the only way we'll know which one is the real Skinner is by stabbing both in the neck. Just enough to break the skin. At first. Again, who wants to go first?"

"On a hot summer night, would you offer your throat to the wolf with the red roses?" Reyes murmurs, but only Gibson seems to hear her say it.

"I will," the other one says, sounding disgusted.

Scully nods. "You two, if that one moves, shoot him in the neck."

"Right," Reyes agrees readily. Doggett still seems dazed.

The first Skinner places his neck on the couch, and Scully dutifully wields the weapon meant to kill the aliens. Since this "Skinner" has volunteered readily, she assumes that it's really her boss. "Get it over with," he snarls, bolstering her conviction.

At least until she's got the spike pressed against the delicate skin of his neck. Then he grabs her wrist so quickly that she can only gasp as he forces her fingers to loosen their grip. She holds on as tight as she can, terrified to be disarmed, but it's a losing battle.

Until there's a sharp bang, and it stumbles away from her. Not quickly enough to keep her from burned eyes, however. She crumples to the floor, her hands pressed to her face.

"Get some water! And a face cloth!" Gibson shouts at someone. There's a scurry of feet, the sound of a running tap, and several seconds later someone reaches her side. Someone wipes a damp cloth across her eyes.

"Dana? Are you okay?" Reyes asks, sounding very worried.

"No. I'll need to go to the e.r. I think," Scully says, looking up at the blurry woman standing over her. "Who...?"

"I shot him," Doggett says, sounding more than a little awed. Reyes glances at him, and then down at the ground. Near him and Skinner is a puddle of green fluid, and some discarded clothing. "But where did he go?"

"Do you think he disappeared into thin air?" Skinner asks sharply. "He's right there on the floor. That's him, and you killed it."

They continue to argue a moment or two longer before Reyes and Gibson yell at them that they need to bring Scully to the hospital.


Two Hours Later

The doctor that treats Scully seems to believe that she's somehow come in contact with hydrochloric acid, because he spends nearly half the exam lecturing her on safety around toxic chemicals. She's too tired to bother trying to come up with a plausible story that's closer to the truth, so she just endures it.

She's still sitting in the exam room waiting for her chart to be signed off on so she can leave when Doggett appears. "How are you doing?"

"As well as can be expected. There shouldn't be any lasting effects."

"Good. I've put an APV out on the perp."

This raises an eyebrow. "What perp?"

"The guy who did this to you," Doggett replies, sounding as if this ought to be self-evident.

"John, there is no perp, not any more. You killed him."

"I think I'd know if I'd killed someone," Doggett says stiffly.

"You saw it! It dissolved after you shot it in the neck!" Scully exclaims angrily.

The skeptical look never leaves Doggett's face. "I saw something. I'll grant you that much."

"What's your interpretation of what you saw today with your very own eyes?" Scully asks. "Starting with early this afternoon."

"I saw someone made up to look like agent Mulder fall off a cliff."

"Someone?" she asks him sounding like she can barely believe her ears. "How do you explain that someone looking exactly like my husband?"

He doesn't look intimidated. "Actors. That would be my guess."

"Actors?"

Doggett frowns little. "Doubles. They say that Saddam Hussein had hundreds of 'em."

"And you think that the motive for hiring an actor to look like my husband is?" Scully asks impatiently.

All at once Doggett looks sure of himself. "To ruin his reputation. He has enemies. You've said so yourself. What better to way to ruin a man's reputation then make it seem like he's doing something crazy like kidnapping a young boy?"

"Sure. And how do you explain the dueling Skinners? More actors?"

Doggett looks confused for a second, but quickly regroups. "We were worried about you. After he splashed that stuff in your eyes, he took advantage of our confusion and ran off."

The look in his eyes causes Scully to feel a deep disappointment. She'd thought after seeing two Skinners he would believe the truth. But it clearly was not the case. She felt a crazy urge to laugh when she wondered what Mulder would say about trying to make a skeptic believe. If he were there to ask none of this would be a problem.

"How much longer do you plan to waste our time out here?" Scully asks him.

"As soon as you're cleared to leave, we've got a flight back to D.C.," Doggett says. "At least we should. Skinner is calling about tickets now."

"What about Gibson?"

"I'm taking custody of the boy."

"On whose authority?" she demands to know.

"AD Kersh's. It'd only put other people in danger if we returned him to that school, so it seemed best to have him guarded on a constant basis. I can't think of a better way to do that than to have custody of him."

"I suppose neither you nor Kersh asked him how he feels about it."

Doggett blinks. "He seemed to like Luke when they met last year. I don't think it strikes him as a bad deal."

"Except for the fact that you think he's going to be live bait to bring Mulder to you."

"No," he denies, but there's a lack of conviction in his voice. "I've been officially assigned to the X-Files now, so it makes sense to keep him near. That's all."

That's all, she thinks. If only.


Mid-Flight

Doggett and Gibson sit a few rows back, which is something that Scully feels a small measure of gratitude for. Friend or not, Doggett isn't someone she feels like talking to just then. And having a mind reader sit next to her would make her feel paranoid. He can probably read her thoughts from anywhere on the plane, but the distance gives her the illusion of privacy.

Watching him talk to Reyes before they got on the plane had been painful. It evoked her memories of leaving Kevin Kryder behind after resolving his case. The other woman may or may not have talked to Gibson about wanting him to live with her, but it was evident that he knew either way. And for all of Doggett's assertion that he was happy with his new arrangement, it was plain to see that he'd rather of stayed with Reyes. Just as they were walking away, Scully thought she heard Reyes tell him that she'd look into being transferred to aD.C. office. Though she wasn't sure if that's what she said, whatever it was did put a smile on the boy's face.

The navy blue outside the jet's window insists that she ought to be able to sleep on the flight, but her brain doesn't agree. Instead her mind races as she tries to cope with conflicting emotions.

Even though she told herself repeatedly that they weren't going to find Mulder out in the Arizona desert, she's still vaguely disappointed. She's relieved that the exam showed that no lasting harm to herself or the baby would result from her encounter with the alien bounty hunter, but a bit ashamed too since she'd given her unborn child little thought all day. This baby feels more like a dream to her than any of the others have, and it bothers her that she can't figure out if it's because she's lost another recently, or because her husband isn't there to help her believe it's real. She has the impulse to keep the baby entirely to herself until he returns, but part of her is afraid that her pregnancy will be obvious long before then.

She's also resigned to the fact that Missy will most likely tell her within the coming days that she and Alex are expecting a baby too. Missy had tried to play off uncertainty, but she could tell that her sister was holding back, maybe because she didn't think she could deal with others having good news. And Scully wasn't sure that she could.

Most of all, she is conflicted about returning home to her children. It's what she wants more than anything, because it only took being apart from them for a few hours before she missed them intensely. She wants to gather them to her, and know they're safe. But she doesn't want to explain to them that their father is still missing. That they're no closer to finding him. She can't bear to break their little hearts.

But she knows that she will.


Chapter Ninety-Two



The Scully/Mulder (and Krycek?) household.
5:37 a.m.

Scully shut the door behind her and locks it. She felt terrible about using the kids as a diversionary tactic, but honestly, Krycek said he'd promised Mulder to take care of their kids -- why did he want to butt in on Gibson Praise, too? Honestly, as if John was incapable of taking care of kids... although she did share Krycek's reservations about John using Gibson to find Mulder.

The redhead frowns.

That's the *only* thought they're agreeing on, and her scowl deepens, thinking of how nearly the double agent had her thinking one more kid wouldn't hurt. As if Emily staying over wasn't enough, that Krycek wanted to bring a teen boy in as well??? Sighing, she slowly sinks onto the bed. It's so tempting to lie down, but she knows if she does, she'll never be able to leave for work, and she's not even close to ready yet.

"Dammit," she sighs, and starts when the phone rings. "Jeez." Picking up, she says, "Scully."

"Dana, thank goodness," her sister says at the other end.

"Missy? What's wrong?" Scully wonders. It's rare that she hears from her sister in the morning, rarer still that said sister sounds grateful to be talking to her.

"It's about Alex," Missy says without preamble. "He thinks Emily should be staying at your place this weekend, but it's been *a week* since I've seen my baby..."

Any other time, Scully would be happy to hear these maternal sentiments from her older sister, but right now, with her hormones sending her into emotional loops, plus with Mulder missing and the dubious Krycek setting up shop as nanny -- well, let's just say she's not quite in the right frame of mind to appreciate it. "Missy, he's here out of obligation, though I'm still not sure why," she admits, "but settling custody disputes between the two of you, well, I honestly don't think that's my job."

"I don't care!" Missy shouts. "Look, he has to listen to you 'cause you're his boss. Tell him he has to let Emily stay at my place this weekend or you're garnishing his wages!"

She would laugh if she could, or maybe she should replay that earlier argument to her sister. "I'm not his boss, he's my pain in the ass," Scully groans, and not just because this second argument's giving her a monster headache. The nausea's kicking in again, and with this kind of distraction, she's in no mood to fight, much less deal with her sister's relationship crap. "Missy, just talk to him," she mutters, willing her bile to stay in her churning stomach.

"Dana," Missy whines, and you'd think their birth order's been switched. "I've tried, and he's still fixated on this idea that all the kids herded together would make them safe."

"I know, but he's *your*," Scully almost chokes on the word, "fiancée, why don't you, I don't know," she starts waving her free hand, trying to think clearly, "blow him or something?" Then she hits her head. Man, she is *not* thinking clearly.

"Is that how you solve your problems with Fox?" her older sister pounces on the opening. "Sex?"

"If talking doesn't work," Scully says between her teeth, "try shooting him in the shoulder."

"Da-naaaaaa," Missy drags out the second syllable, "I'm being serious!"

"So am I," Scully snaps. "Look, I know you, and when you set your mind to something, you get it done. Right now, you're wasting time trying to persuade me when you should be persuading him. I don't care what you do, take off his other arm and beat him over the head with it for all I care, just do it!"

Missy's about to snap, "Okay!" but finds that her stomach's starting to churn uncomfortably. When her stomach settles, she strives to remember the last thing Dana said and regain momentum. "Couldn't you give him a day off or something?"

"I'd LOVE to give him a day off," Scully closes her eyes, as if that would make the pounding and nausea go away. "If you want, I'll even DRIVE Emily over--" and claps a hand to her mouth, dropping the phone before running to the toilet.

"Hey, I can just drive over and GET her!" Missy yells back, before doubling over and clapping a hand to her own mouth.

When Scully gets back to the dropped phone, all she hears is a disconnected tone and she puts the cordless back onto the set. Groaning, she sheds her pajamas before hitting the shower, selfishly hoping that her sister is throwing up more than she did and not regretting the thought one bit.


The X-Files Basement Office

This is one of those days when she'd love to have a cup of coffee – or perhaps a shot of valium would do the trick. Nobody should have to deal with two arguments before a shower, and yet, she'd had just that with Missy and Krycek. In a way, she knows she should be happy that she has people to depend on, family to argue with, and then a shudder goes up her spine. She had automatically included Alex Krycek as part of the family. Yikes. Can this day get any worse?

She can hear male voices chattering in the hallway, getting closer. "So, this is where the bad kids are banished to," one says.

Another chuckles, "Put me down here I'd probably cook up a lot of crazy ideas, too."

She can hear the men laughing, and now she forgets about coffee or valium, she'd like an assault rifle. The two men, with Doggett in front, stop laughing when they see her. Idiots. It's clear that Doggett, Styrofoam coffee cup in hand, is surprised to see her, even though it is her office. "Good morning," she says levelly.

"Morning." He nods, with a casualness that would, to most observers, cover his tenseness. He turns to the two jokers. "Uh... I'll catch you guys later." They say nothing, but their posture and averted eyes display clearly what they think of the short redhead standing in the middle of the office.

"Are you sure you're in the right office?" Scully says, raising an eyebrow.

A lesser man would have been taken aback by the belligerent and commanding tone, but Doggett's time in the Marines and years with his ex-wife have made him mostly immune to this sort of thing. Mostly. "Sure am," he says mildly, "been here all weekend and early this morning and went over every X-File in the cabinet there to get an idea of what exactly you and Fox have been working on." He holds up his Styrofoam cup. "Just left to get some coffee." He knew it would be a little strange working with a friend, but after reading all those files, he's surprised things aren't stranger. Hell, he's surprised *she* isn't stranger.

Scully forces herself to breathe normally and give this friend-who's-turned-into-an-insensitive-prick/coworker a chance. After all, even she didn't come into this office with an open mind, and it's not like John had personally experienced weird shit before being thrown into an actual X-File. "Well," and she finds herself forcing herself to be not just civil, but friendly as she asks, "do you have any questions?"

"Just a few," he says, and she can see he's got at least a thousand, especially if he's read all the files he's claimed to. "Maybe first you could tell me where your area is here and... uh.... where mine's going to be."

Now she's taken aback. Good question. Every thing in this room was so much hers and Mulder's, the mundane and insane objects alike all shared with her partner, that she wasn't quite sure where to put the new guy. She almost smiles. 'New guy'. Yeah, John was joking earlier, but apparently, Kersh's assignment is sticking. "We'll play musical chairs later," she says, "for now, we've got a case."

He raises both eyebrows. "Okay."

As she turns on the slide projector, he turns off the ceiling light. "Homicides: Two," Scully says matter-of-factly, as if she's run all the cases by herself for years rather than weeks, "in Idaho. White male, 62, undertaker by profession, he was killed on his front porch about ten feet away from his wife." She presses the button for the next slide.

"Holy God," Doggett breathes, as an image of a tall man fills the wall, the dead man's face and neck all torn and bloody. The ex-Marine-and-ex-cop winces as he stares at it.

"Cause of death was blood loss from numerous deep wounds ... from bites." She pauses, then addresses him in her teacher voice. "Any thoughts, any questions?"

Doggett walks closer to the image, squinting harder. "'Bites'?"

"On his head, torso and hands. Two of his fingers are missing, eaten off," Scully replies, a small smile on her face. For some reason, Darth Vader's "Now the student has become the master" comes to mind, and while it is fun being the one with more expertise in this office, for once, she hopes it won't remain the case for long.

"By what, an animal?"

Doggett's question brings her back to the here and now. "These were murders," she emphasizes the last word deliberately. "The bites on his wife appear to be human." The next button push shows the slide of the dead woman.

The lines in his forehead deepen as he sees the woman's picture. "I've seen some violent crimes, I mean, some seriously screwed up stuff, but, uh... this is extreme." He turns around to face her. "Is there demonstration of motive?"

She shakes her head. "Not according to local P.D."

Man, she's worse than the FBI instructors, he thinks, before he belatedly remembers that she *was* an instructor before joining Mulder in this basement office and those crazy cases. "Is there any pattern, uh ... ritual or anything?" Somehow, he isn't surprised when Scully shakes her head. So he gives in, something he rarely did in either basic or FBI training. "I gotta admit, Agent Scully, I'm at a loss."

Hate to go all Zen on you, John, but since Mulder isn't here, it's my job to get you up to speed. "Well, that's a good place to start."


Burley, Idaho
11:18 a.m.

They pull up to the man's house in a blue rental, cops still swarming around the scene. A large red-haired man, hands on hips, turns and walks over when they step out of the car. "You the folks from the FBI?"

Here we go, Scully thinks. "Yeah."

"Yale Abbott, Cassia County Sheriff's."

"Hi. Agent Scully," she says, shaking his hand. "This is Agent Doggett."

As if she'd said the magic words, the detective ignores her once Doggett's introduced. "We like to think we can handle our own problems around here, but a couple hotshots up in the county seat seem to think this is beyond us," he gives a look of shared confidence to the other man. "Not that we don't appreciate your coming out all this way to give us a hand.." He smiles in what he thinks is a friendly fashion.

"Well, I hope we can. I have to admit I'm a little baffled by what I've seen."

Detective Abbott raises his eyebrows and his britches. "Oh, really?"

Scully interjects in a brisk, business-like tone, as if she hadn't been rudely ignored by the big idiot, "Understand, Detective, that we've seen cases like yours regularly on our unit. Agent Doggett has only just been assigned to the X-Files." Even a blind man can see the detective's attitude is condescendingly polite, but she proceeds to ignore that. Somebody's gotta be a professional around here, and she'll be damned if it isn't her. "I can assure you that there's nothing baffling about human bite marks."

That smug-ass smile is still on his face. "Well, that's just what I was getting around to, ma'am. We're not so sure now that these bites are human." His heavy boots clump onto the porch, and they follow after him. "The bodies were discovered by neighbors, so there was contamination of the general crime scene. My boys did a real damn good job of separating the various shoe prints and pulling these. Come on over." Like a kid at show-and-tell, he shows them a dusted animal-like footprint with four toes. "Right there, see that?"

Doggett's finding that pleading ignorance in this scenario is better than faking knowledge. "What is it?"

"It's not human, I know that," the detective answers, drawing up his chest.

Scully hunches down, inspecting it. "It's not quite animal, either."

Detective Abbott doesn't bother to hide his condescension. "There's only four toes."

She stands back up, giving the detective a level look, as if he were shorter than her. That's not an unheard of birth defect," she says matter-of-factly, "no more rare than polydactylism."

The two lawmen stare at her, then at each other. "What did she just say?" The detective looks at his fellow man for a translation.

"I assume she means it could be human." Doggett turns to his partner. "Is that a fair assumption?"

Maybe I should just go home, take a nice long shower to wash the testosterone and stupidity off my skin, and play with the kids, she thinks, but her more reasonable side tells her that that would be acting as narrow-minded as the men. Dammit. When she answers, she doesn't bother to hide her irritation. "I say that assumption is the problem here. A strange print is found and immediately the most important piece of evidence is just thrown out to try and force an explanation. Maybe this print can help explain those bite marks." She waves at it, then unconsciously planting herself in front of it as if to protect it.

"How?" the detective asks.

She smiles sweetly, but Doggett can see there are steel teeth in it. "We just got here, detective, and you want us to solve something with a print you can't even identify?"

Though she be little, yet she is fierce, Doggett recalls from a Shakespearean play in a long-ago English class. Trying to smooth things over, he says, "Well, I have to say I've worked a lot of homicides but if the victims laid out here for any time at all in a setting like this, it'd be pretty remarkable if they didn't attract animals."

John, John, Scully wants to hit her head against the porch post, please don't tell me stupidity is contagious. "I think that post-mortem predation is definitely a consideration here, but I only see one print and if it were an animal there would be numerous prints all over here and in the yard." They look at all the deputies and technicians standing in the yard. And only now the local law start walking carefully, searching for any clues they may have inadvertently contaminated. "What do you think, Agent Doggett?"

I'm thinking that maybe I should look for another office, but Doggett says aloud, "I'm going to go take a look around." He makes his escape by going into the house.

"You know I got two old folks in the morgue mauled beyond recognition," the detective states the obvious, while Scully looks up at the porch rafters. "I have no motive to go on, no intent. There's not one shred of evidence that cries out for a human explanation, yet you stand there telling me flat out that what we're looking for is a man. Thanks for everything, Agent Scully. We'll take it from here." He starts to walk off, satisfied by the sound of his noise, er, voice.

"I'm sure your explanation will mollify all those hotshots down at the county seat, Detective, and relieve any general anxiety about what this thing might be ... but only until it strikes again." There's a slight smile on her face, but it's one that she'd recognize on her husband rather than her own. "And one more thing: I never said that what you're looking for is a man." She lets him leave, and she exhales, wishing it was possible to empty a bottle of wine without hurting her baby. Yeah, and Doggett might start believing in aliens today.

As if prompted, Doggett calls from inside the house, "Agent Scully." He waits until she joins him at the foot of the stairs. "That a second print?" He points to the bottom step.

She nods. "It could be, but I'm not sure if it tells us anything."

"Well, maybe there's no prints in the yard because whatever made these didn't go through the yard," Doggett says reasonably. "It came through the house."

"Well, if anything, I'd say this print leads up the stairs." Scully looks up, and so does he.

They go upstairs, and when he looks under the bed, Doggett calls out, "Think I've got another partial here." He knows this is still a trial period, for the both of them, it seems, but the whole thing is starting to border on the ridiculous. Just because there's a question of what might have killed the old couple doesn't mean it's some kind of mysterious X-File. After all, there were a few casefiles with mundane resolutions. "You know, there is a more obvious explanation."

"Mm-hmm," Scully says, still intent on the print.

"The more basic answer is what we're dealing with here is simply a man," he proposes, already knowing she won't like his answer. It seems she's determined to be stubborn about the whole thing, to make it an X-File. "A psychotic killer with a deformed foot. You're familiar with the principle of Occam's Razor?"

She turns and gives him a look. I'm a physician and a physicist, of course I know. But she simply answers, "You take every possible explanation and you choose the simplest one." Then her chin lifts, and she tilts her head expectantly. "Unless you have a simple explanation as to how a killer with a deformed foot leaves a print only every 25 feet."

"No." Not yet, anyway, he thinks.

"Or to what he'd even be doing up here," Scully continues, as he walks over to the window.

"I don't know," he grunts, trying to open the damn thing. "I'm trying to figure it out just like you are." Of course. Painted shut. What he needs is more clues, not some ironic metaphors.

Scully, on the other hand, goes into the small closet. Wow, the guy must be a mortician, she thinks, all dark suits and white shirts. Or Mulder gone monochrome. It would be a joke she'd share with Mulder, she thinks, looking up, and misses him all over again. "Agent Doggett," she says, and they both look up at the open hatch to the attic.

Helpfully, he grabs a chair, and she stands on it, then he boosts her up into the attic. She blinks, trying to get her eyes adjusted to the darkness. There are only slivers of light, which doesn't illuminate the room, but rather emphasizes how dark the damn place is. "There's gotta be Jungian symbolism around here somewhere," she mutters, suddenly feeling very weary. Is she missing Mulder so much that she's improvising wiseass remarks in his place? Granted, her snapping at the detective was well-provoked, but she usually didn't respond to idiotic provocation like that, even during her previous pregnancies.

"What do you see?" Doggett's gravelly voice interrupts her ruminations. "Agent Scully?"

She smiles and shakes her head. Of the two of them to go exploring in a dark and possibly dangerous place, it's a pregnant doctor rather than the ex-cop that's up here. Her hand's on her gun as she replies, "Right now, not a heck of a lot." Her reply prompts him to haul his ass up there, finally. She tries to open a nearby window, but, like the bedroom window downstairs, it ain't budging. "If there was anything up here, it might have gone out that window."

Doggett reaches in his pocket and pulls out a small Mag-Lite. Switching it on, he asks, "You ever carry one of these?"

Let's just chalk this up to hormonal amnesia, she thinks, like I'll ever tell him. "No, never," she replies dryly, pulling out her own Mag-Lite.

Must be my lucky day for finding weird clues, Doggett thinks, seeing two mutilated fingers on an old table. "'V' for victory," he mutters.

"What?" Scully turns around.

Doggett straightens up. "You said the male victim was missing two fingers? Well, how did the fingers get up here?" He waves his flashlight at the ghastly sight.

Scully looks at the fingers, and the smell of bile makes her own bile rise. Turning away, she forces herself to swallow, and she amazes herself by answering calmly, "Well, from their smell, I'd say they were regurgitated." She doesn't bother to hide her disgust. "Recently."

"By what?"

Scully looks up at the attic rafters and isn't surprised to see some deep gouges in the wood. The ironies just keep on coming, she thinks, I catch the high claw marks, John gets the floor prints and slimy fingers. "I saw those marks on the porch, too," she notes.

Doggett looks up, too. "Looks like, to me... I don't know. Like it was... it was..."

She finishes the sentence. "Hanging there?"


McKesson Residence.
5:51 p.m.

Later that day, Scully is thankful she's done with both the autopsy and yet one more argument with Doggett about what might have killed the old mortician. Oddly enough, however, she was starting to lean towards "animal attack" when Doggett came in with that old newspaper clipping. Thanks to both clipping and autopsy, however, the detective and his crew are in the house, too. Goody. Scully is busy rooting around the cupboards and notes that the sight and sound of all those callous men wreaking havoc in the house is probably making Mrs. McKesson spin in her grave.

Meanwhile, upstairs, Doggett's checking out the deep gouges in the windowsill, latex gloves on hands. The detective thuds rather than walks over, his boots hitting the old wooden floorboards heavily with each step. "You see those marks, right? And the ones over here on the rafter?" the cop jerks a thumb upwards as Doggett looks up. "If you ask me, those look like claw marks. I don't care what kind of a savage he is, what did this isn't human."

Doggett's eyes crinkle at the edges, although his lips purse automatically, as if accustomed to watching his words. "Well, if I may speak for Agent Scully, I think we're both prepared to concede that point, Detective."

"Then you know what this thing is?" Detective Abbott raises his eyebrows.

"I've got a newspaper article I want to show you," the FBI agent says, reaching into his jacket. He hears Scully coming up the stairs, and times his reveal more slowly, since he'd like Scully to see the look on the detective's face when he shows the guy the article. "A rather strange account from 1956..."

Scully hates to steal the new guy's thunder – wait, who is she kidding? Even if it is John Doggett, she's glad to have something decent to show for it. "I found a photo album. I think it's our first break on this case."

The detective turns around. "What is it?" he says it out of bland courtesy rather than real curiosity.

She holds up the photo album, bagged in plastic. "The victim's daughter – Ariel -- her dead body was pulled from the river here last week."

Detective Abbott barely nods. "I got that call. Had to come tell Mrs. McKesson the bad news. You trying to say there's some kind of connection?" He gives her a dubious stare.

Scully returns the stare and then some. "Well, you not only told her mother that her 62-year-old daughter was dead but that her body had been horribly and inexplicably burned. A daughter who, by the way, she hadn't even seen in over 40 years. Since 1956, to be exact -- which is the date your article says those first killings started." Doggett glances at his newspaper article, then back at her.

As she expected, the detective turns back to Doggett. "Do you see the connection?"

Doggett hates to be made a fool of, he really does, but even he's not sure what's going on now. "I'm not, uh... sure where you're going with this, Agent Scully."

As if she's talking to a group of small children, Scully states simply but firmly, "The daughter is the connection."

And, like a small, and obstinate, child, detective Abbott asks, "How is that?"

How to explain a Mulder-leap to a man who hasn't met her husband, much less dealt with the unexplained on a near-regular basis? Even she's not sure, but she knows in her gut that that's the call her husband would make. "I don't know exactly," she admits, without apology, "but these killings only started up since her burned body has been found."

Now the detective stares at her in out-and-out disbelief. "Honest to God. You just jump at whatever explanation is the wildest and most far-fetched, don't you?"

Scully's only inward consolation is that Mr. Testosterone would be giving Mulder that same look, albeit with a little less condescension for having been born with a penis. "Well, I suggest that you jump at it, too," she snaps at him, "because her body may have been burned for a reason and you're going to want to exhume it in order to find out why."

Detective Abbott squints at her. "You want me to dig up a dead body when I have real people out there whose lives are in real danger?"

"Hey." Doggett steps between his partner and the cop, sensing either a pissing match or an all-out brawl, and uses both his body and his lowered voice as a buffer, or at least a more reasonable front of the FBI to the cop. He's relieved when detective Abbott gives his assent and leaves, but sees that his partner isn't too pleased about what transpired. Or at least, that's how he'd phrase it in his report, should it have to come to that.

She doesn't pull any punches when she asks, "What did you say to him?"

Hoo boy, he thinks. "Well, I told him to dig up the body. Isn't that what you wanted?"

"What else did you say to him?"

He'd like the pause to last forever, and it shows. "Well, I told him that you were ... um ... a... leading authority on paranormal phenomena and who are we to argue with an expert."

She wants to scream, hit her head repeatedly against a wall, and tear her hair out, not necessarily in that order. "Look, I am not an expert," she declares. "I am a scientist who happens to have seen a lot. I am just making a leap here."

If he was Hannah's age, he'd be shifting from one foot to the next, biting his thumbnail. Hell, he'd do it right now if she weren't standing in front of him. "Well, I am sure you have your reasons."

"So, what, you told him to exhume the body when you don't even necessarily believe me yourself?" she says, not bothering to hide her frustration. Honestly, it's as if he'd never heard of the X-Files before coming to this small town.

This is one of those days when he'd cheerfully throw up his hands and walk out like that detective, but he's part of the X-Files now, and besides that, there's no way he'd let Scully tackle the bizarre cases by herself with a bunch of kids at home. Call him sexist or crazy, but he was both raised and trained never to leave a partner or a woman in the lurch. So he tries to make amends with the fiery woman who's as much a legend down in the basement as Mulder.

Sighing, he replies, "I told you I spent the weekend looking through that cabinet full of X-Files and I saw how pretty much every X-File broke -- with a leap." His mouth purses a little. "Now, maybe I'm just an old-fashioned cop, but I don't take leaps. In my experience, leaps only get people killed," he explains, wondering if she'll at least give him a break.

Fat chance. "Well, I'd say that you're taking a pretty big leap believing in that article... about a human bat." She holds his pale blue eyes with her own. He stares back, then nods before walking away.


Slade River
4:28 p.m.

For some reason, she isn't too surprised when the detective is attacked and killed by the monster, but it gives her no pleasure having her theory vindicated by his death. Scully wonders how Mulder continues to go out on a limb each and every single case, knowing that his ideas, even his very person, will be mocked, even though he's more than often right. Hell, she wonders how he's managed to put up with her skepticism forcing him to work that much harder, and that serves to remind her not only of her missing husband, but also to give her new partner a little slack.

Which is why she's gratified to see Doggett's willing to do a little give and take when it comes to linking the victims with the creature who looks like a bat, but kills with human intent. Granted, it took autopsying Ariel McKesson's body to do that, plus Doggett's article to put the pieces together, but at least he wasn't holding anything back.

She was relieved, of course, when she and Doggett found Myron Stefaniuk alive and well the next morning, having hunted all over the damn place trying to find him. Or at least alive and grumpy. Scully can understand why the old man doesn't believe, since fear and denial can be tempting alternatives when dealing with a bizarre death threat. Heavens knows she's had plenty of time and occasions with which to indulge in both.

Which is probably why she and Doggett are sitting in the rental car, watching Mr. Myron Stefaniuk through binoculars. While the old man is filling five gallon gas cans from a tank in his yard with a plastic siphon, Scully remarks, "You know, we've been out here for nine hours. The only thing this man seems to be in danger of is terminal loneliness," she mutters, and Doggett chuckles at her joke.

With the evidence in front of them, however, Scully's less jovial and more depressed. "Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe this is all just a," she pauses, hating to admit to yet another mistake in the same case, "a grand coincidence and we're wasting our time out here."

Now he looks at her. "You were so sure before."

She closes her eyes, rather than facing his look of disbelief and disappointment. "Yeah, I was sure of the facts as I had deduced them scientifically. Maybe I'm... I'm trying to force them into shape. Maybe I'm manufacturing a theory."

He's not letting up, not after all she's been through with not only him, but the detective and the old man. "Well, what happened to taking a leap?"

"Maybe I'm just trying too hard," she says miserably.

"To do what? To be Mulder?" She opens her eyes, and sees he's serious. "You know, I'm not Oxford educated. About all I know about the paranormal is men are from Mars and women are from Venus," and he's a little relieved to see a small smile on her tired face. "But I don't think you're wrong, Agent Scully."

Now she's curious. "What makes you say that?"

He shrugs. "Well, I'm no Fox Mulder, but I can tell when a man's hiding something." He looks out over at their stakeout subject. "Myron Stefaniuk fishes a woman out of the river who's been gone for 40 years. He has a brother he hasn't seen in over 40 years. A brother who just happened to hunt down some kind of creature over 40 years ago."

"Well, what does he have to hide?" Scully also looks at the old man.

Doggett finally allows a real smile to cross his features, which have been forced into a kind of mask for at least the last 48 hours. "Well, that's what I'm hoping this good cop work is going to show us."

Scully glances over at him and smiles back, then raises her binoculars again. They both watch as Stefaniuk hauls the last of the gas cans into the back of his truck. From a safe distance, they follow his truck, which appears to be loaded with more supplies than just gas cans, to his raft by the river. "That's good cop work, all right," Scully remarks when the old man places the gas cans on the raft and begins hauling them across to the island in the middle of the river.

"I got a good idea of who he's delivering to, don't you?" Doggett murmurs as they watch Stefaniuk continue his labors.

"How are you with boats, Agent Doggett?" she asks with a straight face.


Bird Island
9:17 p.m.

In a way, this is almost too easy, Scully thinks as she and Doggett join Ernie Stefaniuk in his cabin. It's as if the human bat is playing a gruesome game of connect-the-dots: the mortician and Mrs. McKesson leading to Ariel McKesson, leading to the detective's death, leading to Myron Stefaniuk, leading to Ernie Stefaniuk. So far, the old men are winning the odds, but it still feels odd to her, especially after seeing that bat nailed to the door.

"How's a man supposed to live when his fear becomes obsession?" Ernie looks from one FBI agent to the other. "You'd do the same thing. Who wouldn't who wanted to live?"

Doggett squints at the older man. "You never left the island?"

Ernie shakes his head. "44 years -- I wouldn't dare knowing it was out there. That it could come back for me."

Doggett's eyes become more piercing. "You know something about it? About what this thing is?"

The old man takes a quick read off the man in the suit, then replies, "I know on the evolutionary ladder bats are real close by the apes and just as we came from the apes so might a man, sprung from a bat. To live and hunt like a bat but with the cold-blooded vengeance of a man."

Scully frowns. "Even if that were true, sir, how could it possibly find you out here on an island?"

"I needed to cut off all contact," he answers heavily. "Communication could be only one-way. My brother helped me." Ernie chokes a little, "And then there was my wife."

"It was her body your brother pulled in," Doggett says, understanding.

It's painful to watch, much less hear, Ernie's story. "She gave up everything to be with me. I forbade her to tell her mother. Forty-four years on six acres of island, she made only one demand. To be buried in consecrated earth. She was a Catholic her whole life," he gasps, tears running down his face.

Scully and Doggett look at each other before she replies. "Mr. Stefaniuk," she says, deciding to be direct, even though it's like adding more bad news on top of his pain, "it's killed four people. All of whom would have had traces of your scent through various degrees of contact with your wife's body."

Ernie's gaze goes from teary to sharp. "My brother?"

"Your brother's okay, Ernie," Doggett reassures him.

Ernie shakes his head. "But he had contact with Ariel's body. It'll come after him, too."

Scully jumps in to calm the old man down, his paranoia rising again. "He's all right. We spoke with him earlier today."

"Today? Today, he might have been fine but this thing hunts likes a bat," he says, his eyes wide. "It only attacks at night."

Doggett looks at Scully, and the phrase, Oh shit, is on their face, if not their lips. "Stay here," Doggett tells his partner, pulling out his gun. "Stay with him."

Scully nods, also pulling out her own weapon as her partner leaves.


While Doggett gets a face-to-face with a creature he didn't quite believe, Scully takes a look out the window before closing the drapes. As she tells Ernie about how she and Doggett tracked him down, it doesn't take long before even her not-quite-Mulder-leap makes her uncomfortable. "Well, I," she pauses, "I made the connections, but it was Agent Doggett that got us out here."

The old man's eyes are sharp. "You ought to be wishing he hadn't."

"Excuse me?" Scully says, surprised.

"The moment you stepped foot here," Ernie clarifies. "You're marked now, you know that."

There's no way in hell I'm sitting on this island, away from my children, away from the world, away from searching for Mulder, she thinks defiantly. "Sir, I'm here to protect you."

"And how are you going to do that? You thought of everything," he notes. "Except that."

Dammit, he's right, she thinks. Mulder would've taken that into consideration. Dammit! "Well, this thing, Mr. Stefaniuk," she says, forcing herself as much as him to believe, "is still flesh and blood. It can be killed."

He coughs rather than laughs. "What do you think? It's just going to come walking through the door, there?" he points, and they both look at the door. "It's waited 44 years. It'll wait out there as long as it takes until you can't stand it anymore." He lowers his head. "How long can you wait, huh? A lifetime? To live in fear like this, a young woman -- are you prepared to sacrifice family, children and spend your life terrorized by a monster?"

Before she can or would answer, a loud beeping sounds from a monitor on the table. As they move toward it, she sees a radar display. "What is that?"

"It's ground radar," Ernie answers, nervous. "The sensor's set at ten feet high. Anything big enough to set it off is coming in through the trees."

There's a thumping on the roof, and Scully automatically points her gun upwards. She fires through the roof nine times, then five more times. Her eyes wide, gun still upraised, she asks, "You hear it?"

"No," he says, but there's no relief in his voice.

While she reloads, Scully says, "Maybe I got it. Maybe I killed it." Cautiously, she opens the door and looks out, but sees nothing. "If you've got a gun, get it," she says without turning around. Gun out, the petite agent closes the door and goes outside. Looking up at the roof, she sees more of nothing. Her heart hammering, she continues to inspect the perimeter with her weapon out, forcing her eyes to adjust to the murky night.

It isn't long, however, before she hears Ernie scream and spins around, seeing a shotgun blast explode through the roof. All of her maternal instincts, plus her more-than-human ones are telling her to run the hell away, but she can't. Running back inside, she sees the damn mutant bat savagely attacking Ernie. Hearing her, it looks up, its mouth bloody, and it almost seems as if it's telling her she's next. Without hesitating, Scully fires into its back, but the freak screeches and flies out. Running after it, she's surprised by Doggett coming in, looking like he's already met the monster.

"Agent Scully," he rasps, relieved to see she's all right, that he's not too late. When her eyes widen, he doesn't have time to turn around, the monster comes at him from above and slams him to the ground. Sonofabitch, Doggett thinks, the adrenaline keeping him angry and awake enough to fire as much as he can, but the damn thing still flies off, shrieking like a stuck pig. His head pounding, he grimaces as Scully grasps his arm to pull him up into a sitting position. "You okay?" he asks, rotely.

She forces herself to smile. "Yeah, I'm okay." Scully's already noted how he winced when she pulled him up, plus his eyes already unfocusing. "But you're not, Agent Doggett. Whoa, I got you," she says, gently laying him down. She's relieved that he's now out for the count, since she figures he probably wouldn't enjoy screaming while she checks out his battle scars.

When the mutant bat screeches, Scully whips her head up, staring into the trees, trying to locate the creature. "Dammit," she sighs, pulling out her gun again, this is gonna be a long night.


Two Weeks Later
X-Files office

Sitting behind the desk, Scully closes her eyes, using Mulder's nameplate to tap out a rapid, but soothing, rhythm. Today was actually a good day at home. Granted, she's still getting used to the idea, much less the sight, of Krycek playing with her children, but she has to admit he's pretty good with them. She groans.

Out of all the weirdness she's encountered on the X-Files, why does it have to be the stuff at home that's the weirdest? Her brilliant husband and partner, after sharing a haunted home and large family with her, being abducted by the freaky aliens they've sworn to fight against, who apparently asked Alex Krycek, of all people, to help look after the kids. Yes, Krycek, a dubious double agent, being not only her sister's lover and father of their artificially-created child, but also her children's nanny. What the hell happened to her life??? "Okay, maybe he will be good for Missy, but it doesn't mean I have to like it," she glares, slamming Mulder's nameplate on the desk.

Doggett's eyes widen when he walks in. "Sorry I'm late," he says, "did I miss anything?"

Scully sighs, shaking her head while murmuring a mental apology to Mulder for abusing his property. "Um, no, come on in," she says when she sees Doggett hesitating at the doorway.

Doggett holds up a paper, seemingly businesslike, but more like a white flag, as he walks in. "I received a fax up in my old office from Ernie's brother, Myron Stefaniuk."

She sits up. "He's alive? Where is he?"

Handing the fax over, Doggett makes a face. "He doesn't say. He sent this from a small storefront business just across the state line in Wyoming. He's gone into hiding."

Scully scans the fax, then looks up. "Do you believe it, Agent Doggett?"

He can see that's a loaded question, especially in this office. "Believe it?"

"That this thing is still out there and someday it's going to come after us?" she asks. Not that she doubts his integrity or willingness to put himself in the line of fire, it's just that, yeah, this office, the case files, have a way of taking the most out of you, making you question not only your beliefs, but also your sanity at times. She's not sure how Mulder did it on his own for so long, but if she can't rely on John to be there, she might as well do this on her own.

"I'm pretty sure I hit it, Agent Scully. Pretty sure you hit it, too." His pale eyes hold her own, meeting her challenge. In a lighter tone, he adds, "The guys upstairs were making some noise about this case -- about what's in our field report."

Scully nods. "Yeah. You'll get used to it." Her eyes fall on Mulder's nameplate, and she almost smiles. Okay, Mulder, looks like the new guy's staying. "Agent Doggett," and his eyebrows go up, "I'll see that you get a desk here."

"All right."

It feels weird, but she knows she has to say it. After all, it's the first time she's even close to getting along with someone in this basement office other than Mulder. "And I just want to say, um... thank you for watching my back."

The guy looks surprised, but also relieved. "Well, I never saw it as an option. I'm sure you don't either," Doggett says seriously. When it's apparent she's not going to press the issue, he goes over to the file cabinet and starts looking through it.

While he's occupied, Scully looks at the nameplate again. Hope you don't mind, Mulder, she thinks, but John's gonna be here a while. She doesn't quite smile, but there's something like it as she picks up the phone to ask about a desk.


Chapter Ninety-Three



Dexter Community Hospital
Late October 2000
11:02 a.m.

Life's full of ironies, Scully mentally observes as she squats down to face the silent little blond boy clad in white t-shirt and overalls, a young boy examined me, and now I'm examining a young boy. Earlier that morning, when she'd gone over to pick Doggett up for their current case, Gibson Praise, propped up on crutches, had silently appraised her and her unborn child, then smiled, and she appreciated his discretion. It also helped that Luke was hassling his father about how long he and Gibson could play videogames, right up until the frazzled man got to the door. Finally, the older Doggett had snapped, "If I hear a word about playing past ten from Hannah, you're both grounded," shuts up the younger Doggett.

The memory bringing a small smile to her face, Scully now holds up the lighted instrument, telling Billy Underwood in a gentle voice, "I'm just going to shine this light in your eyes, okay? You're doing great." The boy doesn't blink, and she nods, quickly putting the instrument away. "See? Nothing to it."

Doggett puts down the "Missing" poster when Scully turns to looks at him through the window. He nods, then turns when the middle-aged Sheriff Sanchez joins him at the window. "He won't speak?" the FBI agent asks.

The gray-haired man shakes his head. "No, not even to his parents."

Doggett's eyebrows go up. "Are they here, his parents?"

The sheriff nods wearily. "Oh, they've been here around the clock. I took his prints... It's him." He nods at the child. "Boy should be a teenager by now, but look at him. Explain to me how that can be."

That's more Scully's expertise than mine, he's about to say, but rather than confuse the guy further, only replies, "I can't say, Sheriff. I'm just here to find out who took him."

Now the sheriff's staring at the kid with a frustration born of bewilderment with the unexplained. "I talked to everyone at school and no one saw him come back or how. The boy just come out of the blue."

Scully leaves the room and closes the door behind her, raising an eyebrow when she sees two deputies carrying boxes down the hall. "Are those the case files?" she asks, joining the men.

Sheriff Sanchez turns, then nods. "Oh, yeah. Plenty more where those came from. There's lots of files. There's just not much in them." His expression grows sour. "We never even had a suspect."

Doggett nods, then points, "Have them set them over there, would you."

As the sheriff directs them to a table, Scully says quietly to her current partner, "Okay. Well, what we've got here is a healthy seven-year-old boy who was born seventeen years ago."

Doggett's expression doesn't change as he watches the men load the table with boxes. "Yeah, a healthy boy who won't speak."


A couple looking to be around the agents' age comes down the hallway, looking both concerned and purposeful. The woman with short curly blonde hair and blue eyes asks, "Excuse me? Are you finished with Billy?"

Scully looks up at them. "Mr. and Mrs. Underwood?

Mrs. Underwood blinks at them uncertainly. "Um, you're with the FBI..."

Scully smiles, but it's all business. "Yes. I'm Agent Scully, and this is Agent Doggett. We are, uh, investigating this case."

Mrs. Underwood's smile, however, is that of a mother reunited with her long-lost son. "It's a miracle, isn't it?"

Scully and Doggett look at each other, silently asking, Do you wanna take it? When Doggett steps away, Scully stops short of rolling her eyes. "Mrs. Underwood," she pauses, wishing she had more to go on, "whatever your son has been through, it has somehow affected his physical condition."

"So we've been told by every doctor here," Mrs. Underwood says, impatience wearing her voice thin. "We just want to take him home. After ten years, can we do that?" She casts a pleading look at the agents, then her husband, who holds her.

Before Scully can say yes, Doggett takes a large paper evidence bag from one of the file boxes. "Not yet," he says, walking into the room. "I want to talk to him first."

Scully's startled, but is willing to let him try another tactic. They all watch through the window as Doggett closes the door. "How you doing, Billy?" Doggett says in a friendly enough voice. "My name's John. I'm gonna have a seat over here, is that okay? Is that all right?"

When the boy doesn't answer, Doggett sits at the table, making sure he's within peripheral vision. "Billy, I want you to know that you're not alone," the FBI agent says in a reassuring voice. "I've talked to lots of other boys and girls who've been hurt just like you. Sometimes when they talk about it the hurt starts to go away. You want to talk about it, Billy?" he asks, while Billy says nothing, just drawing the same symbol with black magic marker.

Okay, maybe the kid needs to see the big picture, have more control of the situation, Doggett thinks. "You know, maybe you think bad things happened to you because you've been a bad boy... but I'm here to tell you, that's not true." He shifts his position so he's more in the kid's view. "The bad guy is the one who took you away and it's up to you and me to get the bad guy. See, 'cause as big and tough as I am, I can't do it alone," he says in a cajoling tone. "I need your help. Can you tell me about him, Billy? What's his name? What did he look like?" Eagerness makes his voice more abrupt than he'd like, but the longer Billy takes to talk, the farther away the kidnapping bastard will get.

Still no answer. All right, maybe a little bribery will do the trick, Doggett sighs inwardly, getting the dinosaur-covered backpack from the evidence bag and setting it on the desk. "You remember this, don't you, Billy? Would you like to have that back?" When Billy reaches for it, Doggett's relieved to see he's got some recognition of his life, remembering something precious, and pulls it out of Billy's reach.

On the other side of the window, Mrs. Underwood is aghast. "What is he doing?"

Scully is similarly flabbergasted, but doesn't want to tell her that Doggett's using an interrogation trick, albeit a juvenile, but sometimes effective trick. Before she can come up with some Mulder-like b.s. the woman will buy, Doggett says, "All I want is his name."

That's what sets off the formerly flaky woman and turns her into avenging mother, swooping into the room to pick up both her sweet little boy and his backpack. "Who the hell do you think you are?" she shouts at Doggett. "He's only a little boy!" Cradling Billy to her chest, she carries him out of the room.

"Mr. Underwood...?" Scully calls after the father, who follows his wife out of the hospital. Dammit, Scully thinks, running in the room. "What the hell do you think you're doing?" she snaps. Hell, she understands the stakes, but even she knows that pushing a child like that in front of his mother is asking for it. "Have you really worked kid cases before, Agent Doggett? Child abductions?"

Doggett stands slowly, holding her gaze with his own. "I worked the child abduction task force. I know the horror stories, but this kid can help us."

She shakes her head. "This isn't just a horror story. This is a biological impossibility."

"Well, that's your area of expertise," he says levelly. "I just want to put the person who did this out of business. Billy just didn't show up. He got away or was let go. And if he can talk, he can tell us by who. Or he can look at photos in the files and point to the man who did this so this doesn't happen to some other little boy."

Scully wants to shake the man, really, she does. "You are ignoring the fact that he is still seven years old."

"Failure to thrive," Doggett shoots back. "Isn-isn't that the term? I mean, aren't there diseases that delay puberty and so on?"

"I told you," Scully replies evenly, wishing she wouldn't see so much of herself in Doggett's understandable skepticism, "he's *not* *sick*."

"Good," Doggett says, not willing to admit any other implications of her statement. "Then he can talk." And walks away from the one person he least wants to talk to right now, yet the only person who probably has even a clue about what the hell's going on right now, closing the door behind him.


6:37 p.m.

Doggett takes a swig of coffee as he holds the cell phone to his ear, counting each ring as how many times the kids are tackling each other, trying to get to the phone first. On the eighth ring, a rushed voice says, "Hello!"

"Luke, you better be playin' nice with your sister," Doggett says, keeping the smile from his voice, even as it spreads across his face.

"Aw, Dad," the teenager whines, "she was the one who tackled Gibson, not me." A high-pitched voice in the background wails, while another yells, "It was Luke!"

Now he chuckles, and then realizes it's only been a few hours since he last did so, but it feels like years. Damn. "Hey, anybody gets hurt, I'm gonna have Agent Scully fix you up without any anesthetic."

His son chuckles, remembering his dad's last case and how banged up he got. "Hey, how's Mrs. Scully doing?" Luke asks.

"Uh." Doggett wishes for the hundredth time that the FBI couple would use normal appellations so that he and his kids could properly address them without tripping over themselves. "She's okay, I guess."

There's a pause. "Dad, you didn't piss her off again, did you?"

"How come I'm the bad guy?" Doggett sits up. "She's the one talkin' about how a kidnapped kid showing up healthy is a weird thing."

"Oh, boy, this sounds more like Gibson's thing," Luke murmurs, "hey, Dad, I'm gonna hand you over to Gib." Before his father can cut him off, he adds, "And you're eating a real meal, right? None of that vending machine crap."

"Hey," his father protests, but it's a weak one. In front of him, next to the boxes of files, is a mostly-filled coffee cup, a bag of peanuts, a bag of cookies, and a sandwich, all courtesy of vending machines. "I'm on a case."

"I know." Doggett can hear his son smirking. "After this, I'm gonna call Mrs. Scully and tell her you ain't eating right."

"Hi, Mr. Doggett," a new voice comes on the phone before he can properly chew out his oldest child. "Wow, don't take it out on me."

Now Doggett frowns sidelong at his cell. "You can't possibly read my mind at this distance."

The teenager laughs. "No, but I guess you're probably ticked off at Luke for talking to you like a kid."

He's gonna be a helluva shrink when he grows up, Doggett groans, or an even spookier profiler than Mulder. "Ha, ha." He makes a face. "Don't tell me you know the answer to the case already."

"I'm a mind reader, Mr. Doggett, not a fortune teller," Gibson says, and Doggett can swear the kid's smirking, too. "But if it makes you feel any better, even that doesn't help sometimes. It sure didn't keep me out of crutches or a cast."

Doggett nods, remembering that in the recent past, the teen's so-called abilities got him endangered by some serious wackos, one of whom seemed to be Agent Mulder himself. That still didn't sit right, how everything went haywire... ah, never mind, gotta focus on this case, he tells himself. "Yeah, well, I think Agent Scully's got the market cornered on weird explanations for medical conditions."

"Mr. Doggett? Why did Luke say this case was more my kind of thing?"

Now the agent sighs. What to tell him, when he's not even sure what's going on himself? What the hell. "I just said that Scully seemed to think it was weird some kid shows up healthy after being kidnapped for ten years."

"What's so weird about that?"

Oh boy. "Well, Billy was seven when he was taken, and he's still seven now. And he doesn't talk."

"Yeah, that is kinda weird," Gibson says, and even Doggett has to agree, given even the bare bones of the case, that it would certainly rate high on the weird-shit-o-meter. "Hey, Mr. Doggett, wouldn't you be worried if one of your kids shows up without aging or talking after being gone for ten years?"

Doggett starts to say something, but then gets hit by an odd sense of déjà vu that's irritated him while on the child abduction detail when he was on the police force. After all, neither Hannah nor Luke have been kidnapped, but for some reason, the sense of loss always resonated with him while working those cases, as if he had lost a child. "Well, yeah," he says grudgingly. "Doesn't look like his parents are too worried, though."

"They're probably happy to get him back," Gibson says, and there's a hint of envy in those words. "But it's gonna be hard for everybody, because it's so weird."

"As soon as me an' Agent Scully get to the bottom of this, everything should be okay," he tells the teen, and then wonders if he's reassuring Gibson or himself. Jeez.

"Just don't be surprised if she brings up aliens or the paranormal," the teenager says, sounding almost as old as the agent, "you guys are on the X-Files, remember, not the regular missing persons division."

"How could I forget," Doggett mutters. It seems everyone and everything has conspired to remind him what a crazy division this particular basement office is. When he hears his daughter whining in the background, though, he also remembers the reason why he joined the FBI in the first place. "Hey, Gib, could you put Hannah on?"

"Sure," Gibson says, taking no offense. "And don't forget to eat some real food."

Doggett's about to give the kid some wiseass remark, but then his little sweetheart says, "Hey, Daddy."

His grin's stretched from ear to ear, his eyes crinkling as he croons, "How's my little sweetheart?"

"Daddy, Luke's mean." Doggett pictures her pouting as she speaks.

"Aw, sweetie, he's probably thinkin' he's the man of the house now." He grins.

He can still hear her pouting as she goes on, "But Daddy, they're drinkin' all the Coke and won't let me have none."

"Have any," he corrects her, but in the same soft drawl she's got. "Tell them I said to share, okay?"

"Okay!" his little girl says brightly. "Luuuuuke," she says in a louder voice, "Daddy says you hafta shaaare!"

The groans in the background indicate that they're busted, and they're probably thinking of ways to get her back, but not tonight. "Just one Coke, okay, Hannah? Otherwise your teeth are gonna fall out."

"Ewwwwwww," she exclaims. "Okay, just one. An' Daddy?"

"Yes, Hannah?"

"I love you."

Damn if it doesn't get to him every time, his heart's just full to bustin', as his late father used to say. "Love you, too, sweetie. You be good now, you hear?"

She giggles. "Okay," and he can practically see her dimply smile.

"Bye, sweetie, an' tell your brother and Gibson I love 'em, too."

"Okay! Bye!"

When he hangs up, he frowns a little. Wait, did he just pass on his love to Gibson, too? Ah, whatever, there's enough to go around, he grins, opening up another file box. God knows this case will give him little reason to smile or anything like that, if the first box was anything to go by. Sighing, he picks up the cup and takes a large gulp of coffee, then opens the next folder full of what looks to be more fruitless interviews.


9:48 p.m.

Scully almost shakes her head when she walks into the office, seeing Doggett reading the files in an almost obsessive fashion. Guess Mulder's not the only one to forgo creature comforts on a case, she thinks, seeing the discarded junk food wrappers on the table. "You going to sleep here, too?"

Doggett sits up, surprised to see her there. "What time is it?" he asks, checking his watch as he does so. Just twelve before ten, he notes, it's not bedtime yet.

Smothering a smile at his reaction, Scully says instead, "I spoke with the doctors who treated Billy. I looked at his charts."

"And what, did you find something?" he asks, his eyebrows up.

"Yes and no," she says, deciding to soften the blow, since she knows he's not going to like what she's found. Hell, *she* doesn't like it, and she's supposedly the senior member of the X-Files. What showed up is that Billy is the same boy who was taken ten years ago."

That's the big news? Doggett wants to shout, but smothers his frustration. "We know that."

"No," she says, deciding to toss subtlety out the window. "I mean the *same* boy. He has no cavities. He has no tooth decay. He still has four baby teeth that he's never lost. He had a routine blood test six weeks before he disappeared in 1990. His cell counts, his enzymes, his hormone levels, they are all *exactly* the same as they were ten years ago."

"Now, how can that be possible?" he asks, hollowly.

*Now* you get the picture, she thinks. "It's medically impossible."

He hates to ask, he really does, but the cop in him is determined to see this through. "So, what's the punch line? Where are you saying he's been?"

How can I say this when I don't quite believe this myself? she wonders. "There are," she says, looking at the files, "X-File cases that describe similar paranormal findings. Alien abductees who came back with anomalous medical stats," she finishes, looking at him.

He starts to bite her head off, when he remembers Gibson's words, and sees she looks just as uncomfortable positing her theory as he is trying to wrap his mind around it. All right. "Well, that's one theory," he says, without any heat, "an' if that's the best science can come up with, 'anomalous', then okay."

She's surprised he didn't go for the jugular, but she's not about to look a gift horse in the mouth. "I'm not saying that I can explain it, Agent Doggett, but this is definitely not normal." Then she tilts her head. "All right, so you think science came up short. What did your 'good cop work' come up with?"

Answering her challenge, Doggett gets another file. "I went back to the witnesses at the crime scene the day Billy vanished, to this guy, Ronald Purnell." He opens file to display the mugshot of a teenaged boy. "He was detained, questioned and dismissed as a suspect."

She looks at the stats, then at her partner. "What's your interest in this guy?"

"He's a high school dropout, convicted of possession, arson, and shoplifting since 1990," he says, closing the file.

When she sees the seal and logo on the file, however, her eyes grow wide. "These are juvenile records. These are sealed by the court, Agent Doggett," she emphasizes "court", as if that would underline the seriousness of the situation. We're not supposed to have these." Is it me, or does everyone I work with have a problem with obtaining things legally? she thinks, conveniently forgetting her own forays into filching information.

He plants his hands on the table. "Look, unless you've got some way of makin' Billy talk without traumatizing both him an' his family, I'm gonna do whatever it takes to catch this guy, Agent Scully."

She stares at him, then says quietly, "I'm surprised you haven't suggested bringing in Gibson to read Billy's mind."

Doggett looks startled, as that hadn't even crossed his mind. He'd said he'd use whatever it took, but now... "That ain't even an option," he answers evenly, staring right back.

She holds his gaze, then nods. "Right," she says. "We're the agents in charge." And without another word, she picks up the illegally-gained file, perusing its contents, with Doggett joining her in absorbing information from other not-quite-properly-obtained files.


Dexter Community Hospital
11:09 a.m.

He'd gone out to see Ronnie Purnell at his home earlier this morning, both for a chance to shake a tree and see if anything useful fell out, and to get out of the hospital and away from all those files. Looks like his trip was in vain, since he got nothing from Purnell and he's back at the hospital, since it seems Billy had just threatened his (younger? older?) brother Josh.

Right now, he and Scully are staring at the bagged, bloody knife held by the sheriff. Sheriff Sanchez tells them, "Just got word back from the lab. Ran the blood twice and no doubt about it. It's the little boy's."

Doggett looks up at the man. "But I thought you said he wasn't cut," he says, taking the knife.

The older man shakes his head. "No, it's the other son I'm talking about, Billy -- the boy who was kidnapped."

"That doesn't make any sense." Doggett frowns.

Scully frowns, too. "No, Billy wasn't cut either."

The sheriff's expression doesn't change as he agrees, "No, but he definitely handled the knife. His prints are on it."

"Where did he even get it?" Doggett looks at the knife, certainly not the type they sell in toy stores or even in supermarkets.

The sheriff shrugs slightly. "His father's never seen it before. He's no hunter," he snorts a little. "Never cleaned an animal, which is about all a knife like that's good for... except for killing, of course."

Okay, point taken, Scully thinks, you do subtle really well, Sheriff. "Well, I hate to say this ... but I think that the best thing for Billy and his family is if he's removed to an institution under the observation of people who are experienced in these things."

Now Doggett looks at his partner. "You mean, remove him? Take him away? After all his family's been through?"

She stares right back. "This is not a normal child, Agent Doggett, and this is not a normal act."

An already familiar stubbornness settles on his face. "You make it sound like he's possessed. Call the exorcist," he mocks. Then he snaps, "He's a kid -- a kid who's been through who knows what kind of hell. Give him a chance. How do you know he's not trying to communicate something?"

She raises an eyebrow. "And what's the message?" When he can't answer, she plows on. "Yes, he's a kid, Agent Doggett, you're right. He's a kid who materialized out of thin air, unaged. Do you not somehow recognize how strange this is?" Scully's already crossed alien abduction off her list, given the medical results and lack of UFO sighting corroboration, but there's so many things wrong about this child that she doesn't even know where to begin to theorize from.

Rather than simply yelling the first insults that come to mind, Doggett looks down at the knife in his hand to give him some time to think. It's only then that he notices a simple five-armed symbol is engraved on the knife handle. "Did anybody notice this?" he changes the subject. "This symbol?"

The sheriff blinks, then shifts his weight a little. "Yeah. Yeah, uh, I was going to mention that to you 'cause it's... uh," he looks embarrassed, "kind of weird."

Doggett doesn't care about the man's embarrassment, now they're getting some clues. "Weird how?"

Sheriff Sanchez does his best to look the other man in the eye. "Well, like I told you, we tried everything to find that boy, and who abducted him went so far as to bring in a police psychic ten years back -- came up with that very same symbol."

Ah, figures, Doggett thinks, and tries to keep his voice level as he prompts further, "So how exactly did he come up with it?"

"She," the sheriff corrects the agent. "Sharon Pearl. Couldn't say how it came to her."

Scully, however, puts two and two faster than the men. "I've seen this symbol before, too."

Doggett looks at her in surprise. "You have?"

Without another word, Scully goes into the observation room, picks up the paper Billy was drawing on and holds it up against the window for the men to see. It's rendered with a childish hand, mostly in black crayon, but the five-clawed symbol is unmistakable in its repetition all over the paper. Get it? she thinks as she and the paper face the men. The look on their faces show they got it, and she finally thinks, Good.


Underwood Residence
5:53 p.m.

In the Underwood's living room, a woman who looks like she could be Scully's older sister is testing a handheld tape recorder. Not that Doggett would say that out loud, but Sharon Pearl has similar dark auburn hair and light green eyes like the sister he recalls seeing at his FBI graduation party. While they're waiting on the psychic, Doug Underwood walks over to them, gives Pearl a glance and mutters, "This is great. Now I've got a psychic sitting in my living room who's going to tell me what's wrong with my son."

Scully doesn't blame him, but since the psychic's the only one who's gotten anything useful to this case so far, she tries to smooth things over. "I understand your misgivings, Mr. Underwood, but perhaps you can look at this as just another avenue."

The man looks at her as skeptically as he looks at the psychic. "An avenue to what?"

Doggett tries to steer them onto the main track without sounding like he's totally all for this hogwash himself. "We're going to solve this case, Mr. Underwood. We're going to find out who did this to your son," he says as firmly and sincerely as he can.

"And then what?" Underwood snaps. "What am I left with? A kid who stabs knives into his brother's mattress? You don't know the half of it. He gives everyone but his mother the creeps with that stare of his."

Doggett would like to say that he understands, but this reaction from the kid's own father is putting a clearer picture on the knife attack, a picture that he's starting to see sounds less like the typical missing child reunion and more like something ominous. "I just know that this is going to tear you apart," he replies, almost by rote. "It's going to tear your family apart. And you can't let it. You've got to save them from the damage this can do."

The other Underwood boy, with his dark hair and eyes, looks more like his father as he comes down the stairs, especially with his dubious expressions at the newcomers. "I'll be happy to save what I can," Mr. Underwood says. "Come on, Josh. Let's go." The father takes his son by the hand, and they leave the house without looking back.

The psychic, meanwhile, looks at her watch. "Is this going to happen?"

"Shouldn't you be telling us that?" Doggett asks.

Pearl smiles. "You're no doubt confused, Agent Doggett. I take psychic readings, not see through walls."

Doggett's about to retort, but then Mrs. Underwood brings her not-quite-normal son downstairs. "Sorry to keep you waiting," Lisa Underwood apologizes.

"Mrs. Underwood, I'm Sharon Pearl," she shakes the other woman's hand. "I consulted on your son's disappearance back in 1990." After the mother nods, Pearl kneels down to the boy's level. "And you're Billy?" As she looks at the unsmiling boy, her friendly expression shifts to shock, then horror, but keeps holding on to the boy's hands.

Ever observant, Scully asks, "Ms. Pearl? Are you okay?"

"There are very powerful forces at work here," Pearl replies, her voice shaking. "Working through this boy. Drawing him to his brother. I feel this force," she finally releases Billy's hands and stands. "I feel this force," she frowns, then looks directly at Scully, "coming through you. You lost someone just like Billy."

Scully looks at Doggett in surprise. Suddenly, the psychic starts thrashing about, speaking gibberish, and if that wasn't surprising enough, the woman's forehead begins to throb and swell. Tears run down her face as the skin ripples into the five-armed symbol, but she doesn't stop speaking the strange, rapid syllables that come as quickly as the symbol.

"Oh, my God," Scully rushes to the woman, checking her vitals. She looks up to see the adults still staring in horror, and she barks, "Call 911!"

As Doggett pulls out his cell, Scully tries her best to make the woman comfortable, pushing the fallen tape recorder away as she cradles the still-convulsing woman in her arms. Dear God, dear God, Scully prays inwardly, hoping against hope that Billy isn't similarly possessed like the boy in the Holvey case. As far as she can tell, neither parent is into old European magic or beliefs, but it's possible his kidnapper was, and as she continues with these comforting thoughts racing through her head, she pulls off her jacket sleeve and uses it as a makeshift gag so Pearl won't choke.


Darkness has fallen quickly, and Scully watches as Mrs. Underwood takes her still-silent son back into the house. Once the ambulance has left her sight, Scully joins Doggett in their rental car. "Well, they've got her stabilized and it looks like she's going to be okay... if you're at all curious about her condition," she adds when Doggett's expression hasn't changed since she got in.

His face a study in stubbornness, he replies, "I'd be more curious if I believed it."

Now she looks at him curiously. "Believed what?"

"The act," he says bluntly.

Scully raises an eyebrow. "You think that was an act?"

"It's pretty standard fare, isn't it?" He looks at her directly. "Float a few choice revelations, as if they came from on high, roll around on the floor..."

She stares right back. "You saw that symbol appear on her forehead."

"It's a damn good trick." He shrugs. "Don't ask me how she does it." When Scully takes out the tape recorder, Doggett groans when he hears the 'psychic's' incoherent mumblings. "Agent Scully, please." He makes a face.

"No, I think you want to hear this," she says, much like a parent telling a child to swallow medicine. "Now listen to it backwards."

She'd only found it by mistake, idly hitting the wrong button while reading the paramedics' chart before they'd left. Aloud, the only sound is a semi-deep voice, garbled by the tape, singing, "When you wake ..."

Doggett sits up. "What was that?"

"You shall have ..." the strange voice continues singing.

"It's a boy singing," Scully replies, straightforward.

They listen as the voice goes on, "All the pretty little horses..."

"Lyrics," she adds, softly singing along, "Hush-a-bye, don't you cry... go to sleep, little baby..."

"You hear that, under the noise? Now..." she says, looking back at the recorder.

Doggett's attention, however, is drawn by the sight of Ronnie Purnell's car pulling up across the street. "What's he doing here?"


Ronnie Purnell stops his car in front of the house, his eyes on the front door, a mixture of fear and hope on his scraggly features. When a small hand touches his shoulder, he starts, but that's nothing to the shock and horror of seeing little Billy sitting in the passenger seat next to him. "Get away from me," he gibbers in fear. He puts his hand on the car door handle to escape, but another shadow's in his way.

"Ronnie, open up the car!" Doggett shouts, knocking on the window. Then he sees the little blond boy in the delinquent's car, and his blood pressure goes up several notches. Purnell, seeing Doggett's reaction, panics and starts the car. That only serves to piss Doggett more, as if the day wasn't crazy enough. "Ronnie. Ronnie, stop the car!" he says, even as the car pulls out, and he runs after it. Passing his partner, Doggett yells, "Agent Scully, he's got Billy!"

Without another word, Scully slides over to the driver's seat and circles the block to cut off Purnell on a side street and both cars screech to a halt when it's clear there's nowhere for him to go. Scully pulls out her gun, then gets out of the car. "Get out of the car!" she yells, angry. "Now!"

The thin man does, hands up. Doggett catches up with them, and roughly turns Purnell against the car. "Don't move, Ronnie," he growls. Then he sees Billy's not in the car. "Where's Billy?"

Okay, now Scully's confused. "I thought you said Billy was in the car?"

To answer her question, Doggett snaps at the handcuffed man. "Where's Billy?"

Still shaken, Purnell doesn't answer. Frustrated, not only with Purnell but also with the entire freakin' day, Doggett shoves him, then exhales. He looks in the backseat, then pops the trunk. No sign of the kid. Shit!


Later, at the sheriff's office, Doggett watches as Sheriff Sanchez books Purnell, his cold blue eyes squinting hard at the younger man.

Watching her new partner, Scully almost smiles. "Count to ten, Agent Doggett," she advises instead.

Now he rounds on her. "He took Billy."

She sighs, although she can't deny reacting quickly when he'd shouted Purnell had Billy. "He couldn't have."

"How are you going to back that up with Billy now missing from his home?" he looks at her, as if daring her to pull some cockamamie theory from God knows where.

She answers his glare with a steady gaze. "By the certain knowledge that not five minutes earlier, I saw him enter his home with his mother." And unless he's into riding with strangers or even a suspect from his past, which I doubt highly, Billy, by all rights, should be safe at home.

"I saw him!" Doggett hears his voice rising, and quickly turns down the volume, knowing that loud doesn't equal right or even sane at this point. "I saw Billy riding in the car with Ronnie. Why else would Ronnie take off like he did?"

"It's impossible, Agent Doggett, like everything else about this case," she concedes. "Like how Billy can be in his home one minute and then in Ronnie's car the next. Everything about this case is impossible."

"This kid is the key, Agent Scully," Doggett says firmly. "I've been saying that from the beginning and I'll say it now."

The sheriff walks in, interrupting their argument. "Agent Doggett, Agent Scully, I got bad news on top of worse. Josh, the Underwood's other little boy, has disappeared." As they stare at him, he answers back, "I'm not joking, not even close. I got the parents out here now. Come on."

Scully follows the sheriff into another room where the Underwoods are waiting, worried. To her surprise, Doggett doesn't join her, but instead tells her, "I've got to talk to this kid, Agent Scully. I'm absolutely sure." Sure, she thinks, whatever. And then she again remembers not to underestimate the man's stubbornness, nor his resolve in following whatever leads he deems necessary to get to the bottom of things. Must be something about this office that attracts that type of person, I guess, she thinks, and turns to the parents.


As Purnell is escorted into an interrogation room, Doggett's already there, waiting. "Have a seat, Ronnie," he says.

Purnell looks at him, then sits. "I know what you're going to ask," he says sullenly, "but I got no answer."

"Well, there can be only one answer, right? I mean, why else did you go to the house? You went there for Billy, to get him back." Doggett stares at the guy, almost willing him to spill.

"No," Purnell mutters.

Guess we gotta bring up the obvious fact, Doggett thinks. "You had him in your car."

Now Purnell looks panicked. "I don't know how he got there."

"Then why go to the house at all?" Doggett scoffs.

"Because I didn't believe you," he stares up at the tall man.

"You didn't believe what? What's so hard to believe, Ronnie?" he squints down at the guy.

"You said I could talk to him," Purnell replies.

A-ha, Doggett thinks. "You needed to talk to him. After all those years, you couldn't live without him. You wanted him back. All those years, Ronnie. All those years. Where'd you keep him?"

Purnell's face contorts, a mixture of frustration and even a little amusement. "Man, you don't understand."

"You were sorry you let him go," Doggett continues his line of thinking.

"No, I," and now his voice starts to shake, "I couldn't let him go."

"Who else knew about him? Your mom?"

"No," Purnell says dully.

"Where'd you keep him?"

Purnell stares straight ahead. "I didn't."

"What did you do to him?!" Doggett wants to punch the guy out, but instead slams his hands on the table.

Purnell starts. "I didn't do anything," his voice shakes as he can't escape the steely gaze of the man in front of him. "I took care of him. I-I sang to him... you know, so he wouldn't be afraid."

Oh hell, Doggett thinks. But at least he knew his gut was right when he figured this kid would provide answers. He just didn't think it would turn out this way. "Afraid of who?" he lowers and softens his voice, as if coaxing out a wounded animal. "Who was he afraid of, Ronnie? Somebody else involved? Somebody else make you do it? He take that other kid, too? Billy's brother? He take him?" Now Purnell looks at him, worried. "You're afraid of him, too, aren't you? You're a victim, just like those other kids. Is that right? You... me, Billy. This is our chance, man. What's his name?"


Baker County, Oklahoma

Later that night, a squad of police cars and one rental car pour into the Purnell trailer yard. Scully and Doggett fairly jump out of their car, guns at the ready, and run to the barn door. "FBI! Cal Jeppy! Come out!" Doggett yells.

He enter the barn with a handful of cops, and when they see no trace of their suspect, they lower their weapons, pulling up the floorboards. To Doggett's mingled relief and rage, they find little Josh bound and gagged, but he looks otherwise okay. Opening a trapdoor and metal grate, they all help to free the boy.

"All right," Doggett murmurs in a soothing voice as the boy stares at them in fear. "It's okay, Josh. You're okay. We're not going to hurt you."

Scully, in the meantime, sees Cal Jeppy running toward the wooded area. "Agent Doggett," she shouts, "he's on the run!"

Doggett and the cops run out of the barn, while Scully walks in to tend to the little boy. As if on a foxhunt, Doggett and the others run past the weathered buildings, and he shouts to the others, "He's in the woods!" As they run into the woods, he yells, "Watch your fire! There may be another boy!"

It seems like forever, but it's only been a few minutes when they catch up with the gasping, overweight man. Doggett, flashlight in one hand, and gun in the other, is the first to reach him in his flashlight beam. "Down on your knees!" he barks. Panting, Jeppy nods, his eyes on the man's gun. "Hands in the air! Where's the kid?!"

"He's in the trailer," Jeppy stammers, his hands raised.

"Other kid!" Doggett yells.

"There's no other kid," the kneeling man answers.

"Billy Underwood!" Doggett straightens his arm to give his gun more reach.

Obviously scared, Jeppy replies, "There's no other kid!" Then his eyes move away from Doggett, and it looks like he's about to wet his pants.

Doggett, his gun still on the suspect, turns around. The little blond boy is standing just a few feet away. The FBI agent turns back to the suspect and sees, as well as hears, the other cops coming. "Get this man in cuffs!" he shouts. "Read him his rights! The kid's over...," his voice trails off when he doesn't see Billy.

Thinking perhaps all the people and the noise scared the boy, Doggett walks over to where the boy was standing, intending to call a search for Billy. That intention is quelled when he looks down and sees a small exposed skull. Dammit.


The next morning, the area is taped off with crime scene tape. Doug and Lisa Underwood are looking at the little crude grave, holding each other as Doug cries softly for a son he's lost twice.

Doggett watches them, but it hurts too much to see, so he joins his partner standing a few yards off. "I don't believe it," he says for what feels like the seven thousandth time. He's not sure if he's trying to convince himself, his partner, or say something normal in the face of unbelievable events and unspeakable tragedy.

I know, Scully thinks, but that's not what you want to hear. "Agent Doggett, there's the clothes, the age and condition of the bones, the location of the grave. There is no doubt that that is Billy Underwood's skeleton that is in that grave."

"We spent time with this boy." He stares at her. "Doctors took Billy's blood. You examined him yourself. Now, I can't accept it. I can't believe we're asking them to."

"I know, but the forensic evidence is going to come out, and what then? What if I'm right?" And if we find that was Billy's tangible ghost we all spent time with, then what? She knows it'll be a while before John admits to himself there are things he can't explain, but neither will she put up with a knee-jerk skeptical reaction, doubting for the sake of doubting.

He looks frustrated, as if knowing where she's leading and not liking it one bit. "Well, what then, Agent Scully? What we do? We move on, let it go, case closed?"

She exhales. "Look, I know where you are with this. I have been there. I know what you're feeling -- that you've failed and that you have to explain this somehow." That same strange feeling of straddling the doubter's and the believer's world, akin to a sort of déjà vu, hits her again. "And maybe you can."

"Not if that's Billy's body, I can't," he says, as mulishly as any of her children.

She gives him as much understanding and patience as she would Sammy or the other boys. "But maybe that's explanation enough. That that's not Billy's brother lying in that grave, too," she gestures towards the grieving couple. "That that man who did this is never going to be able to do it again. Isn't that what you wanted, Agent Doggett?" And now she looks at him.

"Agent Scully, don't ask me to believe that this is some kind of justice from beyond the grave."

I'm not asking, she thinks, I'm just confirming what you know in your heart, even if your mind doesn't want to believe it. "All I'm saying is that maybe you succeeded," she says, whether you're willing to see that or not."


Several hours and a time zone later, Doggett is back home, back to his normal life with his normal kids, who are normally bugging him. "Dad, can we have 'Quake III'? It's a multi-player game so me and Gib can use it at the same time," his oldest child nags.

"Or if you want, we can pay half and you can pay half," Gibson offers, hitting him with the double whammy of both sounding reasonable and looking forlorn in his crutches.

Hey, wait, did he just include Gibson as part of that "his normal kids" clause? When he sees the bespectacled kid grinning at him, he groans. "What's the rating?" he asks, even though the boy did have a reasonable offer.

The two teens share a look. Uh-oh. "Um, it's rated 15+, so it's okay."

Doggett raises an eyebrow. "I seem ta recall it bein' rated M for mature. And you know where I stand on that."

"Aw, man," Luke groans, and Gibson shrugs. "Guess we'll save our allowance for something else." He picks up a basketball and grumbles, "C'mon, Gib, we better play some ball before Dad suggest something dorky like Pokemon or something."

As both boys shudder, Doggett laughs, then walks over to his little girl, who's been humming to her favorite teddy bear. When he takes a seat on the couch next to her, she smiles, then opens her mouth to sing,
"When you wake, you shall have
All the pretty little horses.
Dapples and Grays
Pintos and Bays
All the pretty little horses."

A chill goes down his spine. Where'd she learn that song from?

Hannah repeats the chorus in a clear, sweet voice,
"Hush-a-bye, don't you cry
Go to sleep my little baby.
When you wake, you shall have
All the pretty little horses.
Dapples and Grays
Pintos and Bays
All the pretty little horses."

Then Doggett claps, and Hannah dimples. "Hey, Daddy." She smiles, and he smiles back. "Didja hear me?"

"Yes, I did, honey," he says, leaning forward. "Where'd you learn that song?"

She shrugs. "Luke an' Gibson wouldn't play with me last night, so Billy came over an' taughted me how."

"That's taught," he corrects her gently. "Billy? Billy who?" But he's already got a pretty good idea.

"I dunno," she says. "He was nice, an' taughted, um, taught," she catches herself, "me that song. It's the only one he knows, though, but he said you'd like it. Then he said he hadda go home, so he can't play here anymore."

"I see," her father says. "Well, I do like it." As he hugs her, he pushes away any thoughts of the X-Files, or any weird shit, from his mind. And for the rest of the day, he plays tea with his little girl, then basketball with the boys, ending with dinner and more arguments about violence in videogames that *does* have him threatening to buy them Pokie-whatever-the-hell-you-call-it. Everything an American man could pray for: a normal day in a normal life, with his normal kids.

Mostly.


Chapter Ninety-Four



November 2000
Washington D.C.
3:00 a.m.

Steam is billowing out of the shower, and the entire bathroom is filled with a hazy white mist. Scully sits on the floor by the tub with David on her lap. He's exhausted and leans his head against her breast, but he can't sleep. Even the steam isn't doing much to clear up his congestion. She wishes desperately that he could sleep, because she's been up half the night with him.

Her phone, resting on the vanity, goes off startling them both. She holds her breath, but the miserable toddler doesn't cry. "Hello?" she answers impatiently. To her annoyance it's her boss, telling her about a mass slaying at a cult. She looks down at David, and makes a quick decision. "I can't come in today, sir. I've been up all night with David, and I'd be no good to anyone...right. I'll give him a call."

Once she hangs up on him, she shifts her son to a more comfortable position. "Don move Mommy," he protests weakly.

"Sorry, baby, but my arm was falling asleep." He soon closes his eyes, and she dials her partner.


Falls Church, Virginia
3:26 a.m.

Doggett knocks his phone to the floor and swears at it before he manages to answer. "Yeah."

"It's, uh, it's Dana. Scully. I'm sorry to wake you."

"What's up?" he asks sleepily.

"I got a call about 20 minutes ago from Assistant Director Skinner. He has a situation."

"What is it?" Doggett asks beginning to feel more alert.

"An Agent is dead. Um, Skinner had him surveiling a religious cult in Pittsburgh. And all the followers are dead, as well."

"What happened?" Doggett is beginning to feel like he's playing twenty questions.

"It sounded to me as though he's having difficulty determining that," Scully tells him. "I'm assuming that it's an X-File."

"Uh huh. I'll pick you up," he offers.

"I'm sorry, John. I can't go. I've been up all night with one of the boys."

"Is he okay?" Doggett asks, thinking about how young her kids are. Most of the likely suspects are just babies.

He hears a tiny, unhappy voice say something to her and surmises it's one of the twins before she says, "It's just a bad cold."

"I hope he's feeling better soon." And he really does. It's only been a week or so since Gibson's cast came off, so he's had his recent fill of under the weather kids too.

"So do I. I haven't been to bed yet." She gives him the address to met Skinner before saying goodbye.

Once Doggett hangs up the phone, he sighs and pads down the hall to his son's room. Since he knows that the boy is sleeping, he doesn't bother to knock. Before he can even approach the bed his son sits up and rubs his eyes.

"What's going on, Dad?" Luke asks with a yawn.

"I've been called in to work."

"Oh."

"I wanted you to know in case Hannah woke up and was scared," Doggett tells him.

"Okay."

"I probably won't be home before you go to school. I can trust that you and Gibson can get yourselves and your sister off to school on time, right?"

"Of course," Luke says a little sharply. "Are you going to wake Gib up to talk to him too?"

"No," Doggett replies as he glances over at the boy sleeping in the other bed. The boys get along well, but he swears that he detects a faint note of jealousy in his son's voice. Maybe Hannah rubbed it in when he asked her to pass along his love to both boys a few days ago. "I know you'll pass the message along."

"Right," Luke says before lying back down. Doggett shuts the door behind himself, and goes to get dressed.


Skinner is still waiting for Doggett to show up when his phone rings. "Skinner."

To his surprise it's not Doggett. Instead, it's Scully again. "I hope this isn't a bad time."

"No, not really. I'm still waiting for agent Doggett."

"I think I need to cut back my hours," Scully surprises him by saying.

"Because one of your kids is sick?" Skinner ass, feeling puzzled.

She sighs. "No. Well, not exactly. I've been thinking about this for... it's been on my mind since Mulder vanished. I think the kids need me around more."

"Okay," he says automatically.

"Okay?" Scully sounds as though she expected it to be a more difficult fight.

"Yes. I've almost been expecting this. Though I have found your devotion to the X-Files to be admirable, it's understandable that you would want to spend more time with your children, at least when you're the only one they really have. We could arrange for you to take leave until Mulder is found-" he says, but already he's dreading having just one agent on the X-Files, especially with the renewed effort by the powers that be to handicap the department as much as possible.

"No!" she says quickly. "I want fewer hours, but I still want to be involved. Especially if my involvement could help bring Mulder home..."

"Of course. I should've thought... we'll just scaled back your hours then." He pauses when he's struck by both relief and sudden inspiration. "What do you think about that woman we met with in Arizona? Agent Reyes."

"I think she's a good agent. One with an open mind," Scully says firmly. "Why do you ask?"

"Didn't you say that you and agent Mulder had worked with her once upon a time on a case that involved cultists?"

"Years ago," she agrees. "Cultists and chickens."

"Odd combination. But I wonder if she be up to a little assistance in this case," Skinner says, beginning to formulate a plan.


When Doggett arrives, he has to push his way past reporters and camera men. One bold woman thrusts a microphone in his face. "Care to comment on this case, agent...?"

"I just got here," Doggett snaps automatically, putting up a hand to bat the microphone away. "I haven't even been debriefed yet."

The reporter looks disappointed, but when he fixes her with a hard stare she backs down and lets him go by without pestering him any further.

After a couple more minutes of futile search, he finally finds Skinner. "Scully's not going to be joining you on this case."

"Damn. I take it that the rugrat isn't feeling any better."

Skinner looks at him. "No. I've called someone in to work with you, but her flight doesn't arrive for a while."

"Who?"

"Agent Monica Reyes. You remember her from-"

"Yeah, I remember her," Doggett says a little shortly. "Why her?"

"Cultists are her specialty," Skinner replies. "I thought it could be a test run of sorts."

"Test run for what?" Doggett demands to know.

The look Skinner gives him is hard to read. "Agent Scully has decided to cut back her hours. At least until we find Mulder."

"That surprises me," Doggett says.

"It surprises me a little too," Skinner tells him. "I know that if she didn't have other responsibilities, she'd be out there looking for Mulder eighty hours a week. With six kids to look after, even with help, it's not possible. She made an off-hand remark about not wanting the kids to feel like they've been abandoned by both parents, and I'm sure that's at the heart of the matter."

"Probably," Doggett says, but he's distracted by thoughts about his ex-wife's abandonment of his own children. "She's not one of those women who is content to let the nannies raise the kids. I get that."

"Exactly. I was hoping that if things go well this case, we might be able to lure agent Reyes to D.C. for good."

Doggett nods, but he's not sure what he thinks about that. He decides to change the subject. "So, why don't you get me up to speed while we wait for the Calvary to arrive?"

"I had some agents doing routine surveillance on a cult group called the Ibogan Temple. Someone called in a tip that they were trafficking narcotics." As Skinner speaks he leads Doggett back outdoors and towards a vehicle parked out front.

"But somewhere along the way this turned into an X-File." Doggett guesses.

"It seems so," Skinner agrees.

When they reach the SUV, the first thing Doggett notices is the strange, distinctive smell of blood. The way it smells when there's quite a lot of it. And quite a lot of it coats the interior surfaces of the vehicle. In the midst of the blood is a dead man with a slash carved into his forehead.

"Nasty wound," Doggett says with an intake of breath. "But it doesn't make sense. That looks like it was done with an axe. There's no room to swing one in here."

"Blood spatter on the seat says it happened right here."

"But how do you kill someone with an axe in a vehicle? Even if he'd fallen asleep he'd of reacted, wouldn't he?"

"Apparently not. He never even unholstered his weapon," Skinner tells him.

"This is weird. Now I see why it's an X-File."

"It gets weirder. Those coroners you saw scurrying around inside? They're dealing with the other dead bodies. Twenty cult members with identical wounds to this one."

"How many members to the cult?" Doggett asks. "Did they all die?"

"All but the leader. Anthony Tipet, a convicted murderer who claimed to have found God. That may or may not be true, but he definitely found a group of confused people who believed what he was shoveling."

"And now they're all dead," Doggett says sourly.

"And now they're all dead," Skinner agrees.

Doggett shakes his head. "Something doesn't compute. I don't care how devoted they were. These people wouldn't just lie here and let their leader bash their brains in. I got to figure at least one of them would have had a problem with that."

"I thought of that too," Skinner replies. "So I'm having toxicology labs run on all the victims."

"Including this one?" Doggett asks, waving his hand towards the dead man they've been standing next to throughout the duration of the conversation.

Skinner frowns. It deepens when an agent approaches and tells him that they're unable to locate the dead man's partner. His phone begins to ring, so he steps away to answer it. A moment later he returns. "Agent Reyes' flight has arrived. You better go pick her up at the airport."

"What, me?" Doggett blinks at him.

"She's a potential addition to the division you're working on. Consider it a bonding experience," Skinner says smugly. "Once you pick her up you can go to agent Stedman's home and see if he's there."

There's nothing for Doggett to do but head for his car.


Airport

He doesn't even have to flag Reyes down before she notices him and heads in his direction. This forces him to smile in spite of himself. "I didn't think you would recognize me."

"I have a good memory for faces," Reyes tells him. "Besides, yours is pretty distinctive."

Her comment leaves him feeling unnerved, so he changes the subject as they approach his car. "The first thing Skinner wants us to do is go by the missing agent's house and see if he's there."

"Right," she agrees, opening the passenger door.

A few minutes later Doggett's eyes dart towards his passenger for a moment, then return to the road. "Skinner says that cults are your thing."

"They're my area of focus, yes," Reyes replies. "That's why I was called in to help."

"Rumor has it that's not the only reason why."

"Oh?"

"Word around the water cooler is that Skinner wants to talk you into sticking around for awhile."

"That could be interesting" is her only response.

It surprises him a little that she actually does seem intrigued by the possibility. "You'd consider relocating?"

"Sure. Why not? I'll be honest with you, working with cultists is not what I expected. It's a lot less mysticism and a lot more human-caused evil than I bargained for."

"Maybe the job isn't what you were hoping for," Doggett says, though he has difficulty imagining why she's disappointed. "But you've got a life down there. You don't mind pulling up stakes and starting over somewhere new?"

When she turns towards him, he can see humor and her dark eyes. "Trying to scare off the new kid, agent Doggett?"

"No!" he protests. "I'm honestly curious, since it wasn't easy for me to do the same."

Reyes shrugs. "I have friends there, of course. But no one who would be terribly inconvenienced, if you catch my drift. I don't even have a pet. Moving just isn't that big a deal for single woman with no family in the area, either. So what your story?"

"Ah... I agreed to head a task force to find agent Mulder. He's the reason I consider the FBI to begin with, so I felt that I couldn't refuse in good conscience. My kids complicated things, though. That's what they do."

"You have two kids, right?" Reyes surprises him by remembering.

"Yeah. Luke's fourteen and Hannah's five." He doesn't bother mentioning Gibson, since he already feels as though he's stolen the boy from out from under her.

"What does your wife think about the move?" Reyes asks in what he feels is a calculatingly neutral tone of voice.

"If I ever hear from Barbara, I'll have to ask her," he says, hoping he doesn't sound bitter.

"Oh, sorry. I didn't realize that you were divorced," Reyes replies but she does not sound flustered.

"That's all right. It's been two years so I'm over it. Mostly. She's in Europe, last I heard. Once in awhile she writes letters to Luke. I'm not sure he reads them."

Stedman's condo soon looms into view.


No one answers when they knock, so they get the building supervisor. It takes a couple of minutes to convince the man that they're seriously concerned. Eventually he pops the lock for them and hovers apprehensively in the background. He doesn't even complain when Doggett kicks the door to break the chain holding it closed.

Once they get the door to Stedman's place open, the smell of blood assaults Doggett again like malicious déjà vu. It comes as no surprise when they find the body on the bed in Stedman's room.

"Looks like he's been dead a while," Reyes comments.

Doggett gives her a sidelong look. She's surprisingly unflinching, and he thought that was rare in women. At least rare in women who hadn't been sharing the same air a Fox Mulder for the better part of a decade. He feels a bit of admiration as he turns to speak to her. "How did the killer get in? The door was locked with a chain."

"The window, maybe?" Reyes suggests, but she sounds doubtful. "I'm no pathologist, but I'm pretty sure that it wasn't a suicide."

Doggett walks to the windows. He reaches up and fingers the locks. "These are locked too."

"The bathroom?"

They leave the apartment shaken. All of the windows are still latched.


Kersh's Office
2:18 p.m.

"Deputy Director, I'd like you to meet agent Monica Reyes," Skinner says and she holds out her hand to the man. He takes it. "She's a leading authority on cults, so I've asked her to assist agent Doggett on this case."

Kersh looks relieved to learn that she's used to dealing with people. "Nice to meet you."

"Likewise," she says with a charming smile. Doggett hides one of his own, much nastier in nature.

Skinner produces a video tape. "This is a tape of our primary suspect."

"The cult leader?" Kersh asks.

"Correct."

On the TV Tipet begins to speak, obviously in the middle of what passes for a sermon. " The body is but clay... a shell made by God to hold the twin aspects of the Holy Spirit: Light and Dark. If we have the courage to see into darkness we see into God... free of the clay which confines us."

The tape freezes abruptly and Skinner puts down the remote control. "Anthony Tipet served 12 years for the bludgeoning death of his wife. After his release, he became a minister preaching a hybrid of evangelical and eastern religions. He claimed a higher plane of being could be reached by the Via Negativa-- the path of darkness-- the plane closer to God. Once reached, it would let the spirit travel unhindered. Tipet believed hallucinogens would lead him to this plane-- specifically compounds of the bark of an African tree... the Iboga."

"Did the victims take this drug?" Reyes is quick to ask.

"We didn't find any trace of that drug, or in fact any drug, in the victims' blood."

"If he didn't drug those people before hitting them with an axe, what did he do to get them to lie still while he bashed their heads in?" Kersh asks.

"Tipet was paranoid but nothing indicates he was ready to take the lives of his own people or our men," Doggett answers.

Kersh glowers at him, obviously annoyed. "This is our one and only suspect. Are you telling me he didn't do it?"

"Whoever did this left not even a trace how: No prints, no forensic evidence whatsoever. Agent Leeds' sedan, the cult house, Agent Stedman's condo... were all locked from the inside."

"That's impossible," Kersh retorts. "You're telling me a fairytale."

"Unless Tipet took the drug and succeeded. Unless his consciousness was there but his body was somewhere else," Skinner says, and his boss swings his head in his direction, clearly seeing him as his new target.

"The X-File explanation. I take it this theory comes from Agent Scully?" Kersh's voice contains bile.

"Agent Scully isn't working on this case," Skinner tells him. "She had a family emergency."

"So you three reached this conclusion all on your own. Isn't that refreshing."

"I don't think I'd say that we've reached a conclusion just yet," Doggett objects.

"That's the problem. I'm not hearing conclusions from any of you. If this man has reached a higher plane then explain to me why 22 people are dead including two FBI Agents. Now I want to hear what you're going to do about it."

After the meeting they walk back down to the basement office. Well out of earshot of Kersh, Reyes finally asks what has been on her mind since early in the meeting. "Is the director usually so...congenial?"

Both men snort. "Always," Skinner says at last. He then turns to Doggett. "I'm hoping that the coroner's report will give us more clues, but even as a rush job it's not going to be ready until ten. Maybe you could bring agent Reyes to her hotel. Go see your kids."

"No problem." Doggett is already fantasizing about getting an answer that'll wipe the smirk off Kersh's face.


Falls Church, Virginia
5:30 p.m.

Doggett is fishing hotdogs out of the pot when the phone rings. "Someone get that!" he bellows.

Hannah runs into the kitchen a minute later with the portable phone. "It's for you, Daddy."

"Hello?" Doggett asks. The boys soon swoop in and begin dressing their hotdog buns. Without being asked they help Hannah with hers first.

"Hi, John, it's Dana. How's the case going?"

"It's going to be a late night, but I'm hopeful that we're getting somewhere. How's the sick kid?"

"It seems like he's on the mend." Scully pauses. "Do you think you're going out all night?"

"Odds are."

"Why don't you bring the kids over tonight? They can do a movie night. None of us will be getting up early since tomorrow's Saturday."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes, it'll be fun for my kids to have them over."

"As long as you keep them away from the infectious toddler, sure."

"Okay, see you soon."

Since the kids eat like Hoovers, they're nearly done their supper by the time he hangs up.

Doggett eats his own hotdog in four bites. "Grab some PJs, your sleeping bags, and a change of clothes for tomorrow. You're going to spend the night at Dana's while agent Reyes and I work overnight."

Gibson is quick to comply, as is a very excited Hannah, but Luke fixes his father with accusatory stare. "Why can we stay here? We were fine this morning. Gib and I are old enough to look after Hannah all night too!"

Remembering the volatile moods of his own teen years, Doggett silently counts to ten and reminds himself not to give into his son's spoiling for a fight. "I know that."

"You do?" Luke gives him an uncertain look. It's obvious that he didn't expect to be agreed with.

"Yeah. Dana's cutting back her hours and feels guilty about not helping on this case. You know that working together hasn't been the best thing for our friendship-" Luke nods too vigorously for his taste. "So when she offered to have you kids over, I couldn't really say no. Okay?"

"Oh, okay," Luke says grudgingly. "It will be better between you when Mister Mulder is found, won't it?"

"Sure. Being worried all the damn time is just taking its toll on her, that's all."

Luke starts to head for his room, but he looks back at his father. "He is gonna come back, isn't he?"

"Of course he is," Doggett says, but he looks away.

At this point he'd be happy just to find the body. Just to give Dana and the kids some closure. He'd like to think it'll end happily, but he'd been a police officer for too long to believe in miraculous conclusions.


Hannah feels no qualms about running in as soon as the door is opened, but the boys hang back until Doggett nudges them forward. "Go on, you're lettin' the cold air in."

Looking sheepish, they shuffle in. They haven't even taken off their coats before Scully finds them. "Oh good, you're just in time to help set up the tent."

"The tent?" Luke asks, but she's already headed up the stairs, probably to find out why David is crying.

A small redhead rounds the corner and gives them a big smile. "Oh good, you're here!" Sammy says. "Mommy said you could help us put up the tent."

"Um. Isn't it too cold for camping?" Gibson asks.

This makes the little boy laugh. "It's cold outside. We're camping inside!"

"I guess that makes sense," Luke remarks. Gibson shrugs.

They find Hannah the living room, dangling toys into the playpen over Jared and Christopher's heads. Both boys looked outraged and near tears.

"Hannah! Stop teasing them and give them their toys right now!" Gibson hisses and to Luke's amazement she complies immediately. She pouts, but hands them their toys.

"Thank God she's the youngest," Luke mutters. "A baby wouldn't stand a chance in our house."

"Wouldn't that require your dad dating someone first?"

"Ha. Yeah no worries there." Luke smirks. "He hasn't looked at a woman since my mom left."

"Here." Page thrusts an instruction book at them. "Uncle Alex said he'll help when he gets back, but he's buying marshmallows."

By the time the grownups returned to the living room they've progressed - with a little overly enthusiastic help from the younger kids not imprisoned in the playpen - to a state that makes the tent look like it was half knocked down by a bear.

Krycek pitches in and the tent is soon upright. The little kids cheer before scurrying off to find their sleeping bags.

"You boys wouldn't mind sleeping outside the tent, which you?" Scully asks. "I told them you'd stand sentry against wolves."

"We don't mind," Gibson says. "But why are we camping inside?"

She sighs. "Sammy and Page read a book about camping and begged me to. It's way too cold to go camping right now, but it's the first time they've shown enthusiasm since... well, in a while anyway. So I decided to compromise. Indoor camping it is. Between you and me I think it's all the same to them. As long as they get to toast marshmallows."

Luke grins at her. "Just so you know, I toast the perfect marshmallows."

Some of the tiredness leaves her face. "Then you're going to be very popular tonight."

When the little kids come back with their sleeping bags it takes awhile to roll them all out.


Even the teenagers seem to enjoy themselves that night as they help the younger kids make smores and tell not-very-scary ghost stories. Eventually Scully and Krycek bring Christopher and Jared up to their rooms, but the rest of the little kids climb into the tent. There's the expected amount of giggling and arguing for a couple of minutes, but eventually they settle down without intervention.

As Gibson and Luke climb into their own sleeping bags, Sammy pokes his head out of the tent. He gives them a long look. "Here." He hands them a pair of long, slightly dirty sticks. "I got these outside while Mommy was checking on David."

"Um, thanks," Luke says as he looks at the stick. "These are for?"

"The bears and wolves," Sammy tells him.

"Right."

Sammy disappears back into the tent. Gibson shrugs and puts his stick next to his sleeping bag.


10:22 p.m.

Doggett is just taking the cover off one of the coffees he bought on his way to add cream when agent Reyes walks into the basement office. She sits down in Scully's chair and makes herself at home.

After accepting a coffee she turns to him and asks, "Did he get the coroner's report?"

"Yup. He left it for us."

"And I bet you already read it," she predicts. "Even though you just got here."

"I get bored easily," he says slightly abashed. "According to the doc every damn one of the victims was killed by a single blow from an ax blade. One 6 to 8 inches long."

She sips her coffee and peers down at the pictures. "Anything special about that ax?"

"According to a note from Skinner, these photos of wound patterns don't match up to any known make or manufacturer."

"Maybe were not looking for the type of ax you find in a store," Reyes suggests. "Could be an antique."

He nods and picks up a book. "Looks like you and Skinner were on the same wavelength." There is a bookmark for a page that shows a ceremonial ax. "Says here it was used thousands of years ago to cleave the skulls of the unbelievers. Apparently this book was read by all of Tipet's followers." He shakes his head. "It ain't our murder weapon though."

"Why not?"

"It's on permanent display in a Calcutta museum," Doggett tells her.

"That's inconvenient. Does the museum sell replicas?"

"I don't know. The museum doesn't even open until 10 a.m."

"I guess we'll have to explore other avenues until then."

Doggett looks annoyed, but not at her. "Seems to me were little limited on avenues, agent Reyes."

"We'll find another lead."

He tries not to let his incredulity show.


Scully and Mulder's
2 a.m.

Restless, Luke rolls over in his sleep and wakes up when the stick ends up underneath him. He rubs his eyes with his fists, then opens them so he can dislodge the stick from under his back.

But as he tries to settle back down, he nearly screams. Something is looking at him.

"Gibson, wake up!" he hisses frantically and grips the stick in his hands.

Gibson snorts and looks at him. "What?"

"What the hell is that?" Luke asks, pointing to the corner of the room.

"One of the ghosts," Gibson tells him with a yawn.

"One of the ghosts?!" Luke shrieks. "What do you mean one of the ghosts?"

Gibson sighs and smirks at him. "You lived here for months, didn't you? And you never realized that this house is haunted?"

"No. I mean, I know I heard Hannah talking to Page about ghosts, but... that was just pretend."

"The ghosts are real, and they're harmless. Go back to sleep!"

"But..." Luke sputters. As he watches the ghost gives a slight wave of its hand and melts out of sight.

"There. Now it's gone and you're safe," Gibson says, yawning again and rolling over.

It takes Luke a while to go back to sleep, and the only way he can convince himself to is to berate himself for being more scared of a ghost than a six-year-old girl is. If little Page and even the younger kids can sleep in the house ghosts and all, a teenage boy ought to be able to as well.


Hoover Building
3:07 a.m.

In hope of a lead, Doggett and Reyes spend several hours calling relatively local police departments to see if there have been any other crimes of a similar nature. Reyes doesn't seem to mind the tedium, but Doggett feels himself going slowly mad with boredom.

After he hangs up the phone for the seventh time in the past hour, his gaze falls onto the phonebook and his eyes glaze over. He begins to perk up a bit when he realizes that Reyes doesn't seem to be getting the normal brush off.

"Let me ask him, okay?" She turns to Doggett. "Can I have your e-mail address here, please?"

Bemused, Doggett quickly recites it, and listens as Reyes repeats it. "Okay, thank you very much," Reyes says brightly to someone on the other end of the phone.

"What's being e-mailed to you?" Doggett asks.

"Crime scene photos. They found a dead man in Pittsburgh tonight. Apparently he was killed the same way as our victims."

"Bringing up our kill-count to twenty-three." Doggett looks grim. "They didn't happen to have a witness, did they?"

Reyes' shoulders rise and fall in a shrug. "To the murder, maybe not. But a camera snapped photos that fit Tipet's description at a payphone earlier tonight."

"Do they suspect him?" Doggett asks quickly.

"Apparently. The phone's already been processed for evidence, and they came up with nothing."

"Great. So we have no evidence, and I'm not even sure we've got a motive. Why would a man looking for God be out there killing people?" Doggett wonders aloud. "Skinner mistakenly believes I'm gonna think like Moldah or Scully just 'cause I'm assigned to the X-Files. But I need facts, not crazy theories."

Reyes gives him a look that he interprets to be as much indulgence as sympathy, which does nothing to lighten his mood. "But crazy theories are why I met either of them to begin with." She gives him another look. "And I suspect it's the reason you know them too."

Instead of answering her question he turns to the computer because it's chimed to let him know he has mail. The crime scene photos don't arrive alone - they're accompanied by a list of phone numbers. He prints it and hands it to her. "What's this?"

Her eyes quickly scan it. "Looks like they sent us a list of phone numbers dialed tonight at that phone."

Doggett decides to run the names through the criminal database, and he gets a single hit. A call was placed at 10:12 p.m. to someone named Andre Bormanis. A man who turned out to be a drug dealer who served prison time with Tipet.

Reyes gives Doggett a triumphant look. "I told you we'd catch a break."


Southwest Washington, D.C.
4:34 a.m.

When they get out of the car Doggett wastes no time. He bangs forcefully on the door "FBI. Open up." A wild-looking man opens the door, and neither agent fails to notice the barely healed wound on his forehead. "Are Andre Bormanis?"

"Doctor Bormanis," the man answers stiffly.

Doggett shows him his badge and Reyes does the same. "Agent Doggett. Agent Reyes. Can we have a word with you?"

He nods slightly and they follow him into his home. It's less of a house than a laboratory, with beakers of unknown substances bubbling.

Doggett is sure he hears Reyes mutter "-and caldron bubble" under her breath. Louder, she tells Bormanis, "We're looking into an incident from earlier tonight."

"I've been here all night," Bormanis quickly declares. He rests a hand on an oddly placed table saw.

"Sure. But we believe you received a call from the suspect. Anthony Tipet."

Fear blossoms in his eyes. "I didn't really talk to him. The machine took the message."

"What did he want?" Reyes asks him.

When he doesn't answer, Doggett stares at him. "We need to find him, Dr. Bormanis. This man may have murdered 23 people. You wouldn't want to be accomplice to that."

"In what way?" Bormanis squeaks. "I told you, I've been here all night!"

"So you've said," Doggett says evenly.

"I'm not doing anything illegal here. I... I just... I just made him stuff."

"Stuff," Doggett scoffs. "Drugs, you mean."

Andre Bormanis' eyes gleamed with fanaticism. "Hallucinogens were Tipet's way into the depths of the soul, the heights of consciousness, planes of being that our feeble brain chemistry cannot begin to imagine."

"You sound as though you believe that," Reyes charges. He merely gives her the sort of look you'd give a small child who is reluctant to listen to the truth. "Is the mark on your forehead connected to your belief?"

"It's a protection. At least I hope it is. Nobody took the trips but Tipet. See, only his mind was strong enough."

"You know, I can't tell, doctor, whether you admire Tipet or you're afraid of him. Those people he killed last night, did they admire him, too?" Doggett pulls out a pair of handcuffs. "I'm taking you in for questioning."

"I've answered your questions!" Bormanis protests become shriller when Doggett knocks a pill from his hand. "I need to take that!"

The toe of Doggett's shoe crushes the errant pill when he drags Bormanis out the door.


6 a.m.

"What's next?" Reyes asks as they watch a police officer escort a still irate Bormanis down the police hallway.

"Probably the same SOP as down your way. Once they process him someone will come find us and bring us to him so we can question him."

"Do you mind if I run next door for lattes then?"

"Nah. But if you had one in mind for me, could you make it a regular coffee instead?"

"Fine."

The door has barely closed behind her when Doggett's cell phone begins to ring. "Doggett."

"Morning, John."

"Hey Dana, the kids behave themselves?"

"Oh sure. They're still sleeping, though. Skinner filled me in on your case, so I got in touch with some friends of Mulder's. They'll drop by today after lunch. They're a little unconventional, but I think they'll be of some help."

"I appreciate all the help I can get," Doggett tells her.

"John, you're a good agent. Trust your instincts. I'll see you later. Don't worry about picking the kids up at any particular time, I don't have plans."

"Thanks."

He's no sooner hung up that the phone rings again. This time it's Skinner, telling him about the lab results on the drugs that their prisoner was working on.

Reyes returns, and he's grateful to take the coffee from him. "Skinner says that Bormanis was making a super amphetamine, but I don't think he wanted it for Tipet."

"Then who?" Reyes asks.

"I think...he's afraid to go to sleep."

"Speed would keep him awake," Reyes acknowledges. "I think we need to talk to him now."

They never get the chance to talk to him because by the time they get an officer to open the door, Bormanis is already dead. Doggett gives the body a grim stare - he feels his grip on the case beginning to slip away.


FBI Headquarters
1 p.m.

During his lunch hour, Doggett picks up his kids and brings them home. Reyes tags along, giving Hannah one more person to tell about the sleepover the night before. She's still chattering when the boys close the door.

There are voices coming from the basement office when Doggett and Reyes return to the Hoover building. When Doggett opens the door he sees three strange men having a heated conversation. One of them is standing in front of a file cabinet, and seems intent on defending it from the other two.

"And I'm telling you Mulder wouldn't mind. We practically solved half these cases for him," Frohike says to Byers.

"Yeah, Byers, quit your whining-- nobody likes a crybaby," Langly tells him.

"Agent Scully asked us to give our assistance not to go through her f-files," Byers protests. He's the first to notice that Doggett and Reyes are at the door.

"I hope the three of you are agent Scully's friends," Doggett tells them.

"That's us," Byers says. "I'm Byers, and they're Langly and Frohike."

"And who is this charming agent?" Frohike asks, leering at Reyes.

She holds out her hand to the shorter man. "Agent Monica Reyes. I'm assisting on this case."

"Monica. Lovely name," Frohike tells her.

"Byers, Langly and Frohike. You're the publishers of the Lone Gunmen," Doggett says.

Frohike looks thrilled. "Our reputation precedes us."

"Yeah. She's told me all about you. I know you're into some weird stuff."

"And so are you, man," Langly says, pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose. "This case you're working on is deep stuff."

"Something feels deep every time the mysticism comes up." Doggett grumbles. "I felt like I ought to have been wearing waders while talking to the last guy."

"The recently dead guy," Reyes corrects. "We need all the help we can get."

Frohike nods. "We'll give you a crash course in Tipet's kind of damage." He switches off the light and turns on a slide projector. An image of a pyramid with an eye hover within it lights up a screen. "You're familiar with this image, I assume."

"I've seen the back of a dollar bill," Doggett says impatiently.

"In the renaissance it represented an all-seeing god," Byers tells them. "We believe its meaning here relates to eastern religion, uh, belief in the third eye or what the Hindus call the Sahasrara."

"A third eye?" Doggett asks.

"We all have a third eye. If we could open it, we'd see a new reality, one closer to God. Or so the theory goes." Frohike rubs his forehead. "If you believe that sort of thing."

"I see where you guys are going with this. Tipet believes he opened his third eye."

"Yes, exactly."

"But the placement of the wounds on his victims could suggest he's trying to destroy theirs."

"That's may be."

"But if he's gotten closer to God, why would he kill people? And how?"

Frohike shakes his head. "We don't know why. But we might tell you how. You've heard of MK Ultra?"

"The CIA mind control project started in the '50s," Byers tells them.

"I thought that was urban legend!" Doggett protests.

"That's what you're supposed to believe, Man. They gave LSD to a bunch of people to see what would happen. Being the government, they didn't bother telling them first."

"They thought that class of drugs could open the human mind up to all sorts of powers," Frohike explains.

"Wait, that doesn't make sense. Tipet was the one on hallucinogens, not his victims."

"The CIA invested millions trying to create psychic assassins, failing where Tipet has evidently succeeded," Byers corrects.

"Reaching a drug-induced higher consciousness using his mind as a weapon against his victims," Frohike adds.

"You're saying that you think Tipet was one of those folks they experimented on?" Reyes asks.

"Doesn't it make sense?" Langly asks her. "The assassin makes his victims think they're being hit by an axe."

"Not that he's limited to that," Byers adds. "He could make them believe anything was happening to them, and then..."

"Then it actually would," Frohike concludes.

"If you believed that Tipet could invade your dreams and kill you in them, you'd be afraid to fall asleep, wouldn't you?" Reyes asks. "The last victim, he was creating a drug to stay awake."

"If I thought someone could kill me in my sleep, I'd stay awake as long as I could," Byers agrees.

"Thank you for your help, gentlemen," Doggett says surprising them all by bolting to his feet. Uncertain, Reyes stands too. She follows after him, feeling like she's missing something.

The gunmen linger in the office. "I think he's on to something," Frohike remarks.


Meanwhile...

Since David is feeling better that afternoon, Scully decides to bring the kids to the park. Not long after she brings them home, there's a knock at the door.

A vaguely familiar-looking woman offers her a tentative smile. "Hi, I'm Stacy Woodrow. My family just moved to the neighborhood last month."

"Oh. Nice to meet you," Scully says, wondering if she should offer to shake hands. That seems little formal for new neighbor, so she doesn't.

"Thanks. I realize you probably have some sort of formal application process, but do you have any openings?"

"Openings for what?" Scully asks blankly.

Mrs. Woodrow also looks confused. "For the daycare?"

"We don't use a-" she stops abruptly when recognition dawns. "I'm not running a daycare."

"You're not?" The other woman looks disappointed. "So all the kids over here all the time, they'reall yours?"

"Y-" Scully thinks of how often her niece and Doggett's kids have been around lately. "Four of the older kids aren't mine, but I do have six."

"Six kids, wow," Mrs. Woodrow says faintly. "You and your husband must really love children."

Entirely sick of that sort of comment, she has to force her voice to remain even. "We do."

Apparently Mrs. Woodrow gets the hint anyway. "Well... it was nice meeting you."

Scully goes into the house shaking her head, imagining how gleeful John Doggett would be if he knew.


Southwest Washington, D.C.
2:30 p.m.

"Where are we going?" Reyes asks as she slams the door to Doggett's car.

"If Tipet is using drugs to kill people, he's going to need more, eventually. If he killed Bormanis..."

"Then he knows that it's only a matter of time until his place is emptied out." Reyes concludes.

"Exactly. He's got to get the drugs before the police show up and take them all," Doggett tells her. "I'm hoping we beat him to the punch."

The door is unlocked and Doggett exchanges a look with Reyes. He's pretty sure they locked the building behind them. Bormanis was a suspect, but they hadn't intended to leave him open to looters.

As they cautiously enter they both hear the sound of a table saw. Guns drawn, they run into the main lab. A man is standing next to the whirling machine.

"Anthony Tipet. Anthony Tipet! Step away from the saw," Doggett tells him.

Tipet gives him a pitying look. "You don't understand."

"Please step away from the saw," Reyes urges.

"I didn't want this to happen... but I can't stop it," Tipet says, looking Doggett in the eye. "He understands. He knows what can happen-- what will happen... unless I stop it."

To their surprise, Tipet slams his own head down on the blade. The agents yelp and rush towards him, yanking at him. They're not strong enough to dislodge him once the blade begins to cut his flesh.

Reyes lets go entirely, and makes a grab for the power cord while Doggett continues futile efforts to pull him off the blade. By the time the machine stops they're both speckled with blood and Tipet is quite obviously dead.


Kersh's office
Later

To the discomfort of both agents, they had to wait until the police arrived and took their statements before they could wash the dead man's blood off. Unsympathetic, Kersh has demanded an immediate audience, and there are still maroon flecks on their suits when they stand before him.

"I've heard that our murderer has committed suicide," Kersh intones. They nod. "I suppose it's just as well. It certainly saves the tax payers some money."

"Yes," Doggett replies, but his eyes are on Reyes' face. While he himself is not in the least surprised by his boss' coldness, she seems to be.

"AD Skinner tells me that you have a theory on his motive for killing himself," Kersh continues.

"Tipet and his followers believed in something called the Via Negativia - the path of darkness. Tipet himself thought he reached it. Uh, he believed that the drugs took him inside the subconscious minds of anyone he knew... ... making the most horrific, irrational dream imagery of their nightmares come true. That's why he kill himself - to make it stop."

"And you believe that this is how he committed the murders?"

"Is it required that I do, given my assignment to this office?" Doggett asks stiffly.

"No, I suppose not. It's enough that the murders have come to a stop." Kersh turns to Reyes. "Agent Reyes, thank you for your assistance in this case."

"You're welcome, sir."

"Excellent job. Please have your report on my desk Wednesday," Kersh says, dismissing them.

"Of course."


There isn't much in the way of conversation while Doggett drives Reyes back to her hotel, but she eventually turns towards him. "You really don't believe, do you? That Tipet was able to kill people in their dreams."

"All I care is that he believed it," Doggett says stubbornly. "How he really did it is far less important than the fact that he'll never get to do it again. Why, do you believe all this happy horseshit about controlling dreams?"

"Frankly, yes. It's Occam's razor, agent Doggett."

"What year were you born?" Doggett startles her by demanding to know.

"1968, why?"

His shoulders relax. "You sounded so much like Moldah I wondered if you could be his missing sister. She was older than you, though."

"I don't know Mulder well enough to know if that is an insult or not."

"No, it's just..." Doggett trails off.

"You've known a bunch of hard-eyed realists, I take it. I'm not sure that being your only company is healthy."

"Ha." He snorts. "So, what did you think of working in D.C.?"

"It was...different," is all Reyes will concede. It leaves Doggett wondering if she'll accept the offer to transfer, if it ever manifests.


Late That Afternoon

Stretched across his parents' bed, David snores softly and throws a fist above his head. When the phone rings Scully gives him a quick glance, but he doesn't seem to be waking up.

"Hello?" she asks uncertainly. It's Skinner. She listens intently for a couple of minutes then says "Thanks you for letting me know how the case turned out, Sir" before she hangs up.

She immediately turns back to the laptop. Internet Explorer is opened to a news article from a paper widely considered of dubious validity. The headline of the article says "UFO Spotted In Earmark, Minnesota."

Nodding to herself she kneels on the bed and reaches up to the wall with a blue pin. She stabs the pin into a US map, in the rough vicinity of Earmark. The thin pin wavers slightly when she releases it, and bounces against another pin. One of the fifty she's already pushed into the wall.


Chapter Ninety-Five


December 2000
Muncie, Indiana
8:07 a.m.

Scully stands in the midst of a bad car wreck, staring down at the blood-smeared and broken windshield of the car, looking professional in her matching dark jacket and pants, with a dark wine-colored blouse that Page picked out for her earlier that morning. She sorely misses her oldest child, who's already developing her own style, and not just in fashion, and wonders how her other children will develop when she's not there. Okay, when it's just Krycek to look after her kids. Granted, it's not the first time he's watching over them solo, but just the thought of someone like him influencing her precious babies... She's relieved to see the tow truck come to haul the wrecked car, as the loud noise blocks out her nagging worries.

Her partner walks up in similar dark jacket and slacks, his light blue shirt with dark blue tie a welcome change from the man who was bleary-eyed and half-dressed earlier this morning, surprised to see her as he was just getting his kids ready for school. His voice and demeanor now fully alert and oriented, he tells her, "Car's registered to a Curtis Delario, local address. So far, he's been unreachable."

She tilts her head at the huge v-shaped dent in the hood. "Well, it's highly unlikely that wherever he is he feels like picking up the phone this morning."

He acknowledges her comment with a slight flicker of amusement in his pale eyes. "Muncie PD ran some calculations. Based on the distance traveled, the length of the skid marks, they estimate the car was going at least 40 when it impacted the object, which, according to their math would require something 4,300 times the density of steel to cause the damage we're looking at."

"Hmm," Scully murmurs, having done some basic calculations herself and coming up with something similar. "It's interesting, isn't it? I mean, uh... in light of the evidence." The tow truck driver calls out a warning, and she and Doggett step back. Now that the car is off the ground and on the truck bed, she sees the imprint of two large shoes on the pavement. Kneeling down, she comments, "From their size and shape, these look like men's shoes."

Uh-oh, here we go, Doggett thinks, but in a way, he's almost relieved to have some reason, albeit crazy as hell, to have flown about an hour and a half away from home with very little information and only a cup of airplane coffee to tide him over. "I hope you're not suggesting that what this car hit was a man, Agent Scully, because there's no way," he responds mildly.

Ok, good, she thinks, he's awake and not too antagonistic. Maybe having Reyes on board longer would be a good idea. "Well, these impressions in the asphalt look pretty fresh to me."

Uh-huh. "I admit to the coincidence but you know as well as I that if a man were here, he'd be splattered from here to tomorrow and there's just no evidence of that," Doggett grouses in a voice as gravelly as the road they're standing on. She nods. "You're right, which is suspicious in and of itself. I mean, this car definitely hit something and the only evidence that we have are these two prints." Scully stands and walks away from the car, Doggett following her, casting his eyes to the heavens as he does so before bringing on his rebuttal.

"You know, I hate to ruin your beautiful theory with ugly facts," Doggett almost smiles as he brings the evidence to the picture, "but stop to examine the incident. If a man were standing here, the driver would have stopped."

"Well, it looks like he tried to," Scully retorts as they pass by the skid marks.

"Well, even so, if a man were in the middle of the road with a car coming wouldn't he try to move?" he raises his eyebrows.

"Unless he wanted to stop the car," Scully's left eyebrow goes up in response.

Is it just me, or is she usin' her scientific deduction for evil instead of good? "Yes, but if nothing less than a block of steel could stop this car," Doggett tries to use that same reasoning to bring her back to her senses, or at least some semblance of reality, "then, ipso facto, it could not have been a man standing in the street last night."

"Or certainly no ordinary man," Scully says, unperturbed. She can practically see him debating with himself whether to just leave her and her crazy notions or stay and figure the damn thing out. Join the club, she thinks, I'm only doing what Mulder would, and the fact that Doggett's arguments would normally be my own only underlines how crazy this whole situation is.

A middle-aged woman with short brown hair and warm, somewhat dowdy clothes, runs out of the house. "Just tell me what happened," she stammers, hysterical, "where is he? Where..."

As the cops hold her back from the crime scene, Doggett walks over. "Excuse me, ma'am?" he says, flipping open his badge. "John Doggett with the FBI. Do you know about this?"

"What happened?" she asks, her pale face already haggard for this hour in the morning. "Where is he?"

"Curtis Delario, you know him?" Doggett asks her in a calm, authoritative manner.

As if responding to the firmness in his voice, the woman stops struggling in the cops' grasp, but she's no less worried. "He was a friend of my husband's," she says, her pale eyes flickering between him and the crime scene. "They worked together at the salvage yard."

Now we're getting somewhere, Doggett thinks. "Now, I want you to calm down, Mrs...."

"Pearce," the pale woman finishes. "How am I supposed to calm down? Finding this now, it..." her eyes start to tear up.

"Well, we're not even sure he was driving the car last night," he tries to reassure her.

"He was," Mrs. Pearce snaps. "He came over after my husband's funeral and then he left and..."

Before Mrs. Pearce can finish, Scully calls out from a few yards away, "Agent Doggett!" Excusing himself, he joins his redheaded partner at the dumpster. She flips the lid open, simply stating, "Meet Curtis Delario." As he grimaces, Scully's thankful that her nose isn't overly sensitive today, and in a voice made steady by years of practice and staring at similarly gruesome scenes, she remarks, almost offhanded, "I guess he won't be much help clearing any of this up."


Later on, Scully finds herself in a familiar location, that is, the morgue. Dressed in scrubs, she autopsies Curtis with an aplomb she finds herself distantly admiring, even as most of her brain is occupied with her children at home under the care of a dubious man soon to be her brother-in-law and the maddening abduction of her husband. Automatically, she measures the diameter of the holes in the dead man's head, reading off numbers to the young male attendant who dutifully takes notes on the chart.

As she finishes up, Doggett walks in, ignoring the assistant and telling her, in his usual straightforward manner, "I think I got some answers."

Goody, Scully thinks, can you tell me when the aliens are gonna return my husband? Aloud, she retorts, "So do I. It wasn't the crash that killed Curtis Delario. He was badly injured, but he was clearly still alive when his body was pulled ... through the car's windshield."

Doggett looks taken aback. "Pulled?"

"Yeah, these five deep puncture marks match five fingers of one hand," Scully answers, demonstrating with her own hand.

A mixture of disbelief and disgust color his voice. "You mean, someone just reached right in and..."

"Like a bowling ball," Scully finishes.

"That seems humanly impossible," Doggett murmurs, looking at the holes in the dead man's head.

Time to think outside the box, John, Scully thinks. "Certainly for any ordinary man."

You really enjoy sayin' that, don't you? Doggett thinks mulishly. "Well, from the evidence I've gathered the man that did this is actually less than ordinary," he says, almost enjoying the look on his partner's face. "I was able to reconstruct a section of the windshield and lift a print from the glass."

"Whose?" Scully's now curious.

"Raymond Aloysius Pearce," he says, as if reading the file he's just opened, although he's memorized the contents within already. Husband of Nora Pearce, woman I spoke with at the accident site." He shows her the Indiana State Police file with Pearce's prints.

"Hmm," Scully murmurs as she looks at the documents.

"Her recently deceased husband," Doggett adds, sounding happy to drive a stake through Scully's theory.

"Well, if he was recently deceased then it must have been an old print," Scully says reasonably.

"Well, what you would think," he says, a slight smile on his face as he builds his own theory, "except along with the print there was evidence of fresh blood and it belongs to Ray Pearce, too."


The Pearce residence

"Agent Doggett, I don't understand. Before, you were talking about Curt. Now you want to talk about Ray?" Doggett isn't surprised to see confusion on Mrs. Nora Pearce's face. He is surprised, however, that there's another man in the house, a tall man in his fifties with balding gray hair who's sitting next to her. He was introduced as Harry Odell, the man who runs the salvage yard where the late Ray Pearce used to work, and, in light of recent events, Odell is understandably protective of the widow.

"What was their relationship, Mrs. Pearce -- your husband and Curtis Delario -- outside of work?" he asks.

She stares at him as if he's slow. "I know what their relationship is now. They're both dead," she retorts, a little anger briefly pushing back the grief and confusion.

Doggett leans forward. Good, at least she's thinking clearly, even if she's a little antagonistic. "Going back through your husband's medical records it says that he died after a long, debilitating illness?

"Gulf War Syndrome," Mrs. Pearce says bitterly. "No one will cop to that, but I aim to prove it -- put the blame where it belongs."

He isn't surprised that she'd rather blame the military for her husband's death. Nobody said grieving a loved one's loss was ever easy, or made you a saint. "I'm having trouble proving something myself, Mrs. Pearce. You signed a form to have your husband's body cremated, but it appears it never happened."

Now confusion creases her features. "What do you mean? They gave me the ashes. They were at the funeral," she says, hysteria coloring her voice.

"Well, I can't find a record of Ray's body ever even being at the crematorium," Doggett says.

Now Odell speaks up, clearly irritated. "Oh, for crying out loud. Hasn't this woman grieved enough?"

The agent gives him a level look before returning to question the widow. "Let me get to the point, Mrs. Pearce. Is it possible your husband is still alive?"

"Still alive? Is this a joke?" She looks from her late husband's boss to the FBI agent, disbelief at the agent's gall apparent.

"Because we have evidence to suggest that maybe your husband was involved in the death of Curtis Delario," Doggett says, watching both employer and widow carefully.

Odell goes from aghast to angry in less than ten seconds. "Are you saying Ray faked his death?"

Doggett is nonplussed by the older man's reactions. "We found Ray's blood and fingerprints on Curt's car."

"I watched him die," Mrs. Pearce says, tears in her eyes but with determination to bring the truth to this idiotic agent in her voice. "I nursed him when he was sick, when he couldn't eat. What you're saying is impossible. He couldn't even walk or... lift his head at the end," she finishes, her voice choking as the tears win out over her anger.

"Ray Pearce worked for me nine years," Odell jumps in when he sees Mrs. Pearce falter. "He was a good man. He never raised a hand to anyone," he ends, more defensive than anything, which makes Doggett curious about both Ray Pearce and Harry Odell.


Chamber Technologies
10:23 a.m.

The next day, after Doggett goes to the salvage yard to check out the crime scene and the body of Harry Odell, he heads over to Chamber Technologies, thanks to finding a handy invoice in the shredder with that header on it. Once there, he finds himself in the company of a shortish, dark-haired and definitely geeky scientist, Dr. Pugovel. Pugovel, oblivious to the FBI agent's ruminations, is showing off diagrams on a computer monitor. "They're called smart metals," he says, enthusiasm obvious in his jerky hand gestures. "The idea is to one day build things that are indestructible. Cars, equipment built of alloys with molecular memory. If damaged, they'd rebuild into their original forms."

"All by themselves? That's pretty cool." Doggett smiles, thinking how much he'd save on car insurance if his car was made of something like that.

The scientist seems to know what the other man's thinking, and deprecation in his voice, responds, "And right now, all a metallurgist's pipe dream. But beside the point of your visit, I would imagine."

"Well, you tell me." Doggett shrugs. "I found a document at a crime scene listing Chamber Technologies. An employee number on the document was assigned to a Dr. David Clifton."

Dr. Pugovel looks startled. "Dr. Clifton's no longer here."

Okay, now he's really curious. "What happened to him?" Doggett asks in the same mild, friendly tone.

"He, uh, he left the company," the scientist replies, not looking at the agent. "I'm actually his successor in this department."

"Do you have any reason to deal with a man named Harry Odell or a business called Southside Salvage?" Doggett presses him.

"No, I don't deal with materials," Dr. Pugovel answers, nearly shouting his "no". "Nor did Dr. Clifton for that matter. Our work here is all theoretical," he stresses. "We have an environmental manager who's in charge of waste management but disposal is done at TSD Facilities, definitely not city salvage yards."

Yeah, nice cover story, Doggett thinks, already planning to dig up more info on this place. But to give the scientist a false sense of security, he decides to leave for the time being. "Thanks for your time, Doctor..."

"Pugovel," the good doctor fills in the blanks with some relief. "German, no H. You need me to spell it for you?"

"No, no. That's quite all right. Thanks." Doggett smiles a little.


Walking away from the nervous Dr. Pugovel, Doggett calls his partner.

"Scully," she answers from the morgue.

"Hey, it's Agent Doggett," Doggett says. "I'm at Chamber Technologies."

"Did you find Dr. Clifton?" she asks, looking at the body of Harry Odell.

"He's no longer with the company," Doggett answers laconically. "But his successor says his work here was entirely conceptual. Everything's done on computers."

Now Scully's eyebrow quirks up. "What kind of conceptual work?"

"Thing called smart metals. It's pretty incredible -- metal alloys designed to rebuild themselves." He grins. "Imagine if cars were made of the thing – I could be drivin' a Lamborghini for decades."

Scully chuckles. Men, she smirks, Mulder would probably want our minivan built of the same damn thing. "Uh, yeah, right," she says. "As it happens Ray Pearce's illness is pretty incredible, too. I've reviewed Ray's medical records from the VA. What his wife was calling Gulf War Syndrome is nothing of the kind. His entire cellular makeup was affected by exposure to some non-identifiable contaminant -- a metal."

Doggett frowns. "What are you saying? Ray Pearce has become some kind of metal man? Because that only happens in the movies, Agent Scully."

So does most of the things that happen on the X-Files, but I know it'll be a while before you actually admit that real life is weirder than you think. "Does it, Agent Doggett?" She smirks.

Instead of answering her, he sighs. Then he says, "Tell you what. I'll press this guy here a little more on the issue."

She decides to ease off on him, partly because she isn't quite done with Odell's autopsy, having been diverted by Pearce's lab results from the VA. "Well, maybe there's a reason why he's not being perfectly forthcoming," she says mildly.


Later that night, Scully finally manages to get out of the morgue, thankful for the fresh air. Then she sees the rental car pull up to the side and park, and smirks inwardly, Out of one cramped quarters and into another. As she gets into the passenger side of the car, Doggett tells her, "Sorry I'm late."

"It's all right," Scully says, allowing her posture to droop a little. "I just got the blood test back on Ray Pearce and it was indeed the same Ray Pearce who was pronounced dead three days ago. But that's not all. By all medical standards he should still be dead. His blood has enough metal alloy in it to ... uh ...poison an elephant," she manages to complete the analogy, stopping herself from giving him the precise amount down to the thousandths in metric.

"Except that he's still a man, Agent Scully and he's going to act and think like one even if he is more powerful than a speeding locomotive." Doggett makes a face.

"But then the question is, why kill his friends? I mean, if he was wronged somehow wouldn't he go to them for solace? I mean, to his wife, at least?" She frowns, sitting up.

Handing over a file, Doggett replies, "That's why I was late. I asked myself that same question. Ray was an outpatient at the VA. He had a history of substance abuse. Did some time for a couple of DUIs."

"This was ten years ago," Scully says, her eyes rapidly scanning the contents of the file.

"Cleaned up his act." Doggett nods. "He met Nora and married her in '91, checked himself into a rehab and got straight." Then he twists his torso to face her directly. "This was a guy to root for, Agent Scully. This was a guy that overcame adversity and made a life for himself." He doesn't realize how much he sounds like Nora Pearce until he finishes his little speech.

"Until three days ago," Scully looks up from the file and closes it.

Doggett stares at her. "I've busted a lot of killers, Agent Scully and dollars for doughnuts, they fit a profile. But the Ray Pearce in this file is no murderer, let alone a guy that would hunt down his friends and crush their skulls."

Now Scully looks at him, hating to burst his bubble, but needing to bring the ugly facts back into the picture. "Agent Doggett, the man that we're speaking about withstood impact from a speeding car and two shotgun blasts at short range. Even if we can find him, who's to say we can stop him?"

They look at each other. "Aw, shit," he mutters.

"Yeah," she sighs, "let's go."


Chamber Technologies
9:52 p.m.

All right, we got 'im, Doggett thinks when the metal door slams shut on the chamber, sealing the man known as Ray Pearce in. At least, he's reasonably sure that's Ray Pearce when he and Scully follow the SWAT team into the room outside the chamber. Nobody turns on the lights, as if doing so would jinx the whole operation. "Make sure that door is secure!" Doggett barks to the SWAT team.

His partner turns to the nerd in charge. "Dr. Pugovel, are you sure he can't open that door from the inside?"

He's nervous, but confident now that the dead man walking is trapped inside the metal chamber. "I've got a manual override on the door," Dr. Pugovel tells her. Then there's a loud hollow thudding sound, followed by a large bump appearing on the metal door. "What the hell was that?" he asks, then jumps when it happens again.

"Ray Pearce," Scully deadpans.

There's more pounding and bumps showing on the door, and now even some of the SWAT guys raise their weapons, as if ready to fire. "The door is four inches thick," Dr. Pugovel says, but it's less of a reassurance than a reminder to himself. When there's more pounding, the scientist quickly moves behind the FBI agents. "I don't think it's going to hold!" he cries.

Doggett doesn't bother turning around. "You'd better hope it does 'cause if it doesn't, he's coming after you and I don't know if we can stop him." He wishes that he had heavier artillery like the SWAT guys, but it's not like the FBI runs across metal men very often. Hell, it's not like he did while in the service, but at least they got some decent firepower.

When nothing happens after a round of pounding, he's curious. It's not like the guy would run out of oxygen that fast, but he doubts Pearce would go down that quickly after putting dents in an inches-thick metal door, either. "Open it up," he says, his voice authoritative, but his eyes burning with curiosity.

Scully, taking her cue, shouts, "Get it open!"

Now Dr. Pugovel looks the computer screen, checking the readout. "There's a rupture in the chamber," he says, a mixture of disbelief and fear in his voice. "I don't believe this."

The door is finally opened and the FBI agents follow the SWAT team inside. Pearce, or at least the man they figure is Pearce, is gone, leaving only a huge hole opened to the outside.


Within the chamber, Scully stares at the wall, a metallic-looking liquid moving on the torn edges. This is one of those times she wishes Mulder and Sammy were with her, they would get a kick out of this. "Agent Doggett," she says, the only other available person would be remotely be interested. "Look at this. You see this?"

Doggett dutifully comes over and squints at the mess on the wall. "What is that? Is that blood?"

"Turning itself into metal," Scully answers to the positive.

Seeing that she could do more with the metal blood smear thing than him, Doggett leaves the chamber and helps the SWAT team hustle the researcher out of the room. "Get him out of here! Get him out of the building!"

"I didn't do anything to the man! I didn't do anything," he stutters to the armed men.

"You want to argue about it or let us get you someplace safe?!" Doggett grabs his arm.

"Where's that?" Dr. Pugovel whines. "Where's safe?!"

"It's not in here." Doggett stares hard at the shorter man. Dr. Pugovel caves, and the SWAT team moves the scientist out without any trouble. While they're doing that, Doggett notices several blue huge-ass drums with the yellow Chamber Technologies logo on them. He glances over at Scully, then heads on out, hoping his hunch will pan out.


It's past midnight, but there's quite a bit of activity at the police station. Dr. Pugovel is led into a room, quite indignant. "You mind telling me what's going on here. It's not enough that my life's been threatened! I'm being treated like a criminal..." his voice trails off when he sees what else is in there other than Doggett and Scully.

"Not without cause," Scully says, steel in her voice.

The scientist stares, horrified, at the metallic corpse within the glass case. "Oh, my God," he breathes, unable to take his eyes off it.

"Do you recognize this man?" Scully asks flatly.

"We're assuming you don't know too many guys in this particular condition," Doggett adds sarcastically.

Now he jerks away from the case. "It's not what it looks like," the short man says desperately.

Doggett's eyebrows are up. "Is this Dr. Clifton -- Dr. David Clifton -- your predecessor?"

Dr. Pugovel opens his mouth, swallows several variations of pathetic excuses, then finally says, "Yes."

"You care to explain how he ended up in a Chamber Technology hazardous waste barrel?" Doggett pushes on.

"It was his idea. I was against it," Dr. Pugovel says, feeling free to put the blame on the dead man.

Doggett narrows his eyes. "If you knew, you might've told me about this when I first came to see you."

"He, he was dying... and he was afraid," Dr. Pugovel says, looking back at the metal man in the glass case.

"Of what?" Scully asks.

He looks at her, his eyes wide. "That it would hinder progress or halt it. That it would finish us."

I ain't no scientist, but duh, Doggett thinks, borrowing a phrase from his son. "Oh, you're finished," he says. "One way or another, your work here is done."

"We didn't know this was going to happen!" the scientist looks from one agent to the other, desperate. "We were just trying to push the envelope, do the right thing for the company. Then he got sick. He was... he was working with an alloy with a genetic algorithm built into it. It converted electrical energy into mechanical. Gave it memory."

Scully shows no emotion or mercy as she adds, "And it poisoned him."

"We immediately shut down the project," Dr. Pugovel says quickly. "But it was too late. He didn't have any family. His work was his life. He wanted to leave us to continue working on the science."

"And leave you to ship this barrel and his body to Southside Salvage where it infected somebody else," Doggett concludes, disgusted.

The scientist is obviously panicked. "I don't know how that happened, I swear to God," he protests. That barrel was supposed to go to a designated site!"

Scully looks at the nervous wreck, then at her partner. "Let me talk to you for a second," she says, and they walk out to the hallway, leaving the current scientist with the remains of the late scientist, along with a good number of cops. "I think he's telling the truth."

Doggett nods, then a movement about fifteen feet down the hall catches his attention. A familiar figure runs through, then disappears into the elevator. "What the hell is she doing here?"

Scully turns around to see what he's looking at, but there's no one in sight. "Who is it?"

"Nora Pearce, Ray's wife," he says grimly, and they run towards the elevator.


Later, they catch up with Mrs. Pearce, but then get a bit of news while she's escorted away to another office. "Want us to take the woman in?" one of the officers asks.

"No, I want to talk to her first," Doggett tells him. The officer nods, then stands at the doorway. When Doggett looks back at the woman, she's defiant, although still nervous. Good, that means she's still got a conscience, he thinks. "You might be interested to know that your husband just broke through a second-story wall and eluded a dozen cops at St. Clare house. You happy about that, Mrs. Pearce? Does it make you happy to know that he killed a young woman there, a volunteer named Larina Jackson?"

Scully looks dispassionately at the woman. "That makes three people. Three people that he's killed and for what?"

It's obvious that Mrs. Pearce is shocked by what she's heard, but defends her him nevertheless. "Because they made him what he is," she says tightly.

Doggett leans into the widow's face. "They say this young woman he killed tonight had been concerned for him -- concerned for Ray's welfare."

And Scully continues to pound the facts into the woman's head. "Whatever Ray is, whatever he's become, it was an accident," she emphasizes the last word. It was not those people's fault, Mrs. Pearce."

Mrs. Pearce looks from one agent to the other, as if to convince them. "Harry and Curt knew about it."

"No, they were innocent, just like Ray was," Scully says, but finds herself in the uncomfortable position of seeing this woman's point of view. Hell, if she didn't have all the facts about Mulder's abduction, she'd be bringing down the town of Bellefleur and the entire FBI with her bare hands. "They didn't know that this was going to happen."

"These people here knew about it. They got documents on it," Mrs. Pearce hisses.

Okay, screw sympathy, Scully thinks, her spine now ramrod straight. "Oh, so that's what this is about? This is about looking for somebody to blame?"

"Ray sent you here, didn't he," Doggett squints hard at the widow, "to find that person, to get a name?"

"The Ray I know... died. And the man responsible should pay for that," she adds stubbornly.

Scully just wants to beat some sense into this woman. Honestly, she'd rather deal with mutants or aliens, at least they have a brain, if not a heart, and one could freely kick the shit out of them to get some answers. "So who is it? It's the CEO here? The owner? Give us a name, Mrs. Pearce, before someone else has to die," Scully says, clearly implying that it would be Mrs. Pearce's fault should her undead husband kill again.

"I... I never gave him a name," Mrs. Pearce stammers.

Now Doggett's reached the same point of frustration Scully has, feeling that he'd be better served by hitting his head repeatedly against the wall. "Get her out of here. Put her on 24-hour watch," and he walks out of the room, followed by his partner.


Much, much later that night, after Ray Pearce had killed his wife Nora, Doggett and Scully show up to yet another site of attack. Scully's tired of never being ahead of Pearce, but rather coming in after he's done some damage, and misses Mulder for his insane insight. Taking in the scene in front of Owen Harris' home, with various EMTs taking care of the small family, she is suddenly reminded of her own, and promises herself to call, especially if that means waking up Krycek. Then she walks over to where her partner is standing, beside the damaged car. "Ray Pearce," she says simply.

"He came here to kill this man, but something stopped him, didn't it?" Doggett frowns at her. Then he turns his scowl on the car, its hand-shaped dents taunting him. "Makes no sense. Ray Pearce was a determined killer looking for someone to blame. Why stop here?"

"Wherever Ray Pearce went, the answer to that question went with him," Scully answers flatly, "but I can tell you why he came after Owen Harris. It was his name Nora found in the file. He was the accountant who authorized the shipment of hazardous materials to Southside Salvage."

"But if Owen Harris is the guy Ray holds responsible, why'd Ray let him live?"

Good question. "Probably for the same reason that drove him to kill in the first place. Some flicker of humanity." She puts a hand to the back of her neck, then rotates her head, hearing and feeling a satisfying crack as she does so.

Doggett looks at her with a mixture of disgust and sympathy. "Eugh. I hear ya. Do you think he's gonna try again?"

Scully closes her eyes, suddenly very, very tired. "Who knows? But if recent events are any indication, I don't think so."


Hours and hours later and hundreds of miles away, Doggett tucks his little girl into bed. "Good night, Hannah."

"'Night, Daddy." She smiles sleepily before yawning.

He brushes her bangs from her forehead and plants a light kiss there, then stands. If there's anything that makes the butt-numbing long hours, the mind-numbing reports in triplicate, and mind-boggling cases worth it, it's coming home and being able to tuck in his little girl. Then he turns off the light and walks out, leaving the door ajar. Yeah, nothing like coming home to a normal home and a normal life.

"Dad, Gibson's cheating," Luke says when Doggett enters the boys' room.

"It's not cheating, it's knowing the right combination to press at the right time," Gibson retorts. "How could it be cheating to actually read the manual?"

Doggett exhales. Yeah, normal, like the only metal guys walking around being on some teens' videogames. "You're both smart kids," he says finally, "but Luke, do yourself a favor an' read the manual, an' Gibson, don't rack up easy points an' cheat."

"But, but," they both sputter.

He grabs the manual and a controller. "This is a FPS, right? Then I should be able to whup both your butts once I see how this baby handles. Aren't you glad it's Friday?" Both boys groan, knowing they've been had, but take perverse delight in schooling the "old man" on the finer points of movement from different angles and destroying metal zombies with more creativity than Doggett thought possible in a game. Maybe I should take the boys along, he thinks, his thumb, pointer and middle fingers hitting multiple buttons in different patterns. When he sees Gibson grinning, he thinks better of it, and nearly gets beheaded by a monster with a chainsaw for an arm. "Oh, come on!"

Granted, it turns out to be another long night, but he doesn't regret one single minute of it.


Chapter Ninety-Six


Christmas Eve Day
The Mulder-Scully home

It's less than half an hour until the wedding ceremony is scheduled to start, and Krycek has yet to make it up the stairs. He knows it's his fault for insisting on his new family indulging in some Russian wedding traditions, but it's disturbing to see how well the Scully family enjoys the "ransom for the bride" part. In a way, he supposes it's what normal American males have to go through to even date somebody's daughter or sister, but the oldest Scully son, Bill, is much too enthusiastic for his own good.

Now Krycek wishes he'd paid more heed to Melissa's warnings, but it's not like he doesn't have anything up his own tuxedoed sleeves. "Think fast!" he shouts when he sees the larger man barreling down upon him again. Bill doesn't pause in his lineman-like tackle, but Krycek uses the same taser that knocked out the younger brother at the front door on this older brother. Well, since he doesn't have any friends on his side, he might as well even the odds, right?

Wasting no time, he runs up the stairs, but something catches his foot, and he tumbles, grabbing the handrail with his one hand just in time. "The hell?" he mutters, and the chill in the air, along with childish giggles, paints a clear picture of the culprits. Ghost kids. Figures they'd get into it, too. "Hey, somebody's gotta be on my side!" he yells at thin air, then scowls. Okay, Charlie was at the front door, Bill was at the foot of the stairs, he's guessing the one at the top of the stairs is—

"Oh, boy," he says, facing the business end of Scully's gun.

She smiles sweetly, enjoying this even more than her older brother. "Hi, Alex," she says.

"Well, at least we're on a first name basis now," Krycek quips, holding his hands up.

Dana Scully grimaces. "Drop the taser and kick it down the stairs."

Krycek tries to put on an innocent face, but there's no bargaining with the woman with the gun. Down goes his nonlethal weapon, and he sighs. "Are you gonna put a bullet in my shoulder like you did Mulder, or do I get a cold-cock?"

She blinks. "Pistol whipping? I hadn't thought of that." Then she smiles widely, the hold on her gun unnervingly steady.

Dammit! Twenty-five minutes to go, and I'll probably go to church in a casket if she has her way, Krycek thinks desperately. Then a flicker at the corner of his eye gives him an idea. "You guys can do whatever you want for a week, I'll clean up after you," he begs, "just take the gun away from the lady, please?"

Scully stares at him like he's crazy, and then the gun is jerked out of her hands. As if that wasn't undignified enough, invisible children's hands push her out of the groom's way, and she cries, "I'll get you for this!"

Before running to the door at the end of the hall, he tosses her a devilish grin, "Too late, your sister's already got me!"

Scully sighs and sits down, as the surrounding ghost children materialize and giggle.


When he opens the door, the smile on his face drops into slack-jawed surprise. "Mrs. Scully," he says, not sure if the old lady's suddenly gonna break his legs or something. With the Scully family, he's learned not to underestimate any of them.

"Alex," Maggie Scully rises from the chair she's in and walks over to him. He doesn't do anything, and shock makes him stiffen in her embrace. She laughs. "My goodness, my children have really gotten you worried," she says.

He returns a shaky smile. "Yeah, well, I know I'm *never* gonna piss Melissa off," he tells her.

Now she laughs heartily. "Oh, Alex, you've got a lot to learn about married life," she chuckles. "But there is one thing you need to tell me before you can see my oldest daughter."

Krycek looks at her warily. "What's that?"

"When you asked me permission for Melissa's hand, you told me that you love her and Emily so much, you'd do anything for them." She pauses, and he nods. "People have told me you were untrustworthy, but can I trust you?" she asks, clasping his hands in hers. "Can I trust you with Melissa and Emily and whoever else may come along, no matter what?"

"I'd kill myself before I'd betray them," he tells her, feeling that already-familiar twinge of guilt whenever his character, hell, his life, came into question around these people. He's surprised Mulder hasn't drunk himself into a stupor at family gatherings.

"I'd rather you not," Mrs. Scully says wryly, but her eyes are more perceptive than he'd like. "Besides, I know you promised Fox you'd help watch over my grandchildren, and you've kept that promise so far." Her smile is both a comfort and a warning. "Remember, we Scullys are a tight-knit clan. We support each other, no matter what."

He'd like to believe her, he really would. But this whole "family" thing sounds too good to be true, especially in light of the few gatherings he's been to. "Including a wandering daughter and her dubious lover?"

To his surprise, she pinches his cheek. "Don't you know that wandering is in our blood? Or that the prodigals are the ones the good Lord searches after?" Then she calls out, "Melissa, dear, take your husband out of here, you're going to be late!"

Melissa fairly flies out of the bathroom, a redheaded vision in white, her welcoming smile broadening when she sees the look on Krycek's face. "Come on, Alex," she says, grabbing his hand, "the limo's waiting downstairs!"

It's rare that Krycek finds himself bewildered, but he is, as he passes his laughing mother-in-law, his stunned sister-in-law, and unconscious brothers-in-law. "Remind me never to do traditional again," he breathes when they're safely ensconced in the black limousine.

His gorgeous bride chuckles. "For all that you try to be a rebel and everything, you really are old-fashioned," she says, snuggling against him.

"Just don't tell anyone," he mutters, and she giggles, kissing him. He takes that as encouragement, and deepens the kiss, catching his fingers in her delicately-done hair.


It is, for all intents and purposes, an otherwise lovely and surprisingly traditional wedding. Page is an enthusiastic flower girl, tossing petals every which way, while Sammy is a very solemn ring-bearer, handing over the rings with the weight of pride and responsibility on his round little face. Bride and groom say their vows with a sincerity that surprise those who know them, and even Skinner is expecting something to go awry at any moment. Father McCue smiles on occasion, knowing that this event is something of a miracle, evidenced by the fact that this is probably the only time the wayward older Scully sister will ever be in church with the right attitude. The only odd notes are that Emily is the bridesmaid, and Scully is the best man, standing in for her husband, but all things considered, it could've been weirder.

Once they get outside the church, Melissa waves cheerily to everyone, "See you in a while, don't wait up!" Then she and Krycek hop into the limo without further ado, the attendees cheering after the departing vehicle.

"Um, what's she mean by that?" Frohike asks Scully.

Scully, feeling guilty about being relieved that yet another Scully has escaped Frohike's advances, replies kindly, "Well, according to tradition, the bride and groom and their close friends check out all the famous landmarks before going to the reception. A last hurrah, I guess. But since Missy's friends were hard to get a hold of, it's just the bride and groom."

The bald man shakes his head. "Maybe Russians feel bad their kids don't go to the prom, so they set up their wedding like one."

"Dude, you never went to your prom, so what's your wedding gonna be like?" Langly jeers.

Before blood is spilled, Skinner shows up and offers the Lone Gunmen a ride, which they politely decline, preferring to head to the reception in their less-than-reliable van. Scully manages to herd her mother, Emily and her excited children into the minivan without losing anyone or adding more to the vehicle. Once back at home, she and the rest of her family tidies up the backyard, and with her mother's help, she unloads her refrigerator of all its contents, that is, tons of Russian dishes, a few mildly obscure Native American and Asian entrees, and quite a bit of drinks. "It looks like we're feeding the neighborhood," she remarks as table after table is filled with food.

"With men here, especially your brothers, it's the same thing," Mrs. Scully remarks to her daughter, and they both laugh as the guests step out onto the decorated lawn.


Of course, everyone makes a big to-do when the bride and groom finally show up, and they're offered bread and salt, as well as toasts all around. Krycek hugs his bride, and when Emily rushes up to them, he catches her up in his arms. It doesn't take long before everyone helps themselves to the wealth of food, the gaiety of music, and, for the adults, the copious drinking of alcohol. "Tradition!" a rather unsober Frohike shouts, raising his glass before downing it.

Both Skinner and Doggett sigh, and Luke and Gibson laugh at the synchronicity. "Dude, I betcha the fifth person to go down is that guy over there," Luke points to Bill Scully. "And no cheating."

"With this loud music, it's kinda hard to." Gibson smiles. "Why fifth?"

"Makes it more interesting." Luke shrugs, helping himself to another pirogi.

"Speaking of interesting, do you think they'll do that other thing?" the shorter teen asks.

"Huh? Oh, you mean the stealing the bride thing? Huh, who knows," Luke mumbles around his food.

"Because I think your dad and Mr. Skinner are considering it."

"Hey, I thought you couldn't hear that kind of thing!" Luke yelps.

Gibson grins. "Sorry, they're closer, and sometimes, your dad sounds like you." He taps his head.

"That's kinda scary," Luke mutters, and Gibson nods. Then the taller teen grins back. "Hey, you wanna bet that Krycek nails them here instead of later?"

Now Gibson groans. "Luke, the point of 'stealing the bride' is just some crazy way to show how much the groom loves his wife – or that she's hot."

Luke looks from his friend to the bride, dancing with her husband and daughter to some weird-sounding music. "Okay, for an old lady, she is kinda hot," he admits.

"You wanna bet that Krycek nails you for calling her an old lady?" Gibson laughs, and he ducks out of his friend's swing.

"Hey, I said she was hot, too!" Luke retorts, then blushes because the music stopped and everyone heard his last remark. "Gib, do something," he mutters.

Gibson Praise looks at everyone, who looks rather curious. "He said she was hot," and he jerks a thumb at the bride.

As everyone laughs and Luke chases his so-called friend around the backyard, Skinner and Doggett "kidnap" their willing victim while everyone's distracted. When Luke finally tackles Gibson, the fallen teen cries out, "Hey, where's the hot lady?" A big hubbub ensues, with Krycek tears through the wedding party to get to his bride. Doggett and Skinner are smirking when he catches up to them, but their smirks drop off when he kisses them, then drags his wife away while they're wiping their faces like two little boys, much to the laughter of onlookers. "He didn't nail them," Gibson smirks also, dusting himself off. "You owe me five."

"It was a now or later thing, so it's off." Luke scowls. "That dude is gross."

"Hey, you wanna steal her?" Gibson grins.

"No way!" Luke is appalled. If the groom kissed his dad, what's he gonna do to a guy like him?

"I promise no kissing." Gibson puts a hand on his heart. Then he nods to his friend's unspoken question. "Really, I do."

Now an evil grin, similar to the one his father wore earlier, appears on the younger Doggett's face. "Let's do it."

Needless to say, the rest of the evening was very entertaining, indeed.


December 25, 2000

"Mmm, Merry Christmas," Melissa mumbles into her husband's chest.

Krycek wakes to feeling warm air hitting his cold chest, and automatically puts his hand there to feel the source without opening his eyes. When his hand meets long wavy hair, lips kiss his chest, and a tongue laps his left nipple. "Whoa!" his eyes fly open. He smiles when he sees Missy smiling impishly at him, her hair all bed-sexy around her face. "If this is how you start Christmas, we're really gonna have to celebrate it."

Missy shakes her head, but she's smiling. "So, what did you get me for my Christmas present?"

He makes a show of blinking. "Wait, I had to get you a present on top of our honeymoon?" She slaps his chest, and he chuckles. "It's a surprise."

She raises an eyebrow at him, then pouts. "Fine, then." Then a slow smile creeps across her lips, and now Krycek's getting nervous. "Ve haff veys of making you tolk," she says in a bad imitation of old cartoon villains.

Krycek smirks at her. "Sure you do," he says, but there's a small part in the back of his mind that wonders if getting married to her is a good idea. What if she's found out what he really does for a living, such as it is? She dives under the covers, and he's clueless until her mouth is wrapped around a very important part of his anatomy. "Oh my God," he groans. As she continues to work her exquisite torture, he finds his hips moving to the beat of her ministrations. Just when he feels himself about to come, she stops abruptly. "Hey!"

When she throws back the covers, there's a smirk on her face. "Well?"

He throws his head back against the pillow. "Okay, I admit you're very good at torture," he sighs.

"Well?" Missy repeats, sitting up and away from his very disappointed member. "What's my Christmas present?"

Suddenly, he laughs. "We have an amazing daughter," he chuckles.

She frowns at him. "Emily is my Christmas present?"

He laughs harder. "No, she's not," he wheezes, wiping his eyes. She whaps his chest again, and he chuckles again. "But she *is* amazing."

"Duh," his beautiful wife rolls her beautiful green eyes.

He sits up and catches his wife by the shoulders. "I think it's also amazing that she can keep a secret for so long," Krycek says, kissing her on the lips. "She must get that from me."

"Just because I want to know my present doesn't mean I can't keep secrets," Melissa looks unmollified by the kiss.

"Come on," he says, pulling his wife out of bed.

"Wait, it's cold," she complains, and while she wraps a robe around herself, he pulls on his boxers. "You're not gonna freeze in that?"

He shrugs. "You want to see your present, right?"

"Yeah, but--"

He wraps his arms around her. "Your body heat will keep me warm," he says simply, leading her to the kitchen.


"So, what's the big secret?" Melissa wonders, as her boxer-clad husband takes her into the kitchen.

"This," Krycek says, reaching above the refrigerator to hand her a small box.

Her eyes widen slightly, but she takes the small box from him. Opening it, she finds a key. It looks suspiciously familiar... "Alex, don't tell me my Christmas present is a copy of my car key?"

"Not quite," Krycek says, and gets down on one knee. "Your Christmas present is deciding wherever you want to go, whether it be by car, plane, boat, whatever. And wherever you are, that's where our honeymoon will be."

"Anywhere?" Missy raises her eyebrows.

"Anywhere."

"Cost doesn't matter?"

"Money is no object."

"Really?"

"Really."

There's a sudden, wistful look that surprises him, and for a moment, Krycek wonders if he did the right thing. Then she wraps her arms around him. "That's sweet of you," she says in a voice husky with feeling.

"Uh, thanks," he says, hugging her back.

When she pulls back to look up at him, her eyes are shining with unshed tears. "I'd like to see your family," she says.

"What?" he says, more than a little shocked.

"I know you'll think it's silly, but maybe it's being pregnant, or getting married, or the crazy combination of the two, but I'd like to see your family. To know where you came from, that sort of thing," she says in a rush.

"I'm afraid we'll be visiting a lot of unromantic places," he says, "namely cemeteries. Is that okay with you?"

"They're all dead?" Missy says, shocked. She figured he was distant from his family, maybe with one deceased parent, but she never thought...

"Trust me, they were lucky," he says without a trace of humor. "Are you sure you want to go?"

She nods. "Wherever you are, that's where our honeymoon will be." And she hugs him again, because it looks like he needs it.


December 27, 2000
Pleasant Meadow Memorial Cemetery
Syracuse, New York
5:19 p.m.

The couple is warmly dressed, and the tall flame-haired woman places a rose on the small metal nameplate. She notices that the other graves are likewise abandoned, the names of most barely noticeable under the overgrown grass. "I take it you haven't been here for a while," she says to the man standing next to her.

"Not since they died," he agrees.

She carefully kneels down and brushes the grass away from the grave marker to better see the date. "It says November 2, 1984."

"Yeah."

Then she looks at the marker again and frowns. "It says Grant and Laurie Evans."

"Yeah."

She looks up at him suspiciously. "Are you sure we're at the right place?"

"Yeah." He sighs, then kneels beside her. Looking down at the placard, he goes on, his voice flat, "Their real names are Grigori and Ilena Krycek."

"What?"

As if he hadn't heard her, Krycek continues in his flat voice, "We moved to the United States when I was thirteen, and my whole life changed. Not only my name, but my parents' as well, and we were only allowed to converse in English. After one too many ass-kickings in school, I learned to develop an American accent real quick, as well as how to fight back." He pauses. "I learned a lot of things, most of them shortly before they died."

"Oh."

"I learned a lot of things later," he says, "like the fact that I have no other family other than you, Emily and our new child. And that's all that matters."

"Oh."

He shakes his head. "My only regret is that they didn't get to see what a hot, sexy mama I married."

"Alex," Missy starts to scold him, but she smiles anyway. "Trust me, they know."

He sighs, "This isn't one of your New Age feelings, is it?"

Then she slugs him. "No," she says while he's rubbing his arm, "I know it as a mother and a wife. They know."

"Oh."

And just as fiercely as she hit him, she hugs him. "You idiot."

He smiles into her hair, hugging her back. "Yeah."


December 28, 2000
Off the coast of Virginia

"It's far beyond the stars
it's near beyond the moon
I know beyond a doubt
my heart will lead me there soon,"

Bobby Darin croons into their ears via the little earbuds attached to the walkman.

The newlyweds are staring out into the open sea, squinting at the wintry scene. "I wasn't there for my father's funeral," Melissa says softly. "Even Charlie and his wife made it, but not me."

"Hey," Krycek squeezes her shoulders, "it's not like you had a cell phone back then."

She shakes her head. "But I should've known, at least. I mean, I wasn't as close to my father as Bill was, or even Dana, but I should've known. Right? Aren't you supposed to know when your loved one is gone?"

"It's a nice thought, but I don't think it works that way," he disagrees. "Besides, I think the dead have better things to do than hang around us."

"You think so?" she raises her eyebrows at him. "Just in case, humor me a little."

He smiles a little. "Sure."

"No more sailin'
so long sailin'
bye bye sailin'...
move on out, captain,"
the long-dead singer trails off.

Melissa shakes her head. "Dana used to call Dad 'Ahab' after the guy in 'Moby Dick', but I just called him Dad. 'Captain' was what he was at work, and 'Sir' was something even my brothers called him on occasion, but to me... he was my father. Human. Yelled at us once in a while, but never raised a hand against us because he didn't have to. And even while I rejected and rebelled against authority, even his, I still loved him."

Krycek nods. "I can tell."

Melissa laughs. "If he were alive, you probably wouldn't. Man, I used to really enjoy pushing him to the edge, even if it was at some fancy dinner." She smiles widely. "Dana used to have this crazy idea that what she did, going into the FBI, disappointed Dad. The thing is, he loved us all in his very opinionated way. Oh, he'd give us grief here and there, but no matter what we did, he was damn proud of us."

She pulls the earbuds out of their ears and tucks the wires into the pocket holding the walkman. "That's why we're here, I want to show off my husband to my Dad." Melissa turns a bright smile to the sea. "Dad, I want you to meet Alex Krycek. He only looks like the kind of man you warned me about," and she chuckles at Krycek's expression, "but he loves me and Emily, and the new baby we're about to have. Alex, meet my dad, who is capable of kicking your ass, even if it doesn't look like it."

Krycek nods slightly at the open sea. "Mr. Scully, I promise to take good care of your daughter and grandchildren. You're probably not too happy with the fact that the kids came first, but don't worry, we're legally married, and we love each other, and Missy keeps me in line." As she squeezes his hand, he goes on, "I'm guessing you're more like Bill and Dana, but I'm fairly sure that you'd still spoil your grandkids silly. Oh yeah, Emily's our daughter, and she's a real bright and beautiful girl, just like her mommy.." He smiles. "And if you see my parents, let my РБРБ win at arm-wrestling once in a while. The Cold War should be over where you're at, and my dad likes showing off in front of my mom."

"Just like his son." Missy grins, and Krycek playfully knocks his shoulder against hers. "Take care, Dad. It was nice seeing you again." She waves and takes her husband's hand in hers, taking them back to the car.

"Remember, just once in a while, and don't make it look easy," Krycek says over his shoulder.

"Alex," Missy snorts, "come on."

He kisses the top of her head. "You've got a weird idea of what a honeymoon is."

She gives him an impish smile. "Like we were ever normal?"

He wraps an arm around her before opening the car door. "We have our moments."


December 29, 2000
At an undisclosed location

In a cabin somewhere not too far from civilization, Mr. and Mrs. Krycek are spending some well-deserved quality time secluded in the snowy woods. The newlyweds are snuggled on a well-cushioned wooden couch, blankets covering their legs and cups of cocoa within reach. The husband has just closed his eyes, satisfied that the flickering fire in the fireplace is on a steady burn, and wraps his arms around his flame-haired wife.

"Mm, this is good," Melissa Krycek smiles into her husband's chest, likewise closing her eyes.

He absently strokes her long hair. "If we ever celebrate our anniversary, can we not do it around dead people?" Alex Krycek asks.

"Sure," Missy chuckles, feeling but not seeing his answering smile.

"Good," he says, heartfelt.

Then she straightens up and gives her husband a quick peck on the lips. When his eyes fly open, she answers the unspoken question. "Thank you." As she makes herself more comfortable in her new position, she says, "Does that mean you'll do whatever I want you to for the rest of our marriage?"

He snorts. "I love you, Melissa Krycek, but don't push it."

"Good to know, Alex Krycek." She grins, then brushes a lock of his bangs from his forehead.

"Are you flirting with me?" he says. "Because if you are, I like where this is going."

Missy laughs, and he falls in love with her all over again. "Just want to remind you that even though you've got me, and then some," she puts his hand on her belly, "that our marriage is gonna be even better than our wedding and honeymoon."

He gives her a look. "Does that mean the trigger-happy members of your family are holding a truce with me and that we'll spend less time around cemeteries?"

"Mmm," she says, nibbling on his ear.

"What does that mean?" he tries to clarify the answer, but is starting to get distracted by where her hands and lips are. "Hey, come on..."

Rather than answering him, she unbuttons his jeans while licking his Adam's apple, and once she gets her hands on what she wants, she starts sucking on his neck like a horny vampire. "Mmm, Alex," she moans on his throat.

He groans, but knows the answer to his question doesn't really matter. After all, he thinks while he rubbing her sensitive spots, she's right, he's got her, and then some. And when she sits on his erect member, he gives her everything he's got -- and so does she.


Chapter Ninety-Seven


January 3rd, 2001
Doctor Parenti's Office

The waiting room is too brightly lit, and Scully tries not to sigh. The only magazines offered are Time and Parents. She's been too involved with her own life to care much about current events, and she highly doubts that there's anything of interest in the parenting magazine. There probably aren't any articles like "How to cope with pregnancy and six children while searching for your alien-abducted spouse."

"Dana?"

Scully looks up and sees Missy coming towards her with a radiant smile. Her sister's added height makes her carry her baby differently, and her pregnancy is much more noticeable despite only being a couple of weeks farther along. But that could be Missy's sweet-tooth at work as well. "All set?" Scully asks.

"Yeah."

"I take it that things are going well, judging from the look on your face."

"Couldn't be better," Missy replies. "And I just found out the baby's sex!"

"That's great," Scully tells her, wondering if she'll soon receive the same news herself. "Are you going to share or surprise people?"

"It's a boy," Missy says happily. "Alex told me he thought it was going to be, and it looks like he was right."

"It's been known to happen now and then," Scully tells her with a forced smile.

"Thanks for coming with me," Missy says. "I don't think Alex would have volunteered to chaperone Emily's class trip if he'd of known that I'd have this appointment today."

"Probably not." It has never struck her as overly strange when Mulder had gone on class trips with the kids, but the thought of her brother-in-law being in charge of a group of six-year-olds strikes her as bizarre. He was a capable double agent, but this just seems beyond his scope. She's sure that the girls will give her all the gory details when they get home. "Is Emily excited?" she adds as an afterthought "About the baby, I mean. Not the class trip."

"I think so. She's been telling me forever that she wants a sibling, not just cousins, so that's a good thing. So far there haven't been any hurt feelings about it that I can detect. I'm sure she'll take to being a big sister just like Page did. Or I did, come to think of it."

"That's great," Scully says, but she's thinking about the age gaps. Page and Missy were still babies themselves when they lost their positions of "baby of the family." Emily is six. There has to be a difference. "I've got to be at work in an hour, are you ready to leave?"

"Sure, just let me pay the receptionist. I'll only be a minute."


Hoover Building

Her sister's excited chatter about how happy she and Alex are wears on Scully, so she's not sad when she drops her off. It's not that she wants to be happy instead of Missy, but the fact that she's so damn happy is making her more acutely aware of the fact that she herself is miserable. She's in such a rush that she doesn't do anything when she notices that Missy has left her ultrasound behind - she decides that her sister can get it from her later.

Scully's mood doesn't improve much when she finds Doggett chatting with a strange man by his new desk. Both men look up at her, and to her puzzlement, both seem to recognize her.

"I'm sorry, Agent Doggett, I didn't realize that you had an appointment," she says preemptively, once the stranger has said "hi."

"This is Duffy Haskell. He says he knows you or you know him." Doggett doesn't bother to hide the doubt in his voice. Apparently her lack of recognition shows.

She flashes the stranger an apologetic look. "I'm sorry. I don't remember meeting you, Mister Haskell."

"I contacted you about my wife About eight years ago because she was an alien abductee."

"Oh, I see now. That was before my time here. But, uh, is there something I can help you with?" she asks, taking a seat at Mulder's desk.

Duffy Haskell practically falls out of his seat when he begins speaking excitedly. "She's dead. My wife is dead now. They killed her. Kath-- my wife."

"I checked the files. Mr. Haskell wrote several letters to Agent Mulder describing his wife's abduction experiences."

"My wife gave birth to an alien," Duffy insists.

A shiver races up Scully's spine as she remembers Mulder's long-ago joke about giving birth to an alien himself. "I-I thought you said that your wife was murdered."

"That's the reason they did it."

"Wow. That's...Why don't you pretend that agent Doggett and I have no idea what you're talking about? That way you can tell your story without worrying about us missing anything because you assume we already knew and didn't," Scully suggests. She gives the phone a brief glance, and wonders how soon 911 would arrive if it turns out that Duffy is violent as well as delusional.

Duffy seems not to have any idea that she thinks he's nuts. "Kath was a multiple abductee. The aliens did these procedures on her. Tests and whatnot. One procedure would give her cancer while another one would cure her. Stuff like that. For years, you see. And then, this year, they came right into our bedroom and implanted an alien embryo in Kath."

"I don't suppose that you have any, uh, medical proof of this?" Scully asks.

Duffy hands her an envelope, which clearly contains an ultrasound photo. "I have an ultrasound here. Anyone with a trained eye can see that is a bizarre pregnancy. Especially for a woman who was never supposed to be able to conceive. I doubt you'd ever get the doctors to cop to any of that."

"What doctors?"

"We've been through three sets. They're all in on it. They're all in cahoots."

"So you're... saying that it was the doctors that killed your wife?"

"And stole the alien baby. That ultrasound is proof," Duffy insists.

Trying to remain professional, Scully takes down contact information and tells him that they'll be in touch. Still a bit manic, Duffy thanks them profusely before leaving.

Scully glowers at her partner "Thank you, Agent Doggett. I'm sure the rest of my afternoon can't possibly be so amusing."

"I thought you'd find it interesting, actually," Doggett replies mildly.

"Your definition of interesting is wildly different from mine. Unbelievable, totally preposterous, sure. Interesting, no."

Doggett still doesn't look flustered. "It sounded like something Mulder would jump at. I thought that might interest you."

"Did you."

"Come on, Dana, a story about alien abductions, cancer and remission and a subsequent alien pregnancy? We both know he'd of gone for this, big time."

"So you were thinking, what, we'd have a good time awash with nostalgia?" Scully says, an edge of annoyance creeping into her voice.

"No," Doggett replies. "I thought... maybe if we figured out what was going on here, it might give us a lead on Mulder and other abductees."

"All right," Scully says tiredly as Doggett wanders off. Her eyes find Mulder's poster, but she's not really seeing it.


Once Upon A Time
January 3rd, 1999

It should be fairly quiet in the house because Mulder has taken Page, Sammy, April and Emily to a movie, but it's not. Instead Missy has come over, apparently to continue to argue about her Christmas revelation.

"I know that you don't like him-" Missy begins. She has David on her lap and doesn't notice that her gesturing has pulled the bottle out of his mouth until he cries.

Scully's eyes widen in disbelief. "Don't like him? For God's sake, Missy, the man is a double agent! What on earth could you possibly see in him? Tell me that!"

"He made a promise to me, and he kept it," Missy says calmly.

"What sort of promise?" Scully demands to know. She doesn't notice that Jared is flinching at the sound of her raised voice. "It had to be one hell of a promise!"

"Alex promised me that if he got better, he'd come back. And he did."

"Got better? What are you-" Scully stops suddenly. "Your sick friend a couple of years ago, that was about Krycek?" Instead of feeling any empathy for Krycek, she begins to feel angry that she'd tried to cheer up her sister over him.

Missy nods slowly. "Alex had a brain tumor."

"Had?" Scully asks.

"Had. He got some treatment in Mexico, and came back healed."

"I'm sure he got it by poking around something he shouldn't have," Scully grumbles. "He's forever sticking his nose in dangerous business."

"Actually, he was abducted and given cancer," Missy says evenly.

Scully puts the hand not holding Jared's bottle over her face and moans. "Don't tell me that you believe in aliens too! I get enough of that from my husband."

"Well, I don't think that Fox is off his nut, but Alex thinks it was an experiment conducted by men, not aliens."

"Why would anyone give a person cancer?" Scully asks.

Missy shrugs. "Why would anyone make a child like Emily? We think the two things are connected."

"Emily's not sick, is she?" Scully asks in alarm.

"No. She and Alex are both healthy. Despite what they endured."

"You're sure he's cured?" Scully asks, even though she's loathed to sound concerned about him. Because it's not him she's worried about - she doesn't know if Missy and Emily could cope if he died, even if the rest of the family despised him.

"Everything looks good," Missy tells her. "He'll be touched that you care."

"I'm sure."


Present Day
Hoover Building

When she breaks from her memory, Scully tries to laugh similarities the off. It's not as though Alex was the one pregnant, so the fact that he suffered cancer after an abduction and was cured has to be a coincidence. She makes fair headway at convincing herself this until she happens to look down at the corner of the film Duffy Haskell gave her.

The doctor's name is printed on a small rectangular sticker. Kath's doctor and Missy's doctor have the same name.

When she notices this a pit forms in her stomach. The addresses are different, however. Unsure that this proves anything, she dashes off a quick note to Doggett and grabs her purse.


Zeus Genetics
Germantown, Maryland

There's no one in the reception area when Scully enters the Zeus Genetics building. There is, however a board with the names of doctors on it. The doctor Parenti who works here has the same first name and middle initial as the man who saw her sister earlier in the day.

Why he is working at two practices is a question she finds the answer to in the literature neatly stacked on the desk. Instead of an OB-GYN office like the one Missy went to, this is an office that apparently specializes in helping couples conceive.

Convinced that there's no one around that she can get more information from, Scully is about to leave when she hears voices coming from down the hallway. One of them sounds scared. Her right hand brushes her waist, automatically reassuring herself that her weapon is at the ready if it comes to that.

"This is my baby. I have to know..." a woman moans, and Scully chides herself for being alarmist. The woman isn't in danger.

A doctor is in the middle of reassuring the woman when Scully finds them. The doctor looks annoyed when his hysterical patient continues to insist that he doesn't know what's wrong. "Just try and stay calm," he snaps at her. "There are no similarities between your baby and the others."

"What others?" Scully asks loudly. Both patient and doctor look up at her.

"There were two recent failures-" the doctor starts to say automatically before giving Scully a suspicious look. "What are you doing here?"

"I'm here with her," Scully says, pointing at the woman who now seems barely conscious. She wonders if she's worn herself out, or if she was drugged.

"All right," the doctor surprises her by saying. "Can you keep her company for a couple of minutes while I get another doctor? She obviously doesn't want to believe me when I tell her that she's fine."

"Sure," Scully agrees readily.

While the doctor is gone, Ms Hendershot opens her eyes and reaches for Scully's wrist. "I can't stay here. Something's wrong with my baby."

"What?" Scully asks, trying to sound as compassionate as possible.

"Look!" the other woman says weakly, gesturing towards an ultrasound film near the exam table.

"Can I take this?" Scully asks her.

"Take it. I have more copies."

"Thanks. I'm sure your baby will be fine," Scully tells her, but the other woman has already closed her eyes again.

A light shines dimly in an adjacent room, and Scully's curiosity gets the best of her. She pushes the door open and nearly screams. The walls of the room are lined with shelves. And on each shelve there are jars of formaldehyde containing deformed fetuses.

Trying not to be sick she quickly scans the rows of doomed children. Though most of their deformities are grotesque, she sees nothing that would suggest "alien fetus" on cursory examination.

Worried that the doctor will soon reappear, Scully goes back to the woman and glances at her chart, knowing now her name at the very least. Once the doctors return to speak to their patient, Scully makes her escape.


Scully doesn't bother going back to the office before trying to reach her own OB-GYN. "Hi, this is doctor Scully. I was hoping to be able to speak to doctor Hart today? ... No, just an appointment to speak to him...Sure, I can be there in twenty minutes. Thank you very much."

Forty minutes later, Scully is still mentally sending grateful thoughts to the woman who canceled her appointment at the last moment. She glances over at doctor Hart, and is dismayed to see that he looks quite concerned.

He stabs a finger at one of the three ultrasound photos she asked him to look at. "I hope this is your sister's."

"Yes, it is. Why?"

"These other two..." Hart looks depressed. "There's something seriously wrong with both of these fetuses."

"In what way?" Scully asks.

"At this stage of gestation, the fetuses shouldn't look like this. You see how they still have that alien-like appearance we associate with early pregnancy? It looks like they've merely gotten larger instead of developing properly."

Her eyes widen involuntarily at the expression "alien-like" but she forces her voice not to betray her thoughts. "Are you saying that this will affect the babies' viability?"

"Definitely. I doubt either of these fetuses will be born alive," Hart says, seeming sad. "Your sister's baby, on the other hand, looks perfect. Was there a reason you were concerned about her as well?"

"Her husband worked with these two women," Scully improvises. "I was afraid that he might have been exposed to whatever toxin that caused the problems with their pregnancies."

"Well, it looks like he lucked out. Or maybe it wasn't a toxin that damaged chromosomes in men's gametes," Hart tells her. "But he might want to consider a new line of work, for the sake of his own health, if he's exposed to stuff that can cause this sort of birth defect."

"I'll suggest it to him," Scully lies.


Basement Office

Doggett looks up when Scully drops a folder on his desk. "The jury's still out on whether or not Duffy Haskell is crazy, but he was right about one thing."

"What's that?"

"There was definitely something wrong with that baby. The OB I showed the ultrasound to said it shouldn't still look 'alien-like' at that stage of development."

"So you're saying his wife was carrying an alien fetus?" Doggett doesn't make any effort to disguise his skepticism.

"Of course not," Scully snaps. "I'm sure you are familiar enough with fetal development to know that it takes a while into the pregnancy before a baby looks human. Big heads, little bodies and large dark eyes come first. These babies didn't get any farther than that, just got bigger."

"These?" Doggett asks. " Duffy Haskell's wife was carrying twins?"

"No, I did some snooping and was given a second ultrasound by another of that doctor's patients. Something is going on there, John. Nothing good."

"Maybe," Doggett concedes. "I'm looking into Duffy Haskell, doin' a background check."

"You think he's crazy." Scully decides.

"I think he's a piece of work. There's more to look into, but so far he doesn't look like man of the year."


Mulder-Scully Home
Early Evening

Missy slides the ultrasound film towards herself and smiles at her sister. "I swear that I'd forget my head if it wasn't attached. They say that being pregnant makes a lot of women forgetful. Did you ever experience that?"

Scully's eyes widen, but she immediately remembers that her sister doesn't know that she's pregnant so did you is more appropriate than do you. "Um... I don't think so."

"But you can't recall." Missy looks pleased with herself.

"Ha ha. Look, Missy... there's something I was hoping that we could talk about before you left."

Her sister's expression immediately sobers. "What's that?"

"You're going to be mad at me-"

"Why?"

"Okay, I found out today that your OB is the same OB that Doggett is investigating."

"Why would that make me angry?"

"I...I took your ultrasound and two from the case with me to show to the OB I've always used in the past. He says your baby is fine" Scully hastens to reassure her sister. "But the other two babies...aren't. I'm sorry I didn't ask you if it was okay first."

"Well, you were concerned. I guess that's forgivable."

"I'm not done," Scully says, handing her a small white card. "There was a cancellation at his office, so if you want this appointment, it's yours."

"Dana-"

"Missy, I just want your baby to continue to be fine," Scully tells her. "You don't want to keep a doctor who is being investigated, do you?"

"Is he going to go to jail?"

"At this point I have no idea," Scully admits.

Missy puts the card in her pocket. "If you'll go with me, I'll go to this appointment."

"You've got a deal. Are you mad?"

"Nah, you're just helping a rookie out." Missy gives her a hug. "But call me before anything else like this, okay?"

"Promise."


The Following Morning

A smiling nurse serves as the instrument of Scully's undoing. She waves her over to the reception desk while Missy pays. "I was going to have the receptionist give you a call to remind you about your appointment Friday, but here you are, so I can save a call."

Scully's eyes widen in dismay when she realizes that her sister has gone very still beside her. "What sort of appointment, Dana?" Missy asks quietly.

"Prenatal!" the nurse says cheerfully before Scully can think of an explanation.

She and Missy walk out of the building without a scene, but she can feel that her sister is a building storm. So it comes as no surprise when Missy turns on her as soon as they're out the door.

"You're pregnant?!" Missy shouts, making a woman walking past them stop, nearly tripping herself in the process.

Scully winces. "Yes."

"Is the baby Fox's?" Missy demands to know.

Shocked and indignant, Scully fires back, "How dare you ask me something like that! I would never cheat on my husband. How could you even think that?"

"Fox has been missing since August! More than four months!" Missy looks angry. "What else am I suppose to think?"

Hands shaking with anger, Scully practically rips her coat open and then smoothes her shirt over her somewhat rounded belly. "You should think people aren't nearly as observant as they'd like to give themselves credit for. Look. And no one, not one person, has asked why I've put on weight."

"Mom mentioned it...we thought it was stress," Missy says, her voice calmer. "Why didn't you tell anyone?"

To Scully's surprise, she finds herself beginning to cry. "I didn't want anyone to know before he does."

"Oh Jesus, Dana." Missy puts her arms around her. "It's okay."

"No, it's not," Scully says, trying to pull away, but Missy won't let her. "Where is he?"

"I don't know. But I know he's coming back," Missy says soothingly.

"How can you know that?" Scully demands, feeling tired.

"I just do. So do you."

It's meant kindly, but Missy's sereneness makes her feel resentful.


Mulder-Scully Home
Evening

Scully's index finger traces the thin edge of Ms. Hendershot's ultrasound. Ever since she got home, she's been victim of an internal struggle: does she share what she's learned or not?

Before she arrives at a decision a shadow blocks her light, making her look up. Krycek is looking down at her. "What?" she asks impatiently. Most days they have an uneasy truce, but her nerves are especially frayed.

"Congratulations." His voice is cautious. "Missy told me."

"Of course she did."

Not two hours after leaving the doctors, Scully had gotten a phone call from her mother - who proceeded to spend most of the conversation scolding her for keeping the news to herself.

"She of course can't figure out why you haven't expressed your delight at having yet another baby, but I get it," Krycek continues.

"Do you."

"Yeah. Not only do you have to worry about your missing husband, you have to worry about this baby. You can't go running off to God knows where to look for him because you'd risk your pregnancy if you did - and you'd never forgive yourself if something happened to this one too, because it could be the last child Fox Mulder will ever father."

She feels a chill as she looks up at him. He's the last person on earth she'd expect understanding from.

Seeing her shock, he sneers. "I'm not a sociopath, you know. I understand other people's feelings. I just don't let that get in the way of self-interest."

Scully shivers, and not just because it's January. There is one good aspect to her new brother-in-law's ruthlessness, she instantly decides: he's the type of man who wouldn't let moral quibbles do anything to stop him from protecting what he holds most dear. Like her sister.

"I think I already knew that," she says lightly. Scully is in no mood to get into a deep discussion about the subject. Instead she turns to him and asks "If there was something wrong with your baby, would you want to know?"

Fear flashes over his face, making her feel guilty. "Do you know something Missy and I should?"

"No, sorry. I put that badly. Hypothetically, if everyone was telling you that your baby was fine, but one person knew that it wasn't, would you want to know?"

He looks torn for a second. "It would hurt, but I'd want to know."

Scully nods. "That's what I thought. Could you let Michelle know that I've got to run an errand?"

"Sure." He stares at her. "I'm not sure I could tell someone that, though."

Her shoulders rise and fall. "It's not my idea of a good time, but the Hippocratic oath and all."

"Right."


Hoover Building
Meanwhile

Duffy Haskell shoots Doggett a nervous look. Doggett thinks he's wise to feel uneasy, because Skinner is nailing him with his patented I'mVeryAngry look. Eventually the man breaks under it.

"What am I being accused of? What did you call me in here for? You were going to help me." He turns to Doggett beseechingly. "I thought you were going to help me. Where's agent Scully?"

"Busy," Doggett says shortly. As far as he's concerned it's none of their business what Scully does out of the office, least of all this man's.

Gesturing to a folder on his desk, Skinner begins to speak. "As president of the Ohio Mutual UFO Network you sent Agent Mulder a series of very threatening letters which he passed on to me, Mr. Haskell. Something of a habit with you, sir. Writing letters... threatening letters. Isn't it?"

"No one will believe me!" Duffy groans dramatically.

"You wrote a letter to a Dr. Lev saying you would kill him if he hurt your wife," Skinner continues calmly.

"Dr. Lev killed my wife. He stole the alien baby out of her womb. And he'll do it again, to some other woman!"

Doggett looks serious too. "Well, I can't find any documentation that the two of you were even married, Mr. Haskell. Let alone any history or evidence of foul play. Dr. Lev is a serious physician, a leader in the field of birth defects. His peers hold him in the highest regard. Why would he ever kill your wife?"

"That's why I came to you. You're the FBI, you're supposed to find those answers."

"Mr. Haskell, your allegations aside, it's a crime to threaten anyone. One you could be arrested for."

"Am I being arrested, then? Is that what you called me here for?" Duffy demands to know.

"Not today. Mr. Haskell, we're sorry for your loss, but if you persist in these threats and in disseminating these stories we're going to have to enter your name in the federal system as a dangerous individual."

"I'm alone now because of them. They took everything from me," the other man declares. "And if you weren't such heartless bastards, you might care. Maybe the next woman they kill will be someone you care about."

With that, Duffy Haskell storms out.


Hendershot Home

When the woman answers the door, Scully offers her a slight smile. "You may not remember me, but we met earlier this week."

Hendershot looks confused. "We did?"

"I accidentally stumbled into your exam room while looking for something else."

Faint recognition blooms on the woman's face. "I think I remember you now."

"What I didn't mention when you offered me the copy of your ultrasound is that I'm actually in a position to help you. I'm special agent Dana Scully with the FBI."

"My ultrasound is an FBI matter?" Hendershot asks skeptically.

"Not solely, no. But I'm investigating your doctor. That's why I was at the clinic."

"You said you're in a position to help me, in what way?"

"You seemed very concerned about your baby's health, so I showed your ultrasound to my own OB, along with a couple other films."

"And what did he say? I can tell by your expression that it wasn't good. There's something desperately wrong with my baby."

"I'm sorry," Scully says gently. "I'm afraid that you are right."

"Like a deformity?" Hendershot asks nervously.

"I guess," Scully says noncommittally.

"Do you think he's... going to die?"

"It's a good possibility," she finally admits. "My doctor said he thought the baby might be stillborn." "Oh no." Hendershot looks like she's about to faint, so Scully helps her to a chair. "I thought, all along I thought... it's just so horrible to hear it out loud."

"I'm so sorry," Scully says sincerely. "But I thought you had the right to know what my OB told me."

"Which was what, exactly?" There's the smallest amount of hope left in the other woman's eyes, and Scully is loathe to kill it.

"Um...that the baby wasn't developing normally. It still looks pretty primitive, not what you'd expect a baby almost to term to."

"Did he mention anything about aliens?" Hendershot startles her by asking.

"Well, yes, he said 'alien-like' but he was being figurative-"

"I don't think he was," Hendershot says slowly. "All my life I wanted children. But I'm afraid of what's growing in me. That it even happened."

"Getting pregnant?"

"I had a boyfriend. When I looked at the dates, there was no way. Now I'm sure it was an abduction. I'm sure of what's inside of me." She grimaces, as if in pain. "I guess I won't have a long wait to find out."

Scully's eyes widen in alarm. "Are you in labor?"

The other woman bobs her head. "Yeah."

"We've got to get you to a hospital, then!"

"No!" Hendershot disagrees. "They'd kill my baby. A friend of mine gave me someone to call when it was time. He should be here soon."

"Who did you call?" Scully demands to know, but Hendershot refuses to tell her.


Five minutes later a vehicle roars into the driveway so fast that Scully cringes, fearing for her own car. Three men jog up the path and soon are knocking forcefully on the door.

Hendershot lets them in. "Thank God you're here."

"It's a good thing you called us," one of the men tells her. "You and your baby will be safe with us."

"Wait!" Scully cries as the other two men hook Ms Hendershot under the elbows and begin to drag her away.

They ignore her. Scully blocks the doorway so the third man can't leave. "Who are you?"

"That's classified, Ma'am," he tells, sounding bored.

Scully reaches into her jacket pocket and pulls out her FBI badge. "You're interfering with my investigation. I demand that you identify yourself."

He doesn't look the least cowed by this. "Knowle Rohrer, Department of Defense."

"What does the DoD want with Ms Hendershot's baby?"

"To see it safely born," Rohrer says flatly. "The longer you insist on delaying us, the more remote that possibility becomes." He turns and waves his hand. The vehicle takes off, leaving him there.

"I her want location, now!" Scully shouts at Rohrer.

Shrugging, the man takes a small notepad and pen out of his coat pocket and writes something down. "This is the hospital we're taking her to."

She gives him a suspicious look, but accepts the paper. "Thank you."

As she walks to her car, she hears him on his cell phone, apparently calling for a ride.


Three Hours Later

The next few hours leave Scully completely frustrated. The hospital Rohrer directed her to has steadily professed ignorance about Hendershot's condition, until suddenly she's being summoned by a nurse who gives her a room number.

To Scully's surprise, Ms Hendershot smiles when she sees Scully enter her room. In the crook of her arm, there's a bundle wrapped in a blue blanket. Her OB must have been wrong, Scully decides, because it appears that the baby survived its birth.

She approaches cautiously, steeling herself to see a hideously deformed newborn. When she sees the face she flinches.

"Isn't he perfect?" the new mother asks in a rapt tone.

"Yes," Scully replies mechanically.

The baby is, quite obviously perfect. It's hard to look up at the smiling face of the woman holding him and not feel a rush of pity.

"It looks like we were all worried for nothing. The ultrasound was just defective, or something."

"Must have been." Scully forces a smile. "You must be tired. I'm glad things worked out for you."

"So am I," the beaming new mother says before looking down at the baby.

Scully slowly walks out to the hallway, feeling haunted.

Back during the summer, before Mulder disappeared, if someone from the Syndicate had arrived at her front door with a tiny baby girl and told her that it was her daughter, would she have believed them? Would skepticism kept her from believing that someone had gone to extraordinary lengths to fake the baby's death, and then cure her?

Or would she have accepted the baby with open arms, and force the doubts so far to the back of her mind that she wouldn't feel them? Would she have been so relieved, so happy, that she'd of believed?

As she walks down the hallway she tells herself that she couldn't be deceived that way. But she looks over her shoulder to see Ms Hendershot cuddling "her" baby, and is no longer sure.


That Night

At some point during the evening, a nurse must have coaxed Ms Hendershot to send the baby to the nursery so she could get some rest, because the baby is there when Doggett gets to the hospital. Scully's been waiting half an hour for him to arrive.

Doggett doesn't say anything as he joins Scully at the nursery window. She turns to him, and her expression is unexpectedly fierce.

"Look at that baby," she tells him, pointing an accusatory finger at the offending infant.

He does, and sees nothing but an ordinary baby lying in a bassinet labeled "Baby Boy Hendershot." Confused as to what's upsetting her, he says "Looks like a normal, healthy little boy to me."

"Exactly," she hisses. "That's impossible. The baby Ms Hendershot was carrying wouldn't look like this. There were severe congenital deformities, so severe that they were clear on an ultrasound."

"Maybe it's a miracle." Doggett suggests lightly.

She gives him an icy stare. "Miracles are easier to believe in than aliens?"

"It was a joke-"

"I don't think it was, John," she says quietly. "And I don't know how to get through to you. If you can't make yourself even consider the possibility that there is sentient life not of Earth, you'll continue to fail at your primary mission here. You're of, and will remain of, no use when it comes to locating Mulder."

He feels indignation begin to well up - until she begins to speak again. "And that's a problem because I don't want my kids to grow up without a father, or this baby to either." When she puts her hand to her belly, the meaning behind her words is unmistakable.

His eyes fly to her face. "You're pregnant?" With effort he resists the urge to remark that it oughtn't have surprised him. "Why didn't you tell me?"

"Until this week I haven't told anyone."

"But why?"

"He's always the first to know." The defeated tone of her voice worries him. "I didn't want to tell anyone because that'd be admitting that he may not be back soon. But now..." she sighs. "Now it's getting too hard to ignore."

Doggett wonders why she chose the word ignore rather than hide, but doesn't feel right asking. "I'm sorry."

"Why? None of this is your fault."

"I didn't say it was. I'm just sorry that you've felt the need to shoulder this burden alone. You have people who could help you cope-"

"I know," she says fiercely. "At the cost of being an object of pity."

He can't argue that. "Everything has a trade-off."

"Yes."

"I told you I'd help you. I said we'd find him. I intend to keep my word."

"Thank you," she says stiffly.

"I don't know how much you care now, but another agent, Farah, did a background check on Duffy Haskell for us."

"Did he find anything illuminating?"

"Yeah. Haskell was a complete crackpot. And dead."

"And dead?" Scully raises an eyebrow.

"I don't know what his game was, but the guy we saw wasn't Duffy Haskell. The real Haskell has been six feet under for a long time. So it seems like this alien baby crap was just that - crap."

"I guess it was," Scully agrees, but she's not so sure.


Chapter Ninety-Eight


January 11th, 2001
Skinner's Office

It's not the first time, but Doggett is running after his partner. Ever since he told her A.D. Skinner had something so important it needed to be told in his office, the little redhead has been going on full steam, especially since she's been told next to nothing about the details. Sometimes, it's when you have no information that you start imaging the craziest things, and Doggett wishes he could've told Scully everything right there in the basement office just to kill the tension. But it's not his case anymore, and Skinner has more of a right to break it to her than he does, so he goes along with the maddening setup.

Scully, for her part, isn't waiting patiently and walks towards her boss, who looks even more apprehensive than she did minutes earlier. "What? What is it?"

"Let's go into my office," the balding man says, stepping away from the door.

Scully, rather than Skinner, leads them into Skinner's office and watches as he closes the door. When he turns around, she snaps, "All right, what's going on here?"

"A report came in last night from Montana," Skinner says in his usual terse manner. "About a UFO encounter."

"What kind of encounter?" Scully prods him.

"A young man chased a bright object flying low across the sky," Skinner says as calmly as he can. "Tracked it all the way to a big field where the UFO disappeared ... but where he claimed he saw an alien." He pretends not to notice Doggett looking away.

It's apparent that she's on her last straw. "Assistant Director, I've got drawers full of reports that begin just like that. Are you going to tell me what's so important about this case?"

He's looking at her, but it's as if he's trying to telegraph something else entirely. "Young man's named Richie Szalay. UFO nut from Bellefleur, Oregon. Agent Mulder was in contact with him last spring."

Scully looks at her partner, then at her boss, putting two and two together and getting everything from Linear A to a Morris-Thorne wormhole to Euler's Planar Graph Formula, all in an effort to avoid the obvious answer. Biting the bullet, she asks, "Are you trying to tell me this has something to do with Mulder?"

Now Doggett speaks up for the first time since they walked into the office. "He's trying to tell you that it might."

Skinner adds, "Richie Szalay didn't find an alien last night. He found a woman. A woman whose name you will remember -- Teresa Hoese."

Scully's face is a study in control. "Teresa Hoese was the young mother who was abducted here the night before Agent Mulder was."

"And who was returned last night."

Scully stares at Skinner. "Returned?" She hates how desperate she sounds, how hopeful and needy and not at all like the calm agent in charge she wants to be at this moment.

Skinner's eyes flicker away towards Doggett momentarily before answering, "Hanging onto life by a thread."


St. Jean Hospital
Helena, Montana

The three FBI agents walk briskly down the bright, sterile hallway, none of them looking at each other. They really haven't said anything of consequence to each other since getting on the plane, and now they're meeting with Teresa Hoese's doctor. A young, dark-skinned man comes out to meet them. "Who, who is Mr. Skinner?" he asks, looking at Skinner and Doggett.

"I'm Skinner," the tall bald man replies. "You Dr. Desai?"

"I was just told you were on your way. That you flew out here all the way here from Washington, D.C.," Dr. Desai says with more than a little disbelief.

"Yeah, we're here to see Teresa Hoese," Skinner says.

"I know." The doctor nods. "I just wish someone would tell me these things because this woman is in no condition..."

"What is her condition?" Scully breaks in.

When he looks at her, he notes her appraisal and judges her to be at least cognizant of what's happening. "She's circling the drain. In twelve years, I have never seen anything near this level of mistreatment."

"Doctor, it's important we see the victim and talk to her if we can about what happened," Doggett interrupts.

"Just promise me, whoever did this, you guys will do everything in your power to catch them," the doctor looks at each of them. He leads them to an intensive care room, his voice now hushed. "By rights, this young woman shouldn't even be alive." When they see the patient, they know why. Teresa Hoese, whom Scully last saw as a vibrant yet concerned young mother, is now lying unconscious on the bed, hooked up to various wires and tubes. There are three bruised scars on each of her cheeks like a grotesque acne pattern. "The medics said she asked for her baby last night, but she hasn't said a word otherwise," Dr. Desai says, looking down at the pale woman, "I suspect it's all she's holding on to. What's upsetting is... it's almost like someone was experimenting on her."

Skinner asks, because he knows Scully can't. "What exactly did they do to her?"

The doctor turns to face the bald man. "Inside her cheeks, there's tissue damage in a linear pattern," he replies, describing a litany of horrors in a detached manner only doctors can manage after long shifts. "Her chest was cut into and organ tissue in her abdomen's scooped away. In the x-rays I see damage to the soft palate."

Without looking at him, Scully asks, "In the x-rays, did you see, um... anything else? Like foreign objects."

Now the doctor is confused. "I'm not sure what you mean." "Little pieces of metal. Implants," she clarifies.

"No, I didn't," Dr. Desai says definitively.

The door opens and two police officers walk in. "There was an Agent Doggett requesting a police report," one of them says, looking around for any sign of a badge.

Doggett steps forward and takes the file from the cop, glancing through it quickly. He looks back up at his partner and boss, then says drily, "You're welcome to stay here and discuss foreign objects but... looks like we got a suspect."


Later that afternoon, Doggett, Skinner, and Scully bust into Richie Szalay's motel room like gangbangers. Or at least, that's how Scully feels as Doggett invites himself in, followed by the A.D. and herself. There's some kind of UFO show on the TV, she notes, and her eyes are more on the walls than on the pasty, extremely normal-looking guy Skinner is currently questioning. "Richie, if you live in Oregon... what are you doing in Montana?"

His eyes are moving from one agent to another, but now they focus on the big bald guy. "My buddy, Gary, right? He was abducted. I, I came looking for him."

Doggett's looking at the UFO pictures taped to the wall, but he asks, "So, you just came out here on a lark?"

Richie frowns. "No. I was following the news." Doggett turns around. "The news?" The young man points at the pictures Doggett checked out earlier. "All, all that's in the last two weeks. Yeah, I go on these Internet chat rooms to talk about sightings and junk. After Oregon there wasn't a whole lot but then all of a sudden in Montana-" his voice breaks with shock. "I, I never... I, I never thought I'd find Mrs. Hoese like that. Not in a million years." Doggett's eyes are devoid of sympathy. "Richie, when you found that woman's body, you said you saw somebody with her. You told the police it was an alien. You know what a moulage casting is, Richie?" As expected, Richie shakes his head. "It's what the cops take when they find shoe prints. They do these plaster castings and the ones they got from the field that night were from 9½ Nikes. You ever hear of an alien in Nikes?" he finishes harshly.

"Doesn't mean it wasn't," Richie says. Doggett stares at him like he's nuts. "Did it ever occur to you that it wasn't an alien but a man?"

"Then what about his spaceship?" the pasty guy asks the FBI agent.

It's obvious to anyone with half a brain that Doggett thinks the kid's stuck in the Twilight Zone, and he gives Scully a look before leaving the room. Scully follows him out. "Agent Doggett? What was that in there?" she says, reining in her anger.

He gives her a hard look. "That was pressing a witness to get to the truth."

"You refuse to believe that anything other than a man could have done this," she says, returning his look tenfold. "Could have done what we saw to that woman in the hospital."

"It's not worth arguing about. The point here is to find Mulder," he says, trying to get back to the original point.

"And for months, we have been looking for a break, which is what we've got here," she says, just as reasonably.

"What we've got is hope. But let's be honest, Agent Scully, about what no one wants to say." She looks at him, a question mark on her face as plain as day. Ah, shit, he thinks. "Bad as you want to find Moldah, you're afraid to find him, too." He walks away from her, not wanting to see the look on her face, nor wanting to face the sudden guilt he feels for having to drive the truth home to a pregnant woman and mother wanting a sliver of hope for news of her missing husband.


Later that night in her own motel room, Scully puts away the paperwork gathered on Richie Szalay, a little depressed to find that he's been to the same chat rooms and alt-sites she's been, and more than a few of the photos tacked to his motel wall matched her own. At the time, she'd thought some of the sightings were hoaxes, since they were worded in much the same way as the dead-ends she'd tracked. So. Richie got lucky, so to speak, and Teresa got luckier, in that she was still alive.

Lucky. She closes her eyes and leans back, exhaling. Staring at the window, she sees her reflection, ghost-like, staring back at her, looking less real than the night scene outside. To break out of her funk, she calls home. "Hey," Krycek answers on the first ring.

It's almost disturbing to note how used to her "nanny" she's gotten. "Is Page or the others awake?" she asks.

"Most everyone's in bed," her brother-in-law answers. "Except for April. It's like she's got a bug up her ass all day."

Scully sighs. "Fine. Let me talk to her." It isn't long before a little girl's voice pipes through the phone lines. "Hi, Mommy." A tired smile crosses Scully's face. "Hi, sweetie," she says. "How are you?" "Mommy," April says, "Daddy's coming home soon, right?" Scully's eyes are wide. "Who told you that, April?" she asks, trying to keep her voice steady. "Nobody," is the simple answer. "But he's coming home soon, right?" Scully's mouth opens and closes. Now she knows what Krycek meant, and wishes she had some kind of great answer like she does for Quantico students. "April..." her voice trails off, unsure what to say next. "Uncle Alex thinks I'm silly," her little girl tells her, "but it's okay. He's coming back, I know it." Scully sighs, wishing she had the incredible faith her daughter has. Then she looks at her ghost-like reflection in the motel window, the street lights shining like constellations. "The stars are pretty, aren't they?" she says in lieu of something intelligent or comforting. "Yeah," April smiles, "goo'night, Mommy."

"Good night, sweetheart," Scully says, wishing she could hug her girl right now, less for her daughter's sake than for her own. When she hears the click of the replaced receiver, she hits the power button on her cell and slouches. Then she wraps her arms around herself, finally allowing the tears to fall. It's a long time before she's tired enough to fall asleep, but when she does, it's a deep and dreamless sleep.


January 12th, 2001
St. Jean Hospital

The next morning, Scully interviewed a very befuddled yet concerned Dr. Desai concerning Teresa Hoese's disappearance, then finds herself with more unexpected company. "Agent Reyes," she says, shaking the taller woman's hand. "What brings you out here?"

"I got a call from Agent Doggett about the woman who was found," Reyes replies, standing in front of a series of x-rays, "Teresa Hoese, and the kinds of injuries she suffered. I must admit, it's fascinating."

Scully blinks. "Fascinating?"

The raven-haired woman nods, looking rather crisp in her dark attire. "I was looking for implants, but I haven't found any."

"Implants? I don't understand," Scully admits. Why was Agent Reyes called out here if her specialty was ritualistic abuse?

Reyes, however, is answering the other question. "Metallic implants," she says straightforwardly. "Placed in the body, oftentimes in the nasal cavity. Sometimes made of bone or cartilage making detection a little more difficult."

"Yeah, I'm well aware of how they work." Scully half-smiles.

Reyes frowns a little. "You said you didn't understand."

Scully decides to clear the air and start over. "Excuse me, I, I, uh, I'm very confused. I'm not sure why you're here, unless Agent Doggett called you over for another case."

"From what Agent Doggett said, it seems like there was cult involvement, and I'm not entirely discounting that, in light of Ms. Hoese's current abduction."

"You don't believe aliens were involved?" Scully frowns.

Reyes waves a hand at the x-rays. "From what I've seen, it's apparent that this woman has been experimented on. But it's possible that a cult may be involved in the second kidnapping, which is why I was called in."

"I see," Scully says evenly. "So that's why Doggett and Skinner are combing the hills for some kind of UFO cult."

Reyes nods. "I'm going out there soon myself. Coming?"

Scully shakes her head. "No offense, Agent Reyes, but I don't think that's the right direction to be looking."

The taller woman smiles. "None taken." She puts a hand on Scully's shoulder. "You know I have feelings, right? Right now, I am feeling your fear. And fear's not going to help you find him or anyone else, no matter where you look."

As she walks out, Scully stares after her, wondering why she's lost all hope, while everyone else around her has it in abundance. "The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity," she mutters, "Surely some revelation is at hand; Surely the Second Coming is at hand." Walking out, she rubs her upper arms, determined to believe, like April, that her husband will be coming home soon.


Later that night, Scully is back at the hospital, getting ready to autopsy the body Reyes found in the field earlier that evening. A young Caucasian male is lying on the metal table, and behind her are Skinner and Doggett. I'm not gonna crack, Scully tells herself, this is my job, my part. In spite of the inner pep talk, her voice starts out shaky when she turns on the recorder, "Examination of victim, Gary Edward Cory, reveals cuts and abrasions from ligature or binding devices, accompanied by distal and proximal bruising radiating in a symmetrical pattern around the ankles, the wrists... and the face."

The door swings open, and Richie Szalay walks in with a cop. The shock is palpable, and it takes him a while to get the words out of his gaping mouth. "Oh, my god, Gary," he says, looking like he's about to cry or throw up, maybe both.

Scully swallows a sympathetic sob, and her voice is rough when she tells him, "You can go now, Richie. They just need you to sign a form." She watches as he puts a hand to his mouth, then staggers out of the room, followed by the silent police officer. She doesn't notice her own tears have fallen until her boss speaks up.

"Dana..." Skinner steps forward.

Oh boy, he's calling me by my first name, that's bad, she thinks. Quickly wiping her face with the back of her gloved hand, she says briskly, "I'm okay. There's work to do here."

Both men look at each other, then at her, before leaving the room. It's not like they can do the autopsy, but they know they'll incur holy hell if they bring in someone else to do the job.

While Skinner walks off to make a few phone calls, Doggett walks over to the waiting room. He finds Agent Reyes there, who hands him a cup of coffee. "Times like these, I bet you wish you could smoke, too." She smiles at him.

He shakes his head. "I don't know how she's doing it in there." He looks down at the Styrofoam cup in his hands. "If anyone's got a right to break down, it'd be her."

Reyes nods. "I understand. That's why you're so determined to find Mulder alive."

Doggett takes a gulp of rancid coffee before answering. "It's why I can't stand here and listen to all this mumbo jumbo about spaceships," he finally says.

She looks like she's heard and seen his kind of reaction before, and most likely, she has. "I saw what I saw, John. I'm not going to lie to you. But whatever it was, it led to this. It's the man I saw in the field." She holds out a photo of the man, as well as a stats sheet. "He goes by the name Absalom. A religious zealot who escaped a shoot-out in Idaho. Where he was the nominal leader of a doomsday cult who believed aliens would take over the world at the millennium." She smiles a little when she sees the look on his face. "Disgraced when they didn't, he fled and tried a more ecumenical scam: credit card fraud. I ran the plate on the pickup truck. It's registered to a farm about an hour from here."


It doesn't take long for the FBI to storm the farm grounds, and while Dogget takes the lead in the invasion, Reyes follows after the main contingent, trying to calm the panicked cultists before it turns into a Waco situation or worse. She comes upon Scully, who's found Teresa Hoese, alive and, surprisingly, very, very well. With the help of the other FBI agents, they track down Absalom, and it's Scully and Doggett doing the interrogation, with Skinner and Reyes looking on from another room. The man, tall and tanned, his longish white hair showing traces of blond, looks like your average outdoorsman, save for the burning intensity in his pale eyes. "I said I can't explain why it happens," he says in a quiet voice. "Or how. Only where."

Doggett's own pale eyes are a contrast as they flash icy steel at him. "I got 46 of your followers rounded up out there at your compound. You make me go to them for a straight answer, it's only going to make it worse for you."

Absalom looks less frustrated than resigned. "How many times can I tell you?"

"Night's early. Coffee's hot." Doggett shrugs.

Seeing the other man's impassiveness, the cult leader says, "The ships come in, drop the abductees all messed up. I go and get them so I can help them."

"Just like you helped Teresa Hoese when you left her for dead?" Doggett cuts in.

"Agent Doggett," Scully says gently. Playing good cop, so to speak, Scully continues the questioning. "You say that these abductees are returned with severe injuries. But that doesn't fit the pattern of any alien abduction model."

"That's what I'm trying to explain. I predicted there would be an alien invasion at the Millennium," Absalom stares at her, his eyes wide as if trying to make her see things from his side. "I was right, it turns out. 'Cause that's when this all started."

Scully's trying to be polite, but inside she's about as impatient as Doggett with this man. "Sir... given the criminal charges against you, you couldn't be a less credible witness, so stop trying to validate your theories and just give us the truth."

"I'm telling you the truth," the cult leader says, starting to rise. "I only want to help these people."

Scully gives him a look, and he subsides somewhat. "So these video cameras that you have around your compound -- how do they help?" she raises an eyebrow at a stack of videos lying nearby.

He merely glances at them before answering. "Abductees... live in fear of being taken again. The cameras give them a sense of security."

"Or makes them afraid to leave," Doggett tosses it in.

Scully looks at Absalom. "Do you have videotape of how you happened to heal Teresa Hoese?"

"No," he says simply.

"Do you have videotape of this man?" Scully says, her voice made husky by its soft volume, as she hands over a copy of Mulder's photo. Absalom looks at it, as if trying to place the face, then shakes his head. When she takes it back, she struggles to keep her composure in front of everyone, but a slight hitch in her breathing gives her away.

As Doggett glances at the two-way mirror, Skinner remarks, "He's hiding something."

"Yeah, that's for sure," Reyes replies, wishing she had a cigarette.


Scully is on the phone, talking with Page, who's become the "bossy oldest sister" role in all its glory, and it's at times like this that Scully's glad Melissa never really lorded it over her – but then again, she wouldn't have put up with it in the first place. As she gives her absentminded "uh-huh"s over the cell, she unlocks the motel door, then flips the light switch. Nothing. Great. "Honey, sorry, something's wrong with the light," she says quickly to her eldest child, then pays more attention to the light switch. Great. The breaker must be out. As she pulls out her flashlight, something in the room catches her eye, and she freezes, oblivious to her daughter's queries of "What's wrong, Mommy?"

There, in the dark motel room, is Mulder, glowing as if he's made of phosphorescence. Not the fake alien Mulder, but her Mulder, whose mouth opens as he stares longingly at her. "Oh my God," she breathes, as if to talk louder than a whisper would break the spell. He reaches out to her, and she to him, tears welling up in her eyes, when someone's voice distracts her.

"Agent Scully?" Scully whips around, dropping her phone. Agent Reyes is standing by the open doorway. Okay. When she glances back into the room, however, Mulder is gone, and she silently curses the Reyes' presence for making him disappear as she picks up her cell phone. "What is it?" Agent Reyes asks, oblivious to the other woman's thoughts.

"Hold on," Scully tells her, thankful for a bit of a reprieve between herself and the taller woman as she blinks away her tears. Back to her phone call, she apologizes, "I'm sorry, sweetie, it looks like I'm back to work again." As Page voices her disappointment, Scully smiles a little. It's not like she can tell her, "Honey, I saw your daddy, but it was like a ghost of him, but I don't really think he's dead, and no, I can't tell you why." That would only open up a can of worms she's not ready to deal with at this point, either with her daughter, or the new agent, or herself, really. All she knows is, she's seen Mulder, and he's alive. That's all that matters.

Once she's said her goodbyes and goodnights, she hangs up and looks at the taller woman, her composure fully restored. "I'm sorry, that was Page, my oldest." To Reyes' earlier unanswered question, she replies, "I saw him." As Agent Reyes stares, uncomprehending, Scully goes on, "I saw something." Then she prompts the other agent, "So, what's going on?"


In the video room, Reyes shows Skinner, Scully and Doggett footage from the some of the hundreds of tapes gathered. "I reviewed these tapes from the compound. There are some things here I want you all to see."

She shows them something familiar to her, a scene where Absalom and another, older man, are loading a body into the back of a pickup. "They've got a body in there."

"Who is it?" Scully stares hard at the monitor, as if that would make the image clearer.

"You can't tell from this angle," Reyes replies.

"Well, then where's another angle?" Scully asks.

"This is the only angle I could find." Reyes almost shrugs, but wisely refrains. "Take a note of the older man. We don't have a name yet, but watch this."

Onscreen, the older man walks into a building. He passes through a shadow, and when he comes out he looks like Doggett. For his part, Doggett yelps, "What the hell just happened?"

Reyes smiles a little. "That's what I'd like to know."

"Wow. That's still that old man."

Doggett turns to her, scowling. "The hell it was. That's me, and I never even went in that building."

Scully nods. "Exactly. We have to get back out there." She leaves, wondering if this is another alien bounty hunter, or something else entirely. After all, something healed Teresa Hoese, and it sure as hell wasn't Absalom. With numerous questions on her mind, she's followed by the others, with other questions on their minds as well.


The four FBI agents walk into the compound, but are stopped by a guard from entering one of the buildings. "Halt. Identify yourself," he says.

Scully, not wasting any time as she gets out of the car, flashes her badge. "We're looking for someone. A man who may be one of the detainees."

Skinner adds, "We need some bodies out here to help search the woods."

Entering the buildings, they find a group of people standing near the door. "FBI," Scully flashes her badge yet again. Looking around, she doesn't see the old man, and then remembers his shapeshifting ability. "Where is he? A man who works with Absalom, he heals people." As expected, nobody answers her, but she doesn't have to like it. "Look, I know he's here. I need to speak with him." On a hunch, she calls out to a young man standing in the back of the group. "You," she points, "in the back. Step out." Hesitantly, he does so." "Come with me."

He follows her into a room, with Agent Reyes watching the proceedings. "Take a seat," she tells the young man, who does so. "What's your name?"

"Jeremiah Smith," he answers quietly.

"Did you heal these people?"

"No."

"Did you heal Teresa Hoese?" He starts to get up, but Scully's hand is quicker, pushing his shoulder down, and he stays seated. "Look, I know who you are."

Someone knocks at the door, and Reyes comments, "Agent Scully." The door opens, and Reyes nods at Scully. "I'll be right outside," she says before closing the door behind her.

When Scully turns back, she gasps when she sees that the young man has become the older man seen in the videotapes. "You're going to expose me," Jeremiah Smith says in the same quiet voice. "You're putting people in danger -- Abductees all over the country. I save them. I'm the only one."

Scully stares hard at him. "Do you know where my husband, where Mulder is?"

"You came crashing in here," Smith says calmly. "I was trying to help him, too."

"Where is he?" she leans over the table, then nearly gives herself whiplash as the door opens suddenly.

"You'd better come with us," Skinner says heavily.

Scully looks back at the man, or being, calling himself Jeremiah Smith, who has now taken the form of Absalom and looks very frightened. "You must protect me," he says in Absalom's voice.

Torn, Scully goes to Skinner and Reyes. "What is it?" she asks, their faces telling her that they don't want to tell her.

Skinner glances at the younger agent, then tells Scully, "It's Mulder."


In an open field, illuminated by the moon and various floodlights, is a group of agents standing around a body. Scully rushes forward, followed by a concerned Skinner. "Where is he?" she demands breathlessly, "How bad is he?" She moves aside a few agents who are blocking her view. Amazingly, it seems every damn agent is out there in the field, so she forces her way through the gauntlet, "How bad is he hurt?"

Finally getting through, she sees Mulder's body and runs over. Kneeling beside him, she gently touches a face that is horribly scarred and bruised, his body wrapped in a blanket to cover his nakedness. "No," she breathes, then her breathing and pitch becomes higher and faster. "No. No. No. He needs help." She stares wildly at the agents, who seem to have turned into stone around her.

Doggett, on the other hand, pulls her away from the body, his tone gentle, "It's too late."

She glares at him, her entire body language screaming, I don't need your help, pity, or kindness. "He needs help!" she snaps, shoving him away.

The only one who can help is Jeremiah Smith, she thinks, running back towards the compound. He healed Teresa Hoese, he can heal Mulder, too! With that hopeful thoughts, her legs carry her back to the building faster than she left, but a bright light blinds her a few yards from reaching the door. Looking up, she sees an object hovering overhead, full of lights, and she screams, "NO!" She forces her shaky legs and burning lungs to take her faster to the door, but as she does so, the building shakes, the glass shatters, and the light abruptly vanishes as quickly as it came.

She runs into the building, down the hall, and into the room where she'd left hm, locked up and under guard. The man called Jeremiah Smith is gone, and with him, so is her hope. "Shit," she coughs, trying to regain her breath beyond her burning lungs and now queasy stomach. Breathing heavily, she pulls out her flashlight and scans the room again, leaning against the doorframe for support. No sign of the young man nor old man called Jeremiah Smith. Shit!

"No," she shakes her head in disbelief, "this is not happening! This is not fucking happening!" She pounds the doorway with the side of her fist, but the pain will not bring back the healer, nor will it assuage the sudden fear, guilt and despair that now overwhelms her. "Dammit!" she yells, hitting the doorframe again, unaware of the tears now streaming down her face, or of Skinner, Doggett or Reyes silently gathering behind her like a funeral procession in their dark suits.


Chapter Ninety-Nine



January 12th, 2001

The morgue is quiet. If not for the erratic kick of the baby, Scully thinks she could fall asleep. It's actually all she wants to do, weighed down as she is by the twins exhaustion and grief.

Instead she forces herself to carefully examine her husband's body. She won't do an autopsy - in fact no one will because she's honoring Bill Mulder's request that his son be buried in accordance to the religion he was haphazardly raised in. She didn't agree because she thinks Mulder would care about Judaism now, but she allows his father to believe that if it gives him some measure of comfort.

Instead, she said yes merely because she can't bear the thought of further mutilating his battered body. Perhaps it's a bit hypocritical given how many times she's been the one wielding a scalpel over chilly flesh, but she's sure she'll lose her mind if even one more cut is inflicted on him. Even if he can't feel it, indeed even though he'll feel nothing at all ever again.

As she stares down at his hurts, she can't help but wonder what they did to him. Although if what Gibson had told her months before is to be believed, she has a pretty good idea from her nightmares. When was the last one, she wonders. Eventually she stopped waking with them still on her mind, probably a ploy from her subconscious to keep her from going mad. But she feels that she ought to remember the last one. The dream that must have come while he was dying. Or had she been awake at the time, making Mulder's final moments just that much more alone?

"Dana?" a hesitant voice makes her look up. Doggett is standing in the doorway, looking terribly uncomfortable. "I...Let me drive you home, okay?"

There's a type of fear in his eyes, Scully notices detachedly. As if he's worried that any second now she's going to throw herself over Mulder's body and begin wailing that she can't live without him. Not that a funeral pyre scene doesn't hold some appeal.

"Okay." She walks to him, and only pauses a moment to look back at Mulder. Staying won't erase the inevitable, just prolong it at best.

She tries not to notice the relief on Doggett's face as he ushers her out to his car.


Doggett steals a glance at Scully when they reach a red light. She looks so small and so wounded that he feels like weeping himself.

He can't figure out why it would be so, but he feels an echoing empathy. Not mere sympathy, but deeper, as if it were a shared pain. That bothers him because he doesn't know why. He liked Mulder, but they weren't particularly close. He's never known anyone else who'd died so tragically, either.

"I don't know how I'm going to tell them," Scully says huskily.

Her voice breaking the silence startles him so much that he finds himself making a rash reply. "I'll help you. We can tell them together."

When she says "okay" in a small voice, he kicks himself because he can't back out.


The kids cry, the nanny cries, and Doggett even thinks that he sees tears in the eyes of Scully's nutjob brother-in-law. Though that might have been a trick of the light since Scully complains that the two men never get along. Never would now, Doggett realizes.

"No no no!" Page cries, running off immediately after Scully tells them the worst thing she ever will: We found your father tonight and he's dead. "It can't be true!" floats down the stairs.

The adults watch the girl run off in stunned silence before Michelle goes after her. Scully looks torn, but she has a tear-stained April on her lap already.

What really gets to Doggett, though, is the oldest boy's reaction. Little Sammy is just a few months older than Hannah, but Doggett watches him desperately try not to cry. In the end his tears spilled over, just like his sisters. To Doggett's surprise, Alex is the one to comfort the little boy, holding Sammy as he sobs against his chest. Upon further reflection he decides that he shouldn't be overly surprised - Scully has always granted her brother-in-law a grudging respect for his surprising abilities with kids, both his own and hers.

Doggett himself has his own arms full, wrangling the twins, the ones who have no idea what is going on. He feels guilty for taking the easy job.

And what of Christopher, he finds himself wondering. The baby is already down for the night. Even David and Jared, as young as they are, can be made to understand that Mulder is gone. But the baby? It's easy to picture him looking everywhere for his lost father. Unless he forgets him, and glancing at Scully's grief-stricken face, he can't decide if that would be better or worse.

When he leaves, it feels like he's left them on the titanic deck after taking one of the lifeboats for himself.


Falls Church, Virginia

Doggett is scarcely in the house for five minutes when the phone rings. He makes a desperate grab for it, hoping to silence it before it wakes the kids.

"Yeah?"

"Is she okay?" a concerned voice asks on the other end of the line.

"Monica. I wasn't expecting you to call..." He trails off, wondering why he's so surprised that she's checking in. "Not really. She broke the news to the kids when I brought her home, and they fell apart, just like you would expect. She's not doing too much better herself. I'm glad that the nanny and her brother-in-law are there tonight," he admits.

"I wouldn't expect any different," Reyes tells him. "I think we all to some degree expected that he was just going to come waltzing through the front door, didn't we? To have that expectation so brutally torn apart..."

"I know." He sighs. "I expected the guy to come home too. Moldah, he was larger than life. One of those people you never expected to be laid low, not like this."

"I'm sorry, John. I know he was your friend too," she says quietly.

"Sure, but his friends aren't the ones people should be worried about. Not like the family he left behind. They're the ones we've got to be there for," Doggett corrects her.

"No," she surprises him by saying. "Of course we should take care of widows and children, but they're not the only ones who hurt when a man dies. His friends are wounded too, anyone who knows him is. It's easy to fall into the trap of pushing aside our own feelings about a death in order to help someone else through their grief, but eventually we've got to own our feelings as well. It's better if we can do that at the same time."

"You sound like you know what you're talking about," Doggett says with a weak laugh.

"I've lost enough people to have an idea of what works and what doesn't." Instead of letting this statement darken the conversation, she says "What are you doing Friday?"

"Nothing special, why?"

"Let's go to a bar and toast the man lost," Reyes suggests. "Celebrate who he was and mourn what he could have been."

"All right," Doggett agrees, wondering why he is. "How does nine sound?"

"Good. I'll pick you up. You knew him better so I think it'll take you more drinks."

"Okay."

By the time he hangs up, Doggett feels a little less depressed than he did when he left Scully's.


Scully's Home
The Next Day

A gentle touch to Krycek's cheek wakes him up. He smiles when he realizes that it's Missy. "You're over early."

"Dana called me this morning and asked me to come over." She looks happy about something, which strikes him as odd considering the fresh tragedy. "To help you pack."

"Pack?"

"Yup." Only then does he notice that she has a pile of folded up boxes and a roll of tape on the floor by her feet. "I'm so glad that you're coming home!"

"Okay...why don't you get a start on the light stuff, like clothes? Nothing heavy-"

"I won't break, Alex," Missy says archly.

"I know, I just...let me be a gentleman, okay?" He kisses her cheek. "Is your sister downstairs? I need to talk to her."

"She was in the kitchen last I saw."

"Great."

Once he leaves the room, he drops the casual facade he'd adopted for his wife's sake. Scully hadn't said a word the night before about her plans for him, and he hates to be ambushed this way.

Scully gives him a cool look when he enters the room. "You're not going to let Missy pack everything herself, are you?"

"You could have said something last night." He gripes as he pours himself a cup of coffee.

"I think forewarning you would have affected my success rate at getting you out of my house today. You won't break my sister's heart, so it'll work out this way."

He seethes to himself a little, because he knows she's right. All hell would break loose if he went upstairs and told Missy that he was staying. Still... "Have you really thought this through? The kids-"

"The kids are no longer in danger. Mulder is dead- " Krycek winces at her matter of fact tone. "- and therefore the crusade against him must be too. If there was even a real threat at all."

"We can't know that for sure-" he protests feebly.

She gives him another cool look. "How long has it been since you stopped insisting that Emily sleep here every night? Weeks and weeks, to Missy's vast relief. Deep down, you realized to that this threat is nothing more than a bogeyman to keep us on edge. My kids will be fine with Michelle and I to look after them, especially considering that I'll soon be home 24/7."

For some reason the allusion to maternity leave catches him off guard. He somehow forgot that she'll soon be home with a new baby too. Missy isn't the only one anticipating quality time spent with a newborn.

"Are you sure you want me to go?" he asks at length. When she nods it feels like being fired unexpectedly from a familiar, if not well-liked, job.

"We'll be fine. The sooner we adapt to not having a man around the house, the better."

"You say that like you'll never remarry." Krycek kicks himself for blurting out.

Her laugh is brittle. "Single men line right up to marry women with this many kids."

He thinks of saying something lame like that there are probably some men who would overlook that, but it doesn't sound right, even in his head. Even if they can be in each other's presence without one of them pulling a gun, they still don't have the sort of relationship where that sort of comment would fly.

Instead he says "It'd be hard to live with someone else after being married to Mulder, anyway."

"No doubt." She puts her cup down and gives him a contemplative stare. "We got off point a little, though. As I said, I believe the crusade against Mulder must be over. You, however, aren't dead."

"You've noticed," he can't help but retort.

She nods thoughtfully, which sends an inexplicable chill down his spine. "So you could still be a target. You, my sister, Emily, and eventually the baby. Promise me you'll stay on your toes."

Maybe he the chill was his mind predicting what she was going to say, but still, he got a nasty jolt when it was put into words. "I'd do anything to protect them."

"I know. And I'm going to hold you to it."

Suddenly eager to be home, Krycek skips stairs in his haste to help Missy pack his stuff.


January 15th, 2001

It's the Ides of January, not March, but the end result isn't much different. It's just a different warrior that's fallen. Snow blankets the cemetery, the white expanse broken only by a gaping brown hole mostly covered by a casket. The casket is to the left of a small headstone with the word "Angel" and a single date from the June before on it.

The widow and her children stand before the new grave. A toddler is on the widow's hip, one leg around her swelling waist. A young blonde girl and a small red-haired boy hold hands with two identical boys who are even smaller still. Standing slightly ahead, another little girl studies the closed casket.

"April" Scully says in a choked voice. She holds out a hand. "Come here, baby."

Her daughter starts to obey, but stops, looking over her shoulder. When she finally reaches her mother's side, she says "Daddy is sleeping."

Pain lances Scully's chest. "No April. Your Daddy is gone. He's not coming back."

"Will," April insists stubbornly.

Oblivious to the conversation between mourners, the minister drones on. "Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. We are here to deliver the body of Fox Mulder to its resting place. We pray to God to deliver his soul and to resolve the deep mysteries Fox Mulder sought so tirelessly to uncover. Let us pray now for his eternal peace."

Tears roll down Page and Sammy's faces, but they don't let go of their brothers' hands. Seeing this makes Scully want to close her eyes, but she can't. When she looks down at the twins' faces, she just sees confusion, which is somehow better.

"'I am the resurrection and the life,' saith the Lord; he that believeth in me, though he were dead yet shall he live; and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.'"

To Scully's utter shock, Teena and William Mulder stand together during the ceremony, actually getting along. The kids wander over to their grandfather, and she's relieved to temporarily cede responsibility for them.

Teena approaches her, looking uncertain. "Can I hold him?" she asks, holding out her arms.

"Of course," Scully says quickly, giving her Christopher before her automatic doubts overwhelm her.

Teena offers a brittle smile. "He doesn't look much like Fox, does he? Not with this blond hair and your eyes. But I see my son's mouth." She gently touches Christopher's rosebud lips.

"And his ears," Scully says, trying not to cry.

"Yes." Teena nods to herself before carrying Christopher over to his siblings and grandfather.

Scully looks at Skinner, who is still nearby, although he had taken a few respectful steps back while she spoke to her erstwhile mother-in-law. She looks up at him as she says "He'll never know the answers to the questions that haunted him most of his life, now. His family and his search, those things were his whole life. It never bothered me, you know, knowing that there was something else that was as important to him as us. The truth. But now, knowing that he never found it..."

"Maybe he learned enough. And he loved you and the children with all his heart. He had a fuller life than most," Skinner says firmly.

"I'm not supposed to be here!" Scully says, beginning to cry. "I'm supposed to be old, comforted by my grown children and a covey of grandchildren. I'm not supposed to be this young, carrying a baby who'll never know his father, and with three more boys who won't remember him. It isn't fair!"

"I know," Skinner says quietly, reaching for her hand. "I know."

She doesn't let him, but instead takes one step back. There's no tremble in her voice when she says "You'll probably need it in writing, but I'm going to start my maternity leave early. Immediately. HR can use my accumulated vacation time to make up the difference."

"I'm sure it won't be a problem," Skinner says automatically before asking, "Are you going to come back?"

"At this point, I don't know."

"Okay," Skinner tells her. "Take your time deciding."


Later

"Grandma, I'm tired." Sammy sighs, rubbing at his already red eyes. Maggie sighs and looks down at the paper plate sitting in front of her grandson. Half the food on it is untouched.

"You want to take a nap?" she asks, knowing the answer is probably yes. Page and April went to bed as soon as they'd finished eating too.

It's not even five o'clock but Scully, Maggie, and Sammy are the only ones awake since Missy's family and Scully's friends went home. Even Michelle pled exhaustion and went to bed herself after putting the babies down.

"Yes." He pushes the plate across the table. "I'm all done."

"Do you need help getting ready to sleep?" He shakes his head. "You can put your jammies on yourself?"

"Uh huh." He slips off his chair and throws himself at her for a quick hug. A minute later the silence in the house thickens after the sounds of his feet on the stairs fade away.

Maggie drifts into the living room where she finds her daughter curled up on the couch, staring off into space.

"You haven't eaten anything," Maggie points out.

Scully turns towards her listlessly. "I'm not hungry."

"Be that as it may, you need to eat for the baby's sake."

"At the moment I don't care what the baby needs. Not in the least."

"You don't mean that," Maggie says, nervous about the sudden irritation in her daughter's voice. "You want this baby."

"Do I?" Scully shifts towards her mother. "Maybe if I hadn't been pregnant, I could have found him in time."

"You can't blame the baby for that!"

"I can blame whoever the hell I want," Scully growls.

"Fine," Maggie says icily. "If you really feel that way... It's too late for an abortion, but I'm sure you can find a home for him. Maybe your sister would want to take him, but that may not be a good idea if you don't think you could keep yourself from blaming him for Fox's death-"

"Mother, do you have to be so goddamned self-righteous? I know you think having been a military wife makes you an expert on raising children without help, but it's not the same! Dad came home!" Tears begin to slide down Scully's cheeks, even though she's still furious. "He came home every time!"

Maggie squelches her impulse to be angry when she sees the naked pain on her daughter's face. Not everyone reacts to death the same way, so she decides lashing out probably isn't all that unusual.

Scully doesn't protest when Maggie gathers her in her arms. "I know, baby. I know he came home."

"Why couldn't Mulder?" Scully tearfully demands to know, and Maggie has no answer for her. "John and Skinner, they expect me to be grateful that we found his body. But I'm not. I'm just so angry..."

Neither of them say anything for several minutes as they wait for the currents of Scully's angry outburst to dissipate from the room.

Eventually Maggie finds herself broaching a subject that she hadn't planned to bring up yet. "Dana, Missy and I are planning to visit Charlie soon. We'd like to bring the kids with us."

"Which kids, exactly?"

"All of them, unless you object. I think they could use a change of scenery." She refrains from adding that the rest would do Scully good, too.

"No, if you think the two of you can handle seven kids between you, fine," Scully tells her.

"We'll manage. Page and Emily will probably enjoy bossing the rest of them around," Maggie says with a slight smile.

"No doubt. I suppose it's a good thing they don't spend much time around Bill. He's a poor role model for being the oldest."

"He could have been worse." Maggie turns slightly pink when Scully raises an eyebrow. "I'm sure I could think of a few ways how."

"Well, he wasn't Hitler, I'll give him that much," Scully says grudgingly. "When do you plan to see Charlie?"

"In two or three weeks."

"That soon?" Scully looks surprised.

"We've been planning this for a couple of weeks. Before...There's a website offering discounted fares, probably trying to dig out of the post-holidays slump. Anyway, your brother suggested it at Christmas. Now Brandon will have even more cousins to play with."

"Do you ever think that it's strange?" Scully asks.

"That what is, Dana?"

"Both Brandon and Mattie are only children. I know Bill and Tara wanted more kids, but Charlie and Elaine chose to have just one."

"No, it doesn't strike me as so strange, at least not where Charlie is concerned. To be honest, of all you kids, he's the one I least expected to have children. So to have one first! That was quite a surprise. I'm also surprised that Bill and Tara haven't adopted to increase the size of their family. When I asked him about it, though, I wasn't stunned that she's the one who doesn't want to, but wants to keep trying for another baby. He doesn't care as much about genes as she does."

"You thought he'd end up with more kids?" Scully asks curiously.

"Oh yes. You may not see it yourself, but you and Bill are a lot alike. If not for Tara's medical problems-" Maggie notes the shock on her face, and decides that her children have never discussed which member of that couple has fertility issues. "-I'd of expected they'd have a house full of children, too. Who knows, he might change her mind yet."

"Maybe," Scully agrees. "And I think you're right."

"About?" Maggie watches her pull herself to her feet.

"Getting something to eat. What about you, Mom, hungry?"

"I could eat," Maggie tells her, trying not to sound too relieved that Scully is taking care of herself.

"Good. There's so much food I won't have to cook for a month. Good thing we bought that chest freezer a couple of years ago." Talking about something she did with Mulder saddens them both, but Maggie is more sure that her daughter will get through it now than she was a half hour ago.

"That's handy," Maggie says, following her into the kitchen.


Skinner's Office
January 17th, 2001

After shuffling some papers on his desk for a few seconds, Skinner looks his guest in the eye. "Agent Reyes, thank you for coming in this morning."

"You're welcome," Reyes says, but her eyes are curious. He hasn't told her the reason he requested her presence.

Skinner decides that there's no point in beating around the bush. "When you assisted agent Doggett with a case this fall, I hoped that it could be a dry run for an offer to instate you on a more permanent basis come agent Scully's maternity leave, which I expected to begin in April. Agent Mulder's recent death changes things."

"I'm sure," Reyes says, but he can tell that she isn't following his line of thinking.

"Agent Scully has decided to start her maternity leave this week, which is understandable. Up until now I expected that she'd be back this summer. At this point that's up in the air. And of course, we're permanently down one agent, even if she does decide to return after the baby's born."

"Right..."

"So instead of asking you to join the X-Files on a temporary basis, I'm hoping you'll consent to relocating here for the long term...for good."

"Oh. Sure," Reyes says casually, surprising him by the speed of her answer.

"If you need more time, I understand-"

"No, I've been hoping that you'd offer me a permanent transfer, honestly."

"Why?" Skinner asks, then nearly kicks himself for blurting out what he's thinking.

"I like it here."

"Okay then. I'll work out the details with your old field office," Skinner tells her.

"Great."

Skinner shakes his head as she leaves, shocked that it was that easy to convince her, but unwilling to look a gift horse in the mouth.


Early February 2001

When Maggie and Missy arrive the kids say goodbye easily - except the twins who hang on Scully's legs. It gives her a pang when she looks down at them...it's usually Mulder they do this to. Or was.

"Why don't you get everyone else in the car?" Scully asks her mom. "I'll bring them out to you."

"Fine." Maggie picks up Christopher and takes April's hand. The other kids skip ahead, chattering to Missy.

"Hey, aren't you ready to go visit Uncle Charlie and cousin Brandon?"

"Nope," Jared tells her. "You be lonely."

"Home all alone," David adds morosely.

Scully crouches down. "I'll miss you kids, but I want you to have fun. I'll be fine. The baby makes me tired so I'll sleep a lot and you won't miss any fun at home. Okay?"

"Okay," Jared says reluctantly, reminding Scully a lot of his father when she used to try to talk him into something. David, on the other hand, looks like Mulder did when he believed her.

"Bye, Mommy," David tells her before placing a sloppy kiss on her cheek.

Jared gives her a serious look. "Don't be sad."

"I won't." Scully hugs them both. "I love you, guys. Have fun with grandma and auntie."

"Okay," they both tell her and hug her back. She takes their mittened hands and leads them out to the car where her mother is waiting with Christopher. Missy has the bigger kids in her car already, and she shoots Scully an impatient look as the little boys take their time stomping through the snow.

Soon enough Scully is in the big quiet house, and it hits her: she lied to her small sons. Even though they've barely left, she already feels lonely. Belatedly, she wishes that she'd insisted on keeping Christopher home with her, because her arms are already feel empty.

Looking down at her belly, she says aloud, "I guess it's just you and me, kiddo."

When he kicks, she tells herself that it's not because of anything she's said, but she feels better anyway.


Two days after Maggie and Missy take the kids to see their uncle, a small hand plucks at Scully's blanket, making her murmur into her pillow "What, Sammy?"

This doesn't get her an answer, nor do the little fingers stop pulling at the covers. Trying not to sigh, she rolls over and looks over the edge of the bed.

The little boy standing there isn't her eldest son. In fact, this child is not even alive anymore. But the expression on his transparent little face shows woe and concern.

To her credit, she doesn't scream or fall out of bed. Instead she looks at the ghost and asks in an even voice "Was there something you wanted?"

The ghost vigorously nods his head and beckons with one hand.

She pulls herself upright and tries to decide if she ought to honor his obvious desire for her to go with him. It doesn't seem too sane to be seeing ghosts and doing what they want, but everyone else insists that the "ghosts" are real, so if it's insanity it's shared and contagious.

The small ghost looks impatient.

"I'll go with you if you'll tell me one thing," she says impulsively. "Is my husband here, in the house?"

When he shakes his head, she feels a crushing disappointment. If ghosts have to be real, why can't Mulder be there? It wouldn't be like having him alive, not at all, but it might be some comfort to have a small part of him around.

"Of course not," she says aloud. The ghost frowns at her, and she nearly laughs. "It's ironic, you have to admit that. Unless you died before learning the meaning of the word."

This seems over the ghost's head, and she sighs. Sammy probably couldn't define irony either, and this child hardly seems older. "How did you die so young?"

He makes no move to acknowledge he even heard the question as he leads her into the hallway. Instead he holds out one vaporous hand.

"Take your hand? All right." She reaches for it, fully expecting to close her fingers on nothing, like trying to hold a handful of smoke.

But the small hand is warm and solid, much like her own children's. There's a strange pulling sensation, and the world yawns dizzily. She closes her eyes against it in a bid to hang on to consciousness.


When she opens her eyes, she's instantly struck by a sense that something isn't right. The little ghost who brought her to the hallway is gone. Stranger still, the kids' coat rack isn't in the hallway, and there's something wrong with the lights. They're far dimmer than they should be, even for a February morning. Before she can quite work out what's going on, she's startled by the sounds of voices downstairs. Men's voices.

Although she presses her back against the wall, she's soon seen. A teenage boy, no older than Luke or Gibson hurries up the stairs towards her. "You shouldn't be up here, Ma'am," he tells her, pinning her with a pair of curious hazel eyes.

"I..." I have no idea what's going on, is what she meant, but it didn't think it would be wise to say so.

"Are you here to see one of the flu victims?" the boy asks. "They're up in the attic."

"No." The flu, she wonders, which flu? Improvising she says, "I thought I could help out."

"Oh, are you a nurse then?" he asks eagerly. "My parents said that the hospital hoped to send a couple by."

Though it's on the tip of her tongue to correct him, she doesn't. By now she's realized that the lights are wrong because they're gas, not electric. And the boy's clothes also suggest a bygone era.

Hers do as well, but more alarming than the outfit she never put on is the fact that she's slender. If she's actually in the past, her unborn baby didn't make the trip through time with her. She tries not to think about it.

"Yes. I'm a nurse," she says at last. "Nurse Scully. I'm not from the local hospital," she adds quickly, foreseeing problems if the expected nurses show up and rightly can't identify her. "I was visiting my aunt and she suggested that I offer my help here."

The kid impulsively holds out his hand. "I'm Saul Mulder. My parents own this house."

Scully's eyes widen involuntarily as the puzzle pieces fall into place. Their house is haunted because people died of the flu in it. They've known for years that some sort of tragedy must have occurred in the house - as much as she tried to convince herself and Mulder both that the ghosts he recorded before Sammy's birth were some sort of defects on the tape - but this wasn't nearly as awful as the possibilities could be. At least there had been no violence.

And this was Saul's connection to the wandering spirits who still haunted the home he'd grown up in. She finds herself wondering if he saw the ghosts himself, over the long years he lived in the house.

"Are you alright, Ma'am?" Saul gives her a concerned look.

She snaps to. "I'm fine. I was just thinking about how I knew someone with your surname back in Massachusetts."

"One of my brothers lives there!" Saul says eagerly. "Maybe you know him."

"Actually, it was a young girl I went to school with."

"Oh. Probably a distant relation in any case," Saul says, looking slightly disappointed. "There are a lot of Mulders."

Not any more, Scully thinks, but doesn't say. Mulder has never talked about cousins, so it seems as though his parents and his children are the end of the family line. "There are a lot of Scullys too. My aunt told me that your family is caring for some of the victims of the flu. How did that happen?"

"Oh, it was my father's idea. He wanted to serve in the war, but they told him he was too old." Saul's expression suggests that this didn't go over well with his dad. "When this flu broke out, they told him there was something he could do to help the war effort - provide a place for the children of servicemen to recover from their illness."

"But they haven't all gotten better," Scully decides out loud.

"Nope. We've had to bury a few." Saul's casual tone surprises her, but he's been living in a house where death has been a frequent visitor.

"That must be sad. Them being children, and all," she suggests.

"Yeah, but they don't really leave." Saul's voice is low, and he studies her face, looking for a reaction.

"You've seen ghosts?" Scully wishes she could tell the boy that his great-nephew has seen them too. It would make him think that she was completely insane, though, so she doesn't.

"According to my folks it's my imagination but I've heard them playing in the house. Seen a couple too."

"Were you scared?"

"Of course not! Little kids like that, they don't mean no harm." Saul grins suddenly. "They gave the maid a right scare, though, appearing in the hallway when she carried up the wash. Last thing she said to me was 'Saul, you was right about them ghosts!' She quit straight away after that though."

"Poor woman."

"Nah, one of the neighbors hired her. She's a fair sight happier in a house that isn't haunted." He glances at one of the light fixtures on the wall. "The neighbor's got electric lights, not gas like this. Father keeps saying that we'll get them too, but he says we can't until the sick kids are gone. The flu is going to go away, isn't it?"

"It will. There have been other epidemics like this, and none of them lasted more than a few years," Scully tells him, groping for facts she learned in a virology classes.

Saul doesn't look impressed. "Father said this all started two years ago. People thought it'd go away the first year come summer, but it just hid out until it got cold again."

It's 1920, Scully realizes. The last year of this particular flu. "I'm sure that I heard that there are fewer and fewer cases being reported. I wouldn't be surprised if it's gone all together before."

"Tell that to the kids upstairs." Saul says wistfully. "We've been here yakking too long. You wanted to see those kids, didn't you?"

"I do," she says.

But her mind races as she follows Saul to the familiar set of attic stairs. What if she somehow managed to catch the flu and brought it to the present? This worry doesn't stick, though, because she's not pregnant in this time. If she couldn't bring the baby into the past, then she shouldn't be able to bring the virus into the present day. She hopes.

What worries her more, however, is that she's not going to be able to do much for the sick children. Even though she probably knows more about how to treat them than people of the current age do. Especially because she does.

All "wisdom" on time travel insists that the traveler do nothing to change the past, least they change the future. Not that she doesn't wish to change the past. She'd do anything to keep Mulder out of his grave, but it's impossible to know how one could change that sequence of events from eighty years in the past. Change the wrong thing, and Mulder might never have been born.... So as tempting as it is to try to change the present from the past, she doesn't dare to. It's far too reckless.


Instead of being filled with discarded belongings, this boy's future belongings she realizes, it's host to two rows of iron bed frames. Small figures covered in blankets fill half of the available beds.

Scully grabs the boy's wrist as he wanders closer towards the sick children. "Aren't you afraid that you'll catch it?"

"Nope. My father thinks we're immune. Some people are, you know." Scully nods at his declaration. "Since there have been sick kids here going on three months and none of us has had so much as a sniffle, he thinks we're safe."

"Okay."

She lets him go, but he stares up at her when she makes a move to check on the children. "Don't you worry about yourself, Ma'am?"

"No. I've been a nurse so long that I think I'm bullet-proof when it comes to germs."

"'round enough of them, maybe you are at that." Saul grins. "There aren't as many kids up here as usual - and none of them died recently - so maybe you're right about the flu getting better."

"Maybe." Scully looks down at the small sweaty children who fill the beds. "Do people come and check on them? Family, I mean."

"Mostly," Saul says. "Mothers, grandmothers, a couple have mostly grown brothers or sisters. They're scared to get it, but they come anyway. Except for him." Saul points at a bed in the middle. "We don't even know his name. A constable brought him around three days ago, found him in an alley, and he hasn't been awake to tell us who he is."

"Oh, that's so sad," Scully says, edging towards the mystery child. "I think I'll sit with him."

"If you like," Saul says indifferently. "I need to go do my chores, but nice to meet you."

"Nice to meet you too, Saul." Scully smiles at him.

There's another woman up there tending to the children, and Scully asks her if it's okay if she pulls a chair over to the boy. The woman doesn't seem to care one way or another, so she does. It's not until she's sat down that a chill creeps up her spine.

Just looking at the boy, she knows that he's not going to get better. It's not that he looks any sicker than the other kids, but that she's seen him before.

This boy is the ghost who brought her here.


She waits until the other woman has left the room to speak to the boy. Leaning close she whispers "I know you. Why did you bring me here?"

In response to the sound of her voice the boy tosses his head, but seems no closer to gaining consciousness.

Frowning, she touches his forehead and gasps at the heat. Feeling a person's head isn't really a good indicator of fever, but it seems impossible that he could be so hot and not be feverish.

"I really need to know," she continues to whisper. "But more importantly, how do I get home?"

When he still fails to rouse, she settles back in her chair, and wonders why the hell she's there. She's not going to save him, or indeed any of the kids in the room, because they all seem past the point of no return, and there's nothing in the room that would help her aid them. And she's probably not going to witness the boy's death, because it doesn't seem likely to happen immediately.

Eventually the heat of the attic makes her drowsy and her head begins to nod. Right before she falls asleep she feels a small hand reach for hers, and the world tilts again.


The feeling of warm flesh fades away, as does the boy who had been holding her hand. He smiles as he flickers out of her vision all together.

Shaken by the abrupt return to normal, the first thing Scully does is run her hands down her belly. To her relief, it has its familiar contours. Almost immediately the baby kicks, confirming his presence.

She lets out a breath she didn't even know that she was holding. As much as she tried to push her worry to the back of her mind, she had been terrified that the baby might still be missing when and if she made it back to her own time. Despite the comments to her mother the day of the funeral, she knows full well that she'd be devastated if anything happened to the baby.

"I want to talk to you," Scully tells the empty room, and when no one appears, she begins to feel foolish. The ghosts have never spoken to anyone - at least not to her or Mulder - so why was she convinced that the little ghost would present himself for interrogation?

Still, she looks around, hoping to see a transparent shade looking expectantly at her. Her little prankster doesn't return. That, however, doesn't stop her from addressing him. "What was that about? What was the point?"

A sliding noise makes her jump and look about wildly. Eventually she sees what caused the noise - a framed picture of Mulder's father has come free from one of its two hangers, and is now hanging askew on the bedroom wall.


Bill Mulder's Home
2 p.m.

The sound of the doorbell wakes Bill from his light doze. An announcer on the TV gives the current score, so he hasn't been asleep long because it's the same game.

Yawning and barefoot, he goes to the door. To his surprise, his daughter-in-law is on the other side. Trying not to grimace, he steels himself for a discussion about Fox. "Dana, come in."

She shivers a little as she hangs up her coat and scarf. Something in his chest aches when he notices how her sweater outlines the swell of her belly - this grandchild is already unfortunate and he's not even born yet.

Once the settle in his living room, she gives him a weak smile. "I was hoping you could tell me about your uncle Saul."

This request startles him, because he wouldn't in a million years have suspected that is what's on her mind. "Uh, sure."

"He grew up in our house, didn't he?" she asks.

"Sure. He inherited it. Four boys, and only two outlived their parents. Uncle James died during World War two, and Uncle Andrew in a house fire. His whole family with him, it was a terrible accident... My father didn't inherent because he was the youngest, and people didn't split up estates back then like they do now. Sorry, I'm rambling, aren't I?"

"No," Scully tells him. "I never knew any of this about your family. Mulder never told me about your uncles."

Bill gives her a sad look. "I'm not sure how much Fox knew himself, to tell the truth. Andrew and James both died long before he was born, and Uncle Saul...though we were close when I was a boy, we didn't talk much after I got married."

"He didn't like Teena?"

Bill smothers a laugh. "You'd of thought that was why, but it was actually my job he couldn't accept, not my wife."

"He knew what you...did?" Her voice sounds uncertain.

"Probably more than he ought to of. I was so young when I was drawn into that web... Even then I knew that my folks wouldn't understand, so I turned to my favorite uncle for advice. And he gave me plenty. All of it was to get out while I still could. I didn't listen of course. But you know that."

"Yes." Scully concurs.

"The last time I spoke to him, Teena was pregnant with Fox. He said to me 'Will' he was the only one to call me that 'You're involved in dangerous stuff, boy. One of these days it's going to take you down. Or maybe it'll be even worse, it'll come to haunt that pretty wife of yours, or that baby you're expecting. Get out now, or mark my words, you'll live to regret it.' Of course he was right. I thought about telling him that after we lost Samantha, but there didn't seem to be a point." Bill sighs. "I've spent half a life time wishing I'd listened to him."

The look on his daughter-in-law's face suggests that she wishes he'd listened to his uncle too. "That must be hard," she says.

"What is it that the Buddhists say, life is suffering? They're right. And so much of it is our own fault." He looks up at her with a faint smile. "Not that my son lived long enough to screw up that badly with his kids. But I don't think he would have ever, not even if he lived to be a hundred."

"Mulder was one hell of a man," Scully says and he detects a note of pride in her voice.

"There aren't many like him. Saul was like him, though. That's what you wanted to know, isn't it?" She nods. "If I could take it all back, they would have known each other. Then he would have had a better role model than me."

To his surprise she gets up and kisses him on the cheek. "Don't sell yourself short. You had a hand in how he turned out."

"I suppose."

"Thank you for speaking to me today."

"Any time, Dana."

As she walks out to her car he finds himself making an impulsive vow - he needs to be a better grandfather than he was a father. It's important to stay a part of Fox's children's lives.


Chapter One Hundred



March 31st, 2001
Late

April looks up at her mother as Scully bends to tuck her in. Her serious, curious expression has Scully smiling despite the lateness of the hour. Giving the purple comforter one finally adjustment she asks her daughter, "What are you thinking about?"

"My birthday."

"Ah, that's tomorrow, isn't it? I almost forgot," Scully teases. "What does my girl want for her fourth birthday, I wonder?"

"Just one thing."

"What's that?"

April snuggles deeper into her bed. "To see Daddy," she says tentatively, perhaps already anticipating her mother's reaction.

A dark look creeps over Scully's face. "Sweetie, you can't. Daddy died."

"I know," April agrees.

This confuses Scully. "When someone dies, we can't see them any more."

"But we will," April tells her.

"April-" Scully starts to say, but the little girl closes her eyes tightly, and refuses to look at her.

Scully waits a moment before waddling to the door and shutting off the light.


April 1st, 2001
Scully's Home

Doggett pulls into Scully's driveway but makes no move to get out of the car. Instead he gives his passenger a questioning look. "Are you sure she'll want to see us?"

Reyes taps the brightly colored box on her lap. "Correct me if I'm wrong. Today is April's birthday and Dana invited Hannah over for cake, didn't she? And we drove all the way over, didn't we?"

"Yeah, but do you really think she's up for company? Maybe she was just bein' polite."

Reyes looks exasperated. "If you were seven and a half months pregnant and home with just the kids and the nanny don't you think you'd like to have other adults to talk to?"

Doggett smirks. "If I seven and a half months pregnant my main priority would be avoiding the tabloid reporters."

Reyes swats him, making him laugh.

"Are we there yet?" a sleepy voice demands to know. Even now that she's five, Hannah still doesn't last more than twenty minutes in a moving vehicle before falling asleep.

Doggett reaches over the seat and brushes her dark bangs out of her eyes. "We're here."

"Good." She quickly climbs out of the car, giving her father no choice but to follow her. Doggett places the present in her arms as they approach Scully's front door.

The door swings open, and Page waves to them. "I'm official door opener," she informs them. "Mommy's in the kitchen."

"Thanks Page," Doggett tells her. "You're doing a good job."

"I know," Page acknowledges, and Doggett hides a smirk at her smugness. She and Hannah disappear into the depths of Scully's home.

As soon as they're out of the girls' earshot, he leans down and whispers to Reyes, "Dana better watch out, that one is going to be just like her father."

"One of them is bound to be," she whispers back. Her warm breath near on his neck sends a shiver through him he's reluctant to acknowledge, as much as he's enjoyed occasionally seeing her outside of work - platonically of course - since the week of Mulder's funeral.

Scully catches sight of them and waves them forward. "Hey, glad you could make it."

"Thanks," Reyes says for the both of them. "How are you doing? It won't be long now."

The older woman grimaces slightly. "The last month an a half are the longest part of any pregnancy." A slightly wistful expression accompanies her next statement, "I suppose I shouldn't complain, since it's the last time."

"Yeah..." Doggett casts about for a change of topic. "Do you have a few minutes to talk, one on one?"

"Sure. Missy's watching the kids and we plan to let them play a while more before serving cake."

"I'll give your sister a hand," Reyes volunteers, excusing herself.

After gesturing to the couch, Scully slowly lowers herself into an armchair. When she notices Doggett watching, she says, "I can get off of this one without help."

"Must have been harder when you were pregnant with David and Jared."

"True. What's on your mind? I'm sure you weren't hoping to talk about how ungainly I currently am."

"Kersh tried to pressure me into transferring to another division within the FBI." Doggett decides to leave off the fact that there was also an offer to promote him as well.

"What did you say?" Scully asks, looking curious.

"I said no. If Monica is the only one on the X-Files, they'll plow her under for sure. It's not that she's not a good agent, just that she's new and has no standing. Without me there the X-Files would be gone for sure."

"And you don't want to see that happen."

He shoots her a startled look. "Of course not. It's Mulder's legacy. Don't you agree?"

"I'd prefer to think that his legacies are here-" She touches her belly. "-and in the other room."

"Well of course," Doggett says quickly.

"I'm sure he'd be touched that you're trying to keep his dream alive, but don't unless it's somehow yours too." She looks him in the eye.

And he doesn't flinch. "I've grown accustomed to looking for the answers to big questions, and they don't get any bigger than on the X-Files."

"Give it some thought. Before you find yourself unable to escape."

"I'm going into this with both eyes open," Doggett attempts to assure her. She looks unconvinced.

"Right." She pulls herself to her feet. "I hope you like chocolate cake."

Feeling nonplused he follows her, hoping he won't be expected to wear a paper hat.


Falls Church, Virginia
11:17 p.m.

Thunder grumbles outside of Doggett's window that night, chasing a driving rain, but he's fast asleep and doesn't notice it. What eventually does wake him, however, is the sound of his bedside phone.

"What?" he yawns into the phone.

"It's Skinner. I want you to meet me at the Bureau in about 20 minutes."

"How come?" Doggett asks grumpily. His bed is warm and comfortable, making him relish being out in the elements even less than he usually would that late.

"I got a call from the police. Pathologist down in Wilmington, North Carolina. Fishermen pulled in a dead body 50 Miles offshore which they've now identified as Billy Miles."

"Should I know who Billy Miles is?"

"I thought you read the case files," Skinner says shortly.

"Yeah, but I've just been woken from a sound sleep. Give me a hint, would ya?"

"The first case Mulder worked with Scully involved this kid. He was a multiple abductee. Most recently he and Teresa Holsey vanished from a D.C. hotel room days before Mulder went missing."

"He was with Holsey? But you said they found a body. Why can't that wait until tomorrow?" It's not like the guy was Mulder, Doggett finds himself thinking.

"The hurry is that it's not a body anymore. Billy Miles is, as unlikely as it sounds, alive. It's like that old nightmare scenario about waking up during your autopsy. Lucky for Billy, they realized that he was alive before they began cutting."

"I'll be right there."


"What's going on, Daddy?" Hannah appears in the doorway, rubbing her eyes.

"I've got to go into work, sweetie. You and the boys can sleep, though. I should be home soon." At least he hopes so.

His daughter scowls. "Luke's not the boss of me."

"When I'm not here you need to do what he says," Doggett says in as stern a voice as he can at that hour. "I don't like hearin' that you give him a hard time."

"But he deserves it!" Hannah insists.

"Hannah."

She changes the subject. "This work stuff, is it about April's Daddy?"

"What?" Doggett is started by the question. "What makes you think that?"

Hannah shrugs. "April said her Daddy was coming home for her birthday."

"Did she tell you that today?"

"Yup. And lots of other times. But we can't talk about in front of Page and Sammy 'cause they say she's a liar. And Sammy cries." Hannah looks a little guilty.

Doggett decides to deliberately lie to his daughter for the first time. "I have no idea why my boss needs to see me."

"Oh." She looks disappointed now. "I hope April's daddy does come home tonight. Having one parent is less fun."

This makes Doggett wince, but not as much as Hannah's next comment.

"Luke says you got to marry someone who likes us. Monica likes us." She gives him an expectant look.

"Let's get you back to bed," he mumbles.


Hoover Building Parking Garage

Doggett pulls up beside Skinner and walks over when the other man gestures to the passenger seat.

Skinner glances at him as he gets in the car. "You look shook up."

"Hannah informed me tonight that April has told her 'lots of times' that Mulder was coming back for her birthday. Today. On the other hand Hannah also told me who I should marry." Doggett chuckles nervously.

"April is damn good at unsettling adults," Skinner says gruffly. "When Mulder was in the hospital she told Scully's mother that Mulder could hear people's thoughts. April wasn't quite two and a half at the time."

"What's so strange about a little kid believing that?"

"It was strange because it was true."

"Oh." After an uncomfortable silence he asks, "You told Agent Scully any of what you told me on the phone?"

"No. Not yet."

"Maybe you shouldn't. Judging by April's conviction that her father is going to miraculously return from the dead, I think it's safe to say that Dana and her kids have a lot of healing left to do. We wouldn't want to go ripping scabs off their wounds, would we?" Doggett shoots Skinner a pleading look, willing him to agree that telling Scully would be cruel at best.

"John, I understand your instinct to protect her, but I've known her for several years. The last thing she would want is for us to shield her from this, like she was a child in the need of protection from harsh truths. If this pans out the way I hope it will, she'll be the first to know."

Doggett looks out the window. Skinner's tone tells him that there's no way that he's going to be convinced, so trying further to change his mind would be futile at best.


The graveyard looks different at night. The severe look of the headstones is softened by the snow that blankets the ground and piles in small drifts on the tops of the stones. The rain is lighter here, but it's doing its level best to disperse the snow that stubbornly clings to the scene.

Skinner moves quickly, leaving widely spaced footprints in the snow. Feeling less of a compelling sense of determination, Doggett trudges behind him.

"Sir, what are you hoping to find here? Best case scenario?" When his boss doesn't answer, he plunges on. "I know we all feel like Moldah's death was tragic and unfair, but the science that put him in his grave doesn't give one whit about that."

Skinner eyes him over his glasses. "As far as science is concerned, Billy Miles ought to be dead right now, but the fact is that he isn't."

"We're not just digging up a grave tonight," Doggett says. "We're unburying things that could lead to a lot of heartache, and not just for us. Are you sure this is the wisest course of action? When Scully finds out-"

"What if I listened to you, and we don't do this?" Skinner's tone is harsh. "And she finds out that we didn't bother to make sure instead? Do you think she'd have a greater peace of mind from wondering if her husband was buried alive and if something could have been done about it?"

"No."

"Then consider your objections evaluated and over-ruled."

When they finally reach their destination in the center of the graveyard, there's already a backhoe digging into the ground beneath Mulder's recently placed grave marker.

In a final desperate bid to get his boss to see reason, Doggett says "How could he possibly be alive? We saw what he looked like three months ago, and even then he wasn't... unblemished."

"The same can be said for Billy Miles. The state of his body, the tissue damage, it all points to him having been in the water for months, as if the craft that returned him accidentally dumped him into the ocean when it returned Mulder. But his metabolism merely slowed down to a nearly imperceptible rate. He's got a pulse. We're here to find out if Mulder does too." Skinner sounds even less like he's in the mood to listen than earlier.

Doggett gives up. "Fine."

x~x~x~

When he notices that the men excavating Mulder's grave are being excruciatingly careful not to disturb his daughter's adjoining resting place, Skinner feels an unexpected burst of gratitude. These men are taking their duties seriously, which he is sure Scully will appreciate no matter how things turn out this night.

It's sad, he thinks as he looks at the baby's headstone. There might be a second chance for her father, but she didn't even get a first chance.


US Naval Hospital
Annapolis, Maryland
3am

Still stunned that Skinner's wild hunch is true, Doggett leaves Mulder's room and rejoins Skinner in the hallway in time to see the swinging doors explode open. Scully looks frantic when she runs to them, but Doggett suspects that she's still holding onto realism despite the wild hopes Skinner's call must have whipped up. The biggest evidence of this is the fact that she doesn't have any of her children with her.

"Is it true?" she demands to know before she's even reached them. "He's alive?"

"He's not dead," Skinner says noncommittally.

"Dana, he's not in good shape," Doggett warns her. "Doctors won't even hazard a guess as to whether or not he'll ever regain consciousness."

"That doesn't matter. Not tonight," Scully says, starting to walk past Skinner.

Skinner surprises Doggett by her by taking her arm to stop her. "I wish you wouldn't go in there right now."

"I have to." When she looks up at him, there are tears shining in her eyes.

He gives in. "All right. We'll go in together."

Doggett gives him a pointed look that clearly states that it isn't a good idea, but Skinner shakes his head. Neither of them are brave enough to keep the man's wife from him.

Skinner puts his arm around Scully's waist, and Doggett realizes that she's shaking. Still determined, however, she makes her way to Mulder's bedside. Once safely seated in the chair already pulled up beside the bed, she puts her head on his chest and begins to cry.

Watching this, Doggett wonders if she's crying because she thinks she's in the presence of a miracle, or because she's sure he'll never recover. He doesn't have the heart to ask before he and Skinner leave the room.


A Few Hours Later

"Your mother is telling everyone that this is a miracle."

Scully looks up in alarm and sees her brother-in-law standing in the doorway. "She hasn't said anything to the kids yet, has she?"

Krycek shakes his head. "No. Missy convinced her that it wouldn't be a good idea until we knew if he was going to recover. Why do you look stunned?"

"I'm not used to Missy being the voice of reason in my family."

"It happens now and then," Krycek says with a slight smirk. "You'll probably have messages on your phone from your brothers when you get home, though. Missy wanted to come too, but I asked her to stay home."

"I don't blame you. The last thing she needs is to fall in this weather." Scully doesn't acknowledge the fact that she's nearly as ungainly as her sister in the snow lately, but she does say, "I've had more practice."

"He been awake at all?"

"No, nothing like that. I'm going to check on the other man they found in just a bit and see if there's anything to be learned from examining him."

"Well, try not to catch space herpes."

"What?"

"I guess you missed Ice Pirates. It was a spoof of Star Wars back in the early eighties. Space herpes was a disease space travelers caught."

"Oh." She gives him a tight smile.

"I've got to report back to your sister." He pauses in the doorway. "Good luck."

"Thank you, Alex."


Meanwhile
Hoover Building

"You look distracted," Reyes notes.

"I am," Doggett tells her. "I keep thinking about what a mistake it was for Skinner to have told her."

Reyes gives him a piercing look. "Don't you think she had the right to know? This isn't a mere partner we're talking about, but the man she married."

"It's just." Doggett gives her a helpless look. "It's not right to get her hopes up. Not when it's unlikely that Moldah is ever going to see the outside of that hospital room."

"Maybe she deserves some hope right about now," Reyes tells him.

"Even if it's a false hope?"

"Even if," she says. "Hope might not be on Maslow's hierarchy of needs, but people don't function very well if they don't have any."

"I know. It's just..." Doggett breaks off, frustrated that he's the only one who seems to be looking out for Scully. Everyone else is completely caught up in a fantasy of Mulder getting better. He has the feeling that it's going to be left to him to pick up the pieces when the dream shatters.


Billy Miles' Room
That Morning

The man on the bed doesn't look much like he did before his disappearance in May. Now he's as bloated and gray as you'd expect after months in the water. At least Mulder had been dumped on solid ground.

Scully sighs and picks up his chart. It's a masterpiece of understatement, just listing one aliment - acute hypothermia.

While she stands there, monitors begin to howl and the unconscious man's body thrashes in convulsion.

Once the convulsion passes, Scully gives him a cursorily exam and discovers that he has a fever and swollen lymph glands. She presses the call button for a nurse.

Space herpes, she thinks to herself.

"Who are you?" the nurse asks. "Billy hasn't had any visitors."

"I'm doctor Dana Scully with the FBI. Is he being treated by Doctor Lim?"

"Yes."

"Could you have him paged, please? Mister Miles just had a seizure and I'd like to discuss treatment options with him."

The nurse squints at her. "The FBI agent they brought in-"

"My husband," Scully says quietly.

"Oh." The nurse gives her a sympathetic look that's centered on her belly. "I'll have the doctor come speak to you."

"Thank you."

"Why don't I have him meet you in your husband's room?" the nurse suggests, already leading Scully out into the hallway.


Mulder's Room

"Mrs. Scully?" Scully looks at doctor Lim as he enters the room. She's not pleased that he's called her "Mrs."

"Doctor Scully," she corrects firmly.

"Yes, of course," Lim says uneasily. "Nurse Banks said you wanted to speak to me?"

"I've examined both my husband and Mister Miles-" She gives him a look that dares him to object, but he doesn't even met her eyes. "-and I'm fairly certain that they're suffering from some sort of infection or virus."

"That's probable. We've been giving them broad-spectrum antibiotics."

"Have you noticed any improvement?"

"It's been less than twenty-four hours since they were administered to Mister Miles," Lim equivocates. "Even less in your husband's case."

"So I take that the answer is no," Scully says evenly. "It's impossible to know what they've been exposed to, so to pin our expectations that their illness is caused by a bacteria is foolish. What I'd like you to do is to give them both a course of antivirals."

"I'm not sure that's-"

She forces him to meet her eyes. "It wouldn't take a lot of effort to get a court order that will force your hand. I'd think you'd like to avoid that sort of messiness. The hospital usually prefers to avoid involving the legal department."

Lim is easily cowed, she notes with some satisfaction. One allusion to being sued, and out of his mouth pop the magic words "There's no need for a court order."

"Today?" Scully prods.

"All right." Lim looks less like he's afraid that she's going to pull a warrant out of the pocket of her maternity top.

"The sooner the better," Scully tells him as he flees the room.

Once she's alone in the room, she looks down at Mulder and begins to feel something like hope. For the first time since she found out that he's alive, she allows herself to picture him out of this bed.


Scully's Home
Afternoon

The fact that Scully's mother and sister have been over since the wee hours of the morning is wearing a bit on Michelle's nerves. The two women keep exchanging glances that are full of meaning, and she wishes that they would just go somewhere for a while so they can have the conversation they're obviously dying to. She can't understand why they haven't already, given that being around the kids and not talking is obviously frustrating them both.

And her too. She has things well in hand, so she can't quite figure out why they've set up camp in Dana's home. That they keep asking if she has called is grating on her as well.

Which is why she's immediately put out of sorts when the kids begin to argue. They usually get along, which might be why she's so shocked.

Page insists that she, Sammy and April draw pictures, and the two younger kids instantly bend to their eldest sister's will. Things don't go south until Maggie makes the innocent mistake of asking them what they're drawing.

"We're drawing pictures for Mommy," Page and Sammy both declare, showing the adults pictures of houses and fish.

April, on the other hand, doesn't say anything at first, but continues to concentrate on what's she's drawing. Eventually she puts the crayon she's been clutching aside and smiles up at Maggie. "I drew a picture of a flower for Daddy."

Sammy scowls at his younger sister. "Why? He can't ever see it."

"Yes he can," April insists, holding the picture to her chest.

"Dead people can't see anything." Page points out. "And he is."

"No..." April protests.

"Is so," Sammy insists. "That's what the funeral was for, Dummy."

"Sammy!" Maggie cries. "Do not call names!"

"But she is being dumb," Page says coldly. "And acting like a baby too."

It's on the tip of Michelle's tongue to defend April's belief that her father is alive, but pointed looks from the girl's grandmother and aunt kill that desire. Instead she holds out her arms to April. "Let's go check on your flowers."

"Okay," April agrees, her voice a bit watery.

Michelle looks down at the girl and wonders, not for the first time, if the child can read minds. In case she does, Michelle makes an effort to telegraph one thought to her. I believe you.


That Night

"Doctor Scully?" a tentative voice gets Scully's attention. She sees doctor Lim standing in the doorway. He looks as anxious as a small boy about to show his report card to a parent.

"Yes?"

"I, uh, thought you'd like to know that Mister Miles' condition has much improved over the past couple of hours," Lim says nervously.

"Improved in what way?" Scully gets out of the chair and approaches the other doctor.

"Oh, his fever's gone, the swelling in his lymph glands is going down, he's regaining his color... and he's awake."

"He's awake?" Scully asks eagerly, "Can I speak to him?"

"Yes. I told him I was going to see you and he seemed pleased by the idea of seeing you."

"Can I see him now?"

Scully hurries to speak to Miles, but she goes away disappointed. He's seems cognitively intact, but remembers very little of his long ordeal. "There was a blinding light, and then I was gone." Is about the extent of what he's able to tell her.

And as the night wears on, Scully feels her grip on hope beginning to loosen. The antivirals were given to Mulder no more than fifteen minutes after they were administered to Billy, but he seems no more likely to wake than he did when he was first admitted.


April 3rd, 2001
Federal Correctional Facility
Perkey, West Virginia

Doggett gives Absalom an impatient look as he sits across from him in the interrogation room. "I was told you wanted to speak to me."

Even though waiting to see what will happen with Mulder is wearing on everyone's nerves, Doggett would rather be in D.C. still, not here in Virginia because a con wants to speak to him. Skinner apparently sensed his reluctance, because he insisted Doggett go before he could even attempt to put it off.

"Oh yes. I'm very pleased to speak to you." Absalom does look delighted.

"About?"

"I just wanted to know how it feels."

"What feels?" Doggett asks suspiciously.

"To have thrown a monkey wrench in their plans, of course."

"Whose plans?"

"Don't play stupid, agent Doggett. You know very well whose plans I mean."

"Suppose I do, how have I thrown a monkey wrench in their plans?"

"Not you in particular, but your group." Doggett realizes he means the FBI. "To be honest, I'd preferred to speak to agent Scully, but I know she's busy today. Do you know what they had planned for your friend Mulder?"

"No."

"He was going to come back as one of them. They infected him with their virus, and expected it to replace him body and soul. But your clever agent Scully defeated their plans with simple modern medicine. Still himself, he'll go on to ruin the rest of their plans. It's exquisite." Absalom's eyes shine with excitement.

"Don't you think you're being a little hasty celebrating? Moldah hasn't even woken up."

"Hasn't he?" Absalom asks, raising his eyebrows.


Mulder's Room
Afternoon

Feeling exhausted and desolate because the wonder wrought on Billy Miles hasn't been duplicated on Mulder, Scully finally gives into the emotions she's been holding in check for two days. She puts her head on his chest, and begins to cry, this time in despair.

She freezes when she thinks she feels him move, but it doesn't repeat itself, so she chalks it up to her imagination. At least until a peevish voice says "Stop that. I'm getting soggy."

Pulling away, she gasps and looks down. His eyes are open. "You're awake!"

"You look surprised," he says, sounding rusty.

"It's April, Mulder," Scully tells him. "You've been missing since August."

"Oh. Anybody miss me?" Mulder asks.

"We've all missed you!" Scully declares, leaning down to hug him.

When she does, a smile lights up his face and he reaches out a hand to touch her belly. "I guess try try trying again was successful."

"Very," Scully says with a short laugh. "The fruit of our labor ought to make its appearance in May."

"I can still do the math," Mulder teases. "But I'm glad to know the big news immediately."

"There's some other news, but I'm not sure you're up to it yet."

"How bad can it be? You're worrying me, Scully. Is it about the kids?"

"No, it's about Missy."

"Is she okay?" ::I know she's been living on borrowed time...::

To his surprise, she laughs. "Physically, she's fine. Mentally, I'm not so sure...do you want the bad news or the worse news?"

"Start with the worst, and it'll get better from there."

"Missy married Krycek on Christmas Eve."

"Jesus," Mulder says weakly. "I always thought she'd dump his sorry ass one day."

"There's always divorce," Scully suggests.

"What's the rest?"

"Uh...a couple of weeks before we have our latest baby, we're going to welcome a new nephew to the family."

"We'll never get rid of him now," Mulder groans. But secretly he's not that upset. Krycek has inexplicably grown on him.

"He, um, I figured out how to cure you because of him. Space herpes."

"What?"

"He made a stupid joke about a movie character getting space herpes, which lead me to giving you and Billy Miles an antiviral. If not for that stupid joke..."

"How's Billy?" Mulder asks urgently.

"He seems like his old self, why?"

"I felt guilty, about him and Teresa. I told them being in D.C. would keep them safe."

"They're both fine, Mulder. We got her back in January." Scully smoothes his hair with one hand. "She's back with her baby now."

"Oh, good," Mulder says, swallowing a yawn.

"What are we going to tell the kids?" Scully asks giddily.

"We'll think of something," Mulder rumbles.

"April knew," Scully confesses. "She's been telling people all along that you'd be back. And you are! It's amazing."

Mulder doesn't have anything to say about that, and it doesn't surprise her that his eyelids have already fallen. But this time it seems to be a normal sleep.

x~x~x

Out in the hallway Doggett looks into the room and feels a deep confusion. The logic he's been relying on his whole life told him, once they found Mulder in that field, that it was the end for the man. Clearly this was wrong. What other solid beliefs that he holds could also be built on sand foundations? It scares him a little to think about it.


Chapter One Hundred and One



April 7, 2001

Ah shit, Mulder thinks as the flashbacks hit him. The only thing he's thankful for is that he's sitting down, clad only in a blue hospital gown on the paper-covered examining table. His breathing is harsh and unsteady while his pupils dilate, but he's unaware of his physical reactions to the psychological trauma, only that when it's over, he's still alone. Absent-mindedly, he touches his scars, forcing himself to breathe deeply before the doctor and his wife come back in.

He's still on his breathing exercises when Dr. Lim walks in, followed by Scully. "Mulder?" she asks, concern on her face.

He forces a smile on his face, but it's obvious how much his effort is costing him. "All things considered, it could be worse." He pushes himself off the table, then starts to walk around a bit, giving himself some literal space between them so he doesn't have to look at them. "Hey look, dead man walking," he comments, his voice somewhat steadier than his legs.

Scully's got herself a nice view of his ass through the open back of his hospital gown, which isn't bad for a dead man, really. When she remembers the doctor's got the same view, she quickly tells him, "Well, you might want to consider sitting down when you hear what we have to tell you."

Mulder does so, hoping it's the same news as before. "Hoo boy," he says, looking at their faces. Maybe not.

Dr. Lim rushes to reassure the patient. "It's good news, really," he tells the man who was literally dead for about three months. "I can't possibly exaggerate the inconceivability of you sitting here. Let's be honest... your recovery is nothing short of miraculous."

Scully chimes in, "Thanks to a course of transfusions and antivirals, your body has rid itself of the virus that was invading it. The scars on your face on your hands, on your feet, on your chest, they, they seem to be repairing themselves." As Mulder lightly touches his scarred face, Scully covers his hand with her own. "Mulder, you are in perfect health."

Very relieved to find some things haven't changed, especially with the brain disease already out of the way, Mulder says, "I better be, especially with a new kid on the way." Without knowing it, he smiles a genuine smile as he shifts his hand from his face to her tummy. He looks up to see her smiling back at him, and he finds his smile widening.

"How do you feel, Agent Mulder?" Dr. Lim breaks in.

The corner of his mouth goes up. "How soon can I indulge in, um, 'strenuous' exercise?" he asks, waggling his eyebrows at his wife.

The Asian-American doctor, surprised, laughs loudly while the redheaded woman blushes. "Um, I wouldn't advise anything too strenuous at this point," he says striving to regain some professionalism, but really, this whole situation is insane, what do you tell a man who's been underground for three months and now acting like he's merely been unconscious for half an hour? Opting for the safest course, he plows on valiantly in the face of medical unknowns, "I'd suggest taking your time, Agent Mulder, with everything from eating and exercise to socializing. As much as possible, I'd recommend drinking vitamin- and mineral-enriched drinks, as well as lots of bed rest."

"I can do bed rest." Mulder leers at Scully, who swats him. "What?"

"Mulder, let's go home before they have to hospitalize you again," Scully groans, but very much relieved that this is her husband in front of her, for better and for worse.

"Uh, okay," Dr. Lim says, then unfolds a wheelchair sitting on the side. "Hospital policy," he tells the agent who's about to protest. "And we'll need you two to sign some papers." He starts off as Mulder sits down in the wheelchair.

"Before we do that, can we see Billy Miles?" Mulder asks.

"All right," the doctor says, looking from the patient to the wife, who looks similarly startled.


"Hey," Mulder says when Billy Miles is in sight, "mind if we come in?"

The young man, who was staring out the window, turns around, his eyes wide. "Agent Mulder," he says, and then notices the redheaded woman and Asian doctor behind him.

"How are you doing?" Mulder asks, having a pretty good idea of what the kid must be feeling right about now.

Billy shakes his head. "Weird," he admits. "I mean, they tell me I'm fine, thanks to-" he says and nods at the pregnant woman "-Agent Scully, but I'm starting to remember..."

"Yeah," Mulder interrupts when he sees how uncomfortable the young man is. "Do you have any plans when you get out?"

Billy Miles blinks, surprised. "Oh, I don't know. I mean, I'm not sure if I'll have a job back home, since I was gone so long and all." He chuckles mirthlessly. "I really haven't thought about it much, especially since everyone I know back home is either gone or probably wishes I were, too."

"The sooner you have a game plan, the easier it is," Mulder says. "And with your experience and intelligence, you could start again anywhere."

Billy smiles self-deprecatingly. "Who'd want an abductee ex-cop?" he questions. "Especially one who'd been drowned and dead for a while?"

A voice answers, "You could stay with us, until you think of something." They all turn to see Teresa Hoese standing there with her baby, shifting a little in the doorway. "I wanted to see how you were, especially since they said you woke up."

"Teresa?" Billy looks at her.

"I'm working part-time at the Smart-Mart, but baby-sitters are expensive on top of rent," the young woman says evenly. "If you wouldn't mind looking after my daughter, I'd be happy to put you up until you figure out what to do next."

"Uh, sure," Billy says. "But I've, I've never babysat before."

Teresa Hoese shrugs a little. "You'll pick it up," she says. "Are you okay to get out of here?"

The young man on the bed looks at the doctor, who shrugs. "As fine as Agent Mulder here, maybe even a little better, since he woke up first."

Billy nods, then swings his legs over the bedside. Dr. Lim quickly opens a wheelchair, smiling a little as the patient sits down in it. "I never thought I'd be discharging two former dead men, but I guess strange things happen." He wheels Billy out the door, and Teresa and her child follow after him.

Scully takes the handles of her husband's wheelchair, then quickly grabs her husband's shoulders and shoves him back down into his seat. "Hospital policy," she admonishes him when he turns around to pout.

"Can't a living dead man get a break?" he whines, then grins as she snorts before giggling.

Then she regains her composure, and he gives in somewhat gracefully. "Let's go, Mulder," she sighs, pushing his wheelchair out the door. It isn't long before they're out the door and down the hallway, but they're quite a ways away from the trio that left before them. "You think they'll hook up?" Scully leans down to murmur beside Mulder's ear.

He smiles a little. "Are you hedging bets, Dr. Scully, or is it professional curiosity?"

"Well, it's nice to know that they're looking out for each other, even more so since they've gone through the same things and came from the same town," she shrugs, straightening up, "you never know what might happen."

Mulder chuckles as they catch up to the doctor and unwitting pair. "Like the doctor said, strange things happen."


"Home again, home again, jiggedy-jig-jig," Mulder quips when Scully pulls into the driveway. Wow. Last time was pretty awkward, but then, it was just him, Scully, and pre-natal William. This time, there's kids, a nanny, and others who've seen him put in the ground... this is gonna be really, REALLY weird, he thinks, even for him.

"Mulder, you okay?" Scully asks when she opens his door.

"Is there a protocol for reuniting with your family after you've been dead?" he asks her, feeling mildly queasy.

She smiles and squeezes his shoulder. "You've survived death, you can survive this," she replies, all but dragging him out of the minivan. "Come on."

"Okay," he says, and rings the doorbell.

Before Scully can separate the house key to open it, the door swings opens to reveal their oldest daughter. Page stares at her father, her face a picture of shock and more than a little fear, then she runs from the doorway, crying.

"Um, I'm sure she'll be okay," she tells Mulder, putting a hand on his arm. He starts when she does so, and she's saddened to see the accompanying look of shock and sorrow on his face. "Give her time."

"Uh, yeah," Mulder says, forcing himself to walk across the threshold and into his house. Yeah, my house, he reminds himself, trying to prepare himself for any similar reactions from his family or others, okay, I can do this, it's my home, my family...

"We're home," Scully calls out, although she's sure Page probably told everyone by now, if the doorbell hadn't. It isn't long before they hear the stampede of little and big feet, and everyone who can walk or run does so, piling into the living room, and Scully finds herself holding her husband's hand as if it were one of their children's, for reassurance. "Daddy's home," she says unnecessarily.

"Hey," he says, and isn't surprised to see shock on everyone's faces, even though Scully had told them about his, well, resurrection.

No, wait, April's not shocked, but she's crying, and running towards him, arms stretched out. "Daddyyyyy," she sobs, and he bends down and catches her in his arms, tears also running down his face.

"Shhh, baby, it's okay," he murmurs, stroking her soft hair.

"They said you was dead," she sniffles, "they said I was lying when I said you was sleeping."

And not for the first time does Mulder regret his promise of silence, but he'd rather have April crying now than not have her at all. Hugging her to himself, he tries to comfort her, "You were right, I'm here, sweetie, it's okay..."

Soon, he feels the impact of another small body, and he looks up to see Sammy, tears streaming down his chubby cheeks. "I'm sorry, Daddy," he cries, clinging to his father's neck tightly. He's soon joined by his younger brothers, who don't know why everyone's crying, but they want to be part of the big hug, too.

"Mister Mulder," Michelle breathes, tears in her eyes, carrying Christopher over on unsteady legs. "Wow."

He smiles up at her crookedly. "How're you doing?"

She hiccups, her voice choked by tears. "I should be asking you that."

Mulder frees a hand to reach out for his youngest. "Can I hold him?" "Sure," she says, and places the baby gently into his father's arms. Scully finds herself tearing up from a multitude of emotions, one of which is guilt that she didn't believe as much as April. Another is sorrow that Page is still hiding from her father, and as a former Navy brat, she can empathize with both reactions, albeit on a lesser scale, since her father never died before coming back home. God, she prays silently, you've given us all another chance, please, please, keep our family together, forgive me my doubts, just please, please...

A crash from upstairs makes everyone jump, then look up. "I'll get it," Scully says, wiping her face.

Mulder starts to argue, then remembers his eldest daughter's reaction and subsides, surprised when his remaining children hug him harder. Wow, it's gotta be a weird day when your kids are comforting you, he thinks distantly, nodding at his wife while she heads upstairs. Shifting Christopher so he fits in one arm, he smiles a little as he ruffles Sammy's hair, pats David and Jared's sweet little heads, then strokes April's longer hair. Five out of six ain't bad, he thinks, I should be thankful that I've had better relationships with my kids than most dads, especially considering the weirdness we've surrounded them with.

Then he feels his legs start to give out from the strain of being smooshed by most of his children. "Okay, guys, Daddy's gotta sit down now," and feels guilty when April and Sammy spring back from him, knocking down David and Jared in the process. "Hey, hey, sorry, guys, I just gotta put a chair under me," he apologizes, rubbing the twins' dark heads when they start to stutter and cry. "Come on, up we go."

He shepherds them over to the couch, while Michelle disappears into the kitchen. Boy, it's gonna be a long day, he thinks, and he knows it's gonna feel longer with Page feeling the way she does.


The next day, Mulder's watching a tape of last night's news, since Scully insisted that he go to bed early rather than subject himself to "that bloodthirsty schlock that passes itself off as news." For once, he agreed, figuring if he couldn't handle Page freaking out in front of him, he probably couldn't handle even trauma separated by a tube.

Today, however, he's feeling stronger psychologically, and leans forward while the reporter breathlessly states to jerky White House footage, "Again, our top story is the death of a man who jumped the fence at the White House last evening, his name now released. Howard Salt, a federal employee working on the US Census, got as far as the White House front door yesterday where he was stopped by security and shot accidentally by his own gun. According to a Secret Service spokesman, Salt appeared to be irrational and resisted arrest, shouting unspecified grievances against the U.S. Government and demanding to speak with the President. Co-workers describe him as likable and hardworking." He sighs, then shifts his arm under Christopher who'd just grumbled in the way babies do.

The doorbell rings, and he stands up, baby in arms, only to find he and Scully have reached the door at the same time. He smiles a little and does the "ladies first" gesture with his left arm, stepping back as she opens the door. "Hello, sir," he says, seeing a tall bald man frowning hard at him.

"We need to talk," Skinner says, pushing past him and walking inside.

"Okay," Mulder says, shrugging to Scully's silent question, but already knowing what's in store. "About what?"

"About your request for reinstatement, Kersh wants to put you behind a desk," Skinner says tersely once they've reached the living room.

"Let me guess, he wants me as AD to promote the FBI's image for the recently resurrected," Mulder quips, causing the bald man to sigh in exasperation and Scully to sink onto the couch with a groan.

"I think Kersh wants you to quit, Mulder," she rebuts with a straight face. Even though he'd woken up from nightmares more than once last night, you'd never know it by his easy manner right now.

"It's more than that," Skinner mutters. "He wants to punish you, to hurt you."

Mulder gives his boss a sympathetic look. "And you by putting you in this position. And Scully, for not giving up on me," he looks at her, and she squeezes his hand. "If this is his way of congratulating someone for coming back from the dead, I'd hate to think what his Mother's Day gifts are like.

Scully looks up at him. "We're not going to just sit around and let this happen, are we?"

He sits down next to her, still holding her hand. "Scully, you're going to give birth in a couple months. Now, I know you can bounce back to work quickly, but they've been know to use even a short time to shut down the X-Files." He pretends not to notice Skinner looking away, keeping his eyes on his wife and partner. "Don't worry, I'll be back in the basement before they can change the lock on the door."

"They're not closing the X-Files," Skinner interjects, his face a study of pained restraint. "Kersh aims to keep them open with Agent Doggett in charge with Agent Reyes to assist."

Scully and Mulder wear expressions of shock, each for different reasons. Scully asks, "Doggett's in charge?" while at the same time Mulder blurts out, "Agent Reyes was assigned?" They look at each other, then at Skinner, then at each other again.

"Doggett was assigned to find you," Skinner replies, "he stayed on because he believed in you, if not your work. Agent Reyes was recently assigned not long after you, uh, went under."

"I see," Mulder notes his boss's discomfort. "If Kersh is putting John in charge, the guy's either doing a really good job, or he's still a dyed-in-the-wool skeptic that Kersh hopes will leave the office soon enough." He shrugs when Skinner's lips flatten and Scully sighs. "I guess Agent Reyes got her wish to be a part of the X-Files, but I guess I'll have to prove myself and then some if Kersh figures all positions are filled. That's his game plan, isn't it?" he looks at Skinner.

"Pretty much," Skinner admits.

Then Mulder smiles, and it's something Skinner never thought he'd see again, and one that gets Scully's heart beating faster. "Then I think it's time to play ball, huh?" he says, his tone light and mischievous, but his eyes are dancing with excitement, already starting to put things together.

When Michelle comes out with some milk for Christopher, he hands the baby over. "Sorry, Michelle, Scully's gonna keep you company instead of me," he tells her.

The nanny looks rather stunned, and she's not alone in her expression. "Mister Mulder?" she asks, wondering if being dead a long time made him crazy. Well, crazier.

His smile turns brisk. "I'm going to work," he says, and there's something like a perverse joy he feels watching everyone think he's out of his mind. Just like the good old days, he thinks. "And Michelle?"

"Yes?" she asks, still stunned.

"Could you just call me Mulder?" he says. "'Mister Mulder' is my dad and that kinda weirds me out."

They all look after him, not moving, as he practically runs out and dashes up the stairs. "Um, Dana?" Michelle finally breaks the silence.

"Yes?" Scully snaps out of her daze to look at the young woman.

"Is, is he okay?"

The concern in the nanny's voice and face, while it ordinarily should have evoked some measure of sympathy, instead sets her off into a sudden fit of giggles. "Yes," Scully wheezes, to Skinner's and Michelle's further astonishment, "he's okay. He's more okay than he has been in a long time." A moment later, she snorts, then she laughs so hard she has to sit down, not just from that statement, but also from the other two's looks of mirrored concern for her own sanity.


"Agent Reyes," Mulder says, walking into the basement office, "hi."

Reyes spins around, then drops both her jaw and the files she's holding. "Holy shit," she says, and then smiles suddenly. "I'm sorry, I just didn't expect--"

"Expecting the unexpected is an on-the-job skill." Mulder smiles wryly, walking over to help her pick up the fallen papers. "Welcome to the X-Files."

She blinks, then bends down to help him help her collect and rearrange the files, a bemused smile still on her lips. "It's one thing to hear it, but it's another to see it," she says, looking at him when the files are finally collated. "Wow, you look really good." "Thanks," he says, "where's Doggett?"

"John's taking the kids out for a movie," she says. "He says it's to celebrate his promotion, but I think the thought of taking a job that his newly-resurrected friend's got kinda weirds him out and he'd rather being among normal than here." She shrugs, then puts one of the files into the in box.

He almost smiles at the déjà vu of that phrase. "Why didn't you join them?" he asks, putting away one of the files.

Her eyebrows go up, and then she smiles. "For a man who's been six feet under for three months, you're pretty sharp," she says, reappraising him. "That's why they call me Spooky," he deadpans, but can't help smiling back when he closes the file drawer. "Go on, crash the theater. I promise I'm not going to take over cackling with maniacal glee, I'll just catch up on what's been happening since I've been gone."

She gives him a keen look, and he almost squirms, having forgotten briefly that she's a pretty sharp observer herself, "feelings" and all. "All right," she says, "but if you start throwing parties down here, you better call me." Reyes favors him with a brief grin, then sails out the door with her purse and jacket.

Once he hears her footsteps fade, he slumps against the file cabinet. Jeez, it felt like he was a teen lying to his mom about doing his homework when he really wanted to jerk off to some porn. "Anyways," he mutters, now giving his office a more careful scan, noting which things had been moved, missing, and added. He's not sure how often the Gunmen have been doing their sweeps while he'd been gone, so he doesn't trust the computers just yet, nor the phone, with any unsecure searches.

Still, he's relieved to hear that Doggett and his kids are out of the house, especially since, if memory serves him, this is about the time Absalom busts out of jail and hightails it over to Doggett's place. And this time around, he knows and likes the guy already, and would feel pretty shitty if he got kidnapped by that nutcase.

I wonder if it was Gibson's idea to go out, Mulder suddenly thinks, I wonder if he knows about Absalom's escape and his intentions. He wouldn't put it past the kid to do something like that, and if the boy is as canny as he remembers, he wouldn't be surprised if Doggett would've leapt to the suggestion, rather than stay here and play boss while sweating under that necktie.

Mulder grins at the image, then opens the drawer of the desk closest to him. "Time to reacquaint myself here," he says, pulling his nameplate out and propping it on the edge of the desk, then doing the same with Samantha's picture. Stretching, he's relieved to find that the ceiling is still filled with pencils, then gets to work searching for bugs, under the guise of refamiliarizing himself with his surroundings.


FBI Task Force Briefing Room
4:45 p.m.

"He goes by the name Absalom. A self-styled prophet Agent Scully and I apprehended in Montana where he commanded members of a small UFO cult," Skinner states, standing before a roomful of serious, absolutely dedicated agents, with a photo of Absalom, talking about the cult leader's escape. Meanwhile, at the back of the room, Doggett is hitting the redial button on his cell for the umpteenth time, frustration showing in the twitch of his jaw and restless pacing. Scully watches him, concerned, before giving her attention to the other agents and the assistant director.

Skinner, seemingly oblivious to Doggett's actions, hits the clicker for the next slide. The photo is of a prison cell wall, with "Fight the Future" and "Forever ... " scrawled in capital letters. "These words were found on the wall of his cell after he escaped from a work detail forty miles from the state prison. Now, we don't know they mean, but Absalom claimed to have knowledge of an alien invasion. There were also claims of healings of numerous abductees... that have been subjected to alien torture." The next photo is of the abductees found in Absalom's compound. The formerly sober agents don't bother to hide their amusement, but Skinner is far from joking. "Claims that have never been substantiated... or refuted."

The next slide is that of Teresa Hoese, taken in the hospital, her features barely recognizable, before she was healed. "But evidence of torture was real," Skinner sets his level glare at every man and woman in the room, and the agents, as expected, shut the hell up. "Now, the only way we're going to get answers is to bring this guy in," he says, putting up a picture of Absalom in his prison orange. "Just know the man that you're looking for is dangerous. He's a felon, and he is capable of physical violence. All right, that's it."

When most of the agents have left the room, Skinner strides towards the back, to where Agents Doggett and Scully are standing. "Agent Doggett, what the hell is going on that you couldn't give the opening speech?"

Doggett finally snaps his cell phone shut, exhaling before he speaks. "I can't get a hold of Agent Reyes."

"Reyes?" Scully frowns, mirrored by her boss.

"It's an X-File, right? And last I checked, Agent Reyes is part of the X-Files." He frowns down at Scully. "You don't think she woulda got a new phone or something, do ya?"

Scully shakes her head. "While her ideas about the supernatural are rather, well, unusual, in all other matters Agent Reyes is very reliable. Besides, she'd give us her new number if she did." Doggett nods, and Scully's about to elaborate when her own cell beeps. When she sees the text message, she sighs. "Well, it looks like we've got at least one believer in the basement office."

Skinner and Doggett give her uncomprehending looks until she shows them her phone, the message reading, "Where is everybody? Come on down. Mulder."


Everyone stromps down into the X-Files office, where they find Mulder, light blue dress shirt and dark blue slacks, sitting behind the desk, every bit the picture of a model agent, save for the fact that his feet are propped up on the desk and there's a huge-ass grin on his face. "Hey," the original agent of the X-Files division greets them.

Scully sighs. "Mulder..."

"Who says you can't go home again?" Mulder puts on an innocent face, then waves at Doggett. "Hey, John."

Under other circumstances, Doggett would be happy to see him, hell, he's relieved to see the guy's not only alive and talking, but that he's ready to work. Still, he's gotta say it. "Agent Moldah, I don't have time for this. What the hell are you doing here?"

Mulder blinks. "Nice to see you, too." Then he holds up a photo, asking, "Does your rush have anything to do with this? This Absalom abductee class picture?"

Scully stares at the photo, then at him. "Yes... It does. Why?"

He'd smirk, except he notes that odd tension in the room that hasn't been explained. Doggett's here, so why's everyone all uptight? He forces his own tone to be light as he explains, "Because I noticed that the man who was shot on the White House lawn is one of the men in that photograph. Top right hand corner. In profile. Howard Salt, if I'm not mistaken."

Doggett glances at the photo, then at Scully and Skinner. "You're right. What about it?" he snaps.

I'm pretty sure we're friends this time around, so what stick lodged itself up his ass this time? Mulder wonders. But he shrugs, the picture of nonchalance, figuring Doggett's uncomfortable to see a dead man walking, like so many others.

"Well, let's just say I got a real big hunch. This Howard Salt was a multiple alien abductee, worked for the U.S. Census Bureau. Wanted to get word to the President, unspecified grievances. What do you want to bet those grievances were?"

"You think he knew something?" Scully goes for the bait.

"I think they killed him for it," Mulder answers.

"The man jumped the White House fence," Skinner jumps in, his tone indicating case closed. "He had a gun."

Mulder leans forward. "Once again, I'm a betting man. I'm betting he had more than that."

"Moldah, this ain't no conspiracy," Doggett groans.

"You sure about that?" Mulder asks.

"You're being paranoid, Mulder. Even for you," Skinner grunts.

"Do you want to hear something really paranoid? The FBI gets its way, there's going to be nobody down here to ask the paranoid questions. Nobody to find those faces in those photographs." Then he pauses. "Speaking of paranoid believers, where's Agent Reyes?"


FBI Evidence Room
9:48 p.m.

"Mulder, I know you know this, but if anything leaves this room you could be in violation of the law," Scully sighs as they sneak into the room.

While looking around the room, Mulder's thankful that some things haven't changed, like the lax security around this particular room. At the same time, he's hoping against hope that Reyes wasn't taken in place of Doggett, since Doggett said he never saw her last night. Could be that she decided to leave her cell off for an appointment, but it's not like anyone's peeked at her appointment book, if she had one. He keeps the banter light, however, as he replies, "Really? When I was dead I was hoping maybe they changed the rules."

"Mulder, just being here could be used by Kersh as cause for dismissal," Scully hisses.

"Then why don't you shut the door so he doesn't find out," Mulder suggests, and after a beat, she does just that. She's such a rebel, he grins inwardly, then pulls out a swiss army knife and starts cutting the plastic off of a stack of boxes.

Scully sighs again, as if that would have any effect on her wayward husband. "So you'll risk the consequences even though there may be nothing here?" she argues, but pulls out her flashlight to help illuminate matters physically, if not mentally.

Bingo, Mulder thinks, pulling out the laptop in less time than he did last time, and hits the "on" button. "The last time I checked, working the X-Files was meant finding the truth, no matter what," he looks up to face her. She gives him an equally level look, with no eyebrow raised. Okay. "Look, Scully, I need to make sense of what happened to me. So that I can stop it. Because if I can't stop it, it could happen to anyone. It could happen to you. And who's to say it's going to stop there?"

"Okay," Scully concedes. After all, she'd put up with Krycek only because they were reasonably sure that the kids were at risk during Mulder's disappearance. "You do realize they could put you in prison for what you're doing here."

"Yeah, well, compared to where I just was, prison would be a Princess cruise." He smirks half-heartedly, and Scully heads for the door. "Ooh, this looks sexy," he comments as the screen fills with numbers. "The entire hard drive is taken up with this. Ten gigs of memory and for what? If this is porn, it's got way too many numbers and not enough pictures."

Scully takes her hand off the doorknob and heads back to where her husband and the laptop are. "It's been encrypted."

Mulder flashes her a blinding smile. "Look out, Scully, I'm going to book myself on that Princess cruise."

She stops herself from rolling her eyes. "I'll book it for you," she retorts, effectively hiding the laptop inside her thick jacket and over her unborn baby, rebuttons it, then sails out the room. Mulder smiles more gently, covering up the boxes again before following her out of the room, locking the door behind them.


Reyes' apartment
9:48 p.m. "Are you sure we should be doing this?" Skinner asks while Doggett unlocks the door with keys borrowed from the building super. "We've got people dedicated to the Absalom manhunt, and you should be at the head of it right now."

"Moldah's got his hunches, I got mine," Doggett grunts, walking into the living room. There isn't much to see, since the walls are pretty bare, and most of the floor is occupied by boxes rather than furniture. He flips on the light switch, but it doesn't improve the scene by much. It looks like someone's recently moved in, which is exactly what Reyes had done, having moved out of the hotel and into more permanent quarters. "If Absalom missed me, it's possible he grabbed her instead."

"That's a big if," Skinner says, "it's not like Agent Reyes is high on the list on anyone's radar. Hell, she's barely made waves since she got here, and that's surprising."

"We haven't had any big cases since she was assigned," Doggett grunts, opening various drawers in the kitchen. "None, except the one where we found Moldah's body at Absalom's compound. Absalom saw her there, that I'm sure of, and if he was plannin' on doin' somethin' crazy, she'd be just as good a target as me."

Skinner narrows his eyes, but says nothing. He's noticed that Doggett's accent has become more pronouncedly Southern during times of stress, but he figures he'll keep that under his hat until a poker game. In the meantime, there's nothing unusual about this place, just a lot of unopened boxes... oh, shit. "Agent Doggett," he says.

"What?" Doggett leaves the kitchen to discover what Skinner's looking at.

"Unless she's really clumsy at opening boxes, this shouldn't be here," the AD says tersely, staring at blood splatter on the floor behind a pile of boxes, along with a bloody boxcutter and discarded masking tape. "Ah, shit," Doggett sighs, then pulls out his cell phone.


Federal Statistics Center
Crystal City, Virginia
1:11 a.m.

The FBI guard on duty is bored, but his interest is piqued when a tall woman with long dark hair comes walking towards his booth. She's followed closely by a guy with long white hair, and the guard figures they're lost tourists or something, but puts on a business face. Over the intercom, he asks in as brisk a tone as he can manage at this time of night, "State your name and your business."

"Special Agent Monica Reyes, FBI," Reyes replies in the same tone. The turtleneck top itches like crazy, but it's doing a good job hiding both the gun taped to the base of her neck as well as the bandage on her left jugular. She's not sure if it's a good or bad thing that her hair's long enough to cover both the goose egg she suffered when she was first taken, as well as the muzzle of the gun, but in a weird way, it's nice to know she can carry weapons in places other than her holster. That is, if she felt like killing herself anytime soon, which she doesn't.

Her large dark eyes take in the security, and wonders, not for the first time, if this crazy asshole thinks he can get away with this. The guard types in her name and gets both her picture and record. Satisfied, he buzzes them through, but still a little curious about the May-December couple, since the old guy's got his hand on her back, all possessive and everything. As they walk through, they don't see the guard look up at another monitor, but continue walking as if it's normal for FBI agents to walk into the stat center with an unidentified civilian.

"All right, we made it past the door," Reyes remarks in as conversational a tone as she can manage, under the circumstances. "What's so important here that you'd risk getting caught?"

His eyes taking in the labels on the doors, his hand resting between her shoulder blades where he'd taped the gun, he replies, "I just need access to wherever they compile all the available data from the current US census."

"And then what?"

He smiles, as condescending a smile as she's seen on a crazed criminal. "Then you pick up the phone, and you tell the FBI why you aren't coming to work until somebody pays us some serious attention."

Great, just great, it's only until after I get my new place that I get the shit, she thinks. "Just to let you know, we might not make it that far. We passed through an x-ray scanner back at the gate."

"Well, you better hope we make it," Absalom says in a tone businessmen reserve for their lackeys. "I'd hate to see you die in vain."

"Then I'd like to know what's so important about some statistics that's going to get me killed," Reyes says evenly. "At the very least, I'd like to know I didn't die for nothing."

"It's all in the census data," the cult leader says, almost dreamily.

"What's in the census data?" She frowns.

"Proof," he replies, stopping them in front of a glass-walled white room with two computer stations and several large server banks, as if it was stuck with 1960s technology. "That they're already here. That they're already among us." He tries to open the door with his free hand, but it's locked. Turning his calmly mad gaze on her, he tells her, "The proof is in there."

Before she can ask who "they" were, a SWAT team enters the corridor. Shit. With reflexes quicker than one would expect, Absalom grabs Reyes tightly, holding the taped gun, and pulling her long hair off her neck in a painful ponytail to reveal the weapon. "I got a loaded gun pointed at this woman's head! She's an FBI Agent!"

"Please, just do what he says!" Reyes shouts, holding her badge out to the faceless men pointing their guns at her. Okay, part of her knows they're aiming at Absalom, but when she's facing the business end of a gun, that FBI part of her seems to shrink.

Indifferent to her plight or his own mortality, the white-haired cult leader continues to rail at them, "I'll pull the trigger! Back off!"

Ignoring both gunman and agent, the SWAT team moves in closer. Fuck, are they trying to get her killed??? Who the hell's side are they on, anyway? "Just put the guns down!" she shouts. "Dammit, listen to him!"

Before she can blink or take another breath, one of the SWAT guys shoots Absalom in the head. Stunned, Reyes watches the cult leader slide to the floor, his expression as flabbergasted as her own. She's unaware of the bullet burn on her left temple, since she's wondering in a disoriented fashion if the SWAT team's going to take her out next.


Later, in the harsh light of day, Reyes is sitting across from Skinner, the bandages around her neck and forehead, making it look like she escaped from the ER. In some respects, she did. Skinner is seated behind his desk, while Doggett's in the chair next to Reyes'. There's a hint of amusement in his tone, if not his face, as Skinner says, "It may not be the best way, Agent Reyes, but it's certainly one way to catch an escaped convict."

Reyes shrugs, a little uncomfortable. "Next time, I'll try not to get knocked out or cut before taking them in," she says, wishing makeup could cover up her injuries, but really, there's no way to pretty up flesh wounds without making it worse.

"So Absalom claimed the U.S. Census Bureau had data information that he was after that connects to this man who was shot on the White House lawn?" Doggett leans towards her.

She smiles, relieved that the attention's off her and back on to the case, such as it is. "He said there was proof they were here among us," she answers, but a sudden thought makes her lips purse when she thinks of who "they" are.

"Sir," Mulder says, opening the office door.

Skinner raises his eyebrows, but isn't that surprised to see him. "Agent Mulder," he says mildly.

"Agent Reyes," Mulder says, taking in the bandages, "huh, getting injured on a seriously freaky case-slash-by a freaky guy and threatened by our own people, guess that makes it official. You are part of the X-Files." He holds out his hand, and Reyes shakes it, an "oh, brother" look on her face. "So, what did you guys find?"

Reyes blinks. "Nothing. Absalom said there was proof "they" were here inside the census data, but before he could elaborate or even get inside the room, he got shot." Then her dark eyes sharpen, even as a small smile comes to her lips. "You know who they are, don't you?"

"I got a hunch," Mulder says with the same smile. "I think you do, too."

She shrugs, lifting her right shoulder. "I do, but unless someone can talk to the dead, I don't think we'll be getting any more hints from Absalom." She smiles when Doggett grimaces and Skinner sighs. "Besides, even if we got a subpoena to search that room, we could be staring the answers right in the face without even knowing what we're looking at."

Mulder nods. "Then again, if the government can't keep track of illegal aliens, what makes Absalom think they can keep track of actual ones?"

Doggett rises to his feet. "What do you mean by that?" He frowns.

Mulder's already on his way out. "Let's just say I've got another hunch, but I don't want the new division head and agent to get into too much trouble. Besides, I'm sure you've got ample material to work with from the manhunt that won't require a medium to give you clues, right?" he waves as he walks out.

Doggett sinks back down into the chair. "Something's wrong," he mutters.

"What do you mean?" Reyes frowns.

"What I mean is," Doggett puzzles it out while he talks, "it seems like the whole thing's shady. Why did they have to kill Absalom? If SWAT was skilled enough to take out a man with a hostage at gunpoint, they could've just as effectively crippled him. And, no offense, Monica, but if they took out Absalom, why didn't they take you out, too? After all, they could've erased all witnesses." He exhales, rubbing his forehead. "Dammit, now I'm starting to sound as paranoid as Moldah."

"You're a smart man," Skinner concedes, "that's why I didn't fight your promotion in front of Kersh. But you're right, this is shady. And you know why they killed Absalom, to cover up his link to Howard Salt, and to the Statistics Center."

"And they didn't kill me because they knew if they did, it would only make you look for the answers that much more," Reyes finishes, a grim look on her face. "Trust me, I was surprised SWAT didn't gun me down, too, since their weapons were on me for longer than necessary. That wasn't my imagination," she gives Doggett a look.

"Hey, I believe you." He holds his hands up. "Now, I don't believe we're talkin' about little green aliens in America." Reyes fails to reign in her smile at this. "But I do believe that there's something in that building that folks are willing to kill to protect. I'm curious to find out what, aren't you?"

"Since I was nearly killed to find it, hell, yeah," Reyes answers.

"Well, agents, get to work," Skinner says, and watches them walk out. Then he sighs, masking a prayer that this case, that's already opened a can of worms and then some, doesn't kill off Mulder, having come back from the dead so recently, or anyone else, for that matter.


Meanwhile, back at the Mulder and Scully home, Frohike opens the door for Mulder. They smile at each other, and Frohike clears his throat. "You know, it's really not fair. You've been dead for six months and you still look better than me." Then he puts on a smirk. "But not by much."

The sudden hug doesn't surprise him, but Mulder chuckles at the strength of the little man, nonetheless. "I'm just glad you didn't make a move on my wife." He grins.

"Hey!" Frohike lets go to glare at him. "I would never... okay, almost never," he admits grudgingly when his compatriots join them.

"I think it goes without saying that we're all, uh, tremendously relieved," Byers interjects in his usual polite manner, but smiling behind his tidy beard and moustache.

"And not just 'cause we had to talk Fro here out of comforting a certain redheaded agent." Langly smirks.

Ignoring both the tall blond's comment and the short man's embarrassment, Scully remarks, "Well, the Gunmen were able to decrypt the data that you found on Howard Salt's hard drive. It was a series of file directories that were downloaded the day that he died."

Mulder plays along, for now. "Downloaded from where?"

"The FSC, the Federal Statistics Center," Langly replies.

Byers adds, "A government information bank used by the U.S. Census Bureau where your Mr. H. Salt worked."

"Surprise, surprise," Mulder says. "Okay, what are you waiting for? An open invitation from the FSC to crack their firewalls?"

The blond man scowls. "Hey, I've got great kung foo, but I've never seen such a radical counterdefensive."

"Fifteen minutes after Howard Salt was shot at the White House, firewalls went up on every data bank at that very facility," Scully tells her husband.

"Well, why do that?" Mulder grins as Scully and Frohike exchange glances. "Because I'm right. Because they would kill to protect what's in those files."

Byers holds up his hands. "Unless you've got a password, we don't see any way short of that of getting a hold of this data."

"And the thing is, even if you have a pass code you still have to break into the FSC just to use it." Then Langly pauses. "Wait, you're not gonna..." He frowns. "Dude, you just got back from the dead, you're not seriously thinking about going there, are you?"

"I was thinking about it, yeah," Mulder says, then winces when Scully stomps on his foot. Wow, she's gotten subtle, he thinks, last time she only got the boys to gang up on me. "I plan on wrestling Doggett for the honor. After all." He smirks. "He's the new division head. I wanna see what he's got, and if he beats me, then he gets to do some funky poaching. You don't mind, do you?" he asks the Gunmen, who visually confer, then shrug. He grins. "May the best man win, then."


Reyes is behind Doggett's desk, standing over the photos of Absalom, the abductee group, the prison cell walls, and others, along with various papers in the case file. She looks up when Doggett comes in. "What did you find?"

Doggett gives her a grim look. "I found that someone's been in the evidence room, taken something from Salt's box. Judging from Moldah's oh-so-helpful manner earlier, I'm guessing it was him that took that something, but I have no idea what, since nobody bothered to itemize Salt's possessions." He sighs. "One would think the FBI would do better with chain of command, but either someone's getting sloppy, or they really want to bury this thing."

"He's a nutcase who jumped the White House fence with a gun," Reyes says mildly. "Among other things."

"Like what?" Doggett asks, standing beside her to look down at the photos. He notices there are more photos and forms than before, some of them involving Howard Salt, others, Absalom's shooting, and one with Reyes in it.

As if she hadn't noticed her picture in the file, Reyes answers, "For some reason, the media neglected to mention that Salt had a computer diskette he wanted to give the president. For the same reason, the Secret Service also neglected to put that into their official report."

Doggett frowns. "So how did you know about it, if it ain't in the report?"

Reyes mouth twists. "A friend in a high place," she says lightly. "Wanna guess what the password on the label was?"

Doggett shakes his head. "I wouldn't know where to start."

"I'll give you a hint, it's three words," Reyes says. "Anything come to mind?" She waves a hand over the photos.

He looks at her, then at the photos. "I'll be damned," he breathes.


That evening, Doggett dials, then smirks when he hears the other person answer. "Merry Christmas," he says. "Got a present for you."

"You shouldn't have," Mulder says. "I didn't get anything for you."

"Sure you did," Doggett says, "whatever you took out of Howard Salt's box in the evidence room." He grins as the other man groans. "So, what did you get?"

"His laptop," Mulder admits.

"Figures," Doggett says, "get anything interesting?"

"A general idea, but apparently, someone would need to be in the statistics center with a password to get the actual data," Mulder says as neutrally as possible. "You wouldn't happen to know what that would be, would you?"

"I'd need to see you in person to tell you," Doggett says, then knocks on Mulder's car window. "Fight the Future."

Mulder actually jumps in his seat, then scowls when he sees the other man laugh. Dammit. "And to think I thought I beat you to the punch."

"Yeah, right," Doggett says while Reyes pulls on a pair of black gloves, "if Agent Reyes had her way, she'd be bustin' down the doors while we'd be outside twiddling our thumbs."

Mulder raises his eyebrows. "Let me guess, you were busy trying to talk her out of it."

Reyes grins while Doggett purses his lips. Then Doggett asks, "Where's Agent Scully?"

"Playing lookout, but apparently she figured you guys were okay." Mulder makes a face. Some lookout. "She told me that if you showed up, I was to be backup."

Reyes smiles. "I like her more and more," she says. "I'm going to go with another hunch and say you've got friends inside, possibly tech friends?" His grimace is her answer. "Well, we better get moving if we want to get our hands on those files."

"You do realize this could be a trap, right?" Doggett asks, putting a hand on her arm.

She nods. "You know that, too, but that isn't stopping you. Come on."


Federal Statistics Center
Crystal City, Virginia

Inside the compound, everybody, as if by some unspoken agreement, is wearing comfortable black clothes, as if that would hide them from sight. However, they are also wearing a mike and earpiece, which is much more practical for their purposes, as well as packing heat. "Guys, we're sitting ducks out here, are you ready?" Mulder asks.

"Use the bushes if you need a toilet," Frohike snaps, as he and his friends are hanging by harnesses in a vertical corridor of security cabling.

"You can start walking now," Byers says as pleasantly as possible.

"Is the system bypassed?" Mulder checks.

"You'll know if it's not," Langly says, oh-so-reassuringly.

"Great," Doggett mutters.

"Okay, we hijacked the feed from the surveillance cameras," Langly says, and the three agents hustle over and below the guard's window.

"What the guard is seeing on his monitors are still-frames from ten minutes ago," Byers explains.

"Nice." Reyes smiles, then tenses as they hear the phone ring.

"Say cheese," Frohike says.

"We'll be watching them get busted if I don't find that override circuit," Langly snaps. "This wiring must have been color-coded by Helen Keller."

"Everything's under control, Mulder," Byers says, trying to calm his friend down and now the obviously worried agents still on screen. "Just hold tight."

"Party!" Langly whoops when he finds the damn wire.

Frohike punches in a code and the door near Doggett clicks open. "Open sesame." The balding man grins.

"Follow me," Reyes says, once they're down the hallway. Mulder and Doggett look at each other, then jog to catch up. "Hopefully, your friends will have opened the glass doors by the time we reach it."

"Hear that, boys? The lady's counting on you." Mulder grins, and isn't surprised to hear various chatter from the Gunmen saying they're working as fast as they can.

When she reaches the glass doors, Reyes pulls on the handles, then pushes them. Then she frowns, touching her earpiece. "Who's working on the locks?"

"Whoops, sorry about that," Frohike apologizes while his fingers are typing away. "Okay, there you go." The door opens and the agents walk in.

Langly's nasally voice reports, "There ought to be two work stations in the middle of the room. Either one will give you access to the data, so I say log on and start downloading."

"In the meantime, we'll try and keep the firewall disabled so you can transmit the data out," Byers adds.

As Doggett takes point by the glass doors, which don't seem so protective any more, Reyes takes one station, Mulder the other, and they both type in "Fight the Future." "Type fast, get the files, and get out," Mulder tells them as the files practically fly past his nose.

"That's the plan," Doggett mutters as he tries to look for some kind of blind or shield to hide the agents from anyone passing by. Honestly, the room's like a damn fishbowl, and he's rushing up to one of the huge computer terminals to see if it can be moved. No good, the thing's like a wall. So he goes back to the glass doors, gun out and safety off.

Reyes is sending the files to not only her own e-mail, but to various others, in the hope that if her account has been targeted, none of the others has. "So what exactly are in these files?"

"Information about people being targeted because of their genetic profiles for abduction and replacement by alien facsimiles, doing to them what they tried to do to me, Billy Miles, Teresa Hoese and a host of others," Mulder answers. "Let's start off with the Washington Post and go on from there."

"Forward it to the CNN for all I care," Doggett says tersely, "just hurry."

A phone jingle cuts through, and the Gunmen answer, "Hello."

"Guys, get them out of there," Scully's voice is crisp and carries over the radio receivers.

"Right now that's basically impossible," Byers says helplessly.

"Fine, then you tell the armed men in jeeps to go back home," Scully snaps.

"Oh, shit," the three agents chorus, then look at each other.

"Hope you guys managed to get something out, because now they've got the data trapped and I can't get it uploaded, let alone start transmission," Langly interjects.

"Mulder?" Reyes looks at him, who checks his monitor and shrugs. She sighs. "Well, I hope I got something out there."

"I hope we make it back alive out there," Doggett comments as the other two agents leave the computer stations and pull out their guns. It's not fair, he just got promoted, albeit unfairly, and now he's gonna get killed. What the hell???

"What's happening, Byers?" Scully's voice is tight with panic.

"I'm trying to figure that out," Byers answers the phone, then raises his mouthpiece. "Everyone, are you there?"

"Yeah," Reyes answers first. "Exit plan that doesn't involve us making our last stand here?"

"Um," Byers says as he races through the schematics, "there's really no good way out of there. Except, uh..."

The agents can hear the clacking of boots against tile, heavy artillery against flak jackets, and aren't looking forward to the encounter. "Except what?!" Mulder practically screams, ready to boost both Doggett and Reyes up into the ceiling vent if Byers doesn't hurry the hell up.

The proper member of the Lone Gunmen snaps to. "Okay, uh, here's what you do...."


Reyes' Apartment
The Next Day

"Okay, so give," Doggett says, opening another box. "Who's the friend in a high place?"

Reyes sighs, putting down the still-wrapped frying pan. "One of the reasons why I transferred to New Orleans," she says. "Brad Follmer." It takes Doggett a moment to place the name. "Assistant Director Follmer?" She nods. "You know, you don't have to help me unpack," she says, giving him an out. He gives her a look. "You just moved here, got kidnapped and shot at, risked your life to get some info that didn't even make it past the computers, the least I can do is help you do something as mundane as opening a few boxes." She chuckles. "Mundane. Interesting description."

"You know what I mean," he mutters. "Besides, I enlisted the boys to come over and help out after school." Reyes blinks. "You could think of other ways to punish them, you know."

"What? Oh," Doggett laughs. "No, it's no problem. 'Sides, I figure, with more muscle, it'd make things go a lot faster." "Just be careful," she cautions, "some things are --"

"Ow!" Doggett recoils from a newly unwrapped object. "The hell?"

"Sharp," Reyes finishes weakly. "Are you okay?"

Doggett checks his hands. His right middle finger's bleeding from a small cut, but other than that, he's okay. "Sharp things, check." He grimaces, then frowns at the thing. It's a mirror, but it's surrounded by what seems like thousands of gold-brushed metallic leaves or petals. "Jeez, if you had this thing out, you coulda just thrown it at Absalom," he groans.

"Poor baby," Reyes teases him, "let me see."

He holds up his hand. "It's just a scratch," he says, then jerks his hand away when she reaches for it, smashing it against his t-shirt to stop the bleeding.

"Yeah, and it's making a mess on your shirt," she comments. When he looks down, she laughs. "Come on." She takes his hand and looks at it. "You're right, it's just a scratch."

"See?" Doggett says, wondering why women made such a big deal about cuts and things. He's about to say more when she sticks his finger into her mouth and sucks on it. Something about the way she looks at him while she's doing it dries up any arguments, any words, hell, any thoughts, other than, Damn, that feels good and she looks good doing it.

"Hey, Dad, hey..." Luke's voice trails off when he sees Agent Reyes with his dad's hand in her mouth.

"Hey, guys," Reyes says, smoothly taking his finger out and removing a Band-Aid from her back pocket. Without missing a beat, she wraps Doggett's finger in the Band-Aid, then lets go, smiling at the boys. "Thanks for helping me unpack."

Gibson smiles back, "Wouldn't miss it for the world," he says. Then he turns to his friend. "Careful when you unwrap some of that stuff, though, some of them's got sharp edges."

"Why didn't I get the warning before they did?" Doggett asks, gingerly moving the mirror to the side using the bubble wrapping as gloves. "I think she got distracted," Gibson replies, then gets hit by a flying dishrag. "What?"

"For your hands," Reyes says, tossing another to Luke. When Doggett's back is turned, however, she sticks her tongue out at the boy.

The shorter teen laughs. "Okay, but maybe you'd better give Mr. Doggett a couple of those."

"Duh," she says, but pauses to look at the man's backside before tossing him the dishrags.

Gibson rolls his eyes while Luke groans, "Aw, gross."

Doggett pulls the dishrags off his back and straightens up. "What's gross?" He knows Monica's got some interesting beliefs, but if they translate to her interior decorating...

"Nothing," Gibson says, while Luke shrugs. Both boys are studiously taking care with unwrapping the boxed items. "You wouldn't understand."

Doggett shrugs, since Luke's been saying that a lot recently. "Okay," he says, obliviously squatting over another box and cutting it open.

Both boys look at Reyes, whose attention is back on Doggett's rear view, then at each other. It was gonna be a loooooong afternoon.


Chapter One Hundred and Two



May 15, 2001

It's been a while since he's cracked open his journal, especially since his abduction, but Mulder takes out the slim book and twirls the pen in his fingers before starting.

"Is it no less of a miracle, the birth of a child, no matter how often it's happened in this family of ours? Is it no less of an answered prayer that a new life comes into this world, helpless, vulnerable, and so full of potential? That a child should bear the hopes and dreams of its parents and that parents should be charged with the responsibilities and joys of raising this child, that is a mystery even the X-Files cannot hope to comprehend.

There have been countless times in my life that events have occurred that is beyond my limited imagination, both good and bad, that nothing could adequately explain -- and that is what this new chance at life brings. Not just for me, but for Scully, for Melissa, for Alex... if there can be numerous chances for me, then why not him, too?

And why do we continually take second, nay, our numerous chances for granted?"

He smiles over at his sleeping wife, lying peacefully in the hospital bed, so different from the last time. But then again, William isn't her first child, nor is he "special," just another baby boy among baby boys sleeping in the maternity ward. This time, he's got a lot of brothers and sisters, both parents here to stay, two cousins he didn't have before, and an aunt that should've died years ago plus an uncle who would've bit the a week from now. Yeah, nice to know a lot has changed, Mulder brushes his wife's hair from her temple, whereupon she lets out a loud snore. Chuckling, he leans over, then kisses her forehead.

"I love you," Mulder murmurs to his sleeping wife, still blissfully unconscious. "Always have, always will."


Ten Days Earlier...

Washington Memorial Hospital
May 5, 2001

There is a small crowd in the pastel hallway, a small blonde girl, a thin blonde woman, a short redhead, a short middle-aged brunette, a tall black woman, a short Saudi-American woman, and a middle-aged redhead. They are all staring at the swinging doors where a tall redheaded woman was wheeled through, attended by doctors and nurses. The black woman is the first to speak when the doors have stilled. "This is the first baby shower I've gone to where the baby actually showed up." Desiree grins.

"Babies rarely come when you expect," Mrs. Scully says, "I worry considering how long it's been since Emily was born. Should I?" She looks at the middle-aged woman with bright red hair expectantly.

Lizzy shakes her head. "There's nothing to worry about," she says, squeezing Mrs. Scully's shoulder. "But this hospital has the best NICU if there should be any complications."

"Knee-cue?" Mrs. Scully looks up, puzzled.

"Neonatal intensive care unit, N-I-C-U," Faizah replies. "I interned at one for a semester, but I was so glad when they switched me to podiatric. I'd rather reset broken bones than try to handle fragile little creatures."

Desiree laughs. "And that's why you were the muscle of the traveling sisterhood. Still can't believe you're a doctor, though."

Faizah shrugs. "Seeing the country with you guys was nice, but my brain was starting to turn to mush. No offense, Moon Child."

The waif-like blonde turns at the sound of her name. "Hm?"

"Never mind," the short, dark-haired woman sighs. "Your mom said you're a doctor, too, right? What in?"

Scully smiles a little. "Well, I'm currently a field agent with the FBI, but I have a degree in forensic pathology. As a mother, however, I've gotten a little more used to dealing with babies." Then she looks at Melissa's friends, who look about as mismatched as Mulder's. "I never got a chance to really talk with you at the shower, how did you all meet?"

"I picked up Missy in some small town in Georgia," Desiree replies. "Since she was the only white woman at the bus stop with a backpack, I figured I might as well help the girl out."

"I'm glad you did," Mrs. Scully smiles warmly.

"Yeah, well, at least she was out of high school. This girl," she says and jerks a thumb at Faizah, "Was running away from home."

"My parents were narrow-minded back then," the Saudi-American woman says matter-of-factly, "And they were practically railroading me into either marrying some guy the next city over or working at my dad's business. Selling vegetables," she says in a perfectly morbid tone.

Desiree shrugs. "I could kinda understand. I mean, I grew up in a small town, not many job options, and the only thing I had was a beat-up blue Mustang. College didn't sound good, and neither did the military, no offense, Mrs. Scully." The older woman shakes her head, and the black woman goes on. "So just driving around the country sounded good to me, even if it was with some crazy white girls."

"I'm not white," Faizah glares.

Desiree smiles, holding up her hands. "Yeah, yeah, sorry. Anyway, at one of those New Agey kinda places, Moon Child joined us."

"She was sleeping in the backseat," the short woman adds, "And when we woke her up and tried to kick her out, she started talking about auras and telling us stuff about our travels. Pretty spooky shit, really." Then she remembers the little girl sitting two seats over, a storybook in her lap. "Um, don't repeat that word, okay?"

Emily nods. It's one of Daddy's Words, she knows.

On the other side of her is the skinny blonde lady. "It's not spooky, it's true," Moon Child says, her voice high and thin, her blue eyes wide and unfocused. "Some people fear what they cannot fully explain."

Faizah rolls her eyes and Desiree chuckles, and it's obvious to the others that this is an old argument. "Anyways, what's really crazy is how fast Alex came over," the short woman says, glancing at the closed doors. "I mean, wasn't he at your place with your husband and kids? How did he get here before we did?"

Scully nods. "It's not that much farther away from here than the Krycek residence," she says, although she has to admit that, considering how often she and Mulder have been to the hospital, living where they do puts them in close range to a good many. "And I'm pretty sure that your daddy can be rather resourceful in shortcuts, right, Emily?"

The little girl looks up from her storybook again. "Daddy drives fast," she simply states, then goes back to her book.

And with that, the women had to be satisfied, at least until Missy and Alex come out of the delivery room.


Doggett's House

At the moment, there is a rather large herd at Doggett's backyard. Doggett's at the grill, cooking up all sorts of meat for the pre-race party, but Luke and Gibson are hauling out coolers with enough soda to serve a small army, and Reyes is bringing out the chips and dip. Mulder, for his part, is on Daddy Duty, since he was the one who brought his kids over in the first place. But he doesn't mind, since it means there's some grownups around that he gets to play with, since Krycek left for the hospital.

Hefting Christopher onto his left side, Mulder makes his way over to the smiling FBI agent. "You're into NASCAR?" he asks Reyes, who is opening a bag of hamburger buns.

Reyes shrugs. "Kind of. But I am into picnics." Her gaze wanders over to Doggett, who's helping Sammy, standing on a plastic chair, put the meat on the grill.

"I see." Mulder grins, and she grins back. "And is he kind of into numerology?"

She shrugs. "Let's just say he's more open to me hanging out for burgers than he is to other things. For now." But her smile reappears, and Mulder can only shake his head. He never thought he'd see anyone more aggressive than John on a case, but seeing Monica on the hunt for John... he figures the guy should just be counting down the days left to singlehood, really.

Then a small hand tugs on his jeans. "Daddy, you have to be our butler," Page says, in the same semi-imperious tone her mother uses.

And since it's only been a couple of weeks since she got comfortable being in the same room with him, much less talking with him, Mulder obeys. "As you wish." He bows, careful to keep Christopher from falling.

"The tea party is this way," his little girl continues in the same tone, but there's a smile on her face as she leads her hapless father into the house.

Reyes smiles, waving him off as he follows Page to join Hannah and April in the kitchen. Then her smile becomes a little more predatory as her eyes wander over to the master griller.

"Be nice," a young voice admonishes her, and she turns to see Gibson handing her a Coke can.

Taking the can, she tries for an innocent look and fails. "I'll try not to say anything too embarrassing, okay?"

"Okay." Gibson shrugs, then walks over to his friend. "I'll bet you she says something totally embarrassing in the next ten minutes."

"Make it five," Luke says, then gulps his Coke. "Loser has to do dishes for a week."

Gibson grabs a 7-Up from the cooler. "Winner has the first hour of Tony Hawk for a week."

"Deal," Luke says, and they toast cans, check their watches, then watch their respective elders at the grill.


Speaking of chicks, his youngest daughter pats his arm. "Daddy, do all boys watch cars on TV?"

"Um, some do," Mulder says, startled out of his reverie. "But some girls do, too. Like Auntie Monica." He points over to the woman leaning forward, as intent as the boys and man watching the screen.

"Okay." April nods peaceably while Page and Hannah look mildly shocked.

"But cars are for boys," Hannah says.

"Who says?" Mulder asks, not as a challenge, but curious.

The little girl looks at the boys on the couch. "Luke says," she says, "an' Daddy always asks Luke to help fix the car. Even Gibson helps Daddy fix the car."

"Oh," Mulder says, as his mind races faster than the cars onscreen. "I think he asks them to help because they're big enough to help, not because you're a girl. When you're bigger, you can help your daddy fix the car, too."

"Really?"

Don't let her down, John, Mulder thinks, even as he says aloud, "Sure."

Then Page asks, "How come you don't work on the car, Daddy?"

Because I suck at it, is on the tip of his tongue, but just barely holds it back. "Because we have a good minivan," he says, "And if it needs to be fixed, your uncles can fix it." With duct tape, wire and a prayer, he thinks, but also holds that back. "Of course, if John's up to fixing cars, he could fix ours if it ever needs help. Right, John?"

"What's that?" Doggett turns to his friend, now that commercials are on.

"I said you could fix our minivan if it ever needs it," Mulder says over the din of the TV and kids. "Maybe even get Hannah to help."

Doggett blinks, then looks at his little girl, who, to his surprise, actually looks excited at the idea. "Sure," he says. "But she'd have to practice on our car first."

Now Luke looks surprised. "Hannah wants to work on your car?"

"Yes," she says shyly.

"Cool." Reyes smiles warmly, and Hannah smiles back. "When you get good, you can teach me."

"I could teach you," Doggett says, a little hurt.

Reyes chuckles. "I think I'd be less distracted if Hannah was my teacher," she says and grins unrepentantly when he blushes. Luke makes a face, while Gibson sighs and shakes his head, the peanut gallery to this little comedy.

Then Mulder realizes that this isn't the first time that Reyes has made a move on his friend. Whoa. He'd always thought of John as aggressive, but perhaps it wasn't true in terms of relationships, especially after a divorce. Heh heh, good luck, Johnny boy, he thinks, and raises his plastic tea cup to Reyes in salute. She raises her Coke can back, even as Gibson groans, "This is so embarrassing."

Then Luke checks his watch. "You get first dibs on Tony." He makes a face when his friend grins.


Meanwhile, back at the hospital, the ladies and little girl are at the cafeteria, since the shower was cut short mere minutes after starting, and everyone's rather hungry by this time. After the women share stories of work, motherhood, and chasing goldfish dreams with butterflies (that would be Moon Child), they switch to stories about Melissa. Mindful of Emily, they keep their stories as PG as possible, keeping the subtext intact. Well, no one was really quite sure what Moon Child was talking about, but then again, half the things she said never quite made sense, anyways.

"He's here," the waif-like blonde suddenly sits up straight, her blue eyes wide.

"Who?" the women ask, looking around.

Moon Child looks at them, her eyes clear and focused, and that unsettles them more than anything they've seen or heard so far today. "The child, of course," she says, her voice still high and thin, but her gaze unnervingly steady. "That is what we came here for, is it not?"

"You're right," Mrs. Scully says, then laughs, startling the others. "You're absolutely right. Well, I suppose we'd better wait until the doctor comes by."

Scully pulls out her cell, ostensibly to check on her husband and the kids, but really to check the time. Hm, 5:19 p.m. She wonders how Melissa's holding up, if she gave in and got an epidural, or if Krycek needed to be sedated... an irreverent giggle escapes her lips, catching herself and her mother by surprise. "Um, nothing," she says, her face reddening to nearly match Lizzy's dye job.


6:22 p.m.
Doggett's residence

The adults are knocking back cold ones while watching the pre-race hype on TV, the teens are busy playing Tony Hawk in their room, and the little ones are sleeping in Hannah's and the guest room. The cell phone rings, and Mulder grabs it, heading into the kitchen. "Mulder," he answers his cell in a low voice.

"Mulder," Scully says on the other end of the line, "Is everything okay?"

"Uh, yeah," Mulder says, closing the door behind him. "I was just giving John and Monica some breathing room. Is, um, is your sister okay?"

"Yeah," Scully says, "in fact, they practically had to knock Kry- I mean, Alex out because he was yelling at the birthing staff that they were killing her." She giggles, and Mulder's got the feeling she would've happily administered the anesthetic if given the chance. "Anyways, Missy's resting in bed right now, along with her little boy."

"Have they named him yet?" Mulder wonders.

Scully chuckles, and Mulder knows it's not good news for Krycek. "Alex hasn't woken up from his sedatives yet, but they've got time." She pauses, and Mulder wonders if Krycek woke up yet. "I can't believe Missy gave birth without any drugs. She told me she heard horror stories about women who were given epidurals being unable to walk afterwards, and she was determined not to let that happen. Sometimes I wonder if being pregnant for the first time later in life makes you incredibly paranoid or insanely brave."

"Maybe both," Mulder replies, remembering the last go-round and Scully's experiences. Then again, she'd had good reason to be paranoid, and Scully giving birth in that godforsaken town in the middle of nowhere -- what the hell was Doggett thinking? "Anyways, she's sleeping now, so I'm sure come tomorrow, she'll be demanding something stronger in her IV."

His wife chuffs a short laugh, "Probably. I'm going to talk with the doctors before I go home tonight, but Mom's gonna stay here with Missy and Alex. How are the kids?"

"Blissfully unconscious," he answers, "We're over at John's place, so I'm gonna wait a bit until I take the kids home."

"John's place? Why?" Scully asks, surprised.

"Well," and now Mulder fidgets, feeling about as little as his kids, "When Krycek left, I didn't have anyone to play with."

He makes a face as he holds his cell away from his ear, his wife is laughing that loudly. "Any time now," he mutters, his eyes up at the ceiling, waiting until she's breathless for her to stop laughing at him. "I love you, too, honey," he sighs a long-suffering sigh.

"Hee hee," his wife chortles, "Oh, oh, Mulder, you are too cute."

"Sure." Mulder scowls, unconsciously looking like Sammy scowling as he does so. "As a trained psychologist, I know you really meant to say, 'Oh, Mulder, you're too immature'."

Now Scully laughs at his fake Scully voice. "That's not what I said, nor what I sound like." She smiles. Yes, he can practically hear her smiling through the phone. "I don't sound like Minnie Mouse on helium."

"Yes, you do," Mulder argues, but he finds himself sliding towards the dark side, that is, agreeing with his wife that he's being silly.

"I'm hanging up soon," Scully says, "When I get home, I expect to see you behaving like a grownup and the kids behaving like the angels they are."

Before Mulder can retort, she cuts the connection, true to her word. "Aw, man!" Mulder groans, then hits his forehead repeatedly. "Argh, stupid, stupid, stupid..."


Meanwhile, in the living room, John Doggett, finding himself alone with the very fetching Monica Reyes, is starting to sweat nervously. Granted, it's not the first time he's been alone with her, but this is not work, nor is it a hi-bye greeting. She's just a friend, he tells himself, just like Fox and Dana, just a friend from work. Yeah, that's it.

His calming thoughts are shattered when she leans against his arm, her long legs sprawled out on the rest of the couch. "Hey, John," she says, "Who's your favorite racer?"

"Huh?" he blinks, doing his best not to push her off his arm like a grade school boy. "Oh, uh, they're called drivers."

"Drivers?" Reyes frowns a little, and now Doggett finds himself unable to look away from her lips. "That's kinda boring."

"Well, that's what they are." Doggett shrugs.

Reyes nods, then tilts her head back as she takes a swig of beer. He can't take his eyes off the way she looks as she swallows from that long-necked bottle, nor the way she licks her lips when she's done. "What? Do I have something on my face?" she asks when she sees him staring, and wipes her mouth with the back of her hand.

"Uh, no, not now," he lies, flustered. "So, um." He sits up, as if that could straighten his thoughts. "I never got around to askin', but, what do you usually do for fun on the weekend?"

Now she shrugs. "Not much. Watch TV." She points at his screen with her bottle. "Maybe some jogging or working out at the gym, and if I'm bored out of my mind, catch up on my magazines. And that's if we're not on a case, of course."

Doggett blinks. "That actually sounds pretty good."

Reyes laughs, surprised. "What? That's boring!"

He shakes his head. "I love my kids, but it's been a while since I've had some time to myself, you know? And when I do, it's usually 'cause I'm on the job, and it's miles from relaxing."

She smiles, and he finds himself smiling back. "Well, you should give yourself a day off every now and then. Luke and Gibson are old enough to take care of themselves as well as Hannah, right? Let them be the men of the house once in a while, and you can go out and, you know, relax." She lifts one shoulder, "Worse thing you could do is enjoy yourself."

His clear blue eyes shift away from her, actually thinking about it. Yeah, why not? It's not like he's abandoning them or anything, just a day off to be a grownup without having to work. Aside from watching TV and the kids, he doesn't really do much on the weekends. "Damn," he mutters, not realizing how sad his life must seem to others. "Yeah, sounds like a good idea." Then he pauses. "You know, I don't even know where to go. I've been working and looking after the kids, I wouldn't know the first place to even get a decent bite to eat outside the supermarket."

"That's easy," Reyes says, "There's a little stand on M Street that has the best Polish sausage in the city. You should try it."

As she and he look at each other, there's a moment, not quite vertigo, not quite déjà vu, but it feels both familiar and displaced at the same time. Doggett, suddenly uncomfortable, takes a swig from his bottle, hears the cheesy commercial on TV, sees Mulder coming back from the kitchen, and somehow, the world is right again. Okay, that was weird, he thinks, as Mulder picks up his own beer. "So, everything okay?"

Mulder nods. "Yeah, Scully said her sister Melissa just had a healthy baby boy, but they're staying at the hospital overnight of course. Scully's gonna come home soon, so." He shrugs. "Sorry, we can't stay for the actual race. Guess I'll go and wake the kids."

When he leaves the room, Doggett and Reyes look at each other. "Let me guess, sometimes Mulder needs a day off, too?" Doggett raises his eyebrows.

Reyes smiles. "Don't we all?"

He can't argue with that, so he clinks his beer bottle against Reyes' raised one, and, as if they'd planned it, they both lean back against the couch and each other, watching the commentators going into overdrive on superfluous details as they do their pre-NASCAR hype. They only move a little when they wave the kids goodbye and shake Mulder's hand. Otherwise, the rest of the evening, they're vegging out on beer and NASCAR and each other's company.


The Mulder-Scully home

Dinner was rather lively, since Scully was sharing stories about Missy interesting friends, Page and April were talking about their tea party, Sammy and the twins were running around, and Christopher seemed to interpret food as toys. Then Mulder stands and puts his hands into a T-shape, "Okay, hold on! One person at a time speaks!" When his wife and children look at him questioningly, he shakes his head. "Who needs TV when you've got family?" he mutters rhetorically.

"Huh?" Sammy looks up, causing his younger brothers to knock him over. "Ow!"

As Scully's mouth drops into the comforting-mommy face, Mulder hustles over and picks his boys off the floor. "Okay, big guys, up, up," he says, as Sammy scrunches his face, David crosses his eyes and Jared bounces his head around like a bobble-head. Then he ruffles each boy's head. "Maybe you guys should try football."

"Or maybe not." Scully grabs Mulder by the scruff of his shirt and pulls him up partway. "Not until they've got protective gear on."

"So you're open to football?" He smiles at her. "Cool."

Then she whaps the top of his head. "We'll discuss this later."

Now he's standing, but there's a look in his eyes that's playful and flirtatious. "You know how much I like the rough stuff." He winks at her.

Now she's blushing, "Mulder, not in front of the kids."

He wraps his arms around her, his eyes on hers, a smile on his lips. "I trust you not to shoot me," He leans in, still smiling. "I could make football worth your while."

"I don't think we're talking about football anymore," Scully says breathlessly as his lips come closer to hers.

"We're not?" He smiles, then kisses her.

"Ewwwww," the boys say, while the girls smile and giggle.


Later that night, Scully's walking down the dark hallway, lit flashlight in hand, to get a midnight snack. Out of habit, she stops by each of her children's bedrooms, careful not to shine the light too closely to her babies' faces, but breathing a sigh of relief and love when she sees them sleeping peacefully. That is, until she comes near the end of the hallway and hears sniffling. Forgetting all about her craving, Scully rushes in, flips on the light switch, and is at her son's side quicker than she would have thought possible.

"Oh, Sammy, sweetie, what's wrong?" she asks when she sees her son's tear-streaked face. Her heart gives a lurch when he flinches at her touch. "Sammy?"

"Mommy!" he wails, then throws himself into her arms, sobbing harder.

"It's okay," Scully says, her throat tight with worry, but stroking his tousled hair, holding him close. "It's okay, shhh, Mommy's here, it's okay..."

"No, it's not," he says, muffled by her shoulder. "I still got the bad dream."

Oh, thank goodness, Scully thinks, even as she says, "Bad dream? What bad dream?"

His little fingers twist into her night robe more tightly, almost painfully. Not looking at her, he tells her, "I dreamed that we buried Daddy. I dreamed that Daddy was alive inside there, and he was scared. So he yelled a lot, and brokeded the box."

"Yeah, that sounds scary," Scully agrees, and wonders how long he's had this dream, especially if it's a recurring nightmare like he said. And why hasn't she noticed before?

Before she can further mentally berate herself for being a bad mother, her little boy says in a small voice, "There's some more."

"Oh?"

"Yeah," Sammy says, his voice getting choked up with fear, "Inside my dream, Daddy's all gross an' scary like a dead man. And he comes pounding on our door, and he, he wants to hurt us!"

Now Scully's eyes well up, and she hugs her son to herself. "Oh, sweetie, I'm so sorry you had this bad dream for so long. Why didn't you tell Mommy?"

He doesn't answer, because he's crying too hard to. Then he wipes his face with his pajama sleeve, snorts up his snot, and does his best to put on a brave face, even though his eyes and nose are still red and his breathing is hiccupy from crying. "I dunno," Sammy replies at last. "Everybody was so happy when he came home. I didn't want to make you sad."

Oh my God, Scully thinks, I've taken my children's resilience and acceptance of strange things for granted, I'm surprised we aren't all in therapy in one way or another. She'd honestly thought it was only Page that had a problem with Mulder's return, but she of all people should know better than to assume, especially with her family. Wiping off the rest of the tears from his face, Scully puts on her own brave face for her brave little boy. "It's okay," she says, "You should know that if you have any more nightmares, or if there's any problem, you come to me and Daddy, okay? We love you, and we always will. It's our job as parents to protect you, okay, not the other way around." She ruffles his hair, and he makes a face, trying to smooth it. "So next time you have a nightmare, what do you do?"

"Tell you and Daddy," Sammy answers promptly. Then he adds, "Even if Daddy's the scary man?"

"Especially if Daddy's the scary man," Scully says. Between her own military upbringing and Mulder's divorced parents, she doesn't want to repeat any cycle of any kind of trauma on her children, or worse, inflicting more damage due to her and Mulder's unusual jobs. Then again, it's not like she expected to see Mulder alive again after being buried... Before she ties her mind into some torturous emotional Gordian knot, she hugs her son again. "Okay?" she asks, looking him straight in the eye.

Sammy, his dream as vivid and frightening as Mulder's ever were, is still scared, but nods. "So I have to tell Daddy, too?"

"Not tonight," Scully tells him, and he looks as relieved as a prisoner in front of a firing squad is to get a reprieve. Oh boy. "But tomorrow, we'll have to tell him."

"You're gonna be there, too?"

"Of course," Scully answers, shocked. Then her craving kicks in again, and she smiles fondly at her oldest son. "You want some milk? I was going to get a snack."

He shakes his head, then hugs her tightly. "Good night."

She leans her head against his, smiling. "Good night, Sammy." Kissing his forehead, the smile is still on her face, and he smiles back, although it's a smaller one. "I love you."

Then he makes a little boy icky-face. "Love you, too." And Scully wishes that her baby wasn't growing up so fast. "Can you leave the light on?"

Okay, not so fast. "Sure," she says, closing the door softly behind her.


"Mulder," Scully says when she gets back in bed, "Do you ever think that what we do would affect the children?"

Mulder pushes his laptop to the side, the online article on radioactive disposal at Groom Lake no longer sounding quite as interesting. "What's wrong?"

"It's Sammy," Scully says, not looking at him. "He's been having nightmares." She twists her robe tie in her hands, "Ever since you got back."

He's quick enough to put two and two together. "I take it Page isn't the only traumatized by my comeback," he mutters, but there's no sarcasm in his voice, just weariness.

"No," she agrees. "I was hoping it was the case, but honestly, I'm surprised we haven't checked our kids into therapy, considering all they've seen and experienced."

Now his tone is droll. "You sound like you're surprised you're not checked into an institution." He smiles when she sticks her tongue out. "Seriously, though, I think you checking in on Sammy is a good idea. God knows, I don't want him thinking that he's gotta suffer through the nightmares alone."

She squeezes his hand, wondering, not for the first time, how Mulder turned into a fine FBI agent and father, considering what he grew up with. "As long as they're our children, they'll never fight alone."

"When was the last time I said I love you?" Mulder asks, keeping her hand in his. "Just now." Scully smiles.

He raises her hand and kisses it. "Do you think it was a mistake?"

She frowns. "What was?"

"Coming back."

Her eyes fill with tears. "No," she says, grabbing him by the collar of his t-shirt, "don't ever say anything like that ever again, got that?"

Mulder, surprised, can only stare at the large blue eyes boring a hole into his own. "Okay," he says. "Wow."

Still holding onto his collar, she asks, "What do you mean, 'wow'? You idiot, of course things are gonna be strained, if not strange, but we want you here! We. Need. You. Here," she says, shaking him with each word, "dammit!"

He grabs her shoulders to stabilize his position and his vision. "Whoa, got it. Um, thank you."

She pushes him off, and he lands with a "whoof." "Don't thank me, idiot. Just be there for us." Then she notices at the dumbfounded look on his face. "Wait a minute... were you aiming for pity sex, too?"

"Uh, no," he stammers, but it's obvious he's lying by the way his lips twitch. "Aw, damn..."

"Mulder!" Scully puts her hands on her hips. "God!"

And for the rest of the night, Mulder suffers the righteous indignation of his beautiful, pissed-off wife.


The next morning, Melissa wakes up to see a bunch of sleeping people. "Wow," she croaks, but there's a smile on her face. Her mom's sleeping in the plastic chair, while her friends, Desiree, Faizah, and Moon Child, are sharing a fold-out cot, and her little girl is snoring peacefully on the padded chair. Then she remembers... "My baby," she says, struggling to sit up. "Where's my baby?"

"Missy, you're up," her mother says without opening her eyes. Then she sits up, blinks awake, and yawns. "Honey, don't sit up, lie back down."

Melissa does as her mother says, but it's with great effort. "My baby," she repeats, "Where is he?"

The smile her mother gives her is a weary, if loving, one. "Under the careful watch of his father," she replies. "I'm glad this hospital is so understanding, because even I would have pushed him out of the baby ward hours ago. For some reason, that man is even more paranoid than Fox about his child."

"Oh, okay," Melissa smiles back, her body relaxing. "Well, it's his first." She notes her mother's surprise, and wants to smack her forehead. "First son, you know?" she adds.

Now Mrs. Scully chuckles. "Oh, I remember how your father was like when you were born," she says, "When Bill junior was born, he was so proud as if he'd given birth himself," and Melissa snorts. "But when you were born," and her eyes mist with something suspiciously like tears, "Oh, he was so amazed, like he'd been given artwork by Da Vinci himself. He was so..." And now the tears roll down her cheeks, but she blows her nose first.

"Mom," the eldest Scully daughter says, "Mom, it's okay." She starts to sit up again, but her mother gets up and stands beside her. "I, I just want to see my baby."

Mrs. Scully strokes her daughter's hair out of her face. "I know, sweetie," she says, "how are you feeling? Do you need any water?"

"No, I," Melissa starts to argue, then coughs. Smiling weakly, she says, "Could I have a little water?"

"Of course," her mother says, handing over a plastic cup of water with a straw. "As soon as you're feeling stronger, we can take you out to see your son."

Melissa nods as she sips the water. Honestly, she doesn't know how Dana can do this over and over again, giving birth to one child is tiring enough. That, and she's thankful that her mother didn't stop with Bill junior. "Thanks," she says, meaning it for a lot of things.

Mrs. Scully bends over and kisses her daughter's head. "You're welcome," she replies.

"Mom?"

"Yes?"

Now Melissa looks embarrassed. "Could you see if Alex is behaving himself? He gets really cranky if he's gone without sleep or food for a while."

"If you're used to that from your husband, taking care of a newborn's going to be a breeze," Mrs. Scully says, leaving her daughter laughing in bed.


When Mrs. Scully turns the corner, she sees a familiar sight, that of a proud father smooshed against the glass window with a goofy smile on his face. "Alex," she says, and laughs when he jumps away, startled. "Good heavens." She smiles, shaking her head, "don't stop staring at your child on my account."

"Sorry," he says, looking at the ground while running a hand through unkempt dark hair. "It's just--"

"I know," Mrs. Scully interrupts, hugging him like she would any of her children, "it's amazing, isn't it?"

When she lets go, he finds that he misses mom hugs, and wishes like hell that his parents were alive again, if not to hug him, then to see his firstborn. Well, first child born of the woman he loves. "Yeah, it is.." He smiles, looking through the glass to watch his baby boy, sleeping soundly. "Isn't he the most perfect baby you've ever seen?" Then he realizes how stupid he sounds to a mother of four. "Well, he's perfect to me," he mutters quickly.

"Of course he is," Mrs. Scully squeezes his arm reassuringly, "He should be."

He sags with relief. "Yeah, I knew that," he says. Then he quickly hugs her, "Thanks."

For some reason, she's struck with the urge to pat him on the head like she did when her boys were little, but knows he's embarrassed enough at how obviously silly he's acting. "I'm sure you'll have your hands full soon enough when the baby comes home," she says, "have you two decided on a name yet?"

"Oh! Um, not really," he answers, "Well, Missy wants a Russian name, and I want an American name... I mean, I know times have changed and all, but I still think it's easier for a kid to go through school with a regular name than one hard to pronounce."

"I see," Mrs. Scully nods, then she looks through the glass. "I think that'll be the least of your worries, at least in the near future, however."

"Really? Why?" he asks, panicked.

Now her lips twitch upward, something that her daughters have picked up from their mother. "You're going to be losing sleep on a regular basis, feeding and changing a crying at all hours -- and don't forget Emily's going to have to deal with not being the only baby in the house."

"Oh yeah," Krycek blinks. "Well, she's already the kid's second mother, making sure Missy eats right and sleeps enough, thankful that the baby's healthy, and I'm holding her to her promise that she'll change diapers at least once a week."

Mrs. Scully chuckles. "Be patient when she changes her mind, all right." She smiles, remembering a little Melissa making the same promise when Dana was newborn. "You know, I never get tired of seeing new grandchildren. It's like getting a second chance."

Krycek looks at her, confused. "But you're a great mom."

She pats his arm, "I'm glad you think so. But I've made my mistakes, being a wife, being a mother... At least as a grandmother, I get to spoil them rotten, while leaving the real parenting to you folks."

"Great," Krycek tries to frown, but fails, "Now we know who to blame if the kids turn out to be like the 'Different Strokes' gang."

"What?"

"Uh, nothing," he says, then sees a nurse rounding the corner. "Hey! Yeah, you! Can I take my kid out to see his mother?"

"Oh, boy," Mrs. Scully watches as the poor nurse is hounded by the overeager father. "Should I help Alex or the nurse?"


Chapter One Hundred and Three



May 6, 2001

In the end, neither the nurse nor Alex Krycek required Mrs. Scully's help, for which she was profoundly thankful. However, someone had notified security, who kept a close eye on both the nurse, who handed the small baby boy over to his father, and Krycek, who carried said small boy to his mother. Mrs. Scully followed behind the odd procession, not bothering to hide her smile as she watched the proud papa lightly rock his infant son, patting him every so often to calm him down. Not for the first time, Mrs. Scully is thankful that her daughters have found good men to have families with.

Her heart swells with happiness, hoping against hope that every day for Alex and Missy will be just like this, with the best of intentions, actions, and words. It isn't until the security guard turns around that she sees the taller man's expression, and it switches from grimly stern to a sudden, goofy grin. Mrs. Scully finds her own going from surprised "o" to an answering smile, and the smile stays on her face when her son-in-law asks, "Was he flirting with you?"

The older woman blinks, then scraps her original answer. "Would it surprise you if he did?" she asks in the same tone. Forget telling him the guard was a fellow new father, she thinks, suddenly feeling as rebellious as her daughters.

He smiles. "Wouldn't surprise me a bit. You're a charming woman, Maggie Scully." And he winks at her before going into Melissa's well-occupied room.

She shakes her head as she walks after him. What a terrible flirt, she sighs inwardly, even as the huge smile returns to his face, seeing his sleeping wife. "Don't wake her, now," she tells him.

He looks a little startled. "Wouldn't dream of it," he says, then carefully places the baby boy on his mother's right shoulder, since her left arm was hooked to an IV. He moves her right arm so it's cradling her son, then makes sure the hospital bed guardrails are sturdy so neither child nor mother moves too much. "There," he says, and crosses his arms, surveying the scene of mother and child proudly as if Michelangelo had painted it.

Oh brother, Mrs. Scully thinks, he might be worse than Bill.


Meanwhile, back at Mulder and Scully's house, breakfast is the usual controlled chaos that occurs in any household with children. "So, what's his name?" Page asks around a mouthful of cereal.

"Page, don't talk with your mouth full," Scully admonishes her eldest child. She's about to answer the question, however, when her next eldest child jumps in with another question.

"Does that mean I get to be his big brother, too?" Sammy wonders.

"Cousin's not the same as brother," Page declares, having swallowed her cereal.

"Baby, baby, baby," David and Jared chant, waving their spoons around.

"Mommy, where's the bread?" April paws through the refrigerator.

The cats, in a fit of pique, hop onto the table and meow at the human occupants for both attention and food, and Sammy, easily diverted from his confusion over his new cousin, waves his toast at them.

Scully her eyebrow raised, takes the toast away from him. "Sammy, you know better than to do that," she scolds him. While he pouts, she tells him, "And take Teliko and Piper off the table, they don't belong there."

"Okay, kitties, come on," he says, and finds that corralling cats is no easier than herding his little brothers. "Come on!"

As they jump nimbly off the table, Mulder pulls a frozen loaf of bread from the freezer. "Sorry, April, this bread's icy," he says, then uses the sink edge to crack the slices apart. "There we go."

"Daddy, they're still icy," she admonishes him.

"Ah, but observe," he says in his magician voice. With a large flourish, he pulls out two slices of cold bread, pops them into the toaster, sets the level to the highest possible, and depresses the button. Then he waves his hands over it, muttering, "Alakazam, alaka-most, when this bread comes out, it shall be toast!"

April giggles, but watches nonetheless. When it pops out a crispy brown, she claps. "It's toast!"

Some of the other children turn their attention to the spectacle. "Daddy, can I have magic toast, too?" Sammy asks.

"There's no such thing as magic toast," Page scoffs.

Scully, her hands full with refereeing the twins, looks up. "Mulder, what have you been doing?"

Mulder holds his hands up, his face the picture of innocence. "Just toast," he says in a "this-is-a-surprise-to-me-too" kind of voice.

"Sure, fine, whatever," Scully replies in a "don't-bullshit-me-this-early-in-the-morning" kind of voice. Then Christopher starts crying, and she sighs. "I'm sorry, baby, just a minute," and turns her attention to feeding her youngest child. Well, outside the womb, that is.

Once everyone's fed and most of the mess is cleaned up, Mulder walks over to his beloved wife, great with child, wraps his arms around her and kisses her head. "I love you," he murmurs as her eyes fly open in surprise.

"What was that for?" she asks.

He smiles lopsidedly at her. "No reason," he replies, brushing her long red bangs out of her eyes. "I better get to Sammy before he puts the twins in his jammies again."

Scully grabs him before he can leave her, then pulls him down for a kiss. "I love you, too," she says. "No fair you being all romantic on me without any warning."

Then his smile widens, and he scoops up Christopher from the high chair. "That's the best time," he says, and runs up the stairs with his youngest son, taking two steps at a time.

Scully sighs, hands on her hips. "That man." She shakes her head. Then she smiles and takes her time up the stairs, one step at a time.


In the hospital room, everyone is finally awake and crowding around the mother and newborn. "Mommy, can I hold him?" Emily asks. "I'll be careful."

"Okay," Melissa says, gingerly handing over her baby to, well, her bigger baby. "Move your arms like this," she repositions her daughter's arms, "That way you keep his head up and support the rest of him, too."

"Wow." Emily's blue eyes are shining as she takes in the fact that she's actually holding her baby brother, and that he's a lot heavier than her dolls. "Mommy, he's so soft."

"Yeah, he is." her mother smiles at her children. Wow, I have more than one child, she thinks, and even though she knew this before, seeing it right here and now pretty much brings it home. Then she thinks, Our kids must be good-looking because their parents are, and laughs out loud.

"Girl, I hope you're thinking clean thoughts," Desiree mutters as Faizah snorts. "If not, don't say anything."

"Hey, I'm curious." Krycek grins, then withdraws when he sees Mrs. Scully sigh. "Or not."

Melissa shakes her head, suddenly tired. "No, nothing like that," she says, yawning on the last word. "Oh," she says and puts a hand to her mouth, "I've been sleeping so much, I don't know why I'm tired."

"Having a child takes a lot out of you," Faizah says, and Desiree rolls her eyes. "You know what I mean."

"Now I do," the redhead sighs, leaning back against her pillow and the raised portion of the bed. "I don't know how Dana does it, having one kid after the next."

"So you're not gonna have any more babies?" Emily asks, looking up from her little brother. "I was gonna ask for a baby sister next."

Everyone looks at the little girl, then at the mother, and they all burst out laughing. "What's so funny?" Emily asks, while at the same time Melissa groans, "It's not funny."

Melissa starts when a hand suddenly rests on her forehead, then relaxes when she sees it's Moon Child. "You should rest now," the blonde waif tells her friend. "Perhaps by tonight you shall be rested enough to return home."

"Mm, that sounds good," the redhead closes her eyes. "Did my aura tell you that?"

"It's merely common sense," Moon Child replies, oblivious to the sudden stares.


8 a.m.

All is mostly quiet on the western front after Scully leaves to bring the kids to a mass. He offered to come along, maybe even instead of her, but she just patted him on the head like he was a small child himself. "I like bringing them to church, Mulder. You hate it, so enjoy your Sunday morning."

Since it's just him and Christopher at home, they spend some quality time lying belly down on the playroom rug and running trains over the floor, and occasionally each other. The toddler shrieks with laughter every time Mulder runs an engine over his foot.

"So, do you think it's funny, or it tickles?" Mulder asks him.

"Again!" Christopher demands instead of answering the question.

"That used to be Page's favorite request, too. Well, in her case it was more like a royal decree." Mulder smiles, thinking about the sea monster trip. It had been a lot of fun until the dog was almost eaten. "You're not nearly as bossy."

"Who is?" Christopher asks, shrugging -- which leaves Mulder staring at him open-mouthed.

"Are you sure you're not even two yet?"

Christopher holds up one finger. "I this many!"

"Until August, anyway," Mulder agrees and holds up two fingers. "Then you'll be two."

"No."

"Actually-" Mulder's thought is cut off when the phone rings. "Dad?"


Half an Hour Later

Bill Mulder looks up from reading the newspaper when his son bursts into the room, precariously balancing Christopher on one hip. "Fox."

"Dad, what happened?" Mulder cries, depositing Christopher the chair next to Bill's hospital bed.

"Son, I'm going to be okay," Bill says quickly. "I went to the doctor earlier today because my leg was bothering me-"

"Bothering you how?" Mulder wants to know, realizing that Scully will want to be debriefed.

"It was red, swollen and hurt like a son of a-" Bill's eyes cut to his youngest grandson, who is busy playing with Mulder's keys. "-gun. The doctor decided that it's a blood clot, so here I am."

"Are they going to do surgery?"

"Nah, at least not as a first resort. She said they've got a medicine they call a clot buster, so they're going to try to get rid of it that way. There isn't supposed to be much risk, but-" Bill reaches for a stack of paperwork on the end table. "-there's a little. I want you to sign this, Fox."

"What is it?"

"Medical power of attorney. Basically, if there's ever a time I'm not able to make medical decisions for myself, they'd ask you to make them."

"Okay," Mulder agrees cautiously.

"Do you remember your mom's uncle Glenn?"

"Yeah, sort of."

"At the end they had him on machines, and it wasn't even him any more. He was just a husk. I want the plug pulled before then."

"I thought you said there wasn't much risk."

"There isn't, but I'm thinking ahead, Son. I'm not a young man. This sort of thing might become an issue someday, so this afternoon seems like a good one for settling things."

"Right."

"Thank you, Fox," Bill says after Mulder signs the paperwork. "This will let me be easier."

"No problem."

The two of them watch TV for quite a while before Christopher begins to get fussy. "I guess you need to get him home for a nap," Bill says, yawning a bit himself.

"That's probably best. Love ya, Dad." He bends down so both he and Christopher can hug him. Christopher also pats him on the cheek, making Bill smile indulgently.

"You too. Drive safely."

"I will," he says without smirking. It's been decades since he got his license, but Bill always warns him to be careful anyway. He usually does anyway, but he figures the warning is a Dad thing. Someday he'll be warning Christopher to drive his grandkids carefully, too.

Bill has already turned off his reading lamp by the time Mulder shuts the door behind himself.


"Mulder?" He turns at the sound of his name, and sees Scully staring at him. "Did you decide to come and visit Missy on your own? I was going to come back later because they just threw everyone out of the room-"

"No, my dad's here," Mulder tells her, and quickly explains the situation. "He will be okay, won't he?"

"He'll probably be right as rain before you know it," Scully reassures him.

"Good." Mulder exhales noisily. "Hey, guess who's learning sarcasm?" he asks, pointing at the child in his arms.

"You can't leave me one that won't talk back?" She looks half-serious.

"Well. There's always the next one." He grins, and tells her about Christopher's pronouncement about his oldest sister. "Where's everyone else?" he asks, looking around for the rest of the kids.

"The Sunday school decided to have a movie day. I think they're watching that new movie Joseph that came out last year. I'm going to pick them up in a couple more hours."

"Ah, okay. I think we need to get this one home soon. He's a bit cranky."

"Aww, just like his parents," Scully says with a smirk. She laces her fingers between his as they head for the exit.


11:32 a.m.

The only other people in Melissa Scully's room are her husband and newborn child - everyone else being currently at the Krycek home since hospital regulations could only be bent for so long. "It's pretty quiet without all those chicks around," Krycek murmurs, leaning in the chair as they wait for the doctor to give the okay to go home. "No offense, but your friends are pretty weird."

"This feels pretty weird, too," Melissa notes as she breastfeeds her son. Then she sits up, pulling her breast away from her son's super-suction mouth, "Hey, ow, whoa! These are real, not plastic!"

"Mind if I have a go, then?" Krycek smirks.

His redheaded wife rolls her eyes at him. "Please. This whole thing is weird enough as it is. I mean, I'm a mom without giving birth, then I'm a mom giving birth this late in life..." She leans back, and her son starts hiccupping, then starts a thin, high wail. "I'm sorry, sorry," she says, repositioning her baby against her nipple, "For a kid, you're not real gentle." Then she looks up at her husband. "Like father, like son, I guess."

"Hey!" Krycek tries to look indignant, but ends up smirking. "If he hurts you too much, do you think I could kiss them to make it feel better?"

"Alex!" Now he's chuckling, so she throws her plastic cup at him. "Shut up!"

He holds up the cup with his false hand. "You've got lousy aim, love.." He smiles. "We better work on that."

She sighs, knowing there's no stopping him when he's like this. "If you want to make me feel better, Alex, try sticking an Oreck vacuum to your nipple and flipping the on switch."

"Kinky," Krycek approves with a leer as the doctor walks in. "So, are they clear to leave?" he asks in the same insouciant tone.

The doctor looks at the scruffy man in the black leather jacket and the redhead belatedly covering both her chest and child with the thin hospital blanket, then nods. "As long as Mrs. Krycek gets a decent amount of rest and nutrients, I don't see any problem," he says, "If you could just sign here." He hands the clipboard over to Krycek, who signs off. After taking back the clipboard, he pulls out the fold-out wheelchair. "Take care," he waves as he leaves.

When the door closes, Krycek looks at his wife. "I guess once the human leech finishes his lunch, we're good to go."

"That description makes me feel so much better," Melissa mutters, "I'll just turn the vacuum cleaner on high."


Meanwhile, Reyes and Doggett find themselves holding down the fort. Well, if the fort was located in a basement office of the Hoover building and one's definition of "holding down" included tossing wadded paper balls into Styrofoam coffee cups, playing football with folded paper, and idly flipping through the meager files that read more like pranks than actual X-Files. "I swear, this is boring as hell," Doggett sighs. "And I don't care if any secret conspiracy group might hear us, hey guys, feel free to make things less boring."

Reyes chuckles, closing shut a book on were-creatures she'd taken off the shelf. "You ever hear of the phrase, 'careful what you wish for, it might come true'?"

Doggett shrugs, then stretches. "Sometimes I think Mulder's ideas are full of it, and I don't mean sincerity. Unless they're sincerely full of it, then, yeah."

"John," Reyes sighs, then casts her eyes upwards to see the ceiling full of pencils. She can't help but smile as she sees the other efforts of the original X-Files agents. "Well, at least we're not the only ones bored around here."

He looks at her like she's finally lost her mind. "Uh, Monica, we're the only people in this room as far as I can tell, and the only bored ones, for that matter."

She points up at the ceiling. "Ever wonder why the interior decorators bothered to plug the ceiling with lead?"

He looks up and grins. "Oh. Yeah. That'll do it."

"So, wanna add more pencils?"

Doggett looks around, narrowing his clear blue eyes as he takes in the unorthodox décor. "Nah, I think we should do something else to this room."

"Like what?" Reyes frowns at him. "You know if you throw out the bottled specimens, they'll kill you."

"It's tempting, but no," he answers. "I was thinking something less destructive." He pulls open his desk drawer and pulls out the new unofficial decorations. "What do you think?"

The smile on her face is pure mischief, which matches his own. "You are simply devious, John, you know that? It's nice to know that under that cool, professional exterior lies a mind just waiting to pull pranks."

"What are you waiting for?" He grins, uncapping a felt tip marker. "You wanna bet Skinner sees this before Mulder and Scully?"

"I'd rather place my bets on how early Scully's gonna give birth now that her sister's done it," Reyes takes a marker. "You game?"

Doggett starts writing down numbers. "Bring it."


"I've got a bad feeling about this," Mulder sighs, idly stirring his coffee.

"What do you mean?" Scully frowns.

"Not checking up on the office," he answers. "What if John and Monica are t.p.'ing the place?"

Now Scully sighs, accompanied by an eye roll. "Mulder, they're FBI agents, not drunk teens," she tells him. "Goodness knows I trust John to behave himself, and Monica knows better than to disturb your erratic filing system."

"Yeah, but--" he starts to protest when she shuts him up with a kiss. "Okay."

She smirks. "Wow, I should do this more often when we're out in the field." She smiles as she arranges the last sliced sandwich.

"You wouldn't dare," he says, his voice "shocked" but his face all smiles.

"Don't push it." She does her best to keep a straight face, but fails. "Mulder, you dork."

He grins widely. "And you love me for it," he says, kissing her forehead before he swoops in and carries both the tray of sandwiches and the tray of drinks. "I believe the natives are restless," he comments mildly as the din of the children in the living room carries into the kitchen.

"Then I guess you're the sacrifice," Scully says, pushing him from behind.

"Hey!" Mulder spins around. "Ladies first."

"Careful with the trays!" Scully scolds him, thankful nothing's spilled or fallen off. "Enough playing, concentrate on balancing those things."

"Yes, ma'am," Mulder replies, pretending to be hurt, but inwardly thankful he didn't spill anything. God knows the kids are making enough of a mess for him to add to it. "Okay guys," he says in a louder voice, "sit down, food's here!"

And, contrary to his directions, they all swarm around his legs as if to crawl up the tall man to get their sustenance. "Daddy, Daddy, me first, me first!" Sammy tugs at his pants.

"Sammy, I'm the oldest," Page bats at his hands.

The twins have monopolized his left leg. "Daddy, Daddy," Jared cajoles while David whines, "Food, food."

Scully nimbly steps around her harried husband and their starving children to sit beside her second daughter and youngest son. "Thank you for looking after Christopher," she tells April.

"He's hungry, Mommy," April says before her tummy gurgles. "Me, too."

"Sorry, baby, as soon as Daddy can move, we'll get something for you and Christopher, okay?" Then Scully looks at her husband, who is mouthing "help me" while trying to walk with children attached to his legs without spilling anything. "Just a minute."

When she takes the trays away from him and puts them on the coffee table, Mulder's shoulders sag with relief as his children swarm over the sandwiches like ants at a picnic. "I owe you ten," he says, and she laughs at him. "What?"

"For a guy who's handled aliens, mutants, and crazies, it's just funny to see you swamped by our sweet babies." She grins.

He makes a face before handing over a half-sandwich and sippy cup. "Next time, you be the food-bearer and I'll just sit back and laugh."

"You won't because you love me," she says with absolute conviction, then hands the sandwich over to April and sits Christopher up for a drink. "Right?"

There's no winning with this woman, he thinks, it's either love or insanity. "Right," he says, then catches Sammy wolfing down his half-sandwich. "Hey, hey, you'll choke if you eat too fast." And ends up thumping the kid's back lightly when the boy does, indeed, choke on a bite too big. "Oh, boy..."


The Krycek Home

Later that afternoon, once Melissa has shooed off her friends back to their varied homes and most of the painkillers have worn off, the new mother rolls over on her side and grimaces. "Mom," she groans, "My twat feels like I've turned the damn thing inside out and boxers have been using it as a punching bag. Ugh, I think I could cheerfully be a nun for the rest of my life."

Mrs. Scully looks shocked, then erupts into a peal of laughter, which makes her daughter groan some more. "Oh, Missy, it may hurt now, but it won't last for long. Otherwise I wouldn't have had you, Dana, and Charlie."

"Thanks," Melissa mutters, closing her eyes. "Maybe I should have had an epidural."

Her mother checks her watch, then picks up the pills on the table. "Time for your meds," she says, "I'll remind Alex to give you these every six hours."

"Make it one," her daughter groans, and her mother smiles.

"I'm sure after so long between Emily and this one the body forgets." Mrs. Scully strokes her daughter's hair once Melissa swallows the pills. "Goodness knows, I'm sure if I were to have a child now, I'd be in much worse shape." And she stretches her hands at her hips to illustrate her point.

"Mom!" Melissa laughs. The thought that sheʼs again lying to her mother about Emilyʼs birth also being from her own womb, however, sobers her quickly, although she tells herself that someday, sheʼll tell her mother the truth. "Ow, ow, oh, don't make me do that again," she whimpers with tears in her eyes and her hand on her stomach, "But if you ever tell Dana that, make sure I'm in the same room so I can see her face."

"All right," Mrs. Scully shakes her head, then hugs her eldest daughter. "You get some rest now, I'll check up on the little one."

"Thanks again," Melissa says, then yawns. "Wow, those are fast." And promptly closes her eyes before her mother is out of the room.


"How is she?" Krycek stands when he sees his mother-in-law come in to the living room.

She waves him down. "Missy's just tired," she says, "I just gave her the painkillers, so the next time is in six hours." As he checks his watch, she adds, "Have you gotten around to naming my new grandchild yet? It feels awkward calling him 'the baby' or 'little one'."

"Oh, uh," the new father stumbles, looking everywhere until he sees his daughter.

"His name's Ryan," Emily says. "Ryan Nikolai Scully Krycek. Doesn't it sound like he could be the next president?"

Krycek looks more shocked than his mother-in-law. "What?"

"I think you're right, having a American name would be easier, 'cause some of my classmates have a hard time the first day of school," the little blonde girl says. "But I like Nikolai, too. Was that my other grandfather's name?"

"Yeah, it was," he hugs his daughter. "You're a smart girl, you know that?"

She beams up at him. "'Cause I'm your daughter," she agrees, snuggling into her father's embrace.

Mrs. Scully smiles. No, in this respect, Emily's more like her mother, but doesn't want to disagree with anyone at this point. "Well, now that you've given your little brother a name, and an impressive one at that, are you going to help your mommy and daddy take care of him?"

"Of course!" Emily says, and her raised voice wakes the baby up, making him cry. "Uh-oh."

"It's all right," her grandmother tells her, leading the little girl over to the baby. "Babies cry when they need to eat, have their diapers changed, or go to sleep."

"Like my cousins," the little girl says, and Mrs. Scully nods. "How do I know which is which?"

And as she told Emily's mother so many years ago, Mrs. Scully replies, "You'll learn. But usually, you start by checking the diapers, and if that's clean, then you can feed him with the bottle. If he's not hungry, then you can rock him to sleep."

"Wow, that's hard," Emily says, and then she looks up at her grandmother. "Do I have to smell his diapers?"

Mrs. Scully chuckles. "Usually, you can smell his diapers if he did his business already." The little blonde girl makes a face. "Sometimes you have to open it up and smell it a little," and she demonstrates. To her inner relief, it doesn't seem like Ryan's done anything in there yet, "Looks like we don't have to change his diaper." Emily looks rather relieved, too. "So that leaves two more things."

"Food and sleep!" Emily chirps, and Ryan hiccups, then wails again. "I'm sorry."

"Guess you'll have to keep your voice down for a while," Krycek walks over saying. "I'll get the milk ready, you can carry him on your shoulder and pat his back to see if he needs more sleep." He waves and makes his way to the kitchen.

"Okay!" Emily calls out, then looks crestfallen when Ryan starts crying again. "Sorry."

"Here, let me help you." Mrs. Scully lifts the baby boy out of his bassinet and hands him over to his older sister. "There, got him?"

Emily nods, then cradles him against her shoulder like she's seen her cousin Page do for her baby cousins. "Like this?" she stage-whispers.

"Like that." Mrs. Scully nods.

"Don't worry, Ryan, your big sister will take care of you when Mommy's sleeping," Emily continues in her stage-whisper, and Mrs. Scully puts a hand over her mouth to cover a small case of the giggles, remembering a similar scene thirty years ago with the little girl's mother and uncle. At least this time, she's closer to the girl in case she accidentally drops her brother. Goodness knows, Charlie still hassles his eldest sister about that one.


While Emily spends the next couple of days learning the fine arts of being a big sister with the help of her cousins, her Aunt Dana is marveling at the child in her own belly. "He's kicking so much, he'll probably come out a soccer player," she gasps, thankful she's sitting down. The house seems so quiet without the kids, but for today, she's relieved that she doesn't have to worry about them while being distracted by her own pregnancy.

"I'll have a ball ready for the kid, then." Mulder grins, and she sticks her tongue out at him. "Hey, you started it."

Scully closes her eyes. "No, he did," she mutters. "Or maybe there's a memo for kids to come out earlier that their mothers haven't heard yet."

"Maybe." Mulder shrugs. "Or maybe he doesn't want to be too far behind his cousin."

Scully smiles a little, her eyes still closed. "I'm surprised you haven't suggested an alien conspiracy yet."

"Oh, it's definitely *not* aliens," he says, so vehemently that his wife opens her eyes to look at him. Then he tones down a bit, also surprised at himself. "But it's not like we can exclude the paranormal entirely, since there's a whole host of wisdom in old beliefs surrounding childbirth. Most of which I'm unfamiliar with, currently," he adds sheepishly.

She shakes her head. "Wow, a whole area of knowledge about which you are wholly unfamiliar with. Will wonders never cease."

He puts his hands up. "Hey, that doesn't make me any less of an authority on weird shit."

Scully giggles, "I'll remember to put that on your diploma, then."

"You don't mess with my credentials, I don't mess with yours," he retorts in a lofty tone. Then a familiar, paranoid look returns to his face. "Hey, you think John's messing with our office?"

His wife sighs a long-suffering sigh. "Mulder, if you're so worried about it, why don't you go over and find out? I swear, you're more comfortable leaving our kids in the hands of others than you are about leaving the office to others."

"It's not like that," he protests, then realizes she's right. Whoa. "Um, I'm gonna go pick up the kids, then, and we'll swing by the office on our way home."

She pats his head fondly, "You do that." She chuckles when he makes a face brushing his hair with his fingers. "Go on, me and the bump will still be here when you get back."

He kisses her forehead. "I love you."

"Love you, too." She smiles, then shakes her head when he leaves. "Silly man."


Later that night in the Krycek household, once Mulder and his children have cleared the area, Emily sits beside her weary mother on the bed. "You know what, Mommy?"

"What, sweetie?" Melissa says, smiling a little as her daughter turns away to give the illusion of privacy as she breastfeeds little Ryan.

The little blonde girl pauses. "I think it's okay for you to wait until I get a sister," she says finally.

"And why is that?" Melissa says carefully, both to smother the laugh threatening to bubble over and the attendant pain that laughter would cause.

"'Cause I'd need lotsa help, just like Page does," her daughter says in all seriousness. "And I'm not good at being a big sister yet, so Ryan's good practice."

Melissa pauses in her breastfeeding, staring at Emily. Then the dreaded fit of laughter hits, her stomach killing her as she doubles over. "Ooh, ooh, owwwww, ohhhh," she groans, tears in her eyes even as her son wails for a completely different reason. "Sorry, baby," she says, wiping her eyes and her son's, and trying to reposition the infant without further pain, but it's not working.

"Mommy, are you okay?" Emily grabs her mother's arm. "Is Ryan hurting you?"

"No, no," her mother gives up on explaining, since she's still in too much pain. "Can you help Mommy put Ryan back where he can get some milk?"

"What?" Emily looks stunned, then bites her lip, trying not to look directly at her mother's semi-nudity. "Um, okay."

Guess somebody had to have a sense of modesty in the family, Melissa thinks, too bad I'm gonna be the one to have let her know modesty and practicality don't always go hand in hand, especially when it comes to babies. "Just lift up Ryan, yeah, just like that, whoa, okay, thanks," Melissa sighs, finally leaning back as her baby boy resumes feeding. "Mommy's not as strong as she used to be, but give me some time."

"Okay." Emily nods, looking away again. "Um, Mommy?"

"Yes, honey?" Missy murmurs, her eyes back on her son.

"Do you need to get shots, too? 'Cause I can give you some if you need to feel better."

"Huh? No! No, it's not that," Melissa rushes to reassure her daughter. "Giving birth isn't easy, that's why I'm feeling so weak. But I'll be back to normal after a while, don't worry."

"So it's all the baby's fault that you're not okay?"

Oh boy, even Dana wasn't this incisive as a child, Melissa sighs inwardly. At least for Mom's sake, I hope not. "No, it's not that, either. Look, Emily," she says, her voice unconsciously slipping into a more mommy tone, "There are some things that you go through in life that might be painful for a little while, but in the end, it's worth it. Like giving birth -- my body's sore, but I'm so glad that Ryan's here, and after a while, I'll be healthy enough to run after you and Daddy."

"Really?"

"Really," Melissa says firmly. She's relieved only when her daughter's worried look eases off. "Besides, I don't trust your Daddy not to stay out of trouble for long."

"Oh, he's good!" her little girl says quickly. "Um, I mean..."

"What did he do?" the redhead raises an eyebrow.

And they spend a good portion of the afternoon discussing Alex Krycek's misdeeds and what exactly should be the consequences of such deeds.


Meanwhile, back at the office, Doggett and Reyes are totally busted. No if's, and's or but's about it, they are totally and completely busted. As if it wasn't bad enough that the room is practically covered in post-it notes like an office blizzard hit the room, the fact that they were busy scribbling on more didn't help matters. "Hi." Reyes smiles widely, and Doggett blushes hard enough for the both of them as he futilely tosses the incriminating evidence aside.

"Wow," Mulder drawls, counting on years of poker face to carry him through, "And here I thought the worst that could happen was Skinner changing the locks."

"Daddy, how come there's yellow paper all over?" Page asks, her eyes wide.

"Why don't you ask Uncle John and Auntie Monica?" Mulder says blandly.

The little girl with the big eyes looks at them, their guilty expressions, and the state of the room. "You guys are in churr-ah-buuull," she states as only a big sister can. Her younger siblings nod in agreement. It's not often that grownups get caught doing dumb stuff, and this was definitely dumb stuff.

"Yes, they are," Mulder agrees, unable to keep the smile off his face. The smile stays on his face as he pulls out the camera he'd used earlier to snap "cute family shots" with his kids and Krycek's, and commences to use it as a tool for future blackmail, or at the least, serious embarrassment. "Say cheese."

"Aw, come on," Doggett whines, "we're gonna clean it up."

"Yeah." Reyes nods. "See, it's not permanent." She peels off a few from the desk to prove her point.

"Your daddy's gonna be so mad," Sammy comments.

The two official X-Files agents look at each other, then laugh. "I don't think we have to worry about that." Doggett smiles.

"Yeah, you got other people to worry about, like me," Mulder says, and their laughter dries up. "And Luke, and Hannah, and Gibson."

Suddenly, Doggett's at Mulder's side. "You're not gonna tell them about this, are ya?" he says, his drawl more pronounced.

Mulder pretends to blink in surprise. "I have to tell somebody," he says, "As a responsible citizen and adult. Or would you rather I tell Skinner?"

"No, no," Reyes says, appearing rapidly on Mulder's other side. "You don't have to, really."

"Really." Mulder looks from one agent to the other, who are acting like his own little troublemakers. "Then you don't mind if I tell, well, anybody else that comes by the office. I've got nothing to lose, being on hiatus, but you two," he trails off.

"Just tell the kids," Reyes says hastily.

"Hey!" Doggett protests. "I live with them, you don't!"

"I know," she says coolly, "but I'd rather have them know than our colleagues or boss, wouldn't you?"

"Aurrrghhhh," Doggett makes a noise similar to a compactor grinding a car into a pancake. "Okay, fine, sure."

"Wow, you're good, Daddy." His eldest child looks up in admiration. "You musta been a great older brother."

"I'd like to think so," Mulder says, and the familiar shaft of guilt lodges itself inside his heart. Oh well, serves him right trying to lord it over his coworkers, he sighs inwardly.


Doggett didn't mean to go out shopping, but thanks to he and Monica's, er, Agent Reyes' earlier misdeeds and their getting caught, he's not only buying cleaning equipment for the basement office, but also cake-making supplies. In short, chick stuff. Not like he says so out loud, because the cake is for Hannah, who's making cupcakes for a classmate's birthday. The old lady behind them, however, sees the shopping cart's contents, or the fact that they're nice people, and decides to make conversation.

"Goodness, that's an awful lot for a little girl," the old woman comments.

"I got two older brothers, so they can help me," Hannah chirps.

The old woman raises her nonexistent eyebrows. "They help you cook and clean? What about your mother?"

"Oh, Mommy's far away," Hannah says. "And the cleaning stuff's for Daddy. He got busted," she whispers.

"Thanks, sweetie," Doggett groans, but the fact doesn't escape him that Hannah already regards Gibson as part of the family. Hell, the boy's grown on him, too, but still... Before the granny gets any more wrong ideas about his family, as it seems she thinks Barbara's dead as well, judging by the sudden sympathetic cluckings, the person in front of them is gone, and he pushes the shopping cart forward. "Come on, Hannah, we're next." He nudges her.

"Okay." She smiles, and he can't help but smile back. "Daddy, if Gibson gets tall like Luke, does that mean he won't be nice to me?"

Distracted, Doggett almost puts his wallet on the conveyor belt but stops in time. "Why's that?"

"'Cause Luke said he was all grown up, so he doesn't have to be nice to me, an' since Gibson is younger, he has to be."

I am gonna wring that boy's neck and throw him into next year, Doggett thinks, but says aloud, "That's no excuse. I'm all grown up and I'm very nice." He grins, and she giggles. "Besides, family has to be nice to each other."

"Okay." Hannah nods seriously as if he's spoken gospel, "So that means Gibson's a better brother than Luke."

Hoo boy. "I wouldn't say that in front of Luke," he admonishes her, then pulls out his credit card when the cashier tells him the total. "And I think Luke and I need to have a little chat."

"Like you and Uncle Mulder?"

Out of the mouths of babes, Doggett sighs inwardly. "Yeah, like that." He can't leave the supermarket with Hannah and the groceries soon enough, that's for sure.


That night, Scully is crying, but mostly because her family is making her laugh so hard, her hand on her belly as if to hold that laughter in for her unborn child. "I can't believe they did that!" she gasps between her laughter. "I can't wait to see that film developed!"

"Yeah, well, wait 'til you hear what John and Monica did," Mulder murmurs in her ear.

She stares at him, a smile on her lips. "What, what did they do?"

"Oh yeah," Page jumps in, "Uncle John and Auntie Monica did something baaaaaad."

"Yeaaaaaah," Sammy adds in the same sing-song tone. "Daddy tookded pictures, too."

"Took pictures," Scully corrects him, then turns to her husband. "Okay, I give. What was this bad thing that they did?"

Then everybody explodes into explanations, with much gesticulation, until Scully puts her hands into a T-shape. "Time out!" she says, "one at a time!" Then she points at Sammy. "Okay, tell Mommy what happened."

"How come I don't get to tell?" Mulder pouts in an exaggeration of their kids.

She doesn't want to tell him that he acts like that anyways, but raises an eyebrow, "Wait your turn." While he pouts for real, she turns to her oldest son. "Okay, Sammy, tell Mommy."

Puffing with pride, her redheaded boy regales her with the story of How Uncle John an' Auntie Monica Was Putting Yellow Sticky Paper All Over the Room and We Busted 'Em, with more than a little help from Page and Mulder. April gets her water, because she's giggling so hard, the little girl thinks she's got hiccups. Then David pulls at Jared's hair, and Jared yanks his brother's hair right back, and soon Mulder's in the middle of that, until David tries to reach for Jared and ends up yanking Mulder's nose instead. That's when Scully's giggles turn into belly laughs, and her other children join in.


May 15, 2001
Either late at night, or early in the morning

It's the middle of the night, and Scully feels like she's less a mother-to-be-again and more like a walking bladder. Yawning, she forces herself out of the warm, comfortable bed and out into the cool night, wrapping a robe around her as she shuffles to the bathroom. It doesn't take long to relieve herself or wash her hands, and as another monster yawn escapes her lips, her water breaks. "Great," she mutters, "why couldn't this have happened over the toilet?" Part of her wants to clean up the mess, but the more pressing issue, that is, her unborn child, is telling her to hurry the hell out of there.

Without further delay, Scully goes back to the bed, but not to sleep. "Mulder," she says loudly, shaking him roughly, "get up."

"Mm?" he blinks at her uncomprehendingly.

"My water broke, we need to get to the hospital," she says in her take-charge voice.

It only takes a second for him to sit up, and a few more to grab the bag, his wife, and the keys. "Okay," he says, ready to go.

Well, not quite. "Mulder, I think you need a few more clothes," Scully points out, and then Mulder realizes he's in his briefs and undershirt.

Oops. It's not the first time his wife's labor has left him ready to run off half-cocked and half-dressed. Even as she chuckles, he quickly pulls on a pair of jeans, socks, and his black leather jacket, then goes for the bag, the keys, and his wife again. "Better let Michelle know," he says, and she nods as they rush out the room.

Within minutes, they've notified the nanny, jumped into the car, and are out of the driveway. And then they hit the midnight crowd, which are made up of singles returning from partying, delivery truckers on a long haul, or politicos on their way to making transactions not normally done during the daytime. "Great," Scully sighs, "Just when we need it," she glowers at the large sixteen-wheeler that seems to take up three lanes, then hisses as a contraction hits her.

"Could be worse," Mulder quips, "You could be in some middle-of-nowhere town in Georgia stuck with Reyes while the rest of us are battling evil alien pod people."

Scully grits her teeth before shooting her husband a look. "You have a weird imagination," she says before another spasm of pain hits. "OH!"

"Driving as fast as I can through the gridlock," Mulder mutters hurriedly, ignoring the honking horns and middle fingers as he drives like aliens are after him.


Having broken at least several traffic laws and perhaps a couple laws of physics, Mulder gets his wife to the hospital before she can strangle him. "My wife's about to give birth!" he shouts as he and Scully hustle through the ER.

"Fill in the form and get in line," the orderly mutters, not looking up from his Tetris game.

Mulder's ready to cheerfully strangle the pimply kid when his wife pulls out her cell phone. "Dr. Hart? Yes, this is Dana Scully, I'm at the hospital, my water broke about fifteen minutes ago, my contractions are less than twenty seconds apart, and there's an idiot at the front desk," she says evenly, then pauses. "Yes, thank you."

When she hangs up, she grabs the scrawny orderly by the collar of his scrubs. "Don't you ever give a woman in labor that kind of attitude, got that?" she shouts, shaking him a little before pushing him off. "Come on, Mulder, Dr. Hart's getting a room prepped," she says without looking back.

Mulder couldn't be more surprised than if she'd pulled out her gun and badge. Hell, the kid looks as if she's done just that and pissed his pants, and he grins. "What she said.." He smiles nastily before running to catch up with his wife, who's just doubled over with another contraction. "Come on," he murmurs, and they make their way through a hospital they're way too familiar with, what with all the kids and work-related injuries.


In spite of the late hour, it doesn't take long for everyone to fill up the waiting room, and soon Mulder's got company and coffee, both very welcome at this time. "Has it been just a week since we were last here?" Krycek asks.

"Yep," Melissa says, patting Ryan's back as she walks to and fro. "I'm surprised the staff doesn't know us all by name by now."

"Be glad they don't, they keep calling me 'Fox'." Mulder makes a face.

"It's your name." Mrs. Scully sighs with Christopher in her arms. "I don't see why that's such a problem."

Mulder shakes his head. "It just is," he tells her and is saved from further elaboration when Sammy and the twins use his arms as a makeshift tug-of-war rope. "Pull harder, guys, maybe you can stretch them so my arms can touch the ground like a caveman."

"Daddy, don't be silly," Page scoffs, then yawns. "How come the baby wants to come out so late?"

Actually, he's a week early, but Mulder smacks his inner wiseass before replying, "Maybe he's so excited to see you all that he couldn't wait for tomorrow."

"Maybe," Mrs. Scully smiles, then shifts the sleeping baby in her arms. "Little Christopher won't be the baby any more, will he? Not like he'll notice very much." Then she smiles at April, who's curled up on one of the plastic chairs, already fast asleep.

Melissa yawns, and Emily pipes up, "Mommy, can I hold him now?" Her hands are already reaching up for her little brother before she finishes the question.

Her mother smiles. "Sure thing, Emily. Careful, now." She gently puts her baby boy into her baby girl's waiting arms. "Okay?"

"Okay," Emily whispers loudly, and Mulder chuckles, seeing the contrast between the shy, withdrawn little girl he and Scully'd first met so many Christmases ago and this bright, energetic child so eager to share her love and attention with a new sibling. ::I'm so glad,:: he thinks, ::I'm so glad we've all got this second chance.::

And as the tears begin to fill his eyes, the doctor comes out, looking pleased but surprised. "That was the easiest delivery I've ever seen," Dr. Hart says, shaking Mulder's hand, "Your little boy just wanted to be here, I guess."

"Yeah," Mulder says, his voice suddenly hoarse. ::William's back!:: he thinks as the others surround him and congratulate him or hug him.


Though he's disappointed to have narrowly missed witnessing William's birth for the second time, Mulder is relieved that there was no danger this time, not aliens, and no ghosttown in the middle of Georgia without safe and adequate medical facilities.

::So,:: Mulder thinks as he holds William for the first time in more than nine years ::we meet again. I meant it when I promised that you'd still be born, and here you finally are. Things are going to be different this time around. This time you have six older siblings and Emily as a living cousin rather than a dead sister. Your mom seems a lot happier, if busier, and there shouldn't be any pesky aliens after you. Which isn't to say you're not a miracle, because you are, but you're a much lower profile one. Welcome to the world, Little boy, I've been waiting on you forever.::

"What are you thinking about, Mulder?" Scully asks sleepily.

"How every new life changes the world a little bit."

"And their parents' world a lot."

"That too."

TO BE CONTINUED

Find season 9 here: season 9 & beyond


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