Title: Bedtime Stories
Author: TrthIsOutThere
Author's page: https://www.fanfiction.net/u/1910840/
Category: X-Files
Genre: Family
completed: 06/16/2010

Summary: Pretty AU, yet somehow sticking to the myth arc. Scully and Mulder have a daughter. Just an idea I had when I went to sleep one night, very much a "what if...?" kind of plot.

Author's note:: Okay, we've all read these "what if…" things. I was thinking about it and somehow I still landed on the mytharc…I'm just too obsessed with this show. If William was "the chose one," meaning he was born through natural conception between Mulder and Scully, why wouldn't those who were responsible for allowing William to exist not just let it happen again? Meaning Scully was only barren when it was convenient for the conspiracy and extremely fertile when they needed that strand of DNA, right? I rarely stray into AU as far as this, but I had started thinking about it and I wanted to write it out. Once They found out William was gone, why not try again? Obviously, not all of Scully's gametes were taken from her or else William couldn't exist.

Since this is an alternate reality, I figure the time line is up to me as well. We'll say that 2012 is still looming, though not far off, but this second kid is between 16 and 18. Only because that age is fun to write for dialogue between parent and child, still in high school, still immature, still dependent but old enough to have opinions and take care of themselves when they want to and have the maturity level to make the "right" decision about everyday life. They're also self-conscious about everything. This is why I plan on giving them some crazy name. Scully gave William up about three years before this second kid was born. All the events of the show are still the same; IWTB is pretty irrelevant except for Scully's work on Christian Fearon, which launched her into medical stardom. Long note, sorry.

The best part of June was that signaled the end of the school year. Summer was close. The scent rode on the wind that passed through the screens separating students from the freedom outside the school's walls. The same screens that tended to hold their attention longer than any teacher could in the last few days before school let out for the summer. Teachers tended to give up on lessons and allowed merriment and parties to happen during class time. If they could manage to provide a related academic theme that students wouldn't groan at, they would jump on it. After all, they could not appear to be waiting for school to let out to enjoy the summer as well. Teachers love school. That was why they became teachers.

School let out on what had been, by that point, the hottest day of the year thus far. The cars in the parking lots were like mini ovens. The bell rang, breaking the still silence outside the school and soon the lots were filled with groups of students and their laughter while they waited for their cars to cool off. Most were eager to get away to the closest pool or craziest party and fidgeted in the heat while the cars were cooling off. Yearbooks were passed around, Sharpies were stolen, and tears were shed. The end of the year seemed to be the death of the members of the senior class. They were still too young to realize that saying goodbye to high school life was a rebirth into adulthood. Neither were they capable of understanding there was never goodbye if the other person meant enough.

Exley Mulder made her way to the new Chevrolet Volt her parents had bought her at the far end of the junior parking lot, a car her environment-conscientious mother had insisted on because of their proximity to Washington, D.C. The damn car ran nearly 40 miles on a lithium-ion battery alone, meaning that during school, Exley had to buy gas maybe once every two or three months. Exley was a pretty face, with porcelain-like skin and captivating sapphire eyes, her limbs lanky and her legs long. Her muscles were toned naturally, her near-perfection enviable. She had inherited her height from her father, but because her mother was shorter than average, she only rose to a nearly average five-foot-seven. Her hair was dark auburn, more brown than red.

Exley's name alone was a mystery, a hypothetical "X" in her life. Her parents had given her some celebrity-child name, which she knew had been a battle lost by her mother. She could expect her father to give her some random name, his face always buried in some article about the paranormal. Her mother was more traditional, probably the source of her somewhat more normal middle name. Names. She had two. And her last name was hyphenated due to her parents' choice to never marry. Her birth certificate read Exley Samantha Spender Scully-Mulder. Learning to write her name in kindergarten had been a nightmare. Not only was she the only student that had to learn the letter "X" just to write her name, but she also was quizzed on five names instead of three. At one time, she had been told that her name had nearly been Melissa until her parents discovered that Melissa meant "honey bee" in Greek. Her mother had shuddered at the thought and her father had looked sick. Exley had no problem with her name being derived from a foreign word for an insect. It was better than being named after the one letter of the alphabet that stood as a standard for the unknown…

She had once used Google to search out entries for anything related to the word "Exley" and found a few references to minor and farm league baseball greats, one of which stood out in stark contrast. Josh Exley was a player in the Negro leagues on a team named the Roswell Grays, who broke several records, but refused to go pro. Exley could only figure that was where her father had derived this strange name from. Samantha had been her father's sister, but she had been killed. Exley could respect that. People named their kids after lost loved ones all the time. And Spender was a complete loss on her. Perhaps it was a family name somewhere on down the line.

Exley was glad school was over. It meant that she was able to go back to the nearby community college and take classes that actually mattered to her. She had started this the summer before she had begun high school. It had taken some work to convince the college to accept a thirteen-year-old into their programs. She had to prove proficient understanding in all the subject material and that she would be better benefited by taking the classes. It hadn't taken much— Exley's learning capabilities and comprehension mirrored some of the great minds of history, though she only played that card when she wanted or needed something. With the way it was working out, she would be graduating with an Associates degree and a high school diploma at the same time. That was going to be a hard one to explain to future employers. At the rate she had been going she would be twenty-five and already have two doctorates under her belt.

Her intelligence was no surprise to anyone who knew her parents. Fox Mulder, an ex-highly gifted FBI profiler and investigator, was an Oxford psychology graduate. He was a tall man, with brown hair and hazel eyes that rarely stopped smiling. He was very healthy for his age, spending at least an hour and a half every day in the gym. Even though he was a constant embarrassment with his claims to paranormal explanations, the way he arrived at his conclusions were thought out on what Exley could only say was higher plane of logical reasoning that most people could not even find with two hands and a map. His ramblings actually made sense even though she was mortified any time he spoke while her friends were at her house.

She never wanted to openly admit that she always wanted him to expand on his theories, especially when it came to the supposed global invasion by extraterrestrials. While terrifying, it captivated her, forcing her to believe in the bedtime adventures he had taken her on when she was little. He had created a saga about a man and a woman that had been forced to work with each other for many years in the FBI. The woman, who her father had depicted as a goddess with blue eyes like Exley's, had been sent to spy on the man for a man named the Cigarette-Smoking Man. The depiction her father had given for the man is where she learned what sexy meant at the age of three. The man was a Greek god with tanned skin and huge muscles, used solely to impress the woman or to save her when she may be in trouble. They fought off strange monsters of the paranormal and when the day was done they would just enjoy each other with big glasses orange juice or chocolate milk (her father's sad attempt at code for alcoholic beverages). Every night was a new adventure, and sometimes her father would surprise her by having the woman come to the man's rescue.

"Daddy, does the woman have big muscles too?" Even at four years old, Exley's logic was infallible.

"No, sweetie. Why do you ask?" he asked, tucking her into her bed.

"Well, Daddy…tonight you said that the girl ay-gin saved the boy ay-gin. You tolded me afore that the boy ay-gin had big muscles to save her afore."

"Ex, she used her brain to save him," her dad smiled. "She doesn't need big muscles. Mommy helps people every day without using muscles."

"Oh," Exley frowned, still thinking.

"What's wrong, Exley?" her father asked. She liked his eyes smiling and she put her small hands on either side of his face, squeezing slightly and squishing his face innocently.

"Does that mean that the boy ay-gin gots no brain then? He must not been very 'mpressive at all." Her mother's laughter echoed from down the hall and her father frowned.

He would tell her that when the woman saved the man it made him human and it made him love the woman more than anything in the world. Even if his brain was small, as Exley had suggested, their love was really what kept them fighting for each other. The kind of fight that didn't need muscles to be won.

"They love each other, Exley," he said. "As much as Mommy and I love you."

"That's a lot, Daddy," she said, seriously.

He nodded. "It's so much that no one has counted that high. And when you love someone that much, the only thing that needs to be strong is your heart." He poked her chest gently. "They'll never be in danger."

"So…if Mommy is sad and I hug her, I help her because my heart says what I need to do?"


"And it's not my brain, even though that's where I hear it?"

"You got it, kiddo."

While his stories were frightening, they were wildly romantic and where she learned most of her life lessons. Exley had always thought that maybe her parents could have been the main characters. At the time, her daddy had been a Greek god, the strongest man in the world and he was always there when mommy needed him. And her mommy was smart, beautiful, and self-sufficient and a talented doctor who knew everything about making tummy aches feel better. And they loved each other a lot too. But even as a child, she knew it was too good to be true. She knew that her mother was also an ex-FBI agent, and had also been a phenomenal investigator, but they never spoke of why her father was now a stay-at-home dad or why her mother had become the sole bread-winner of the family. There was no way that her parents, though exceptionally intelligent as they are, were the romantic and adventuresome agents from her father's stories.

But Fox Mulder did not have the sole responsibility for Exley's heightened intelligence. Dana Scully, a petite woman with long auburn hair and intense sapphire eyes, was an accomplished and published doctor. She had successfully completed an invasive stem-cell therapy procedure on a boy named Christian Fearon. Her mother also possessed a thought process that most people couldn't follow. While she didn't possess the funding to attend a school of similar prestige as her father, she still graduated at the top of her class as an over-achiever that juggled nearly eight classes a semester on her long journey to become a medical professional.

Her residency had been completed in forensic medicine which is how she went on to work for the FBI, conducting autopsy after autopsy for special investigations. Her mother discouraged her father's pursuit of an enigmatic "truth" that he believed had not been obtained. The look in her eyes when he would talk about it could freeze the sun. She believed in religion and spirituality, but relied on science to give her the answers she searched for. She was the skeptic to all of her partner's theories, disproving each with scientific theories that Exley had sworn at one point she was making up. When asked, her mother refused to explain how she had come across these conclusions without ever having done the experiments to back them up. While Exley was taken by her father's romantic adventures, the scientific knowledge her mother possessed to disprove her father's theories on the paranormal fascinated her just as much. It was this realm of science that Exley had never stumble upon in a text book and her mother had known the exact approach to handle every phenomenon her father threw at her.

Every so often Exley would catch her mother looking at her longingly with empty eyes. Normally, her fierce blue eyes were full of love and compassion, which is why she stuck to pediatrics. Children trusted her and she loved children. But whenever Exley caught that look, it frightened her. Her mother looked haunted, perhaps by something in her past, and her eyes also possessed a sorrowful twinkle that made Exley believe that she felt bad for bringing her daughter into this world as if it may crumble beneath their feet. Her face remained solemn; a pensive expression that made Exley curious as to what exactly had caused her parents to leave a stable and promising federal career life. It was like a sixth sense, this special emotional connection they shared. This connection was what got Exley so on edge every time her mother looked at her that way. The sorrow and fear that radiated from her mother was curious and deeply disconcerting. She had no reason to feel like life may end as they know it. This tended to happen every year near the end of May, though the specific date tended to vary. After her mother would realize she had been caught, she would smile warmly and convincingly, but her eyes would beg Exley not to hate her.

Dana Scully and Fox Mulder, though they were fascinating intellectuals, had many secrets. Exley had always known. There were certain parts of their lives that had been edited out. Things like why they called each other by their last names. It seemed so impersonal, yet they said it as affectionately as anyone saying any given pet name for their better half. Or why the three most important and closest people in her parents' lives were not related by blood, but were treated as if they were more important than family. She had the suspicion that they had also lost a child before she was born. She had, on several occasions, suspected that was why her mother stared at her sadly. Perhaps she looked like this mysterious sibling that no one spoke of, a doppelganger that made her mother's heart ache every time she laid her eyes on her daughter. Exley knew her parents loved her more than life itself, even if they had named her after the algebraic unknown variable, but knowing how much they loved her didn't take away from the feeling of guilt that took over every now and then.

Dana Scully's pediatric practice was on the way from their house to Exley's high school. On the rare day that her father needed to use the other car, she would drop her mother off on the way and sit in her office after school until five to take her home. The day school let out had been one of those days. Exley sat in inevitable Northern Virginia traffic with the air conditioning blowing on her face full blast. Her mother had promised to leave soon after she arrived since school let out on a half day. They had also planned a bar-b-queue in celebration of summer at her aunt and uncle's house and the party was starting early.

Uncle John Doggett and Aunt Monica Reyes were in no way related by blood, yet Exley's parent's and her aunt and uncle treated each other as something more close knit than any other family. They had married, unlike her parents, and had two boys, Phoenix Jose and Maddox Andres. They had to learn how to write "X" in kindergarten too, that hideous unknown variable. Monica's father's name had been Jose Andres and she liked the weird names, which didn't surprise Exley when she had become conscious of her aunt's quirky personality.

She felt that this particular family circle was like a clique and to belong, you were either born into it or a founding member. The last member of this clique was Walter Skinner. Exley had come to know him as a sort of grandfather figure, even though he was only about ten to fifteen years older than her parents. She could tell that he had played that sort of fatherly role in their lives at some point, though she wasn't sure when. She assumed they had all worked together at the FBI. Skinner, another surname said with more care than any other title, had retired from the FBI when Exley was twelve, but Uncle John and Aunt Monica still worked there.

Exley sighed as she finally stopped her car in the expansive parking lot outside of the INOVA Medical Park where her mother's practice was. She stuffed the bag of sunflower seeds on the passenger seat into the glove compartment. Her mother hated that she had picked up the habit of crunching seeds from her father. She made the long trek across the asphalt desert to the excessively large red brick medical building and wound her way through the halls to the suite that housed Scully Pediatrics of INOVA. She smirked at the sign on the door that read, "Se habla español." Every office in the building boasted this sign in one form or another and every other suite had a doctor of Asian or Indian decent. That was the culture of Northern Virginia.

The nurse on receptionist duty, Caridad, greeted her with a smile and a thick Spanish accent. She wore blue Spongebob Squarepants scrubs and powder blue Crocs. Exley had learned that the LPN's, NP's, and RN's she was in constant contact with tended to swear by Crocs because they were comfortable enough to wear all day long. Caridad was one of the three nurse practitioners in her mother's practice. Exley was fond of her because she challenged the norm, not always appearing in professional attire. She felt like it created a wall between her patients and herself. She tended to wear scrubs with popular cartoons to ease the tension of a doctor's office. Her hair was pulled back in a thick ponytail and a stethoscope hung around her neck at all times.

"Hola, Exlita," Caridad said to her. She was from Puerto Rico. Exley had learned from Monica that adding "-ita" or "-ito" to the end of the word just meant it was a smaller version of the root. Exlita was Caridad's nickname for Exley, but Exley figured she was just calling her a little mystery. Little X. Exley grimaced inside every time she heard it.

"Hola, Cari," Exley responded. Her grasp on the language was more than proficient. She was rather fluent thanks to her aunt. "¿Donde está mi madre?"

Caridad made an exasperated motion. "Ay, Dios. En la oficina. Ella ha estado en allá por una hora o más, gritando en el teléfono."

"¿Gritando…por que?" "Gritando" meant yelling. Why was she yelling on the phone?

"No se, amor. Pienso que ya está listo para salir." Caridad motioned with her head. "Vete atrás."*

Exley walked through the doors to where her mother's office was. As she neared the closed door, she slowed her pace and listened to the angry words coming through the door. "Yes, I'm sure I have the right name. William Aidan Scully. Yes. Scully…I know that his father's name is Fox Mulder. No, I don't want to hold any longer!" There was a short pause. "May 20. Yes. Dana Scully and Fox Mulder." Another short pause. "No, he's nineteen. His records are no longer sealed. I've been trying for a year..." Another pause. "You can not tell me that I am not allowed to check up on my son! Do you think I gave him up because I had a choice?"

Exley backed up into the wall, sliding down to the floor. William Scully. William Scully must be the child whose existence had been accidentally revealed periodically through Exley's life. The fact that his existence had been proven wasn't what caught Exley off-guard. The fact that he was still alive had taken Exley's breath away. Why was her brother no longer part of her family? Why did her parents refuse to blatantly acknowledge his existence? What event in their past were they trying to keep hidden? Why had her mother unwillingly given him up?

Exley scrambled to her feet, noticing the yelling had stopped. She ran to the far side of the nurses' station, just out of ear shot of the office. She turned and pretended to be heading to her mother's office, seemingly oblivious to any conversation that she could have overheard. Her mother rounded a corner in front of her, nearly knocking Exley off her feet. Her eyes held that empty look…that look that happened on or around May twentieth every year.

"Oh, sweetheart!" Dana Scully's reaction time was far beyond impressive, catching Exley right before she hit the floor. Her petite figure undermined exactly how much strength she had in her muscles. Exley noticed this when her mother pulled her up with sheer strength and into her arms. After all, Exley towered a good five inches above her mother and outweighed her by nearly twenty pounds. The whole episode had been witnessed by another doctor in the practice and two nurses; all who were caught off guard by Scully's concealed strength.

"Hi, Mom," Exley said, with a smile. She grunted as her mother squeezed her tightly. It was an apology hug. For more than almost bowling her over in the hallway.

Scully pushed her back to arm's length and looked up at her. She cupped her face in her hand, her eyes searching her face, a quick one-over through the eyes of Dana Scully, MD before she pulled her face down and kissed her forehead, an over-the-counter cure-all that had always been prescribed by Dana Scully, mommy.

"Mom," Exley said amused, almost laughing. "I'm okay. Are you ready?"

Scully pushed the heel of her palm into her forehead, a motion that normally meant she was done dealing with things for the time. Her hand moved down and pinched the bridge of her nose. "Uhmm…" She shook her head in attempt to clear it before meeting Exley's eyes again. They were back to being compassionate, only tired. Master of disguise. "I have two patients and then we can go."

"Anyone interesting?" she asked flatly, raising an eyebrow. Exley had inherited the facial characteristic from her mother. That eyebrow enhanced a wide variety of emotions. Exley sometimes thought that the eyebrows had a mind of their own, sensing the emotions on the face and knowing exactly what inflection was needed to express how deeply they felt at the time. Her father constantly poked fun at the eyebrows.

Scully's eyebrow rose as well and she shook her head. "Probably not." She grabbed her daughter's arm and pulled her back down the hallway to her office. Exley decided to keep her knowledge of William to herself until or if the right time ever presented itself.

*Exley: Hey, Cari. Where's my mom?

Caridad: Oh geez...she's been in her office for about an hour or so, yelling on the phone.

Exley: Yelling? Why?

Caridad: I don't know, sweetie. I think she's ready to leave now. Go on back.*

Exley sighed and folded her arms across her chest. Two patients had turned into three and one call to the emergency room. The glamorous life of a doctor's child. The first patient to come was a spoiled five-year-old with his Salvadoran nanny, who spoke almost no English. In that area of Virginia, the scenario was not all that uncommon. Scully had run back into her office to ask her daughter to translate for her, since the two native speakers on staff that day were out to lunch. The second patient that came in was a screaming infant with a severe double ear infection he had caught at some play group. Scully wanted to rule out every ear, nose, and throat virus to make sure she was prescribing the right medicine. That meant taking a finger prick and a throat swab. Kids hated both of those. Exley knew by the sounds of the screams that it was probably going to be Augmentin no matter what. It was too severe for Amoxicillin.

The emergency room call came between patients Two and Three. Luckily, the emergency room was barely a five minute walk from the practice. One of her regular patients came in vomiting. Scully came back into her office having to change out of her clothes. Exley wrinkled her nose at the smell of puke and frowned at her mother. Scully shrugged and rushed back out of the room, pulling her clean shirt down as she opened the door.

The last patient to come through was older, roughly Exley's age. She had come to find it was one of the kids from her school. The soon-to-be starting quarterback was requesting assistance with an in-grown toe nail. Apparently, as Exley passed the door on her way to the vending machine with Caridad, there was a lot of crying in football. He was crying almost as bad as the kid with the ear infection. Exley shook her head and told Caridad that was why she was a baseball fan.

It was nearly three before Scully walked back into her office, shutting the door behind her, and sunk down onto the couch on the wall across from her desk. Scully pulled her feet up and turned, laying herself down all the way. She threw her arm over her face and sighed. Exley swung her feet off the desktop and pushed her feet back into her worn brown Converse. She leaned forward, folding her hands and resting her chin on them. Her mother didn't move, she only sighed heavily again. Frowning, Exley threw a pen at her mother, hitting her on the arm. "Mom? Can we go now?"

Scully groaned. "Five minutes, Exley."

Exley released an exasperated sigh, saying, "Oh my, God…" and went back to the game she was playing on the computer. The game had gotten old nearly an hour and a half ago, but it was one of those games that held you captive. Once you started, it was hard to stop. After two minutes, Exley looked back at her mother. Her chest rose and fell steadily and, if not prevented, she would fall asleep quickly. "Mom! We have to sit in rush hour all the way to Haymarket; you can sleep in the car."

Scully sent a glare that was almost angry at her sixteen-year-old daughter, but she seemed immune to it. They tended to be at odds a lot more than Exley and her father.

"Seriously, you're going to give me that look? After I just had to sit in here for, like, an hour with your smelly puke clothes?"

"Exley…!" Scully began rising from the couch. She was tired. The child services representative had given her the run-around about her son on the phone. The vomit on her clothes was not something she could have completely prevented. They still had to go to John and Monica's and Scully felt like she had not slept in nearly two days. She raised a punishing finger at her daughter but her words were halted by a hard pounding on the door and thick Spanish accent outside of the office.

"¡Exlita! You know your mom has had a hard day! ¡No le molestes!"

Scully looked at Exley and they both smiled. Exley apologized.

"I did throw my bag in your car this morning, right?" Scully asked. She picked up the bag with the puke shirt and her purse. Exley nodded and followed her out of the office, pausing in the hall as her mother locked the door. They waved at Caridad on the way out, who gave Exley a warning about behaving. Scully thanked her and Exley rolled her eyes. It was time to get to Aunt Monica's and Uncle John's house. She had to talk to Phoenix about William.

Scully had taken the Volt's keys from Exley. Driving cleared her mind, even in the stop-and-go, bumper-to-bumper traffic between Manassas and Gainesville on I-66 West. Before that, they were able to ride more or less at speed in the HOV lane. Exley answered Scully's questions about school with long explanations that she barely heard, telling her about how cheer practice started within the next few weeks, and how she was going to head over to the NOVA admissions office the following Monday to sign up for summer classes. Scully nodded periodically and uttered a "Mhmm," "Okay," or "Oh, really?" every now and then. She really had no idea what Exley was telling her and she knew her daughter would get frustrated with her for having to repeat herself a few days later.

They eventually pulled up to the gatehouse in the cookie-cutter housing community John and Monica had moved in to nearly four years before. An older African-American man stepped out of the gate house. A sign to the right of the door said his name was Ronnie Ward. He had graying hair that wrapped around his head, leaving a spot on top bare. He wore yellow-lens bifocals, a button down white shirt, black pants and shiny black shoes. He smiled as they pulled up and opened the gate for them. They pulled into a drive way around the corner. The house stood towering a tall two stories over the ground, sporting a two car garage. In the driveway sat two more cars. One was Scully's car, a black Audi A5, the other was Phoenix's silver Honda Civic. The house was white, with a green door and large windows that let in an excessive amount of light. Scully and Exley walked up to the garage door, punching the code into the key pad. One door opened and they walked into the house, the alarm system beeping when they opened the door. Scully stopped remembering she hadn't grabbed all her bags and went back out to the car.

Exley walked around the corner to where she heard her father's voice coming from the living room. The house's walls were white and the floors were all chestnut-stained hardwood. A giant arch separated the foyer and door to the garage from the living area of the house. Through the arch, the kitchen was off to the right and the living room opened in front of her, a fireplace on the wall directly in front of her and the ceiling towering over her head nearly twenty feet above. Through the windows on either side of the fireplace, she could see Phoenix and Maddox tackling each other in the back yard. Off to the right, directly outside the kitchen, was a gray-stone patio holding outdoor furniture and what Uncle John had dubbed the "Man's Grille." There was even a sign on it. The grille was smoking and she saw her father and uncle talking and laughing with beers in their hands.

"Monica?" Her mother had come in behind her.


Exley and her mother walked into the living room and looked up at the loft/hall way of the second floor. Monica appeared at the top of the stairs a second later and flew down the stairs quickly. It had been awhile since she and Scully had been able to see each other. Her brown hair was no longer Bureau regulation length, hanging just past her shoulders. They embraced each other tightly and for a long time. They smiled at each other and began talking immediately. Scully explained how she had gotten thrown up on and that she would really appreciate a shower and the use of her laundry room. Monica said hello to Exley and pulled her into a tight embrace, telling her to make herself at home, before taking Scully upstairs. She turned to go outside, but ran right into her father's chest as he gathered her up in a warm hug. She wrapped her arms around his torso and squeezed tightly. Mulder pulled away and handed her his beer.

"Take a sip, but don't tell you know who." He pointed upstairs. Exley smiled and took a quick sip. He took the beer back and pulled her close with one hand and kissed the top of her head. "How was school?" he asked, leading her to the back door.

"Pretty boring, like normal," she said honestly. "I just told Mom I'm going to sign up for my NOVA classes on Monday."

Mulder winced and shook his head, pausing in the doorway. "Yeah…I forgot to tell you… that's not happening this summer."

Exley stopped dead in her tracks and looked at her father. After a second she smiled and gave him a soft shove. "Dad, don't be facetious." She skipped out the door over to her uncle. "Hey, Uncle John."

John Doggett turned away from the grill and smiled. He was a man that could appear as tough as nails, but his heart was softer than any one Exley had ever met. He had pale blue eyes that hid his life story behind them and short, cropped brown hair. He pulled Exley into a one-armed hug and kissed the top of her head. "Hey, kid. Ready for summer? More classes again this year?"

She nodded and planted a kiss on his cheek. "Of course." She cast a sideways glance at her father, who held his hands up in surrender. "Hopefully starting soon." She pulled away and ran over to where Phoenix and Maddox were waiting with a football between them. Both boys looked like their father, with light brown eyes and dark brown hair. The only difference between them was that Maddox wore his hair long, covering his eyes and had his father's sharper features and Phoenix wore his hair short and sported his mother's softer features. Phoenix also had played football for the last three years for his high school, spending more time weight building and conditioning than his skateboarding and freshman baseball playing brother did.

Monica stepped through the door and slid the screen shut behind her. She quickly made herself a mojito at the bar and then sat in one of the over-stuffed chairs around the table. Mulder turned to look at her. He sat across from her.

"Is Scully going to grace us with her presence?"

Monica nodded and took a sip of her drink. "She said a kid threw up on her and she felt dirty. She's showering and changing."

Mulder grimaced and made a disgusted noise. "Oh, geez. I don't know how she deals with that."

Monica smiled and put her drink on the table. "Exley has probably thrown up on you before."

Mulder shook his head. "That's different. She's my own kid."

"Look at this guy," John said, pointing at Mulder with his grilling tongs. "He can investigate violent crimes for years, but he can't stand a kid puking on him."

Mulder groaned. "Again…a different situation completely."

Monica pushed the contents of her mojito around the glass with the stirrer. She frowned and picked at invisible fuzz on her shirt. "She umm…she said she tried to access William's records again," she said quietly.

Mulder's eyes widened. "Any luck this time?"

Monica shook her head and looked out in the yard as Exley took her younger son's feet out from under him. "John, your son is getting his ass kicked by a girl."

John looked up as Maddox was climbing to his feet. "Hey. Hey! Why are you letting her push you around?"

Maddox let out a string of curses in Spanish. He looked at Monica who gave him a warning look, saying that she knew what he was saying. He threw his arms in the air. "Dad! We're not allowed to hit girls!"

John pointed at him with his tongs. "Damn straight, you're not. I'll pop you so hard that you'll see stars for a week." Maddox brushed his shirt off and used one hand to shove Exley. "Hey! What did I just finish saying?"

Maddox curled his hands into fists and turned to his older brother who was laughing at him and ran into him head first, tackling him to the ground. If he couldn't hit Exley, he would hit his brother. Exley jumped on his back and tucked her elbow under his chin and put him in a blood choke. Phoenix rolled him off, helping Exley pin him down for a tap out.

John turned back to Mulder and Monica. "Do you think she knows?"

Mulder watched his daughter for a few seconds and then shrugged. "I think she has an idea that she's not really an only child. But as for the other thing…we don't even know. She didn't display the same signs as William." Scully stepped out of the house at that moment, hugged Doggett, and then sat next to Mulder at the table. He grabbed her hand and squeezed it, bringing her fingers to his mouth and kissing her fingertips. Scully smiled before she leaned over and kissed Mulder lightly on the lips. His eyes asked her if she wanted to talk and responded with an almost imperceptible shake of her head, telling him they would talk later.

"Do you want anything, Dana?" Monica asked.

Scully sighed and looked over where Exley was rolling around the yard with Maddox. Frowning, she looked back at Monica. "Just water." She looked back in the yard where Phoenix was standing off to the side watching with his arms folded across his bare chest. "Phoenix Jose."

He looked up. "Yes, Aunt Dana?"

She motioned at Exley and Maddox. Phoenix looked at his brother and Exley. He waved it away and laughed. "They're fine. I'm watching them."

Maddox gripped Exley between his thighs trying to get a handle on her so he could get back the upper hand. Exley sat back, one knee on the ground, turning to wrap her arm around Maddox's feet. In one swift and deliberate movement, she spun around and pushed with her foot that was flat on the ground and flipped Maddox onto his stomach. She pushed up off the ground quickly and scrambled out from beneath Maddox. Phoenix laughed as his brother moaned in pain and said that he might throw up. He rolled back and forth pulling his knees up into the fetal position.

Scully rolled her eyes and walked across the yard to where Maddox was moaning in pain on the ground. She crouched beside him and tapped his face with the back of her hand. "I keep trying to tell you that she's better and you never listen. Are you okay?" He nodded slowly, a sour look crossing his features. Amusement played on her face. "Okay, get up. I saw you get hit harder than that at bat this season. There's no crying in baseball, slugger." She helped him to his feet and he limped over to the patio, dropping into a chair across from Scully.

Out in the yard, Exley moved close to Phoenix. She touched his arm. "PJ…I have to tell you something."

Phoenix turned to look at her, his arms hanging down his sides. "What's up?"

Exley looked over her shoulder at their parents talking on the patio. She looked back at Phoenix, her eyes serious. "I have a brother," she said quietly.

Phoenix's eyes widened and he cast a glance at the patio before squaring his shoulders and giving her his full attention. "Your mom's…?" He made a motion around his stomach, miming a rounded stomach.

Exley shook her head quickly. "No!" She laughed. "No. He's older than both of us. I heard my mom yelling on the phone at someone today." He looked toward the patio again. She grabbed his chin and forced his attention back to her. "They don't know I know."

Phoenix pulled her hands from his face and winced, shaking his head. "Aww…Ex. Not one of these again. Everyone's parents have secrets. I will admit ours have more secrets than others. But they all worked for the FBI. You can't expect— "

Exley shook her head this time. "No, Phoenix. I've never heard my mom yell like that before. And this is different. I have a brother out there somewhere."

Phoenix paused and cocked an eyebrow at her. "Alive?"

"It sounded like it. My mom gave him up. It sounded like she put him up for adoption without wanting to. Why him and not me too?"

"I don't know, Exley. Are you thinking that's probably why she looks at you so sad some times?"

"I think that's exactly why she looks at me like that. I think his birthday is May twentieth. I heard the date when she was on the phone. May is when she gets all weird and stuff…"

Phoenix shrugged and suggested, "We could always ask Skinner…"

Exley shook her head. "They don't want me to know. I'll figure it out. I just had to tell somebody. But you can't say anything. Even to Maddox."

Phoenix traced that God-awful letter over his heart with his finger, the unknown variable. X the heart. He smiled. "Secret's safe. Like always."

"Thanks." Exley smiled. "I'd hug you, but you're sweaty."

He laughed. "You're just too picky." He reached out and pulled her close, making sure to rub as much perspiration on her as possible. She shrieked and tried to wiggle out of his grasp. He held on tightly.

"Mom!" she exclaimed.

"Phoenix Jose…" The warning came from two female voices and he released Exley, laughing and dodging out of the way of her fist.

"Daddy?" Exley had only turned three within the past few weeks. She was still short for her age, being years away from the growth spurt that would shoot her up to her full height. Soft auburn curls, the same red as her mother's, fell loosely around her face and barely touching her shoulders. Every time she toddled around the corner her father could not help but smile, seeing her mother in miniature form.

Mulder turned to see her standing in the doorway of his office, rolling her ankle back and forth like kids do when they are waiting for something. He smiled and held his arms open to her, causing her to giggle and run into his waiting arms. Scully appeared in the doorway behind her and, folding her arms, she leaned against the door frame. "We came in to say goodnight," Scully said. Mulder stood and walked over to the doorway holding Exley, ready to hand her back to Scully.

"Daddy help?"

Scully smiled and touched her nose to Exley's. "You'll have to ask Daddy." She looked at Mulder.

"What do you want me to do?" Mulder asked Exley.

"Bedtime story!"

Mulder's eyebrows rose on his forehead. "A bedtime story?" He looked at Scully.

Scully shrugged. "Bedtime story," she mouthed.

Mulder conceded with a shrug. "A bedtime story it is then." They walked upstairs and into Exley's room. The walls were painted in a pastel pink color (her choice), and her bed sported a Disney princesses comforter. Toys lined the walls and stuffed animals made a home on the bed. Scully tucked Exley into her bed and arranged her animals just how she liked them, then sat on the edge of the bed, brushing her hair back from her face. Exley's eyes were tired and they were threatening to close. Scully smiled and kissed her daughter's forehead. Exley caught the gold cross around her mother's neck in her hand before she was able to pull away.

"Pretty, Mommy."

Scully looked down at the pendant and smiled again. "Maybe you can have one someday," Scully said. "Would you like that?" Exley nodded. Scully pulled her hand off the chain and tried to stand up, but Exley caught her hand and pulled her back. Exley patted the bed beside her.

"Daddy tell bedtime story," Exley explained. "Mommy hear too."

Scully nodded and slid in between the wall and Exley on the bed and hugged her close. Mulder sat on the floor with his back against the wall and looked up at Scully remembering Oregon shortly after they met, where Mulder had told Scully about his sister's abduction for the first time. All of the sudden he was inspired for Exley's bedtime story.

"Go, Daddy!" Exley said. "Bedtime story!"

Mulder smiled. "Okay. This story is a good one, though I'm not sure when it ends. So it may take a few days to tell it."

"Tell me."

"Once upon a time…there was a man. This man was tall and strong." Mulder flexed his biceps, causing Scully and Exley to giggle, but he dropped them quickly and so did his face. "But people thought he was weird because he believed silly things that no one else did. What was worse, he had no way to show people that the silly things he talked about were real!"

"Like aliums, Daddy?" Exley's little voice skeptical. Scully had to laugh at her. Mulder had always tried to convince Exley about the existence of extraterrestrials, but she would tell him he was silly and that aliens were only in cartoons on television, like Ben 10: Alien Force. In a very Scully-like manner, she would claim that there was no way that aliens were real. Ben 10 was a cartoon. Aliens are on Ben 10. Mommy (a very smart woman) said that nothing on cartoons was real. Aliens can't be real. Perfect deductive reasoning.

"Exactly like aliums," Mulder said, nodding seriously. "The man knew a very dangerous and scary secret about the aliens, but everyone thought that he was just being silly. So they sent down a woman to spy on him. When the man saw her for the first time, he thought she was the most beautiful woman in the world. She was a scientist…a doctor, kind of like Mommy. The man thought she was too beautiful to be in his office and he thought she might have gotten lost, but he also knew that with her help that he could show people that the aliens he talked about weren't silly."

"But Daddy…aliums are silly…"

Mulder pushed his finger to her lips to stop her. "But remember the man doesn't think that. He knows in his heart that he's not being silly, he just wants to show everyone else the same thing." Exley seemed to accept this, but the small lesson in the sentence would be lost on her until she was older. "So…the man wanted help. He took the woman with him to Oregon where he had heard about kids that were getting taken by the aliens. This adventure brought the woman into the man's world, testing her beliefs in the solid facts that science had given her for many years. She started seeing some of the silly things the man believed in. She started to see just how dangerous it was to believe in aliens—"

"Why is it dangerous?" Exley said around a yawn. Her eyes were wide, though still drooping heavily. Because Scully was holding her close she was brave enough to hear her father's story. Aliens weren't real anyway, so she knew she had nothing to worry about. Mommy told her that when Daddy had first scared her talking about the poster in his office.

"Well…" Mulder's face was twisted in thought. "There were other people, bad people, that didn't think aliens were silly. They believed in them too, but they wanted to stop the man from finding out more about them. These other people would do everything it took to keep the man and woman from finding out everything they knew. In Oregon, they even set the hotel on fire with all of the woman's evidence she had collected!" Mulder caught Scully's eyes. They sparkled as she remembered that very first trip to Oregon. It had been so long ago, and they had come so far since then. "They weren't very nice at all. But one of the kids that was taken…the aliens brought him back. He was sick at first, but when he got better, he became the first bit of solid proof that the man's belief wasn't silly at all. He started telling other people about what he had seen…"

"Mulder…" Scully whispered. He turned and saw that Exley's eyes were closed and her chest rose and fell with every deep sleep-filled breath she took. He turned around so that he was kneeling beside the bed. Scully reached out and pushed hair behind his ear, her fingertips tracing around his ear before her hand landed softly on his cheek. "What happened to the man and woman, Mulder?" she whispered.

Mulder smiled and turned his face to kiss the palm of her hand. He took her hand in his and kissed her fingers before reaching out and pushing a loose curl away from Exley's face. "They became best friends, partners, lovers, confidants…chased and wanted for their fight for the truth. The man caused the woman a lot of pain that he wished he could take away." Scully's eyes glistened and a stray tear fell from her eye. Hearing the story of her life in a bedtime story seemed to make it more emotional when she thought about it. Mulder reached over and lifted her chin so that she was looking into his eyes.

She sniffed. "The man gave the woman two very beautiful and perfect children that she thought she would never be able to have. That alone was well worth every previous misfortune they had overcome together." Scully looked down at Exley and kissed her forehead before sliding out from behind her slowly.

"I'm so sorry, Scully," Mulder apologized so softly that Scully almost missed it.

She sat in front of him on the bed and held his head in both her hands. He wrapped his arms around her torso, his head landing on her stomach. She knew tears were clouding his vision when he thought about their son, but that he never wanted her to know that. She brushed her fingers through his hair. "I know, Mulder, but I wouldn't hesitate to do it all over again the exact same way."

"Mom?" Exley lay on her parents' bed while her mother dressed for work. Summer was not quite over yet, but all Exley was thinking about was the end of August and her looming tenth birthday. She would finally be breaking into the double digits. The television was playing Hannah Montana. Exley was wearing a pajama shirt sporting the High School Musical cast, lying on her stomach and her head propped on her hands. Her head was tilted to the side and her brow furrowed as she stared at the television.

Miley and her brother Jackson were learning how important it was to slow down and see the scenery. They wanted to get back to Malibu and do things with their friends that they deemed better than visiting some old highway diner their father held a particular interest in. Frustrated, Jackson and Miley go back to the tour bus in a storm and get struck by lightning, sending them to the past. They go back into to the diner and see their father when he was touring before they were born. They realize that their mother was a waitress in the diner and that their father had wanted to share with them the place where he had met their mother, but while there, their parents barely even looked at each other. Jackson began to disappear and it was up to Miley to get her parents together. The episode ended in Disney predictability, with Miley waking up, all-knowing about the diner, and telling her father that her friends and Malibu could wait. The diner was more important.

When Scully didn't answer, Exley turned her head to look at the bathroom door. "Mom!" she called louder. She turned on her side and hooked her foot in the crook of her elbow impatiently.

Scully appeared in the doorway, mascara in her hand. "Yes?"

Exley motioned at the television. "How did you meet Daddy?"

Scully sighed in frustration. For once she was running way ahead of schedule, so she was not sure why her patience with her daughter's question was so short. It may have had something to do with how her morning routine had been interrupted by such a momentarily trivial question. She took a calming breath. Of course she wanted to answer the question, but Scully really hated her routines getting interrupted. Her daughter had heard the story a few times before as a bedtime story, but she had not realized that the stories her father told her were in fact about Mulder and Scully themselves. "Exley, I'll be done in a few minutes. Can you wait until then?"

Exley's face was impatient and curious. She looked at the television again and then back at her mother. "Well, Mom…I need to know. Just in case Daddy wants to take the scenic route home and we stop at the place where you met. I could disappear if I don't know and don't want to go see."

Scully's face held a puzzled expression and she cast a curious and confused glance at the television. "What are you watching?" she asked, closing the tube of mascara and walking over to sit on the bed. Exley swung her feet over the bed, sitting next to her mother. Scully looked up as the next show began. She suppressed a groan when she saw Dylan and Cole Sprouse running across the screen. Scully hated that show. The Suite Life of Zack and Cody seemed to be the only show that the Disney channel played when Hannah Montana and The Wizards of Waverly Place were on hiatus.

Exley's big blue eyes met her mother's, genuinely concerned that she may very well disappear if her mother didn't tell her the story she wanted to hear right then and there. "Mom, Miley and Jackson got struck by lightning and they went into the past and they found out that the diner they were at was where their mom and dad met. Jackson started to disappear when him and Miley's mom and dad almost didn't meet. If you take me to the place you met, I might not know and I might disappear."

Scully wanted to groan or roll her eyes. The science sat on the tip of her tongue and it wanted to jump out of her mouth in an angry retort. Looking into her daughter's doe eyes forced Scully's brain to have trouble distinguishing between arguing with Mulder and arguing with Exley about the scientific impossibility of disappearing. She had lost count how many times she had made these arguments with her partner. The plotline to this episode sounded like something that would be followed by, "Pack your bags, Scully. 'Where we're going, we don't need roads,'" with Mulder doing bad Doc Brown impressions and quoting the Back to the Future trilogy for the whole trip. That would send them into the argument about the impossibilities of time travel and jumping between dimensions. She had chosen to forget how many times they had followed a lead only to find a dead end at the front door of an obsessed movie fanatic who happened to own a DeLorean DMC-12. At one point that was how it would have happened.

When John Doggett began to argue her side, she would have produced theories about déjà vu being a look into the life that could have been, based on the sheer knowledge that where a person was at an exact moment in time was the result of every single choice they had made up to that point in their lives. Plausible, though there was little to no scientific evidence to back up the theories. That was the very reason Scully never fully let herself believe in the strange paranormal phenomena that excluded extraterrestrial life.

"Sweetheart…" Scully said slowly, a smile playing on her lips in spite of herself. "You won't disappear. You can't disappear. It's impossible. For that to happen, as you say it did on the show, the probability of being struck by lightning would need to be much higher than a fraction of a percent. If you happened to live through getting struck, there's far less scientific evidence stating that time travel or jumping between dimensions would even be possible. You have no fear of disappearing because you are right where you're supposed to be…even if you had no interest in seeing the place where Daddy and I met."

Exley was examining the carpet pile, swinging her legs side to side. Scully knew that her mind was formulating hundreds of questions to test the extent of her mother's knowledge before they had to resort to Google or the nearby George Mason University library. Exley looked up at her mother and Scully mentally braced herself for the overflow of questions. She was surprised when the only question that Exley asked was a simple one, easily answered. "Can you tell me the story anyway?"

Scully sat up straight and raised her eyebrow in surprise. She pushed herself backwards until her back was pressed against the headboard and patted the bed beside her. While Exley made her way to the spot her mother left open for her, Scully hit mute on the television remote. Exley snuggled herself up against Scully and Scully pulled her close with her arm. "It's a rather uneventful story, are you sure you really want to hear it?" Exley nodded, playing with her mother's fingers. Scully sighed. "Okay…well…once upon a time, there was a man. This man was tall and strong…"

Exley smiled. "Mom…that's Daddy's bedtime story."

"Well, Daddy is pretty tall and strong, right?" Exley nodded again. "Well, I was supposed be a medical doctor. That was what my father wanted me to do, but some things…went wrong. So I applied to the FBI. Shortly after gaining an assignment in D.C.—"

"What's that mean?"

"It just means that the FBI finds where they have an opening for new Special Agents. You don't really have much of a choice where you go. They tell you, and you do it."

Exley seemed disappointed in her answer. "Oh…okay."

"Well, Daddy was working in D.C. as a profiler." Scully quickly jumped in with an explanation, seeing the question in Exley's eyes. "That just means he learned everything about the bad guy and created a description about him to help the people investigating the case. He ended up assigning himself to a specialized unit that required extra hands. I got assigned to work with him, much against my wishes."

Exley was amused. "Why?"

"Your dad wasn't exactly Mr. Popular. He had a bad reputation and temper and he was hard to work with. Impossible really. We argued all the time."

"Oh, I would have never guessed that…" Exley's voice was dripping with sarcasm, but she smiled. "You only fight, like, two times a day."

Scully smiled. "We do argue a lot. You've never seen us fight."

"Do you ever fight?"

"Not often, but everyone fights."

"But you love each other, so you make up and forgive each other, right?"

"Exactly." Exley was quiet and she played with her mother's fingers again. "What's wrong, Exley?"

"Mom…? How come you and Daddy aren't married?" There it was, the long culminating question that had really started this conversation.

Scully sighed and clenched her left fist, noting the bareness of her hand. "It's just a choice that Daddy and I made."

"People ask me at school if Daddy is my real dad or if he's your boyfriend. They say that if he's not my real dad, then he doesn't love me."

"People like whom?"

"Milly Burgess."

Scully could have guessed that. Milly Burgess, the rich, little blond girl that liked to tell Exley things that sent her home in tears on more than one occasion. "Sweetie...there are going to be a lot of Milly's in your life. You just have to ignore them. Remember what Daddy says about Agent Dales in his stories? He knows the truth in his heart, no matter what other people say about him. That's all that matters."

Exley nodded and mumbled, "I wish Phoenix went to school with me. Milly Burgess never would bother me." She reached up and played with the cross around Scully's neck. "How long was it until you were Daddy's girlfriend?"

Scully fumbled over this. Her son, the first child born to her barren womb, had just sort of happened. Once the in vitro treatment did not take, Scully had been ready to give up on having kids completely. She and Mulder had not planned on William coming into their lives, nor had they planned for Exley. Two times they had beaten the odds, leading Mulder to crack jokes behind closed doors about his army of three hundred million Spartans. Scully tended to ignore them by pretending to be asleep. But they had never dated. In fact, the only thing she could equate to a date with Mulder was Chinese take-out, case files, and a movie at each others' apartments. When the in vitro treatments failed, they had stumbled upon— or maybe eased into, Scully wasn't sure— a certain level of comfort with and love for each other that made waking up with limbs tangled together and bare skin touching bare skin seem as commonplace as walking down the street.

But Scully could never tell her nine-year-old daughter that.

Scully's eyebrow rose again. "The FBI has pretty straight-forward rules about dating coworkers. If I had to give it a date though…I would say around seven years after we met each other."

"When was I born?"

"Five years after that. How long have Daddy and I known each other?"

Exley's voice was preoccupied, her concentration lying mostly on the cross. "Twenty-two years." Exley did not even hesitate. Scully knew that her brain was subconsciously keeping count with any number it had heard during the conversation.

Scully smiled. "Right. Did I answer your question well enough? Can I finish getting ready?"

Exley nodded and leaned over her mother, grabbing the remote and taking the television off mute. As Scully, walked back into the bathroom, she heard the channel change from Disney to Discovery Science, playing a show about the technology of tomorrow.

As the weeks went by, Exley slowly concentrated on William less. There was only so much she could do or ask without her parents finding out or catching on that she knew. She talked to Phoenix about it a little more in depth the night of the bar-b-que after dinner was over. She ended up convincing her parents to let her stay the night. Within two weeks, she had dropped the subject completely. Summer had begun and so had her classes, though she wasn't completely enthusiastic about her classes. She had her "paper-writing" English class and a World History class. She had groaned when she looked at the syllabus for English. There was a short essay due at the end of every week, with a mini-research paper due on the last day. The day after that, she had a research paper due in her History class.

At the beginning of week two of classes, Exley sat at the granite-topped breakfast bar. The kitchen was painted in warm colors and it was the perfect size, despite the rest of her house being excessively large. Unlike her friends' parents, her parents had not expensively decorated. They never called in a designer to put everything in its spot. They could have cared less. Scully had a pretty good eye for interior design as it was and had done most of the designing anyway. Exley preferred it that way, hating that she felt like she would get yelled at by museum security if she sat on the expensive furniture her friends' parents preferred as proof of status. Scully and Mulder were beyond that.

Exley stood and walked into the sun room right off the kitchen. She drank in the morning sun and closed her eyes letting it warm her face. Exley loved the sun room the most. Her mother had used it for the basis of the theme for the entire back half of the main level. The room boasted warm reds, burnt oranges, yellows, browns, and pale greens, and held three pieces of furniture. The couch was rattan, one of the few things Scully had spent an unnecessary amount of money on, and the cushions wore a tropical pattern. In front of the couch sat a glass-surface coffee table and in the back right corner of the room was a side table holding a vase of vividly colored real-feel latex orchids. The windows and tiled floor were dressed in bamboo accents, giving the room a feel of the average Caribbean house. The color scheme and Caribbean theme carried through into the living room to the right of the sun room, into the kitchen and breakfast nook, and even outside onto the deck. Outside it took on a Hawaiian twist with everything revolving around the built-in tiki bar and teak deck furniture.

Exley sighed and went back and sat behind her laptop at the bar. Her hands hovered over the keys and she stared at the empty Word document on her screen. Beyond the kitchen sprawled out in front of her was a small hallway leading to her father's office and the powder room. She looked up as the office door opened. They had installed a door between the hallway and the kitchen. Everything beyond that was Mulder's territory. Scully and Exley would not even send guests into the powder room; they told them to use the bathrooms upstairs. When they bought the house, the office had opened to the parlor. Mulder quickly closed up the wall between the foyer and parlor and claimed that whole side of the house. Scully had given it to him. She hated formal living rooms and saw no point to them. She would rather have the space be used and she knew that Mulder had enough junk to fill up the space.

Mulder stepped into the kitchen and immediately went to the refrigerator as Exley's fingers began to dance across the keyboard. He pulled out a carton of orange juice and opened it lifting it to his mouth and almost took a sip, but Exley's voice made him stop. Without looking up, she said, "Mom said to make sure you use a glass." She looked up at her father and smiled. "She also said that she put you on another diet." She offered him a fake pout.

Mulder groaned. He had never weighed the problems that came with living with a doctor. Once he and Scully had decided they would be spending eternity with each other, he never realized that she was going to force his body to be able to endure forever with strict salad diets and low calorie intake otherwise. He went over to the cabinet holding the glassware and poured himself a large glass of juice. He turned to Exley. "I exercise everyday and she thinks that the food I eat is going to kill me."

"An apple a day, Dad," Exley said and giggled.

Mulder pointed to her. "That's only applicable if your doctor doesn't live with you." Exley laughed and he stepped across the kitchen in two long strides, leaning up against the counter and craning his neck to see the computer screen. He gave up quickly, realizing his efforts were in vain. Her blue eyes met his rich hazel ones. "What are you doing?"

Exley slumped back against the back of the chair, seeming grateful that she got the chance to complain about her assignment. She blew out an exasperated sigh, causing the hair above her eyes to jump in the air. "English. I have to write this short essay thing."

Mulder sat back and drummed his knuckles against the countertop. "You normally do okay with that. What's wrong?"

She looked up at him with a skeptical look that made Mulder's heart melt, but she looked back down at the screen. She looked just like her mother. "It's not really an essay. We have to write some little piece of fiction. There's not really a length requirement, but it has to have clearly defined rising action, climax, and denouement. I just…" She sighed again. "I'm not a creative person. I just think scientifically. I can't come up with epic stories like you do."

Mulder ached so bad to tell her that his stories were based on the truth, but he and Scully had decided after that first night to keep Exley from knowing the truth until she was older. He shrugged. "My stories are longer than a short essay," he said with a smile and then suggested, "Why don't you just take Agent Dales and his partner on a new adventure? I've told you enough stories that you can figure out something new."

Exley sat with her hands folded in her lap and stared at the computer screen, thinking. "I guess I could do that…" Her fingers went back to the keyboard and she hit the backspace button, deleting the paragraph she had started. Behind her, the door to the garage opened and Exley could hear the rustle of plastic grocery bags. Scully came in and set the bags, her keys, and her purse on the counter beside Exley's computer. Exley tilted her cheek toward her mother keeping her eyes on the screen as Scully planted a quick kiss on her cheek. "Hey, Mom."

"Hey, sweetheart." Scully moved to Mulder and planted a kiss on his lips and he smiled down at her. "The car is filled with groceries and Skinner is coming over for dinner." Mulder rolled his eyes and walked out to bring the groceries in.

"Are Uncle John and Aunt Monica coming over too?" Exley asked, tearing herself away from her paper as Scully began putting away the groceries that she had already brought in. Her mother's "Yes" was distracted. She watched her mother's movements and wondered why they were always so sure and deliberate. That was when she saw something she had never seen before. As Scully bent down to put something in one of the lower cabinets, her shirt raised in the back and Exley saw a black holster and a pistol slowly revealing themselves. Exley had always suspected her father to have a gun in his office, but she had never really seen it except when he was cleaning it after going to the range. She never suspected her mother to have one strapped to her belt, especially for a trip to the grocery store. "Mom!" Exley exclaimed, causing Scully to jump up and look around for immediate danger or a mouse or anything to explain why Exley had called out so suddenly. Mulder rushed back into the kitchen with bags in his hands, which he dropped on the table in the breakfast nook. Both her parents' eyes settled on her shocked face.

"What happened?" Mulder asked, while Scully simultaneously asked, "What's wrong?"

Exley jumped off the stool and ran behind her mother, lifting her shirt. Scully turned to see what Exley was doing and when she realized, she spun around to prevent Exley from pulling up her shirt any further. Exley was severely caught off guard with this new realization that her ex-FBI parents probably still carried concealed everywhere they went. She had no problem with guns. She just never thought that they were so prevalent in her life. She thought back to when her mother had gotten thrown up on the last day of school and wondered why she hadn't seen a gun then. Her mother had changed right in front of her. Maybe at work she kept it in her desk. Or maybe her trip to the grocery store had special circumstances. Exley's brain was reaching and she highly doubted the second theory. "Why do you have that?"

Mulder jumped in quickly, stepping up close to Exley. "You get paranoid when you have the job we did. You see the worst of the worst in—"

"Do you have one too?" Exley asked, cutting him off. Her eyes were the size of saucers and she desperately searched for the source of her undue fear. Her eyes searched for reason in her parents' guilty faces.

He lifted up his pant leg to reveal his own concealed matte black Glock 36 Slimline sub-compact pistol. "It's just a precaution. We've carried since before you were born." He reached out and put his hand on her cheek, not sure what gesture to use. "Uncle John, Aunt Monica, and Skinner all carry too."

"Well that doesn't make it okay," Exley said, nearly slapping his hand off her cheek. Her world had just been slightly rocked and while she felt strangely safer around her parents, she was confused and scared. She tried to think that if she had found this out by seeing her father's gun if she would have been more okay with it. Maybe the uneasiness came solely from seeing her mother's weapon first. She was reaching again and her eyes found her mother's. "I mean, you just went to the grocery store. What happens in a grocery store?"

"Well, nothing usually…" Scully started and shook her head. "It's like Dad was saying, you see the worst of the worst people. You get paranoid." She pulled the SIG-Sauer P229 Equinox out of its holster and pressed the clip release. The magazine slid out into Scully's hand with a satisfying metallic click. She held it up to show Exley the three rounds in the clip. "I only carry three rounds." She pulled her daughter close. "It's okay."

For some reason, seeing her mother remove what Exley knew as the "dangerous" part of the gun—the ammo— eased her nerves slightly. Still stunned, Exley returned the hug her mother was giving. "Sorry. It just freaked me out a little," she said into her mother's red hair. She pulled back and looked at her father. "I think I just got inspired to write my paper though." She walked to the bar and closed her laptop and ran up to her room.

When they heard the door shut, Scully and Mulder looked at each other. Scully's eyebrow rose and she picked up the gun, pulling the slide assembly open to view the chamber. "There's always one in the chamber though," she said, looking up at Mulder. "Quantico Firearms 101."

"Scully, I told you to keep a full magazine in that."

Scully slid the clip back into the grip and it clicked into place. She hesitated and raised her eyebrow at Mulder, her right hand wrapped loosely around the grip and trigger finger pointing straight down the barrel, her left hand resting against the bottom of the clip. "I'm a damn good shot, Mulder…if I miss with four shots then there was no chance in the first place." She slipped the pistol back into its holster on her belt. "Do you think she's okay?"

Mulder smiled, but the ancient through-and-through bullet wound in his shoulder began to burn at the memory of just how good—or bad—a shot Scully was. "She'll be fine."

Scully's voice lowered and she moved herself to stand directly in front of Mulder with one hand on her hip, forcing him to look her in the eyes. "We may need to rethink telling her about the real identities of Agent Dales and his partner."

Mulder nodded. "I think you're right. Not today, but soon."

Scully reached behind her and pulled a thick envelope out of the waistband of her pants. She held it up in front of Mulder. "This is the real reason I didn't want her lifting up my shirt."

Mulder's fingers began to shake as he took the envelope from Scully. "Is this…William?" When she nodded as tears filled her eyes, he quickly opened the envelope and pulled out its contents. He held up transcripts and pictures and smirked. "Bio major at the University of Wyoming? It figures that both of them would follow after you."

Scully shrugged. "Look at the UW transcripts again."

Mulder scanned through them again. "He's already graduated with a four-year degree. He's been accepted into the Georgetown medical program." He looked back at Scully. "He's nineteen."

"With a very specific DNA sequence."

"Well, why didn't we let Exley do this too?"

"Mulder…" Scully sighed. "For normalcy. I know that she hates her classes at school. She's in all advanced classes and is still bored. That's why I agreed to let her begin her college career during the summer at thirteen. At this point, if we had agreed to let her graduate after three years of high school like she had been asking, she would be heading to college at sixteen. She would be graduating college at eighteen." She paused. Her next sentence was a whisper. "We don't know if Exley has that activated junk DNA anyway."

Mulder looked back to the papers he held in his hand, the only tangible object he had of his son. This coming fall he would be attending Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. Knowing he was so close was going to kill Scully, but she had made it this long. Mulder flipped through the pages until he came to a letter. He skimmed through it quickly, noting that it was addressed to Scully. It told her that when William had turned eighteen his records were opened and available for public viewing. "This isn't going to put him in any danger, is it?"

Scully stared at Mulder incredulously. "Do you think I would let that happen?" She took the envelope and its contents back from him and began re-stuffing the envelope.

Mulder held up his hands in surrender. "I'm sorry. It comes naturally to ask."

She glanced up at him scathingly, her narrowed eyes bordering on disbelief, and folded the envelope closed. "You know better than that," she said and handed him the envelope. "This needs to be put someplace safe." He took the envelope back from her. "Was that all the bags?" Mulder nodded, the look he had received left him loath to test her patience. "I'm going to go into work for a little while…please clean while I'm gone." She lifted to her tip toes and planted another kiss on Mulder's lips before turning and walking back out to the garage.

As the door to the garage began to shut, Mulder finally found the words for his next contradictory statement. "It's just Skinner, Scully!" He groaned and shook his head.

The printer whirred as it shot the story out into the tray. Once it was finished, Exley gathered it together in her hands. Not bothering to staple the sheets together, she threw her door open and ran out of the room to her father's office beyond the kitchen. As she stepped through the door, she heard the vacuum arguing with the sunflower shells that littered the floor and her father cursed the vacuum for its inability to pick up the shells without an argument. "Dad!" she called over the sound of the vacuum. "It's done!" He spun toward the sound of her voice and immediately shut off the machine, kicking it for effect.

"What was that?" he asked, taking the papers from Exley's hand, his eyes scanning the top page.

"That's it," she said, rocking back on her heels and stuffing her hands in the back pockets of her cut-off denim shorts.

"You want me to read it?" Mulder asked.

Exley's Scully-eyebrow shot up on her forehead. "They are your characters, Dad…"

Mulder set the sheets of paper on his desk and looked around the office wearily. Exley glanced around the office as well, knowing that his attempt to clean was an epic failure. The office was extensive because of its modified size. The room held a rustic feel to it and was accented with dark mahogany finishes on the shelves and desk. On the far end of the room, a dark brown leather couch was pushed against the wall. In front of it sat a wooden coffee table littered with empty bags of David sunflower seeds and tabloids. Beside the couch was a fish tank with a UFO bouncing decoration, casting a green glow around the shaded room. The dark brown Venetian blinds on both ends of the room remained closed always. The built-in shelving unit held hundreds of pointless knick-knacks and books on the paranormal as well as a few psychology textbooks Mulder still had from Oxford. On the opposite wall, hundreds of newspaper clippings were pinned to the wall and in the center was Mulder's beloved, wrinkled, and faded I Want To Believe UFO poster.

Exley shifted her weight from one bare foot to the other. Mulder had barely scratched the surface of the mess in the office and she knew that his version of a clean house was much different than either hers or her mother's. "Dad…how about I clean up the house and you just read through the paper?"

Mulder nodded and looked past her at the kitchen, noting the dishes that he and Exley had piled up throughout the morning. "Yeah, I'm not too keen on this cleaning thing."

Exley glanced around the room again. "Yeah, I know. You can help me by reading that, okay? I'll clean."

Mulder watched his daughter spin on her heels and dash out of the office, knowing that she had inherited a few of Scully's neatness quirks. It was probably better if she cleaned up. He tried sincerely to keep up with their standards, but constantly fell short giving them more work in the end. Sighing, he picked the papers up off the corner of his desk and trudged over to his faithful leather couch, flopping down heavily with one leg hanging off the edge. He rested the papers on his chest and propped himself up on one arm behind his head, chuckling as he read the title.

Together, Forever and Beyond:
The Continued Epic of Agent Arthur Dales, FBI
Exley Mulder

The truth had eluded him for most of his life, constantly dodging into the shadows or rearing its monstrous head at the most inconvenient of times. Special Agent Arthur Dales was a passionate man who sought nothing but refuge from his tempestuous life of conspiracy and mind games. His hazel eyes were soft and understanding, youthful and smiling, betraying his broken and bruised experience that aged his young face. He worked incessantly, not only within the walls of his basement office but also outside, leaving him nearly socially inept and detached from any normal conceptualization of real life. He was intelligent, resourceful, though if one sat in the company of his unremitting ramblings of extraterrestrials and theories of unexplained phenomena, they may well have deemed him hopeless of socialization and institutionalized him.

There was one pinpoint of light in his bleak world. A woman, his partner. Whether she realized or not, she was his tether to the real world to which he clung desperately. Once sent by their superiors to debunk his life's work, she found that the ramblings he shouted at the heavens held ground. She could be described as a pretty face, but to Agent Dales she was much more than that. He was in love. With her intelligence, with her veracity, her ability to challenge him on everything he believed in. Her will was strong, her heart pure; she was his own personal Thracian Aphrodite, with hair like fire and eyes like ice and an unrivaled magnificence. Anytime Dales went astray in his crusade for the truth, it was his porcelain Venus that reeled him in to the shores of reality.

For years she remained an enigma. He knows her from the inside out; he knows her modus operandi, what makes her tick, her greatest fears, and most of her darkest secrets. She suffered so much at the hands of his crusade, but remains steadfastly at his side out of respect. Out of duty and curiosity and out of their shared sense of unrequited love. There was a magnetism between them that Dales couldn't understand. They worked as one unit, a flawless cycle of push and pull, a well-oiled machine. They were comfortable with each other to a fault, expressing their attraction in small gestures and touches; they would give their lives for the other. Yet no matter how close they get, she held him at arms length, strengthening that air of mystery she held as well as the hold she has on his heart, and in cyclical fashion lead him right back to the beginning, where she was nothing but a stunning enigma. His partner, his best friend, his confidant.

The forces against them were released from the black souls of men. Men who gathered together merely to converse how to hinder Agent Dales and his Inanna. This only served to bring them closer, to learn of each others' love and devotion to each other. They discovered a firm foundation within each other that gave them strength to believe in their crusade even when there was no strength left. Their love was borne out of desperation, a need to have a closeness with someone who understood the danger in their lives. It was this love, which lead to the miracle conception of a child.

Agent Dales' Venus lay true to her role in Roman religion. The crusade for his truth had supposedly left her with a barren womb, yet they miraculously and naturally conceived a son as if fertility had never been an issue to begin with. Their son served as the consummation of their love for each other as something more than friends or partners. He was equally a piece of her and a piece of him. Perfect. Special.

Like his parents, the boy's life remained in jeopardy. They kept their love hidden, knowing that if they were discovered by the wrong person, it could mean the death of their son and the death of one or both of them. The boy stayed with his mother and Agent Dales pulled away from the two people he loved more than his own life. Out of love, he ran. He ran for them, leaving his beautiful Aphrodite and perfect son and giving them the chance to survive. But their son, their beautiful, perfect, miracle baby would never be safe. Aphrodite knew this and was suddenly forced to make a decision that could very well stop the beating of her heart and suck the air straight from her lungs.

Jachobed knew that Pharaoh was on a warpath and her son was one of the next to be thrown into the Nile. She stood on the shore of the raging river, watching the waves splash up onto the bank, weighing her options. The water would touch her feet and she knew that it was only a matter of time before the flood took her feet from beneath her, erasing any chance to keep her son safe. She could only protect him for so long and knew that she only had one choice. The basket was woven from papyrus and coated with tar and other bituminous substances. In it, she lay Moses and pushed him into the river. She prayed to her God, El malei Rachamim, for mercy and said to her son, "Yal-di ha-tov veh ha-rach, al ti-ra veh al tif-chad. My son, I have nothing I can give, but this chance that you may live. I pray we'll meet again."

Aphrodite knew that, unlike Jachobed, she would never see her son again. She could only hope, filling her time with lonely days and endless rivers of tears and adopting her mantra of "Don't give up." Agent Dales returned to find that the perfection they once had was once again broken, ripped out from beneath them by the elusive truth they had both sacrificed so much for. He mourned with his broken lover, fearing he could never help her fill the void left by their son, fearing that he would get pushed back to arm's length, fearing that she would again become his stunning enigma.

But she surprised him. Deep within the bowels of her soul, she knew Agent Dales' love was unfailing and rediscovered the sturdy foundation she had stood firmly on for so long. They picked each other up from the burning wreckage of life, damaged and at the end of their ropes. They knew they would live to face the next challenge on the horizon. Together. Forever

Exley had had just turned twelve when Mulder began changing the stories. While they were still wildly romantic, the details changed to a more real-world approach. She was lying in her bed on her stomach, kicking her feet back and forth in the air. In front of her lay one of Scully's medical textbooks called, Forensic Pathology: Principles and Practice. She was flipping through the pages, distractedly reading the gruesome details from the Miami-Dade County Medical Examiner's Office, guessing the cause of death from the case files. Mulder would never know why Scully allowed their daughter to read that book before bed. The phone was plastered to her ear and she was talking to Phoenix as he wished her a happy birthday.

She left the book forgotten on her bed and rolled over so that her head was hanging off the edge of her bed facing the door. She sighed. From the hallway, Mulder could hear her telling Phoenix that she "just saw some pretty gross stuff in mom's weird book." He stood just out of sight in the hallway and listened to her talk.

"…you know, pa-tho-lo-gy," she said, drawing the foreign word out. "It's so people know how hobos die." Mulder could hear Phoenix's indistinct mumbling and Exley laughed. "No, PJ, homeless people, not gay—" this was whispered— "people, stupid." Exley laughed again harder. "No, silly! It's not the same word!" she screeched into the phone. Her voice sobered up. "I don't know, the people were growing mold or something." She paused for a short moment. "It's not gross, Phoenix! Stop being a little girl." Pause. "You are. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes! You are!"

Mulder took that cue to step into the room, announcing, "Time for bed, kiddo." He saw Exley's face go slack and a flash of anger coursed through her blue eyes at being interrupted. He sat on the edge of her bed.

She sat up on the bed. "My dad says I have to go to bed. I'll see you tomorrow though." She paused again. "Mhmm…" her tone was flirty, sing-song. Mulder had to remind himself that Phoenix was like a cousin. "Okay, I love you, PJ!"

Mulder could hear Phoenix's voice clearly this time. "Exleeeeeyyy…! I hate when you say that to me…" Mulder suppressed a smile. Maybe he was like a brother.

Exley laughed. "I know, Peanuts. That's why I say it. Just like when I call you Peanuts. Tell me you love me or I won't talk to you when we come over tomorrow." She was enjoying the torment she was inflicting on him.

"I love you, too, Ex," Mulder could hear the embarrassment dripping from the twelve-year-old boy's mouth. His flat voice betrayed him though. Mulder had heard that tone before. Phoenix had gone from cousin to brother to lovesick puppy in a matter of seconds.

"Night!" She hung up the phone and looked at her father. "Bedtime story, Daddy?"

Mulder smiled and nodded. He shut the book and dropped it on the floor. "You want to hear a story involving an autopsy? I have a couple."

"What is that?" Exley asked frowning. She pulled her knees up to her chest awkwardly, hugging them to her chest. Her legs were beginning to grow long like Mulder's as she entered into her gawky early teens. Her limbs were thinning out and she was quickly growing taller than Phoenix or any of her friends. She was embarrassed and she would cry, clinging on to her mother as if the world was ending. Mulder watched as Scully suppressed giggles and explained to her that she would not feel like that forever, it just meant that she was becoming an adult.

"An autopsy?" Exley nodded. Mulder motioned to the book on the floor. "It's how the pathologists find their answers. Mom did her residency in this stuff, so don't ask me the hard questions, okay?"

Exley smiled and nodded again. "What do you do in an autopsy?" She recoiled immediately, covering her mouth with her hand. "Was that a hard question?"

Mulder laughed. "No, but if you want the icky details, you're going to have to ask Mom."

"Mom!" Exley yelled immediately.

"It's really gross, Ex," Mulder warned, feeling his stomach churn as he remembered autopsies he would rather have not witnessed. "You don't want to have nightmares on your birthday, baby."

Exley scoffed as Scully appeared in the doorway. "Please, Daddy," she said, sounding so grown-up. "You've been telling me stories about aliums since I was three. I'll be okay." When she looked up at her mother, Scully was standing behind Mulder, her hand gently massaging the back of his neck, her other hand on her hip.

"Mom, how do you do an autopsy?"

Scully frowned and looked at Mulder. He shrugged. Sighing, Scully sat beside Exley on the bed. "Well, first…you do the external examination. You measure everything like height and weight and check the skin, noting all your findings. All the details are important."

"Do you have to touch them?" Exley asked, grimacing.

Scully smiled. "By them, you mean cadavers. Generally, you have to touch them, but you're always wearing gloves and scrubs."

Exley wiped her forehead. "Whew! Okay, that's good. I don't think I would like touching them without gloves."

Scully smiled again. She explained the process quickly, wondering what had sparked this conversation. Exley's eyes twinkled with curiosity and Scully could not decide if her child was exceptionally bright or exceptionally morbid. At the end, Exley quietly reflected weighing organs and slicing and dicing bodies just to find out how they died. She put her hand on Mulder's knee to get his attention a few moments later. "Dad, that doesn't count as a story, right?"

Mulder shook his head. "No, but we need to talk about the stories for a minute."

"I like your stories because it's our thing, Dad, not because I need to have a bedtime story," Exley said quickly.

Mulder hesitated. Exley had made a psychological observation without realizing it. He shook his head. "Uhh…that's not what I was going to say," he said, slowly.

"Oh…" Exley said. She took a pillow and laid it on her mother's lap, covering a yawn with her hand. Scully began to comb her fingers through her hair. It was only a matter of time before she fell asleep.

"I want you to understand something," Mulder continued, watching Scully's interaction with their sleepy child. He looked down into Exley's cool blue eyes. "Now that you're older, I'm not going to sugarcoat everything. You've been hearing the same stories for nearly nine years, but they're going to get slightly more real."

"Okay," Exley said, suppressing another yawn. She blinked slowly. "Like what?"

"The lessons you learn from them, they're going to be more serious. And just little details. Agent Dales doesn't really live in a cave. That was just a poetic way to describe his apartment."

Exley nodded. "I'm glad he doesn't live in a cave, he could get pneumonia or something. I always wondered why he wasn't sick all the time. I guess that means that his office isn't in a dungeon either?"

Mulder shook his head. "Nope, just the basement of his building. Though depending on how you look at it, it could be a dungeon."

"Is that all you wanted to tell me? Because it's only my birthday for three and a half more hours and I really wanted you to tell me a story," Exley said.

Mulder and Scully exchanged amused glances. "So did you want to hear a story involving an autopsy?"

Exley shook her head. "I want to hear about the time Agent Dales saved his partner from Antarctica."

"Exley, I just did that one like three weeks ago," Mulder said.

"But Mom's hear this time," she reasoned. "It will be better because I like hearing you fight about the aliens."

"We don't fight," Scully reminded her. She looked at Mulder, rolling her eyes and shook her head, a smile playing on her lips.

"Well, now that you're twelve, I can tell you the real reason that Agent Dales partner was take to Antarctica."

"I've been lied to this whole time?!" Exley exclaimed.

Mulder laughed at her outburst. "No, relax. I just left some details out. Ready?" Exley nodded. "Well…the truth was, Agent Dales was hopelessly in love with his partner, so when she told him that she was being transferred to Salt Lake City, he became desperate. He needed her…without her he wouldn't be able to function."

"The fact that she had to leave broke her heart, too, though," Scully said, sounding slightly defensive. "She couldn't let Arthur see her falling apart from the inside out, so she stormed from his apartment to seek refuge and begin to put herself back together. In the hallway, his words were forceful, causing her to hesitate, demanding that she listen to what he had to say. While she had trouble admitting it out loud, she had secretly given him her heart…"

Exley drifted off to sleep slowly as her mother and father continued. A few minutes later, she dreamed of Agent Dales and his partner verbally debating their opinions on the plausibility of bees carrying alien viruses.

A few hours later, Exley dreamed she was in a cold room when she suddenly heard a buzzing noise near her ear. She turned slowly seeing a spinning saw blade draw closer to her face. Its intention was to cut into her skull to get a closer look at the gray matter beneath the bone. She bolted upright in her bed, her eyes darting back and forth in the dark. Dad had been right about autopsies giving her bad dreams. She threw the blankets off and tripped over her long legs as she ran down the hall to her parents' room. Tiptoeing into the room, she stood on her mother's side of the bed and poked her arm until she woke up. Scully rolled over and sighed, lifting the blanket for Exley to climb in between her mother and father. "Daddy told you that book was going to give you nightmares," Scully whispered sleepily.

"It was the brain examination," Exley said honestly, cuddling up next to her mother and pulling Scully's arm tight around her. The pillows smelled like the perfect comforting mixture of her parents and she inhaled deeply.

Scully giggled quietly into Exley's soft brown waves and kissed the back of her head. "No more autopsies or pathology before bed."

"No more," Exley agreed as she drifted back to sleep.

Mulder swung his legs over the side of the couch and planted his feet flat on the floor. He scrubbed his face so vigorously with his hands that he swore the friction alone would peel the skin away from his skull. Spreading his fingers and raising his eyebrows, he stared at the three full pages eloquently written paragraphs laid out on the coffee table through his splayed fingers. His sixteen year old had unknowingly analogized her mother and Moses' mother. He re-read the paper for the fourth time, and just like before the same words processed through his head. Exley knew about William.

Mulder's chest began to feel empty and his emotionless panic-face settled in over his features. Desperately, he tried to remember why he and Scully had agreed to keep their past life hidden from their daughter. Safety was becoming obsolete, despite the fact that December 2012 was still looming on the horizon. He shook his head to try to clear the fog with no idea what kind of reaction he should have to the story in front of him. The only thought that coursed through his mind was, she knows, she knows, she knows…

He stood and gathered the papers in his hand, not even bothering to straighten the corners. Exley was in the kitchen putting the dishes in the dishwasher and scrubbing the granite countertops clean. He walked slowly out of the office and stood in the hallway just out of the kitchen, running his hand through his hair a few times to gather himself. Stepping out into the kitchen, he said, "Exley, this is phenomenal."

Exley's cheeks turned slightly pink and she shut the water off. "Thanks, Dad," she said quietly.

"Where did you get the idea for this? I thought it was going to have something to do with guns with the way you tore out of the kitchen earlier."

Exley hesitated and pushed herself onto the counter, shrugging. "That's how I see you and Mom, I guess. You have always told me that Agent Dales and his partner loved each other and that they were always in danger. You guys told me earlier that you get paranoid because of your old job, so I asked myself just how far the paranoia would go." She spoke slowly and shyly, as if she was getting lectured about something she had done.

"Ex…" Mulder stuttered and chuckled nervously, shaking his head at a loss for words. She knows, she knows, she knows…"Ex, this is great. I'll go beat your professor up if you get anything less than an 'A.'"

Exley finally smiled. "Is that a promise, Daddy?"

Mulder nodded solemnly. "Absolutely." He paused. "Mom and I come off this way to you?"

"Well, maybe not the love borne out of desperation part," she admitted, stretching her legs out and pointing her toes. "But I know you love each other a lot more than my friends' parents do. Not like there's nothing there with them, but there's just a lot more with you two."

"How do you figure?" Mulder dropped the papers on the counter and stood right in front of her, just out of reach of her toes. She knows, she knows, she knows…

"You guys do this thing…you talk without saying anything. No one does that, at least not as good as you and Mom do. Like…" she looked at the ceiling trying to find an example. "When I asked if I could go to that grad party the other week, you guys looked at each other for a long time like you were talking, but your lips weren't moving. You deliberated and decided right in front of me. When I asked if you were going to talk about it, Mom brushed it off and said that you just had. That takes a special kind of understanding." She paused and swung her feet back and forth. "And the way you look at Mom is like…the way that Jeremy Xavier looked at Milly at homecoming last year when he saw her for the first time. The effect wore off for him, but every time Mom walks into the room you get that look on your face."

Mulder wanted to laugh, first at the fact that the horrible, spoiled girl who tormented Exley all through elementary school had become her best friend in high school. Secondly, he wanted to laugh at the fact that Exley was comparing him to a hormonal sixteen-year-old. "Is it ever embarrassing?" he teased.

Exley scoffed and rolled her eyes, grimacing as she spoke. "Only all the time. You guys are so touchy…feely…blech!" Exley said, grossing herself out and shuddering.

Mulder laughed and picked up the paper again, holding it up to show her. "I'm going to keep this and show your mother. She'll want to read it." She knows, she knows, she knows… "What do you say we get this house cleaned up really quickly and start dinner before Mom gets home?"

Exley glanced around and nodded. "It really only needs to be vacuumed. Do you think you can handle that without kicking it?"

Mulder grabbed Exley's head in a headlock, causing her to slip off the counter. He rubbed his knuckles into her hair and she screamed at him to stop as she pushed at his hands. Finally, she gave up and wrapped her arms around his chest and squeezed the air out of his lungs. He laughed and hugged her around the neck and planted a kiss on the crown of her head. She pushed him away quickly. "Okay, let's do this," she said.

"Dad?" Exley stood in the doorway of Mulder's office with one gloved hand holding her backpack, the other toying with the tassel on the knitted tassel at the end of the string on her knitted beanie, rolling her ankle to the side in an impatient movement. Mulder looked up to take in the sight of his growing daughter. She stood tall at sixteen, half way through her junior year and noted that she looked as if she might have stepped out of an ad from the stores that she shopped at. She wore a black hoodie with the store's logo up by her left shoulder and dark-wash jeans tucked deep into her fleece-lined boots. She hadn't even bothered to take off her white winter coat. Her eyes were serious, as if she had a rough day, and she sniffed every so often from a runny nose brought on by the abnormally cold November weather.

Mulder sat back in his chair and turned it toward her, casually covering the World Weekly News article on his desk. "What's up?"

Exley sighed and stepped further into the office, stripping off her winter clothes leaving a trail of clothing from the door to the couch, flopping down heavily onto the worn leather seat. She took in a deep breath, breathing in the smell that she knew as her father from the pillow.

"Is there something wrong?" Mulder prompted, amused by Exley's dramatic display.

Her face was buried in the pillow and her muffled voice answered him. "Can you make hot chocolate, Daddy?" She turned to look at him with pleading puppy-dog eyes. Even through the dim light in the office, he could see her rosy cheeks from the cold.

Mulder leaned forward, resting his elbows on his desk. "Why don't you tell me what's wrong first," he suggested.

Exley groaned and swung her feet around, planting them on the floor. "Well, first off this stupid icy mix that we keep getting cancels basketball games, so cheer practice has been pointless for the last week. But we keep having school, which isn't fair at all. And Mom has been bugging me about going to California this weekend for Thanksgiving. The whole way home today…" Exley's voice changed in her imitation of Scully. "'Exley, don't forget. We're leaving late tomorrow night.' 'Exley, remember to leave the stuff you need out of your suitcase.' 'Exley, clean your room before we leave.' 'Exley, did you get the work for the classes you were going to miss?' 'Exley—'"

Mulder held up his hand to stop her. "Okay, I get it. You know that your mom is a very organized person. She grew up with military discipline in her house."

Exley narrowed her eyes and scoffed, folding her arms across her chest. "Yeah, but, Dad…no one here is in the military. I always get my stuff packed whenever we go to California."

"Did you tell her she was annoying you?" he asked, walking over to sit on the coffee table in front of her.

Exley nodded and shifted her long legs to the side so both of their lanky limbs could fit in the small space between the furniture. "Yeah, I yelled at her in the car."


"She was bothering me, Dad! Why do you have to take her side?" She frowned and folded her arms across her chest.

Mulder grimaced and covered his face with his hand, reminding himself that just because Exley confided in him today didn't mean that tomorrow he wouldn't "screw up" and send her running to her mother, looking for assurance that she was right. He was treading on very thin ice. "Exley…I'm not taking anyone's side. You know your mother. She runs a tight ship. If I can handle running on that routine, then so can you." He gestured at the office around them. "I get my space to spread in exchange for order in the rest of the house. You know that."

"That's a baseless argument, Dad. You're a boy. All boys are unorganized."

Mulder's lips twitched up slightly at her simple deductive reasoning. Dad is male. The male sex is unorganized as a whole. Dad is unorganized. She said it with such conviction, as if it was so blatantly obvious, that Mulder found himself taking her word without question. He sighed and pounced on the chance to change the subject. "Is that all that's bothering you?"

Exley looked at her father thoughtfully for a moment. He could see a question formulating behind her bright blue eyes. "Dad, if Agent Dales' partner wasn't barren, would they have kids?"

Mulder sat up tall. "What makes you think that they would even entertain the idea of something more than friendship?"

"Dad, I'm not a kid…" Exley said slowly. "The simple suggestion of a heterosexual partnership in a work environment is far from being the most preferable arrangement to superiors. Humans have a natural inclination for…" Exley's voice faltered and she gestured exasperatedly, suddenly aware that she was discussing one of the most awkward topics for a teenager with her own father.

"Propagation," Mulder said, grimacing at the fact that he couldn't protect his daughter from the realities of casual sex between consenting adults. What was worse, he remembered being sixteen and knew the animalistic environment that Exley walked through everyday in the hallways of the Fairfax County public school system. For his own sanity, he repeated that there were probably no Fox Mulders roaming the hallways of Chantilly High School. "You've been reading too many of your mother's old textbooks."

"Which is beside the point," Exley argued, bringing the conversation back to its original course and regaining strength as she remembered that she was having an intellectual debate, as opposed to just a regular sex chat, with her very intelligent father. "You were partnered with Mom…Uncle John and Aunt Monica worked together…you can't suggest that the situation never arises. So, I'll ask again. Based on empirical evidence present in my own life, I will make the assumption that if Agent Dales loved his partner as you have previously stated on many occasions, then they more than likely…'propagated.'" She raised her hands to quote the word. "Do you think they would ever have any kids?"

"Based on existing empirical evidence…" Mulder pretended to consider this at length. "It's highly probable. Why?"

"I'm trying to imagine what life would be like in their house."

Mulder snorted and bit his lower lip, smiling slightly, his eyes twinkling with amusement and curiosity. What a preamble to a simple statement. "Probably not much different than ours. Do you think that they wouldn't fight with their parents?"

"Argue, Dad," Exley said, one corner of her lips turning up slightly in a crooked smile. "Mom doesn't like the word 'fight.'"

Mulder conceded with a nod and folded his arms across his chest. "Alright, argue."

Exley shrugged. "Well, Agent Dales and his partner are like superheroes, but I can't imagine them not arguing with their kids. I just feel like their arguments would end epically."

Mulder frowned thoughtfully. "I think they would be just as epic as any family's bickering. There's nothing special about them except for the cases they work on."

"I guess…" Exley leaned back into the couch, tugging at a string on the pocket of her hoodie. She frowned and stared blankly in deep thought. Finally, her eyes slid back over Mulder's, her expression completely stoic much like her mother. "So, I have to apologize then?"

Mulder tossed his head back and laughed, causing Exley to frown and make a failed attempt to hide a smile behind it. "Of course you have to apologize," he said, in his lazy monotone. "Apology is policy."

Exley rolled her eyes. "Fine." She stood, planting a quick kiss on her father's cheek, and walked across the office toward the door.

"Hey!" Mulder said. He gestured at the trail of clothes and backpack on the floor. "What about this mess?"

Exley paused in the doorway, one hand on the frame, and turned slightly to eye the cluttered room over her shoulder. If only she knew just how much she was turning into her mother. She smirked and chuckled. "Yeah, Dad, because it was so clean before. I'll be back." She made her way through the kitchen and bounded up the steps in the foyer, tiptoeing into her parents' room where her mother was laying on the bed. "Mom?" she whispered into the dim bedroom. The brown Venetian blinds were turned up against the rapidly fading golden rays of the late afternoon sunlight. She walked softly to the far side of the bed and crawled slowly across the king-sized mattress, folding her legs under her right in front of her mother. "Mom, I know you're not sleeping," Exley stated, momentarily adopting Mulder's monotonous intonation.

Scully's eyebrows rose on her forehead and she sighed deeply. Her eyebrows relaxed and she blinked her eyes open. Her bright blue eyes met Exley's. "Well, I'm not anymore."

"I came to say sorry," Exley mumbled, rolling onto her back and staring up at the ceiling, her legs and arms flung carelessly across the huge empty space on her side of the bed.

Scully propped herself up on her elbow. "Did your father tell you to say that?"

After a few moments, Exley turned her head towards Scully, a hint of a smile tugging at the corner of her lips. She shook her head. "I stumbled upon that astute conclusion without assistance from one, Fox Mulder." She shrugged. "He confirmed my observation though."

Scully was far from being upset with her daughter. The angry exchange that had occurred in the car was not uncommon. Exley had an exceptionally bad case of teenage moodiness that had started with her junior year and the added self-inflicted pressure to be the best candidate for any school she applied to. Scully and Mulder took her outbursts of anger with a grain of salt and gave her space to cool off. She eventually came back around to them. As Scully watched Exley stare at the ceiling, she could see the cogs and wheels behind her eyes grinding together, biting the inside of her lower lip in deep concentration. Exley's blue irises held the same intensity that Mulder's had when his brain was processing through bits of evidence or trying to develop an advised hypothesis on a case. Scully could also see the nagging questions lurking in the dark recesses of Exley's overly inquisitive mind, evident through the same tightness that plague the corners of Mulder's eyes when there was one piece of evidence that didn't fit in with the rest. "What's wrong, sweetie?"

Exley blinked and the tightness was instantly eradicated, the cogs and wheels grinding to a full stop. Her expression nearly fell blank and she shook her head. "I don't know. I have this feeling that our family isn't complete. Especially around the holidays when Nana none-too-discreetly looks at you sadly. And only you."

Scully nearly rolled her eyes every time Exley said she had a feeling, immediately cursing her late sister's free spirit ideology for seemingly inhabiting her teenage daughter's body. She smiled in spite of herself. "Well, our family would be bigger by at least one if it wasn't for me."

"Do you think she blames you for Melissa's death?" Exley finally met her mother's eyes. Scully and Mulder had told Exley that Melissa Scully had been murdered by one of their organized crime suspects after they had placed a hit on Scully. After seeing pictures of her late aunt, Exley said she could understand the mistake.

Scully shook her head slowly as the dampened burn from her sister's death momentarily resurfaced and her eyes were far away in her memories. "I'm her emotional touchstone. That's just how she deals with her sadness."

"I feel like it's more than that though," Exley said. "I've had the distinct impression that I'm not supposed to be an only child."

Scully's breath was caught in her throat as a lump formed. She swallowed, struggling to maintain a neutral expression, and cocked her head sideways, a warning to stay away from this subject riding on her brow line. Scully had been nearly completely honest with Exley about her inability to have children, minus the cause being due to alien abduction and testing. She had been honest about the way it made her feel to talk about it. "Exley, sweetie…you know that you were a one time accident. I'm not supposed to be able to…"

Exley finally did smile as she rolled over on her side, mirroring her mother's posture and propping her head up on her hand. "It's just a feeling, Mom." She leaned forward slightly. "You know what I think is funny?" she whispered as if she were holding the key to all of life's mysteries, her blue eyes twinkling.

The corner of Scully's mouth turned up and she snorted quietly. "What?"

"Dad is just so taken with you that he has to put you in his stories." Exley crawled up to her knees, clasping her hands under her chin and batting her eyelashes in feigned romanticism. "Scully, my love, Dana, my life!" Exley reached a hand down and caressed her mother's face exaggeratedly, her other hand over her heart. "…thy sweet love remember'd such wealth brings…, I'll follow you and make a heaven out of hell, and I'll die by your hand which I love so well. My heart is ever at your service! I have more care to stay than will to go: Come, death, and welcome! Juliet wills it so!" Exley's voice grew louder steadily as she pieced together Shakespeare quotes, causing an uncontrollable giggle to escape from Scully's lips. Exley's arms fell limply at her sides and she smiled widely as her mother's laughter subsided.

"You shouldn't make fun of him like that," Scully said, quickly putting on a mask of stoicism.

"Mom…" Exley said. "But am I right?"

Scully's face broke into a smile and she leaned forward. "Yes, you're right," she whispered. She reached up and pinched Exley's chin gently between her thumb and knuckle on her first finger, pulling her toward her and planting a tender kiss on her forehead. "Did you pack yet?"


The time to turn in the paper had come and gone, there had been no other conversations about it. Exley had begun to think that her father had lost his copy under old wrinkled files on his desk. It had been nearly two weeks since she had given it to him. Maybe he had shown Scully and she hadn't gotten around to reading it. She had been at a conference for a few days in Florida and then flown to Raleigh to visit her ticket to the American Medical Association Hall of Fame, Christian Fearon.

Phoenix had called her earlier that day and invited himself over to spend the night. They had spent the afternoon trying to kill each other in the pool in Exley's neighborhood before being excused for the remainder of the day for playing too rough. Dana Scully had not appreciated that phone call. Exley and Phoenix decided to make due in the house and watched movies in the basement theatre until Scully got home from work.

When they sat down at dinner, Scully forced them to explain how they had managed to get kicked out of the pool. Mulder kept his head bent over his plate but he snorted softly every so often, earning a disapproving look from Scully. Exley had smiled and nodded as Phoenix told the story. It was his story to tell anyway. She remained quiet and propped her head up on her hand, pushing her food around her plate, surprised by the drift of her thoughts back to the enigmatic William Scully.

Why had her parents given him up? Was there something wrong with him? What about Exley? She had always been under the impression that she was an only child because her mother was not supposed to be able to conceive. Yet, her parents had not only conceived once, but twice. She glanced briefly at her parents as they laughed at something Phoenix said. They had always been so secretive to the point where they were borderline paranoid. Exley suddenly felt a loss of appetite and laid her fork down across her plate.

"Exley, this is all there is to eat, sweetheart," Scully said, watching her daughter carefully and lifting another bite from her own plate to her mouth.

"I'm just not that hungry, Mom," she said.

"Do you feel okay?" Scully asked, her hand automatically at Exley's forehead checking for a temperature.

Exley could feel Phoenix's eyes burning into her. She frowned when she felt as though she could hear his voice in her head, saying that she had been fine all day, as if he was worried about her. She pulled away from Scully's hand frustrated. "I'm fine, Mom." Her bright blue eyes met her mother's for a moment before sliding back down to her plate. Why was there a sudden heaviness in the room, as if she could feel the worry emanating from the people around her? She shook her head slightly and looked at Mulder. "Dad, did you show Mom that paper?"

Mulder looked up and cleared his throat. "Umm…no, I haven't." He shifted his weight, reaching into his back pocket and removing paper from it. The paper was wrinkled and the creases were well worn into the paper as if he opened it everyday and kept it in his pocket for safe-keeping. Exley's eyebrows rose on her forehead in surprise. He never obsessed over things like that. Mulder picked up the paper and passed it Scully.

Scully eyed him curiously and he told her to just read it. She picked up the worn paper and opened it carefully. She read through the words once, twice, and then again before looking up at Mulder with wide eyes. He nodded. Exley felt a knot tightening in the pit of her stomach as she began to sense an uneasiness run through the room. What was making her so sensitive to the emotions around her tonight? Scully laid the paper down on the table and pushed away from the table, disappearing into Mulder's office and closing the door behind her.

Exley was so confused by that point. She had written a paper based on the bedtime stories she had heard all her life. What was the big deal? Mulder had been dumbfounded, Scully was acting as if her world might come crashing down around her. She looked at her father. "What happened?"

Mulder bit his lip as he looked at her silently for a few moments. Exley could see the wheels turning in his head. His eyes darted down to his plate and he pushed food around with his knife. "We need to talk about your paper," he said. His voice was soft and threatened to crack.

"Is there something wrong with it?" she asked. "Why are you both getting so squirrelly about it?"

"There are things that you don't understand, Exley. Things that your mother and I have never told you," Mulder said, his voice taking on a tone that Exley had never heard before. There was a certain seriousness to his words that was hardening her father's normally soft exterior. "Things that you probably won't want to understand when we tell you about them."

There was something in her father's voice that sent off warning bells in the back of Exley's head. There was a certain fear in his voice that made Exley feel more insecure than she ever had. She had just written a paper. Where was the crime in that? She looked at Phoenix and his eyes asked her what was in the paper that had her parents so spooked. She had no answer and she expressed as much with a shake of her head and a small shrug of her shoulders. Twice in as many weeks, Exley felt scared around her parents because of a past they shared that she didn't understand. She felt deep in the pit of her stomach that this situation was much graver than finding out her parents still carried concealed.

Scully returned a few moments later, lugging a tattered pop-up box full of files out of Mulder's office. Mulder immediately stood to intercept the box from her and Exley saw something in his eyes that she had never witnessed before. His hazel eyes held a look that said that there maybe one thing that Mulder cherished more than Scully and Exley…and whatever it was, was in that box. His reaction to the box caused Scully's face to turn weary as he grabbed the box and wrapped his arms around it protectively. She took his chin in her hand and forced him to look at her, a silent exchange passing between them. Mulder's expression was rueful, yet still resolute, as he averted Scully's eyes and nodded. He turned silently and walked out into the garage. Scully turned to Exley and Phoenix.

"Sweetie…" Scully started. She hesitated, a frown creasing the skin between her eyebrows. Her eyes were piercing and she pursed her lips. It was a pensive expression, confused even. "Ex, sweetheart, your paper was excellently written."

Then why was her father walking around looking like a recovering addict at a crack house? Why did it feel like they were both talking in codes? "But?" Exley asked quietly.

"There's something that your father and I should have confronted you with long ago," she said and then motioned with her chin to the garage. "We need to go someplace for a little while. Go ahead and get in the car."

Phoenix and Exley exchanged glances. Without any questions, Phoenix stood and turned toward the garage, grabbing Exley's shirt sleeve and pulling her behind him. What was with all the secrets? Exley yanked her arm free from Phoenix's grasp and she turned towards her mother, her eyes desperately pleading for some definition to what was going on. She felt the sting of tears that threatened to fill her eyes and a tickle in her nose. She balled her fists by her sides and held her tears back. "What's going on, Mom?" her voice was soft.

"Exley, come on," Phoenix said quietly. He grabbed her arm again, more firmly this time.

Exley whirled on him and tried to break free of his grasp again, but this time she was unable. Her furious eyes darted to his and in them she saw an apology. For a split hesitant second, Exley frowned. Phoenix knew something she didn't. The moment of clarity ended as she felt a more urgent tug on her arm. She pulled against him angrily and demanded to be released, her free fist landing resoundingly on his chest repeatedly. What was it that was being hidden from her? Why was Phoenix so insistent to bring her out to the car? Why was her mother just standing there and allowing this all to happen in front of her?

Angry tears she hadn't felt in her eyes burned hot on her flushed cheeks as she stepped back to look at Phoenix, her free hand braced firmly against his chest, effectively keeping him as distant as she could. His eyes were acutely contrite and she found her eyes scanning his searching for anything that could answer all the questions running through her head. She turned her head slightly and regarded him through narrow, cynical eyes. "What the fuck, Phoenix?" she whispered so faintly he nearly missed it.

He closed the distance between them with sheer strength, grabbing both of her biceps in his large hands, grimacing as he felt her muscles tighten beneath his fingers. She was terrified and tried to keep it out of her eyes. His voice was gravelly and low as he leaned close to her ear to whisper in it, but it cracked, ready to break with guilt. "Everything's going to be fine, Ex. You just have to trust us." She could feel his breath at her ear as he spoke, the strange tone sending chills down her spine. He stepped back, casting a guilty look at Scully, and released her and she snatched her arms back, scowling vehemently at him as she followed him out to the garage.

In the car, Exley tucked herself into the corner of the seat, pushing herself as far away from her parents and Phoenix as she could. No one was telling her anything and their serious expressions scared her. She pulled her feet up onto the seat and hugged her knees close to her chest and busied herself by staring out the window. Phoenix had told her that she needed to trust them and that everything would be alright. Exley might have believed him if he hadn't looked so damn guilty. She hazarded a quick glance at him, knowing full well that his eyes were burning into her in concern. What was it that he knew? A soft buzzing on the seat beside her grabbed her attention and she picked up her phone, seeing the text message on the display.

"r ur parents bein weird?"Maddox had asked her.

Exley typed back quickly. "yeah. they got spooked about something i wrote for my class"

Her phone buzzed again. "headin to ur old farm house? is pj still with you?"

Exley looked out the window. From the time she was born up until she was about twelve months old, she and her parents had lived in the Virginia mountains. They had been driving for nearly forty-five minutes and it was the first time she noticed which direction they were headed in. "it looks like it. pj knows something. hes being weird too."

There was a long pause before her phone buzzed again. "wtf is going on?"

Exley responded with nothing more than a question mark. Her life had been full of them, especially recently. The response was fitting, much like her name, bearing the standard unknown variable. She had so many questions, so many X's that needed a value to be assigned to them. She just wanted to understand.

Phoenix Doggett had always thought he had been raised in a standard American home. His parents had been loyal, patriotic employees of the federal government for most of their adult life. They met through work and they believed in an ever elusive truth. They lived in a big house with a decent sized yard, but not so big that John Doggett slaved to keep up with the work. Monica and John Doggett worked hard to give their boys a decent standard of living and to teach them necessary life skills. They had remained faithful to each other and they understood each other, sharing the same non-verbal communication skills that Mulder and Aunt Dana possessed. There was nothing out of the ordinary with them. They were average, commuting civil servants making a living serving a country they believed in.

Phoenix and his brother were no different. Aside from the fact that they were half Mexican, they portrayed the all-American boys. Maddox took advantage of American obsession with assertion of individuality and self-expression. He hung around with kids who would fit the stereotype labeled as "skater." He wore his hair shaggy, skinny jeans that hung low on his hips, a variety of skating shoes, and the popular bright neon colors of that style. His closet was littered with brands ranging from Volcom to Lost and his room was filled with skateboard and longboard paraphernalia. He played baseball in the spring and swam with a local team during the summer. On regular occasion, he liked to wreak havoc and perform stunts that people only thought Johnny Knoxville capable of.

On the other hand, Phoenix fell into several stereotypes. He prided himself in athletic achievement, playing varsity football in the fall and varsity baseball in the spring for the three years he had been in high school. Outside of school, he swam, lifted weights, and played baseball on a travel team. He had inherited a dark and dashing appearance from his Latin blood and had the personality that parents loved. He was helpful, polite, wise beyond his years, and an excellent student. And while he had his fair share of tomfoolery, his brother was the constant source of trouble in the family. His parents trusted him explicitly and confided in him about the trouble that his brother caused.

Maddox was one of the few people that could evoke pure anger from Phoenix. While they got along for the most part, Maddox was still able to cause a fight due to the fact that Phoenix could not understand why Maddox felt the need to be rambunctious. He tried to take it upon himself to fix or cover his brother's problems before their father found out. It had been no different the day that Phoenix found out about the X Files.

During Spring Break that year, John and Monica had given the boys a list of things to accomplish aside from their daily mandated workouts for baseball season. Phoenix and Maddox had gotten in a fight in the garage while they were cleaning it out that had ended with Phoenix punching a hole in the drywall and Maddox's body leaving a long crack down one of the walls. Phoenix was seething and told his brother to go inside and clean something else. He was going to have to fix the wall before their father got home. He went to the closest hardware store and picked up a bucket of drywall mud and two new sheets of drywall.

He stood in front of the wall and punched through the crack to get a hold on the sheetrock to pull it out. His fist pushed through the crack. The damaged and fragile sheetrock gave way and his eyes widened as his hand went further into the wall than it should have. He pulled his hand out and stuck it back in again before curiously pulling away a chunk of sheetrock, revealing a hidden area between the garage wall and the back of the office wall about two and a half feet deep. It had surprised him that he had never picked up on the space discrepancy before.

Grabbing a flashlight off a nearby shelf, he shined it into the opening he had created trying to see what purpose the hideaway served. He could see a soft white glow coming from inside and heard an electronic whirring from below him. He quickly pulled the rest of the wall away to reveal a small refrigeration unit one might find in a biology lab holding several blood samples as well as other fluid samples of varying colors.

The crawl space extended further down the length of the wall, running along the length of the office. He slid into the crawl space to get a better look. Beyond the refrigeration unit was a small armory with guns of differing caliber and size as well as a generous stash of ammunition. He stepped around the fridge to look at the boxes of bullets and pulled down a box with the word "magnetite" scrawled in Mulder's chicken scratched handwriting. The space extended impossibly further and he could see an actual entry way just beyond the guns.

"Oh, fuck," he mumbled, backing out of the space as quickly as he could. With wide eyes, he walked back into the house. "Maddox?"

"What?" His brother's impatient call came from the basement.

"Hey, dude, I'm back from the store. I, uhh…" his voice cracked, and he was at a loss for words. He stepped further into the house towards the basement door and doubled over at a complete loss and suddenly dizzy as his head reeled. His brother's light footsteps stopped in front of him. He felt his brother's hand on his shoulder, all passed grievances forgiven. Phoenix stood up and looked at his brother.

"Dude, PJ," Maddox said, truly concerned. "You don't look so good, dude." A worried look crossed his face.

How do I keep him downstairs? Phoenix shook his head. "I'm fine. I just started feeling sick." He motioned over his shoulder with his thumb. "I'm going to fix that wall in there. Can you start cleaning the back room in the basement?"

"You sure you don't want any help on the wall?" Maddox asked, his hand sliding off his brother's shoulder.

Phoenix set his jaw, rekindling the anger from earlier. "Dude, I…I need my space from you right now, okay? Just let me do this fuckin' wall and I'll come down and help you."

Maddox frowned, but held his anger back out of concern for his brother. "Alright, dude. Fuck. I'm going downstairs."

"Yeah, fuck you very much!" Phoenix said to his brother's retreating form.

"You're welcome, asswipe!" Maddox called back, but Phoenix could hear the worry in his brother's tone still.

Phoenix sighed and waited until he was sure that his brother was all the way in the basement. He went into the office and looked at the wall shared with the garage. The only furniture on the wall was a large bookshelf. Phoenix looked back towards the door and knelt next to the shelf. Now that he was looking at it, he could see tracks in the carpet where the shelf had been slid across the carpet several times. Leaning his weight against the shelf, he pushed it to the side, revealing the entrance to the crawl space.

After replacing the shelf, he went back into the garage, grabbing the flashlight, and crawled over the fridge back into the space. He stood in the midst of the guns and ammunition, shining the flashlight towards the entrance to the hidden space. On the other end of the space he saw a box. There was only one label on the top, two words written in what he recognized as his mother's handwriting. He held the flashlight over the box and read the words, "Gibson Praise," aloud. He carefully pushed the lid off to reveal a full box of files. A divider had been placed about a quarter of the way back, unlabeled. He pulled the first file out from behind the divider and opened it to reveal copies of evidence subpoenas for the body of Knowle Rohrer and requests for death certificates. He replaced the file and pulled out another file to find a profile on Rohrer. The following handful of files detailed the genetic makeup of super soldiers.

He skimmed through several more files and saw several references to the FBI's X Files division. Many papers bore the official signatures of Dr. Dana Scully and Assistant Director Walter Skinner, several other documents held the signatures of Special Agents Fox Mulder, Monica Reyes, or John Doggett. Most were evidence subpoenas or case reports on a wide variety of cases, several files detailed DNA test results. One file was dated from December 1997, simply titled "Emily Sim." Inside he found DNA maternity test results that revealed Dana Scully's DNA to be a match to this little girl.

Phoenix slammed the file shut and dropped it back on top and slammed the lid back on the box. "What the hell is all this?" he asked himself. He went back to the refrigerator and opened the door, pulling out the closest sample rack on the top shelf. The tubes were all labeled with names that he recognized. Dana Scully, Exley, Fox Mulder…and then a few names he didn't, but by that point was sure that they probably appeared in one of the files in the box, including Gibson Praise. He took Gibson's sample and put it in his pocket carefully and crawled back out of the space and spent the next two hours fixing the wall.

Later that night, Phoenix lay in his bed rolling the blood sample back and forth, watching the liquid slosh back and forth with a curious frown creasing his forehead. He got up and tucked the vial back into his pocket. Downstairs his mother was sitting in front of the computer in the office, her fingers tapping furiously on the keys. He could only assume she was typing up another report from the last case she worked on. She squinted through the lenses of her reading glasses and sighed. Phoenix stood in the doorway, silently debating whether or not he should say anything.

Without having turned her head, Monica had sensed his presence in the doorway. "What's up, bud?" she asked, continuing to type.

Phoenix's hand wrapped around the blood sample in his pocket as he stepped into the room and closed the door. His somber entrance caught Monica's attention and she pushed the chair back from the desk and turned to face him. "Phoenix, is everything alright?"

Phoenix's grip tightened slightly around the vial. "Mom…what exactly do you do for the FBI?"

Monica smiled and removed her glasses, tossing them on the desk and running her hand through her hair. "I investigate cases and write reports. It's really nothing special."

"What kind of cases?"

"Well, normally, it's the ones that no one else wants."

"Why would people not want them?" Phoenix persisted.

Monica frowned. "There's a lack of obtainable evidence normally. Sometimes they end up being unsolvable by the conventional definition of the word." She paused. "The nature of the cases tends to be…a little weird."

Phoenix nodded as his gaze unconsciously drifted to the bookshelf. He closed his eyes and sighed, pulling the vial out of his pocket and placed it on the desk in front of her. Monica picked the vial up and examined the label closely before frowning at Phoenix. Her face was angry and frightened at the same time and he knew he had stumbled across a secret that was much better left hidden. Monica walked over to the door and called for John to come into the office.

Phoenix stuffed his hands in his pockets and braced himself for the wrath of John Doggett. Not only had he broken the wall and was going to have to explain that, but he had found something that had clearly been created to remain hidden. John appeared in the doorway next to Monica a few moments later and she placed the vial in his hand. John held it up to his eyes and read the label. His piercing blue eyes grew serious and the corners of his mouth were pulled down in a frown.

"Where did you get this?" he asked, his clipped New York accent threading through his words. He stepped further into the room. "How the fuck did you find this?"

"John…" Monica said quietly, placing her hand on his arm and reining him back. "Sweetie, this blood sample wasn't meant to be found."

Phoenix held his hands up. "I know, I know…it was a complete accident…" He explained the crack and hole punched in the wall and how he had found the hidden crawl space between the walls. "It was completely by accident, I swear."

John wrapped his fingers around the vial and Phoenix could see him reliving memories that were attached to that name. His anger still burned hot, but slowly Phoenix could see that was John's defense against a strange emotion he had never seen in his father. His eyes were sad. They were scared.

"I deserve an explanation," Phoenix demanded. He pointed at the bookshelf. "This is absolutely insane. Hidden entrances and false walls…" He shook his head, at a loss and grabbed two handfuls of hair, in a desperate motion to get a grip on the situation. "I-i-it's like something you see in a movie! What the hell is all that stuff, Dad? Who is Gibson Praise?" he asked motioning to the vial. "Or Knowle Rohrer?" He looked at his mother. "Why is Exley's name on one of those vials?"

Monica stepped toward him and reached out for his elbow. He snatched it away and stepped back. "Phoenix Jose, I know you have questions. A lot of questions probably," she began, frowning. "But if you want answers. You're going to have to wait. You're going to have to trust us."

John placed the vial in Phoenix's hand. "I want you to put that away. Does your brother know about the crawl space?"

Phoenix shook his head, his breath quick and light. He could feel a cold sweat forming on every inch of his skin and he shuddered at the sudden coldness in the room. "I made him stay downstairs. As far as I know, he has no idea." He squeezed the vial in his fist again and held it against his stomach.

John nodded and looked at Monica. "I'm going to call Dana and Mulder. I'll stay with Maddox."

Monica nodded and folded her arms across her chest, her eyes on the floor. When John was gone, Phoenix stepped closer to his mother. He turned slightly and pointed at the wall. His voice was a panicked whisper. "Mom, there's an armory behind that wall. Boxes and boxes of ammunition." He made a large, sweeping gesture at the wall. "What the hell, Mom? What the hell is that all for? There are some boxes in there with Mulder's handwriting that say magnetite. Mom, what the fuck is that? Why won't you tell me why Exley's name is on a vial? Why won't you tell me anything? Does Exley know about that?"

Monica put her hands on either side of Phoenix's face. He had yet to reach his final growth spurt and stood at her height. She looked him directly in the eyes. He stopped talking, but his muscles were so tense she thought he might break a bone. "She doesn't know. And you can't tell her. You have to claim full denial if she asks you about it."

"Mom, there's files in there. Every adult that has been a constant in my life has signed at least ten papers requesting evidence and medical examiner's reports. There's a chunk of literature on this Gibson guy. I just…"

Monica's grip tightened on his face. "You have to trust that we will answer your questions." He nodded in her grip, but he looked as if he might cry. "Don't ask anything else for right now."

"Okay," he said quietly. He reached up and gripped her hand with shaking fingers and squeezed until his knuckles were white. He had stood up to defensive linemen twice his size and laughed at them as he ran past. Nothing had ever scared him as much as finding the crawl space. "Where are we going?"

"Skinner's," she said as John appeared in the door way again and motioned to the office phone. She picked it up, leaning casually against the desk, her free hand drawing circles on the desktop. "Dana? Phoenix found the vault. We'll meet you over there. No, John is staying with Maddox." She looked at Phoenix briefly before resuming her circles. "He looks like a deer in headlights right now. Yeah, we'll see you soon." She placed the phone back in the cradle and motioned for the garage. "Time to go, bud."

At Walter Skinner's apartment, Phoenix sat on the couch in the living room as three adults stared at him intently, waiting for him to tell his story. There eyes were all concerned, but not as much as Dana Scully. Apparently, discovering the crawl space had an incredible meaning to her. Her eyes were worried and she looked as if she might break down at a moment's notice. Skinner was sitting in a chair, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees and Monica was sitting with her arms folded across her chest, one leg crossed over the other, but Scully…Scully paced behind them, chewing on her lower lip, eyes wide in disbelief, surprised that she was having to go through this.

Phoenix finished telling his story and reiterated his questions, this time getting angry and demanding any answer. He was at the point where he could care less if they lied to him, at least he would have some sort of comfort that there was some reason to this mayhem.

There was a short pause before Scully stopped pacing and turned to face him, her arms folded across her chest. "On July 8, 1947, an unidentified flying object crashed on a farm in Roswell, New Mexico…" she began and set into an explanation of a global conspiracy between men in government organizations worldwide and alien colonists. She explained that their ultimate goal was to colonize Earth and use human slaves to do so. With Skinner and Monica's help, she dove into an explanation of super soldiers, the importance of magnetite, and how she and Mulder had conceived one of the first natural born super soldiers, how she had to give him up for his safety. Phoenix had already known that Scully was not supposed to be able to have children and had grown up, like Exley, thinking that the second child had been a complete and isolated miracle. They explained who Gibson Praise and Knowle Rohrer were and how Mulder had put the truth on trial, and that he was in fact still evading FBI murder charges and a guilty conviction, sentenced to death by lethal injection.

When they were through, Phoenix sat quietly, allowing it to all soak in. He realized why everything had been a secret, the necessity of a false wall, the need to keep the X Files in a well guarded location. He felt as if he didn't know the people sitting in front of him; they were spouting off theories of alien life on Earth and rambling on about a conspiracy. It all sounded vaguely familiar and it took him a few minutes to place it. "Mulder's bedtime stories," he finally said.

Scully shifted uneasily and nodded slightly, biting her lip again. "Based on the truth."

"Does Exley know what she is?" he asked. "Does she know anything?"

Scully shook her head. "You can't say anything to her. We don't know if she is…that. The DNA sequence may match, but that means nothing. We all possess threads of that same DNA, but its inactive. As far as I have been able to tell, hers has random bursts of activity, but remains primarily dormant."

Phoenix nodded. He sighed. "I just have to work through it all. I'm not unwilling to believe this stuff. It's just hard to believe."

"The truth is out there," Skinner told him. "But it takes time to find. As long as you're willing to believe, you're well on your way to finding it."

Exley watched as Phoenix slouched against the far wall in the farm house's living room. Maddox sat beside her on the couch and in front of them, the eyes of the adults in the room bore into them, unwilling to give up the secrets trapped behind them. Phoenix's guilty look hadn't left his face for a second since they had gotten in the car. He already knew what was about to be revealed. Maddox and Exley exchanged glances. The reason that they had gathered at the old house was completely lost on Exley. It had been several years since they had been there. Exley wasn't even sure why her parents still kept it.

"Why do you guys keep looking at us like that?" Maddox finally asked.

"What do you know about Roswell, New Mexico?" Mulder asked.

Exley frowned. They brought them all the way out there for a pop quiz on their knowledge of unidentified aerial phenomena? "July 8, 1947. The materials from a flying object, the classification of which is still debatable, were recovered. People believe that it was a flying saucer. The military claimed it was the materials of a new experimental weather balloon."

"They make a lot of money on UFO and government conspiracy stuff," Maddox said. "Like when you took us out there a few summers back. That stuff was everywhere."

Mulder shook his head. "Something did crash. The cover up is real. Roswell was first contact, ground zero." He launched into an explanation of a global conspiracy between certain members of the government and extraterrestrial colonists whose sole purpose was to pave the way for a coming invasion. He spoke for what seemed like forever, detailing his sister's abduction right in front of his eyes and how it led him to begin investigating the X files. "These cases were deemed unsolvable by conventional means, devoid of any normal hypothesis and tended to lack solid evidentiary support."

Paranormal was the word he next used to describe his case load. Paranormal, like Agent Dales case load. Exley's head began spinning. She had grown up on these same stories he was telling now, only Arthur Dales wasn't the main character anymore. Fox Mulder was. And his enigmatic partner was a real life Thracian beauty. His partner was Dana Scully. Together they explored the realm of the paranormal, proving strange cases with hard scientific support, developing a love "borne out of desperation" to be near someone who understood. They stood side-by-side in a game where it was them against the world. Exley felt sick as angry tears began to pour down her face again.

With Scully's assistance, Mulder continued the story much further into the night. A year after they had been partnered together, Scully had been abducted and tested on, implanted with a strange metal chip. As a result, she was forced to endure cancer and learn to live with the fact that she would never be able to have children. They explained that, without a seemingly clear reason, she became pregnant, a baby boy with special DNA. They called him the first natural super soldier. Mulder had been forced into hiding right after his son was born and Scully found that she was not able to protect their son without him. She was forced to put him up for adoption.

Exley looked at Phoenix across the room, understanding why he had looked so guilty. He had known about this for some time. Maddox shifted uncomfortably next to her as Mulder and Scully fell silent momentarily. He looked at Exley to gauge her reaction, but she could hardly move. It suddenly made sense. The accidental references to Scully or Mulder during bedtime stories, the subtle signs that there had been another child, the reason that they had kept William's existence from her, the reason why Scully would stare at her so sadly… Exley still felt horribly sick. She wanted so badly to be as far away from these people she had trusted so implicitly all her life. They had purposefully deceived her and from what she could understand, growing up in a lie would have been no different if she had grown up in the truth. Their lives were still in danger every day.

"There's more," Mulder said. "This part is going to be the hardest to accept." He pulled out a thick file from his box and dropped it on the coffee table in front of her. "The scientific proof is all in there."

Exley reached forward and opened the file. She could see several references to DNA tests, but she couldn't make heads or tails of anything without being guided through the words. "What is this?" she managed to force out.

Scully stood with her arms folded across her chest. She wanted to be able to be there for her daughter and to talk her through this whole thing more gently, but that wasn't going to happen. There was no way to deliver this softly to kids at Maddox and Exley's age, to kids at any age. They were old enough to understand the gravity of the situation as well as the chaos that came with it. Convincing them of the existence of extraterrestrials would be another endeavor on its own. It was only a matter of time until they would be able to accept the truth. It had only taken Phoenix a few weeks before he had called Mulder profusely proclaiming his belief in extraterrestrials. "You have a special DNA pattern, Exley. We've done the testing. That is what is sitting in front of you right now. We compared samples with known alien DNA sequencing to yours." Scully's eyes were beginning to brim with tears and her eyebrow rose on her forehead. "There was a match, sweetheart," she whispered.

Scully continued her scientific explanation, but her words fell on deaf ears. Exley had gone numb when Scully had said there was a match. She felt pressure as Maddox grabbed her hand with shaking fingers and squeezed tightly, not entirely feeling his actual touch. His wide eyes stared at her, wondering how he was supposed to comfort the closest person to a sister he had. Exley's eyes found Phoenix through the fog as he shuffled towards the door, his head hanging guiltily. The world slowed down and she felt as if she was standing beside herself. Her mother had to be joking. Surely she would wake up in the morning and find out she had been dreaming the whole thing. Bedtime stories were just tall tales. Her brain went into overdrive trying to sort through everything she had just been told. From beside herself, she noticed her body shutting down to give her brain more juice to sort through this. She was falling over faster than her brain realized what was going on. As she hit the floor, her body knew the last step to blacking out was to shut off her vision and enter a world of unconsciousness, so her brain allowed it, sending her into the cold darkness of oblivion.

Sounds seemed to be slowed and warbled in Exley's ears as she fought her way out of the darkness of her black out. The softness beneath her back felt like a mattress but it wasn't hers and she desperately tried to get a grasp on her surroundings. Her limbs felt like lead and were difficult to move, her neck not much better. She tried to turn towards the sounds that were slowly fading into recognizable voices, her eyes still refusing to open.

"Aunt Dana!" Phoenix's voice sounded distant and as if they were in a pool. It drawled out distorted and deep. The words seemed to run together. "Aunt Dana! She's waking up!"

Several unidentifiable thuds sounded and Exley began to feel cool, trembling fingers softly alight on the skin of her forehead. As her mother spoke, the words sharpened and came into focus. "How long has it been?" Her mother's hands caressed both cheeks, her thumbs running gently across her cheekbones.

"She just started moving right before I called you."

"Has she opened her eyes yet?" Phoenix must have shaken his head because there was a lack in verbal response. "Exley…baby, wake up. Can you open your eyes for me?" Scully asked as her fingers moved to just below her jaw line, taking her pulse.

Exley suddenly noticed her tongue was bone dry. What had she done that had caused her to fall into such a deep unconsciousness? She ran her dry tongue against the roof of her mouth and tried to blink her eyes open, before slowly shaking her head. "Water," she croaked softly.

"It's coming, baby," Exley could hear the relief in her mother's voice. "Ex, I'm going to check your eyes. You hit your head pretty hard when you fell."

That explained a lot of what had happened. Scully's thumb gently lifted her eyelid and the bright luminosity of her pen light filled Exley's vision. The brightness was too intense for her recovering senses and her muscles reacted reflexively. She swatted her mother's hand away. "Mom!" she croaked out, rubbing her eyes. She blinked her eyes open and squinted at her mother in the dim, soft glow of the side table lamp. Scully's eyebrow had risen on her forehead and she had recoiled to a surrender pose, but her face was amused. "Sorry," she mouthed, her mouth twitching as she tried not to smile. She reached forward again and checked the dilation in Exley's eyes and helped her sit up.

Exley glanced around her old room in the farm house. Her memory started piecing together what had happened. The more she remembered the more she realized her brain had been trying to block everything out. An image of her parents' faces as they explained their past to her was burned into her retina. She grimaced as Scully continued her check up on Exley. Her brain had shut down when trying to make sense of what they had told her. Her parents had lied to her all her life. They had tried to tell her that she possessed a strange genetic sequence. They had brought her into a world of secrecy and conspiracy, a world where her life was in jeopardy every day.

Scully's hand wrapped around the back of Exley's head and she flinched at her mother's touch. Scully recoiled again, folding her hands in her lap, a horribly sad expression crossing her features. Phoenix walked back in the room at that moment with a glass of water. His confused eyes darted back and forth between mother and daughter. He hesitantly held the glass out for Exley and she took it from him silently.

The liquid felt good on her parched tongue. She drank the water in several long quaffs and then set the empty glass on the table. She licked the water off her upper lip and looked at her mother, evaluating whether or not her angry response to this new information was warranted. Scully stared back, not sure what to say that would help the situation. Exley hung her feet over the side of the bed. "Where's Maddox?" Maddox was the only other innocent person in this whole ordeal. She caught the pained look on Phoenix's face. He wanted to be there for her, but he had contributed in keeping secrets. There was no way she would let him back in that easily.

"He's downstairs," Scully said quietly.

Exley stared at the chipped nail polish on her toes. "Can you tell him to come up here?" She saw Phoenix slip out of the room silently. An awkward silence fell between Exley and Scully, neither knowing what to say to each other. A few seconds later, Maddox walked softly into the room, his muscles tense with apprehension. Scully stood and left the room, Exley's eyes following her out the door. Maddox sat beside Exley on the bed.

"Are you okay, Ex?"

Exley smiled sadly and nodded, patting his knee. "Yeah, I will be. Just trying to comprehend it all sent me into system overload."

"I was a little worried," he admitted sheepishly. He paused. "They have all the proof they've ever collected downstairs, Ex. It's kind of crazy."

Exley sighed, blowing stray strands of brown hair out of her face. "Do you believe it?"

Maddox shrugged. "I don't know. Your mom and my dad seem to believe. My dad even considering believing in…that…is enough in itself."

Exley nodded. "Your dad would be the last to believe. Him and my mom."

"According to those files, your mom was the only one who bothered to put scientific proof to any of it."

"How long do you think Phoenix has known?"

Maddox shrugged again. "He just keeps moping around. He won't talk to me. You were only out for about an hour or so and he sat in that chair there with his head in his hands." He nodded toward the chair her mother had vacated moments before.

Exley looked at Maddox. "I'm scared," she whispered.

Maddox draped his arm around her shoulders. "I don't think we're supposed to put on a brave face about it," he whispered back. He smiled and Exley pushed him away. "It's a little weird, but all the adults are together to support us and help us figure this out. Your dad seems to be the only one that believed from the beginning, everyone else had to accept what they saw."

"All my life they've been telling me these stories…I enjoyed them so much more as bedtime stories."

"I think we all liked them a lot better as bedtime stories." He grabbed her hand. "Phoenix needs you to tell him you're okay."

"I…I'm mad at him right now," she said, as her mind drifted back to their interaction in her kitchen earlier that night. "He scared me a little earlier."

Maddox stood. "Just talk to him." Maddox hugged her and backed away towards the door. "Everything will be okay, Ex."

She nodded and looked at the floor, again examining the three-week-old pedicure on her toes. Soft, hesitant foot steps paused in the doorway. Exley looked up as Phoenix stopped in the doorway, the same, continual guilty look on his face. His hands were stuffed in his pockets and his shoulders hunched as if he was trying to fold in on himself. Exley sighed and he knew that was his signal to step in the room. He closed the door behind him and walked over to the chair in front of her, pulling it close enough to the bed to where his knees touched the mattress on either side of her thighs. His hands settled on her knees and he leaned forward slightly, willing her to look at him. She frowned and stared into his eyes, trying to find the trust she had had in him all their life.

"How are you feeling?" he asked, trying to break through the icy silence between them.

Exley shrugged. "My head hurts, I guess. I've been hurt worse."

He nodded and opened his mouth to say something, but she cut him off.

"How long have you known?" she whispered, feeling her eyes begin to brim with tears again. Betrayal, deception, dishonesty…those were all good words to describe what she was feeling.

Phoenix sat back slightly and clenched his teeth tightly in his mouth. Exley could see the muscles at the back of his jaw flexing and relaxing. His eyes scanned her face for a moment before he said anything. "Only since spring break this year." His eyes were pleading with her for forgiveness. "Exley, I wanted to tell you. I wanted to tell you everything."

"You knew about William too?"

He nodded. "She gave him up for his safety."

Exley's eyes shot toward his angrily, a handful of crocodile tears sliding down her cheeks. She sniffed and looked away again, willing her brain to think through the emotions clouding her judgment, wanting to believe him. The situation was unfair, anyone would admit that. She hadn't asked to be placed in it and the idea of what she was, what her brother had been as well, came across completely absurd. She wanted to laugh at the preposterousness of it. The idea of extraterrestrial life was meant to be purely entertaining, right? Not so real that she could touch it with her bare hands. Literally. Her eyes welled thinking of the unfairness that both she and the ever-enigmatic William Scully had been placed in. She cried more for William than herself, having a sick feeling that he would never know the truth about his biology.

"After he was born, your dad was forced into hiding," Phoenix continued, shaking his head. "Your mom knew she couldn't protect him by herself."

Exley's eyes made their way to his, taking in every detail they passed over, trying to find something to reestablish a firm foundation to stand on. She found herself thinking of all the times she had taken his familiarity for granted, how tainted it seemed now. He had always been the one she would run to when something went wrong, which made this situation feel as if it had been turned on its head. Phoenix was that guy for her, her best friend. She needed Phoenix to be there for her while she tried to sort through the information she had just been given, but the sense of betrayal wanted to overpower everything else.

She found herself wondering if that was where it stopped. Phoenix played the role of her perpetual rock, but there was only so much platonic comfort he would be able to offer before she had to look elsewhere for something more. This led her to wonder if she would want that comfort from another source. She blinked slowly, chiding herself for thinking about that with more pressing issues at hand and her eyes dug behind his, searching for an answer her questions. She bit her lip, trying to fight back the urge to close the distance between them. It would seem Maddox had been wrong about who needed whom at this time of confusing revelations.

"Ex?" Phoenix asked softly, his voice concerned.

With that, the urge took over. Exley's brain was flying at a million miles an hour. Any action she made felt like the right one. She had always heard that people made stupid mistakes when they were confused, or acting in the heat of intense emotion. Maybe this wasn't the right decision to be making, but Exley wasn't in the mood for thinking things through completely. She needed that physical connection to tell her that she wasn't alone and that someone was there for her in the insanity that was her life now. She sat forward, her lips crashing into his before she could think better of it. Her brain started screaming for her to stop what she was doing and she sat back quickly, her eyebrows raised in surprise and her hand drawing slowly across her lips, hiding her tongue as it slid across her bottom lip, remembering the sensation she had just experienced. "Sorry," she said, her voice muffled behind her hand.

Phoenix was up in one swift movement, capturing her lips with his again before she had a chance to catch her breath. His tongue fought for entrance between her lips and, reluctantly, she let him in. Phoenix forced her down onto the bed gently, supporting her on one of his lean, muscular arms and pressed his body against hers, fighting to be as close as possible to her. His other hand slid down her leg and then slowly crawled back up her side, teasing her and making her skin tingle.

Exley's hands snaked around his neck and she arched her back, eliciting a small moan from her friend as she bumped against him. Her hands slid down over his chest and down his sides and back up to his head, where she grabbed two handfuls of hair and pulled him down onto her mouth harder. As her mind caught up with her actions, her eyes shot open. She broke away and whispered his name and his lips moved down her jaw line and neck and back to her mouth. Her hands slid down to caress his face, trying to get his attention. He planted one more kiss on her lips before finally giving up and dropping his head against her neck, his warm breath driving her crazy and sending chills running up and down her spine. He slumped his body weight against her and sighed, before rolling over and lying beside her.

Exley touched her lips again and looked at him out of the corner of her eyes as he stared at the chair. She closed her eyes. "Phoenix…" She heard his head turn to look at her and she opened her eyes, turning to look at him.

He averted her gaze and looked up at the ceiling. "I'm sorry. You just caught me off guard. I mean, you were upset and I…"

Exley rolled onto her side and propped herself up on her elbow, her free hand reaching out and gently turning his chin towards her. She pressed her finger to his lips. "Our secret," she said in a hoarse whisper. She used the same finger to draw an "X" over his heart like he had done all their life. For once, Exley didn't grimace at the letter. She still may not have understood a lot of what was going on, but the unknown variable was in the process of being solved. He smiled and nodded and Exley rolled onto her back again. After a long silence, Exley finally said, "You have to admit that you enjoyed it though."

She couldn't see it, but she knew that Phoenix was smiling. "Maybe a little more than I should have."

Exley ran her hand through her hair and sighed deeply. "I'm scared. Of everything."

She felt Phoenix's fingers intertwining with hers. He squeezed her hand and then let it go. "I know you are."

"Is it wrong that I'm so mad at them?"

Phoenix shook his head. "I think you just gotta remember they're still you're parents, perfect or not."

Exley turned her head toward him. "They gave up my brother."

"You can't judge them for that. If they loved him half as much as they love you then he was one spoiled kid." Phoenix rolled onto his side to look at her. "Trust me, older brothers are mean. You don't want one. You see how I treat Maddox. Plus, if you had an older brother, we might not be as good of friends."

Exley sent him a small smile.

"Well," he said, sitting up. "I'm sure you want to think this out on your own." He swung his feet around to the side of the bed.

"No, PJ," she said, catching his hand. "Stay with me. I just…I don't want to be alone." Phoenix nodded and slid back down beside her, pulling her close as she settled into the curve of his body. She pulled his arm tight around her and locked her fingers with his. They didn't move until the next morning.

Exley awoke to the smell of bacon fat frying and sifting through the air into her room. When she opened her eyes, she could see Maddox on the floor in a sleeping bag. She wasn't conscious of Phoenix's proximity until she tried to sit up and was held in place by his arm. This room-sharing situation wasn't so uncommon, but rarely had she woken up with Phoenix's arm around her waist so tightly, holding her as if she might disappear if he let go. She sighed and lay in bed for several minutes, her thoughts drifting.

She unconsciously ran her tongue over her lips, the lingering sensation of the previous night's kiss still playing there. She grimaced, wondering what she had been thinking or what had overcome her in that moment. Shaking her head, she knew it had been a moment of acute weakness in her short life. They had promised each other to keep it a secret, which worked well in her favor since she would rather pretend it hadn't happened.

The smell of bacon brought her back to the last time she had been at the farmhouse. It had been nearly four years since they had come up all together. Her parents had brought her and the boys to the house for a weekend getaway in the mountains. Things had been far less complicated then. Things had been far less complicated yesterday before dinner as well. Angry tears rimmed her eyes again, but she blinked them away before they were able to fall. There was no doubt that she would have to approach the situation again, with a more level and informed head on her shoulders.

Phoenix sighed behind her, relaxing his grip, and she seized the opportunity to slip quietly out of her bed. She stood up and stretched and then tiptoed past Maddox into the hallway, closing the door softly behind her. The old wood floors creaked testament to their age beneath her feet as she lightly made her way down the stairs. The room at the bottom of the stairs at one point had held a small office, but now held a bed and was used as a guest bedroom, just big enough for the necessary furniture. The door was cracked and through the opening Exley could see the sleeping forms of John and Monica. She shut the door all the way before turning toward the kitchen, her socked feet padding noiselessly across the floor. Skinner stood at the stove frying bacon. He glanced at her and then back to the bacon in the pan.

"Do you feel any better this morning?" he asked over the popping grease.

Exley hugged herself and nodded. "I feel a little like my skin doesn't fit?" She was asking if that made any sense at all. It was the best way to describe what she was feeling.

Skinner nodded as he set the pan on a cool burner and turned the stove off. "I can imagine that." He faced her fully and folded his arms over his chest, leaning against the counter behind him.

"It's all true then? I didn't dream it?" she asked, leaning against the frame around the door.

Skinner chuckled and shook his head. "We wouldn't all be here ready to give you our personal testimonies." He used a fork to put the bacon on a plate, before pausing and looking at her thoughtfully, his brown eyes narrowed behind wire frames. "No one would blame you if you didn't believe, Exley. But I know what I've seen. I can't deny that," he said with a strong shake of his head. "It's not just a story anymore."

They both turned at the sound of the front door opening. At the first sight of red hair, Exley looked back at Skinner and he motioned for her to go talk to Scully. Exley turned back to the sound of rustling plastic bags and jingling keys. She watched as her mother kicked the door shut behind her and dropped the groceries on the table. Scully eyed her wearily, trying to determine if she was back on Exley's good side, or at least, not on her bad side.

"That was quite a storm that blew through," Scully said carefully.

"Smooth sailing from here on out, Ahab," Exley responded quietly. References to Moby Dick were not at all lost on her. Scully nodded and Exley stepped forward to embrace her mother.

Exley pulled back. "I have a confession, Mom."



Scully's eyebrow rose. "You knew."

Exley nodded. "I heard you on the phone when you were in your office. I didn't know how to ask you about it."

Scully's face contorted slightly in pain. She looked at Skinner in the kitchen as he unloaded the groceries and continued cooking. Her eyes darted back to Exley's and her fist went to her hip. "Do you think you can ask me now?"

"Can you just tell me about it?" Exley asked.

Scully smiled. "Let's go outside and see what happens."

The morning was still cool, not as humid as it was closer to D.C. Exley and Scully sat on the swing in the screened in porch off the kitchen. Exley played with her fingers in her lap as Scully spoke. Her mother sat against one of the arm rests with her feet pulled up on the swing, her knees pulled tightly to her chest.

"I hadn't realized how much I wanted children, how deep the wound truly was, until Aunt Tara was pregnant with Matt," Scully said. "I knew that I had always wanted to settle down and have a family, it was all a matter of when. I had only found out a few months before that Christmas that my abduction had stripped me of that ability. Knowing that I couldn't have that…it killed me."

"Then how did William and I happen?" Exley asked, her blue eyes sweeping up to meet her mother's.

Scully took a sip of her coffee and then set the mug on the table in front the swing. She folded her arms across her chest and raised her eyebrows. "Well, at the time, the definition of my relationship to your father was hazy. He had found a vial of my ova and I took them to a specialist. The doctor said all I needed was a donor."

"So you asked dad."

Scully nodded. "It was the only logical choice. But the in vitro didn't take. So your father and I—"

"Oh my God," Exley said quickly. "Please don't tell me the next part." She grimaced. "This conversation is already awkward enough with the birds…and the bees...and monkey babies or whatever annoying quip it is that Dad uses."

Scully laughed. "Okay."

Exley's cheeks flushed and she frowned. "But you said you couldn't have kids, so then William was like…some kind of miracle?"

Scully hesitated. "He was," she said carefully. "But not unexplainable. There's technology in my body that we can't even begin to understand."


"An implant," Scully said, her hand unconsciously covering the scar on her neck. "It cured me of cancer and gave me the ability to have children when I shouldn't have been able to. When I found out I was pregnant with you…" She shook her head. "I cried for days. I was so afraid about what that meant you were."

"Genetically created to carry out a purpose?"

Scully nodded. "To take over a job that William would now fail at, but you only displayed signs of the special DNA sequencing on occasion. We played it as safe as we could."

Exley's brow furrowed in deep thought and she chewed on her lower lip unconsciously. Scully knew that she was churning this information over and over, trying to believe, wanting to believe. "So you were—are a…breeder for half alien babies."

Scully shifted uncomfortably and hugged her knees closer to her chest. "I haven't thought of it that way." She shuddered as she was taken back to the time following her abduction, feeling as if she had been violated all over again.

Exley was staring at her in concern and she laid her hand on her mother's knee. "They really did horrible things to you, didn't they?"

"They did worse to your father," her voice came out softly.

Exley face fell blank and she sighed, sitting back and staring at her feet. "Mom?"

"Hmm?" Scully tilted her head to the side and reached over to push a stray strand of hair behind Exley's ear.

Exley looked up with a slight smirk tugging at the corner of her mouth. "Did William have Dad's nose?"

Scully laughed and shook her head. "No. He has my nose. This one." Scully poked her finger into Exley's nose. Exley's grimaced and smiled and pushed her mother's hand away.

"Actually," Scully said thoughtfully, before standing and disappearing into the house briefly. When she returned, she held a manila envelope in her hands. She sat back down next to Exley, her toes barely making contact on the floor. Mulder had hung the swing higher so his feet wouldn't drag awkwardly when he sat on the swing. Exley leaned over her mother's elbow to see the front of the envelope. Several stamps lined the top edge and Scully's name and her work address were written in neat, swooping script.

Scully emptied the contents of the envelope onto the table and carefully pushed through pages of transcripts and copies of report cards and other various papers to a stack of pictures near the bottom. She held one up for Exley.

Exley looked at her mother briefly before her eyes locked on the face in the picture. "Is this him?"

Scully nodded.

Bright blue, Frank Sinatra eyes stared back at her from under a fringing of a dark shade of strawberry blond hair. He was smiling with what she knew as her father's smirk and his eyes smiled like Mulder's as well. Her eyes drifted down to his nose and she recognized the nose shared with her mother, her uncle Charlie, and a few of her cousins. William lacked the dusting of freckles that lined Exley's nose and cheeks and his skin was slightly darker than hers, but in general she was staring into a masculine version of her own face. She placed the picture back down on the table and carefully looked through the papers. "So this is all you have of him?"

Scully nodded absently, a happier version of that look Exley received every year around May settling on her features. "In addition to the pictures I kept from when he was a baby. This is it."

Exley looked at her mother sadly. "I'm sorry, Mom." Tears stung the back of her eyes and made her nose itch again. "I'm sorry for everything that's ever happened."

Scully smiled and pulled Exley to her chest as she leaned back on the swing, one hand brushing Exley's hair back from her face and the other wrapped tightly around her shoulders. Exley hugged her mother's torso tightly and buried her face in her shoulder. As Exley sniffed, Scully whispered soothingly, "You haven't done anything wrong, sweetie. None of us asked for these setbacks, but none of us had control of the circumstances surrounding these events either." Scully kissed the crown of her head.

"Why does it have to be so unfair, Mom?" Exley asked, her voice muffled by Scully's shirt.

"Existing in perfection would get boring after a while, don't you think?"

"Maybe," Exley admitted. She turned and looked at a copy of an acceptance letter near the top of the pile. It was the school's name that caught her attention. She picked it up and scanned the paper quickly. Georgetown University School of Medicine. That meant that William would be coming to D.C. in the coming semester. She set the paper back down on the top of the pile. "Is he as smart as me?"

"He's nineteen and just got accepted into Georgetown," Scully said boastfully. She nodded. "I think you might have some competition."

Exley pushed through the papers looking for his high school transcripts. She snatched them up quickly and scanned through them. "What?! Look, Mom. How come William can graduate early and I have to go through all four years of high school? This is outrageous!"

School had been in session for a little over a month before Exley did anything else about William. The air was growing more brisk, and traffic on I-66 West was getting steadily heavier on Friday nights as people traveled out to the mountains to see the changing leaves. They were nearly two weeks past homecoming when Exley called Phoenix and Maddox in the midst of the bustle of loading the football teams and cheerleaders onto buses to take them to the rival school. She told them to come over after they woke up in the morning and that she was going to need Maddox's computer skills to find information on her brother. Phoenix had groaned.

After their complete shut out of the rival team, Exley and Milly went out with some of the football players and cheerleaders to have a celebration midnight meal. Little did anyone realize that Exley's mind was performing careful calculations about what information she was looking for and what she was going to do with it. She texted Maddox under the table, completely oblivious to the looks Milly shot at her. They had just won an excellent football game, why was Exley being so reclusive? After they ate, Milly came over to spend the night, both girls crashing as soon as they hit the mattress. When Exley got back from taking Milly home the following day, Phoenix's car was in her driveway. She parked quickly and ran inside.

Maddox was already sitting behind her computer with several windows open. His fingers tapped furiously at the keys. Phoenix was sitting on her bed with her remote in his hands flipping through channels. Exley shrugged her jacket off and tossed it carelessly on the floor, stepping up behind Maddox. Maddox spun around to face her.

"Okay, so far I have all his academic records as they stand. He's a new student, so there's not much information on him."

"Yeah, but did you find out where he lives?" Exley asked, folding her arms across her chest.

"I'm not working with the most advanced equipment here," Maddox said impatiently, gesturing to Exley's desktop, which was no more than a year old. She shook her head. Computer geniuses were weird about the "latest equipment."

"So are you really going to do this, Ex?" Phoenix asked from the bed.

"Why not? He's my brother," Exley said, with a shrug. "I don't plan on bringing him home or anything. Not yet anyway."

Maddox and Phoenix exchanged glances. "Yeah, but, Ex…we're not supposed to talk about…that stuff," Maddox said.

"I'm not going to talk about that stuff unless I have to. He has a right to know."

"Shouldn't you leave it up to your parents?" Phoenix asked.

Damn him. Exley sighed. "PJ, you know they're not going to do anything about it. I'm going to do this. I've researched already. There's entire websites with database information about adopted kids looking for their families and for families looking for adopted kids. It's not abnormal."

It was Phoenix's turn to sigh. "Okay."

Exley looked back at Maddox. "Where does he live?"

"It's a little harder when he doesn't live on campus, Exley," Maddox said, his fingers flying over the keyboard again.

"Look for leasing agencies near the university," Exley said. "He's from Wyoming; he doesn't know anything about Georgetown, so he'll probably be within walking distance of campus."

Maddox sat back and rubbed his face. A window popped up and beeped, he sat forward and squinted at the screen. "Oh, this is interesting."

Exley turned and leaned over the desk, one hand on the table the other on the back of the chair. The window that had popped open had come from Social Services. "What is this, Mad?" Phoenix stepped up behind her to see what Maddox had stumbled upon.

"I ran an exclusive document search on one William Scully, just to see what I would find," he said, skimming through the document. "This is the initial documentation that your mom signed." He looked up at her, watching her eyes skim through the document, widening slightly at the sight of her mother's looped signature at the bottom of the sheet. Even Exley, with an untrained eye, could see the hesitation and agitation in her normally smooth script. Maddox scrolled through the sheets of the various documents. "This is the last time he was William Scully." He paused and squinted at the screen again.

Exley pointed to the edge of the window. "What are all those?"

Maddox scrolled through the other documents. They appeared to be several short letters addressed to a social worker called Ruth Horner." He shook his head. "Requests of some sort. All signed by your mom…and, oh, big surprise…Monica Reyes as the witness."

Exley nudge Maddox with her elbow and rolled her eyes. "You know that my dad can't put his name on any official documents." She looked back at the documents. "These must be the academic progress requests she told me she kept filing."

Phoenix looked at her with a frown. "Can she even do that?"

"She gave him life," Exley shrugged. "I'm pretty sure that my mom would do whatever she wanted no matter what."

Phoenix nodded in agreement. "That's true."

As they continued to scan the documents, Scully's voice cut into their query from behind them. "What are you doing?"

All three jumped and turned around guiltily.

"Doctoring Ex's transcripts," Maddox blurted.'

Scully stared at Exley pointedly.

"No, Mom, I didn't fail a class," she sighed and shook her head. "Maddox is just being obnoxious."

"Okay. As long as everything is alright. Can I—?" Scully took another curious step into the room and all three of them turned to her and told her to stop.

"No!" they all said.

Scully's eyebrow rose on her forehead, her face remaining serious. "Okay. I'm going to start dinner. Please just don't be doing anything completely illegal." She turned and left the room, followed by "Yes, ma'am" and "We won't."

"That was really effin' close, Ex," Phoenix whispered.

"I was standing right here next to you, Captain Obvious," she responded.

"Guys, shut up!" Maddox said. "Let's just get what we need. Here. I found out where he's living." The printer came to life and spat out sheets of profile information about William Alexander Van de Kamp. Maddox ripped them out of the tray and handed them to Exley.

"Tomorrow," she nodded.

The next day brought on summer's last futile attempts to keep the District heated. Cold viruses flew around from person to person, leaving everyone in a perpetual state of exhaustive sickness. Exley sniffed loudly and repeatedly as she walked down the sidewalk in search of William's apartment building, remembering how she had been standing in a wintery mix only two days before. She decided that as a whole, the weather patterns of Northern Virginia sucked. Despite the heat wave around her, she wore a knee length wool jacket and had her double-socked feet stuffed into a pair of Uggs.

The sun was at her back, bringing incredible warmth to her cold body and she dug her hands into her pockets deeper to try to bring some feeling back to them. She looked up at the thin canopy of orange and yellow oak leaves above her head and took a deep breath of the fresh autumn air. The early afternoon golden rays of the sun filtered through the leaves casting uneven shadows across the facades of the buildings along the sidewalk.

Exley finally stopped in front of a plain, brick-front building and sighed before making her way up the short entry path to the front door. She pulled at the door and was surprised when it opened to allow her in. She walked slowly through the narrow old hallways to an elevator at the end of the hall that looked as if it was way past its prime. The cables and pulleys creaked loudly as she rode it to the third floor. As the doors opened, she hesitated. The doors started to shut and she put her hand out to stop them. William was here. He was her own flesh and blood, ignorant to all information surrounding the truth of his existence. As far as she knew, he thought his birth mother was a single mother with a demanding career and without the proper means to take care of him. He probably thought that she didn't want to readjust her own life to accommodate his existence. Exley shook her head. She had already come this far and had always been taught to finish the things she started. If things went south, she could at least be satisfied with the knowledge that she tried to establish some sort of connection with William.

With renewed resolve, she stepped out of the elevator quietly and walked down the hallway looking for William's apartment. The hallway alone showed that the apartments weren't cheap despite their age and, as far as Maddox had found, William lived alone. She stopped in front of the second door on her right and held her breath, her fist poised over the wooden panels ready to knock. Finally, her knuckles rapped lightly on the thick wood. There was a muffled shuffling behind the door before it opened revealing a young man in a brown University of Wyoming zip-up hoodie and basketball shorts, his short, dark auburn hair sticking up all over as if he had just rolled out of his bed. Two sets of bright blue eyes locked on each other, noticing the similarities between their own appearances immediately.

William's eyes widened and then he blinked and rubbed his eyes. His eyes were staring straight into Exley's as if she were a ghost. "Who are you?" he asked, his eyes narrowing slightly. "Why do you look like me?"

"People tell me I look like my dad," Exley admitted. "My name is Exley. I probably should have called to lay this on you easier…"

"Are we related?" William asked. His voice sounded painfully hopeful. His fingers gripped the frame and his knuckles slowly turned white.

Exley swallowed and nodded, her eyes widening. "You're my older brother."

"Brother?" William whispered.

Exley nodded again and stiffened as his hand slowly reached out to touch her cheek and then poke her shoulder. He retracted and folded his arms across his chest, his brow furrowing pensively. He untucked his right arm and gently touched her cheek again, before tucking it back against his chest. "They had always told me my family died. I grew up being told that my birth parents were killed in a drunken driving incident," he said softly. His eyes continued to scan her face.

Exley shook her head. "It's a long story."

William's eyes shifted to the wall behind her for a brief moment before they were back on hers. They held a desperate eagerness that looked slightly out of place. He pointed with his thumb over his shoulder. "Let me get some real pants on and we can go for a cup of coffee."

Twenty minutes later, William sat across from Exley and they stared at each other curiously. William had insisted on buying her coffee at an old internet café. They sat below the backwards decal letters in the window that read "Federal Grounds." Out the window was a decent view of some of the older buildings and the cobble stone streets. Beyond was a slightly obstructed view of the C
O Canal. Neither one said anything until Exley put her empty cup down on the shellacked wooden table. She spun her cup with one hand and watched the hole in the lid as it made its way around in a circle.

"I have a lot of answers to a lot of questions you might have," she said finally and looked up at him. They both shared a feeling of uneasiness staring into such similarly vibrant irises, but Exley stared at him until he met her gaze.

William frowned. "Why?"

Exley's eyebrows rose. "Why?" she repeated.

William nodded. "Tell me why I was adopted. I've always wanted to know the truth."

Exley paused and her expression softened, her eyebrow raising on her forehead sympathetically. She nodded and looked down at the table top. "My mom…" she looked up to meet his eyes again. "Your mom…was caught up in a situation that prevented her from being able to care for you properly. She would want you to know just how much she loved you and how hard it really was for her to give you up. Her job at the time was very dangerous and Dad was basically M.I.A., not at all by choice. She had no other option. She did it to protect you."

William sat silently, brooding. Exley had seen the blank expression that sat on her brother's face before. Mulder's face had held the same emotionless face numerous times before. "Who was threatening my life?"

Exley suppressed all reactions to that question. Maybe this was a bad idea. "Mom and Dad worked for the FBI. They ran across a lot of people that they pissed off." She held her breath hoping William would accept the half-truth.

He nodded, but Exley could still see a grudge in his eyes.

She instinctively reached for his hand. "William…I've spent the last five months wondering why you had to go and not me. I'm sure you are asking yourself the same thing." She shook her head. "In truth, I still can't completely understand the answers my parents have given me and accepting them is a whole other story, but your biological parents loved you so much more than you could ever realize. You have to believe that."

William pulled his hand back and his eyes stared out the window. "I'd like to believe that, Exley."

"But?" she prompted, sitting back in her chair and crossing her arms over her chest.

"No buts," he said. He looked at her and her father's smirk tugged slightly at the corner of his mouth. "I'd really like to believe that. In fact, I'd like nothing more than to believe that." He shook his head. "I've spent the last several years of my life wondering about my biological family. Especially, when I got put back into the system. There was just this hole full of questions that need to be answered."

"The system?" Exley asked.

"Foster care?" William asked. He finally smiled for the first time since they had met. Exley noticed that his smile was all Fox Mulder, where it didn't stop with the muscles around his mouth, but reached all the way to his eyes. "My parents who adopted me couldn't have any children. They spoiled me all my life. My father was a very wealthy cattle farmer in a very large part of Wyoming. He died when I was fifteen from a heart attack. My mom had died a year or so earlier from cancer. I spent the next few years going from one foster family to the next. There were a few good ones and a few bad ones." He shrugged.

"I'm sorry," Exley said slowly. "I wish I knew the right thing to say."

William shrugged again. "Well, it was nothing like the abusive shit you hear about in the movies and stuff. A lot of kids in my situation get moved around because they rebel the system and become problems. They think that no one can love them. They get caught up in some really bad messes. Me…I threw myself at sports and school. When I reentered the system I was already two grades ahead of other kids my age and they let me finish high school up really quickly. I went to school and got out of the system as fast and as soon as I could. There was one point, right before I graduated high school; I actually became obsessed with the idea of my biological parents even though I had been told they were dead as well. I knew that they were wrong somehow, but I wasn't sure that seeking out my birthmother was the right course of action." He motioned at Exley. "Little did I know that my family would have loved to have me find them."

It was Exley's turn to smile for the first time. She nodded. "So it's because of your parents you decided to pursue medicine?"

William nodded. "Like I said, my dad was a well-known cow farmer. He left me a hefty inheritance, but I wasn't allowed to touch it until I turned eighteen. I paid off my loans from my undergrad degree and there's still plenty to spare for paying for GU's ridiculous tuition and have a nice apartment as well." He spun his cup around much how Exley had moments before and quickly stopped when he realized what he was doing. Another awkward stare happened between them. He shrugged. "I just told Child Services when I turned eighteen that I wanted to become an independent. I was more than fully capable, so I was released from the system and finished up my bachelor's the next year." He sighed, a smirk tugging the corner of his lips. "Now I'm here and some girl showed up at my door, telling me she's my long lost kid sister."

Exley smiled sheepishly. "I had too many questions about you to leave it alone."

William nodded and fell silent for a few moments, staring out the window with a thoughtful expression on his face. Eventually he turned, back to Exley the same curious expression on his face. "Can I meet them? I mean…they are alive right?"

Exley nodded. "Very much so. I have to break it to them gently though."

"Just don't leave me hanging, Exley," William said, smiling. "I have no one left. I'd like to meet them."

"They want to know you badly, William," she assured him.

He nodded. "You can call me Will."

"Well, then you can call me Ex."

William's smirk returned, and Exley saw the teasing look in his eyes. She suppressed the urge to roll her eyes. "Why are you named Exley?"

She sighed so heavily napkins fluttered on the table in front of her, causing William to chuckle. "My dad…he's…Josh Exley was a baseball player for the Roswell Grays Negro League team. Broke a lot of records." He also was an alien, but we can't exactly own up to that right now… She met his gaze again. "I should probably go though. They're going to start worrying."

William's eyebrow rose and Exley snorted softly, causing him to frown. "What?" he asked.

"It's just funny," she said. "You do a lot of things that are a lot like my parents, but you weren't raised by them. Facial expressions tend to be—"

"Picked up by offspring through imitation," William nodded. "I know. I must have vague memories that I remember them doing those things."

Exley accepted this with a shrug. "Maybe." She held up the empty coffee cup. "Thanks for the latte, Will. I'll be in touch," she said standing.

William hesitated as she put her coat on. "Exley?" he asked standing. She met his eyes again. He stuffed his hands in his pockets. "You really have made my day…year even. I haven't had a family for a long time."

Exley smiled and looked at the floor. "I'm glad I could help." She was surprised when William pulled her into a warm embrace.

When he pulled away, he took a pen from his pocket and scribbled a phone number down on a napkin. "That's my number," he said, handing her the napkin. "Don't forget to call."

Exley gripped the napkin tightly in her hand and nodded. "I won't."

"Why are you being so quiet?" Mulder asked Exley at dinner. He narrowed his eyes at her and shoveled another forkful of spaghetti dripping with red sauce into his mouth.

Scully watched her daughter carefully as she looked up at her father with wide eyes and shook her head. She looked back down and pushed her food around her plate, shrugging. Scully knew that she was hiding something. Exley had made the same guilty face all her life.

"I just don't have a lot to say tonight, I guess."

"Do you feel alright?" Scully asked.

Exley rolled her eyes. "Mom, I'm fine."

Scully shrugged her acceptance of the answer and took a bite of the baguette slice on her plate. "What are you hiding then?"

Exley's eyes widened slightly and then slid down, finding a particular interest in the noodles tangled together on her plate. "I'm not hiding anything," she said quickly and quietly.

Scully and Mulder exchanged glances from opposite ends of the table. Scully pushed her plate back and leaned forward on her elbows. "Exley…honey, you were the one that made us promise that we don't keep anymore important secrets a few weeks ago," Scully reminded her.

Mulder swallowed loudly, earning an annoyed glare from his daughter. "Is there a boy that's being difficult?"

Exley groaned and rolled her eyes. "No, Dad. Oh my God."

"I thought I would ask," Mulder said, looking at Scully and shrugging. Scully frowned and shook her head, projecting to him not to be so facetious. He smirked in response, earning a second glare from his partner.

Exley pushed her food around her plate for a few more minutes before sitting back and dropping her fork on the plate. Folding her arms across her chest, she looked at Scully. "Mom, what would happen if William ever looked for us?"

Scully felt her heart drop into her stomach as she looked back at Exley. The whole situation revolving around William was really getting to her younger child to the point of obsession. It pained Scully to know that it bothered Exley so much. It pained her more to know that she had taken care of the situation when she had given her son up for adoption. "He probably won't look for us."

"Why?" Exley frowned.

"I requested that he never knew that we were still alive. Sweetie, you know that at the time I had no idea of what the next day would bring."

"Well, what about now, Mom? There's no imminent threat on his life…Dad's here, too," Exley said. "If he knew us, it would make no difference now."

Scully looked at Mulder and his face seemed to say that their daughter had a point, which immediately put Scully on the defensive. "What, Mulder? What am I supposed to do? How was I supposed to know that only weeks shy of his first birthday, you were going to show up in a federal prison cell in Quantico?" She could try, but she knew that no words could exactly describe the emotions she felt when it came to reliving her decisions concerning William.

"I didn't say anything, Scully," Mulder said, his voice growing slightly louder, also getting defensive. "Exley's right though. There's no imminent danger to his life."

Scully hesitated and stuttered. "What do you do in that situation? Send a letter of apology for drawing up an agreement to have him lied to all his life? It's too complicated."

"We could just go visit him," Exley offered quietly.

Both Scully and Mulder turned their eyes inquisitively to the top of her bowed head. She slowly looked up and shrugged.

"Where were you today, Exley?" Scully asked. She knew she had been hiding something.

Exley sighed. "Mom, he has no family."

Scully found herself feeling relieved, surprised that she wasn't even angry with Exley for taking the initiative to find her brother. This must have been what the boys and Exley had been up to the day before. "Where is he?"

Exley sent her a small smile. "He lives in Georgetown. Both his adopted parents died within a year and a half of each other. He's paying for school with the inheritance he got from his father."

"Did you actually go see him?" Mulder asked.

Exley nodded. "He bought me coffee and we talked for a long time."

"You didn't mention…aliums, right?" Mulder asked, frowning slightly.

Scully could see the excited gleam in Exley's eyes. She was relieved that neither Scully nor Mulder were reacting negatively to her decision. Exley shook her head. "Dad, I want him to at least meet you before he starts to think you're crazy like everyone else does." Exley looked back at Scully. "Mom, he looks so much more like me in person than in the picture."

Scully's eyes locked with Mulder's as she nodded. "Those Mulder genes are pretty strong."

"I'll say," Mulder mumbled suggestively and waggled his eyebrows at her.

Scully tilted her head to the side and narrowed her eyes at him. She wasn't even completely sure as to what he was suggesting. "Stop it, Mulder."

Exley remained unfazed by her father's comment for once; her eyes were locked on her mother. "He really wants a family, Mom," she said quietly. "He said when he was placed in the custody of the foster care system, he obsessed over the idea of his biological family. I've read that happens a lot."

"It can also be an overwhelming experience for both parties," Mulder said in a warning tone. He was after all a trained psychologist. He stared at Scully across the table. "It's probably best to take this at William's pace."

She met his gaze and nodded, her heart beating quickly. "Slow." She wanted nothing more then to rush to Georgetown that very moment and take her son into her arms.

Mulder nodded his agreement. Scully knew he wanted the same thing and that he knew it was killing her. "So slow."

Dear Dana Scully and Fox Mulder:

I've known about you for a very long time, but only recently did I find out that you were still alive. I'd like to meet you, but I'm hesitant. This whole experience is starting to become overwhelming. I need to breathe a little bit and sort things out. Truthfully, I can pinpoint this to being afraid of not being accepted for who I've grown into. For example, I'm studying to be a doctor, but what if you had always dreamed that I would become a professional athlete? A lawyer? Or even a politician? I played baseball in high school, but what if you wanted me to take up an instrument? I could literally ask these sort of questions forever, which would only serve to heighten my anxiety.

One day soon, I hope that we will meet face to face. I was very happy to meet Exley. Beyond surprised and somewhat relieved, but extremely happy, nonetheless. She was kind of like an angel. The bearer of good news. She's a really good kid. She came to find me for you. Correspondence with her through text messaging has made me realize that you want to meet me as well, but I'm not ready. I apologize. I really want to be ready. I've thought about this so many times within the last few years. Someday soon I hope to meet you face to face, but for right now I'm going to have to sort through my thoughts.

Your son,


I read the email over and over again before even considering clicking Send. It sounds so impersonal, but how else do you address people you vaguely remember? Exley had sent me pictures of them to help jog my memory. I know the woman; her red hair is pretty unforgettable. I had dreamed of a woman with red hair and the same eyes as mine many times through my life. I know that as an infant I had shared a special bond with her, far more sacred than that of a normal newborn boy and his mother, though I would never be able to explain it even if I tried. The man though, even though he has my face, I hardly recognize him. He must have been working a lot or something when I was a baby. Maybe I'll recognize his voice when I finally hear it.

Finally, I send the email before making my way downstairs and outside. The air is crisp, fall had finally set in in the District. I stretch my cold muscles and take off down the sidewalk at an easy pace, trying to focus on the issues at hand.

I had always known that I was adopted. My parents told me very early on in life, right before I entered school, though the full concept of the word didn't dawn on me until I was older. It hadn't bothered me; I had two parents like most of the kids in my school and grandparents that, despite their age, did what they could to spoil me. That's what a family is, right? Though when that was taken from me a few years ago, I did begin to wonder incessantly about my biological family. My parents had told me they were dead, but that didn't keep me from wondering about these elusive mysteries. Were they really dead or did they just want me to think that they were? Did she still talk to or see my father? How did they make their money? Where did they live? Did I even look like them at all? Were they happy without me? Happier without me?

When Exley showed up at my front door, I was overwhelmed with a sick feeling. I prayed so hard that it wasn't some sick joke. She looked exactly like me. I really hoped that it wasn't some strange coincidence or weird doppelganger. I was relieved when she spoke the most beautiful words I had ever heard, "You're my older brother." My knees went weak. I wanted to talk to her and ask her so many questions, but I was apprehensive. She was young. And she showed up at my door alone. Had something really happened to my birthparents? Was I the only one she had left now?

After we had gotten coffee, my brain was having trouble focusing, not incredibly abnormal for me, but I had so many questions that were left unanswered. It wasn't until I casually glanced at a picture of my parents later that day that it hit me. I had been waiting to hear anything, anything at all about my biological family. I sat straight up and shook myself out of my thoughts. It was really true. I had a mom and a dad. Not only that, but a kid sister. And as I have come to find out recently, a grandmother, four cousins, and aunts and uncles. Exley assured me that they were mostly fair-headed and light-eyed and that most of us shared similar facial features.

It wasn't as if I had a horrible childhood. My father was wealthy, which allowed my extremely high intelligence to be nurtured properly. I was sent to private schools and excelled in academics and sports. They permitted me to skip grades and work at a higher level. And my family loved me, I knew that. I was their only hope to have a child, but I couldn't ever shake the feeling that I didn't belong there. I teased and prodded cousins from a family that wasn't exactly humorless, but they were no where near my level, or I'd dress in something crazy to get a rise out of my mother. I ate sunflower seeds, while most of my family was allergic to nuts. I was unorganized and carefree in a family where cleanliness and order was a priority, almost a compulsion. And I had a particular interest in science, while most of my family were geared toward literature and the arts. I argued vehemently, defended my opinion, and questioned the legitimacy of authority figures around me, while the rest of my family remained respectfully complacent.

The worst was sitting around the table at holiday meals. For years, I had stared at people who looked nothing like me, but still accepted me and loved me. They had brown hair; I had hair that turned strawberry blond in the summer sun. Their eyes were dark, boring, dull, mine were bright-blue, always questioning, taking in everything around me. I had lighter skin, not quite fair, but most of theirs was olive-toned; they tanned, I burned. I have perfect vision, but many members of my family wore glasses. My legs, arms, and fingers were long and I was tall, somewhere around six feet. My family was dwarfed by me.

I stop running just on the legal limits of Georgetown. Somehow I have made it to the waterfront, though I'm not sure when or how I got there. I stare out over the water and a cold wind blows up from the river. My teeth begin to chatter, but I remain there unmoving. Exley says that my parents had been going through some rough times when I was born, that giving me up was the last thing they wanted to do. She says my birthmother struggles with it almost daily. The anticipation kills me. I want to know them, but the expectations from both sides are causing me to reconsider. Maybe we should just go back to not really knowing each other. I was brought up in a different house, in a different part of the country. There's a possibility that I might disappoint them. There's a possibility they might disappoint me.

All we can do is wait and take it one step at a time.

"So…he wants to hold off meeting you," it was more a statement of clarification than a question as Exley folded her arms across her chest and leaned against the breakfast bar. Her frown was asking more questions than her actual words.

Mulder nodded mutely and refolded the paper holding William's email as he leaned against the adjacent counter's edge. His expression remained neutral, but Exley knew that he was worried about what this would do to Scully. Mulder sighed deeply. "He sent this a few days ago," he admitted, his hazel eyes swinging up to meet his daughter's. "I deleted it before your mother saw it."

Exley untangled her arms and braced her hands on the counter's edge, mirroring her father's posture and raised her eyebrows. "Do you think his fear is rational? Genetics plays a big part in the manifestation of personality, right?"

"You could argue that children inherit similar personality traits, though that depends on who you ask," Mulder mumbled, his shoulders rising in a lazy shrug. He folded his arms and tucked the paper under his arm. His eyes were introspective and sparkling as he drew on his psychological knowledge. "It's theorized that personality is influenced through environment. We aren't completely predisposed to personality. You happen to behave like your mother because she was influential in your development." Mulder paused and stroked his chin thoughtfully before shrugging indifferently. "His main concern of disappointing us is fundamentally unfounded. Frankly, he's unable to understand that it wouldn't make a difference if he played quarterback for his high school football team or played the lead in every school theatre production. We won't be deterred from meeting him. He's still our son."

Exley's shoulders caved slightly hearing this from her father and her stomach knotted, causing her to feel slightly empty inside. She wasn't sure if she was feeling some convoluted form of jealousy or if she was emotionally reaching out to her parents. By giving William up, they had lost a small piece of themselves leaving holes that Exley, try as she might, would never be able to completely fill. William had been the first miracle, the real miracle. What did that make her? She was a second chance, yet a giant burden because her existence meant that they were trying again.

Exley swallowed. "Is mom going to be okay?" was all she could manage to ask.

Mulder snorted softly and nodded, pushing himself away from the counter. "I think she's accepted that this would be a long process. She'll take it in stride like she does with everything else." He paused and frowned as if rethinking his statement. He slowly pulled at his bottom lip before he spoke. "Your mom…things don't get to her that easily. She's pretty fearless, especially for being a woman of her stature. I saw her stand against men twice her size and she could cut into a corpse without any impeding thoughts. But William…and you…you both strike a tender spot in the center of her being."

Exley watched as he walked slowly out of the kitchen and disappeared into his office. She sighed after the door had shut and pushed herself away from the counter, pulling her phone out of her pocket. Slowly, she walked around the island and into the family room, sinking down into the soft cushions on the sofa and frowned at her phone. She had wondered why William had not made real contact with her for nearly five days. He had seemed so eager the last time he talked to her to meet his birth parents, but all of the sudden he was answering her text messages with single-syllable responses or short, distracted answers. She frowned and stared at the external display, debating what she should do.

She spun to the sound of the garage door opening behind her and saw Phoenix step into the house. He briefly muttered a greeting as he made his way to the refrigerator searching through the leftovers. Exley frowned as he pulled out a Rubbermaid container of the previous night's meal and stuck it in the microwave. She folded her arms across her chest. "Sure, Phoenix, help yourself. There's leftovers in the fridge." When he didn't respond, Exley shook her head. "Did you really drive from Haymarket for food?"

"Today, yes," he admitted with a smirk, pulling a slice of bread out of the bag. He took a bite and dropped it on the counter as the microwave dinged. As he poured the food onto a plate and took out utensils, he explained, "Skinner was over here last night, which means your mom made kielbasa and sauerkraut. What an excellent Bavarian combination."

"You're half Mexican. You do remember that, right?"

Phoenix shrugged. "Why stick to stereotypes? I like flavor." He hopped up on the counter.

Exley took the chance his pause gave her to change the subject. "William sent my mom and dad an email saying that he was afraid of disappointing them."

Phoenix paused and frowned. "Like he got cold feet?"

Exley nodded. "I don't know how to make him understand that no matter what he's done, he could never disappoint them."

"Why don't you just tell him he could never disappoint them?" Phoenix offered.

She rolled her eyes. "It's not that simple."

Phoenix put the fork down and resisted the urge to roll his own eyes in response. "Well, what do you want me to tell you to do? Let's go beat him up." He picked the fork back up and continued to eat.

"I hate you sometimes. I hope you know that."

"I am eating kielbasa…" Phoenix said motioning to his plate. "Truthfully, you probably just have to talk him through it."

"I don't know what to say to him."

"Essentially, you have to say what I said before," Phoenix said. "I personally wouldn't know how to approach my long lost brother and introduce him to Fox Mulder."

Exley giggled. Her father could be a little bit hard to get used to, but how could she make William understand that he could never be a disappointment to Scully and Mulder? In some strange way she could understand his apprehension, sympathize with it. It was hard enough to live up to parents' expectations as it was. Here William was, having to start from scratch after he had already established his goals and begun to fulfill his dreams. But he needed a family. She couldn't sit back and watch him carry on like her father would have had it not been for her mother. She shook her head. If only he knew just how much like his parents he really was. Maybe it could be as simple as telling him that he could never disappoint Scully and Mulder. "Come on, butt head. You can eat that in the car."

"Where are we going?"

"Would you please just get in the car?"

It barely took them twenty minutes to get to Georgetown. Exley had found a parking space on the street close to William's apartment, leaving them a short walking distance from the front door. Phoenix stepped out of the car and shut the door. He shoved his hands in his jacket pockets and looked up at the front of the building. Yellow leaves lined the gutters and sidewalks and the sun hung low in the sky, casting long twisted shadows from bare trees on the building's front. Exley stepped up next to him and hooked her arm through his, pulling him toward the building.

"Pretty swank for a nineteen year old kid," Phoenix observed.

Exley looked up at him as they walked. "He inherited a lot of money from his adoptive parents last year."

"Wasn't his dad a cow farmer?" Phoenix frowned up at the building.

Exley nodded. "And obviously a good one. It's paid for his degree and is paying for Georgetown."

"How do you make money from cows?"

Exley nudged him as they stepped up to the main entrance. She opened the door and let go of Phoenix to lead the way up to William's apartment. Phoenix made more comments about the elevator as it creaked its way up to the top floor of the building, where the doors grinded and squeaked open. They stepped out into the hallway and Exley led Phoenix to the second door on the right, not even waiting to knock. The response was the same. She heard a muffled shuffling behind the door before it swung open to reveal her brother wearing black basketball shorts, a well-worn white hat with a University of Wyoming bucking bronco, and a navy blue t-shirt that said, "Hoya Saxa" on the front. William briefly eyed Phoenix before his eyes landed on Exley again.

"I sent them an email, Ex," he simply said. "I can't do it."

Exley wasn't sure if it was their resemblance or that they had been talking to get to know each other better recently, but she had reached a new comfort level with this virtual stranger. She poked her finger into his chest and pushed him backwards, stepping through the door after him. "You, sir, are being a big baby."

"Ex, I don't think this is the best way…" Phoenix started, reaching for her shoulder to pull her back.

"Will, I'm not trying to push you to do something you don't want to do. I know that you want to meet your parents. The circumstances are shitty, and you and I didn't ask to be direct descendents of such complicated parents, but we are."

"Exley, you don't know what I am going through." William said, walking further into the apartment and dropping on the couch.

Exley followed him down the hall, saying, "I know this is a weird situation for you, I understand that. But you could never disappoint them." She stood in front of him, with her fists at her hips. Phoenix stepped into the entry way and shut the door behind him. "They have thought about you at least once a day for the last eighteen years. You left a hole, being the miracle that you were, that I will not be able to fill. The only way you will disappoint a mother that has loved you so unconditionally all these years is to keep her waiting to finally see you again."

William was resting his elbows on his knees. He looked up at her with stormy eyes. "But what if I'm not what they wanted?" he asked quietly.

Exley threw her hands up exasperated. "Will…they don't care, babe! If you could only see how my mom looks at me around your birthday every year. They just want to see you. Our mom, Will, our mom…she's a pediatrician. You're following her footsteps. Dad, our dad named me after a baseball player." She paused. "You have no family, Will. Please, please, William. Come to parents that need you in their lives to make them feel whole again."

William sat silently on the couch, his brow furrowed. He looked up at Exley again, his eyebrow raising angrily. It took him several long brooding moments before he spoke again. "Give me a night, Ex. At least a few hours to think this through." His blue eyes were piercing, trying to cut through her.

Exley nodded and turned back down the hallway, Phoenix close on her heels. She paused at the door and met William's gaze evenly. "You're not going to disappoint them, Will. I promise."

I actually know someone that likes kielbasa as much as Phoenix apparently does. He's actually an 85 year old Catholic monk that lives in the most remote monastery that has ever been created.

William sat on his couch brooding long after Exley left. The sun had set and the room was slowly fading to black as he continued to stare impassively at the blank television screen. Only the lights from on the street filtered through the partially-closed blinds on the windows, casting odd blue shadows across the floor. Whether he wanted to admit it or not, she did know exactly what angle to come at to make him see that he had been over thinking the whole ordeal. He must have had similar personality traits to one or both of his parents. He couldn't forget that they had made their decisions for his safety, though it had been moved to the back of his mind at some point during the past week. They had wanted him in their lives, especially if what Exley said was true. He had been a miracle for them, though the nature of the miracle was lost on him.

Looking up, he again saw the picture of his parents in the entertainment center. They're smiling faces stared back at him, their eyes soft. The picture had been taken before his mother had been diagnosed with cancer. Both of them were gone now, the two people that raised him to be who he was. He frowned, wondering just how many of his choices were actually influenced by them and not genetics. After all, his birthmother was a doctor and scientist, his birthfather was a psychologist. His adopted father farmed cattle and his mother was an English teacher, yet he had chosen to pursue science and medicine as a profession. It had seemed a natural choice, not purely based on his parents both losing their lives to somewhat common medical diagnoses.

He had an innate drive to help people, all living things for that matter. He knew that never came from his adoptive parents. While they were good people who attended church every Sunday, they tended to turn their cheek the other way when people needed help. William had grown up wanting to make sure every worm made it back to the moist grass from the dry sidewalk after a rain storm.

William stood and walked slowly over to the entertainment center. He shoved his hands in his pockets and stared at the picture for a long time remembering the day it was taken. It had been the summer after he turned twelve. They had gone for an afternoon hike on the ridge bordering his father's farm. A little while after he had taken the picture, his father had tripped and twisted his ankle. William had single handedly pulled his father back down the mountain, using sheer muscle strength that a normal twelve year old didn't possess. That had been the one time that his mother made a reference to his genetic differences. William remembered looking at her and asking if his real parents had been super heroes. She had laughed and shook her head, but then gently reminded him that they had died in a car accident. Aside from the conversation they had with him right before he began kindergarten that had been the only mentioning of his birthparents.

Little did he know, his mother would begin her losing battle with cancer by Christmas or that the following summer, she would be wearing a bandana over her bald head. He picked up the frame and ran a finger across their smiling faces. Frowning, he wondered if his mother had really known the true story about his birthmother's decision to give him up. He couldn't blame either mother for the way they handled the situation. They both did what they needed to do to provide a little boy with a good life.

"No matter what happens," he muttered to the smiling faces in the frame, "I know what you both did for me. This is just something that I have to do."

He put the frame down, not noticing that it fell face-down in the entertainment center as he ran into his bedroom. At his desk, he typed furiously at the keyboard, hacking his way into student information at Northern Virginia Community College, where he knew Exley had taken classes for the last few years. He memorized her address and grabbed the first hoodie he could find and pulled it on over his head. He ran towards the door, pausing to slip his feet into a pair of Etnies that had been tossed off by the door the day before. He ran down the stairs of his building two at a time, throwing the front door open and jumping down the three front steps of the entry way. A few yards down the street was the Zipcar he had rented the previous day to drive into Virginia to meet with a study group. The maroon Scion xD unlocked as he ran his ID card over the reader and he slid into the driver seat, barely shutting the door before taking off down the darkened street.

Not too long after, the car's GPS system had him steering his way through a suburban neighborhood full of huge cookie-cutter houses. The GPS told him he had reached his destination and he pulled up to the curb and turned the car off. He stared up at the house for several long moments. Only a few lights were on, mostly in the back and only one car, a Honda Civic, sat in the drive way. William finally climbed out of the car and walked across the damp lawn to the front door, pulling the hood over his head before stuffing his hands in the pocket of his hoodie. His breath steamed out in front of him and he realized just how cold it was. In a few long strides he was standing at the front door and ringing the doorbell. A moment later, a man opened the door. William recognized his graying brown hair and hazel eyes from pictures Exley had given him. The fact that they looked alike added to the realization that he was staring into his birthfather's eyes.

Taking a deep breath, William cleared his throat. "I'm sorry to bother you. My name is Will," he said, and then added quickly, "I grew up William Alexander van de Kamp, but I've been told I was born William Aidan Scully. I…I'm your son."

The man's eyes were wide and glossy even in the dim glow from the porch light. Without taking his eyes off William, he turned his head slightly and said, "S-s-scully…?

Dana Scully looked at her daughter curiously, when her partner's strange call made it to her ears earning a frown from her daughter who had noticed nothing. His voice had been soft, barely audible over the distance between them. Instinctively, the hair on the back of her neck rose and her stomach twisted involuntarily. There was only a subtle change in his tone, but after years of facing dangerous criminals together she could read volumes in that small inflection on those two syllables.

Something was off.

She stood silently and walked toward the front door, shivering against the cold breeze filling the foyer of her house. The knots tightened as she saw Mulder's rigid form standing in the doorway, his back so straight it nearly bent backwards. Ice was settling in her stomach and she felt sick. A fear she had not felt in nearly twenty years settled over her, gripping her midsection and making breathing seem impossible. Her footsteps were silent as she slowly approached the door; the only thought rushing through her head was that every barrier she had built over the last twenty years had been compromised. They had found her family and they had come to collect what they believed was theirs.

As a small puff of what could only be cigarette smoke curled and haloed around Mulder's head, she stopped dead, her heart beat pounding in her ears and nearly choking on the long forgotten flavor of stale Morley's. Every fear she had ever had about and for her daughter manifested in the wispy tendrils of smoke standing on the threshold of her carefully guarded sanctum. Every instinct told her to run to Exley, every internal alarm screamed that something was wrong.

But her feet pulled her forward despite her body's protestations, every symptom of anxiety increasing with every step.

She stopped a mere three small paces away from her partner and pushed her voice through the lump that had formed in her throat. "Mulder?" Her voice was low and husky, completely foreign to her ears. Mulder turned from the door, his face impassive as he stepped aside to reveal their visitor. She focused on a boy, not much older than Phoenix, shivering in the cold. What she had seen as cigarette smoke, was merely warm exhalations, easing her anxiety until she looked directly into the boy's eyes. His eyes were like ice, a cool pool of blue that she had only seen in Exley's eyes, and were set in a nearly perfect copy of Mulder's features. What she saw hit her harder than anything prior as she was assaulted with flashbacks of getting lost in those eyes before. They had held nothing but love and pure affection for her then, now they were pleading with her to recognize him. When he finally spoke, Scully's knees went weak and she crumpled to the floor as they gave way. The room faded away to black and white images of every memory she had of her son.

"She'll be fine," Scully heard someone say. "She just needs some water and space to breathe."

Scully jerked as someone lifted her eyelid to check her pupils. She blinked her eyes rapidly and forced them open. Scully was the doctor in this house. Who was thinking that they even knew what they were looking for when checking the pupils? Mulder maybe knew to check for odd dilation, but then she doubted he even knew what it meant.

"Whoa, sorry! I didn't mean to scare you," a male voice said. He was truly apologetic. Scully turned her head to focus on the figure next to her and sat up slowly on the couch in the living room, taking the glass of water Mulder was holding out for her. William shifted awkwardly beside her.

"Luckily, William is doing his residency in emergency medicine, Scully," Mulder said, a slight smirk on his face.

Scully frowned at him and slowly turned to see those blue eyes staring at her again, filled with genuine concern. "That doesn't happen often," she said quietly.

William's eyes scanned her face in a doctor-like way, cataloguing all features, checking for any oddities. Finally, his eyes settled on hers and he smiled. It was crooked, just like Mulder's. Her eyes found his and she could feel those eyes tugging at her heart. "In all honesty, I felt the same way when Exley first showed up at my apartment."

Scully set the glass of water on the coffee table and reached out, placing her hand on William's cheek. Her eyes swept up to his hairline and moved down to his chin, slowly taking in every feature on his face, re-familiarizing herself with every detail. As she did so, tears formed in both of their eyes. "Your cheeks were a lot chubbier the last time I saw you."

William laughed and looked down until Scully pulled him into a motherly embrace. He saw Exley over Scully's shoulder and she gave him a thumbs up. He smiled over his mother's shoulder at his sister and winked. Scully pushed him back to arms' length and cupped his cheeks in her hands. He could see the tears pooling in her eyes, threatening to fall down her cheeks. Her eyes were apologetic, but still constantly scanning his face, memorizing every detail. "Sweetheart, I am so sorry," she whispered to him. "I'm so sorry."

William had built up a significant resolve since his parents had died. Try as he might, he couldn't bring the tears to bear. That fact aside, his heart was swelling as he glanced around the room at his biological family. It was such a beautiful and relieving sight. He had a mom and a dad and even a full-blooded sister. He smirked again though and wrapped his large hand around Scully's thin arm. "At least tell me why?" He felt a squeeze on his shoulder and looked up into his father's eyes. The resemblance was uncanny.

"The full story will take a long time to tell. You'll know, but now is not the time," Mulder said, giving William's shoulder another squeeze. "The easy version is that I had to disappear for a time and the enemies that your mother and I had made during our career at the FBI were seeking revenge. You were in danger."

"There's nothing that can make this less cliché…" Scully began. "If there was any way…I would have never made the choices I did."

William nodded. "I believe that." He smiled again and released the breath he had been holding. He finally felt complete.

Later that night, Phoenix was sitting at the breakfast bar with Exley while Scully cleaned the kitchen. Phoenix studied the suds in the sink as Scully scrubbed dinner off of the flatware. Through the hallway, William's laughter echoed from Mulder's office as he recounted his hero stories from state championship baseball and football games. Mulder had periodically run into the kitchen, eyes wild and ecstatic, relaying another William factoid in his excited monotone, all of which revolved around his son's athletic excellence. Phoenix had never seen Scully and Mulder so blithe before, yet he could only wonder how long it would take for someone to mention the conspiracy hovering above all their heads.

"Are you staying the night, Phoenix?" Scully asked distractedly, wiping the counters off.

Phoenix remained quiet, earning an expectant glare from Exley. He finally shook himself out of thought and met Scully's gaze. He nodded. "Yeah, I guess so."

"What's wrong?" Scully asked.

Phoenix sighed. "I just feel sorry for the guy."

"For William?"

He nodded again. "The poor kid grew up thinking that his birth parents were dead and then his adopted parents both died. He's been looking for a family and a place to call home, but little does he know…he's the center of some old government conspiracy that could be the end of the world."

Scully turned her full attention to him, one hand on her hip. "I would have preferred he had never found us for that very reason," she admitted quietly and stealing a quick glance at the closed office door. "But now that he has, it's almost like a second chance for Mulder and for me. And when the time comes, he'll know the truth, just like you, Exley, and Maddox."

"Yeah, Phoenix…that's not exactly the best welcoming speech," Exley said from beside him. He wasn't looking, but he sensed the playful smirk on her face.

"Like showing up at his front door and boldly telling him to get his act together is so much better?"

Exley shrugged. "It worked, didn't it? He's a lot more like my dad then he realizes. It was a bit rude," she admitted, "but he got the point. Now he feels a whole lot better."

"Don't worry so much, Phoenix," Scully said assuredly. "We have it under control."

"Oh, my God! Mom! Dad!" Exley flew into the kitchen, stumbling and slipping off balance in her socked feet. She grabbed her father's shoulder to catch her balance and finally slid to a stop, slapping a sheet of paper on the table that she had scribbled an itinerary on, the words "Black Friday" were written in bold caps across the top. Her feet were barely steady beneath her before she began speaking rapidly again. "Look, I have everything planned out. The lights, the tree, the cookies…the lights!"

Scully watched her daughter and sipped her coffee, barely phased by the sudden outburst that she had come to associate with the day after Thanksgiving. She had given up trying to tell her overly-exuberant child that Black Friday meant she was still digesting the excess of food she had ingested the day before, or that they needed to get up early to try to get all the good sales. The poor girl got more excited about the holiday season than anyone Scully had ever met, including her own mother. Her eyes wandered to the clock on the microwave as Exley hastily rattled off the details of her itinerary and sighed as she realized that she would not be sneaking in a nap after waking up at three in the morning to try to beat the other three-hundred thousand shoppers to the best deals of the year. "Sweetie, you said lights twice…"

Her interjection was lost at the mentioning of the lights. Mulder turned into a regular Clark Griswold every year when it came to rigging up the lights in the front yard. He and Exley, in the last several years, had taken the days leading up to Thanksgiving discussing what needed to be added to the existing display. Having the same set up as the previous year appeared to be blasphemous to them, the mere mentioning of such holiday sacrilege sent them each into an explosive explanation of why that was not at all permitted. There attic had become a yuletide catchall for several motorized reindeer, pre-lit trees, gift boxes, snowmen, a Santa Clause or two, and boxes upon boxes of lights. At last count, Mulder had estimated that well over five-thousand tiny, twinkling lights adorned their house and he took pride in telling any passerby that he had finally managed to trip a circuit.

But it wasn't like Mulder and Exley were the only ones to get excited about the holidays. Scully had her own Christmastime vices as well. It was wrapped up in a tall, green, evergreen-smelling package. The only difference was that she was able to contain herself better about it. When she was young, she would stare in awe at the tree after it had been decorated and she would purposefully take the route that brought her closer to the tree so she could sniff the pine-scented air. But everything was carried out in a militaristic fashion that never allowed her time to truly indulge in the beauty of a Christmas tree. She had vowed that when she was grown and bought her own trees, they would go up as soon as possible and remain up until the last possible moment.

"What do you think, Mom?!" Exley exclaimed.

Scully shook herself out of visions of the perfect white pine sitting in her living room window for the entire neighborhood to see, her personal "Major Award" leg lamp like the one in A Christmas Story. Mulder was hastily rinsing dishes in the sink and then disappearing up the stairs. "About what?"

Exley rolled her eyes and held out the sheet of paper for her mother to take and read. Scully took it from her fingers slowly and skimmed through it, though the effort was in vain. Exley gave a brief summary of the itinerary to her mother. "We have to leave soon to go get the tree so that we can get back and start unpacking all the decorations. I already Googled several tree farm options…" She pulled a folded stack of papers from her back pocket. "They're all out in the middle of nowhere, but they're some of the closer ones."

"Did you check for white pine availability?" Scully asked, taking the papers and scanning through them.

Exley motioned to the papers and picked up her mother's coffee. "They all say they have white pine," she said and shrugged, taking a sip from the FBI mug.

Scully looked down at the robe wrapped around her petite frame and then back up to Exley. "I guess we had better get going then, shall we?"

William had begrudgingly attended Thanksgiving dinner at his biological grandmother's house the day before. It had only been days since his parents had been cornered into telling him the whole story of his adoption. Scully had ordered that Mulder clean his office, "or else." No one wanted to know what "or else" meant and Mulder, Exley, and William spent the day mostly vacuuming up sunflower shells and putting his files in some semblance of order. It was then that he had run across an old file referencing William's emergency hospital after a stranger inoculated him with a highly concentrated injection of iron. He read the report and, noticing the high iron count, had asked Mulder about it. Having his biological family in his life had been an excellent improvement in his life, truly.

Until he found out they were crazy.

They were telling him wild stories of alien invasion and government conspiracies, and the expecting him to believe it. They showed him proof; DNA tests, experimental results, file after file of individuals that played a role in this supposed looming invasion, but he still had trouble accepting it. His science classes had always maintained that there was no actual proof of life outside of Earth, yet here it was being presented to him: actual documentation that had been hidden in a dusty smuggling compartment for nearly fifteen years.

After that, he had dropped away for several days until Phoenix called him and left a voicemail explaining that he wasn't the only one who had been lied to. No one had asked to be a player in this crazy twist of fate. Mulder, Scully, and Exley were the only family he had left. Even if he didn't believe what they were saying, they needed him in their life as much as he needed them. Sulking, he had gone to Landover, Maryland the next day for Thanksgiving as planned to meet the rest of his family.

It had felt good to finally sit at a table where he shared several phenotypes with the people around him. Their humor was more like his, even several of their mannerisms. Only his uncle, Bill, had remained quiet, watching him out of the corner of his eye. On their way back to Chantilly, Mulder expressed his distinct distaste for Bill while Scully repeatedly told him to be nice to her older brother. He had smiled and realized that Phoenix was right; Mulder and Scully were normal people, constantly dealt the short straw. So his biological parents believed in an extraterrestrial global invasion…there were definitely worse things than that.

He pulled into the driveway behind Exley's car and nearly laughed at the scene unfolding in the front yard. A wrapped white pine lay across the driveway in front of the open garage door. Scully's Audi had been parked on the street to make room for all the boxes of yard decorations Exley was piecing together. Several boxes were stacked precariously at one corner of the garage all labeled "XMAS LIGHTS" in giant, bold red marker. Ziploc bags were stuffed in the top box, labeled with numbers that appeared to be from some sort of grid. Finally, William's eyes landed on Mulder, hanging haphazardly off a thirty-two foot extension ladder, hanging icicle lights from the gutter.

Frowning, he slowly shut the car door and walked up the driveway. Exley looked up and smiled, jumping up and running over to him. He caught her in a bear hug before putting her back on the ground. "Ex…why does it look like Griswold's have moved in?" He couldn't take his eyes off the mayhem in the front yard.

She laughed. "Just don't step on any of the lights strung out across the ground. We surprisingly only had to replace two strands this year. Those damn green strands don't last too long."

William's eyebrow rose on his forehead. "What? Are you guys the light experts or something?"

Exley turned to observe the house, her hands on her hips. She nodded. "It would appear so. It officially takes us two days to set up, and we have to circumnavigate the house circuits. We successfully tripped one last year," her voice was boastful causing William to laugh whole-heartedly. "Our neighbors think it's great," she continued. "Every neighborhood has a Clark…in ours it just so happens to be Fox Mulder." She grabbed his hand and pulled him toward the garage, telling him to take caution around the mini lights on the ground. In the garage, he was given a better view of just how many decorations there were. There were several motorized deer, a few that stood and a few that were laying on the ground; lighted gift boxes, a "North" pole, trees, two snowmen…just so many.

William shoved his hands in his pockets and frowned. "Does all of this fit in the yard?"

Exley's hands were at her hips again and she frowned, but her blue eyes were gleaming. She was really into the lights. "It doesn't look like it, but Dad started leaving the yard to me about two years ago. It's just spatial awareness…a big game of Tetris."

William leaned backwards until he could see Mulder on the ladder again. He had moved the ladder over a few feet, but was still hanging over the side. William wondered how many times he had fallen off of the ladder hanging lights. He voiced his question to Exley, his eyes locked on Mulder. It probably was not as comedic as Chevy Chase falling into the bushes in the Christmas classic. Then again, he admitted, if Mulder fell that didn't mean that William wouldn't laugh. Exley stepped out into the driveway and squinted up at her father, chewing her bottom lip and shaking her head.

"Only once, but I was little when that happened," she said. "I don't remember it. My mom claims it was a huge ordeal that included a concussion and a trip to the emergency room." She shrugged and smirked, tugging her knit cap down on her head. "Does that surprise you any?"

William rolled back up to his full height and smiled, shaking his head. "What makes you ask?"

Exley laughed and knelt back down to finish putting together the three-foot motorized buck. The door leading into the house opened and Scully stepped out into the garage. Her eyes scanned the mess that had pushed her car to the curb and she shook her head. Looking up, her eyes lit up when she saw William, but her face remained impassive. She approached him cautiously, folding her arms across her chest. Exley watched the interaction between her mother and brother from behind the reindeer.

"I'm guessing this means that you forgive us?" Scully asked flatly. After William had stormed out of the house (in a very Fox Mulder fashion) about a week before, she had felt guilty for not being able to protect him from the truth. Eventually, when he refused to pick up the phone when any of them tried to call him, she had gotten angry. She had seethed privately, always at night when no one thought she was awake; cursing herself, Mulder, Exley, God, and even the FBI…any individual or group that had any contribution to where her life was at that very moment. Her anger subsided after a few days and she forced herself to accept that nothing would ever be one hundred percent perfect when it came to having her son in her life.

William balled his fists in the pockets of his black North Face fleece and pulled it tighter around his shoulders. "Phoenix pointed out that you guys are the only family I have now, crazy or not. Shit happens…even if it's weird or extraordinary shit. I can't blame you for that." He paused and eyed Scully warily. "It's all true, isn't it?" His eyes wandered skyward involuntarily. "Everything that you told me?" He shuddered at the thought.

"As much as I hate to admit it…" Scully said, nodding. "I know it's an utterly absurd concept and I find myself still doubting what I've seen, but it's true." Exley snorted softly from behind the reindeer and shook her head. After a brief hesitation, Scully squeezed William's elbow and motioned toward the inside of the house. "I have something to show you."

William followed her into the house, curious as to what exactly she may want to show him. They climbed the stairs to Exley's bedroom where several boxes were stacked, waiting to be opened and the contents spread throughout the house. One smaller box lay open on the bed and Scully sat beside it, patting a spot on the mattress for William. As he sat, he caught a glimpse of several objects colored in baby blue, as well as several objects colored in soft pastel yellows, orange, green, and white. "What is this?" he asked, gingerly reaching into the box and pulling out a folded blanket, though he already had a good idea of what she might say.

"I found this when I was unpacking the attic today," Scully explained. "I've kept it for so long…" She ran her fingers along the hem of the baby blanket before reaching into the box and pulling out a stuffed toy frog. "Do you know why I gave you this?"

William shook his head and took it from her, carefully inspecting it.

"I used to sing to you…William was a bullfrog, was a good friend of mine…" She smiled softly.

William quirked an eyebrow at her, but laughed and nodded. "I do remember that. I never understood a single word he said, but I helped him drink his wine…" He chuckled again.

Scully laughed and reached into the box, pulling from it a framed picture, the glass coated in a thin layer of attic dust. She swiftly wiped her fingers across it to clear some of the dust and handed it to William. With trembling fingers, he took the frame from her and stared down at the picture in front of him. Scully, with an IV in her hand and dressed in a hospital gown, was reclined in a hospital bed and Mulder was leaning over the bundle in her arms, pushing the blankets back and kissing its tiny nose. She was smiling tiredly, watching Mulder, her eyes so full of love for the two most important individuals in her life. It was a private, vulnerable moment for them both; they had been completely oblivious to Monica capturing the moment on film. After a few moments, he looked back at Scully, his eyes begging for an answer to his unspoken question. He found himself wanting the baby to be him. She smiled and pointed to the blue bundle in her arms. "That's you, baby," she whispered, brushing hair back from his face. "One day old." She looked down at the picture and smiled.

William's wide eyes moved back to the picture as well. "That's me," he said, nodding. The picture had been all he needed for the walls to crumble. While every picture he had seen of his adoptive parents holding him as a baby had shown how excited they were and how much they loved him, it paled in comparison to the look in Scully's eyes in this one picture. The corners of his eyes prickled as tears threatened to blur his vision. As she pressed a soft kiss to the side of his head, he crumpled into her and began to sob. It had been four years since Michael Van De Kamp died and left William to fend for himself. After four years of searching, he finally had a family again.

"Mom wants to know what you want for Christmas," Exley said as she picked through a sales rack in American Eagle. She looked up at her brother standing beside her. His hands were in his pockets and he was wearing the same bored expression on his face that Mulder had adopted from being forced into going shopping one-too-many times. He was humming softly with the Christmas song playing through the speakers and staring out the floor-to-ceiling glass façade windows onto the slushy main drag of Georgetown's shopping district. She rolled her eyes and snapped her fingers in front of his face. "Earth to William. Hey."

He immediately stopped humming and turned bored eyes to Exley. "Ex, how much longer are you going to do this? I really hate shopping." He made a desperate motion at the clothes on the rack in front of him. "This isn't even what we came for. These are girls' clothes. I just need a sweater. We've been to every clothing store up and down M Street."

"And you haven't liked anything I've shown you," Exley countered, an annoyed frown creasing her forehead. "For a person who says they hate shopping, you're rather picky."

William rolled his eyes at her. "You know, I liked the idea of having a kid sister at first. Now I'm not so sure."

Exley raised her eyebrow at him and clenched her teeth, forcing her jaw muscles to flex. "You're not all that special either." William's eyes wandered skyward as she spoke. "Are you listening?"

"No, I'm ignoring you."



"Why are you being difficult?"

"Why are you yelling, Exley?"

"Because you…you're…" She inhaled deeply and met his eyes, seeing the teasing gleam in them. She turned on her heels and moved down the store's stairs and to menswear. She scanned through the sweater options before pulling an olive-colored mock neck sweater off the rack. William walked up behind her and she threw it at his face. He dodged out of the way and caught it clumsily in his hands, following her to the fitting room.

"Exley!" he grunted. The glare he received in response dared him to continue. "I like this one. I'm going to try it on." He disappeared into the fitting room, only to emerge two minutes later in the new sweater. He tugged at the sleeves and looked at Exley for approval. She nodded mutely and he ducked back into the fitting room to change. William paid for the sweater and they remained silent until after they stopped at William's apartment for a change of clothes.

As they sat in rush hour traffic on I-66 on their way back to Exley's house, William turned and looked at his sister as she stared out the window of the Audi. Surely she couldn't be seriously angry, he told himself. "What's wrong, Ex?"

She shook her head, her eyes remaining glued to the grey skies outside the window. "Nothing."

"Is it a boy?" William persisted.

"No, where did that even come from?" Exley turned around and glared at him.

William paused and then frowned. "You're my sister. I thought I was supposed to assume that."

A smile tugged at the corners of her mouth, but lost to the frown making its home on her face.

"I didn't really mean it when I said that I wasn't sure about having a sister," he said softly.

She looked down at her lap, suddenly interested in her fingernails.

He smiled. "And for the record, I was just pushing your buttons. I didn't think- I didn't know you were actually going to get upset." He paused and looked forward as the car in front of him crept forward a good distance. "We're going to have to help each other out on this, you know."

"On what?" she asked quietly.

"Being siblings. I've never had a sister; you've never had a brother. We're even."

Exley nodded and a stray frustrated tear rolled down her cheek.

"Why are you so upset?"

Another tear fell down her cheek. "I don't know."

William looked at her, his eyebrow raising high on his forehead. She met his gaze and a smile tugged at the corner of her mouth. It took a few seconds, but the smile finally won out. William shook his head and smiled as well.

"So were you, like, the messenger or something?" William finally asked.

Exley nodded. "Yeah…Mom wants to make sure you have a good Christmas the first year you're with us. That fear of disappointment goes both ways."

William nodded. "Dually noted." He sat quietly for a moment. "She doesn't have to get me anything. In all honesty and at the risk of sounding so cliché it's sickening, finding you guys pretty much did it for me." He reached over and tousled her hair. "So thanks for being so hard-headed, kid."

Exley swatted his hand away and pulled the visor down to fix her hair in the mirror. "Well, she's going to want to give you something anyway. Dad will probably buy something to be funny…like a 'Baby's first Christmas' ornament." Exley laughed.

William smirked. "Would she get me a dog?"

She looked at him and quirked an eyebrow. "William, she would lasso you the moon. Unlike myself, you haven't worn out your novelty."


Exley shook her head. "No, not really. Dad will still get me pretty much anything I ask for." She smiled at him teasingly. "He does that."

"Well, I want a dog. A car would be nice, but I'll take a dog."

"You want a dog." Exley looked at him incredulously, her eyebrow high on her forehead.

"Can I not have a dog?" he asked, taking their exit off the highway.

"Will you promise to take care of it? Walk him and feed him every day, till death do you part?"

"I've done pretty well with you during break…"


The End

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