TITLE: Bloodline II: Binding
AUTHOR: Cecily Sasserbaum
EMAIL: cecilysass@yahoo.com
DISCLAIMER: Fox Mulder, Dana Scully belong to Chris Carter, 1013 and Fox. No infringement of copyright is intended.
RATING: PG-13/R for language, mainly.
KEYWORDS: Angst, UST/MSR, somewhat of an X-file.
SPOILER: Emily/Christmas Carol, Amor Fati, general knowledge up through current season. It's set in a vaguely Season 6/7 world.

SUMMARY: A sequel to Bloodline. Mulder can't cope with any more holy grails. Scully grapples with the question of how much sacrifice is required to have faith.

COMMENTS: This sequel is brought to you courtesy of my beta Heather, who both motivated me and prevented grave errors. A big thanks to her and her Old Testament knowledge.

FEEDBACK: I certainly adore it. Please be aware that it is an option open to you. :)

And the Lord said to Abraham, "Take with you your
only son -- yes, Isaac, whom you love so much -- and
go to the land of Moriah and sacrifice him there."

- Genesis 22:2

Scully regarded the Lincoln Memorial.

She sat on a bench near the monument, having walked in meandering patterns over the entire city for the past three hours and finally sitting here, on the Mall. With the goddamn tourists.

Once I came here with Ahab, she remembered, when we came to DC with the family. He lifted me up on his shoulders and bought me a plastic flag and we joked about sitting in Lincoln's giant lap. And she was overwhelmed, momentarily, with the urge to be a child again, to sit on her father's broad shoulders, outstretch her arms, and prop her chin on top of her father's balding head.

Now the monument was swarming with schoolchildren with disposable cameras, running in mad circles over the steps and down to the reflecting pond. Nearby, one little girl was leaping down the steps in front of the monument, testing herself by taking larger and larger jumps every time. Scully wondered if the child would fall, eventually, and felt her stomach knot up in an illogical, protective worry.

"Agent Scully?"

Scully was startled. "Hello...sir."

"Are you here on assignment?" His tone was challenging.

"No, I am not," she replied, meeting his eyes. He wouldn't intimidate her that way.

"That's a strange response from you, Agent," Skinner said, more gently. He sat next to her on the bench, his face unreadable. She was supposed to be in the office on a weekday afternoon, of course. Scully wondered how he had ever known to find her here on the Mall.

"Do you know where Agent Mulder is right now?" he tried again.

"I don't," Scully said truthfully.

"He's given me this," Skinner said, pulling an envelope from his coat pocket and handing it to her. "A resignation letter."

So he has done it, Scully thought miserably, reading over the brief letter. I, Fox Mulder, hereby resign my position at the Federal Bureau of Investigation...

"Does that surprise you, Agent Scully?

"It saddens me, sir, but no, it doesn't surprise me." Scully wondered if Skinner could tell how she was really feeling, and fervently hoped not.

She looked at him, dismayed to feel tears welling afresh in her eyes, and reached, wordlessly, into her coat pocket to carefully pull out the color print-out she had made from the video.

Skinner took the photo of the child. "What's this?"

"That's why Mulder doesn't think he can go on."

Skinner carefully scanned the picture, and his eyes met hers again. "Who is this?" Skinner said.

"That is the biological child of myself and Agent Mulder," Scully said. "Created for the sole purpose of blackmail and manipulation by our smoky friend."

"Jesus," responded Skinner, his face dark.

There was a silence for a moment, while Skinner regarded the color printout. Scully wondered if he were looking for their features, hints of his agents' characteristics.

"This child was created--?" Skinner began.

"It was created using an ovum harvested during my abduction and semen samples obtained from Agent Mulder in some unknown way," Scully said flatly, recounting the details like she would with any case.

"Oh, it would be easy for them," Skinner said, looking up from the photo and staring blankly at the Lincoln Memorial. "They have more power than we can comprehend."

"Power without ethics or accountability," Scully said bitterly.

"Those bastards," Skinner said softly. "This is far worse than anything they've ever had on me."

Scully turned and looked at him, afraid to ask.

Skinner met her eyes. "Yes, Agent Scully, they've worked out their little safety plans with me, too."

"You continue to work without fear?"

"The thing they hold over my head," Skinner said, "is much less important to me than this is to you and Mulder."

Scully was silent.

"What I'm wondering is," Skinner continued, "will you resign alongside him?"

"I don't know. I don't know if I can leave this work, admitting defeat," Scully said. "I want to find the child, make the bastards pay."


"I don't want to add to the number of the dead," she said flatly, trying not to look at the color print- out that pulled upon her so. "And I don't want to be put in a position where I'm...emotionally vulnerable to these men. Or where Agent Mulder is..." Scully broke off, looked at him. "Would you, sir?"

Skinner's gaze back was even. "You're a far better agent than myself, Scully," he said slowly. "You'd better make this call without my advice." He stood up. "But if you decide to stay on as senior partner of the X-files, Agent, you'll have my full administrative and personal support to pursue this case exclusively."

And he stood and walked away from her, leaving her sitting among the running schoolchildren, holding the printed out photo of her own child.

The banging on the door: that would be Scully, of course.

Mulder set his drink down, lifted himself off of the sofa, and found himself moving uncertainly towards the door, his mind fuzzy with alcohol. He didn't want to see Scully now -- couldn't bear it.

"Mulder," Scully said instantly, stepping inside his apartment.

"Hello," he said, evading her eyes. "Fancy meeting you here."

"Mulder, where have you been the past forty-eight hours?"

"In the bathroom," Mulder said, trying not to slur his words as he headed back to the sofa. "I couldn't get to a phone."

"You gave Skinner a resignation letter," Scully said, and something in her tone made him look at her. "You quit the X-files. The FBI."

"That's right," he said.

"And you didn't want to tell me?" Her voice sounded strained, but her face was stoic.

"Scully, when we watched that video, you must have known that the X-files were finished. At least my affiliation with them," Mulder said, overenunciating. "They have us by the balls. No options."

"You're drunk, aren't you, Mulder?" Scully said softly.

"What do you think, Scully?"

She was silent, her face unreadable.

"Yes, I am," Mulder nodded. "What investigative skill, Agent Scully. You will be more than adept at carrying on the quest for Truth all by yourself." It sounded more sudden, more pathetic than he'd intended.

"I'm not resigning, Mulder, if that's what you're asking me to say," she answered evenly. "But I'd rather not do it alone, either."

Mulder felt himself lurch for her and seize her arm.

Pulling her violently towards him suddenly. Keeping her face closer to him than they were used to.

She didn't pull away, but looked at him with wide sad eyes, unflinching.

He leaned over, and the smell of her hair in his nostrils, whispered deep into her ear: "You could do the X-Files alone, though, couldn't you, Scully? You're better at it than I am. I think it's because you have more faith than me."

"That's not true, Mulder," Scully answered him, her voice strangely muted, looking straight ahead away from him.

"But I *couldn't* go on alone," Mulder responded, still speaking in her ear. "I've told you that before."

"So go on with me," Scully replied softly. Meeting his eyes. Smelling faintly floral. So close. He shook his head, afraid to break eye contact with her, still gripping her arm.

Then, a release: "I can't do that anymore, either."

Scully didn't say anything, but he could feel her disappointment. Overpowering. He turned away from her and looked out the window.

"I don't understand..." she began.

And then stopped. He didn't turn to look at her. Just kept staring out the window.

"Good-bye, Mulder," she said after a beat.

"Where are you going?" he whispered into the window.

"To the office," Scully answered. Such a strange quality to her voice.

"Good luck," Mulder answered, not turning away from the window.

It was long past midnight, but there was the child, frozen, moving slightly, facial muscle by facial muscle. Frame by frame.

Scully scanned the video, seeking any small detail that would give her a clue as to its location, but unsure of what to look for.

<It isn't my strength as an investigator,> she found herself thinking on the twentieth viewing. <Details such as this leap out at Mulder instantly, but I am inclined to see the whole picture. The forest for the trees.>

The child was dressed so as to be purposely androgynous: a white tee-shirt, toddler blue jeans, tiny sexless tennis shoes. A genderless haircut: hair that fell loosely about its face, a sandy shade of brown.

The hair will darken as the child gets older, Scully realized. Mulder's dark hair and dark eyes: dominant genetic traits, of course. Her own facial bone structure, narrow nose, wide-set eyes.

And what else lurked in this poor child's DNA, waiting to manifest itself? A genetic disorder, programmed in? Or maybe only its parents' natural pathologies: depression, perfectionism, obsession, self-doubt.

<If you found this child? What then?>

Scully couldn't imagine the scenario. It seemed like absurd satire to insert a child into her life.

When she had come in contact with Emily, it had occurred to her first: that she was a laundry list of qualities incompatible with motherhood. That her recent life had made her too hard, too unpredictable to be a stable influence on anyone, much less a child.

But it became surreal while watching the video with Mulder: Agents Scully and Mulder, a grotesque parody of new parents watching baby videos. Not parents at all, really, but needy children themselves, grabbing selfishly on to this unintended life to save themselves from their own loneliness.

The child in the video kneeled down for the red leaf on the forest floor, taking it awkwardly in small fingers, and lifting it up for the unseen woman to see.

Then Scully noticed something she had not before.

She rewound the tape, and watched again as the child spotted the leaf, and knelt down to pick it up. <Pause.>

The forest floor was covered with spots of grass and brown and red leaves, but just underneath the child's foot, barely visible, there was some dirt, some exposed earth, that was reddish orange in color, and as the child moved to pick up the leaf, the red dirt sullied the side of its shoe, ever so slightly.

"Red dirt," Scully said, and tapped her fingers on the desk thoughtfully. It didn't mean much, but it made her think of the southern United States. Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama. Isn't that where there was that hard red clay coating the ground? She remembered her mother talking about the challenges of gardening in the south.

It was nothing, the slightest hint of a lead, and she ached to call Mulder and bounce it off of him.

But he would be passed out by now, and his drunkenness was alarming to her anyway.

Not only that, of course, Agent Scully, she reminded herself. Mulder is off the X-Files, she remembered. It's you now. You're the X-Files. Dr. Spooky and her lonely basement office.

<You've become the Mulder of six years ago. Searching alone for your holy grail.>

She stared at the red clay in the video, amazed and despairing.

Mulder stared out of his apartment window for an hour, maybe, feeling the effects of the alcohol slowly begin to fade, before he noticed a figure standing alone down the street, its face orange in the streetlamp illumination.

<Are you watching me, buddy?>

The figure shifted its weight from one foot to another. A man.

<You can leave me the hell alone. I'm not of any interest to anyone anymore.> Something reminded him...

And Mulder, without a second thought, took off running for the man standing outside.

The Lab Geek tried to dodge him, of course, and took off running down a side alley. But Mulder knew the neighborhood, and sprinting around the block, cut him off at the other side.

"Stay where you are," Mulder said, grabbing the Lab Geek's arm and twisting it behind him. "I have some questions for you, buddy."

"I'm dead now," whispered the Lab Geek helplessly. "You've killed me."

"You were standing down the street from my apartment. Why?"

"I was trying to think of a way to contact you," the Lab Geek said. "A way that would mean I could still live."

"Who's after you?"

"Who do you think, Agent Mulder?"

Mulder stared at the man's face. He was genuinely terrified -- that much was certain.

"Let's go to a public place," suggested Mulder. "Let's go to a coffeeshop and sit under some bright lights and order some pie or something. Then we can talk." "It won't matter," the Lab Geek said dully. "I'm a dead man. And I think...it's okay."

"Not too cheerful, huh?"

"I've...done some damage. I've hurt people I love."

"Well, join the club," Mulder said. "For some of us it's a way of life. Listen -- there's a coffeeshop up around the corner. We can head there."

"Agent Mulder," the Lab Geek said, his face suddenly weirdly bright. He grabbed Mulder's lapels and gazed at his face. "There is someone who is going to be very hurt by my contacting you."

"Yeah, I hope his name is CGB Spender."

"No -- someone innocent, who I involved in this myself," the Lab Geek hissed. "You'll do damage control, won't you, Agent Mulder?"

"Let's go to a public place," Mulder said again. The alleyway was making him nervous. Why did the Lab Geek stare at him so strangely, with such odd intensity?

"Don't you see that it doesn't matter?" the Lab Geek said, staring at Mulder. He waved his finger behind him into the alley. "I'm about to die."

And as if on cue, from the alley a shot rang out, staining the Lab Geek's back red.

"Jesus," whispered Mulder, trying to support the Lab Geek's slumping body. "Help -- we need an ambulance here!" he called, furiously looking about for sign of assassin or witness or *anyone*. "How the hell did you see the assassin behind you?"

"Agent Mulder," murmured the Lab Geek, blood seeping around his teeth. It turned Mulder's stomach. "I worked for Riverside Biotech Laboratories. My name is Koenig. Earl Koenig."

"Earl," Mulder said, his stomach churning with nausea. "I am sorry. I should have listened to you, let you be...just stay still, and I'll find help."

"I lied to you," the Lab Geek said. "I knew what I was doing, all along. That I'd probably die. Listen, you can find what you need..."

"You shouldn't speak now. I'll get an ambulance," Mulder said helplessly, trying to apply pressure to the wound.

"Tell her I'm so sorry..." the Lab Geek said. "I am so very, very sorry I ever..."

And Mulder, soaked in blood and feeling for a pulse, felt Earl Koenig's life leave him.

Mulder found Scully in the basement office, exactly where she said she'd be.

She had fallen asleep at Mulder's old desk, her face pressed against an open copy of a road atlas, open to the Southeastern United States. On the television screen, Mulder noticed, was the video. Paused on the moment where the child leans down to pick up a leaf.

"Scully," he said. He didn't want to frighten her. His clothes were stiff with the Lab Geek's -- no -- with Earl Koenig's blood.

She woke up obediently, her eyes flickering open, accustomed now to interruptions in her sleeping patterns, and stared at him.

"Sorry, nobody down here but the FBI's most unwanted," she said softly.

"Earl Koenig. Of Riverside Biotech Laboratories. That's your lead, Scully."

"What happened to you?"

Mulder didn't say anything for a moment. "The Lab Geek. I saw him on the street outside my apartment, and chased him down, and he told me his name."

"What?" Scully sat up, instantly alert. "Where is he now?"

"Dead," Mulder said. He disliked his strange cold tone. So detached.

"Damn," Scully said. She looked at her hands, and then looked back up at him suddenly. "You lasted about ten hours off the job, Mulder."

"I'm not back, Scully," Mulder said. "I'm trying to give you a tip, that's all."

"Civilians don't chase down suspects and attempt to obtain information like you did tonight."

Mulder said nothing, but refused to meet her glance.

"Will you come with me to Atlanta, Mulder?" she asked.

"What's in Atlanta?" he said.

"I have a hunch that's where Riverside Biotechnology will be located."

"Scully," Mulder felt the pressure in his head again. He turned and faced the television set. The image of his child flickered weirdly on pause. "I can't. Not anymore. I can't cope with the potential...risk -- anymore."

He looked at her, so weary and pale behind his desk, her eyes wide and vulnerable. Like the child's, he realized. Like the child's in the video.

"Can you understand that?" he said more softly. "After all I've done and been through and thought about Samantha, to have this added risk: another blameless child? Can you understand at all, Scully?"

"No," she answered quietly. "I can't."

And to his horror, her eyes filled with tears.

Riverside Biotech Laboratories, it turned out, was located in a snarl of traffic and office parks in north Atlanta, and by the time Scully had arrived in the door of the building, she was already exhausted.

"I'm looking for the supervisor of Earl Koenig," Scully told the front desk receptionist, who regarded her with surprise.

"You with the press, honey?" the desk receptionist said. "Because I don't think he's giving interviews."

"No, I'm an F.B.I. agent," Scully said patiently, showing her badge. "Special Agent Dana Scully."

"That's a different story," the desk receptionist said, pressing buttons. "We're all real upset to hear about what happened up in DC..." She spoke into the phone: "Dr. Lowry? There's an FBI lady out here to see you about Mr. Koenig's death. Agent Scully." She looked up, hanging the phone up. "He should be out in a few minutes."

It had already occurred to Scully that she would encounter an investigation into Earl Koenig's murder, and she supposed that up to a point it could work to her advantage. If there were other individuals nervous at work, a murder investigation might prompt them to talk.

*Or it might scare them into silence,* Scully thought, tapping her fingers.

"Agent Scully?" Dr. Lowry was younger than she expected; he looked barely out of school, with red hair and ruddy freckles. "Step down the hallway into the conference room, please."

She followed him down a short hallway that ended in what looked to be a rather elaborate security clearance point down the hall. They turned into a small conference room halfway down the hall, and Dr. Lowry gestured towards a chair.

"Please, have a seat," he said, grimacing. "I've already spoken to the police, of course, but whatever else I can do to help. I'm seriously shaken by the news."

"Dr. Lowry, in what capacity did Mr. Koenig work for you?"

"He was a research assistant," Dr. Lowry said. "I have six research assistants on my team; he was one."

"And what kind of work was he involved in, exactly?"

Dr. Lowry shook his head and smiled a little. "Now I did explain this to the police, already. We're checking it out with our legal department, but at Riverside Biotech we do have a strict confidentiality policy with our clients."

Scully felt herself go cold. "I see. So the work that Earl Koenig was doing was for a...corporate client."

"That's right. In the most vague terms, our laboratories do a wide range of testing and research in many areas: genetic engineering, fertility treatments, artificial limbs...we work for big Fortune 500 companies, nonprofit organizations, the government."

"Would it be possible, Dr. Lowry, for the work Earl Koenig did for you to be linked, somehow, to his murder?"

Dr. Lowry's eyes grew a little rounder, and his lips pursed tighter. "Absolutely not, Agent Scully. We're a research group. Very benign."

"Do you know why he was in Washington DC?"

"I don't," Dr. Lowry said. "He was supposed to be at work this past week. I called his wife myself to check up on him, and she didn't know where he had disappeared to either. So I deduced he had gone somewhere for personal reasons."

"I see," Scully said.

"But I've told this all to the police already, Agent," Dr. Lowry said, a slight edge to his voice. "Don't you have access to their reports?"

"Do you have Earl Koenig's home address?" Scully said, abruptly. "I would like to speak to his wife."

*You're behaving like an insane person,* she told herself. *You're behaving like Mulder.*

"I will happily provide it, Agent," Dr. Lowry said. "Although I don't understand how your investigation is functioning without such basic information."

Scully said nothing, but jotted down Koenig's address in silence.

The banging on the door couldn't be Scully, of course, because she was in Atlanta. "Who is it?" called Mulder from the sofa. He hadn't moved in hours, he realized. What time was it? How long had he been lying here? He looked down at the book in his hand: Soren Kierkegard. Philosophy. How long had he read before he fell asleep? "It's Walter Skinner." Mulder sat up and stared at the door. "I'm not home, sir," he called back. "Open the door, Mulder," came Skinner's reply. "I don't have to do what you say any more," Mulder answered, standing up to open the door. "I'm not your employee now." He didn't want to see Skinner. Not at all. But he opened the door. "It's going to be hard to adjust to you not listening to me, and not respecting my judgment, Mulder," Skinner replied, "but somehow I think I can manage it." "Scully's in Atlanta," Mulder said. "I know," Skinner said. "I approved her travel arrangements. What I'm curious about is why you're not there, too." Mulder smiled grimly, and flopped down on his sofa again. "I'm not an FBI agent anymore, that's why," Mulder answered. "I'm going to pursue a new career as a sofa cushion." "You have a biological child," Skinner said. "Scully showed me the video." Mulder stared at him. "Then you must understand, sir, why I might not want to put anyone at risk," he said, more softly. "To put who at risk?" Skinner said. "The child? Isn't the child in risk regardless? Vulnerable to these men, Mulder -- god, you know what these men are capable of." "I've been looking for Samantha, sir, for how many years?" Mulder said. "How can I guarantee that my searching for this child will help its situation? I'm usually poison to everyone I encounter." "It's not just the child, is it?" Skinner said. "It's not just the child you're worried about harming." Mulder was silent. "And it's goddamned foolish, you know."

"It *is* the child, sir," Mulder began, weakly.

"It's foolish because she wants you there so badly," said Skinner. "She can take care of herself. But she hates feeling alone as much as you do. Maybe more than you do."

"I don't know what you're talking about, sir," Mulder said quietly.

"I have some information I need for you to courier to Agent Scully," Skinner continued. "It's very important. It concerns a medical condition I have reason to believe the child has."

"What kind of medical condition?" Mulder said. "How do you know this?"

"I have my sources of information, too, Mulder," Skinner said. "And I happened to know first-hand about this condition, since I have it myself."

Mulder sat up. "What the hell are you talking about?"

"It's not really a sickness at all. It is a type of control they are able to exert over my physical health," Skinner said.

"Your sickness last spring?" Mulder said.

"Exactly right," Skinner said. "I've been able to find out more about it. I know that it's controlled through a kind of palm pilot, and that I could be attacked at any time."

"But have you been able to locate a..."

"It's not about me, Mulder," Skinner said. "I think they've infected others, too, as a safety net. If the child ever got into your hands, they could still control you. Do you understand?"


Two police cars sat outside of Earl Koenig's house, which unsettled Scully.

She wasn't sure she wanted to explain her involvement in this case, but she *did* need to talk to Koenig's wife.

<I wish I were Eugene Tooms. I could squeeze in and listen to their conversation, without their knowledge or consent.>

"I'm Special Agent Scully, FBI," she told the police officer who answered the door.

She lowered her voice: "I don't mean to intrude on your homicide investigation, but I'd like to speak to Mrs. Koenig about a related matter, if that's possible right now."

The policeman raised an eyebrow.

"I don't think you've been filled in on all the details, Agent," the policeman answered. "Maybe you'd better come inside."

Mrs. Koenig sat in chair, quietly crying, surrounded by two detectives. Another was dusting the door handle to an adjacent room, which Scully thought odd. Why dust in the Koenig home, when the homicide was in DC?

"We're questioning Amber Koenig right now about a possible kidnapping," the policeman said to Scully quietly. "Her four year old son is missing since yesterday. And in light of her husband's murder, we've got reason to be concerned."

A kidnapping. *How does this fit in, Mulder? Why would they take out insurance on her, too?*

"Who are you?" called Amber Koenig, from her chair. "The woman who just came in...? Are you a detective?"

Amber Koenig was pale, with dark hair and a strangely pinched, narrow face.

*She looks as if she were about to break*, thought Scully. But then it was understandable.

"I'm an FBI agent, Mrs. Koenig," Scully said. "My name is Agent Dana Scully."

Mrs. Koenig looked at her, wordlessly, for a moment.

"Is the FBI going to be working on finding Isaac, too?"

"I'm sorry, ma'am. I'm here to ask you questions about your husband, actually," Scully answered. She felt the detectives' eyes drilling into her, and felt her face flush.

She wasn't supposed to intrude on their investigation. She was supposed to call first, explain matters, introduce herself, wait her turn.

All the things she normally was very careful to do, and that Mulder completely ignored.

*When did the tables turn?* she thought.

"I'd like to talk to Agent Scully for a minute," Mrs. Koenig said, her voice suddenly more even.

"We have just a few more questions, Mrs. Koenig," the detective answered, staring at Scully.

"I would like to speak with her, officer, if you wouldn't mind," she said again, a sleight southern accent coloring her speech. "There's some coffee in the kitchen, I think, and tea..."

Scully shifted her weight on to her other foot, and waited for the officers to look at one another, and at her.

"All right, ma'am," the detective said. He didn't sound happy. But as Mrs. Koenig took Scully's hand and led her to the couch, her eyes were strangely bright.

"He was going up to see you, in Washington, wasn't he?" said Mrs. Koenig softly. "Earl was?"

"I think my partner, actually," Scully said. "Agent Mulder. Had he mentioned him to you before?"

"No, but I knew he was going up to see F.B.I. agents," Mrs. Koenig whispered. "I saw him addressing an envelope, about a week ago, and then he bought the plane tickets. I was angry, because I'd thought we'd take a vacation with Isaac, and he was going off..."

Her eyes filled with tears, and Scully grasped her hand.

"I'm sorry, Mrs. Koenig, I know this is hard," she said. "But do you know why your husband might have wanted to see F.B.I. agents?"

Mrs. Koenig wiped her eyes, and blinked back tears, staring at Scully. "Can we keep this confidential, for the time being, Ms. Scully? Because I haven't mentioned any of this to the police, and I don't know if it's even important, or just...our family's dirty laundry."

Scully nodded, feeling a tension in her throat.

"I think it had to do with our son, Isaac," Mrs. Koenig said. "We adopted him through someone Earl knew at work, and I think Earl was trying to locate Isaac's biological parents. Because Isaac had been sick, lately, in these strange little spurts, on and off, and we didn't know why, so my husband had been asking questions at work. "

Scully felt herself reel backwards.

<Of course. Of course this is what happened.> She swallowed, willing herself to stay calm.

"What happened after he started asking questions at work, Mrs. Koenig?"

"He told me no one would tell him anything, that the child's records were sealed," said Mrs. Koenig. "But then he became oddly agitated. One night he woke me up, and insisted on apologizing to me, but he wouldn't say for what. He wouldn't tell me what was happening, Agent Scully, but I assumed he had found something about Isaac's past he didn't want me to know."

"When did you adopt Isaac?" Scully's voice sounded strained to her own ears, but maybe Mrs. Koenig wouldn't notice.

"Is it important, you think?" Mrs. Koenig said, hopefully.

Scully couldn't understand why this woman seemed to be so trusting of her; it filled her with a kind of guilty dread.

"It could be."

"We can't have kids," smiled Mrs. Koenig, her face a grotesque mixture of emotions. "And through Earl's work, he enrolled us in a foster program. We took in infants, just for a few months, until they were found adoptive families. We had four children come through before Isaac."

<You were a temporary storage facility for child guinea pigs, and of course you never knew.> Scully felt nauseous.

"But we had Isaac for nearly six months. He was a little over a year old, and absolutely the most extraordinary child I had ever seen," she said. "He could speak in sentences. He seemed so alert, so fascinated by the world..."

She smiled, and some tears streamed down her face.

"You know, both Earl and I studied science in school. We went to Georgia Tech," she smiled, "and we met as lab partners in a chemistry lab."

She wiped her face with the back of her hand.

"And it might sound stupid, Ms. Scully, but we told ourselves that Isaac was a natural scientist: curious, observant, a good memory for a child. He was the kind of son I like to think we would have had biologically anyway. So Earl sought permission at work to adopt him. This was almost three years ago..."

"Do you have a photo?" Scully's voice was barely a whisper.

Mrs. Koenig picked a photo album, nearby. "I've given photos to the police already, of course. Do you think you can help find Isaac, Ms. Scully?"

It was the same pale and sandy-haired child from the video in the photos.

Which shouldn't have surprised Scully, at this point, but she felt herself jump nonetheless.

In a wading pool, with Earl Koenig holding his hand.

Sitting in a high chair, a half smile on his face.

Regarding a stuffed dog curiously, a raised eyebrow.

Looking *so* much like Mulder, Scully realized, nausea gripping suddenly at her stomach.

"You say Isaac had been sick?" she asked, still staring at the pictures.

"Strange little episodes. He would be covered with huge purple hives, like chicken pox, only bigger," said Mrs. Koenig. "He wouldn't be able to hold down food, or even sit up in bed. We even ran him to the hospital a few times. But after a day or so, it would pass, and he'd be back to normal...just a little weak."

Scully regarded a photo of Isaac in a wool cap, ready to play in the snow.

"At first I thought it was a 24-hour flu," said Mrs. Koenig. "But it happened several times, you know, in just a few months: always the same. I started worrying about what would happen when he started kindergarten, missing all that school, you know? No doctors could give us any explanation. And so Earl thought maybe there could be a genetic disorder of some kind, that maybe we should research Isaac's parents' medical history."

She wiped her eyes. "And that's why, I thought, he went to DC. To track down more information. I didn't know what the F.B.I. had to do with it, and frankly, Ms. Scully," she said, sadly, "I didn't want to know. I didn't want it to be the kind of thing Isaac could find out, someday."

How much had Earl Koenig known, wondered Scully? When did he become aware of his role in an unethical game, and how it might affect his son?

It was unbearable, that this woman should become involved like this. That anyone innocent had become involved in this.

And that included the little boy. The little boy who liked to play in the snow, who had Mulder's face and the natural capacity for science.

"I will try to find him for you, Mrs. Koenig," whispered Scully, suddenly. "I can try to bring him back to you, as best I can."

Mrs. Koenig looked up at her, surprised.

"Thank you, Agent Scully," she said, unsteadily.

"If I have any more questions, or any additional information, do you mind if I stop by later this evening?"

Mrs. Koenig shook her head, bewildered. "Do you mind if I ask -- how you are connected to all of this?"

"It has to do with my partner," replied Scully, almost without thinking. And not untruthfully.

When she walked out of the Koenigs' door, Scully sighed, deeply, as if she had been holding her breath since she entered.

And she took a deep breath in, again.

She willed herself to stay calm, physically smoothing down her suit as if to knock out the wrinkles in her emotional state. But she couldn't shake this ever- tightening loneliness. Her great sinking feeling of despair.

Isaac's sickness. It bothered her. Purple hives, flu- like symptoms. What could it be?

She thought of Emily's face -- Emily who was Isaac's biological half-sister. What had she done to prevent Emily's sickness and death? Would she do the same service for this little boy?

Suddenly, she felt as though she were a character in some kind of play, a classical tragedy, written somewhere in stone, unchangeable.

No free will -- only a sense of catapulting towards an inevitable conclusion. What would it be? Someone blinded, someone murdered, a son dead? Children shouldering the burden of payment for the actions of their parents? No hope of appealing successfully to a higher power.

Scully wondered, for a moment, where her faith was.

Every fiber of her body told her to call Mulder. As if it were part of the play. Something she couldn't avoid.

Should she call him up -- again like a cruel, grotesque parody of a happy mother -- tell him, congratulations, you have a son? Named Isaac? Who is adorable, and according to his mother, a natural scientist?

That is, if he's still alive.

She stared at the phone. She couldn't quite bring herself to make the call.

She felt something terrible well up in her throat, and was suddenly filled with a dark urge to drive back over to Riverside Biotech and make that red- headed scientist give her more information.

<If I have to put a gun in his goddamn face,> she thought miserably, <I'll do it. I'll express my free will, for better or for worse.>

As she walked to her car, she imagined she was turning, physically, into Mulder, which would be a relief in some ways. People would take her more seriously as a tall dark FBI agent, wouldn't they? The son of a bitch at Riverside would listen to her.

But she wasn't Mulder, not really. And as she put her hand on the car door handle, she felt a hand go over her mouth.

A hand with a soft cloth, pressed against her nostrils and lips.

Pushing back against someone, she attempted to grab her gun.

And before she lost consciousness, her last thought was:

<Who would have the audacity to kidnap me, right in front of a house full of police officers?>

She wasn't answering her cell phone, which was worrisome.

And she had told Skinner she would be staying at a Best Western right off of I-285, in north Atlanta, but according to the woman answering the phone, she had not yet checked in.

But she was a big girl, Mulder reminded himself. And what could he do, exactly, to help?

Mulder stood in Washington National, surrounded by geometric patterns of fast-moving businesspeople and tourists, and considered his options.

The first: go home. Keep trying Scully on the cell phone, and try to get her to a fax machine. He could fax the material Skinner gave him to her, no problem. Then he could find something to distract him: books, a dirty movie, sleep. Reassure himself that his help was not needed.

The second option ...

Mulder regarded the plane ticket to Atlanta.

A child represents risk. The potential for future suffering. Another holy grail, always just out of reach, like Samantha.

But this dangling carrot was entangled, painfully, in his devotion to Scully. In his *love* for Scully. The slightest tug on this, the slightest push, and it could be devastating. It could be all-encompassing.

He lifted his cell phone, dialing her comfortably familiar number one more time.

"This cellular customer is not..."

And he knew he had no options, really. Not if he didn't want to behave like a coward.

He checked the time on the ticket. He had ten minutes to get to the gate.

When Scully awoke, she was aware she was laying on a military cot, just like the one her father used to have.

She could feel the canvas and cold metal beneath her fingertips, and in the confusion of awaking, she thought maybe she was there, in the basement of her childhood, napping on her father's old navy cot.

But she smelled cigarette smoke, and no one in her family -- besides herself, on certain rebellious occasions -- had ever smoked.

"Agent Scully?" he said, a small smile on his lips. "I see you're waking up."

Her eyes sprung open. She forced her body up, facing him in one quick movement.

"I should kill you," she found herself saying. "I should shoot you in the goddamn head, you son of a bitch."

But she had no gun, she realized instantly, feeling her clothing. She was wearing hospital scrubs, and was of course unarmed. She felt unsteady, suddenly, and leaned against the cot.

The cigarette-smoking man shook his head, a slight 'tsk-tsk' on his lips. "I'm afraid Agent Mulder has not had a good effect on your personality. You were such a sweet-natured young agent when I first met you."

"Where are my clothes?" Scully said, her voice deliberately low and calm. "And my badge? My gun?"

"In good time," he smiled. "Why don't you have a seat? I'd like to talk to you, Agent Scully."

"Where am I?" Scully asked, realizing this was the most important question. It looked like a hospital room, white and sterile, but there was a desk and a sofa, like it was a corporate office.

But he just smiled, slightly, and sat behind the desk.

"You know, Agent Scully, I often think back to the first time I laid eyes on you," he said. "You were one of the greater missteps of my life. So when I do think of you, I indulge in some hindsight."

He gestured to the sofa, a burgundy leather affair with brass trim.

Scully stared at him, feeling alarmingly vulnerable. She wondered if this was how Mulder felt, in his interactions with this man.

"Please," he smiled slightly. "Have a seat."

She slowly moved to the sofa, sitting gingerly on the very edge.

"Rarely have I so misjudged a situation," he said, extinguishing a cigarette carelessly in a crystal ashtray, "as I did having you assigned to the X- files."

He pounded a new cigarette out of the package.

"I watched you in your classes at Quantico. I reviewed your academic history, your family history, your personal relationships," he continued.

"I thought that your rationalism, your respect for authority, would be well-suited for counteracting the ambitions of my son. But in just a very short time, I realized it was a fatal error. You have done exactly the opposite. You've made my son a more dangerous adversary. And you've become one yourself."

Scully stared at him. Trying to make her face a mask.

"I mean Fox Mulder, of course, when I say 'my son,'" he said. "Surely you're aware of that history?"

She shrugged, slowly, deliberately ambiguous.

"But in spite of my miscalculation of you -- or perhaps *because* of it, I also must admit a certain respect for your abilities. I think you are a spectacularly cunning mind. In some ways, more talented than my son. Who despite brilliance, does have his glaring flaws. I can see what would draw him to you."

"What do you want from me?" she said, with cold precision. Her hatred for this man, her protectiveness of Mulder, it made her vulnerable, she realized. Better to stay calm. Don't give him any openings.

"I am going to offer you a solution," he said. "A mutually beneficial solution. To both of our problems."

She paused, pursing her lips. "And that is...?"

"Follow me, Agent Scully," he said, standing, and taking a drag.

He went to the door at the room's rear, and opened it slightly, gesturing for her to walk through it.

When she stood, she felt a dizzy sensation of foreboding.

Feeling as though she were leaping from a great height, she took steps through the door.

It was a drab nursery of sorts, with many children's cots, and some worn-out stuffed animals tossed about.

Only one cot was occupied. A child, sitting, facing the wall, with only a sandy head of hair turned to Scully. He didn't seem to notice them standing in the door; if he did, he made no reaction.

"He's not a particularly happy child, I'm afraid," whispered the cigarette-smoking man behind her, holding the door. "Go talk to him, Agent Scully."

Scully stared at the child, perfectly still where she stood.

"Go on," he said quietly, touching her shoulder. "You're his mother, after all."

"His mother is Amber Koenig," whispered Scully, furiously, shaking off his hand and turning, to keep the child from hearing. "You took him from her home."

He smiled one of his sickly little smiles, and replied, "Amber Koenig is dead, Agent Scully. She committed suicide yesterday evening after you left her house. She sat in a running car inside of her garage."

Amber Koenig's pinched face, framed with dark hair, asking Scully to find her son. The pictures, the video, with Mrs. Koenig and this little boy ...

Scully felt herself go cold. Tendrils of nausea pushed on her stomach.

"You killed her," she said.

"I'm not God, Agent Scully," he replied. "I don't choose who lives and who dies."

His eyes still on her, he closed the door.

And Scully, slowly, turned and stared at the boy.

Utterly unable to imagine what to say to him. It had been the same with Emily -- the same awkwardness, the same loss of confidence. But he saved her the worry.

"Do you know where my mother is?"

He spoke suddenly, still facing the wall, not looking at her at all.

She took a step towards him. "Isaac? Your name is Isaac?"

"I know my father is dead," he said, flatly. He sounded so old, for a four-year old, Scully realized. "He was killed in Washington."

"I know," Scully said, inadequately. "I'm so sorry, Isaac. I know he loved you very much."

"Is my mother dead, too?" he asked. This time he turned, to look at her, his eyes wide. Absent of tears. He was paler, and more serious, than even in the pictures.

Scully felt her own eyes fill with tears. "I -- I don't know," she answered.

"I think she is," he said, scowling pensively. "I think that both of my parents are dead, and that's why I'm here. With that man."

Moving slowly, like she would with an injured animal, Scully lowered herself down, sitting next to him, on the cot.

"Isaac. I'm going to try to help you. I don't want for you to stay here with him if you don't want to."

She wasn't prepared for him to lean against her, suddenly, to press his small forehead into her side. Unexpected physical affection. Like his father, she thought hopelessly.

"Who are you?" he whispered deep into her side. "Why do you want to help me?"

"I'm a friend of yours," she said, touching his head carefully. "I think you might be -- related to me, somehow, and I want to take care of you. You're a very, very important boy to me."

"Is that man my grandpa?" he said, in a very tight little voice. "Is he going to take care of me now?"

Scully felt revulsion, as she ran fingers through the boy's soft, Mulder-like hair.

"Is that what he told you?"

The boy looked up at her, a single tear in his eyes. "I miss her," he said, suddenly a real four-year old. "I don't want her to be dead."

He started to cry, and Scully held him firmly against her, crying softly herself. She had nothing to tell him, no hope to give him.

How can I find an explanation for him, she thought miserably, when I am still searching for one for myself?

He had been crying for a long time when the cigarette-smoking man opened the door to the nursery again.

"Scully?" he said. "A word with you in the office?"

She stared at him, too numb to sum up the requisite amount of hatred, cradling Isaac in her arms.

"I don't feel like speaking with you," she said, her voice strained.

"I'd like to explain more to you about our possible arrangement," he said. "A way I believe might suit Isaac best now, too."

"Is my mother dead?" Isaac said, softly sobbing, looking at him in the doorway.

The cigarette-smoking man paused, regarding the child.

He walked over to where they sat on the couch, and knelt down in front of Isaac.

Scully tightened her hold on him, pressing her lips to his head, wishing she could close his ears, too.

"I'm afraid so, son," the cigarette-smoking man said. "I'm very sorry."

And strangely, his face did look sorry. Scully wondered if this man were truly Mulder's father -- Isaac's grandfather. It was *worse* that way, she thought. More heartless.

His face was so hard to read. A riddle.

"She was so sad about your father dying, that I'm afraid she died herself."

Isaac just looked at him, the tears rolling down his cheeks becoming slower and slower. Less frequent. Already, he's learning to control his emotions, thought Scully. He knows it hurts more that way. The realization made her sad.

"I'm trying to arrange something for you," continued the cigarette smoking man. "Someone to take care of you. How do you like Miss Scully, here? She's a very nice lady, isn't she?"

Isaac looked miserably at him, and nodded his head.

"Miss Scully?" The man was pulling a cigarette out. "A word in the office?"

"I'll be back," she whispered into Isaac's ear. "Try to rest, okay?"

He looked at her with empty eyes.

She kissed him on the cheek, and lay him down on the cot, covering him with a light sheet. He wouldn't sleep, she imagined. But maybe he would be able to cry, which was probably better for a child than brooding.

And she followed the devil into his office.

"In southwest England -- Cornwall -- there is a small town named Morgan Cove. It's on the seashore, populated by mostly locals, but also a fair amount of London tourists."

Scully watched him, silently.

"They have a small medical clinic, for the locals and the summer visitors, where they have an opening for a general practitioner. It would be mostly sprained limbs, flu, mild infections," he said, breathing in on a cigarette. "It wouldn't be a lot of money -- British health care being nationalized-- but I would supplement it with a small stipend."

"You're suggesting I take a job as a general practitioner in Cornwall?" Scully said, not comprehending.

"I have already acquired a small seashore cottage," he said. "A garden. A nice, old-fashioned kitchen, a living room, a very British library, which could also be your office. And two bedrooms. A master bedroom, for you, and one for Isaac."

He would give her Isaac. She didn't trust him, of course, not at all.

But she couldn't prevent a small, internal flicker of hope.

"It would be a simple life. A wonderful place for the boy to grow up, I believe," he said, a dry smile. "I had a London associate who used to holiday there. Good local primary schools, lots of places to play on the beach, a healthy environment."

She could almost envision it. Bandaging up tourists' limbs, rather than cutting into mutants' corpses. Spending weekends sitting in the sun, watching Isaac build sand castles.

A place to raise a child. A place to heal, both herself and him, she thought.

"You would have to change your name, of course," he said. "You could keep your first name. I suggest something simple. Dr. Dana Woolsey. Or Dr. Dana O'Connor, if you prefer to keep your ethnic ties. Isaac would take your last name."

"What would it mean?"

He regarded her. "A complete termination of contact with Fox Mulder."

She felt ashamed, suddenly, for entertaining the fantasy. For failing to fit the pieces together.

"Absolutely not," she said.

"You could have limited contact with your family," he said, "but that would have to be established over time. To prevent him from searching for you."

"I won't do it," she said. "I won't even entertain it."

"I suggest this alternative," the cigarette-smoking man said, a thin smile, "because the child is my grandson. It would be less difficult for me to see him paired with a capable parent than ... anything else worse that might happen to him."

She looked at him, feeling hatred seep over her afresh.

"It's not impossible that the child will die," he said simply. "Even if I tried to spare him, I know it could come to it, in the course of the game. Unless this option is pursued."

She felt a few panicked tears spring into her eyes, although she cursed herself for appearing vulnerable in front of him.

"Don't sacrifice the boy out of devotion to Fox Mulder," he said. "Fox isn't worth it to you, ultimately."

He sucked on a cigarette, and looked at her, urgently.

"I can imagine how you feel about him," he said. "I imagine you suppose someday he will see your devotion, and you will cease to be unhappy and fall into each other's arms."

"That is not how I feel," Scully hissed, wiping her tears quickly, wondering how much of her and Mulder's partnership this man had observed.

"The hope of love with my son is not worth this child's life," the cigarette-smoking man said, his tone brittle. "As a lover, Fox Mulder has managed to disappoint less discriminating women than yourself. I believe that like his father, he's incapable of making a woman really happy. I'm sure you're already more than aware of his emotional flaws."

"You don't understand," Scully said, "why I can't accept this bargain. You can't begin to understand."

"It would be better for Fox as well," the man continued. "I believe, at this point, you represent a weak spot for him. He needs to be free of this partnership of codependency. And to forget about Samantha, to move on with life."

"You don't care about him," Scully said, sharply. "Don't pretend you do. You believe that without me, Mulder would not be able to go on with the X-files. That's what you want. That's why you're offering."

"I'm afraid I'm not as simple to interpret as you think," said the cigarette-smoking man, gently. His face was a mystery.

Scully imagined going back to Mulder, taking his face in her hands, telling him she had lost this strangely produced child of theirs to CGB Spender, that this four-year-old could likely die. How would he react, she wondered? Push her away, refuse to be comforted?

But what if she accepted the deal? What would his reaction be then?

"If I did accept this -- solution -- what would Mulder be told?"

"That you were dead, of course. The child as well," he said. "We would try to minimize the potential for him to search for you for years. He would learn to accept it, with time."

"No, he wouldn't," she said, softly. "If you are truly his father, you must know that he never would."

Something flickered over the cigarette-smoking man's face. A shadow.

"He would have nothing to lose," Scully tried again. "He would self-destruct, and try his best to take you and your plans down with him."

He raised a cigarette to his lips.

"Perhaps. I'll risk it," he replied, his face a mask.

She stared at her hands, which were bruised, likely from her brief struggle in front of the Koenigs'.

And felt herself slipping into dangerous supposition. Into guilty consideration.

<How could I be such a traitor, so terribly disloyal to this man who would do anything for me? Whom I love, surely, more than anyone?>

His guilt would kill him. He would never forgive himself for letting her go to Atlanta alone. He would drown in self-hatred. Self-annihilation. Alone. Without her.

But to leave the little boy, the small Mulder, in the hands of the devil, vulnerable to the lies he might tell him, the ways in which his small and beautiful mind might be manipulated, the guinea pig uses found for his perfect child's body...

She was sick. It had made her sick.

Grasping just in time for a brass trash can near her, she leaned over, and vomited violently. As the devil watched her.

It felt like there were two invisible hands pressing on the sides of Mulder's head, but he tried, desperately, to concentrate on the road.

More than anything now, he wanted, somehow, to get to Riverside Biotech, to make someone give him an answer, in spite of the fact that it was nine o'clock at night and it would likely be closed.

He had to find her. No alternative.

The facts: just hours before Mrs. Amber Koenig took her own life, Scully had spoken with her. Carbon monoxide poisoning. An apparent suicide.

"Yeah, Agent Scully came by and talked to Mrs. Koenig for a while. Seemed a little distracted, just burst on in without calling first," the cop had told him. "But then we're by-the-book types around here."

Mulder had thanked him, shocking himself with his own diplomacy. What inspired him to be so polite? When Scully was missing! Gone. Vanished.

Her rental car, last seen parked in front of the Koenigs' residence, was no where to be found.

No sign of her at the Best Western. She had never checked in, had not slept there last night. No sign of her familiar overnight bag, with its meticulously organized contents. Not even a lipstick, a Kleenex, a receipt that he could connect to her.

The most disturbing part was the kidnapping. A detail that had she been safe, had she been okay, she would likely have called and shared with him. A child, four years old, kidnapped: it couldn't be a coincidence.

A boy. Isaac Koenig. The Lab Geek's own adopted child, whom he was willing to sacrifice so that Mulder could track down the truth.

It reminded Mulder of something. But he couldn't pinpoint it.

"Goddamnit," he shouted out loud in the car, a sudden stab of guilt hitting him. He should have gone with her.

No agent should be without someone on their back. And Scully, for god's sake, should never have been there, so emotionally vulnerable, without him.

Riverside Biotech was closed, according to the sign on the door.

But Mulder thought he could see a light inside, in a side wing. Another lab geek, he thought, working late?

And against his better judgment, he began to consider how one might break into a building like this one.

He offered her a handkerchief, which she accepted, wiping her mouth furiously.

"You threw up before you defended your thesis in college, too," the cigarette-smoking man said. "I happen to know."

She looked up at him, still weak.

"You don't know me as well as you pretend," she said.

"I know as much as I want to," he answered.

"All the facts you have gathered about my life -- about my relationship with Mulder -- you ultimately can't interpret. You don't have the requisite knowledge of humanity."

His lip twinged.

"You want to accept my solution, don't you, Ms. Scully?" he said. "And it bothers you. You perceive it as betrayal."

"No," Scully said.

"It's not betrayal, of course. It's freedom, for you and your son. And Mulder's son," he said.

"I can't accept your deal," she said. "I won't do it."

He looked back at her.

"Is that your true decision? Made with all mature reasoning?"

"My answer is no," she said, slowly and carefully. "It couldn't be anything else. Agent Mulder needs me as part of his work, and I have a responsibility to him and to the public I serve."

There was contempt on his face. "You really think that's the right thing to do, Agent Scully?"

"Where would Isaac and I be when the world came crashing to an end?" Scully said, meeting his contempt. "Would you take care of us, then? Would you take care of millions of others destroyed by your selfishness?"

"Mulder's fairy stories are much exaggerated."

"Bullshit," she said. "Bullshit, I don't trust you."

He stared at her, taking a long thoughtful drag. And then he reached into his coat pocket, producing a cell phone and dialing, still studying her face.

"We'll need transportation for myself and the boy," he said into the phone. "Miss Scully won't be joining us after all."

There was a small knock on the door adjoining to the nursery. She felt herself start to tremble.

"I'm not going to kill you, Agent Scully," he said, softly. "But I do pity you. It seems you've become more like my son than I had expected. Willing to sacrifice loved ones for some quixotic quest."

"I intend to get Isaac back," Scully said, her voice cracking. "You won't have him forever."

"Do you really, Dana?" There was such mockery in his voice.

He crossed and opened the door to the nursery, and Isaac stood in the door, looking small and pale. There were faint trails of tears on his cheeks.

"Are we going somewhere?" he whispered, staring at Scully. "Are we leaving?"

"Yes, Isaac," answered the cigarette-smoking man. He leaned over, and scooped the child into his arms. "We're about to leave to go on a helicopter. Have you ever been on a helicopter?"

"You're coming with us?" Isaac said, looking from the cigarette-smoking man's arms to Scully.

Tears dropped from her eyes, startling Isaac, which was of course the last thing she wanted to do.

"No, Miss Scully isn't coming," answered the cigarette-smoking man. "She has decided not to come with us."

He walked to the desk and began extracting papers to put into a small briefcase, keeping a tight hold on Isaac.

"Don't cry," Isaac said to Scully, panicked.

"I love you," she said to Isaac, trying to keep her voice steady. "You have a very good memory, don't you Isaac?"

"We've got to go," the cigarette-smoking man said.

"Will you remember for me, that one time you met a red-headed woman named Dana Scully who told you she loved you? Will you repeat that to yourself, when you're scared? And when you're big enough, will you try to come and find me?"

"Come with us, Dana Scully," Isaac said, his eyes round and scared. "Come with us on the helicopter, please."

"I can't, I can't," she said, her voice broken. But she knew she had to force her voice to stay modulated, to maintain an artificial cheeriness. "I want to, Isaac, but I can't leave important work here. I have to trust I'll find you again sometime, and then we'll live together, okay?"

Through the nursery door, several men, dressed exactly as Mulder would have expected in black suits, walked inside, and at the cigarette-smoking man's gesture, handcuffed Scully to the couch.

"No, no," cried Isaac. "No, please, I want to stay with Dana Scully."

"Time to go, Isaac," the cigarette-smoking man said, staring at Scully. "Time to go on to a helicopter with your grandpa."

"I don't want to go on a helicopter, I want to stay with her, I want to go home, I want my mother, please," called Isaac, his voice rising.

"Don't be scared; don't be scared," called Scully, as Isaac was carried away from her.

She tugged, irrationally, on her arms, feeling the handcuffs chafe against her wrists.

"There's another man you could find, Isaac!" she said, unsure if he could even understand her. "You could find Fox Mulder. Would you repeat that back to me, Isaac? Fox Mulder?"

They began to walk out of the room, escorted by the surreal men dressed in black.

"Repeat it, Isaac!" She found herself shouting. "Repeat it back to me: Fox Mulder. Fox Mulder."

And from the other room, it gave her immeasurable hope to hear him echo back, his child's voice suddenly taken over by his father's own amazing sense of concentration:

"FoxMulderFoxMulderFoxMulderFoxMulderFoxMulderFoxMuld er..."

Mulder had broken into Riverside Biotech, a private company. A big no-no from a federal agent's standpoint.

But then he wasn't officially a federal agent anymore, he reminded himself. And he hardly worried about those details when he was, especially when something like this was at stake.

Scully. Whom he should have been with. Who had disappeared without a trace.

The mechanical screams of alarms going off, both directly in his ears, and echoing back to him from distant arms of the building. He wasn't as good a cat burglar as he had hoped.

The police would be there any minute. And he didn't know what he was even looking for.

He wound his way around a white, sterile hallway, lit only by the red flash of the alarm system, peeking into the lab rooms aimlessly.

He was staring into a dark lab when he heard the sound of a door open, around the end of the hall, and a man's voice surrounded by footsteps.

And a woman's voice -- or a child's voice? He could hardly hear, the sounds disappearing into the wail of the alarm system.

Mulder began running down the hall, trying to find which side hall the sounds could be coming from, feeling his body tense.

But the alarm's repetitive whine misled him, and when he did, finally, reach a door that might have left outside, the only thing he could hear was the distant sound of a helicopter, outside the building.

"Goddamnit," he shouted, pounding the door, his voice echoing and melding into the sound of the alarm.

He swallowed, painfully, feeling his headache rise again.

There was a small corridor off to the side, with strangely executive wallpaper, that Mulder followed, his body rigid.

What did he expect to find, he thought, furiously? Anyone he might have wanted to talk to probably just left on board the helicopter.

At the end of the hallway was an office door, with no name plate hanging above it. For some reason, it sent a shiver down him. The door was open. And inside the door was an office.

Illuminated by a small desk lamp, Scully sat motionless, handcuffed to a sofa.

She didn't even look at him.

She was looking at the wall, her face stained with tears, but she wasn't crying.

"Scully," he said, breathlessly. "I'm glad to see you in one piece."

He took a step for her, and she looked up at him, faintly surprised to see him.

"I lost him," she said, dazed. "I lost him, Mulder."

He regarded her face. Her eyes had such a strange, unreadable expression.

"We've got to go, Scully, the police will be here," he said. "You can tell me about it. You can explain - -"

"There's no good explanation," she said, her voice like a child's. "I sacrificed a baby, a little boy, to some ridiculous idea of the truth. I killed him, my own son, my own child."

Mulder moved behind her. Removed a Swiss army knife from his coat. He used the screwdriver to disattach the crossbar from the couch, unhooking Scully's cuffs.

"Scully," he said tenderly, helping her balance on to her feet. "We'll find him again, Scully."

Her arms were still restrained, so he put his hand in the crook of her back, steadying her.

But she resisted his guidance. She stood as still as a statue, her eyes not registering his.

"Oh God," she said, "what have I done? Mulder, what have I done?"

Whatever it was, Mulder thought, it was still pressed into the features of her face. Her mouth, eyes, forehead -- seemed to be frozen. Anguished.

He pulled her into a tight embrace, pressing her head into his shoulder, relieved her body was warm and alive.

"Stop it, stop doing this, I know you did what you could," he said, taking her head into his hands, pressing his palms to her cheeks.

He looked into her face, into that horrible expression. That emptiness.

She was fine, physically. But she couldn't seem to walk out with him. She didn't seem capable of functioning.

Gingerly, he scooped her up, lifting her body into his arms, fitting the crook of her knees over his forearms and letting her head rock against his shoulder. He was reminded of Antarctica. Of other cold and dark places.

He began to carry her out of the office.

"I had him in my arms," she said, dream-like, whispering into Mulder's shoulder. "I had him pressed up against me, like we are now. He looks so much ... like you, Mulder."

"We'll find him, Scully," he said.

Amazingly, he found that he believed it.

On the plane she seemed more her old self, although her eyes still looked more empty than he could have believed possible.

He held her hand almost constantly, so that the airline ticket counter woman had asked him if they were on honeymoon, which Mulder couldn't even find humor in.

He had only smiled wanly and shook his head, glancing nervously at Scully's hollow eyes.

She had sketched out the story to him briefly: the child had been offered to her in exchange for abandoning her partnership with him.

It was the type of act on her part that should have wracked him with guilt, with remorse, with self- blame. Who was he to deserve such loyalty? To deserve life over the safety of her little boy?

But for some reason he couldn't quite articulate, he didn't feel that Isaac was doomed. He had a kernel of hope. Of optimism. That she had, in fact, acted for the best.

If only he could share it with her.

"In the Bible," she said suddenly, breaking his thoughts. "Abraham sacrifices his son Isaac, too. Genesis."

"Almost," Mulder said. "He gets him back."

He had thought of it earlier, he realized.

Something he had read made reference to the story of the binding of Isaac: an ethically problematic story for existentialist philosophers. How could a father be willing to murder his own child, and what kind of deity would ask it?

"He had faith, that the Lord knew best," Scully said. "He listened to the voice of God."

"It's easier to listen to the voice of God," Mulder said, "than to make your own call."

She stared at him. "I suppose that's true."

They paused, and the flight attendant offered them dinner, which they both declined.

"I hope I was listening to the voice of God," she said. "I hope I did what He would have wanted. But it didn't feel easy."

Not for the first time, he was touched by her faith.

"The child would still have been sick, Scully, with the disease Skinner is infected with," Mulder reminded her, hoping for the umpteenth time that it would comfort her. "You wouldn't have saved him by taking CGB's dirty deal. There was more going on than you knew."

She was looking out the window again.

"Maybe," she said, softly.

"We'll get him back," he said again. "I know we will."

"Even if we did, we -- we would be so terrible for a child, you and I, Mulder. A kind of a parody of parental figures," she said, a bitter catch in her voice. "What kind of parents would we be?"

Mulder had no answer for that. He couldn't imagine being a father. He had no frame of reference for healthy interaction with a child.

"What kind of parents -- would you want for a child, Scully?" he said.

"Mature," she offered. "Stable. In a long term, loving relationship."

Mulder considered carefully his next words.

"I'll concede that we have our lapses in maturity, and that we certainly could work on stability," he said.

Scully pursed her lips.

"But I would argue we do have a long term, loving relationship."

"You would?" she said, scowling slightly, not meeting his eyes. He put a finger under her chin, forcing her to look directly at him.

"I'd argue that particular point with you to the death," he said.

She was silent, staring at him. Her lip trembled.

"And -- I think we'll be okay," he said, his voice hoarse. He pressed his hand against hers, running his thumb over the soft surface of her fingers. "We'll figure it out."

"You talk like you believe we'll find him," she said.

"I do," he said. "Ever read the philosophy of Soren Kierkegaard, Scully?"

"No," she said, cautiously. "Why?"

"Kierkegaard thinks we should all be 'knights of faith.'"

"Knights of faith," she repeated, staring at him.

"A knight of faith would have such devotion to God, that were he in Abraham's position, he would sacrifice Isaac, and still, even upon looking at his dead body, believe that he will get him back again," said Mulder. "A knight of faith makes the terrible decision, but believes past hope that God will redeem him. Or her."

"A leap of faith," she said.

"Exactly," Mulder felt an involuntary smile.

"And that's what you're doing? Believing we'll get him back, hope against hope?" Scully said.

"I'm trying."

There was a pause.

"It's wonderful that you have faith," she said. "You haven't, always."

"It's been your domain."

"I'm ... glad you do," she said, sadly, clutching his hand, and staring at him.

"But you don't yourself?"

She kept looking at him, and her next words were childlike, tremulous.

"I want to believe," she whispered. A small smile.

<A leap of faith. Hope against hope.>

Scully changed into flannel pajamas mechanically, listening to Mulder's pacing in her living room.

It seemed strange to her that suddenly, there were so many things Mulder had faith in. That they would get Isaac back. That good would prevail. That he and her were in a loving relationship, of all things. That they could be good parents.

Before, he had been discouraged to the point he would quit. And now he seemed to be full of a kind of burning optimism.

But then Mulder had always been the knight of faith, hadn't he? Faith in the eventual satisfaction of his quest. The romantic hero. Don Quixote. Sir Launcelot.

"You finished?" Mulder called from outside her bedroom door, certainly sounding more pragmatic than Don Quixote.

She had been so dazed, before, that when he had walked her up to her apartment, she had not even thought to tell him she would be fine.

"Yes," she said, slipping under the covers. "Why? Are you going to brush my teeth for me, Mulder?"

"I wanted to make sure you will be all right," he answered, standing in the door frame, watching her lay her head back against her pillow. "How do you feel?"

"Drained. Exhausted. Ready for sleep."

"Understandable," he said. "Do you have enough covers, Scully?"

"Oh, leave me be," she said, a faint smile on her lips. It was all she could do. No banter now, please, Mulder, she thought. Go home, get some sleep. I'll see you tomorrow. We'll see where we stand then.

But he had no comeback.

"Then I'll turn your light off for you, Scully," he said, strangely gentle, reaching on to her bedside table to flip off her lamp.

Darkness. Suddenly, she could see no trace of him, her eyes adjusting to the blackness.

"I'll call you tomorrow," his voice came from the darkness. "We'll reevaluate our options."

"All right," she whispered back. Already she felt her eyelashes meeting, her eyes beginning to close.

He must be standing there still, she thought sleepily, standing over my bed.

"You know," he said, and stopped.

"Yes, Mulder?"

"I appreciate your being so loyal -- to the work, Scully," he said.

"I'm loyal to *you*, Mulder," she said, her mind thick with sleep.

A pause.

"Sleep tight," he whispered.

Suddenly his warm lips were on her forehead, kissing her carefully. Tenderly.

"I love you," he said, just barely, almost too quietly for Scully, in her fatigue, to hear.

Almost immediately her mind began to slip into dream.

He left, locking the door of her apartment behind him.

That night, during Scully's dreams, the significance of Mulder's half-whisper slid in and out of her subconscious mind, entwining with other sharply sensitive fragments, taking on new incarnations.

Perhaps it caused her to dream more vividly, for her dreams that night were unusually vivid.

She dreamt of childhood, of Melissa and Bill and Charlie playing in a forest of all red maple leaves, ducking under branches, playing hide-and-go-seek. She sat in a tree, laughing and watching. Calling out suggestions for the best places to hide. "Bury yourself in leaves," she called. "Leave a space for your mouth, so you can breathe, okay? Be careful, Melissa, don't cover up your mouth!"

She dreamt of Abraham, complete with Old Testament beard and robes, looking horribly hollow as he raised his knife above poor small Isaac, who lay bound on a stone tablet. Scully, out of breath, ran to Abraham, tried to warn him, that it wasn't his son Isaac, father of Jacob, at all -- it was Isaac Koenig, just an innocent boy. Abraham looked down at her. "They're all innocent," he said, sadly. "I think God means that faith requires sacrifice. But who can ever tell what He wants, really?"

And she dreamt directly of Mulder, looking more like he did when she first met him than he did now. He was eating sunflower seeds, standing overlooking a vast deep canyon. The beginnings of a smile on his face, he was spinning her fantastic yarns about old Native American spiritual leaders being able to jump over the canyon and land safely on the other side.

"I don't believe it, Mulder," she answered him. There was a flirtatious smile on her lips that she'd once had often, when they first started working together, but she rarely had any more. "It's too far. Not physiologically possible."

Instead of arguing back, he leaned over, kissing her forehead so gently.

"Leap of faith, Scully," he answered, playfully. And then he pressed the package of sunflower seeds into her hands, and jumped.

In her dream, she leapt after him, even though she was frightened and unsure.

And for the longest time, she just fell.

After he tucked Scully in bed, Mulder considered where to go next. Home was a strong choice, but there was something else he wanted to do.

He decided to go to the basement office, knowing he would not feel at ease until he wrote the letter.

At 4 o'clock in the morning, the office was, of course, dark. As he booted up the computer, he noticed the light from the monitor gave the crime scene photos on the walls an eerie shadow.

There was a slight creak in the hallway. The building settling.

A peculiarly shaped shadow was cast against the wall, right over the "I Want To Believe" poster.

<Downright *spooky*,> thought Mulder. <It's been too long since I've pulled an all-nighter here, apparently.>

He began to type.

<Dear Assistant Director Skinner,

After having reconsidered my decision to resign, I respectfully request to be reinstated as a federal agent, and reassigned to the X-files in partnership with Special Agent Dana Scully.

On a personal note: sir, you were right.


Fox Mulder>

Over the whine of the printer, he considered the letter a moment, and of how Skinner had intervened in the situation.

If Scully were allowed an extended period of time to analyze the data, she might be able to help Skinner find a cure to his illness, Mulder reminded himself. And that would help the child, too, when they found him.

He watched the paper emerge from the printer, his pen already ready to sign his signature, when he suddenly had a strong feeling that somebody was watching him.

He raised his head, scanning the office.

There was no one that he could see. But had the door been open a crack before? Or had he closed it completely behind him? Would he have heard it open, over the printer's noise?

There was no sound now. Only the irregular rhythm of Mulder's breathing.

<You better get home and get some sleep, g-man,> Mulder told himself. <Twenty-four hours without sleep, and you're losing it.>

He signed his name, even adding an uncharacteristic flourish, and he felt better. He'd stick it into an envelope and into Skinner's box tonight. Make a copy to stick in Scully's, maybe, to reassure her.

But now there was definitely a sound. A small sound, coming from just outside the door.

"Who's there?" Mulder called, his hand going to his gun. "Is someone there?"

The sound was rhythmic, a small sing-song, like a few notes played on a recorder or flute. Was it a recording? A radio?

Mulder felt the hairs on the back of his neck rise, curiously.

And suddenly the door pushed open, and he could see the outline of a child standing there.


The boy stepped forward, rocking slightly, repeating the quietest little sing-song back and forth to himself.

"H-how did you get in here?" Mulder heard himself say, standing up.

The boy looked up at him, his voice tiny. "Are you Fox Mulder?"

Mulder felt himself nod, stunned. He took his hand away from his gun.

The boy seemed satisfied, and stepped further into the office. The light from the monitor hit his face, and Mulder felt himself jump. The expression on his face: so familiar! Looked just like Scully, being cautious.

The boy began his sing-song again, but this time, Mulder could understand it.

"FoxMulderFoxMulderFoxMulderFoxMulderFoxMulder," the boy repeated softly. His face intense and serious.

Were all children this small so self-possessed, Mulder thought irrationally? Did they all have this brooding quality?

"How did you get here?" he tried again. "Is somebody with you?"

The boy shook his head, slowly, walking cautiously behind the desk, and standing directly in front of Mulder, looking down at his feet.

"I'm supposed to find you," he said, unsurely, as if repeating a story or a phrase he'd heard. "A red- headed woman named Dana Scully told me she loved me and said I should find you."

"She ... " Mulder began, looking down at the boy. "But how could you have? You haven't...?"

"FoxMulderFoxMulderFoxMulderFoxMulderFoxMulderFoxMuld er," repeated the child. His eyes, looking up briefly to Mulder's, were wide and sad. Wanting something, Mulder realized.

This child who seemed to have dropped out of the sky. A gift from God?

"You're Isaac," Mulder said.

The little boy stared up at him, his face empty.

"I'm so happy to see you," Mulder said, feeling foolishly inadequate.

They stared at one another, seeming to size one another up.

Mulder's mind raced.

Maybe the boy had been delivered there, deliberately, a cog in some complex unknown scheme. Or maybe an unknown friend made sure he made it to the F.B.I. building in Washington, serving as their salvation.

Or could he have miraculously found his way himself, using some human instinct his mother wouldn't be able to categorize and catalog?

Could he sense, Mulder thought illogically, that the very root of his existence sprang from this office, this room with walls lined with frightening photos and head shop posters? It's here he was conceived, Mulder realized, regardless of where sperm met egg. This is the place of his genesis. Does he somehow understand the homing call of his own DNA?

The boy had his mother's stoicism, but something in his face broke through. A wistful expression, wanting something.

And then, like he was in a dream, Mulder knew to lift the boy up into his arms, pulling him close, and letting him wrap his arms around his neck. Like Scully would.

He wasn't surprised that Isaac seemed to be breaking into sobs. He was relieved, actually, to see this normal behavior.

"I don't know how you got here," Mulder said, embracing the child's crying torso tightly. "But believe me, Isaac, I know I'm pretty happy you are, and I bet that Dana Scully woman will be, too."

The little boy's sobs deepened, and Mulder stroked his hair, surprising himself by how fiercely protective he felt. Was this the paternal instinct? Did it spring out of your biological preprogramming, ready for action?

This must the pull, the deep tugging that Abraham felt as he leaned over Isaac, Mulder thought, feeling the small heartbeat against him. This is what Scully felt, too. This squeezing, wrenching, grasping sensation. How could they ever sacrifice, feeling this?

"FoxMulderFoxMulderFoxMulderFoxMulder," sobbed the boy, tightening his hold around Mulder's neck.

Did it matter, ultimately, how it happened? Mulder wondered, feeling tears prickling in his eyes, too, as the small face pressed against him.

"We're going to be okay, Isaac," whispered Mulder, leaning down to kiss the top of his head. "You and me and that red-headed woman, we'll be okay. We'll find a way to take care of you, to love you, I promise you that."

"FoxMulderFoxMulderFoxMulder," said the boy, softer, his sobs slowing.

Mulder kissed the child's head, pressing his lips against soft sandy hair, letting his eyes run over the strange small details that made up his head and ears.

And then: a horrible chill. Like a hand around his throat.

On the back of the child's neck:

A purple blotch, like blood vessels sprung to the surface. A web of inflamed tissue, rising above the surface of the child's pale skin.

A blood-dark kiss of death.

The End

"The knight of faith infinitely renounces claim to
the love which is the content of his life. He is
reconciled in pain. But then occurs the prodigy -- he
makes still another movement more wonderful than all,
for he says: 'I believe nonetheless that I shall get
my love back, in virtue, that is, of the absurd, in
virtue of the fact that with God all things are

--Soren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling

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