Title: The Caretakers
Author: Kelly Keil
Written: November 2000
Feedback: klkeil@buckeye-express.com
Website: http://grapefruithead.com/kellyfic/
Archive: Anywhere, just keep my info attached.
Feedback: Is welcomed. Flames are read with great amusement.
Spoilers: Within/Without
Rating: R
Classification: S, A, S/D, post-colonization
Disclaimer: The X-Files isn't mine; no one gave me a dime.

Summary: In the midst of chaos, life still goes on.

Notes: Many thanks go out to my betas: august, Maria Nicole, and especially Alicia K., who prodded me to work harder, and Connie, who helped with the ending. And as always, to YV, just for being there.

This is the Hour of Lead--

Remembered, if outlived,
As Freezing persons recollect the Snow
First--Chill--then Stupor--then the letting go
--Emily Dickinson

The rain fell in a heavy patter, the drops a monotonous thrum like the drone of insects. The restaurant was an island of warmth in the cold night, but there was never enough energy these days, and the boiler was turned down low. Rita shivered and held her hands in front of the coffee pot. She wished she'd brought a sweater.

On the television monitor, a friendly female face announced the day's events. "Census data will be collected from Sector Nine tomorrow, from all citizens with a last name starting with Sn through Sz. That's Sn through Sz in Sector Nine. Compliance is mandatory." The face gave a winning smile. "All violators will be detained by authorities. Remember, report to your designated area from six a.m. through eight p.m., so set your alarm clocks." The face winked and grinned. "Oversleeping is not an excuse to miss census! Frank, back to you."

A bell chimed as the door opened and a couple stepped into the otherwise empty restaurant. The wind gusted behind them, sending the door crashing into the wall.

The cold air bit through the polyester of Rita's uniform and she shuddered. The woman was bundled in a long coat that did not conceal that she was in the last stages of pregnancy. The man struggled with the door and at last managed to close it.

."..treasonous rebels have been apprehended after their compound was raided earlier today. Officials state that the traitors have been tried and executed. We are all safer tonight, thanks to the rigorous vigilance of the Caretakers. And now, we go over to Dan for sports."

Rita walked over to the couple and smiled. Neither one smiled back. They both looked weary to the bone.

"Smoking or non?" she asked. "Not that it matters today."

The man looked at her, his eyes chilly as the weather. "Non," he replied. His gaze returned to the TV monitor. "Can you turn that off?" he asked.

"Of course not," Rita said. "You know the rules. Follow me, please." She began to lead them to a corner table.

"I was hoping that in the out-lying areas..." said the man. He sighed. "Could you at least turn down the sound?"

Rita waited as they sat themselves, then handed them menus. "The sound's broken. You get used to it."

She leaned down and whispered conspiratorially, "I tune it out most of the time. It's not that hard."

She leaned back and said in a louder voice, "What can I get you folks to drink?"

"Coffee," said the man. He ran a hand over his spiky hair then began to massage his temples.

"And for you, ma'am?"

The woman thought for a second then said, "Just water for me, thank you."

"We're all out of the bottled stuff," said Rita. "All we have is boiled tap."

"Do you have any milk?" the woman asked.

"Some. Between you and me, it's a tad old, but I can put some chocolate syrup in it. That'll sweeten it right up."

"That'll be fine, thank you."

"I'll give you a few minutes to decide on your order, then I'll be back with your drinks."

In the kitchen, Rita opened the large refrigerator and pulled out the milk. It looked okay. She opened it and smelled it. She'd smelled better, but it would have to do. As she poured a generous amount of Hershey's into it, Ben came storming from out behind his grill. As always, he reeked of rancid grease.

"What the hell do you think you're doing, woman?" he said.

Rita stirred the milk. "Milk's bad. I had to do something."

"You make sure you charge extra for that," he said. "That's our last bottle of syrup. You'll shit gold before we see any more of it, mark my words."

Rita continued to stir. Ben gave a great huff then stomped back over to his grill. He slammed his utensils together, letting her know how angry he was.

Rita shook her head and took out the drinks.

When Rita got back to the table, she nearly dropped the scalding coffee and glass of milk with its precious chocolate syrup. Under the woman's chair was a pool of fluid. Rita sat the tray down on the table and her hand flew to her hair. "My God," she said. "What's happened?"

"My partner's water has broken," said the man, his blue eyes boring into Rita. "I need to take her to the nearest hospital."

'My partner,' he'd said, she thought. The lady was in labor, was about to give birth, and all Rita could think of was that the man had said, 'my partner,' and not 'my girlfriend' or 'my wife.' It was odd. And the floor. She'd just cleaned the...

"Please," said the man, reaching out a hand to touch her shoulder. "We need a hospital."

Rita tugged on her hair as if that would help. The woman panted heavily. She looked at Rita in mute appeal. "No," she said. "I'm so sorry, but it was hit in one of the initial strikes. They're rebuilding it, but the work is slow, what with the gasoline rations. Even so, it's over twenty miles away."

The man gripped Rita's shoulder and shook her. "Is there a doctor you can call? Anyone?"

Rita came out of her daze. "A doctor. Yes. Dr. Mead. I'll call him right away. Yes." Rita hurried off to call the doctor and get a mop. "And put on some water to boil," she muttered to herself. That's what they always did in the movies.

Scully was shopping when the alien ships uncloaked.

She was in a maternity shop with the nauseating name of "The Melon Seed" buying a blouse for work when they appeared. There was no warning. One second there was just sky, the next second, a huge disk floated in the air above the city, blocking out the sun.

The women in the shop had fled, patrons and clerks alike, leaving Scully there, blouse in one hand, money in the other. She stood for a moment, indecisive, then laid the money on the counter and left the store with the blouse.

Outside, people stood and stared at the thing in the sky. Mouths were open and arms raised to point.

Excited shouts rang out. Stopped traffic snarled the streets. She ignored it all.

Scully looked up into the sky. Nothing happened.

She watched as people began to drift away, going back to their cars and homes. The ship hung in the sky, heavy with promise. Nothing happened. The streets emptied, leaving Scully alone. The sky darkened until the lights of the ship looked like the stars in the sky. Nothing happened. Scully got in her car and drove home.

When she opened her door, the phone was ringing.

"They're real." It was Doggett. "They're fucking real. I don't believe it."

Scully pulled back the curtain and looked out her window. Another ship, identical to the one she had seen outside the shop, hung high in the air.

Teenagers sat on the roof of a nearby building, watching it and laughing. They raised soda cans to it in salute. Scully let the curtain fall back into place.

"I told you that you wouldn't," she said.

"Yes, I know, but..."

"He's up there," Scully said. "I know it. I can feel it."

"But..." Doggett started to say.

"I think they've brought him back."

"You don't sound happy," he said. "Isn't this what you've been waiting for?"

"I'm afraid," she said. It came out as a whisper. "I'm afraid of what he's become."

"This is real," Doggett said.

"Yes, it is." Scully twisted the phone cord around her finger. The disk outside her window had not moved.

"I just can't believe it."

"Try," she said.

Two days later, the strikes began. Surgical strikes, they were later called, to make them sound clean and necessary. Scully tended to the victims as a matter of course. At any moment she expected Mulder to come and tap her on the shoulder, announcing his return.

She was still expecting him when the gunmen tried to take her with them.

"It's too dangerous to stay here," Byers said, his eyes more grave than usual. "Let us take you somewhere safe."

Scully scratched her nose with bloody fingers. "No.

I'm needed here."

"You're going to get yourself killed, Scully," said Frohike. He tried to smile but the attempt died on his face. "Mulder would have wanted you away from here."

"It's time to head for the hills," chimed in Langly.

"This is just a bad scene. You have the baby to think of."

"No! I won't run and hide while I'm needed here. I'm fine. The baby's fine." She smiled at them.

They meant well; she knew that. "We'll both be fine. My place is here, where I can do some good."

They'd argued with her but she remained firm and eventually they left.

I'll never see them again, she thought, and wanted to cry. Instead, she washed her hands then began to change bandages.

Months later, it was Skinner's turn to urge her to flight. He stood before her, his back straight, his glasses mended with duct tape. She had wept then, hating the useless tears that streaked her face.

"Mulder's not coming," Skinner said. "You must know that by now."

Scully nodded. She sat in her apartment, mercifully untouched by the strikes. The fires were almost under control, but the power was still off.

Skinner's face looked hollow by the light of her hoarded candles.

"There's a group of rebels forming," he said. "I don't know if fighting will do any good, but I'll be damned before I sit back and do nothing while the aliens just take over. I think...I think the consortium -- what's left of it, anyway -- is making deals with them. I think Mulder would want you to..."

"I wish everyone would stop telling me what Mulder wanted," Scully lashed out. "He wanted to be on that goddamned ship. For all we know, he led the ships here and is leading the attack. We don't know a damn thing about what Mulder wants."

"I know he wanted you to be safe."

She snorted and wiped her eyes. "Running away won't keep me safe. I'm nearly seven months pregnant, Walter. I can't even run." She took his hand and squeezed it hard, then let it go. "I need the baby to be safe. I've heard that the power will be on soon, and that the hospitals will be opening back up. I have to give this baby the best chance I can to survive. I have more than myself to think about. Come back for me, for us, after the baby is born."

Like the gunmen, he continued to argue with her but ended up leaving alone.

A week later, the power came back on and the television broadcasts began. The great census was announced, informing that all citizens would be assigned a location to report to when it was their turn. Then footage of rebels being slain was shown, illustrating the futility of resistance. The face of one of the bodies was masked by a sheet of blood, but glasses, mended with tape, were still visible.

The phone rang and she jumped. The phone lines had been down for months. "Who is it?" she asked.

"It's Doggett. I just wondered...if you were still alive, I guess. I just saw...on the TV."

"Yes," Scully said. "I saw it, too." There was an awkward pause. "Well, um..."

"Well," he said. "Since I know you're..."

"Could you come over?" she asked, surprised at the words as they fell from her mouth. "I haven't seen anyone I know since Skinner left, and I..."

"I'll be right over," he said.

It was nice to have someone else to talk to. For months she had spoken only to her stomach. It never spoke back. John Doggett, however, answered all her questions. His frequent trips, as the curfew was enforced, became sleepovers. At one point she realized that he hadn't left her apartment in days.

"Why don't you just stay here?" she asked. "You live so far away. We could conserve our gas rations."

"All right," he said, as if it didn't matter.

One night, Scully tugged him off of the couch. "It's cold," she said, "and they've shut the furnace off. There aren't enough blankets. Come keep me warm."

"Okay," he said, as if practicality was the only issue.

When he kissed her for the first time, she didn't think of Mulder or aliens or the end of the world.

"Do that again," she said.

And he did.

When it was his turn for the census, Doggett went alone. Scully waited for him all day, butterflies dancing in her stomach. After he came home, he didn't speak, but his eyes screamed at her. Scully kept opening her mouth to question him, only to shut it again.

Later that evening, she sat by the television, the only source of light the Caretakers would allow to be on past nine o'clock in the evening. Doggett came over to her and laid his head on her enormous stomach.

"Tell me," she said. "Did they hurt you?"

He shook his head.

"Then what?" Scully asked, brushing his hair off of his brow.

"They know everything. Everything. They know about you, about me, about your baby. I think they see us at pets. I think that's why they took people over the years, why they took Mulder. They wanted to see how we ticked. Then when they figured it out, they moved in."

"Do we have any hope?" Scully asked, her voice hoarse.

"I don't know," he replied.

Scully felt the baby kick. So did Doggett. He lifted his head and gave her a small smile that didn't stay long on his face.

That night, as he held her, Scully could feel the tension in his body. "There's something you're not telling me," she said, breaking the room's thick silence.

"I saw him, Dana," he whispered in her ear. "I saw Mulder."

Clumsily, she turned so she could look at him. The moon shone through the window and was reflected in his eyes. "You saw him? Did you speak with him? What did he say? Does he know where I am? Can I see him?" The words spilled over themselves.

He shut his eyes and she knew. "Mulder was there, during the interview, wasn't he?" Scully asked.

Doggett nodded and opened his eyes. "He was the only one there. I don't think it's him anymore, Dana."

Scully turned around again. Her brain whirled. Was it Mulder? Wasn't it? She felt dizzy.

She felt, more than heard, the words "I love you" said against her neck. "I know," she replied. That night she didn't sleep, and watched the moon until it sank behind the ruined buildings.

Rita got off the phone with Dr. Mead and shook her head. She'd had to chase him all over town before she found him. He was on his way, but it would take him about an hour or so to get to the restaurant. He was far south and the roads were bad.

She went out to tell the couple the bad news. The man looked worried but the woman shook her head.

"I'll be fine," she said, breathing through her teeth. She clenched her jaw with the pain of a contraction. "Fine," she repeated, panting.

The man (her partner, Rita's mind repeated), looked frantic. "Do you have any blankets?"

Without thinking, Rita snapped, "This is a restaurant, not a Holiday Inn. I'm doing the best I can."

The man ran a hand through his hair. "Look," he said. "I'm sorry, but this is a little stressful..."

"No," said Rita. "I'm sorry. There are some clean tablecloths. I'll get them."

"Thank you," he said as she hurried off.

She was rooting through the linen cabinet when Ben came up behind her. "What the fuck is going on, Rita?" he asked.

"There's a woman out there having a baby," she replied. "And you could help by boiling some water."

"You're gonna charge them for this, right?" he asked.

"Right, Ben. On their bill, chocolate syrup and childbirth. Now go boil some goddamned water!"

"No need to get snippy, Rita." Ben wandered off.

She heard banging pots and running water, and was satisfied.

Rita took the tablecloths over to the man. He draped them over the woman and removed her sodden underwear.

Rita eyed them uncertainly, unsure of what to do and wishing she'd listened to her mom and become a nurse.

She went and got a plastic bag for the underwear.

When Rita got back, the man had his head under the cloth and the woman was panting out directions.

"Can you see...how far I'm...dilated?" she gasped out.

"Not without a flashlight," he said, and the woman barked a short laugh.

"Can you see the head at all?" she asked.

"I think so," he said. "Maybe a little." He brought his head out from under the tablecloth. "Do you want to lie down? We could put some cloths on the floor..."

"No. It's easier in the chair. But when it's time...you'll have to catch. Think you can... do that?"

"I hope so," he said.

To Rita, the woman said, "We'll need a knife. As sharp as you can get. You'll need to sterilize it."

"I'm already boiling water," said Rita. "That's what they always say to do, isn't it?"

The woman nodded. "They're right. Boil the knife. When I need it, I'll tell you."

The man looked up. "What's the knife for? Cutting the umbilical cord?"

The woman clenched her jaw then nodded. "That, and if the doctor doesn't get here in time, you may need to cut me. Do you think you can do that, John?"

The man, John, looked resolute. "If I have to."

"Promise me," the woman said. "Promise me that you will save this baby. No matter what. If it comes to my life or his..."

"I'm not going to let you die."

"But if you have to choose..."

"No. You're not going to die."

"John, this is important. I want you to..."

"No," he said.

The woman shut her eyes, as if she felt unworthy of John's obvious adoration. Or maybe she was just tired.

Rita patted her hand. "Dr. Mead is on his way. He'll be here before you know it. My first took almost half a day to arrive. We have plenty of time."

The woman clenched her teeth through a contraction then opened her eyes and said, "I'm Dana. What's your name?"


"Thank you, Rita."

"You're welcome, Dana. Now let me start sterilizing you a knife."

Scully's census station was located in Virginia, about fifty miles south of D.C. Doggett insisted on going with her, and Scully hadn't objected. She was nearly due, and driving a car was becoming very difficult. Neither one spoke much during the journey.

Scully waited in line with the hundreds of others with last names starting with Sa through Sm. She sat on a collapsible stool she'd brought with her.

Doggett stood beside her, his hand on her shoulder.

Still, they didn't speak, but every once in a while he'd squeeze her shoulder. Whether to comfort her or himself, Scully didn't know.

When it was her time, he kissed her on the forehead and said, "Good luck." She touched his chest and walked through the door, wondering what she would see.

Scully was led into a room with two chairs. In one of them sat Mulder. Her knees started to buckle and she reached out to the chair for support.

"Hello, Dana," he said. She sat heavily down in the chair.

"Mulder?" she asked. "Is that you?" It seemed a ridiculous question to ask; he was sitting there in front of her, but it didn't feel like him.

He smiled at her. It looked all wrong. "I think you know the answer to that, Dana."

"He's gone," she said. She ran her palms, slick with sweat, down the sides of her jumper.

"He is one of us now," he said. "It's what he wanted. It's what he wanted for you, for everyone. He saw it was for the best."

Scully clenched her hands into fists. The nails bit into her palms. She wasn't capable of dealing with this right now. Later, when alone, she would take out the information, examine it, and then put it safely away. Right now, it was all she could do to keep from screaming. "What do you want from me?"

"Not much," he said. "A little blood, some skin. This is all for the common good. We are here to take care of you. We will keep you safe."

"Yes, of course," she replied. All Mulder had ever wanted was to keep her safe. Someone should have told him to beware of what he wished for.

A figure came up from behind her and stuck a needle into her skin. "It won't hurt the baby, will it?" Scully asked.

"No," said Mulder's voice. Mulder's face smiled.

"The last thing we'd want to do is hurt your baby."

Mulder's smile was the last thing she saw as she fell into darkness.

She woke, she knew not how long afterward, lying on a low bench in a room full of other sleeping people.

She staggered to her feet and went to the only door.

Mulder was waiting for her. Her heart gave a crazy half leap before she remembered that it wasn't really him. As she turned to leave, Scully gave him one last look. She hoped to see a flicker of something, anything, but all she saw was emptiness when she looked in his eyes.

"Go on," he said. "I believe there's someone out there waiting for you."

She turned and headed to the door.

Even when Doggett had held her, a tiny bit of her had hoped that she would one day see Mulder again. Now it was gone, the hope ripped from her, and she felt raw with its absence.

The baby stirred. There was a part of Mulder still alive within her. It had to be enough. She walked outside. It was raining, but John was there, waiting for her.

"Are you okay?" he asked, anxiety plain in his voice.

She nodded. Perhaps she would be okay. She would wait and see. She took his hand.

"Let's go," he said, "get out of this rain and get you something to eat."

Dana screamed. She clenched the table with one hand and Rita with the other. Rita felt like the bones in her hand would be crushed. The contractions were coming very quickly now, and Dana had a hard time giving John instructions between them.

"I can see the top off the head, Dana!" John said.

"That's...great...now get...the knife."

Rita pulled her hand from Dana's grasp and hurried to the kitchen. Ben was in there grumbling, but she ignored him. With tongs, she fished the knife by its handle from the boiling water. She rushed back and gave it to John.

Dana was in the middle of explaining how to do an episiotomy to John. He looked very nervous.

"Can...you...do it?" she panted.

"I think so," he said.

"No. Can...you...fucking....do it?"


"Good...man," Dana said. "I trust...you, John. Do...it."

Rita looked away. She hated the sight of blood. The tablecloth they had previously used for modesty's sake was gone, in order to give John the maximum amount of light. Dana gave Rita's hand another powerful squeeze and moaned. Rita looked back at her and saw that Dana had bitten into her lip. A thin trickle of blood was falling down her chin. Rita looked away again, her stomach doing flip-flops.

"I see the head," cried John. "Come on, Dana. We're nearly there. You can do it. Come on."

Scully moaned and ground the bones of Rita's hand together. I'll never play the piano again, she thought, and let out a hysterical giggle.

"The shoulders are out now. Come on, you can do it. That's it. It's a boy, you've just had a boy."

Rita left again, this time to fetch a basin with warm water in which to bathe the baby. She was returning with it when the bell jangled and the door opened.

She looked up and saw Dr. Mead there. "Thank God you're here," she said. "But you're late."

"It's miserable out there. The rain is turning to snow. Has the baby been born without me?"

"He has. She's had a healthy baby boy, by the looks of things. No thanks to you."

The doctor laughed. "Wouldn't be the first time."

He looked at his watch. "Three hours till curfew. I'll need to work fast." He began to examine Dana while Rita and John bathed the baby.

Dr. Mead tied and cut the baby's umbilical cord with neat precision. "I have some things in the car that you can have. They're a gift from the lady I was just with. I treated her youngest, who had an earache. I told her I was on my way to a delivery, and she gave me these things instead of payment."

The doctor left and came back with an infant car seat, a stack of cloth diapers, and blankets. He took one of the blankets, deftly wrapped the baby in it, and handed him to John.

"Thank you," Dana said. "I can't even begin to say how grateful we are."

"Don't worry about it," said the doctor, and smiled.

Rita went over to John and looked at the sleeping baby from behind his shoulder. "Do you suppose he'll ever know what it's like? What it was like...before?"

Dana rose from her chair and took the baby from John.

She held him close, rocking with him in her arms. "I don't know," she said. "I hope so."

"You have a fine son, there," said Dr. Mead. "He's special. I can always tell." He looked over at John. "Wouldn't you agree?"

"Without a doubt," John replied. He leaned down and gave Dana a light kiss while caressing the baby's head.

Rita smiled down at the baby. "He looks just like his dad," she said. An odd look passed over Dana's features and Rita wondered what it meant.

"I'm sure he'll grow into quite the man, like his father," said the doctor, beaming.

Dana's face was clouded with worry. "Will he? I wonder."

Rita wondered if she should apologize. Clearly she'd said something wrong.

Dana shook her head. She looked down at the baby, anxiety playing across her features. "Time will tell," she said. She sent a look at John. He paled and pulled his hand away from the child as if he had been burned.

"It's possible he won't, Dana," he said, but he wouldn't look at her.

The two of them left quickly after that, the doctor leaving not long after them. Curfew couldn't be ignored, not even by childbirth. Rita watched them go. "I wonder..." she began to say then stopped.

She had enough problems of her own to worry about.

"Good night, Ben," she called. "I'm just about to take off."

"Remember, we're opening up early again tomorrow. Be here at five, you hear?"

"I'll be here," she said, then stepped outside and shut the door, flipping the sign from open to closed.


I welcome any comments at klkeil@buckeye-express.com.

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