Story: Cursing Miracles III
Category: Angst, MSR, Humor, Action
Summary: Mulder and Scully continue to investigate the changing landscape of the conspiracy to colonize earth in 2012, while trying to protect William. Appearances by the Lone Gunmen, AD Skinner, Margaret Scully, and Krycek.
What follows is the third and final part of Cursing Miracles, which is set in a non-canon season 8 and beyond that contains elements of canon mythology. While you could read this and not have read parts I and II, it will probably make more sense if you have.
Spoiler rich summary of parts I and II to jog your memory: Mulder is abducted just as Scully finds that she is pregnant. She is assigned a new partner: Agent Troy. Mulder returns months after William is born, and awkwardness ensues until she agrees to quit the X-Files and marry him. Scully and Mulder take William to start a new life, but Scully is troubled by Mulder's strange normality and lack of obsession. Their home is trashed and they're visited by Krycek, who tells them they're not safe. Scully demands to know the truth and Mulder confesses that he's seen the time line for the end of the world. They return to D.C., where they shack up with the LGM, investigating super soldiers. Mulder is shot in a facility with Krycek at his side. He survives surgery and tells Scully that William is not safe.
Mulder entered the mostly empty apartment and nearly tripped over a wire placed across his path.
"Careful," Scully advised from behind him.
"Hey, dude!" someone called from behind the ajar apartment door.
As Scully pulled the door shut behind her, Langley was revealed sprawled on the floor, holding the other end of the wire on which Mulder had almost tripped.
"Home already, hombre?" another voice questioned from behind the sofa�the lone piece of furniture in the empty room.
Frohike's head popped up from behind the sofa, revealing the source of the phantom voice.
"What the hell are you two doing here?" Mulder asked good-naturedly.
Scully ushered him into the room, taking the bags from him that he had insisted on carrying up from the street. He knew it was ridiculous to make such demands: Scully's raised brow at his insistence was proof enough that she thought so as well. But, he'd felt powerless in the hospital and was only trying to gain some of that power back.
"Just finishing up with your security system," Frohike explained.
"Sit down, Mulder," Scully said, gesturing towards the sofa.
Mulder complied, awkwardly arranging himself on the leather cushions. It didn't escape him that she must have purchased this leather sofa while he was laid up, thinking of his taste. They hadn't furnished their previous home�it had come furnished; but in the back of her mind she mustn't have forgotten his sofa. Maybe there would be other little reminders of their life before. He glanced around the apartment Scully had rented for them. It was spacious with hardwood floors and bright white walls. Light streamed in from behind him through the large windows that looked out over the street. They weren't far from Scully's old address. She must have liked the area if she had chosen it again for their new home. Other than this cursory glance, Mulder knew nothing about the apartment or her decision to rent it: all she'd told him was that there was enough room for William to have his own bedroom.
"I didn't think you'd be home for a while yet," Langley said as he continued to grope along the floor in his black concert t-shirt and black jeans, tucking the wire into the white baseboard with a flathead screwdriver.
"You know insurance. Couple of days and you're out on your ass," Mulder joked.
"He's a quick healer," Scully supplied.
Unexplainably quick, she had informed him in the car. 'Be thankful,' she'd advised him. There had been no need: he was already more than thankful. Every time he had escaped death before, he had returned to his somewhat imperfect existence. Now he had Scully. Really had her. They had each other and they had William. Yes, the world was possibly infested with super soldiers working to bring about the end of the world as they knew it, but that was all in the details.
She stood hands on hips, giving Mulder a silent appraisal. He figured she was assessing whether or not she needed to insist that he go directly to bed.
"You didn't pick up the bambino?" Frohike asked before standing up and walking over to the laptop that was set up in the corner on a large cardboard box.
"My mother is bringing him by this afternoon," Scully said before disappearing from the room.
It seemed that Scully had decided to give him a pass on bed rest for the time being. Let him commune with the boys for a few minutes before instituting a strict regime of rest.
"I'd have liked to see the little man," Langley said, sitting back on his heels.
Byers was clearly the responsible one, but Langley seemed to be the fondest of William. It was still somewhat baffling to Mulder, despite having seen it for himself.
"We'll see if that does it," Frohike said as he tapped away at the keyboard with his fingerless-gloved hands. "Check the connection, Langley."
"It's good to go," Langley replied, peering down at the wire. "How you feeling, man?" Langley asked, blinking at Mulder from behind his black frames.
Mulder rubbed at his bandaged chest.
"Sore as shit."
"I wouldn't complain: You have a hot nurse," Frohike opined.
Mulder chuckled to himself. "I wouldn't let her hear you call her that if I were you," Mulder warned Frohike.
"Call me what?" Scully asked, reentering the room with a glass of water and a handful of pills.
"Nothing," all three men mumbled.
Scully gave Mulder a suspicious look as she handed him the pills and the glass. Mulder took the proffered items, but paused before tossing his medication back. The sunbeams were lighting up Scully's face in the most distracting way. Her skin looked like polished alabaster: an apparently hard and smooth surface, yet soft enough to be scratched by a fingernail.
"What?" she asked.
"Nothing," he replied once more, swallowing the pills dutifully.
He was just happy to see her again. Every time he woke up in the hospital he was thankful that he hadn't bled out in that warehouse. He wasn't sure that there would be a next life, but Scully and William were here in this life, making it the place he wanted to be.
"Smells like victory," Frohike said, gazing at the laptop screen.
"Excellent," Langley said as he stood up and came to join Frohike at the pseudo work station. "That didn't take long."
Scully looked at her watch. Mulder imagined that she was calculating the hours these two had already been here.
"Everything all set?" she asked.
"This place is tighter than a steel drum," Frohike pronounced. "Nobody can make a move in here without our being aware of it."
Mulder watched as Frohike pointed around the room at the multitude of hidden cameras and sensors that the men had spent the day installing. Running his tongue over his teeth in contemplation as Frohike admired his handiwork, Mulder turned to shoot Scully a look, trying to convey his surprise.
'Why would you agree to live under the surveillance of this crack team?'
A tinny cell phone ringtone erupted in the room, playing the chorus from "Yellow Submarine" and interrupting Scully and Mulder's silent exchange. The noise seemed unbearably loud to Mulder as it rebounded off of the broad hard surfaces of the unfurnished room.
Frohike reached into the pocket of his black leather jacket and pulled out a phone that he flipped open. "Hey, man. You reading this?" he asked. He glanced over his shoulder at the rest of the group, "It's Byers." He made a couple of quick keystrokes. "Of course it works. You know my kung-fu's the best!" Frohike closed the laptop with a satisfied click. "The system is working back at base," he informed the group. Frohike's face soured, "Hey, we're already leaving. Don't get your panties in a bunch." Frohike closed and re-pocketed the phone. "Come on, Langley. Byers doesn't want us to bother the happy family," Frohike commanded, his wounded irritation evident in his tone and cross face.
"No bother," Scully said quickly. "I should get Mulder to bed though."
Frohike winked at Mulder from behind Scully's back and Langley pushed his glasses further up his nose, smiling crookedly. Scully was unaware of the display of immaturity going on behind her back.
"Course. Gotta get him back to one hundred percent," Frohike exclaimed, over-emphasizing each word with some amusement. "We'll call, if anything seems amiss on our monitors."
"Mmm�thanks again," Scully said.
Mulder could just see her profile. She looked somewhat unsure about how thankful she actually was.
"Bye, boys," Mulder called after them as Scully escorted them out the door. "They're going to keep calling here," Mulder said as their footsteps became inaudible.
"I know," she replied with a sigh.
"Why did you let them trick this place out? No one moves without them knowing it? In fact,Byers probably just heard that. Wave to the cameras, Scully," Mulder said with a sarcastic wave.
"I didn't like the alternative."
"Which is what? Gunned down in our sleep?" he asked with a lopsided grin.
Scully raised one brow at him, pursing her lips. "You should be in bed."
"I thought you'd never ask." Mulder leaned forward, bracing himself on his knees for a moment, as he prepared for the pain that would shoot through his chest upon standing up. "Show me the way, doc."
Scully gestured towards the hallway and Mulder stood upright only pausing for a second to breathe through the pain. He knew the medication she had given him would begin to deaden the fiery sensation within the next few minutes, but for now all of this movement was exquisite torture.
He followed her through the hallway and into their bedroom. All that was there was a bed frame and mattress: that was all he currently needed.
He glanced up at the ceiling. "Did they install video cameras in here?"
"No," Scully replied as she went to the made bed and began to pull back the covers for him.
"So, someone could potentially make a move in here and the freaky deaky Musketeers wouldn't know about it," Mulder said, sitting himself down on the bed and kicking his shoes off.
"I had to draw the line somewhere."
"Good thinking, Mrs. Mulder."
Scully eyes went heavenward, as he knew they would at his use of her married name.
"It might surprise you to know that I don't care to star in a peepshow," he finished, sliding into the bed.
He drew in breath slowly, allowing himself to sink into the softness of the mattress. It felt as if his bones were melting. Maybe the medicine was already at work in his bloodstream.
Scully sat on the edge of the bed, causing it to sag slightly. "No cameras or sensors in the bathroom either. That took some convincing: Frohike wanted to be really thorough."
"I bet he did," Mulder chuckled. "I still feel a bit like the Tralfamadorians have put me in their zoo."
"And I'm your Montana Wildhack, hmm?" Scully asked with a slight smile.
She was humoring his penchant for somewhat pretentious literary allusion. It wouldn't be as much fun if Scully wasn't always able to keep apace with him. She was beautiful, but her intelligence really made his engine hum.
Scully ran her fingers lightly over his forehead. Her touch was supernaturally soothing to him. It could be a damn X-File that with one touch she could either ignite him like a match or calm him like a cool breeze.
"You should go to sleep. I'll wake you when my mom gets here with William."
"Actually, I want to talk to you about William before he gets home."
Scully tilted her head, biting her lip. "Okay."
"I don't think he's safe."
"Mulder, he'll be okay. He's going to be with us and my mom is going to help. We'll make it work."
Mulder gripped Scully's forearm tightly. "No, you have to hear me out. When I was alone with Krycek, he said something to me�he said that William isn't safe, because he's�special."
Scully's face immediately drained of all color. "What do you mean: special?"
"That's what he said. He said William is developing differently and they're interested in him or they're threatened by him. Krycek said he isn't safe."
Scully pulled out of Mulder's grip, setting her jaw. "Krycek is a liar. He left you to die."
"What if he isn't lying about this?" Mulder shut his eyes to the notion of losing William. "I can't take that chance."
Scully stood up and stalked away from the bed, turning her back on Mulder.
"How would they know that he was special?" she asked quietly.
"How do they know anything?" Mulder answered wearily.
Scully failed to respond and Mulder felt the silence descend upon him like a heavy blanket pressing against his sore chest.
Scully stood, staring at the wall and weighing her words carefully. She had avoided saying certain things out loud, because if she said them, they might come true. She wanted William to be normal. For his sake. So, she had to choose her words with the utmost care�she couldn't condemn William through the verbalization of her fears.
"He is special," she finally stated, still failing to turn from the wall. "He shouldn't even be here. I was�I am infertile."
"That would be enough to peak their interest," Mulder admitted.
It would be. And maybe, at this point, that was all they knew. A barren woman had given birth to a baby without the aid of medical science. Medicine had failed her in that regard, but something else had intervened. Something beyond the understanding of man. That might be enough to make them think that William was special and want to submit him to their tests.
Except, she had her suspicions that William wasn't only extraordinary due to his unlikely conception.
Scully turned to face Mulder. He was watching her with the gaze he wore when she felt certain he could see inside her mind. He'd been marginally successful reading her thoughts over the years. If he could just read them now, she'd be spared actually having to voice them.
"Were you tortured?" she asked in a measured tone.
His brows knit together in confusion. "What?"
"When you were abducted, were you tortured?" she asked firmly.
"You really want to talk about that?" he asked in a low voice.
She had avoided asking him about his experience. She'd told herself that they should live in the present; that she shouldn't ask him to dredge up painful memories; that she might not be able to handle what he would have to say.
Scully took a step towards the bed. "I told you once that I had dreams while you were missing�visions�I saw you being tortured. Were you?"
Mulder lay silent for a moment. Scully watched him move his fingers mindlessly over the covers.
"There were�procedures," he finally conceded.
She took another step forward, feeling emboldened by her confessions. "I saw everything. When I was pregnant, I wasn't dreaming about you�I was seeing you." Her voice rose slightly as she spoke, and she saw her anxiety mirrored in Mulder's countenance.
"Scully�what are you saying?"
He was confused. She wasn't supposed to be the one who believed in these sorts of things. She was the one who was supposed to scoff at the idea of manipulated men that couldn't be killed and aliens descending on their planet with plans to make us their slaves. Circumstances had forced her to consider the impossible.
"I'm saying that something about carrying William made me�more open to psychic knowledge or�or connected us�you and me�in a way that wouldn't otherwise have been possible."
"Psychic knowledge?" Mulder repeated slowly.
The words echoed slightly in the expanse of the mostly empty room, bringing home their absurdity in hollow reverberation.
"Mulder, the visions stopped the moment I had William. I couldn't see you anymore. I thought it might mean you were dead."
Scully looked down at her feet, controlling her breathing. She didn't want to lose control. The past few weeks had been too emotional. She felt as if her insides had been torn apart and sewn back together by an unskilled surgeon.
Regaining her composure, she met Mulder's gaze. She wanted him to say something. Either confirm her suspicions or tell her she was crazy, since she wasn't sure herself anymore. She needed him to come to a conclusion, and his conclusions had been maddeningly accurate over the years.
"Well?" she asked, trying to force him into weighing in on her admission.
He swallowed, "You think the difference was William?"
He nodded. "You know what you're suggesting?"
"I haven't the vaguest," she admitted, shaking her head.
"Fair enough. Anything since then? Has there been anything to make you think that William is different?"
Scully sat back down on the edge of the bed. "He's a normal baby in most regards," she hedged.
"He reaches all of his developmental stages at the appropriate times," Mulder said in agreement, parroting back the information she had given him regarding their child.
"His physical and verbal development is normal," she admitted.
"But?" Mulder asked.
"I've noticed some emotional and social�peculiarities," she admitted.
As the words left her mouth, she covered her face with her hands.
"Come here," Mulder urged her, reaching out.
Scully complied, stretching out on the bed and working herself into the crook of Mulder's arm. She drew in a deep breath as he stroked her head.
"They're the kind of things that make my mother comment on what a good baby he is," Scully said, wiping her nose with the back of her hand.
"There's such a thing as too good?"
"Maybe. I think he is more responsive to our emotions than he should be. If I'm upset, he's fussy. If you're angry, he's rigid."
Mulder laced his fingers in her hair, massaging her scalp. "That doesn't seem strange. Child psychologists believe children to be very emotionally responsive to their environment�even at this stage of development."
"Mulder, I started to notice a little while ago that William picked up on these things even when he was separated from the actual source."
"You've lost me," he admitted.
"You cut yourself downstairs and he started crying upstairs. I got in that fender bender and you didn't hear my phone call, because he was throwing a temper tantrum."
"That could be coincidence."
She knew he was trying to calm her down. He could read the tension in her body language. She didn't have to tell him that she was afraid for him to know it. It might make her uncomfortable, but she was convinced that William's behavior, taken as a whole, was not likely to be the result of coincidence.
"How often does he act like that? Cry and carry on?" she insisted.
"Not often," Mulder acknowledged.
"And�my mother said that William was inconsolable the afternoon you were shot. She couldn't calm him down until right before I phoned and said you were out of surgery. He couldn't have been responding to her distress, because she didn't even know anything was wrong."
Mulder remained silent.
"He is unnaturally calm. He seems to know what's going on around him, when he shouldn't have a clue. Every time I leave him with my mother, he should cry and fuss. He should be demonstrating a natural attachment to me that expresses itself in fear and dependence. But, he's calm. He knows I'm coming back, Mulder. Or he knows why I'm leaving. He understands." The words began to spill quickly from her lips. "When I went to pick him up the other day, my mother said that he'd crawled to the window and pulled himself upright when I drove up outside, so she knew I was there before I rang the bell."
"He heard the car," Mulder interrupted her stream of evidence.
"He knew I was coming, Mulder," she insisted. "You haven't noticed anything?" she pressed.
Mulder said nothing.
"I want him to be normal, Mulder. But if you're right and they already suspect that he isn't�then this is worse than I thought."
"He shouldn't be with your mother," Mulder said quietly.
"Who else can we leave him with?"
"In another situation, he'd just be a normal kid. We draw attention to him. Even if he is completely normal, there are going to be questions. And what would your mother do if someone burst through the door with the intention of taking William?"
"Who else is better equipped to protect him than us, Mulder?"
"I just want him to have a chance at a normal childhood." He paused, because Scully wasn't going to like what he had to say. He'd been considering the possibility since he woke up in that hospital bed. "Maybe he should stay with your brother's family for a while?"
"Bill?" Scully asked, sitting upright. She looked at him as if he'd grown a second head.
"He'd have other kids to play with. Tara seems nice."
"You've got to be kidding me. Bill can't stand you, Mulder."
"I'm well aware of that."
The next time they met, he fully expected Bill to deck him. But, maybe he had it coming.
"I'm not sending William to live with them. He'd say awful things about you in front of William."
"No, he wouldn't. He's always just been worried about you."
"We disappeared, Mulder. We took William and disappeared in a puff of smoke. I haven't even called Bill since we came back. He probably blames it all on you. You've lost your mind," she said, getting up and leaving the room.
Mulder began counting silently to himself, waiting for Scully to reenter the room in a temper, so as to continue her rant. He only got up to sixteen.
She strode into the room and planted herself in front of the bed with her arms crossed, her cheeks becoming bright pink. "We're the only people that can keep William safe. We're his parents. He belongs with us."
Mulder understood the strong pull to keep William within their arms' reach. Maybe it wasn't just selfishness, maybe she was right. Maybe he wasn't safe unless he was with them. Maybe he was already marked. If he really was special, as Scully suspected, there wasn't a home in the world where William could hope to be normal and go unmolested.
"I want him here too," Mulder insisted.
Scully let her arms drop from her chest. "He'll be here soon," she responded quietly. She shifted her weight on her feet. "I couldn't bear it, Mulder."
"Forget I even suggested it."
Mulder held the door as Scully walked into Mocha Hut, a coffee house on U Street. They were scheduled to meet with Skinner there in the next few minutes. Mulder scanned the room: Skinner had not yet arrived. A few urbanites in shades of grey hunched over Macs, but no bald headed Assistant Directors.
"Sit down, Mulder," Scully said, gesturing towards a chair. "You want me to get you a coffee?"
She was still trying to do the little things for him, as if he was not yet back up to par. He tried to keep his objections to a minimum, however, knowing that she was demonstrating her concern in the way she was most comfortable. Admittedly, over the years he had grown somewhat fond of having her worry over him, even if he liked to pretend to be above such things.
"Sure. Coffee sounds good. Thanks. I'll keep a lookout for the Skinman."
Mulder pulled out a chair and slouched down into the wooden seat, positioning himself so he could watch out of the large plate-glass windows. He mindlessly played with a packet of sugar that someone had left on the table, as he waited for either Skinner to appear or Scully to return with his coffee.
Ever since Scully had told Mulder in the hospital that Skinner might be able to get them back on the X-Files, it had been a much-discussed possibility. Neither Mulder nor Scully was yet convinced one way or the other, despite their endless discussions. Scully reasoned that they would be safer and better supported if they rejoined the Bureau. Skinner could better protect them and they would have government facilities at their disposal. Mulder thought the government had only meddled in their attempts to ascertain the truth over the years and potentially placed them in greater danger.
On the other hand, Scully was seemingly a little gun-shy to accept a full-time position in law enforcement. She wasn't ready to cash it in and play June Cleaver, but leaving William for weeks at a time also didn't appeal. One of them going back wasn't an option either: Mulder wasn't willing to return to the job without her or vice versa. If they were doing this, they'd do it together.
Furthermore, the X-Files weren't merely about the truth regarding alien colonization. Most of the time they'd spent working together on the X-Files aliens had been the furthest thing from their minds; it had been monsters and mutants, killers and scam-artists, unexplained phenomena and the supernatural. Investigation into all things X-Files might throw them off their intended plan to expose the plan for alien colonization and ultimately prevent it. They were dealing with a countdown clock, after all.
And Mulder didn't want to work with Troy and Mendoza. As far as he was concerned, the X-Files were his and always would be. He should have had Scully sew his name into every file the way his mother had his clothes when he'd gone to camp. Maybe these interlopers would have respected that.
Scully slipped into the chair next to him, sliding him a cup of coffee. "Careful, this is hotter than the stuff we make at home," she warned him.
His fingers brushed hers as he took the cup. These small moments of intimacy sometimes made him think of the many years when that was all he'd had. And he'd hoarded those moments greedily, taking infinite pleasure in the contact. He still did.
"Thanks," he said cautiously raising the java jacket wrapped paper cup to his lips. It was hot. He'd have to wait a few moments for it not to strip the skin from the roof of his mouth. "You know, I was thinking."
"Sounds dangerous," she teased.
"Maybe we should hold out for a big raise and a cushy office," Mulder mused with a smile, as he absentmindedly drew circles around the white plastic lid of his cup with his middle finger.
"Maybe," Scully agreed, sipping from her cup. "Although, the new office is already a lot cushier than ours ever was."
"Yep. Windows. Light. Nothing hiding in the corners."
Mulder drummed the fingers of his left hand on the table. "Sounds a little clich�. I liked the old office. The murkiness was part of the appeal."
"You'd always choose a cave, if given the choice," Scully said, the corners of her lips quirking up just slightly.
"Batman had a cave."
"Well, I can't argue with that logic."
"We could just make him beg," Mulder said, as he rocked his head from side to side, considering.
"No. We're not doing that. He's offering us an opportunity, Mulder."
"Aw, you don't think he just misses us?" he asked with a grin.
"I sincerely doubt it," she said with an arched brow.
"You're insinuating that I'm too much trouble to be missed," Mulder said, feigning hurt.
"Oh no, when you're gone you're most definitely missed. But, that doesn't erase the memory of the trouble you cause." Scully nodded towards the door. "Here comes Skinner."
The door opened with the tinkle of a bell and AD Skinner strode through. Spotting his former two agents sitting in the corner, he approached and pulled out one of the chairs that faced them across the table.
"Morning," he said as he sat.
"Morning," Scully and Mulder replied in unison.
"Sorry to keep you waiting. Useless bureaucratic meeting," he waved his hand dismissively. "Well, you know the routine."
"We just got here," Scully assured him.
"How's the patient?" Skinner asked, adjusting his glasses and turning his evaluative gaze on Mulder.
"I don't think I qualify as a patient anymore," Mulder protested.
"That's Mulder's way of saying he's doing much better," Scully responded apologetically.
"I'm glad to hear that. That allows me to hope that you two have decided to accept my offer?"
"Scully and I were just discussing our terms," Mulder replied with a smirk.
Scully shot Mulder a glare before turning back to Skinner. "We just have some lingering concerns. We'd feel better about it, if we could discuss them with you."
"Namely," Mulder said, crossing his arms on the table and leaning forward, "that I think the FBI will only thwart our efforts. They're a bunch of a-holes�present company excluded."
"I'm flattered," Skinner deadpanned. "Look, I'm not going to guarantee that you're going to find those in charge have suddenly changed their tune. Nothing has changed. There are people that don't want you back on the X-Files�these are some major favors I'm calling in."
"We appreciate that," Scully said, rushing in a little bit on Skinner's monologue.
Scully usually didn't fall all over herself to thank people. Typically she was less ebullient in her gratitude and more matter of fact, but Mulder had a feeling she was working to undo the damage his own irreverence might be inflicting upon their negotiations.
Skinner nodded, "I don't think the problem is insurmountable. People might be unhappy with your return, but I'll continue to work on your behalf, just as I've done for Agents Troy and Mendoza in your absence."
"About them�" Mulder began before being cut off by Scully.
"I'm sure you'd do everything in your power to help. But, we do have another difficulty. William. I was gone a lot when I went back to work after having William. It would mean leaving him alone with my mother," Scully paused lowering her voice, "and Mulder is worried about his safety."
"And I'm not going to be playing Mister Mom. Scully and I aren't going to be doing this alone," Mulder added.
Mulder knew better than to even suggest�even in jest�that Scully play the role of homemaker while he pranced around in the Hoover Building chasing spooks. He didn't care to be shot again this soon.
"No," Scully confirmed Mulder's assertion.
"Obviously I want the child to be safe," Skinner responded with a frown. "That has to be the priority. Necessary steps need to be taken to ensure�"
"What can be done has been done. He's about as safe as he can be," Scully assured him. She crossed her arms. "I just don't like the idea of going off to chase monsters every other week."
"Monsters that have jack to do with the bigger picture," Mulder said, shifting in his seat.
His chest was beginning to bother him somewhat. He'd stopped taking pain medication two days ago and by this time in the morning there was an ever-present ache that alerted him to the absence of the numbing power of narcotics. Caffeine just didn't cut it, he thought, picking up his cooling cup of coffee and peering into the small hole in the lid that reminded him for all the world like one of William's sippy cups.
"Forgive my inability to willingly suspend my disbelief. You're not interested in monsters anymore, Mulder?" Skinner asked with thinly masked amusement. "I have several years of experience that speak to the contrary."
Mulder smirked, setting his cup back down, "I'll chase them in my free time if necessary. I just want to focus for the time being on the pressing matter of�"
Scully interrupted, "There are more pressing concerns, as you know."
He smiled over at her. There was something rather endearing about the fact that Scully didn't want their anonymous coffee house compatriots to hear them discussing aliens. The less people who thought you were crazy the better, he supposed. Or maybe, even as she came to terms with her belief, she was still not willing to let go of her image of herself as the skeptic. As the rational scientist. Even though there had been chinks in that armor all along.
"Point taken. I think Troy and Mendoza, however, will be useful in mitigating that problem," Skinner said.
Skinner was beginning to acquire the dismissive veil that would fall across his face anytime he believed that their conversation had concluded and he had won his point.
"Wait�" Mulder began to protest.
"Mulder is feeling a little territorial about sharing the X-Files," Scully explained, kicking him under the table with her sharp point of her little black heeled boot.
Mulder tried to give her a withering look, but she was carefully schooling her gaze on Skinner. Yes, she was right. He didn't want to share. It probably was typed in smeared black ink in his personnel file: Doesn't play well with others. He should probably have his sippy cup taken away as punishment.
Skinner looked from Scully to Mulder, and drew in a deep breath. "It is no small thing that I'm going to double the size of the X-Files by assigning another two agents to them. And Mulder, if you would consider putting aside your uneasiness about working alongside them, I think you'll not only see that Troy and Mendoza are an asset, but that their presence will also help you to carve out more time for your family. That's something all of us could do with."
A lecture from Skinner. Mulder was truly beginning to feel like he was back on the job. But, he still wasn't convinced. Maybe these two new agents could have their uses, but he still couldn't imagine trusting someone to work alongside him�anyone other than Scully.
"Who's the senior agent?" Mulder asked testily.
Mulder rolled his eyes. His favorite person. With his grubby hands all over his pet.
"Troy's a good agent," Scully said.
"You may have mentioned that once or twice," Mulder grumbled.
Scully apparently felt the need to repeatedly come to Troy's defense. She simply wouldn't allow him to be negative about the man. 'He's a good agent. He was a good friend while you were gone,' she'd told him. Fine. It would probably be the decent thing to do to be thankful that Troy had been a good partner and friend to Scully, when he hadn't been able to be there himself, but he simply wasn't able to muster up those kinds of high-minded feelings. Instead, he felt like pouting or making threats. He knew his behavior wasn't becoming, but he couldn't help himself.
He leaned back in his chair, sticking his hands in his pockets. "I discovered the X-Files. I've spent years going through them. He couldn't possibly know what he's doing."
Skinner sat silent for a moment. "There is a learning curve," he admitted. "You're not exactly replaceable."
Mulder waggled his brows, "You're such a sweet talker."
"Mulder," Scully begged in exasperation.
Skinner continued unfazed, "It was Troy and Mendoza that helped you get the information about the super soldiers."
"Mm�Yes, and look how well that turned out," Mulder stated flatly.
"We don't blame them for that," Scully corrected him quickly.
Well, that was true. Whatever had happened in that storage facility, it had nothing to do with the current X-Files team. Mulder shrugged half-heartedly so as to indicate his agreement on that count.
Skinner looked from Mulder to Scully, "Were there any other concerns?"
"I think that covers it," Scully supplied after looking to Mulder, who failed to respond and remained rigid in his chair.
"My intention was to return you to your position as the senior agent, Mulder," Skinner said, fixing Mulder with a look that spoke volumes about what he thought of Mulder's petulance. He could almost read his thoughts: 'Ungrateful little shit.'
"It won't be as bad as you think. They can go into the field without us sometimes. It could be a good situation for us," Scully offered.
Mulder pulled his hands from his pockets. "Is this what you want then?" he asked Scully.
Ultimately, he wanted it to be her decision. He'd bitch and moan, but if she wanted to go back and thought it was the best thing to do, he would trust her judgment. She was level headed and rational. She would think things through without personal prejudices and fears; he couldn't trust himself to be as sensible. He searched her eyes. He wanted to be sure that this was truly what she wanted. That she wasn't agreeing to it for his sake. Because, as much as he protested, there was a pull�something that called him back. Knowing him as she did, she was probably aware of that without his having to say as much.
The answer was there: she nodded just slightly, and he saw a sparkle in her eyes that promised something. That they would once again be a team, working towards something together and united in a purpose. He had the urge to lean forward and capture her mouth with his own, but he caught himself. There would need to be a level of professionalism, he reminded himself; this transient thought made him mentally pause.
Mulder turned back to Skinner. "We're married, sir."
"I'm aware of that, Mulder." Skinner smiled just slightly. "You're not waiting for a wedding gift, I suppose."
"Mm�no." Mulder looked down at Scully once more. She was biting her lip. Perhaps she was now thinking along similar lines as he was. Over the past few months he had become accustomed to thinking of himself as married, so it had not occurred to him in all of his calculations about rejoining the FBI that such a thing might pose a problem. "Look. We kept this," Mulder said, indicating with his finger Scully and himself, "a secret at first�"
"Yes, Mulder. A well-kept secret. Your partner ended up pregnant," Skinner said, clearing his throat.
"Right," Mulder said. Suddenly he felt as if he was in trouble for something he'd done long ago. Skinner's disapproval was more than professional; of that he was convinced. He twisted somewhat in his chair and winced at the pain that emanated from his chest. "What I mean is that I don't want to keep it a secret. We're married and there's William. That's our reality."
A blessed reality. He didn't need to wax poetic about it with anyone at the FBI, but he wasn't going to deny it. Mulder felt secure for the first time in his adult life. Not secure that the world wouldn't end, but secure that he had a wife that loved him and that they would remain a family. He'd never been so lucky.
"I wouldn't ask you to keep it a secret," Skinner replied. "Besides, you're good, but you're not that good."
Mulder ran his tongue along the rood of his mouth, wondering if maybe he was that good. He liked a challenge. Scully, however, would be unamused by his adolescent need to outdo himself.
"The Bureau won't have a problem with our being partners? Married partners?" Scully asked hesitantly.
Skinner grimaced, "It isn't exactly kosher. But, to be frank, it wasn't as much of a stumbling block as you might think it would have been, when the subject was broached. Since everyone always had assumed�" Skinner trailed off.
Mulder smiled broadly and looked over at Scully. She was frowning, as he suspected she would be. Scully had worked hard during her career to be taken seriously and not be thought of in that way. The woman who slept her way to the top. The wanton woman who only masqueraded as one of the guys. The sexual sidekick. The icy woman who in reality was only in need of a good�
He'd tried to protect her from them, but had failed on more than one occasion. The rumors that had surrounded their partnership had left her exasperated. Apparently they still did.
"Don't look so glum, Agent Scully," Mulder teased. "They were right in the end after all," he said nudging her.
Scully narrowed her eyes at him. He would pay for his repartee later, he was certain. His injuries might spare him from sleeping on the couch, however.
"Are we agreed?" Skinner asked, trying to hurriedly change the topic of conversation.
Scully tucked her hair behind her ear, pausing in thought. Finally, she took a cleansing breath and said, "Agreed" with a nod. She looked up at Mulder. "Agreed?" she said with a hint of uncertainty.
Mulder caught sight of Scully's nervous fumbling out of the corner of his eye. She was tugging at her jacket as if it was her first day on the job. In a way, he guessed it was. It was just that the last time it was her first time on the job, they were little more than na�ve rats in a maze: now they had just enough knowledge to be dangerous. Or stupid.
"Jittery?" he asked, pressing the button for the elevator.
"Maybe," she replied evenly.
Mulder wasn't really feeling nervous despite the fact that he knew he was about to put everything on the line. He felt almost giddy. He was going back to work. Back to the X-Files. If only it wasn't for those other two agents that had been playing at their jobs for the past few months.
The elevator doors slid open and the two newly recast and dusted off agents entered, waiting for the metal doors to close back together and deliver them to the floor of the new X-Files office.
"Mulder," Scully said quietly.
"Yeah?" he asked, glancing down at his diminutive partner, who still looked positively stiff with nerves in her new grey wool suit and impossibly high heels. He'd almost forgotten how much he loved those heels and pencil skirts in the intervening months.
"You need to promise me something."
"Sure," he said, sliding his hands into his pants pockets. He was feeling particularly generous this morning: he'd promise her anything.
"Promise that you won't make this any more difficult than it needs to be," she said calmly. She said it as if she'd been silently rehearsing that statement all morning with the words all carefully weighed in their moderation.
"Meaning?" he asked, rocking slightly back on his heels as the elevator glided upwards.
"You know what I mean," she responded flatly.
"Exactly." The doors opened onto the bright governmental hallway that would now daily greet them, instead of the dingy basement to which he had grown so accustomed. "Mulder�" she prodded, hanging back, even though he was waiting for her to leave the elevator.
He grinned at her. "Course. I'm known for my social skills, and I'm not looking to take my toys and go home quite yet," he said, pulling his hands free from his pockets and gesturing towards the hallway. "After you."
Scully stepped from the elevator and he followed close on her heels as she walked down the corridor. She knew this office. Knew where it was located. Knew what it looked like. Knew at least one of the people inside of it. She'd already worked there. With Agent Troy.
"And if niceness fails me, I'm pretty good at ditching people," he whispered over her shoulder as she slowed before a door and reached for the knob.
He was rewarded with a squint of her eyes before she turned the knob and pulled the door open. They weren't the first to arrive that morning.
Mulder took quick stock of the room. It was the typical government agency office. Cream walls and white plastic blinds on the windows, which let in ten times the amount of light their office in the basement had ever enjoyed. Buzzing fluorescents up above with white audio absorbing ceiling tiles in a neat white metal framework�just the sort of place to stick a listening device or two. Whitish-grey linoleum tiles underfoot that made Scully's heels click in a faintly deadened manner. The only color in the room besides shades of white was the banana tree plant in the corner and the grey metal desks with faux wooden tops. Three desks. Four agents.
Agent Troy lounged atop one of these three desks, looking as if he was cultivating a coolness that his face could not quite achieve. Behind him in a black desk chair sat the woman Mulder presumed to be Agent Mendoza. She wasn't what he was expecting.
Agent Troy sprung from the desk and came forward in two quick strides, pressing Scully's hand between his own. "Dana," he said with a smile. "Welcome back. I mean really welcome back."
Mulder almost rolled his eyes, before noticing that Scully's gaze was trained on him. 'Play nice,' her wordless stare seemed to reiterate.
Mulder stuck out his hand, "Troy," he said as the younger man took the proffered symbol of peace with origins dating back at least to the Middle Ages. A demonstration through clasped hands that neither man concealed a weapon. Mulder actually had two weapons strapped to his body, but he had no intention of turning them on Agent Troy. Not at the moment.
"And neither of you have met Agent Mendoza, yet," Troy said, turning to face his partner.
The woman behind the desk stood up and walked around to greet them. When Mulder had heard that Agent Mendoza was an expert in parapsychology, he'd sketched a little imaginary picture of the woman in his mind�the initial starting point for a working profile. He thought she'd look a little like the type of people he'd once seen gyrating at Stonehenge during the winter solstice he'd attended while at school in Oxford. A little wispy. A little into crystals. A little tofu. A little something. Mendoza was anything but.
As she took his hand and gave him a solid shake, he reevaluated her quickly, shifting his profile. Tall, slim, and pleasantly feminine, Agent Mendoza had medium brown hair parted in the middle and pulled back at the nape of her neck into a long pony tail that draped over her shoulder and hung nearly to her waist in a thick hank. Her skin was the color of caf� latte and she had full lips and almond shaped wide set brown eyes framed in black lashes. She was dressed in all black and white, tailored and put together. There was nothing flimsy or flighty about her. If anything, she looked too young and too attractive to be working in law enforcement�the kind of woman who would have trouble commanding respect despite her abilities. He'd thought that about someone once before. It didn't mean she couldn't potentially be a good agent.
"I'm glad to finally meet you," she said with a sincere smile. "Happy to hear I still have a job, too," she added, sliding back behind her desk and slipping down into her chair. "Since you're the experts, I thought Troy and I might be out on our asses."
"Nice to meet you," Mulder and Scully responded in unison.
"Is this like the first day of school where we just decorate our name tents or are we going to get down to work?" Mulder asked flippantly.
"I have something we should take a look at. Your friends sent it over," Troy responded, walking over to his desk and digging in his drawers.
"Is it the printouts?" Mulder asked.
"Yes, have you seen them?"
"We got them yesterday," Mulder agreed, as Troy pulled out a manila envelope.
"Great, then we can get right down to things," Mendoza said, the corners of her mouth turning up in a slight smile.
Scully walked over to the empty desk and picked up the nameplate that was currently the sole fixture of the blank desktop. It caught the light as she turned it over in her hands: Fox Mulder. The empty desk was his.
"We're going to need another desk," Mulder stated, watching Scully slowly examine the metal and plastic nameplate as if for evidence; like she might snap on the gloves or call for a forensic team to dust for fingerprints or search for trace DNA.
"I'm already on it," Troy replied quickly, tapping the manila folder on his desk. "I put in a request this morning. Maintenance thought the office wouldn't be big enough for four desks apparently."
Scully turned. "We can share this one. Mulder and I. We won't be here as much as you two and it is crowded in here," she said, glancing around the room.
"No, absolutely not. You have to have your own desk," Troy said with a shake of his head.
Mulder could feel Scully's eyes on him. Is this what she'd meant by Troy having been a good partner? He thought of things like desks when Mulder had never bothered?
"Well, won't we all be cozy then," Mulder said with a grin before grabbing a metal folding chair from the corner. He turned it around backwards before he sat down and motioned towards the empty desk chair, indicating that Scully should take it. "Go ahead, Scully." He turned back to the agents sitting across from him, "The printouts."
"Clearly you were on to something by visiting that facility," Troy acceded. "Something dangerous."
It sounded to Mulder as if Troy was chastising their decision to visit the facility. Was he not aware that they were in the business of danger?
"Hence my getting shot in the chest," Mulder said with thinly veiled displeasure.
Troy looked up from the printouts and leveled him with a stony glare. "It could have been Dana. You had no backup."
"But it wasn't Dana, it was me. And you didn't even send flowers," Mulder replied flatly.
"Are you feeling better, Agent Mulder?" Agent Mendoza asked languidly, as if she didn't feel the building tension in the room.
"He's fine," Scully responded for him. "Our friends think they've made some sense of these printouts."
"Do you agree with their interpretation?" Mendoza asked as the two men in the room continued to stare at each other.
"It's a distinct possibility. There were numbers painted on the sides of the holding tanks in the storage facility as well. I didn't get a good look at them, but they might have matched up."
"Which would mean?" Mendoza urged Scully on.
Mulder interrupted, "It would mean that the numbers represent batches. Batches of engineered men. The shipments of these men or whatever it takes to infect people in order to create these men would correspond with the batch numbers. So, if I was shot by 457, that would be a super soldier from batch 457, which might also have been a number painted on the side of one of those holding tanks in Maryland."
"The numbers go up to 789," Troy said skeptically, "that would mean a lot of batches of engineered men."
"Yes, it would," Mulder replied flatly. "Does that rattle you? It should."
"Mendoza and I were dealing with this while you were gone. We know how dangerous�"
"Do you?" Mulder answered testily.
"The number seems high," Scully said, ignoring the two men's exchange of barbed words, "but that doesn't mean that all the batches were successful. We don't yet know how long this part of the project has been operating. There could have been hundreds of failures."
"But how many men would be in a batch?" Mendoza asked, leaning forward to rest her folded arms on her desk.
"No way of telling, unless we get more information. It could be one or it could be one hundred. As far as our friends could tell, the printout is a shipping manifest. The batch numbers correspond to facility codes. I'm fairly certain that we were in facility 411. The shipments don't seem to indicate anything other than the tank number," Scully explained.
"Not itemized," Mulder said with a shrug.
"You'd think with cargo that important, they'd keep track of the numbers," Troy responded, knitting his brow.
"Unless they're just shipping the raw materials, not the men," Scully reminded him. "It could just be that the batch numbers correspond to the medium for the creation of these men."
"So, we're all in agreement now that there are men wandering the planet that have been created by the government to be used as super soldiers?" Troy asked, sounding unconvinced.
"Not necessarily by the government," Scully corrected.
"Dana, you don't believe this, do you?" he asked, with a dismissive shake of the head.
"I'm not sure what their capabilities are," Scully hedged, "but we're dealing with something very different from anything Mulder and I ever ran across."
Mulder just wished that sonofabitch would stop calling her Dana.
"The only person who might know more has disappeared," Mulder said tensely.
"This former partner of yours?" Agent Mendoza asked.
"Depends on how you define partner," Mulder said, draping his arms across the back of his chair and leaning forward.
"Alex Krycek," Scully supplied. "This is a man who worked for the Consortium. He murdered my sister and Mulder's father and is generally a poor excuse for a human being."
"And you went with him, why?" Mendoza asked, wrinkling up her nose.
"Gluttons for punishment?" Mulder suggested with a shrug. "Krycek's loyalties are hard to pin down. At the moment he claims to be working on the same side as us," Mulder explained.
"I don't believe that," Scully said, crossing her arms and legs. "He set you up, Mulder."
"That isn't exactly how I remember it, Scully. I think he was protecting me."
"You'd been shot in the chest. I don't think your memory serves you well."
He could see the muscles in Scully's jaw working. They'd had this discussion already. She wanted to blame Krycek, but he wasn't quite ready to do that yet. He still hated the rat; and yet it seemed like when the ship had begun to go down, Krycek could have gone overboard�but didn't.
"Do you want to try to contact this Alex guy?" Mendoza asked.
"No," Scully answered before Mulder could say anything. "If we're looking for him, it's going to be to�" she looked down at the desk, composing herself. It was unfortunate that seeing her get fired up like this was such a turn out. "Let's just work on finding out the locations of these other coded facilities."
"Whatever you think is best," Troy said solemnly.
Mulder had everything he could do not to parrot back Troy's words in a whiney sing-song. Troy would do anything for Dana. Order her a desk. Agree to all her decisions without real debate. Such an excellent partner.
"Well, if the numbers mean what you say they do," Mendoza said, scanning her copy of the printout. "I think the facility Troy and I escaped from in Arizona is facility 455."
"What makes you think so?" Troy asked, running his finger down the page.
"Get out the original report. I think that was the address of the facility."
"Would they be that stupid?" Scully asked, as Troy walked over to the metal filing cabinets.
"Let's see," Troy said, tugging open a drawer and flipping through the hundreds of files inside. "Here," Troy said as he pulled out a file.
Mulder stood from his chair, "Hand it over." Mulder could tell from the defiant look that passed over Troy's face that he didn't appreciate being directed to do anything by Mulder. 'Good, let him stew,' Mulder thought triumphantly as he seized the folder from Troy's grip.
"Well damn, they are that stupid," Mulder said, after checking the report for the address. There it was in black print�455 N Mariposa Rd.
"The Maryland address wasn't 411," Scully said, knitting her brow.
"Maybe the Arizona facility was the first," Mendoza suggested. "And all the codes work from that starting point. Maybe they run backwards from west to east: 466, 455, 444, 433, 422, and 411."
"There's only one way to find out," Mulder responded.
Mulder stood, raking the metal feet of the folding chair across the floor and out of his way. He stretched, uncomfortably cracking his neck and wishing he was still taking pain medication. A day sitting in that chair had done him no favors. A hot shower sounded heavenly, and there was little more they could accomplish today: they'd need airplane tickets to investigate any further. Troy and Mendoza had already decided as much nearly an hour ago and gone home.
Turning towards Scully, he was surprised to see that she was looking at the nameplate again. He approached the front of the desk and waited for a moment, watching her in silence.
"I'm sorry about the desk."
Not just this desk. He was sorry about the old desk. The one he'd never ordered for her. He was sorry that his self-centeredness sometimes made him a shitty partner.
She turned the nameplate over in her hands. "It's not that. This is your old nameplate."
"Is it?" he asked, reaching out for the thing. She placed it in his hand and he examined it. "How do you know?" He wouldn't know if it was old or new.
"I spent a lot of time looking at it�when you were gone. It's scuffed in the same places."
He swallowed. They rarely spoke about that time period. Every time it did come up, he could hear the high pitched whine of electric tools echoing in his mind. He could tell it made her just as uncomfortable. It was easier sometimes to pretend it had never happened.
"You think that means Skinner kept it as a girlish memento of our happy times together?"
He looked down over the nameplate at her. Her eyes were unreadable. He set it down and she straightened it.
"I haven't seen it since our old office was packed up."
"Ah�" he reached out and held his hand over hers, pressing it to the nameplate.
"You were kind of a jerk today," she said softly, looking at their hands.
Mulder sighed, "Yeah, a little."
It wouldn't do any good to tell her all the smart assed remarks he'd wanted to make about Troy but held back. He had a feeling she wouldn't be handing out any gold stars.
Withdrawing her hand slowly, she looked up at him, appraising him slowly. "You truly are Osiris, Mulder."
"Surviving death�a resurrection�more than once. The Phoenix, Ishtar, Quetzalcoatl�take your pick."
"Osiris, huh?" Mulder reached across the desk, running his knuckles down her cheek. "Tell you what: let's go home, and I'll get you to call me 'Oh God.'"
"Mulder," she replied warningly, brushing his hand away from his face.
"What? Haven't you ever wanted a complete redo of our first day working together? This could be our golden chance."
"Instead of jetting off to Oregon, hmm?" she asked, standing up and straightening out her skirt with a wiggle and a tug.
Mulder let his eyes skim over her once, "Yeah, a tumble in the sheets�and you in a helluva lot better office attire."
Scully pursed her lips together, "Gee thanks, Mulder."
"Sure thing, baby cakes."
"Do do do doo, do do do doo, do do do do dooo, da dah!" Langley sung as he pressed buttons along the face of the listening equipment they'd installed in their VW bus. A red light was blinking, and he held his headphones to his ears as he pressed the button below the blinking light, singing the same melody once more.
"Are you listening to music?" Troy asked bewildered. "Shouldn't you be focusing on the task at hand?"
Frohike, who was hunched over a laptop, turned to give Troy a withering look. "Knight Rider, comprende?"
Troy's brows knit together and he turned to look at Scully. She shrugged her shoulders, not knowing any better what Frohike meant.
Mendoza leaned over the bench seat, whispering to Troy, "He's singing the theme from Knight Rider: da da da dah, da da da dah, da da da da dah, bum bum!"
Langley gave her the thumbs up.
"Not bad," Frohike said, giving Mendoza another quick visual appraisal.
"It's been a while since I watched, but this van is less Kitt and more the Partridge family van post-apocalypse," Mulder said smugly.
"Don't ding the ride, man," Langley said, pulling one of the headphones away from his ear.
"He's still angry about not riding shot-gun," Frohike said, dismissing Mulder as he typed away at his keyboard.
"Are we almost ready to go?" Scully asked a little irritably.
They were about to enter another storage facility, when last time it had gone epically bad. Troy was right: Couldn't anyone focus?
"We should be set to go in five minutes," Byers politely informed her.
"Good," Mulder said, his knee bouncing with anxious energy. "Let's go over the plan one more time."
"Will you all relax? We've got this under control," Frohike insisted with an unconcerned wave of his hand, as he continued to type at his laptop.
"I don't see why I can't go in," Langley groused, crossing his arms across his chest.
"You're the look out," Mulder reminded him.
Langley looked unimpressed with his assigned role. Scully glanced at him and bit the inside of her cheek: He was dressed like special ops, clearly hoping he'd get sent in with the rest of them.
"Here we go!" Frohike exclaimed, clapping his hands once together with the smack of leather meeting leather. "I'm in. I'm shutting down their security protocols. And you should be able to shake the place down with no problems, hombres."
Byers slid the van door open and the four agents piled out. Byers would be joining them, since he had been chosen to relay information from Frohike via a headset. He could also work on computer access once they were inside.
"This is too many people," Troy grumbled under his breath and Scully saw Mendoza jab him in the ribs.
"Safety in numbers in these mice traps," Mulder whispered, as they approached the back entrance to the facility.
Alongside the large loading dock door was a smaller metal door, which Frohike had determined to be a weak entry point. They were supposed to enter here and then make their way inside to the hub of the building to search for information on the super soldier project.
The parking lot lights illuminated them most inconveniently and Scully could feel her pulse begin to race as Troy and Mulder began working on the door. The thud of their shoulders and feet hitting the grey steel could awaken the dead; let alone men of metal. The sound of the lock breaking reverberated along the corrugated metal walls of the building and the black asphalt all around them.
Mulder reached in his pocket and pulled out a large black flashlight. Flipping the switch, an arc of bluish white light shone in front of them along the concrete floor.
"You okay?" Scully whispered, when she turned to see Byers lagging behind her.
He nodded briskly in response.
She wanted to tell him he could stay in the van: He wasn't trained for this and he might be a liability. Mulder could wear the headset as easily as Byers could. But, she could see from his expression that no matter how he might be feeling, he wasn't going to return to the van to be teased by his colleagues. Especially when Langley had whined for a half hour in the car, insisting that he be the one to go inside for the enumerated reasons of stealth, quickness, slipperiness, and all around badass-ness as proven in some video game Scully had never heard of.
"Okay, then stay close," she finished, holding the busted door open.
Byers held his hand up to his ear. "Frohike says straight and then right."
"You hear that, Mulder?" Scully whispered, following behind as they picked their way through the echoing expanse.
A hushed 'yeah' floated back to her.
Mendoza swung her flashlight up, letting the beam fall on one of the large metal loading crates, as they walked slowly by. "Are you seeing this?" she asked, looking back over her shoulder at Scully.
White numbers were painted on the crates, as she thought she remembered seeing in Maryland. Each number could correspond to a shipment of super soldiers. Or a batch.
"Byers," Scully whispered, pointing up at the numbers. "Snap some shots of those," she instructed him.
Byers pulled his digital camera from his pocket, fumbling with the buttons in the darkness for a moment before blinding them all with the bright flash.
"Great," Mulder mumbled, blinking in the semi-darkness once again.
Scully's mouthed, 'It's okay,' to Byers, who looked as if he might have done something wrong.
Leaving the expanse of the storage room, they entered a narrow corridor dimly lit by emergency lights. Mulder switched off his flashlight and everyone followed his example.
"What's the deal with the lights?" he said softly, directing his question back at Byers.
Scully could tell by the set of Mulder's jaw and shoulders that he was unnerved. Something seemed off to him. The lights set her on edge as well. The idea was to arrive unannounced.
Byers raised his hand to his earpiece once more: "We've got emergency lighting in here, Frohike."
There was a long pause, as they waited for a response, and Scully could hear their collective breathing. She wiped her brow with the back of her hand: it was stifling in here and combined with the rush of adrenaline pumping through her veins, her black heavy clothes were beginning to hang heavy with perspiration.
"Any time now," Troy said impatiently.
"He thinks it might have been an automatic system's response to the security system being remotely deactivated," Byers finally informed them.
"Perfect," Troy said with a shake of the head.
Mulder shook his head before heading right down the corridor. They'd come all this way. It was unlikely he'd order everyone to leave the facility when they were within feet of further information. Scully trailed a couple of feet behind, keeping her hand on her service revolver. Not that a gun would be much use, according to what she'd been told. Glancing nervously at the white walls of the corridor and the darkened rows of rooms they were passing, she noticed Mendoza taking a quick swipe at her forehead.
"It's hot in here," Scully whispered to the woman.
"Damn right it is."
"I think that's strange. With computer equipment and labs, I'd expect the temperature to be better regulated."
"It isn't hot out tonight," Byers inserted, his voice betraying just the slightest quiver.
Scully's brow furrowed. No, it wasn't remotely as hot outside as it was inside.
"You think they're maintaining this place at this temperature?" Mendoza whispered.
Scully didn't have time to respond, as Byers interrupted her with another set of directions from Frohike: "Immediately left."
Immediately left was a laboratory visible through a steel door with a glass window. Mulder and Troy took turns peering through the window, before Mulder gestured to the doorknob, indicating to Troy that the honor was all his.
As the door swung open, a pungent organic smell flooded the corridor. Troy immediately turned his face into his shoulder, while Mulder and Mendoza covered their noses and mouths.
"What is that?" Byers asked with a wrinkled nose.
"I guess we're going to see," Mulder said, shouldering past Troy, who was frozen propping open the door with his back and breathing into his shirt.
"I think I'm going to be sick," he mumbled as Scully slipped past him.
"You'll be fine, Agent Troy," she said with a sigh.
It didn't smell good, but it wasn't enough to turn her stomach. Years of the most gruesome crime scenes and autopsy bays had their compensation.
The room was lit by the same emergency lighting, making it easy enough to make out the deceptively antiseptic space with the nauseous smell. Metal operating tables were lined up in the middle of the room, underneath which was a sizable metal drain in the tiled floor. To her right along the walls were industrial shelving units with large sealed plastic vats. Scully raised her flashlight, switching it on once more and directing the beam at the liquid that seemed to be inside the plastic tubs.
"There aren't any computers in here," Byers spoke into his headset, clearly confused that Frohike had directed them into what looked like a surgery bay doubling as garage storage.
"Maybe this is where they perform tonsillectomies on the cheap," Mulder intoned flatly, flipping over a chart that lay discarded on one of the steel tables.
Scully tucked the flashlight under her arm, so she could get a better look at the top of the tub. The liquid looked yellowish through the white opacity of the plastic.
"Frohike says this room had the most elaborate security set up in the whole place," Byers whispered, coming up behind Mulder to peer at the chart. "What's that?"
"Number 230's medical chart, it would seem. Scully," he said, trying to get her attention.
"Hold on," she said, struggling with the lid.
Agent Mendoza gave her a hand, "This looks like an Uncle Sam's size pudding tub."
"There's yellow liquid inside," Scully explained.
The top gave way and the smell that had wafted from the room hit them with sickening intensity.
"Ugh, that's not pudding," Mendoza coughed, turning away.
"We've secretly replaced the regular pudding Agent Scully usually serves with alien goo. Let's see if anyone can tell the difference!" Mulder said sotto voce.
"Shh�" Troy said angrily.
Scully balanced the lid alongside the tub and dug in her coat pocket for the sample tube she'd tucked in there earlier. Her fingers found the cool glass of the tube and pulled it from her coat.
"Here," Mendoza said, handing her a pair of latex gloves. "You don't know what that crap is."
Scully tilted her head, looking at the yellow thick liquid. "Latex might not do it, actually."
She'd be better off with a hazmat suit: There was no telling what this material was. As she carefully dipped the tube into the slime, Mulder cleared his throat.
"I think you've got a handle on this. We need to find if there are any computers in here," he said, swinging his flashlight out into the corridor once more.
"I'll stay with Agent Scully," Mendoza said.
"We'll meet you in the hallway," Troy said with a nod as the three men left the room.
"They couldn't take the smell," Mendoza chuckled.
Scully could see that Mendoza was a shade paler than usual. Apparently the odor wasn't doing her any favors either, but Scully didn't mind the company. The feeling of not quite being alone in this place was unnerving.
"I think this might be a medium. Something stable and organic that they use to combine with something less stable."
"You can tell that from getting a whiff?" Mendoza asked, as Scully wiped off the tube, capped it, and stowed it back in her pocket.
"It's just a guess. We're in a surgery bay. Some kind of operation was being performed in here. Something messy," she said, looking down once more at the tile floor. It was covered in a thin layer of something giving off an uneven sheen. "I think this stuff might be all over the floor, actually," she said squatting down and running a gloved finger over the floor. Her finger had a yellow tinge to it, when she held it up to the dim light. "They were cleaning up fast in here, maybe. And didn't do the best job."
Mendoza stepped around Scully, walking towards the back of the room. "Did you notice this?" she asked, bending over a shorter shelving unit to get a better look at something Scully couldn't make out.
Scully stood up and walked over to Mendoza, snapping her gloves off as she leaned over the woman's shoulder.
"The wall here is patched." Mendoza fingered the drywall. "Freshly," she said, pulling away a wet finger and wiping it on her pant leg. "Give me a hand," she said, stooping over to tug on the metal shelving unit.
Scully grabbed a corner and the two women hauled the shelf away from the wall, making a loud scraping noise on the tile floor in the process.
"Well, there goes our element of surprise," Mendoza said with a nervous chuckle.
"If someone is here, they've known it since we pulled up outside."
She knew better than to trust in their ability to avoid detection. And there was that unnamable feeling that worried the back of her mind, telling her they weren't alone.
Mendoza paused, squinting down at Scully in the murky light. "You always been this upbeat?"
Scully shrugged noncommittally.
"I'd heard things about you," Mendoza said, retrieving her flashlight from her pocket and pointing it at the large rectangular patch in the wall.
"I don't want to know," Scully replied quickly.
"I wasn't going to elaborate," Mendoza assured her, as she picked at the wet edge of the patch job. "I just wanted to let you know that you're not the only one. They flap their gums about anyone who isn't just like the rest of the pack. One big stupid high school clique," she affirmed, loosening a large chunk.
Maybe this was Mendoza's way of establishing trust�trying to build on shared experiences. She couldn't be sure. She hadn't spent much time working with women.
As the chunk crumbled to the ground, Scully tilted her head, taking in what she saw. "There's a door," Scully said in awe. "Move your hands," she demanded, grabbing her flashlight and preparing to take a whack at the crumbling wall.
Mendoza followed her example and began hacking at the wall with the blunt end of her flashlight. The mess began to pile up at their feet and Scully could see a round hole where a doorknob had been if it had not been removed. She hooked her fingers in the hole and pulled hard, causing the remaining drywall to crack and fall to the floor in a puff of white dust.
Scully could hear Mendoza pulling her weapon, as she tried to avoid choking on dust and blinking rapidly. As the air cleared, she could dimly see into what appeared to be another surgery bay, lit once more by emergency lights.
"O Dios mio," Mendoza mumbled, so close behind her that Scully could feel her breath on her neck.
Scully blinked, wondering for a moment if the dust had clouded her vision. These tables weren't empty: Humans draped with white cloths lay atop four tables. Their skin appeared ashen and Scully thought she could make out blood on the cloth of the body farthest from them.
"Are they dead?" Mendoza whispered.
"I don't know," Scully said, stepping over the mess into the room.
Their faces were uncovered. She took two steps closer, hearing Mendoza inch behind her. It might have been the lighting playing tricks on her, but she thought she saw movement behind one man's eyelids.
With shaking hands she reached out to feel for a pulse in the young man closest to her. Her fingers felt along his neck, searching hesitantly. Her hand jerked back.
"What?" Mendoza hissed, jumping slightly herself.
"This one's not dead."
"We have to get them out of here," Mendoza murmured.
Scully glanced around the room. More tubs of yellowish liquid.
"Get Mulder," she instructed, her breath coming in quick pants.
The air in this room was oppressive. It was painfully warm; the air was thick with the smell of that yellow slime; and she could detect the smell of necrosis, as if these men were more dead than alive.
Mendoza scampered over the debris back out of the room, and Scully made her way down the row of men, testing each of them for signs of life. Each had a pulse. And yet they seemed nonresponsive to her touch. Standing over the furthest man, she peered at the cover: It was stained with blood. Red blood, not green. This was most certainly a human. Not a hybrid. She brushed the man's hair away from his forehead and tipped his head to the side, preparing to look on the back of his neck for a scar.
His brown eyes snapped open.
"Oh my God," she gasped, stumbling backwards.
His eyes danced unfocused.
"You're�you're okay. I'm FBI. We're here�to help you," she stuttered, trying to will herself to step forward once more, but there was something about the shifting of his eyes and the jerky movements he was beginning to make that rooted her to the floor.
'You're being ridiculous,' she scolded herself.
He was injured. He didn't know where he was. He was in distress. She was a doctor.
She stepped forward and one of his hands snaked out from the white cloth and reaching behind his head, he latched onto her wrist. Scully gave a quick jerk, but he didn't let go. His eyes focused on hers for the first time.
"Special Agent Dana Scully. FBI. We're here to help you," she repeated hurriedly. She began to go weak in the knees at the force the man was exerting against her narrow wrist. "I'm a doctor," she panted.
The man let go and Scully scampered back against the surgery bay wall as he rolled from the stainless steel table, knocking it over in a loud clatter. Before she could regain her balance he sprung on her, clutching her throat in one hand and pressing her against the wall with his other hand. She gasped for breath and her hands flailed, trying to grope for her weapon. She could feel her brain beginning to cloud. She was going to be killed by a deranged abductee, who didn't know friend from foe.
Agent Mendoza fired at the tall naked man pinning Agent Scully to the wall, hitting him in his shoulder. She didn't wait to order him to drop her. Her instructor at Quantico had warned her that her tendency to rush to act might get her in trouble one day. True, it might get her in trouble, but she intended on keeping her partners safe with quick action.
The man turned his cold stare on her and let Scully slip. Mendoza reached out one arm to Scully, wordlessly encouraging her to come to her. She kept her weapon trained on the man, who despite the gaping wound in his shoulder, was standing seemingly unmoved by pain. Scully stumbled forward, slipping on the fine layer of yellow muck that coated this room as well. As she fell forward, the man reached forward and grabbed onto Scully's coat. She hung there suspended in an awkward tilted fashion for a moment. Scully was looking pale, as if she'd had almost all the oxygen choked out of her and wasn't operating on all four cylinders.
"Agent Scully," Mendoza screamed before shooting the man in the other shoulder.
He glanced down at the new wound, looking surprised at the sight of his red blood pouring forth. In that moment, Scully began to struggle in his grip, her feet looking for purchase on the slippery floor. Mendoza shot him again�square in the chest�aiming just above Scully's bobbing head. And yet, the man retained his grip on Scully's jacket. Finally Scully squirmed free of the jacket, tumbling to the floor and hitting the slimy tile on the palms of her hands and her knees.
Mendoza offered her hand and Scully scrambled upright. "Get out of here," Mendoza shouted, and was happy to see that Scully had shaken free of her fog and was stumbling over the doorway. Mendoza followed suit, backing to the doorway. "Stay where you are," she barked, finally deciding that now would be a good time to address the man she'd shot three times.
This guy obviously didn't take direction well. He strode towards her as she stepped backwards through the doorway, still looking unfazed by his injuries. It occurred to Mendoza that this wasn't a patient in need of immediate rescue and treatment. This was a super soldier.
She shot him at point black range in the face, emptying her clip into his square jaw and straight nose.
They weren't getting out of here alive unless she figured something out. Then she turned, hearing Agent Scully struggling with something behind her.
"Get out of the way," Scully panted, heaving one of the large plastic tubs over.
Mendoza scampered around the displaced shelving and watched for a split second as the yellow liquid ran in a wide arc from the tub. If Agent Scully couldn't get traction on that gunk, he'd have some trouble as well. Maybe goo could do what bullets couldn't�buy them some time.
"That was dramatic," Byers said, looking on as Scully fingered her throat in the motel mirror.
Everyone had crowded into her hotel room when they'd returned. Everyone except Langley, who was outside in the parking lot of the Americas Best Value Inn, switching the license plates on their VW van. She wanted to throw everyone out and slump against the headboard of her bed, but Mulder's nervous gaze prevented her from acting as if anything was wrong.
"Everything we do is dramatic," she said with a sigh, turning to give Byers a reassuring imitation of a smile.
He'd looked like he might throw up when they'd sped away from the storage facility while she'd been busy coughing and peeling off layers of yellow smeared clothing.
"Are you alright?" he asked quietly, for the third time since they'd returned.
"A bruised larynx," she explained once more. "I'm sure that's all."
"He could have crushed her," Mendoza said with a shake of the head. "I don't think he knew the extent of his strength."
"Like a newborn," Mulder said, lifting his gaze from Scully for a moment to give Mendoza his attention.
"He seemed disoriented," Scully said, stroking her throat as she spoke in a rough voice. "You might be right. He might not have known yet what he was capable of."
"And he'd been abandoned. They'd all been abandoned by the look of it," Mendoza said, flopping down on the bed.
"Why?" Troy asked, looking vaguely uncomfortable.
"Maybe they knew we were coming," Frohike offered. He had set himself up at the small particle board desk in the corner and was booting up his laptop.
"So they immured their subjects like Poe's Fortunato?" Mulder said in disbelief.
"We should see if local authorities were alerted to a break-in," Frohike said, squinting at the screen.
Scully squeezed her eyes shut, regret flooding her. "I lost the sample." All eyes turned on her. "It was in my coat. I lost my coat with the sample. We don't have anything to show for this."
"I have something," Byers said, pulling something from his pocket.
"What's that?" Frohike asked.
"We uploaded some information onto Byers' ThumbDrive before Mendoza started shooting the place up," Mulder said.
Byers walked over to Frohike, handing over the small black drive with a USB connector. Mulder's friends always had the latest gadgets. The US government was not nearly as up to date.
"You broke into one of their file servers?" Frohike asked with admiration, as he inserted the device into the laptop's USB drive.
Scully balanced on the edge of the bed, still trying to assume a nonchalant attitude. The truth was that her head was pounding and her body was aching.
"It wasn't very covert," Byers admitted, tucking his hands into his pockets.
"They're mailing lists," Troy supplied.
"You guys were looking up addresses while Scully was getting the life choked out of her?" Mendoza asked archly.
Scully observed the look that passed between Mendoza and Mulder. Mulder was trying to convey something to Mendoza wordlessly. The woman wasn't as accustomed to Mulder's silent language as she was, however, so she wasn't sure the message was received. By firing her weapon into the mouth of that monster in defense of his wife, Mendoza had just earned Mulder's trust. That much was clear to Scully.
"It could be useful," Byers said apologetically. "There are numbers, coded numbers. I thought they might match up with the batch numbers."
"Holy moley," Frohike said in awe. "This isn't your mother's Christmas card list."
Mulder pushed away from the wall he'd been propping up with his slouched frame, striding towards the laptop. "What is it?"
"Look at these names. Some serious cats have undergone whatever surgery makes these people into indestructible droid bots or whatever," he said, pointing to the screen.
"All levels of the government," Mulder said, scrubbing his face as he leaned over Frohike's shoulder.
"How do you know those names are in any way related?" Troy asked, crossing his arms.
"Do you have the batch numbers�the coded shipment manifest with you?" Scully asked.
"Yep," Frohike affirmed, pulling up the document on his desktop.
"Check to see if any of these numbers match," Mulder suggested, catching on the Scully's line of thought.
"Mmkay," Frohike mumbled, running a quick "Find" command on the address list to see if any of the numbers corresponded.
Scully could see the screen begin to light up with highlighted numbers. There were matches. Lots of them. She stood up, excused herself, and locked herself in her bathroom.
"You okay?" he asked quietly, running his fingers along the underside of her chin.
Her breath left her in a shudder. "I'm sorry; I just couldn't take anymore for the moment."
"I know, s'okay," he said, pulling her into his arms. "Is Mendoza as good a shot as you?" he asked, as he ran his hands soothingly up and down her spine.
"Well, then we're certain that's what we were dealing with."
"He took a round to his face and kept coming," Scully affirmed wearily, pulling away and walking from the bathroom. "The people on that list," she began, before losing the nerve to finish. She sat on the bed instead, staring at the brown carpeting.
Mulder leaned against the bathroom doorjamb, his hands in his pockets, as if he was posing for a catalog, and not contemplating the monstrous consequences at hand.
"They've infiltrated every level of government. The military. It's worse than we thought," he conceded.
"Our president could be a super soldier?"
"You said I was being ridiculous when I speculated on our fearless leader's humanity," Mulder said with a lopsided grin.
"You said he was a robot from the future sent to destroy us."
Mulder shrugged, "I'd been watching a lot of Terminator. Anyway, we'll know more tomorrow. 'hike's looking over the list more carefully."
Scully glanced up at him. He was gnawing on his bottom lip. The fullness gave him a lot to work with.
"How can we hope to stop that?"
She realized her voice sounded small and beaten. Well she nearly was. And she was talking with a larynx that had nearly been crushed.
He shook his head and moved over to the bed, sitting down next to her and looping his arm around her back. Turning his lips to her ear, he whispered, "Mind if I stay with you?"
"We're on a case."
His thumb made circles on her lower back. There is a well known phenomenon in which people feel driven to engage in sexual activity after a funeral: The living grasping on to something tangible in the face of death. Scully could attest to the fact that near-death experiences put one in a similar frame of mind. Her words said 'no,' but her mind and body waffled.
"I know, but my room is next to Frohike's. You'll save me from listening to his snoring all night."
Mulder wasn't concerned about snoring. But, she welcomed his subterfuge. It made it easier to accept his comfort, she thought, as she turned her head into his chest. He probably knew this. Her pantomimed bravery was perhaps nothing more than a thinly veiled conceit by now. He could see right through her. Maybe he always had.
Mulder could see Maggie Scully's form backlit in the doorway to her house behind the glass door as he jogged through the rain up the steps to her house. As she opened the door, he could finally see her face more clearly without the rain streaked glass in the way: her brows were knit together.
She said it like a silent question; as if she already knew he'd come for more than just William. Maybe William's abnormalities weren't inherited from his father. Maybe the Scully family was peopled with unwilling psychics. She certainly looked as if she knew something. It wouldn't be the first time she'd had a premonition.
Mulder glanced around the house, and saw William sitting on the floor in the living room surrounded by blocks that had been meticulously stacked to form Dr. Seussian colorful crooked towers. William's face broke into a big toothy grin as he saw his father watching him from the foyer.
"Sorry," he said, trying to stand on the small doormat while the rivulets of raindrops continued to drip off the edges of his trench coat.
"Here," she said, putting out her hands, "let me take your coat." He began to shrug the coat off and she continued to look at him with the same general concern written on her features. "You look tired, Fox."
"Yeah, I haven't been sleeping well."
A tightlipped smile flickered across her face that spoke of sympathy. "Well, someone's been waiting for you for the last hour."
Like a dog that can hear the engine of his owner's car before it ever reaches the driveway. Mulder ground his teeth together, betrayed by his own thoughts.
"Dana waiting at home?"
Mulder nodded 'yes.'
"Come sit down for a few minutes anyway."
He ran his hands through his wet hair, glancing into the inviting dry warmth of Mrs. Scully's living room. "I'll get your sofa wet."
"That's alright: I've lived with males. I know that things can't stay perfect," she said, walking into the living room. "Does Dana know that yet?"
"William and I are working on it," he said, collapsing into the sofa. "Hey, buddy," he said, leaning forward to ruffle his son's hair. "We missed you."
"Da da," William said, holding up a red block.
"Excellent work, Frank Lloyd Wright."
"He's quite the little builder," Maggie said with obvious grandmotherly affection. After all, these towers would be condemned by the county commissioner's office for their lack of permits and shaky foundations.
"We're saving for engineering school," Mulder said, handing William a discarded green block. "William, build me another Tower of Babel while I talk with your grandma."
"Is everything alright?" she asked hesitantly.
She had every right to be worried. Scully had come back from their last trip with blue bruises on the sides of her neck and talking like an aging smoker. At the rate things were going, he could very well be here to deliver the news that her daughter had been transported to another dimension.
"Everything's fine," he lied, employing his least favorite Scullyism.
Metallic men with the unpleasant ability to survive anything that was thrown at them had infiltrated the government, military, and medical infrastructure of the country.
Their child was not normal. Never would be. He was the fruit of a barren woman's womb. And the son of an abductee with abnormal brain activity in his God module.
Aliens were going to colonize the planet.
He hadn't properly winterized their car yet. Or paid someone else to do it.
The tepid reassurance had its desired effect: Maggie's shoulders relaxed visibly.
"The case was a waste of time. Scully's just tired."
"You're burning the candle at both ends."
"Mmm�you're probably right." Mulder considered what tact to take, worrying his lip for a moment. "I'm concerned�about William. Did Dana talk to you about it?"
Maggie reached for a glass of water on the coffee table. "She mentioned something," she responded vaguely before taking a drink. "Can I get you something to drink?"
"I'll just wring my pants out later, thanks."
Mulder waited for Maggie to return to the topic at hand. He could see that she was somewhat uncomfortable. She was examining the glass in her hand for water spots as if she was a forensic specialist.
"My dishwasher hasn't been working right."
Mulder nodded seriously. Denial. Fine. The whole Scully tribe seemed to be infected.
He could have offered to take a look at the dishwasher for her, but Scully was better at those sorts of things than he was. He may have excelled in many arenas, but being handy wasn't one of them.
"She said there was nothing to worry about," she finally responded with a sigh.
"Your daughter and I are not in agreement on that point. When I was shot, we were with a man that told me William wasn't safe. I have to take that threat seriously."
The lists of names they'd come across in Springfield had done nothing for his confidence that William was safe.
Maggie set the glass down. "She wasn't that specific."
'Scully withholding information? Shocking stuff, indeed,' Mulder thought sarcastically. "I think she wants to believe he's safe. I get it, I do." Mulder paused, gripping the damp knees of his grey wool dress slacks. A shiver ran down his spine. "I wanted to talk to you about it though."
Maggie nodded, but said nothing.
Mulder exhaled. "It's no secret to you the kind of danger Scully and I place ourselves in. We investigate things that bring us the wrong kind of attention."
"Then why did you come back?" Maggie asked calmly.
Her question stunned him into silence for a moment. What was he supposed to say to her? Scully seemed to want to keep her mother as blissfully na�ve as possible. He couldn't tell her they were being hunted like animals and would have continued to have been so whether they came back or not. But he was well aware that she was indirectly accusing him of something. She was happy to have her daughter back. Happy to have William. Not at the cost of their safety, however.
"I�Dana wanted to come back. Our work followed us when we left." He rubbed his forehead. "There's a certain responsibility when you know things�to do something about it. If you can."
Maggie folded her arms across her chest, looking to Mulder for the briefest of seconds like her daughter, preparing to debate a point with him. At least she couldn't tear him down with a string of scientific particulars. She'd use guilt�a mother's tool he was familiar with.
"Dana's father didn't like what she did. He thought it was too dangerous. He thought it was a waste of her talents."
'And Dana has daddy issues,' Mulder thought as he chewed his bottom lip. "Is that what you think?"
Maggie quirked her eyebrow at him, "She'd be safer in an ER."
"Yes, she would," Mulder admitted.
"That's beside the point though: She's very dedicated to your work." She sounded resigned. She'd probably been so for years. Resignation hung around Saint Margaret Scully like an aureole.
"Our work," he corrected.
"That's what I mean, Fox. I know she's not just running after you. Look, I don't have to like the danger she places herself in. Or the danger you place yourself in. But, I choose to respect your choices. I have to believe you know what you're doing. It's easier that way." She looked down at William, "But, this is about William."
"He doesn't have a choice," Mulder said flatly. He pressed the heels of his hands into his eyes as his heart hammered in his chest. "I just want him to be safe. I want him to be normal. Happy. I don't want the wrong people interested in him just because he's our kid." Maggie touched his forearm and Mulder let his hands drop from his eyes, seeing stars briefly. "Somewhere else he could just be William. Not William Mulder."
"But�he is William Mulder," Maggie said with evident confusion.
"The worse for him."
He couldn't regret William, but William might have cause to regret him.
Maggie shook her head. "You don't mean that. I know he wasn't planned�"
Mulder interrupted her with firmness, "William wasn't expected, but he was planned�" Muler stopped, catching himself. Scully had never told her mother about the failed IVF. "He was very much wanted," he finished, trying to give meaning to his fraying thoughts.
Maggie reached out to pat his hand, "What are you trying to say?"
"Do you think Bill and Tara would take him?" he asked, watching his son topple over two towers of blocks with unbridled glee. 'Maybe a degree in demolition engineering would be more appropriate.'
"Dana wants to give William to Bill?" Maggie asked incredulously.
Mulder snorted, "No. She hates the idea." He pressed his palms together, "I wanted to know what you thought, because I can't stop thinking about this." He paused, smiling crookedly, "She'd wring my neck if she knew I'd brought it up with you."
"Is he really in danger?" Maggie asked, her eyes searching his for honesty�the honesty she wasn't likely to get from her daughter.
Mulder flexed his fingers, "I couldn't say for sure."
"I'm sure they'd help if you asked." Maggie tilted her head, "But, Fox�Dana isn't going to want to give him up. Not to anyone. And�she and Bill have argued sometimes."
"Over me," Mulder said, tapping his steepled fingers against his forehead.
"He's her big brother," Maggie said, sounding apologetic.
"No, I understand. Scully may not, but I do. I was a big brother. I wouldn't have wanted me for her either." Mulder shrugged, shaking off his morbidity for the time being. He leaned forward, hooking his hands under William's arms and lifting him up. "And, I hate the idea too. He's my football watching partner. Aren't you?" he asked William.
"Da da!" William exclaimed.
"High five," Mulder said, putting his hand up to William's chubby diminutive hand. "The Red Skins every Sunday. We laugh at their God awful defense," Mulder said, by way of explanation to Maggie.
A look crossed Mrs. Scully's face, as if she was considering chiding him for his language in front of a child that was beginning to soak up language like a sponge, but changed her mind. "Sounds like fun," she said, running her hand over William's head.
"You ready to go?" Mulder asked as William buried his head in his father's neck.
"He's tired out. We went to the park this afternoon before it started raining," Maggie said, standing up.
"You do a great job," Mulder said with a weary smile. He patted William's warm back. "I know you know that. I just do everything wrong. Put him in the wrong pajamas, feed him candy before breakfast, and let him draw on the table," Mulder explained, trying to catalogue his minor childrearing misdemeanors.
"That's not what I hear from Dana," Maggie said, following Mulder back into the entryway.
"Don't believe everything you hear, Maggie. She might be conducting a campaign of misinformation. Anyway, I've got nothing on you. You've done this before."
"A time or two," Maggie admitted, as she retrieved Mulder's coat. "Besides, it's easy with William. You're a good boy, aren't you?" she singsonged to the child, causing William to scrunch up his face so that two dimples appeared in his rounded cheeks.
'Too good. Right, Scully?' he thought with regret. He slung the damp coat over one shoulder, gripping William with his other arm. "We don't have to worry about him when he's with you." She wasn't going to drop him on his head or dump him in front of the television for four hours straight. But, then again, she wasn't packing. "Thank you, Maggie."
Maggie interrupted him, "Of course." She reached up a hand, resting it on his shoulder, "You're doing your best. That's all anyone can do."
It was just that his best might not go far enough to undo the damage of William's monumentally poor luck in parentage.
"Agent Mendoza?" Mulder barked into the phone, trying to talk above the tapping of the rain against the car's exterior.
"Sorry to disturb you at home," Mulder said as he switched lanes.
Scully was always reminding him to apologize when he infringed on someone's time. Apparently the rest of the world was very testy about personal time.
"I'm just putting a frozen pizza in the oven. Nothing much to interrupt. What's going on?"
The rain began to run down the windshield in heavy sheets and Mulder turned the windshield wipers on a slightly higher setting, checking the rearview mirror as he made his exit.
"I wanted to ask a favor."
"Have you ever tested someone for psychic ability?" he asked, clearing his throat.
"I've observed it being done many times, but never myself. I wasn't trained in clinical trials on human subjects."
He turned the wheel and held the phone between his cheek and shoulder, "Neither one of us practice what we preach," Mulder observed.
"That's right. And you'd be making more dinero watching people talk about their childhoods on couches, Agent Mulder."
"You're right. But, I couldn't carry a gun."
Mendoza laughed, "I'll tell my mom that the next time she asks why I didn't go into dental hygiene."
Mulder had been hoping Mendoza could administer the test. It would have been better not to involve anyone else; since it was hard to know which doctor or which nut job he could trust. Beyond Mendoza earning his respect and confidence during her heroics in the mangled infiltration of the facility in Springfield, his circle of trust was as constricted as ever: It was a chronic condition.
"You know someone you trust to conduct one?"
"Sure. My friend Tom works at a lab in Hagerstown. Is this about the case?"
Mulder and Scully had just returned from a brief trip to the New Jersey shore.
"No. Nothing was going on in Jersey. Just big hair and fake nails."
"Yours or Scully's?"
"Both. But, listen, I was hoping you could help me�or get someone to help me out."
"You wanna get someone tested?"
Mulder watched William in the rearview for a half beat before responding, "Yeah, actually. William."
There was silence on the other end.
"Did I lose you?" he asked, looking over at the road signs to see if he was in a familiar dead zone.
"No, I'm here. You just threw me," she admitted. "Did I hear you right? William? Your William?" she asked, sounding shocked.
"I don't want to say much over this line, Agent Mendoza. If you trust this Tom guy, we can talk."
"I do. He's an old friend."
"Good. I'll talk to you tomorrow," Mulder said before tossing the phone down on the seat beside him. "We might be going to Hagerstown," Mulder informed William. "I know a restaurant there with a mean schnitzel and sp�tzel. I'll buy you your first beer."
"You ever seen one of these tests administered?" Mendoza asked, as she watched with some amusement as William pulled at Mulder's short and spiky hair.
Gibson Praise. Please don't let him be like Gibson. Please. Not like Gibson. No.
"No," William said clearly, pushing at Mulder's collar bone so that Mulder had to grab him tighter so he wouldn't tip backwards. "No," William repeated.
"No," Mulder parroted back at him. "Even with his quickly expanding vocabulary, 'no' is still the great favorite," Mulder sighed.
'No' was his favorite word, Mulder reassured himself again. And the world was full of coincidences. And Krycek was a pathological liar. No need to believe that his son had heard his thoughts.
"I wonder where he gets that mulishness," Mendoza smirked as two men entered the room.
"Christina," the one man said holding out his hand. "It's good to see you again."
"You too, Tom," Mendoza said with a warm smile.
"This is my colleague, Sam," the man offered, as the shorter man with the metal clipboard put out his hand.
"Nice to meet you." She turned towards Mulder, "And this is George. And Peter, who I spoke to you about."
"Your nephew?" Tom asked.
"Cute little guy. He seems promising to you, hmm?" Tom asked, reaching out to brush William's wispy hair from his forehead.
"I think so," Mendoza said, as if psychic ability would be a promising development for the Mulder spawn.
"His mother and I are curious," Mulder supplied.
"Well then, let's get to it. May I?" Tom asked, indicating he would take William from Mulder.
"Certainly," Mulder said handing William over.
Holding his breath, he waited to see if William would put up a fuss over being passed to the stranger. Nothing. What harm could the stranger pose? He was just going to put him through a battery of tests.
"You can watch us from this window," Sam said, propping the door to the testing room open with his foot so that Tom could walk through with his new subject.
"We'll be right here," Mendoza replied with a wave as the door swung shut.
"Have a seat, Agent Mulder," she advised, as she sat in one of the waiting room chairs. "It could take a while to establish anything."
Mulder crossed his arms across his chest and watched as the two men sat William in a booster seat across from a table. He hadn't wanted this for William. He hadn't wanted his son to be a guinea pig for the pseudoscientific world that he'd spent the last decade inhabiting. William wasn't supposed to have to stare at the back of Zener cards. He was supposed to be an Indian guide and play right field for his Little League team. He was supposed to climb trees, ride bikes, and play board games.
"I hope you don't mind the lie, Mulder," Mendoza said from behind him, disturbing his melancholic reverie.
"Hmm?" he questioned, distracted by the vision playing out in front of him.
"The whole Tia Christina charade."
"Oh. Not at all."
"I don't mean to step on any toes. I just thought it would be best."
"It is." Mulder fidgeted in front of the two way mirror before walking over to sit alongside Mendoza. "We're soliciting for family from William anyway. Your saving Scully puts you at the head of the list�right behind Uncle Skinner."
"Have you ever been tested?" he asked, leaning down to prop his elbows on his knees.
"Me? No. No reason to. I'm a lot of things, but not a psychic."
"A parapsychology expert who doesn't believe they're even slightly psychic, huh?" Mulder said, tipping his head to the side.
"Tom doesn't suffer from any illusions that he's psychic either. Just because we pursue an unorthodox line of enquiry doesn't mean we're delusional," she said, examining her rose pink fingernails.
"I wouldn't dream of insinuating such a thing," Mulder said, stretching back in his chair and sticking his feet out in front of him. "I just thought�"
Mendoza let her hands fall into her lap, "I'm not very sensitive. To other people's feelings. To my surroundings. I wouldn't make a very good conduit."
"You're sensitive," she observed, narrowing her eyes somewhat. "You think William may have inherited something?"
That was exactly what he was afraid of. "I'm not psychic." His freak show talent was a little different.
Mulder smiled, "She'd never admit it if she was." And she'd had her moments over the years.
"She has trouble believing."
"That's an understatement."
Years of evidence of the paranormal. Of alien life. And Scully had still bucked him at every turn.
Mendoza returned to the studious examination of her nails. "I know that working with people who continually dispute your beliefs can be challenging."
Mulder couldn't help but make a noise in the back of his throat.
"You don't like Agent Troy," Mendoza said with a slight smile.
Mulder merely raised his brows in response. He didn't care if it was public knowledge that he'd like Agent Troy to take a long walk off a short pier.
"He's a lot like you, actually," Mendoza said calmly, as she buffed her nails on the sleeve of her grey tweed jacket.
"Oh please," Mulder said, rolling his eyes.
"I'm not sensitive, but you and Troy are. You take everything personally. You wear your hearts on your sleeves. Feel deeply. All that pendejada."
"What did you just call me?"
"Foolishness. I'd rather not be a slave to my emotions. But, I suppose there's an appeal in playing the Byronic hero, hmm?"
"You've been reading too many romance novels, Agent Mendoza," Mulder replied flatly. "Besides, Troy's got all the depth of a saltine cracker. Calling him Bryonic is an insult to Lord Byron."
Mendoza laughed, her shoulders heaving twice. "It might sound like bullshit, but I've worked with him for a while now." She crossed her arms, "He's not dark and brooding like you, but I think you should cut him some slack."
All of the women in his life seemed intent on telling him how he should be nice to Agent Troy, when everything inside of him screamed otherwise.
"His misfortune is not yours," she continued.
"And what's that?" Mulder asked curtly.
"That he's in love with your wife."
Mulder scoffed and stood up, walking back to the two way mirror.
"It isn't like you have anything to worry about, Agent Mulder."
"You're damn right," he muttered. Love? That hadn't occurred to him. He'd thought Troy's interests more prurient than that. No, love hadn't figured into his assessment: his profiling abilities routinely failed him when it came to matters of the heart, which he'd always taken as evidence of his having a metaphysical blind spot. Somehow Troy's being in love with her sounded a lot worse. He spun around, leaning against the window and wall. "Really though, love? That's laying it on a little thick, don't you think?"
She blinked slowly but said nothing.
"He barely knows her."
"They worked as partners. You know that bond."
Mulder shook his head. "Scully doesn't open up to people. She could be partnered with someone for three years and they'd know next to nothing about her." He'd worn away at her for seven years, they'd had a child, he'd married her, and she still kept corners of her soul locked away from his prying eyes.
"That might be the case, but I think they spent a lot of time together."
Mulder met Mendoza's steady gaze, trying to determine what she'd meant by her cautiously bland statement. Of course they'd spent a lot of time together: They had been partners.
"You don't strike me as a gossip, Agent Mendoza," Mulder said coolly.
"I'm not. I've just spent the past few months assigned to a man who is clearly in love�with your wife."
"For someone that isn't very sensitive to other people, you certainly have a wealth of opinions about Troy and me."
Mendoza tilted her head to the side, considering, "Maybe I do."
"You want him for yourself?" Mulder asked testily.
Mendoza laughed once more, "No." She shook her head, "I'm playing for the opposite team, Agent Mulder."
Mulder's mouth opened and quickly shut. He was well aware that he most probably looked like one of his mollies. Agent Mendoza hadn't been what he'd been expecting when he'd first met her�a smooth, hard, well-polished professional woman that he doubted anyone deemed Spooky despite her predilection for the paranormal. Now she'd really thrown him a curveball. "Oh."
"Oh," she answered back with a quirky smile.
"Sorry," he replied lamely, sticking his hands in his pockets.
"So are my parents."
Mulder wiped at his brow, awkwardly. "I didn't�"
"Not that there's anything wrong with that," she said, brushing her hands across her skirt. "Look, I'm just sticking up for my partner. None of us can choose who we love. Can we?"
Mulder turned back to the glass and watched the men administering the test to William that he'd watched be run on Gibson several years earlier. No, this was wrong. William wasn't supposed to be a shoo-in for the goddamn psychic hotline.
If Troy ever had children, he was willing to bet that none of them would turn out to be chock-full of activated junk DNA. They'd all be nauseatingly normal. 500s on their SATs; run of the mill JV athletes; reasonably valuable marching band members; pleasantly attractive in their all-American sameness; all with modest expectations for a suburban life of mediocrity. Lucky sonofabitch.
"Is everyone in love with Agent Scully?" Mulder asked in a mirthless monotone.
Agent Troy. Frohike. Overprotective AD Skinner. The teenager at Max's Best Ice Cream, who always gave Scully an extra cherry on her sundae. One Fox Mulder.
"Well," Mendoza mused with obvious levity, "she isn't my type, Agent Mulder."
He swallowed, breathing through his nose evenly. "The night I came�back from my all expenses paid alien vacation, Scully arrived at the hospital with Agent Troy." He paused, drumming his fingers on the ledge of the window, "They weren't dressed for work."
Silence reigned for a few minutes as he continued to observe the movements of his son and the men in the adjacent room.
"Whatever Troy thought it was, it wasn't," Mendoza replied softly. "That's clear enough."
He nodded into the glass, holding up his palm and pressing it to the mirror. William, sitting some ten feet away behind the reflective surface mimicked his gesture, raising his chubby hand in the air in an imitation of a wave. Two way mirrors didn't work that way.
"What you should be worried about, Agent Mulder, is how Scully is going to cut you into little pieces when she finds out that you brought William here without her knowledge."
"You did what with Agent Mendoza?" Scully asked, as her face turned a shade of red quickly approaching that of her fiery hair.
"I took William to be tested for psychic ability," Mulder repeated, sliding William into his yellow and white plastic high chair.
"Dug! Dug!" William exclaimed, clapping his hands together.
He wanted the yellow stuffed duck that had been a present from Skinner. Skinner had solemnly presented it to William with an awkward smile and a 'good to see you again,' as if the baby was an old war buddy. He'd probably take to calling William 'soldier' within the next year or so.
William continued to bounce and chant, but Scully didn't seem to be paying his demands any heed, so Mulder walked from the kitchen to search for the duck. Scully followed behind him, silently fuming. Even her footfalls seemed to convey her seething anger. Seeing the duck alongside the soda, he reached down and snatched the thing off the rug.
"I can't believe you, Mulder," Scully said flatly, crossing her arms and setting her face in a steely expression of displeasure.
Mulder brushed past her to take the duck to William, who he could hear pounding the plastic tray of his highchair. "I had to do something, Scully."
"With Agent Mendoza," she said, stepping into the doorway of the kitchen but failing to enter.
"Yes," he affirmed. "Here you go, buddy," he said, handing the duck to William, who immediately seized the opportunity to enthusiastically beat the duck against the tray. He liked the duck, but maybe he liked beating the duck even more. "But, Scully�she's a lesbian."
"Oh my God," Scully said, her arms dropping to her side. "You are unbelievable." Her eyes were wide in disbelief.
"What?" Mulder asked, leaning against the cabinets. "That's what she told me."
"I'm not debating her sexuality, for Christ's sake."
"So, there's no reason to be jealous."
"Is that what you think?" she asked, knitting her brow with a shake of her head.
Of course it was what he thought. Mendoza was an attractive woman. This was Scully's M.O.: territorial crankiness. By the look on her face, however, he didn't think he should voice his thoughts on the matter.
"It's like we're not even having the same conversation. You are incredibly thoughtless and dense, Fox Mulder."
Mulder chewed his lower lip. "My mother always used my middle name for the full effect."
Scully's nostrils flared and she blinked quickly.
"Okay then, Scully, enlighten me. What exactly has pissed you off?"
Pissed off Scully tended to be more forthcoming than any other incarnation of Scully�he might actually learn something here.
"This little fact finding mission you ran off on was incredibly irresponsible," she said resentfully.
"I'm sorry," he replied sarcastically. "I thought that's what you wanted. Facts. Proof. Evidence. Well, I went to get you your damn evidence."
"You took my son to be tested for psychic ability without my knowledge. You ran off and took him with someone else to be tested for psychic ability, Mulder. You don't see how that would upset me?"
Mulder looked from William to Scully. He'd only heard half of what she'd said. 'Is that what she thinks? After everything?'
"Our son," he said evenly, thrusting his hands into his pockets where he could ball them up. Scully rolled her eyes. "Our son," he repeated. "I know I wasn't there. For the pregnancy�for the first few months, but I was a little preoccupied," he said, his voice beginning to rise. "And I've been here every minute since: He's our son, Scully." Mulder pushed away from the cabinets and took several steps towards her. "And you weren't telling me everything about him. You've known for months that he was different." He wanted to point his finger accusingly at her, but he wisely kept his hands jammed in his pockets.
Scully sucked her upper lip between her teeth, tears glistening in the corners of her eyes. "I didn't know anything, Mulder. I just�feared," she said, swallowing and wiping quickly at her eyes with her index fingers.
He couldn't watch her become fragile like glass. It always unnerved him, since he depended on her to be the strong one. His anger emptied out of him as if someone had unstopped the drain. All of this was petty nonsense in the face of reality. He paused to scrub his face before reaching out for her shoulders; and he pulled her into his chest, wrapping his arms around her back.
Taking a deep breath, he prepared himself for what he had to say. "He's off the charts, Scully. Like Gibson."
Scully shook her head against his chest, balling his t-shirt in her fists. "Damn it," she said, her voice softly breaking.
"I know," Mulder spoke into her hair. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you. Mendoza's the expert, Scully. I knew you'd be hesitant to do this. I understand not wanting to know."
"Well, we know now, don't we?" she asked a little bitterly, her voice muffled by the cotton of his t-shirt.
He reached up to stroke her hair, "Scully, Krycek wasn't bullshitting me. I think maybe William needs more protection than your mother can provide him. There must be people that know about William�or suspect."
Scully sniffed, pulling from his grasp and pinching her nose. She licked her lips, holding his gaze for a moment before walking over to William and leaning down to look him in his rounded blue eyes. He'd grown quiet during their exchange. "I blame this on your father," she said to William, attempting to sound lighthearted. She ruffled his baby fine brown hair that refused to lay flat.
"It could be, Scully. It could be me. After the brain scramble they worked on me, it wouldn't surprise me," he said, coming behind her to place his hand in the small of her back.
Scully gave William his blue eyes, pink cheeks, and killer smile. Maybe he gifted his son with mulishness and alien DNA. Just something else she could thank him for.
"Don't get morose and blame yourself, Mulder."
Too late. He wondered for a moment if Scully had read his thoughts or was just familiar enough with his patented self-flagellation to guess at his musings.
She kissed William's forehead. "We can't know for sure what the cause of this is, can we?" she asked, straightening up. "All the information we've been gathering since we got back has been about these engineered men. Nothing to do with powers like Gibson's. Where would we even start?"
"You won't like it."
"I don't like any of this," she said, crossing her arms and looking more like the self-possessed Scully he was familiar with and less like a crumbling mother.
"Krycek knows something."
Scully pressed on her temples, as if she had a headache coming on. "I wish he didn't. I'd like to be done with him forever."
"I know, but I think I need to find the rat bastard. Press him for information. If we know why William's like this, maybe we can protect him."
"Maybe?" Scully asked challengingly.
Mulder smiled lopsidedly. "Sorry, bad choice of words." He shifted on his feet. "You know I'd do anything." To protect William. To protect her. To protect the only people he loved in this mad world.
Scully drew in breath, visibly growing an inch as she stood taller, her chin tilting upwards, "So we find Krycek."
Mulder nodded, "We find Krycek."
"Come back to bed," Scully mumbled from the sheets, reluctantly sitting upright and rubbing her eyes.
Mulder paused with his arms through his sleeves ready to pull his head through the neck of his sweater. She was lovely like this. No polish. All soft lines. Hair in a fuzzy halo. Features smoothed by sleep. The fact that she was drowning in his white dress shirt from the day before didn't hurt much either. He hadn't expected his line about sending a soldier off to war with something to remember to actually work last night, but it had. Exquisitely.
"You're a temptress," he said, yanking the sweater on.
"It's too early," she said, turning to look at the clock on the night table.
"It's an early flight. Takes a while to get to Kyrgyzstan," he said, buckling his watch.
If only Krycek hadn't decamped for the middle of nowhere. He'd rather crawl back into bed with his wife than fly the friendly skies at this hour. It would be ten hours until he reached Moscow and another four hours from Moscow until he landed in Bishkek. With nothing but the prospect of hunting for Krycek to keep him warm.
"Cancel your flight."
The tone of her voice promised things. Vague things that sounded pleasant to Mulder's morning self.
"Scully," he said, drawing out her name. He took the few steps necessary to be at her side of the bed and reached out for the flash of gold he could see sparkling at her neck�the chain of her necklace visible above the loose collar of his shirt. He ran his fingertips along the chain, leaning down to whisper in her ear, "On her white breast a sparkling cross she wore. Which Jews might kiss, and infidels adore." His fingers left the chain and drifted to her chin, so that he might tilt her face up to receive his kiss. Instead, she turned her head away, leaving his hand hanging in the air in defeat. "Don't be like that," he said regretfully, as he straightened up.
She tucked her hair behind her ears with determination not required for such a gesture, presumably attempting to acquire some level of dignity above that of her current state of dishabille.
"Take Troy with you."
"No," he said firmly.
"If I quoted poetry at you, would you do it?" she asked�her irritation giving her alto voice a crisp edge.
He chose to ignore her lack of appreciation for his romanticized musings. Scully never was one for such things. He wouldn't expect her to take them to heart when she was losing control of the situation at hand.
"We discussed this."
She crossed her arms, the shirt she wore crumpling under her stiff posture. "I discussed. You ordered."
Mulder reached for the lamp on the table, flipping the light on so he could see her better in the predawn light. Scully shielded her eyes for a moment, adjusting to the unpleasant burst of artificial illumination.
"I want Troy and Mendoza to be here with you."
"Mendoza and I can do just fine making sure nothing happens�"
'To William,' Mulder finished mentally for her. 'Our little conundrum.'
Scully sighed, twisting in the sheets and pulling her legs up to her chest. "This is exactly what I didn't want."
Mulder sat on the edge of the bed, checking his watch. There wasn't much time to discuss this again. "What's that?"
"I didn't want you running off to chase leads while I stayed home. That's not what I signed on for."
Mulder nodded. "I know, but Mendoza is right. Agent Troy is a good choice to protect you."
"I don't need protecting and I wish you'd stop with that bullshit about Troy."
"You and Mendoza can argue about it while I'm gone," Mulder said, standing back up and walking over to the dresser where he began to search through his pile of loose change, paperclips, rubber bands, and assorted whatnots for his keys. His passport would be useful too. "She's the one that thinks he's in love with you."
"Mulder, we're professionals, and I'd rather not gossip about one of our teammates. Troy has been nothing but professional."
'Accept when he tried to kiss me.' But then, Mulder didn't know that. And she had no intention of ever telling him about that particular episode. Mulder had been as good as dead at the time. She hadn't been interested. And Mulder wouldn't be able to see it that way, even if she turned blue in the face explaining it to him.
"You just don't want him along with you," Scully said pointedly.
"You're right," Mulder announced calmly, pocketing some things from the dresser. "Where are our passports?" he asked, digging through the top drawer.
"Second drawer," Scully responded flatly.
Mulder shut the top drawer and pulled open the next one, rattling the dresser with excessive force. "The thought of having him tag along with me is decidedly objectionable," Mulder said, grabbing both passports and flipping them open to determine which was his own. "He can stay here with you. You need all the help you can get."
That point was hard to debate. She could take care of herself. She felt fairly certain that she could take care of William as well. But, then there was the issue that the men who might want them dead couldn't die. It was much worse than the Consortium ever was.
Maybe they didn't want them dead, maybe they just wanted William.
Scully tucked her chin into her knees, shivering slightly.
"Who will watch your back?" she asked, speaking into her bare knees.
Mulder turned towards her, leaning against the dresser. He remained silent. Of course, there would be no one to watch his back. Four agents assigned to the X-Files, and Mulder would still be out risking his neck without the good sense to consider why the FBI created partnerships to begin with.
She wiggled her toes in the sheets. They were painted red. Blood red. He'd never known that fact about Dana Scully until he'd slept with her. She'd slipped off those tantalizing heels and abandoned her stockings to uncover perfect little painted toes.
"If you don't stop that, I'm going to be late for my plane. The gate agents don't hold planes for feet worship."
"It's not worship, it's a fetish," Scully deadpanned, tucking her toes underneath the sheets.
"Potato potahtoe," Mulder said, turning the lamp back off. "Why don't you go back to sleep? I'll check on William before I go."
Scully snaked out her hand, catching his wrist. "Promise you'll be careful�and stay in touch. Let me know you haven't been packed off to Siberia."
"I will write the evangel-poem of comrades and of love," Mulder said with a sly smile.
Scully turned her face up and he leaned down to kiss her. She let his wrist slip. "A phone call will suffice."
Scully turned from the stove, as she heard the shrill ring of the phone from the living room.
"Could you get that?" she called to Mendoza, who had just arrived and was unpacking.
The phone rang twice more and Scully cursed, dropping the oven mitt in her hand to make a dash for the phone. She wasn't expecting Mulder to call so soon. He shouldn't have landed in Bishkek yet.
She grabbed the phone as Mendoza entered the room at the same time with William balanced on her hip.
"Scully," she barked into the phone, before wiping her brow and correcting herself, "Hello?"
Not everyone answered phones like harried ego maniacs, she reminded herself. Whoever was calling presumably knew she would answer and didn't need a shouted reminder.
"Would you like some company?" a voice responded on the other line.
"Frohike?" she inquired.
"In the flesh."
"Agent Mendoza is over. We're fine."
"I thought maybe the Latin Fox was staying with you."
"Hmm, I bet you did." The three bachelors were watching their every move on closed circuit TV, after all. "Frohike, I'm in the middle of making dinner." He should know that too.
Mendoza watched her, toying with William's chubby fingers.
"Enough for three more?"
"Are you inviting yourselves over for dinner?" Scully asked in exacerbation.
"I would never be so thoughtless. I'll bring over some of my special three bean chili. You ladies can just put your feet up until the sheriff arrives."
Three bean chili wasn't exactly her meal of choice, but she was tempted to accept his offer. She was tired and her feet were aching. She wondered if they'd seen her slip one of her shoes off and rub the ball of her foot with great satisfaction before Mendoza knocked on the door. She shifted on her feet, holding the receiver against her cheek and shoulder.
"You gotta give us a chance to get to know the lovely Agent Mendoza better," Frohike continued.
Scully shook her head. "Your chili comes with strings attached. No thanks, Melvin."
"Jealousy suits you, Scully," Frohike purred back to her.
"Good night, gentlemen," Scully spoke finally, pressing the off button on the phone and replacing it in its cradle.
"Were those your friends?"
It occurred to Scully that 'her friends' could only mean one thing�the Lone Gunmen. Not just to Mendoza, who didn't know her all that well. Anyone would have come to the same conclusion. The worm had certainly turned.
"Yes," she said, placing her hands on her hips. "You've made an impression on them, I think."
"Some men think lesbians are exciting," Mendoza said with a broad smile as William kicked his feet in her arms.
"They don't know that bit of information," Scully said, somewhat thrown by Mendoza's casual personal admission. "Their heads might explode if they did," she finished, recovering from her momentary discomfort.
She had always been guarded. Time and experience had only made her more so. But, when confronted with women like Agent Mendoza�women who were tough and still managed to conduct themselves in an open and unguarded manner�she was struck by her own inability to remain strong while lowering her defenses. It was a tightrope act that left her dizzy, and it had brought her endless interpersonal problems in her adulthood. It had kept her partner at arm's length for seven years. Not forever though. William's chubby kicking legs were proof enough of that.
"Is he heavy?" Scully asked, stepping forward to take her son.
"You're making dinner. I'll entertain the troops," Mendoza replied, waving her off.
Scully nodded, walking back into the kitchen. She picked the oven mitt off the floor and began to open cabinets, searching for a medium sized pot. She still had trouble finding things in this apartment. They were supposed to be balancing work and life, but she spent precious little time here nonetheless.
"You didn't think you could have children," a voice said from behind her.
Scully jumped, the pot in her hand clattering to the ground.
"Sorry," Mendoza said, stepping forward.
"No, it's okay. I was lost in my thoughts. This kitchen is a mystery to me."
"We could order something."
Scully smiled, brushing her hair back. "You took the words right out of my mouth. Clearly I'm not wife and mother of the year," Scully said, shoving the pot back into the cabinet. "No use trying to fool you."
"My mom raised me and my brothers on Chinese takeout and roadside taco joints. My brothers turned out alright," Mendoza said, the corners of her mouth turning up as she handed William over to Scully and dug in her pocket.
She pulled out her phone and paused. Scully realized she was waiting for a recital of a takeout place's number. Scully wished she didn't actually know one by heart.
Mendoza dialed and placed an order for a large Caesar salad and a medium extra cheese pizza.
She hung up and jammed her phone back in her pocket. "Does he need to eat?"
"I fed him before you got here."
"Lucky little man�I'm starving," Mendoza said, sucking in her top lip. "Listen, did I go too far a moment ago?"
"Hmm?" Scully murmured as she walked back into the living room and deposited William on the floor amongst his blocks.
"Asking about William?"
"Oh," Scully said quietly, sitting down on the sofa.
"It's weird knowing second hand information about someone: I just thought maybe if we talked about it, I'd feel less like you were a case file come to life," Mendoza explained, sitting opposite Scully in an overstuffed chair.
Scull swallowed. She'd prefer not to be thought of in that light either. She used to worry that Mulder used those kinds of terms when he concocted a mental picture of her. Abduction. Experiments. Alien virus. Victim. She just had never been able to bring herself to fully flesh out Dana in order to declassify Scully for him.
"No, I didn't. I didn't think I could have a baby," Scully responded evenly.
Mendoza nodded. "The cancer?"
"Uh, yes, radiation and chemo can render a woman infertile."
That answer was obtuse enough.
"But that's not what Agent Mulder thinks," Mendoza said, leaning her elbow on one fat arm of the chair.
Scully didn't like looking at the files with her name on them. Seeing her life typed up in a comedy of errors was too raw of an experience for her. Perhaps she should take a peek, however. She had no idea what Mulder had interred in those folders about her.
"It was devastating, but nothing that doesn't happen to any number of women." That's what Scully had told herself for years. 'You're nothing special. Plenty of women can't conceive. Stop feeling sorry for yourself.' "It didn't have to have been the cancer treatments." And it wasn't. "I waited. I was invested in my career and having a child wasn't at the top of my to-do list. Until it was too late: My ability to have children was taken from me," Scully stated. That much was the truth.
"Well," Mendoza said, "that's not really the case, is it?" she asked, nodding towards William.
"William was a surprise."
Mendoza laughed, "I was a surprise too. That's a lovely way of putting it. And what a homecoming, hmm? For Fox, I mean?"
Scully smiled in spite of herself. Only her mother called him that these days. Hearing it come out of Agent Mendoza's mouth was almost comical. Such a ridiculous name.
"He wouldn't want you to call him that."
"No. He hates it. But, yes, he was�surprised," she finished, for lack of a better word. Scully licked her lips nervously, "And William just keeps surprising us, I guess."
Mendoza nodded. "I thought maybe it was a thing between you two. With the last names constantly."
Scully flushed. It was, she guessed. She wasn't sure what that said about them.
"Mm�" Mendoza tapped her lips with her index finger. "My parents are very Catholic. We have this in common: You and me."
"My mother would say that William wasn't just a surprise, but un milagro."
"A miracle? He is our miracle. He wasn't supposed to be possible."
"Maybe it's not a mistake�that he has these abilities. Not a coincidence."
"I doubt it is," Scully conceded. "Mulder�Mulder experienced some abnormal brain activity after his exposure to an artifact of unknown origin. And William's abilities might be similar to those we observed some years ago in another boy."
Mendoza watched her, seemingly sizing her up. "You're suggesting something sinister."
"I might be."
"I think it might be less sinister and more beautiful."
Scully's brows drew together in disbelief. How could her son being abnormal to the point that he would draw the attention of evil forces be a beautiful thing? Mendoza might be a parapsychology expert, but she seemed hopelessly blind to Scully and Mulder's reality.
"I don't know," Mendoza said, turning her gaze from Scully to William. "Maybe William is here to save us."
Mulder had assumed based on their intelligence and the larger Russian population in northern Kyrgyzstan that Krycek could be found somewhere in the Biskek or Chui provinces. Upon his arrival in Bishkek, however, he had been disappointed in his attempts to make contact with the slug. A Russian gun dealer suggested that a man fitting that description had visited his shop two weeks earlier and mentioned in Russian to his driver that they needed to be on the Bishkek-Osh highway within the next hour.
Mulder left the high plains of Bishkek traveling the Bishkek-Osh highway in a mountainous trek through the Tian Shan mountain range into the Fergana Valley with its fertile fields and expanses of moving sand. The trip took him thirteen hours, and he'd had the good sense to hire a cab driver for 800 som or the equivalent of all of about nineteen Euros�a small price to pay to avoid firsthand experience of the other reckless drivers careening along the mountainous route, the considerable amount of snow on the road at the Ala-Bel pass, and the rather difficult section of unrepaired roads after Jalabad. There was something disorienting about going from sweaters and snow to sweating in the course of the day, but Mulder was imminently grateful to arrive in the sweltering city of Osh in one piece.
The city of Osh was the site of a bloody ethic clash between the Kyrgyzs and Uzbeks in 1990. Mulder knew there was a small population of Russians in Osh, but he felt less certain about how to navigate the local culture given the ethnic tension. As an American, who is it safe to bribe? What group is more likely to help you? Which would be happier to see a Russian-American be found even if he didn't want to be?
His cab driver told him there was a large Russian Orthodox church located in the city, and Mulder believed this was as good a place as any to begin his search. As he came to the white brick church with arched windows and doorways and painted in a fading cobalt blue paint, Mulder was disappointed to find little activity around the church. There was a fence around the building and no one seemed to be inside at the moment. It wasn't the great Russian meeting place he had wished it would be. Indeed, thus far he hadn't met with anything but Kyrgyzs and Uzbeks. And he didn't exactly speak the language.
As he wandered the city, he was struck by the dissimilarity between this southern city and the northern capitol he'd left behind. There was a striking lack of Soviet architecture besides a conspicuous statue of Lenin that had somehow been spared the fate of most other statues of the man in former Soviet countries. Most of the city consisted of apartment buildings and small houses. It was clear that the city was thousands of years old. There was a large open air market that had originally been a stop on the Great Silk Road that might make a good second location to probe locals for information.
He entered the market and began walking the aisles slowly, looking for someone he might be able to speak with. After an hour he spotted just the sort of person he'd been looking for�a tall broadly built man with shockingly blond hair and high red color on his cheeks.
"Excuse me: Вы говорите английскую язык?" Mulder asked, employing what little Russian he knew. 'Do you speak English,' 'goodbye,' 'yes,' 'no,' and 'mother f_.' He found the last the most enjoyable to employ but the least likely to provide answers.
"Dah. A little. American?"
The man's accent was heavy, but his English was fairly good. Mulder wondered whether he was a former Soviet official of the lower order. He was just old enough that it was possible.
"Dah. I need help. I'm looking for someone. American. He speaks Russian."
The man looked down at the wares on his market table. It was piled high with cotton goods.
"My wife," the man said, staring out from under his heavy brows and gesturing to the table.
Mulder dug in his pockets. He pulled out a handful of colorful som bills and pressed them into the man's outstretched hand.
"You better know something," Mulder mumbled at the loss of a significant amount of the money he had on him. "This man. He speaks Russian. Russian mother and father. Hmm�Alex or Alexei." Mulder paused, holding his hand up to approximate Krycek's height. "Like this. Dark hair," finished, pointing to his own head.
"Nyehtt," the man responded quickly, shaking his head emphatically.
"I think the man doth protest too much. Come on, I know you Russian guys hang out at the same bars," Mulder said, sighing in frustrated exhaustion. The man looked back at him blankly. "Two men," he said, remembering the detail provided by the gun dealer. "One Russian, one driver," he said pantomiming driving like an idiot. "One American." The man merely shook his head again and began folding items on his table dismissively. "Hey," Mulder tried again, taking another tack. "We're friends. I came from America. I missed him in Bishkek. We need to meet up."
The man looked up suspiciously. Mulder pointed to his nose, as if to indicate a shared ethnicity between himself and the man he sought. Dutch, Russian, it was all in the details.
The man chuckled. "Yevrey."
Mulder smiled dumbly, not getting the joke.
"Alex, Yevrey? Nyehtt."
"Alex. Yes," Mulder said impatiently, seizing onto the man's change of manner. "You know him? Where I can find him? Meet? My friend?"
The man began to dig in his own pockets and Mulder realized he was looking for something to write on. He pulled a business card out of his wallet and flipped it over, so that 'Fox Mulder, Special Agent, FBI' was not the first thing to greet the man's eye and handed it to him. The man nodded and scratched something on the back of the card with a stumpy pencil.
Mulder took the card back. There was a name or perhaps an address that was written in Cyrillic, which Mulder couldn't make out. He looked up and the man pointed behind him.
"Caf�," he said, pointing in the same direction once more. "Alex."
So, Alex spent his days pulled up to a table in a quaint caf�? Interesting.
"Dasvidaniya," Mulder said, tucking the card back into his pocket.
Holding the card up to each passing sign above a caf�, Mulder finally found the one he was searching for. It was truly quaint. Surrounded by a dreary landscape of Osh, it was practically an oasis. Outside tables lined the sidewalk and were covered by a canopy of vines. Mulder approached slowly, his hands shoved in his pockets.
He heard footsteps behind him and the same moment he felt something poke him in the back.
"Don't shout," a think Russian accent commanded.
Mulder felt a sharp sting in his neck and the world went black.
He awoke in a room so dark that he couldn't tell if it was night or day. Sitting upright and shaking his head groggily, he groped around, taking some comfort in the fact that he was not bound. As if by cue, blindingly bright fluorescent lights came to life above and Mulder shielded his eyes from the glare with his forearm. He swiveled to peer behind him: A hulking shape backlit by sunlight blocked a doorway.
"You were out a long time," a deep voice spoke to him with a heavy accent.
"Who the fuck are you?"
"Andrei," the man replied simply. "Get up."
"Where are we?" Mulder asked, struggling to get to his feet in his current state of lethargy. If he'd ended up in Siberia, Scully would be pissed that he'd forgotten to telephone. Thankfully, it didn't feel cold. Siberia was cold, he reminded himself: His brain was working in stultifying slowness.
"You look for Alex?" the man asked, as Mulder approached him.
"Yeah, I did."
"I'll take you to him," the man said stepping aside so that Mulder could pass through the doorway.
It didn't escape Mulder's attention that the man carried a weapon in his jeans.
"Do you treat all of Alex's visitors with this five star level of hospitality?" Mulder grumbled, cracking his neck and squinting into the sunlight of the day. Sleeping on a concrete floor had done him no favors and he wasn't sure how many hours he'd lost.
"Get in the car," the man commanded, pointing at a black sedan.
Mulder could just make out a silhouetted shape in the backseat as his eyes slowly adjusted to the daylight.
"I think a wise man would refuse to go anywhere with you, Andrei."
The tall man shot him a look that indicated he would brook no objections. There was no need, however, since Mulder finally could make out that it was Krycek sitting in the back of the vehicle. The man jerked open the back door and Mulder slid in.
"Kumis?" Krycek asked, holding a glass out to Mulder.
Mulder stared for moment clenching his fists and wondering if his compromised nervous system would allow him to deliver a solid punch. "Is this how you get your kicks, Krycek?"
The driver's door closed with a loud clunk, shaking the car, and the Russian man brought the car to life with a turn of the key in the ignition.
"Not at all. I did what I had to do. You were going to get me killed asking stupid questions around here. Or get yourself killed," he added seriously. He raised the glass once more. "You didn't answer me. Would you like some Kumis? You must be thirsty."
Mulder licked his lips. He was dying of thirst: It must be from the effects of the drug he'd been injected with. He rubbed his neck at the site of the injection. "Why do I get the feeling I should say no to that?"
Krycek shrugged. "Suit yourself. But, if you want to get drunk, this is the stuff."
He didn't need to get drunk. He needed all his wits about him. "I'm loopy enough as it is, thanks. You saw to that."
Krycek shrugged, sampling some of the contents of the glass himself. "Smile," Krycek instructed him. "I think you've probably gone to a lot of trouble to find me. This is your moment. Enjoy it."
Mulder stared stiffly ahead, a muscle in his cheek jumping. "You don't seem surprised to see me alive."
"I'm not. Or don't you remember my heroics?" Krycek asked with a grin.
"I had a gaping hole in my chest, when you pushed me off that gangway."
"Yes, and the talented Dana Scully to save you, I'm sure. Besides," Krycek said, leaning forward to tap the Russian on the shoulder and indicate that he should make a left turn, "I knew you'd survived your surgery before I left the country."
"Is that right?" Mulder asked, gripping his knees as they swerved left.
"I keep trying to save your sorry ass," Krycek chuckled.
"I'm touched," Mulder responded tightly. "Look, we need to talk, Krycek, and I'm not doing it with Andr� the Giant sitting here."
Krycek paused for a moment considering. "You made things a little difficult for me here, and I have to stay on the move. Andrei doesn't care about your problems. You've come about the kid?"
Mulder licked his cracked lips, "What makes you think that?"
"I'm hoping you've come to your senses, I guess." Krycek knocked back the rest of his drink. "And I have to say, Mulder, I'm flattered you thought of me first."
Krycek's smile made Mulder want to rearrange his face, but he refrained. He felt certain that such actions would lessen his chances of returning to Washington.
"What are you doing here, Krycek?"
Krycek slid the empty glass onto the console in the front and Andrei swept it away, causing the car to veer with a jolt. "Pleasantries first, then? Well, helping you and your pint-sized wife ended up causing me a lot of problems."
"Cry me a river," Mulder huffed.
"So, I'm just laying low for a while. Engaging in the some illegal arms deals. Are you going to cuff me?" Krycek asked, sneering.
"You'd like that wouldn't you?" Mulder responded sharply.
Krycek laughed, shaking his head.
"You know, I don't believe that you're trading weapons," Mulder continued.
"I've got to make a living somehow," he said with a shrug, glancing out his window. "There are individuals operating in this region with information from the Russian end of the project."
Mulder's spine went stiff. "What are they doing here?"
"Trying to sell their information to whatever groups might be interested."
The implications for such a sale were dizzying. Any terrorist group or nation could have its hands on terrifying technology for a price, if that was the case.
"Something has to be done�and soon," Krycek said simply.
"You have some plan?" Mulder asked with contempt.
"Well, I know what they'd like to do."
"Get to the point." Mulder didn't like being driven around the city by Krycek's goon. He'd already been drugged once today and would prefer to be on his own way. "Either you have information for me or you don't."
"So testy. Flies and honey, Mulder," Krycek scolded with an irritating grin. "The boy is special."
Mulder breathed deeply. "I'm aware of that. We've seen some experts."
Kyrcek nodded. "You want to know why? Well so do they. They want to know to what purpose."
"How did William happen at all?" Mulder asked.
"Scully's chip?" Mulder asked, his stomach flipping unpleasantly.
"Don't throw up in my car, Mulder."
Mulder was feeling a little nauseous. It was Andrei's driving, the drugs in his system, and the thought that William was the result of alternative alien family planning.
"For how long?" Mulder demanded. Seeing the blank look on Krycek's face, he repeated himself, "How long had they been messing with her fertility?"
"When the IVF failed, they had to step in. The chip has regenerative properties. It only had to be communicated with in order to cause ovulation. A little increase in her testosterone levels helped you look a little better to her too," Krycek said with a laugh.
Mulder wiped his clammy brow. 'No, no, no, no, no.' It couldn't all be because of Them.
"Did you think it was your super virility, Mulder?" Krycek asked derisively. "Your way with the ladies?"
Maybe. A litte.
Krycek shook his head, "You've got some sort of massive personality disorder."
"Back atcha, asshole," Mulder cursed.
"Look, the kid's the real deal. He's inherited your fine genes and the effects of a little creative brain therapy. How could he not be?" Krycek joked.
Mulder swallowed, feeling as if he might choke on his thick tongue.
"As far as they're concerned, he's got endless potential. And depending on what team you're rooting for, he's a threat."
"Not sure. But, CGB Spender hasn't been in the business of making human babies in a while. He must think this is a way to fight the soldiers." Krycek paused, chewing on his bottom lip, "William might just save us. If you don't fuck it up first."
"Mulder," Mulder spoke into his phone, trashing his e-ticket in a black waste can as he walked briskly down the terminal.
"You landed on time."
"I didn't need to wait for your call. I've got a crack team watching the airline flight updates via computer."
"Fancy," he said, smiling at the sound of her voice.
"Mmm, if saving the world doesn't work out, they can always go into air traffic control."
"I don't think Frohike could pass the FAA's security clearance," Mulder mused.
"I'm sure they have ways of finessing such things. Listen, I'm in the hourly parking garage."
"I told you I'd get a cab."
"I couldn't wait," she replied breezily.
Her confession made him smile more broadly, as he exited the building through glass sliding doors. Maybe she was teasing him. Maybe she no longer trusted D.C. cab drivers. Maybe they were driven by super soldiers nowadays. Or maybe she really did just want to see him that much sooner. Dodging cars and shuttles, he crossed the road, making his way towards the parking garages.
"How will I know you?" he teased.
"I'll be the one in a government issue black Ford Taurus. Garage C, level 1, Mulder."
Garage C was straight ahead of him and he ducked inside.
"I gotta say, Scully, the one in the black lacy bra sounds better right about now."
He could picture the black of the lace against the milky whiteness of her skin.
"It's a little cold to be playing the exhibitionist."
"Trust me," he chuckled, "it's never too cold for that."
Spotting her red hair peeking above a row of cars, he picked up his pace, hurrying towards her. He pressed the off button on his phone and slid it into his pocket, when he could make out her raising one hand to him. He sidestepped a poorly parked SUV sticking out into the lane of traffic and closed the distance between them in several long strides. She stood by the driver's side of the car, holding the door open with the stored warmth of the car blowing out uselessly. He swallowed, slipping his right hand around her waist and his left behind her head.
"Hey," he whispered, brushing her lips with his own. "A week never seemed so long."
She nodded in agreement before pulling back far enough that she could take him under careful review. She frowned slightly at him, running her fingers over the heavy five o-clock shadow that he'd been sporting since leaving Bishkek. Well, it didn't really count as a shadow anymore: It was a scratchy beard.
"I need a shower," he said with a smirk, bending down to rub his cheek against hers.
"And a shave," she said mildly perturbed.
He could tell by the way she continued to pull at his hip with the fingertips of the hand not currently exploring the foreign contours of his face, however, that her irritation was entirely feigned. Stooping lower, he kissed the underside of her jaw below her ear, eliciting from her a faint murmur.
"We have to get going," Scully stated calmly, making herself a touch taller as she did so and lightly pushing him squarely in the chest, so that he took a half-step backward. "I'm driving," she confirmed, when he continued to stare dumbly at her.
He was exhausted from his series of cramped flights and his brain could only focus on one thing at a time for the moment. His mental powers were currently consumed with thoughts of exploring exactly what Scully was wearing beneath her trench coat, blue cashmere sweater, black pants, and three inch heeled black boots. He wouldn't mind peeling off each layer with his teeth. It didn't have to be a black lace bra. Anything sounded good to him right now.
"Mulder," she said sharply, slipping into the driver's seat. "We only have an hour before the boys bring William back."
"William?" he asked, staring down into the car at her as she held the door handle in her grasp, waiting for him to step away so she could pull it shut.
"Yes, our son?" she said, quirking an eyebrow at him and pursing her lips as if to indicate she thought he'd left his good sense in Kyrgyzstan. "If we beat them to the house," she explained, sounding slightly annoyed, "we have a half hour to ourselves."
The proverbial light bulb illuminated his foggy brain. Wagging his brows, he finally responded, "Say no more, Doctor Scully."
A rapid pattern of elaborate knocks announced the arrival of William and his band of caretakers. Scully slid off the sofa, tucking her hair behind her ears as she walked towards the door. Rising up on the balls of her bare feet, she peeked through the peep hole to see the distorted faces of Byers and Langley, with the latter man holding a squirming William. Unlatching the door and turning the knob, Scully stepped back so that they could enter.
After a chorus of hellos from all sides, she pushed the door shut behind them. "Thanks again for watching him."
She'd been camped out with the Lone Gunmen all afternoon, pretending to be uninterested in the minute by minute flight reports that Frohike was pulling up on the airline's arrivals page�a skill that didn't need any of his expert hacking abilities. When Mulder's plane still showed that it would be on time an hour before it was due to land, Scully had asked if they'd mind watching William while she went to the airport to pick Mulder up. She'd known they wouldn't refuse. They enjoyed the actual babysitting duties as much as they did the sense it gave them that they were being entrusted with something of the utmost importance. They'd gotten the job�not Troy or Mendoza.
"Anytime," Byers assured her as they settled William on the floor of the living room.
Langley pushed his glasses further up his nose, glancing around the room. "Where's Mulder?"
"Long flight. He's in the shower," Scully explained, as she sat back down on the sofa.
"Frohike couldn't make it," Langley said, as if to indicate that Scully must also be pondering his absence.
"Ah," she said with a nod.
"We can still discuss our options," Byers said, looking a bit awkward as he continued to stand in the middle of the living room, shifting rhythmically on his feet and sticking his hands in his pockets. "He said he'd be listening," he said, looking towards the ceiling apologetically.
"Mmm�perfect. Well, you can sit," Scully said with a tight lipped smile. She wouldn't mind having the rest of the day alone with Mulder and William, but time and the Lone Gunmen wait for no man. "What do you want to discuss?" she asked, as the two men seated themselves in opposite chairs, Langley with an adolescent flop and Byers in a controlled primness befitting a debutante.
The bedroom door opened with a whine and Mulder strolled out in a t-shirt and jeans, rubbing his wet hair with a towel that he held crumpled in one hand.
"Hey, man!" Langley said.
"Mulder," Byers said with a nod.
"Here," Mulder said walking towards them and holding something out in his free hand. It looked like a business card. He flicked it onto the coffee table, finishing off the vigorous rubbing of his hair with both hands before draping the damp towel over his shoulder. "If you want to make plans, we might want to make a dinner date with this character."
Byers leaned forward and picked the card off the table. "Sujit Shankar," he read.
"Dr. Sujit Shankar. That's who Krycek said we need to speak to. He was instrumental in the early days on the super soldier project�a biomedical engineer. Spent some time 'resting' in a psych ward not too long ago."
"Poor bastard," Langley said frowning with a shake of his head.
"You might spare him some sympathy once we find out just how involved he was," Mulder warned.
"And will this help with William?" Scully asked, eyeing up William's attempt to crawl up Langley's denim leg.
"Krycek seems to think he'll know whatever weaknesses they might have."
"They have a weakness?" Byers asked, clearly shocked.
"Nothing is invincible," Scully said evenly. At least she hoped that was the case.
"You guys think you can locate him?" Mulder asked, hands on hips.
Byers' cell phone erupted in his pocket. Startled, he jumped before composing himself and digging it out. "It's Frohike," he said, pressing the 'on' button. "He's running a search for him right now," he explained with the phone to his ear.
Mulder gave a sarcastic wave and grin to the ceiling. "Living under surveillance has never been so infuriatingly helpful."
Under their current program of leaving one of them behind to care for William, Scully had parted with Mulder at the Hoover Building. He'd been wearing a scowl�his last protest to her intended meeting with Sujit Shankar�as she climbed into the elevator with Agent Troy and the doors slid shut. The protests leading up to the meeting had been numerous, extending to a stage whispered harangue in the hallway with Troy walking ten paces ahead of them.
"What happened to not leaving William orphaned?" Scully had asked flatly, drawing on Mulder's much used excuse, which he'd employed in the past to get her to stay behind while he went into the field. "Or keeping William safe?" she'd added. "Isn't that what you're supposed to be doing while I meet with Dr. Shankar?"
"They want us separated. They always have. Divide and conquer, Scully."
"That's not what you were calling it when you were jetting off to Kyrgyzstan with no back up."
"We're partners," Mulder hissed back, heedless of her excellent point.
"I'll have a partner with me," she said, trying not to sound as if she was mocking him.
Mulder had glared at Troy, pausing several feet from the elevator, so that they wouldn't have to take their conversation within earshot of him. True, she had backup, but probably not the kind he would have preferred.
"And Mendoza and I just keep the home fires burning?"
"I'm sure you can think of something," she'd replied, as the elevator doors parted and Troy walked inside, holding the door and waiting for her with a downturned face.
"Hey," Mulder said, reaching out to touch her elbow.
"I'm going to be fine, Mulder."
"I know�I'm not worried about that," he lied. She'd seen him double check her service revolver this morning before they'd left for the office. "I just wanted to ask your scientific opinion."
"On?" she'd asked impatiently, as Troy continued to hold the elevator.
"Female arousal. How much of a role does testosterone play?"
What was she supposed to say to that? She'd rolled her eyes and walked away.
Yes, testosterone plays a role in female arousal; although it was more complex and less consistent than the role it played in male arousal. Why did he care? Mulder had a way of saying things that seemed random at the time, but generally weren't. Somewhere in his overactive brain he was devoting time to the biology of female arousal. If he meant it as a joke, it didn't make much sense, and he hadn't delivered it with any of his patented Mulder smirks, winks, or waggles. In fact, he'd looked deadly serious, but then, Mulder had a way of looking absolutely stone blank, so she couldn't be sure.
And to be frank, it wasn't the first strange question of the day. The other had come in the early morning hours, when she'd awakened before him, slipped her hand under his shirt, and been met with the following question: "When was the first time you were attracted to me?" When she'd made her maneuver to seduce her sleeping partner, she hadn't expected a game of twenty-questions, so she'd ignored his query and he'd quickly given into her ministrations. Had he really expected an answer? Was the hoped for answer merely a way to stoke his ego? Or did he want a calendar date to pin along his relationship timeline? It was especially odd, because they didn't generally rehash their stilted personal past for sport. Perhaps because their history was so fraught with pitfalls or because those types of discussions sometimes made her feel exposed.
Whatever the case, Mulder was beginning to rack up a number of offbeat questions that seemed to have a common theme. If this was about Troy, she was going to have to lock herself in the bathroom and scream. She was done with reassurances.
Troy's prodding question brought her back to reality, and she turned her gaze from the rain rolling down her passenger window in glistening drops to give him her attention.
"Are we almost there?" she asked.
"I don't know. I'm a little lost."
Troy wasn't as good a navigator as Mulder. She bit the corner of her lip, considering that it wasn't the first time she'd compared Troy to Mulder. She'd spent months doing it while Mulder was gone. He'd never measured up, even though she'd known the comparison wasn't fair. It still wasn't.
She glanced up at a passing street sign.
"Left at the next street," she said, recognizing instantly where they were. They'd be at the assigned meeting point in less than a minute.
"I wasn't lost," he said, sounding oddly proud of himself.
Take your victories where you can get them, she supposed. "Nope. We're almost there," Scully agreed with a sigh.
"You okay, Dana?" Troy asked, glancing over at her quickly before making his turn.
"You're awfully quiet."
"Just thinking." She smoothed the thighs of her pant legs, composing her thoughts.
"It's not me?" he asked steadily, staring straight ahead.
"No," she assured him. "I just want to make sure this goes down like it should. That we ask the right questions and don't get killed."
"I'd like that," Troy acknowledged, pulling to the curb in a darkened alley.
They weren't the only vehicle parked in the alley. A silver town car was parked further in, enshrouded by the shadow of the buildings towering overhead.
"Looks like Dr. Shankar is already here," Scully said, eyeing up the car. "You ready?" she asked Troy, who straightened his trench coat somewhat nervously.
"Yeah. As ready as I'll ever be," he admitted with chagrin, tugging the door handle on the car open and stepping outside.
Scully followed suit, brushing her hair out of her face as the rain began to coat her jacket and run down her face. As they strode towards the vehicle a short dark haired man emerged from the driver's seat.
"Dr. Shankar?" Troy shouted towards the man.
"Agents?" he responded, stepping forward and holding up his hands to indicate that he was not carrying a weapon. If he wasn't what he claimed to be, if he was a super soldier, he wouldn't need a weapon, so Scully kept her eyes trained on him and her hand hovering near her weapon.
"Troy," Troy said with a nod, before turning to Scully, "and Agent Scully."
"We spoke on the phone," Dr. Shankar said, addressing Scully.
"Yes. We have some questions for you."
"I'm ready to talk," he said, his voice betraying a slight accent. "Would you like to sit in the car? We'll be soaked out here."
Scully peered through the car's windows. No one was inside and nothing littered the floors or seats�Dr. Shankar kept a neat car. All the same, she'd rather not.
"We'd rather not," she said, blinking in the rain.
"I understand," the man said with a nod. "I understand better than you know. They had me committed. They use you and then�throw you away. It isn't safe." The man's eyes darted nervously and Scully wondered for a moment if this man really knew something or was just a disturbed man suffering from paranoia. It was the same thing people often wondered about Mulder, she realized. Appearances could be deceiving.
"No, we do understand," Troy said, crossing his arms. "We're in danger as well. We need to know everything we can about this project in order to protect ourselves. Protect the public."
"I want to do the right thing," Dr. Shankar said, leaning towards them with one hand on his car. "I do. I didn't know what they would use my research for. The money was good, but not that good."
"Is there anything you can tell us that would be helpful? About their weaknesses perhaps?" Scully asked impatiently. She didn't come here to stand in the rain and have this man spout generalities about fear, danger, and middling monetary compensation. That described her job too, but she didn't have back alley meetings with strangers about it.
"You want to know how to kill them?" he asked softly.
"Can we?" Troy asked.
"They�" Dr. Shankar paused, digging in his pocket and pulling out a packet of cigarettes and a lighter. Inexplicably, watching this middle aged Indian man twitch as he lit up made Scully more nervous than anything else about this scenario had: Something about cigarettes just seemed evil at this point. "I know," he said, taking a drag with an apologetic smile, "these things will kill you." He stopped, glancing down at his shoes. "I just need to calm my nerves."
"Take your time," Troy said, sounding less than convincing.
"We were using gene therapy. It started prior to the Gulf War. I was on the project. We were trying to make a stronger soldier. Men brought us the material we needed�" he trailed off, scuffing his feet and taking another puff.
"What men?" Scully asked.
"I thought it was the government. Or maybe the military? It was covert, and I understood why, so I didn't ask questions that I knew wouldn't be answered. We made good progress until�until we were compromised."
"Compromised how?" Scully asked.
"The labs we were working in were burned to the ground. Everything was stolen. Some of my colleagues died," he swallowed, wiping his brow with the back of his hand. "I got nervous. The men I was working for were desperate for me to recreate my research. They seemed as nervous as I was. They had me committed after I deliberately undermined the second attempts."
"Why'd you do that?" Troy asked.
"I thought maybe I wasn't working for the government. Maybe I never had been. Maybe the government destroyed the project. I started to think what I was creating was evil. The material they had brought me�I'd never seen DNA strands like that."
"What did you create?" Scully asked.
"It would sound like science fiction to you."
"Try me," she said flatly.
"The gene therapy was resulting in very interesting abnormalities in the tissue. At first it would appear as if the cellular structure was being destroyed, but it was merely a restructuring. The tissue would be rebuilt stronger than ever. Very strong�like it was made of metal," he finished, flicking away his burnt out cigarette. "You think I'm crazy?"
Scully shook her head 'no,' "The original research was stolen?"
"Yes. And I don't know who is hunting me anymore," he said wrapping his arms around his middle and jiggling his shoulders. "It used to be the government�or the military. The men I'd made deals with. The ones who had brought me the material. But they all disappeared. When I was released from the psych ward none of them seemed to exist anymore."
It sounded to Scully like the Syndicate. It wouldn't surprise her that they'd been behind this, although Dr. Shankar seemed to think that the original developers had been wiped out. That wasn't unlikely either. But then who currently had the technology? Who was using it?
"Someone doesn't want me talking though," Dr. Shankar continued, his eyes growing wide with fear. "I can't sleep at night�I have nightmares. Vivid nightmares. I feel like someone is watching me."
"You said there was a way to kill these soldiers you created," Troy said, clearly growing weary of the exchange.
"I never created a soldier," Dr. Shankar protested, shaking his hands in front of him. "Never. I merely worked on cellular tissue�not a live human. I don't know what they've done since with the technology, but if they created a soldier from this research, there are things�"
"What things?" Troy said, almost barking at the shaking man.
Scully peered up at Troy, who was already soaked through and growing red in the face.
"He created these things," Troy said, turning to Scully with barely contained anger. "That placed all of us in danger. Including you�you and your family."
"I didn't!" Dr. Shankar insisted.
"It's all semantics, wouldn't you say?" Troy demanded, turning back to Dr. Shankar. "You didn't build the soldier, but you made the stuff to do it."
"Agent Troy," Scully said coolly, trying to gain control of the situation. "Dr. Shankar met with us under very trying circumstances and he has been good enough to provide us with information. I'd like to hear what else he has to say."
She didn't like the man either: He had questionable morals at best and was the creator of what could be the downfall of the human race at worse. But, they needed whatever information he could give them. Troy was making it personal, and for the moment they had to put personal grievances aside.
"Say it fast," Troy grumbled. "If we can kill them, how do we do it?"
"The cellular structures didn't just appear to be metal. Somehow�they became metal," Dr. Shankar explained, excitedly waving his hands. "They can be torn apart by the application of magnets. I did it in the lab. I made magnetite in a ferrofluid using the Massart method, applied it to the tissue, and the tissue was literally ripped apart."
"So�we need to carry around refrigerator magnets to kill these guys? Are you kidding me?" Troy asked, huffing.
"It would take more than that," Dr. Shankar said dismissively. "I didn't expect you to believe me�"
"Dr. Shankar," Scully interrupted, "we have reason to believe that these soldiers have replaced humans at all levels of the military, government, and medical infrastructure in this country. Possibly around the world. You need to be careful."
"Yeah, carry your horseshoe magnet," Troy mumbled.
"That's all we need. You have our number," Scully said to Dr. Shankar, shooting Troy a look.
She didn't need more than one petulant partner.
Mulder tipped back his Yuengling beer as he sat mindlessly staring at the television. William was sitting on his lap and they had just wrapped up a consuming and yet one sided conversation about the merits of Star Trek: The Next Generation as opposed to Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Then again, maybe it wasn't so one sided. Maybe Mulder just wasn't listening hard enough. He was wrapping his mind around the thought that William might be silently conveying thoughts about defunct television shows to him, when Scully entered the apartment carrying a bag of groceries. The creak of the door startled him out of his semi-conscious television trance he had begun to slip into.
"You're back," he said, clearing his throat and setting his beer on the coaster.
He lifted William up, his knees cracking with the effort and reminding him that he was no longer twenty-five. Or even thirty-five. "Did you buy nachos?" he asked, advancing on Scully and the bag.
He was determined to peek into the bag, and the thought of a concealed wealth of new food at his fingertips made his stomach growl softly. He rubbed his stomach absently with his free hand as he looked over her shoulder into the crowded bag.
"You know how I feel about fake cheese," she said, resting the bag on the table, which effectively blocked his view.
He stepped back and watched her for a moment as she divested herself of her purse and jacket.
"Fake cheese has its merits," he finally stated with authority.
Scully paused, smiling down at William in Mulder's arms and pressing a kiss to his forehead. "I'm sure you're well versed in those merits, but we're not going to have it in this house."
Mulder bit his bottom lip, stopping a laugh from forming as he watched his son knit his brows together in a miniature frown. Apparently, he was not the only Mulder disappointed in Scully's more rigorous attachment to healthy living. He couldn't blame the kid: He was being fed pureed vegetables, after all.
"He looks more like you every day," she said, cocking her head in momentary consideration.
He wondered if it was William's expression of disdain or the vagaries of DNA that made her think so. "God forbid," Mulder chuckled, rearranging his grip on his wiggling bundle.
Scully shrugged, picking up the groceries once more as she kicked off her shoes. "It's time for his nap. Why don't you put him down while I unpack these groceries?"
"Mm�we may have already caught some Z's on the couch," Mulder said, as he dodged William's attempt to cover his mouth with an outstretched hand. Perhaps that was meant to be their secret. What William didn't know yet was that there were consequences to keeping things from his mother.
"He has a schedule, Mulder," she said over her shoulder, walking towards the kitchen.
"I know, I know, but his old man crapped out on him."
Mulder followed her into the kitchen and paused to lean against the doorframe. He watched her slide the bag onto the counter and rustle with the contents, rising slightly on the balls of her feet in order to see what she was pulling out. Apples, bread, milk, eggs. It was like an endless bag of the food groups that least tempted him. There was certainly no fake cheese in sight.
William tugged at the neck of his t-shirt and he looked down at him. His blue eyes stared up at him, seemingly trying to convey something. And then it struck him: He was in fact keeping a secret from her even now. His mouth went dry at the thought.
"Fine: Don't put him down. But, if he wakes up at four tomorrow morning, I fully expect you to handle it." She looked over her shoulder to see if he was properly chastised, but he couldn't manage to play along with her parental banter. He couldn't even look away from William's upturned face. "Mulder?" she prodded. "You're not really worried out about him looking like you�are you?" she teased.
He wished that was the case�that he was stricken with physical self-loathing, so that he did not want to see himself duplicated in his child's countenance.
"No. He's cute. We made one cute kid."
"Okay, so?" she asked, when he continued to stare pensively at their child.
"We wouldn't have him if it weren't for Them," he said quietly.
Scully's mouth opened and closed. "What do you mean?" Mulder didn't immediately answer her, trying to frame his repose, and she turned away, pulling open the door on the refrigerator with more strength than necessary. He wondered if she had the strength to pull it off its hinges if she really wanted: It certainly wouldn't surprise him if she did. "He may not be normal, but he was not the result of a science project, Mulder. The conception date works out perfectly."
Not a science project that anyone would win any blue ribbons for, at least, Mulder thought morosely. "No, I know. I know he's ours. But, you never want to discuss how it is that you became pregnant, when you were barren."
"Obviously I wasn't," Scully replied somewhat testily, shelving the items she'd unpacked.
This was a sticking point for her. She never wanted to talk about her fertility or lack thereof. He'd pushed the issue before to no avail. Now he'd have to throw it wide open.
"You were. I didn't tell you everything Krycek told me."
Scully paused, and he watched her shoulder's rise as she took a deep breath before turning to face him. She crossed her arms, taking on a defensive posture. "Now you're scaring me. Are you just going to keep dropping bombs on me?"
"I'm sorry�that's not my intention."
"Spill it, Mulder," she replied stiffly. Clearly she was not in the mood for anymore of his apologies.
"It's just that he said the chip is responsible for your fertility. They knew about the IVF and when it failed, they used the chip to make you fertile."
She squinted at him, "They?"
"CBG Spender. Whatever is left of the Syndicate. Whatever replaced it."
She rolled her eyes at him, as if he was speaking insanity. "You can't believe anything that man says."
"You believed that Dr. Shankar might be able to give us the information we needed and Krycek is the one who gave us his name. You also thought enough of him to let me go half way across the world to talk with him."
"I don't let you do anything, Mulder. You would have run off no matter what I said if that's what you thought you needed to do."
"That's not true," Mulder stated firmly. He was trying to take her into consideration with every step he took. Her and William.
Scully walked out of the kitchen, brushing past him and back into the living room.
"What? Conversation's over?" Mulder asked, padding silently after her in his bare feet.
"How do we know he's telling the truth?" she asked, stopping in the middle of the living room and spinning around to face him. "You're back to believing every cockamamie story that comes your way now?"
"No. Of course not, but it makes sense. The IVF failed, but we still had a child months later�without any scientific intervention. The chip has regenerative properties. We've already seen it at work in you. Why not this?"
"You don't re-grow eggs, Mulder. That's scientifically impossible."
"You also don't magically dissolve cancer," he spat back. He could feel the vein in his head jumping. He hadn't wanted to lose his temper with her.
Scully blinked quickly. He could see that she was attempting to shore up her defenses, which he'd shaken with his revelation. "Is that what you want to think then? That the chip did this?" she asked somewhat accusingly, gesturing at the child in his arms.
"Obviously not, Scully. Damn�obviously I'd rather that he not be a product of anything but�" he trailed off, his voice breaking. He didn't know how to say what he'd hoped without sounding saccharine.
Scully tucked her hair behind her ears. "They wanted me to have a child?" she asked sounding somewhat defeated.
"How generous," she said sarcastically with a roll of her eyes.
"Not entirely altruistic."
"Shocking," she said, choking on a laugh.
Mulder paused to make sure she wasn't going to crack, and when he was certain she was ready to hear what he had to say, he began, "Krycek said that CBG Spender wanted us to have the child. You can blame me. It was my brain abnormalities that were passed on. That was the goal, I guess."
Scully walked forward and took William from him. Patting his back rhythmically, she chewed the corner of her lip.
"If this was his doing, I doubt that he just wanted your DNA, Mulder. We've both been infected with the black oil. We're both abduction victims. We're both messed up�"
"Hey," he said, resting his hand on her shoulder. "It doesn't change anything. Not about William."
She quirked an eyebrow at him, clearly not convinced. "William being the creation and tool of that asshole doesn't change anything?"
Mulder stroked William's head. "He's still ours." Scully nodded slightly. "But, he is in danger," he continued more softly. "I guess not everyone is as thrilled about him as us."
"Or Grandpa Spender," she replied spitefully.
"God, please don't call him that."
Scully's eyes flashed with immediate regret. Mulder knew she hadn't been referring to his own questionable parentage, but the remark had stung nonetheless. He slipped into the overstuffed chair and stretched his legs out.
"Sometimes, I just want to be normal, Scully. I thought this much was normal: Our family," he said staring vacantly at the floor.
"Maybe we are normal and the rest of the world is insane," she said, leaning slightly over to brush his forehead with the tips of her fingers. "You've been carrying this around ever since you came back."
"You should have told me," she said, straightening up. "I don't need to be protected."
Mulder grimaced, "I think maybe I do. I didn't want to believe it myself."
Scully shrugged, placed William on the floor and grabbed the discarded morning newspaper. "Here, read the paper while I make dinner. That's about as normal as it's going to get for us."
"Damnit," he cursed loudly. "Scully?" he called to her.
"What is it?" she replied, emerging from the kitchen with a dishrag tossed over her shoulder.
He shook the newspaper out, folding it carefully before he held it out to her. She walked over and peered down at the headline: Scientist Dies in Suspicious Crash.
"No," she said, taking the newspaper in hand and scanning the article quickly.
"It's Dr. Shankar."
"No," she repeated, even though she'd found his name. "11:20 a.m.? That was right after we met with him�literally minutes after we pulled away from that alley. He crashed into the median at 11:20, Mulder."
"I know," Mulder said slipping from the arm chair and walking to the window.
"Instantly killed," Scully read from the article aloud. "Who crashes into the median at that time of day with no other cars involved and is instantly killed?"
"Who indeed?" he mused, stuffing his hands in his pockets and staring down into the gray street below. "How much do you wanna bet that was arranged?"
"You think they killed him just for talking to us?"
"I do," he said, turning from the window with his arms crossed. "It wouldn't be the first time someone died in the pursuit of the truth."
"He wasn't a hero, Mulder. He helped make those things. He helped make them possible."
"It doesn't matter." He was dead now. Just another dead man of questionable morals. "But, I don't think we can't wait anymore. That could have been you two. They could have targeted you, and they know we have the information now."
"We've already got William on twenty-four hour watch. We're federal agents. What else could we possibly do to protect ourselves?"
That was the million dollar question. He drummed his fingers on the window sash.
"We can't run away. That'll only get us killed. I think we need to run towards it: I think we need to blow this open."
They met in the Lone Gunmen's lair, despite the fact that meetings there made Skinner and Troy seemingly feel ridiculous. They both sat even more upright than usual, as if boards had been strapped to their backs. The location was chosen by process of elimination. Mulder didn't want to meet at the FBI�at least no one in the Lone Gunmen's circle was a super soldier�and Scully was tired of people piling into their apartment for hush-hush meetings with spilled coffee and flurries of papers.
Frohike was frenetically cooking up huevos rancheros for everyone, despite having been told that no one was interested, and everyone else was crowded around the table.
"I saw it this morning," Skinner said solemnly, referencing Dr. Shankar's death as he unbuttoned his suit coat.
"We have to assume that we're targets," Mulder said, crossing his arms.
"More than usual," Scully added somewhat sardonically.
Mulder shrugged. Yes, they'd been targets since day one. They just had a new weapon pointed at them.
"So how do we move forward? Nothing has worked against these things�unless we're buying what Dr. Shankar said about the�what was it? Magnetite?" Mendoza asked, sipping on the soda she'd been offered by Langley to gain points with the attractive woman.
'No chance, Langley,' Mulder had mentally projected at him. It might work better if he had William send the mental memo, he considered, but William was busy keeping Uncle Byers occupied playing an energetic game of knee pony ride.
"Yes, magnetite," Scully affirmed. "I think we ought to believe him until we have the unpleasant opportunity to test our theory."
"We should be a little more proactive," Frohike said, glancing up from his stove and sounding a little apologetic that he disagreed with Scully.
"What do you suggest?" Skinner asked.
"We start building some appropriate defenses," Byers spoke over William's bouncing head.
"Magnetite bullets, man," Langley added with a smile.
"Well, that would be the second part of the plan�the offensive," Byers corrected.
"The badass part," Langley added, making finger guns.
It seemed that the fearsome threesome had already been discussing plans on this front.
"Where do you get magnetite?" Skinner asked. "Is it common?"
"Fairly common, yes. But, magnetite usually occurs in very small grains," Scully explained. "If you can get a chunk of well-crystallized magnetite it's called a lodestone and that's rare."
"We wouldn't necessarily need large chunks," Byers said, as he adjusted William in his lap, so the rider didn't topple off the pony. "There are fabrications we could use to create defensive barriers, vests, and ammunition that wouldn't necessarily need a complete magnetite crystal. Or, that's what we've been thinking."
"So where do we get it?" Mendoza asked.
"It's often an accessory mineral in iron-rich igneous rocks," Scully explained, tucking her hair behind her ears.
"Scientist says what?" Mulder said, knitting his brows.
"Rocks formed from magma," she clarified. "It also occurs in vein deposits and metamorphic rock."
"Can we go down to our local new age crystal shop and load up?" Mendoza asked with a smirk.
"I've got a guy," Frohike said, peering up from his cooking once more.
"You've got a magnetite guy?" Mulder asked.
Nothing should surprise him anymore, but he didn't think Frohike hung out with rock collectors.
"Yeah, a buddy who operates strip mines. Hombre can get me anything. We can have the defenses fabricated in a week."
"Are you sure it's strip mines?" Mulder chuckled, before Scully shot him a look. Clearing his throat, he began again, "Well, if we've got plans to outfit ourselves with kryptonite, I have a suggestion that's been long coming."
"Lay it on us," Langley said, pushing his glasses further up his nose.
"We need to tell the world about the super soldiers."
Mendoza shook her head, "Look, I understand where you're coming from, but we'll create a panic."
"Or no one will believe us," Byers said unenthusiastically.
"We'll have to make it official: A press conference led by one of the divisions of the FBI," Mulder said. "We present our evidence," he said with a nod to Scully, "get a conversation started."
"Or a panic," Mendoza reiterated. "You tell people that their congressman could be a walking talking weapon of dubious origins, I think they'll do more than vote him out of office."
"Term limits are a blessing, dude," Langley said, rubbing his stomach. "I might actually want something to eat, 'hike."
"Come'n right up," Frohike said, as he began to plate the eggs. He paused, spatula in hand, "An announcement like that: It'll wake people up."
"Yes," Mulder agreed, "it could cause panic. But, maybe we need a little more panic and a little less complacency."
"They could use the panic to seize control," Skinner said warily.
"There aren't enough of them yet," Mulder said assuredly, even though he felt less than convinced about that fact.
"We don't want a panic," Scully said with a dismissive shake of her head. "We need to trust the American public. They've been given bad news before. They've been told that their neighbor, their gardener, the guy next to them on the bus could all be terrorists. These are the new terrorists."
Frohike nodded. "Bury the truth in heaps of government produced evidence. No one needs to think this has anything to do with aliens. A rogue government agency creating a super weapon to destroy democracy."
Byers nodded thoughtfully, "Americans love a government conspiracy."
"It's helped us sell a subscription or two," Langley acknowledged.
Mulder wasn't so sure the success or lack thereof of the Lone Gunmen's newsletter was an adequate gauge of the public's consumption of conspiracy theory.
"What do we hope to accomplish?" Skinner asked, drawing everyone back to the heart of the matter.
"By exposing the super soldier program, we make it harder for them to operate freely. Drive them underground. There's no good reason to let them continue to operate freely right under our noses, when we know they're there," Mulder explained, speaking quickly and tapping his index finger on the table before him.
Skinner ran a hand over his head, thinking for a moment, "The notion of treating this like a terrorist plot isn't such a bad idea. Couching it in those terms will make it understandable�more relatable. At the press conference we can give the evidence and shape it so that's it palatable."
"Control the spin," Frohike said, sliding a plate of eggs onto the table in front of Langley, who eagerly began to eat.
"Excuse him," Frohike said to Mendoza, nodding at Langley, who with a mouth full shrugged in response.
Skinner sighed, "Make it an issue of patriotism�the identification of questionable elements in society."
"Call in to your local FBI agency if you think your teacher is a super soldier?" Mendoza asked skeptically.
"If mommy is a commie," Mulder said with a smirk.
"You're suggesting McCarthyism," Mendoza said, licking her red lips.
"Except, the threat is real," Scully reminded her.
"So was communism," Skinner muttered.
"I'll do it." Everyone's head swiveled to address Troy, who had been mostly quiet during their conversation. He'd stared back calmly, as if daring anyone to question his determination. "I'll call the press conference. I'll talk to the reporters."
"This could be a career ender," Scully said softly.
"I know that. Look, it only makes sense. It has to be one of us. Dana and Mulder have given enough to this cause. They need to worry about William, not the press."
"We'll practice, so you're prepared," Skinner said authoritatively, peering down his glasses at Troy. "And I'll back you up. No one will bounce you from the FBI on my watch."
"Thank you, sir."
Mulder hadn't been expecting Troy to throw himself on the pyre. He chewed his bottom lip, considering the man before him. It was possible he'd given him an unfair shake. Maybe this was the team he wanted with him to save the world.
"It's on," Scully called from the bedroom. Mulder stood up, hammer in hand and still biting down on a carpentry nail.
He was in the midst of installing the first of a series of measures to prevent unwanted entry into the apartment. The Lone Gunmen, AD Skinner, and Mendoza were presumably doing the same, since the fabrication of the frames had been completed and delivered yesterday. The wooden frames were custom made to fit around the windows and doorways of the apartment and were infused with granular magnetite particles. If all went according to plan, any super soldier walking through these entries would be torn apart by the magnetic force of the panels. Useful, but they certainly didn't look pretty, a fact that occurred to him as he pulled them from their shipping crates and saw Scully's pursed lips. They wouldn't be winning any DIY awards: So much for aesthetics.
Agent Troy was not busy installing unsightly magnetized panels around his entryways, however. He was conducting a press conference. Poor bastard.
Mulder spit out the nail in his mouth and slid the hammer onto the side table closest to him before strolling into the bedroom. Scully was poised at the edge of bed, turning up the volume on the television with the remote. She nodded at the screen, and he joined her on the bed. There he was: Agent Troy looked a shade paler than usual, but otherwise seemed composed.
"You think they'll eat him alive up there?" Mulder asked, crossing his arms.
"I think that will be the least of his problems," Scully said with a sigh.
Mulder stood back up, shaking his head. "You know, I'm sorry, but I don't think I can listen to this."
Scully muted the television and stared after him. "Why?"
"Because I was right all along. And that doesn't change anything. His telling the world that men walk among them that aren't human doesn't change anything. Hell is still going to rain down on us."
Scully squinted at him, "You don't know that."
"I believe that," he affirmed. He wasn't going to get in an argument with her about the truth. About facts or evidence.
"And I don't know whether we're going to live long enough to even fight it," he said, wandering back into the living room and shouldering his hammer.
She followed him silently, watching him hunt for the disposed nail and prop one of the panels up against the wall. He was supposed to drive over to Maggie's house this afternoon after he was done installing the panels in their apartment, so he could do likewise with hers. He'd be quite a handyman when this was all over�a regular Bob Villa for the apocalypse.
"I don't know if you've considered this, but building this Fortress of Solitude will probably mean we won't be getting our security deposit back," Mulder said, banging a nail into place.
Scully arched one eyebrow at him. Yes, he was being diversionary. So be it.
"And I suppose we'll need to ask the super about shingling the roof in magnetite crystals," he continued, as he stuck another nail in his mouth. "Not everyone uses doors."
"Hey," Scully said, drawing his attention. "I already thought about that. Frohike's friend is working on interior paint infused with magnetite grains. We'll have it by the end of the week. Floor, ceilings, walls. This whole place will get a makeover: One big ugly white box."
Mulder leaned his forehead against the wall, letting the hammer hang at his side. "Like a sanitarium," he muttered.
"Just like," she affirmed, seemingly unwilling to be bated by his pessimism.
Closing his eyes, he breathed deeply, trying to stem the panic that had been building like a migraine in the stem of his brain over the past week. Swinging from anger to resignation in a matter of minutes, hammering these panels into the wall at least gave him an outlet for his pent up rage�so long as he didn't put the hammer through the wall. A sanitarium might be just the place for him.
"I'm not sure we'll make it, Scully," he spoke into the wall, feeling every muscle in his body tense as he spoke the words aloud once more. "To even think we could? We might as well all be diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder�thinking we can save the world."
He felt the light touch of her hand on his back. "That might be the case, but we'll do it. We have to."
He had the strength of his beliefs. She had faith. It was what had brought them back to D.C. It was what had kept him alive. His beliefs were worth nothing without her faith to shore him up.
He turned and slid down the wall, the hammer thumping against the floor as he pulled his knees up to his chest. Looking up at her, he tried not to mentally imbue her with sainthood. She deserved to be his partner; she didn't need to be set apart on a pedestal, as was sometimes his wont. They'd need each other in this: He couldn't use her as a crutch. He held out his hand and she took it without pause. Kneeling down on the floor beside him, she propped herself against the wall and nudged his shoulder with her own.
The baby monitor crackled on the side table. William was laughing in his room. He wasn't asleep, but apparently he was more than happy staring up at his mobile or counting the sunbeams coming through his window. The window that still needed a magnetite panel nailed around it.
Scully placed her hand on his thigh and Mulder felt a lump rise in his throat.
Mulder let his head roll to the side, so that he was staring down Scully's forehead at her aquiline nose. Addressing the bridge of her nose, he spoke without emotion, "They pumped you full of testosterone." She looked up at him, brows knit. "They still could be."
"Excuse me?" she asked, tilting her face so she could meet his gaze.
"Krycek said they used the chip to trigger a higher production of testosterone."
Scully looked exasperated. "Why?"
"So you would sleep with me."
Scully laughed dismissively, "Krycek was doing a number on you, Mulder."
"Testosterone plays a role in female arousal," he replied stubbornly. He'd done his homework when she'd refused to answer him on this point previously.
"It's not that simple."
"It is to me. Seven years, Scully. For seven years you weren't interested in me and then you changed overnight. This goes a good way to explain that, don't you think?"
"No, I don't. And frankly, Mulder, I think you're being more than a little bit ridiculous. Changed overnight? Really?"
He hugged his knees. "I wanted you for years," he admitted softly.
Peripherally he could see that she was giving him the indulgent�men are so stupid look�that more than one woman had directed at him in his day.
"And because we didn't jump in the sack right away, when we finally did, it must have been because nefarious forces amped up my testosterone levels?"
'Pretty much,' he thought glumly. He rubbed his nose on his forearm, staring forward.
"And they're still manipulating me, so you thank them every time we have sex?" she asked.
He couldn't tell if she was teasing him or not. He was definitely not thanking anyone. If anything, he was cursing them for taking away what had been a comforting certainty. Forces beyond their control had paired them up and knit them together with darkness. But, no one could have forced Dana Scully to want him�not even he could have done that. Athleticism, intelligence, charm, and persistence be damned: She'd been immune to it all or too familiar with his numerous faults to be distracted by the promise of sexual bliss. So, he'd been sure that it had been her decision. Made rationally perhaps, like every other decision of her life. Mapped out in little flow charts of the cost analysis a physical relationship with him might entail.
"Give me a little credit, Mulder. I ignored my hormones for years. You don't think I could have ignored a little alien technology induced hormone boost?"
Mulder snorted, burying his face in his arms for a moment. Lifting his head, he turned to look at her once more. "So, I really did just wear you down?"
"Yes, Mulder. Years of bad jokes drove me out of my mind," she responded flatly.
He leaned over and kissed the tip of her nose. "I prefer to think so."
"Let's stop contemplating our navels," she said, struggling to stand, "and do something. I'll help you pound some nails. I know how you like a woman wielding an implement."
Mulder stood, gathering the hammer and passing to Scully. "You're right. I loved you from the moment I first saw you brandish that gun of yours."
"You're a sick man," she teased. "Come on. Help me save the world."
Did you make it to the end? Three sections and thirty-three chapters later (I'm a literary nut�three is the magic number in literature) we've reached the end of the Cursing Miracles saga. I started writing this way back in 2000. It has been through numerous revisions, so that what started out as one thing has turned into something quite different. I started posting the first section over a year ago. Some of you have been along for the ride the entire time, and for that I thank you. For this third and final section, I would like to thank those people who regularly reviewed, giving me impetus to keep posting even when life got in the way: Dana42, ProFfeSser, chlark4, BeshterAngelus, Lily Bart, Swftrain, and Fictionnaire. And to all my lurkers�I love you too!
This will indeed be the final section. I wanted Scully and Mulder to have some happiness, including William, without doing away with the mythology that they'd developed�as convoluted as it was. This also allowed me to resurrect some of my favorite characters, since they weren't dead in my world, and let me avoid writing for Doggett and Reyes, who I feel ill equipped to duplicate successfully.
Going forward, I feel inspired to write for canon post season seven in a way I did not prior to the second movie. Be on the lookout for some shorter pieces in that vein. For those people celebrating Thanksgiving this weekend: Have a good one!
|Read More Like This||Write One Like This|
|Toddler William fics list
Keeping William list
Non-Canon Kids list
| One Each Way Challenge
William's Twin Challenge
Merry Multiples Challenge