Title: The Firebirds II
Author: Alien Girl

Rating: PG or more
Classification: Season 8, Mulder Return, Scully, Adventure
Spoilers: Everything up to "Within"/"Without", and some season 8.
Disclaimer: I don't own them, no I don't; oh-ah-oh-ah, sing it! :P Naw DUH, M&S and D&Sk belong to CC&C. Yallus belongs to me, go me. I'm not sure who the baby belongs to...Chris or me? How about we share it? A 90%-10% split in my favor? ;) Oh yeah...and the song I use very briefly is "Sick Cycle Carousel" by Lifehouse. I don't sing it. :)
Archive: Anywhere and all places, just tell me first!

Summary: The sequel to "The Firebirds": Scully's perspective on the events that lead up to her reunion with Mulder, and new revolutions...

Author's Notes: Ta-daa, here is the next story in this mah-velous series! I hoped you liked the first one enough to see what comes next! Obviously, you have to read the first "The Firebirds" in order to understand this (trust me, you will be VERY confused if you don't...) I'm not sure how many stories there will be...definitely three, maybe four. Lots more Scully in this one.

Thanks....to my wonderfully wonderful beta-readers! Riva (naw-duh!) And the amazing pink Kristen. Thanks for taking the time to fix the screwed-up stuff!! :):)

On with the show!!!

"So when will this end, it goes on an on,
Over and over and over again,
Keeps spinning around, I know that it won't stop,
Till I step down from this for good..."

Scully turned down the radio momentarily to listen for a sound in the backseat of her car. In the back there sat a few grocery bags stuffed with food and other necessities. In between the groceries there was a single carseat, where Hope sat giggling and smiling. Scully smiled back at the baby in the rearview mirror.

(She's growing every day...it's hard to believe she's already three months old.)

Three months old. It had been three months since Hope had been born, and almost five months since she had left the FBI on maternity leave. She had kept mostly to herself towards the end of her pregnancy...she had felt bad about leaving Doggett to deal with extra work, but every time she had offered to help he had refused, saying that the last thing she should be doing while pregnant was working. Scully had subdued to his insisting, but she could tell that he was having trouble on the cases without her more open views on things.

And then Hope had been born. That had certainly been an ordeal...both Doggett and Skinner had nearly crumbled into nervous wrecks making sure that everything was okay with Scully, and locking down security so tight it made the Pentagon look like a kid's playground. (Skinner and Doggett were probably more stressed than me.)

The entire time Scully had been in labor, she had been half expecting to see Mulder rush through the door in a whirlwind of excitement and see his daughter be born. It was so ironically perfect she had decided it just had to happen. So through 18 hours of labor, her focus had been on the door, waiting for Mulder and his astonished smile-and-a-half. But he hadn't come. the baby had been born, and she had sat holding Hope with tears in her eyes, but only half of those tears had been for her newborn baby.

It had been somewhat awkward after the baby had been born, and it was time to go home. Skinner and Doggett had been very quiet all throughout Scully's packing up, not knowing what else they needed to do now that the baby was here. Scully had gone home...and felt like she had never been pregnant at all, and had had this child dropped on her doorstep for her to take care of. Still, she had the idea in her head that Mulder would be coming back to see her and his daughter, and she had gone to sleep that night telling herself that when she woke up in the morning that Mulder would be sitting there, waiting for her. But when she opened her eyes the following dawn, she had found only herself and Hope.

And so it had been the same way, day after day, for the past three months. The idea of Mulder ever returning was drifting farther and farther away from her with each passing day. The trials of caring for a newborn child by herself were beginning to wear her down...not to mention the depression-causing hormone shifts that were already present. She would become depressed from her predicament, and would vent her frustration by yelling at Hope whenever Hope did something wrong. Then Hope would start crying, and Scully would drown herself in an ocean of guilt, telling herself that she shouldn't have done it, and that it wasn't Hope's fault that Mulder was gone, and for God's sake she's only a baby and I'm yelling at her. Then Scully would apologize to Hope over and over, and beg her for forgiveness for being such an arrogant, selfish human being that didn't deserve such a beautiful child. And of course, Hope would instantly forgive her with a hug, and Scully would depress herself even more with the knowledge that a tiny baby could be more loving than all the adults in the world put together.

Lately, Scully's depression was beginning to fade...she guessed that her hormone shifts were cooling down. She was not feeling happy, but she just felt like she had leveled off into a neutral state. The only thing that really concerned Scully now was taking care of Hope. She did not know what she was going to do once her maternity leave was over, and she didn't want to think about it right now. Who would take care of Hope once she went back to the FBI? Did she really want to sacrifice time with her child for the FBI if Mulder wasn't there? Even with Doggett's presence, her job felt empty. Plus there was the ever-present mortal danger she put herself in regularly...the last thing Scully wanted to do was make her child an orphan.

Scully then turned her attention from Hope in the backseat to the road. She sighed a little as she watched the pavement speed by underneath her car and the sun began to lower westwards. Life these past few months consisted of grocery shopping and dirty diapers and nursing hours and phone calls to Doggett and Skinner. She wondered if this was as good as it would get. She wondered if this was as good as she deserved.

"I never thought I'd end up here, never, Thought I'd be standing where I am. I guess I kinda thought that it would be easier than this, I guess I was wrong, now, one more time..."

Dreams like dying butterflies in heavy rains flittered around in her subconscious; dark, quiet and humble. She was not in a very heavy sleep; she had not been in one for a long time. But it was enough to last her through every day, so she was content to remain in it.

Dana Scully turned over in her sleep, her nerves feeling inexplicably tight. She was somewhat glad that she was dreaming nothing except blue and gray blurs...as opposed to previous nightmares she used to have. She used to frequently dream about Mulder, and about the cold, sharp, painful things that were done to him whether by her imagination or some actual being. But over time those dreams had blurred together into a mess of dark colors and dark sounds, freeing Scully from the horrid details of their constant pain. She did not want to think about such things at night.

A sudden sound caused the dying butterflies to wither away as Scully became half-awake. It was a very familiar sound, and one that she still did not enjoy listening to at three in the morning...the baby was crying.

Scully shut her eyes tightly, wishing that the sound would go away so she could get at least five consecutive hours of sleep. But the crying only became louder, and Scully decided it was time to start getting up. She managed to move her foot a few inches. (It's a start...)

But something was wrong. She knew Hope's crying by heart, and this wasn't normal. It wasn't the pleading cry for food or the uncomfotable cry of a dirty diaper. This was something of fear, a desperate terror. The crying was seeming to say, "Danger! Help me, protect me, I'm in danger!"

Scully forced her eyes open and struggled to prop herself up on one elbow. Hope's crib was on the far side of the bedroom, and as her eyes focused, she could see something. It was large, and black, and moving towards the crib.

(Oh God!!)

Scully leaped up in a spark of electric energy, a wordless cry rising from her tight stomach. The dark intruder turned and launched itself at *her*.

Scully felt her skull hit the bedroom floor as the thing knocked her to the ground. She punched upwards at its face, or what she hoped was its face...in the dark she couldn't tell whether the thing was man or beast.

Whatever she did, the thing reacted by swinging its fist across her face. She was momentarily stunned, and felt her brain flicker with confusion as the dead butterflies returned to cloud her vision. Her heart lurched as she tasted blood in her mouth. (Have to...get up...)

She could sense the black man getting up, and she heard the baby's shrill scream pierce her ears. Then suddenly, the scream was cut short.

(NO!!!) Scully leaped to her feet, adrenaline mixing with the blood in her mouth. She fumbled around in her drawer until she found cold black metal she whipped around and pointed it at the black mass and touched the trigger and---


The man stumbled backwards, a hand to his chest, grunting some curse. Scully clenched her teeth and fired again. This time, the man crumpled to the floor and did not move.

The gun dropped from Scully's fingers and clunked on the floor. She closed her eyes and breathed heavily, feeling a half- sob rise in her throat with each gulp of air she took. (The bastard...what was he doing...what did he make me do...)

Scully suddenly became alive again, and rushed to the crib. There was her Hope, her beautiful little Hope, lying with a cloth over her mouth. Scully ripped the cloth away, and Hope coughed and then started to cry again.

Scully could not stop the tears from coming to her own eyes as well. She reached down with trembling hands and picked up Hope, and held her tightly to her chest. Scully began to sob, and kissed her precious child over and over again on the forehead. "It's okay...it's okay, baby...mommy is here....I won't let anything hurt you..."

Hope's crying lessened as she found comfort in the embrace of her mother, but Scully's did not. Her legs were weak, and she sat down on the bed, rocking the baby back and forth. She cried without stopping, all sorts of horrible thoughts running through her head...(What was that man doing here? Why was he after Hope? What could he have done to her? What would I have done if I hadn't woken up in time? How could I live without her...) Scully cut her thoughts short. She knew that she just couldn't go on if Hope was taken. Ever since Mulder had disappeared, Hope had been the only source of comfort for her, as bitter as the comfort was. It had been especially difficult while she had been pregnant, and only able to experience the difficult side of motherhood. After Hope had been born, she had someone to hold and care for, someone who could provide her with the constant loving companionship that she had lost when Mulder left. And if she were to lose Hope after losing Mulder...she knew she would be devastated. She would be broken, and unable to piece herself back together ever again.

After an unknown time of sitting on the bed holding the baby, Scully began to calm down, and realize what she had just done. The man on the floor had not moved since she shot him...he had to be dead.

Once Hope's crying had been reduced to a quiet sniffling, Scully returned her to her crib. Never taking her eyes off the man, Scully moved to the light switch, and light instantly filled the room, causing Scully to squint.

And when her eyes adjusted again, she clearly saw the face of the man she had just shot.

Scully felt her breath catch in her throat. She recognized the man instantly, and a million different possibilities raced through her brain as to the reason for his presence. All of them filled Scully with an intense fear. She felt as if every breath of air in the room was watching her, out to get her and her baby.

She slowly crept back to the crib and picked up Hope, peeling her gaze away from the man. She pressed Hope's face to her chest in an unconscious effort to hide her child's face from the horrible mess of death on the floor. "Don't worry, Hope..." Scully whispered slowly. "We're getting out of here. We're going someplace safe." She kissed the baby again. "I'll make sure that you're safe."

Carrying Hope with her, she instantly set to work preparing. Scully packed a small suitcase with some of her clothes, toiletries and a few other items. She packed all of Hope's things into a separate backpack, and folded up her playpen. She took all of these things, including her wallet and gun, and loaded them into her car. Finally, she strapped Hope into her carseat. The baby had apparently gotten over her scare, and was dropping off to sleep again.

Scully was just the opposite. She was getting more and more anxious by the minute, and she felt like she could start crying again at any moment. She did not at all feel good about leaving the dead body in her room to rot, but there was no way she was telling anyone in the FBI or police about the incident. The risks were too great. She did not know exactly why the man had come for her child...but she knew it could only be because there was something about Hope. Something that called for extreme measures taken by those against her. And the last thing Scully wanted was for Hope to be caught in the middle of the most difficult trials of her life.

Scully locked the front door, shutting the deadly encounter inside. Then she got inside the car and put the key in the ignition...but didn't start it yet.

(Where can I go? Who would I talk to at this time of night? Not Agent Doggett...I'm not comfortable going to see Doggett. Not Skinner either, that just seems too dangerous.)

(Mom. I'll go see mom.)

Scully swallowed hard, and turned the car on. She felt cold and tense all over, and hoped that she would be able to drive carefully enough. (Just as long as I can get someplace safe, I'll be okay. And so will Hope.)

The car pulled out of the driveway and sped off into the night.

Scully knocked furiously on her mother's front door, holding Hope in the crook of her other arm. She didn't stop knocking, and prayed that her mom was not sleeping too deeply...

Maggie opened the door slowly, obviously very annoyed at being summoned at this hour. She was dressed in her pajamas and bathrobe, and squinted at Scully through tired eyes. For a moment, she couldn't seem to recognize her own daughter and granddaughter. "Dana?....."

"Mom, please let us in right now, please..."

"Dana, what are you doing here?..."

"Please, there's no time to explain!" Scully's voice was frightened and ragged, and filling with tears. "Just let us in!"

Maggie, seeing the fear in her daughter's eyes, instantly let her in and shut the door behind her. Scully walked in a few paces until she collapsed into a sitting position on the floor, clutching Hope to her. She choked back sobs lurking in her breath as her mother turned on the light.

"Dana, you're bleeding!" Maggie gasped, horrified. "What on Earth happened to you?!"

Scully hesitated before answering, as if afraid that if she did it might happen to her again. "I...Hope and I were attacked..."

Maggie instantly collapsed to the floor beside her daughter and embraced her. "What?...Who attacked you? What did they do? Why?...."

"I don't know why!" Scully cried into Maggie's shoulder. "They were after Hope, they wanted to do something to Hope..." She cried again, feeling comfort in the arms of her mother just as Hope felt comfort in her arms. "I-I woke up as he was going for Hope, and he jumped on me and hit me. Then he got up and tried to get Hope again, and I got my gun and shot him..."

Maggie pulled herself away. "You shot him? Did you kill him?!"

"I...I think so. He didn't move once I shot him."

"You just left the body there, Dana?" Maggie was obviously very shocked. "You didn't tell the police or FBI what happened?"

"I...I couldn't tell anyone! After I saw who he was, I knew it was too dangerous to say anything..."

"Who was he?"

Scully looked at her mother and suddenly didn't want to tell her who the man was. "He was...somebody who I've seen before. Several times. And has tried to hurt me...and Mulder. I didn't want anybody in a higher power to find out what had happened to him."

Maggie wanted to press further into the matter, but she could tell that her daughter did not want to talk about it. Scully was finally getting over her sobbing, but she was still very shaken up. Maggie was not sure what to say next. "What did your partner at work, Agent Doggett, say?"

"I didn't call him."

"Did you call anybody else?"

"No. I came straight here."

Maggie was quiet for a minute. "You just left the man in your apartment without telling anyone?"

"Yes...but that doesn't matter right now!" Scully said, her eyes shut and her voice thick. "I just...I just want to...get away!"

"Get away from who? Is there still someone after you?" Maggie asked, gripping Scully's shoulders.

"I don't know! I don't know if he was alone or...or what. Somebody could be watching me right now...watching Hope..." Scully shuddered at the thought.

"Why would anyone want to hurt Hope?" Maggie wondered aloud.

"Because she..." Scully stopped. She was developing a sense, a sense in her head that there was more to this baby than even she knew about. But she couldn't explain what it was. She didn't even want to imagine what sort of thing it could be, because whenever she thought about it only bad things came to mind. "I don't know why. I just know that they want to do something bad to her."

Maggie embraced Scully and Hope again as Scully started to tear up. "Don't worry, honey...you can stay with me for awhile if you want. Until you feel okay again. I'll make sure that you and Hope are safe."

Scully said nothing for several minutes, and Maggie assumed that she was thinking the matter over. When Hope made a small gurgling noise, Scully seemed to come alive again. Her mind was made up.

"I'm going to go away for awhile," Scully said.

"Go away?"

"Yes..." She said slowly, her gaze fixed upon an unknown point in space. "Hope and I will go away for awhile. Live by ourselves somewhere where it is safe. I'll take all the money I have, and I already packed clothes and things for both of us." She turned to her mother. "I just don't know where I can go."

Maggie understood why her daughter had come here...she wanted to find a place where she and Hope could hide. Maggie was sad that she could not provide more comfort to Dana, but she could understand where Dana was coming from. She didn't have to think very long before an idea came to mind. "Well...I think I know of someplace that might work."

Scully looked hopeful. "What? Please tell me!"

"My mother, your grandmother, had a cabin up in the deep woods of Vermont. She was raised there, and she used it as a place to stay during the summer sometimes. Your father and I went there once or twice. Nobody's used it for awhile though...there's running water and electricity, but no phone line. It's very secluded, and is only accessible by an old dirt road. The road leads back to a small town where there was a grocery store and some other stores, if I remember..."
"Can you take us there?"

"At this hour? It's a very long drive..."

"I'll drive most of the way if you want me to, and you can sleep. I'm not tired, trust me."

Maggie wanted to tell her daughter no, but the pleading look in Scully's eyes told her to do so otherwise. She softened, and gave in. "Okay...I'll take you there tonight, if you feel the need to go right now."

Scully managed to crack a grateful smile, and she embraced Maggie. "Thank you, mom."

Maggie sat and held Dana for awhile, feeling her body shudder with relief. She seemed to frightened, so tight, so frail...she had been this way inside ever since Mulder had left. It hurt Maggie to see her daughter in this way, after she had been so much stronger before. It hurt her to see Scully struggling though each day alone, refusing help from everybody except the one person who wasn't there to give it to her. And now, she had just agreed to take her daughter and granddaughter someplace where they would be completely cut off from the world, where they would have no contact with anyone except themselves. She wondered if she was doing the right thing. "Are you sure you want to do this, Dana?" Maggie asked quietly.

"Yes, I'm sure."

"Then get your things...we'll have to leave quickly if we want to stop somewhere along the way." Scully nodded, and stood up, when something else came to her mind.

"Mom, I want you to promise me something."

"Yes, what is it?"

Scully took a deep breath. "Promise that you won't tell anyone...not *anyone* what has happened to me. Don't breathe a word about me being attacked or staying in this cabin. Especially to Skinner or Doggett. It's just too risky..."

"Okay..." A sudden thought occurred to Maggie. "Is it alright if I come and see you?"

"No!" Scully's knee-jerk response was a bit too loud. "I'm sorry...no. I just want to be alone with Hope for awhile, and be safe. When I'm ready, I'll come back on my own. Just *promise* me that you won't tell anyone anything."

Maggie could not hide the hurt in her voice. "I promise."

Scully hugged her mother again. "Thank you, mom...I could never thank you enough for this."

Maggie just nodded slowly. "Come...let's get you ready."

The afternoon's light was just beginning to evaporate away into night as Scully's car drove silently along the rough dirt road. It was Maggie's turn to drive again, and Scully was sitting in the passenger seat staring quietly at the multitude of trees outside. She wondered if she was going to be able to last living here for more than a few days. The woods seemed so thick and challenging, and she wondered if she would end up staying for awhile and then come crawling back to the comforts of civilization she might crave. It would be very difficult to live alone with a new baby without phone lines or other conveniences...she had been busy enough taking care of Hope in a world full of them. (What am I thinking?) Scully thought to herself. (I'm giving up my home, my job and my security to live like a near-wild person in the woods just because I'm afraid to exist in civilization anymore? That man was probably alone...that would be like him. There's probably nobody else after me. I'm probably just scaring myself into doing something unnecessary and foolish.)

But despite these ideas, Scully still didn't want to go back on what she had begun. The uncomfortable feeling in her gut still drove her to these measures, and would not be quieted with any amount of logical thinking.

Maggie was saying nothing, and just concentrated on the road. Scully could tell that her mother was somewhat angry at her...angry that she was doing this and was running off with no protection except solitude. But she was not going to argue, because she knew Scully could take care of herself. They had talked very little during the eight-hour drive over here, and only stopped when they need to switch positions, go to a gas station or eat. Hope and Maggie had slept often, but Scully had not so much as closed her eyes. The hysteria and fear from the event had worn off long ago, and had been replaced with a feeling of tense calmness. She felt as if this cabin she was going to was the ends of the Earth, which was the only place she could get away from the dangers that surrounded her and her child. She would not feel safe until she was alone with Hope inside the cabin.

"Are you almost ready, Dana?" Maggie's voice broke the string of her thoughts. "It's just over this rise."

Scully mumbled something and shifted so that she was facing forward. "I guess so." What was she supposed to say? This was definitely no summer vacation, and parting between the two of them would be very difficult. She wished it was over right now.

The car began to go down the rise, and the cabin came into view. It was a small, dark old skeleton of a home, looking like the setting of some scary movie. She suddenly wondered if this was such a good idea.

"You'll obviously have to clean it up quite a bit. There were some people that rented it from us for awhile, but I'm not sure how long ago that was." Maggie said. It was obvious that she was desperate for at least some form of conversation. "There may be a few things that need repairing, like the window or something. I can stay and help you clean up if you like..."

"No." Scully said, almost too sharply. That quieted Maggie down, although it was an angry silence. They did not exchange any more words until they stopped outside the cabin.

Scully got out quickly and went to take Hope out of her carseat. In doing so, she woke up Hope from her nap, and Hope started crying. Scully tried to quiet her, because she suddenly couldn't stand to see Hope cry...it reminded her too much of the events of the previous night. Walking slowly and cautiously, Scully came to the front door and pushed on it. It was unlocked.

She pushed the door open entirely and coughed as an avalanche of dust attacked her nose. Inside she could see a variety of furniture and decorations coated with dust and cobwebs. As she walked into the house, she felt like she was entering some lost memory in her mind, and had to clean out the dust and cobwebs before she could clearly remember it again. Maggie stepped in behind her.

"It should have everything you need..." She said awkwardly. "There's a bedroom, a bathroom and a kitchen back there. I'm afraid you'll have to take your laundry to the laundromat, or wash it by hand. I think there may be some lumber, nails and saws in a shed out back, just in case you need them."

Scully did not say anything.

Maggie felt frustrated. "I don't like your idea of keeping your cell phone off, Dana. I won't be able to call you, to make sure you're alright..."

"Look, mom, we already went over this," Scully said tiredly. "I can't let you call me, or even have the cell phone on, because someone could trace the call and find out where I am. If I am in danger or have an emergency, ONLY then will I call you."

Maggie sighed heavily. She did not understand this strange situation Dana had suddenly plunged herself into, and she wished there was some way she could pull Dana out of it. She only said, "I take it you want to start right away, then."

"I'll just clean up the bedroom tonight..." Scully answered, her throat beginning to tie itself into knots. "So I can sleep. And tomorrow I'll start on the rest..."

Scully's lips trembled, and she instinctually moved into her mother's open arms. She didn't cry, but just breathed deep sobs. "I love you, mom."

"I love you too, Dana."

With that, Maggie went back to the car and helped take out the rest of Scully's things. Then she gave her daughter a final farewell and drove the car off into the darkening forest. Scully just stood in the front door and watched her go, feeling pine- scented winds brush her hair back.

And then she was alone.

"What do you think, Hope? Should we have ham or turkey this time?"

Hope stared down at the two choices presented to her on the table. They looked pretty much the same to her, and she wondered what her mother was trying to get at here. After careful consideration, she slammed her tiny fists down on her seat bar to make her statement.

"Neither? Grilled cheese it is, then." Scully smiled at Hope as she put away the two meats she had pulled out of the refrigerator. "I knew you'd make the right choice."

Hope giggled in response. Scully was amazed at how much one human being could grow in just a month and a half. Hope was sitting up in her special play chair and was even trying to form sounds besides crying. The more she saw Hope grow, the happier she became.

Scully turned on the oven and took out bread and cheese to begin making sandwiches for herself. She was glad that she didn't have to prepare food for Hope, since so far she seemed to be perfectly content with breast milk, although lately Scully had begun experimenting with bottles and soft foods. Scully found herself in a good mood today...she had woken up feeling alive and fresh, and she loved the feeling. She had looked out the window at the glorious sun and the mockingbirds, and it was then she knew that today was a perfect day to go to the island. She planned to stay there for quite a few hours, and perhaps finish that book she had bought.

Scully had gotten what she considered a lot accomplished in the month and a half she had been living here. The first night had not been a very enjoyable experience. She had managed to take her things inside, fold out Hope's playpen for her to sleep in, and dusted off the bed's old mattress before collapsing with exhaustion on top of it. Although she had been unable to move from lack of strength, she had been unable to go to sleep either, and had been in and out of sleep listening to the sounds of the forest outside.

The next morning, she had instantly gone to work making this cabin a suitable place to live. She swept and dusted the whole house from top to bottom until she was certain she would choke herself to death. She scrubbed down all the appliances in the kitchen and bathroom until they practically looked new. She washed the mattress, blankets and sheets by hand because she had not been brave enough to take them to the Laundromat. That had been rather difficult, since she had just filled up the bathtub with water and soap and then tried to scrub off the spots and stains by hand. She had also spent extensive time searching all the house for spiders, rats and cockroaches. Luckily, the only rats she had found were in the tool shed on the outside, and she was able to get rid of them just by plugging up their hole. It took Scully nearly a week to complete fixing up the house, but when she was done she was very pleased with it.

Throughout all of these undertakings, Scully had still devoted most of her time to Hope. Even when she was not busy feeding her, changing her or putting her to sleep, she would bring out the playpen or baby chair and let Hope watch while she worked on the house. Either way, Scully almost never let Hope out of her sight.

Once the house was fixed up, Scully found herself faced with a lot more leisure time than she had ever encountered before. There were no phone calls to make, no e-mails to reply to, no case file reports to look over, and no one to spend time with except her child. So she finally began to relax...she had made a garden for herself and planted both flowers and vegetables, hoping to make it so that the only thing she would need from the grocery store would be meats, bread and drinks. The cabin had no TV, so she went to the bookstore and bought herself piles of reading material. She couldn't remember the last time she had read a book for pleasure, and she had found the experience to be quite relaxing and stimulating all at once.

Scully put the lunch she had made into a bag, which she carried on one shoulder, and then picked up Hope with the other. "You ready to go now?" Scully inquired of her child. Hope pulled on Scully's shirt to say yes. "Okay, then."

Scully then stepped out of the house and into the woods, not bothering to lock the door behind her. She breathed in the scents of the forest heavily, delighting in the taste of natural beauty. All numbers of birds were in the tree branches above, twittering their scolding songs back and forth to each other. Scully followed the familiar path she always took, which was beginning to wear down into a trail from her constant use. The trees stretched around and above her, and the grass and undergrowth tickled on her ankles. She had come to love the feeling.

She remembered when she had first gone exploring through the woods...for the first week or so being here she had not dared to venture outside the cabin and the clearing. The woods had still seemed too threatening to her. But once she had finished cleaning, she realized that she could not spend all of her time in the house, and she needed to go out and explore the surrounding forest. Being very careful with having Hope with her, she had scoured a wide circle around the house, and had found mostly trees. However, she had also discovered a small creek running through the woods. Finally, in the middle of a wide spot of the creek, she had found a small island covered with grass and shaded by a weeping willow.

At first Scully did not go to the island, because she was not sure how to get across. She thought about building herself a bridge, but decided that would be even more dangerous than trying to cross by foot. Luckily, she had found a spot in the creek that had only come up to her ankles, so she could get to the island fairly easily.

Scully stopped as she found herself once again at the end of the trail and the beginning of the creek path. The forest was alive and well and welcoming, and the creek garbled nonsense as it skipped over rocks and sand. And aura of pleasantness drifted up from the stream and cleaned Scully's lungs; replacing the inside sawdust of her house with the smell of pines and cool water.

She held Hope closer to her as she carefully tread across the shallow water to the island on the other side. The moment she was across, she slipped her shoes off so that she could feel the long grass beneath her feet and between her toes. The branches of the weeping willow stretched out across almost all of the island, providing her with shade and a view of the outside world as through a curtain. She lay down in the grass against the slope of the island, and let Hope rest her head on her chest.

"Think maybe we'll see those little yellow birds again, Hope?" Scully said with a sigh. "They can come and pick up the crumbs we leave behind and sing a song just for you."

Hope just snuggled deeper into her mother's arms.

"Almost everybody else is afraid of the woods," Scully told her daughter. "But not you. You're going to love this world because the trees protected you and the birds sang for you and the squirrels played for you and the water felt good on your feet."

Scully had given a lot of thought to she and Hope's future. When she had first arrived at the cabin, she had figured that she would stay for just a little while, and then go home when she felt they were out of danger. But now...she wasn't sure she ever wanted to go back at all. The freedom she had discovered here was far superior to the civilization she had known for so long. Here there were no responsibilities and no obligations to anyone but herself and her child. Here she was surrounded by the beauty of nature and felt more clean and relaxed than she ever had before. She couldn't help but be reminded of Thuroe's _Walden_...it was good for a person to exist in nature and in solitude, away from the confines of society. What had society and her former life ever done for her, anyway? Given her a person, a person she could love and teach and trust, only to snatch him from her again and leave nothing but a constant reminder of him? She owed nothing to her life as she had known it...it had disappointed her entirely.

And so Scully had been slowly coming to the decision that she wanted to remain in this sacred place for as long as she physically could. As for Hope, she would be her teacher as well as her mother. Scully knew herself to be very intelligent; she figured she could provide Hope with adequate schooling all the way up through high school. And then, once Hope wanted to, she could leave and pursue whatever dreams she may develop. If that did happen, it seemed too far off for Scully, so she didn't think of it right now. Scully had developed this desire to teach her child, and to teach her so that she was a better person. She wanted it for Hope more than anything. She felt that Mulder could want that for Hope as well.

The reminder stung at the skin on her chest, and she flinched. Try as hard as she could, she could never forget the name, the face, the person. She could only place him behind this weeping willow curtain and listen to his garbled voice, like water over pebbles.

And take care of their child.

Scully stroked Hope, who had drifted off to sleep again. She wanted to eat the lunch she had packed, but she felt like the grass and trees and sleeping child had put her in a trance, and she couldn't move. She could only watch, and listen, and think.

But Scully liked the feeling. She liked being able to use her five senses slowly and surely, savoring everything the world had to tell her. She enjoyed being able to think, to ponder and imagine and create stories in her mind. She enjoyed asking the woods her silent philosophical questions, and was always pleased with the answer she received in return.

But most of all, Scully enjoyed being with Hope. She never grew tired of diaper changes or midnight checkups or hours spent trying to keep Hope from crying, because there was nothing else to wear her down besides. She enjoyed watching her daughter grow, watching her discover new things every day, and take delight in every thing she saw. She enjoyed the innocence of childhood incarnated before her, untainted by the harsh reality of civilization.

Scully felt the grass on her skin, the breeze in her hair and the baby on her chest and decided that here is where she would stay.

Scully tested the soup carefully, being wary of burning her tongue on the hot broth. This was the first time she had ever made soup with vegetables from her own garden, and she was greatly anticipating the taste. Hope was entertaining herself in her playpen with some small plastic toy that rattled.

The soup felt perfect to Scully, and she was very proud of her accomplishment. (Nothing like sitting down to homemade soup for dinner.) She poured the dinner into her bowl and went to the refrigerator for the iced tea and--

When suddenly there was a knock on the door.

Scully was frozen. That was not the knock of a tree branch against the wood or some curious woodland animal trying to get inside. That was the knock of a person, another human being. She didn't know what to do...if it was her mom, she should open it. But what if it wasn't? What if someone had come back to take her baby away from her?

She was filled with a mixture of fear and contempt. How dare this person come and disturb her and her solitude! And if this person had come to hurt her or her child, they would be sorry they dared to exist. Scully carefully picked up Hope and tucked her under her jacket so that she could not easily be seen. Then she grabbed up her gun, which she always kept on the desk next to the door, and held it to her side. She pressed herself against the wall, feeling her heart pound with anticipation. It took awhile before she was even able to gather the courage to speak. "Who's there?"

"Dana, it's me!" Maggie's voice came through the wood. "Please open the door."

Scully nearly collapsed with the relief of hearing her mother, but she was not about to let down her guard just yet. "Are you alone?"

"No, but trust me on this, Dana. Just open the door, it'll be okay."

Scully's instincts told her not to. But she overcame her instincts with a burst of anxious energy and cracked the door open halfway.

She saw her mother standing there, smiling at finally being able to see her daughter again. She also saw Skinner standing on the other side, his deep eyes reflecting his genuine surprise and concern. But her gaze was drawn to the person standing between them. A face made up of bright hazel eyes, tired grin and messy dark hair...a face that was all too familiar.

Scully turned about-face and shut the door.

"Scully!" His voice stung her ears like salt on a wound, hurting her and healing her at the same time. She breathed in and out heavily, her mind spinning and twisting into an incomprehensible oblivion. (What's happening to me? How did this illusion suddenly say my name? It can't be him! He wouldn't dare show himself to me after what he did to me!)

At the same time, another voice was screaming at her intensely. (Dana, what the hell do you think you're doing?! You just shut the door in Fox Mulder's face! The same Fox Mulder who fathered the child you're holding; the same Fox Mulder who has been in your thoughts for the entire past year!)

This voice reached Scully's nerves first, and she opened the door just a crack, and looked out just enough...enough to see Mulder's gaze piercing into hers.

Scully choked back down a sob.

Mulder pressed his weight against the door and forced it open, causing Scully to step back. She held Hope against her, locked to Mulder's eyes by some invisible chain. Mulder's expression was something Scully couldn't describe; it looked like he was overjoyed and cowering in fear all at once. "Scully," he said quietly, as if saying her name would magically restore whatever unnamable thing had been lost when he disappeared. Scully tried to find words, but they refused to move past her lips, and all she could do was stare and try to hold back the moisture that was rising to her eyes.

Mulder finally refused to hesitate anymore, and he moved to Scully and wrapped her arms around her, aware of the bundle that she was carrying herself. Scully suddenly found herself pressed into Mulder's chest, and for the first time she came to realize that this was no illusion, and that the man surrounding her was real and living and breathing into her hair. "It'll be okay, Scully," He whispered to her. "I'm back."

"It won't be okay!" Scully countered in a choking voice. "How can it ever be okay again? You're here, after...after all this, after I thought you were gone..."

"I'm sorry..." Mulder sighed, his own voice beginning to grow thick. "I'm so sorry. I need you to forgive me, if there's anything I want you to do now it's to forgive me."

"I'll think about it," Scully mumbled. She instantly kicked herself for such an answer. (You'll *think* about it?! Of *course* you'll forgive him! You'd do anything for him now that he's come back to you!!)

"Think about it, then," Mulder said, always being the patient one with her. "I just can't say how happy I am to see you again."

Scully pulled herself away so that she could look into his face. His neck and face were spotted with multiple scars, but these scars seemed to disappear in Scully's eyes and she saw only the wonderful face of the Mulder she had known so well before she left. She could tell that Mulder was studying hers just as intensely, and he smiled at her.

Just then, Hope wriggled out from underneath Scully's coat, yawned and looked directly at Mulder. Mulder stared at the baby wide-eyed, as if he had never seen a human being under the age of one before. The child suddenly felt very heavy in Scully's arms. "This is...our daughter."

Mulder sighed a laugh, and Scully could tell that there was moisture beginning to fill his eyes, too. "C-can I hold her?" He finally managed to squeak out.

Scully handed Hope to Mulder without saying a word. Mulder took the baby very carefully, as if afraid that if he touched her she would shatter into a million pieces. Hope stared up at Mulder with astonished eyes...she couldn't remember seeing a human being other than her mother. She was both bewildered and excited at the same time. She could sense a connection to this strange person the way she felt connected to her mother, and because of this she instantly trusted him. Mulder held her in his arms gently, and stared down at his daughter with a feeling in his blood that he had never experienced before. It was a wonderful feeling, and he thought that he could hold this baby forever just to have that feeling inside him. "How can she be?..." Mulder said quietly.

"I could just as easily ask you," Scully said in an almost humorous voice. "She just...came out of nowhere. But she's ours."

At that moment, Maggie and Skinner made themselves more apparent to the reunited Mulder and Scully. As much as Scully wanted to just remain alone with Mulder and the miracle of his presence, she realized that she needed to acknowledge the other people who had brought him back to her. She turned to her mother and embraced her as well. Maggie held her back and sighed, "I've been so worried about you, Dana..."

"W-Where did you find him?" Scully gasped.

"He came back on his own. That is his story to tell you. I know I didn't do a very good job of keeping your secret, Dana."

"I'm glad you didn't, I'm so glad you didn't!" Scully said, although she was only half telling the truth. She was very happy to see her mother again, and had even considered calling her earlier.

When Scully let go of Maggie, she also saw Skinner's firm smile, and Scully could tell that he had probably been more worried about her than Maggie was. "It's been very unpleasant around the office without hearing your phone call every day," Skinner said. "And not knowing where you were."

Scully just smiled at her former boss, feeling a strange relief come from seeing him again. She briefly wondered why Doggett hadn't come...she knew he would have been anxious to see her.

"Your mother has explained a few things to us, Scully," Skinner said. "And we're hoping that you would come back with us. I'm sure whatever danger you were in has passed in the time of two months."

"Perhaps you're right..." Scully said quickly. "But I don't want to go back just yet. I would like to...stay here with Mulder. Alone. So that we can talk."

Maggie and Skinner exchanged glances, apparently both of them somewhat surprised. Then they both appeared almost identically downcast. "Dana...you've been gone for so long, and everyone has been so anxious about you. How long are you planning to stay here?" Maggie asked.

"Just...long enough," Scully sighed. "I just need some time, a little more time, and I promise we'll come back. I'll leave my cell phone on if you want."

This helped to ease Maggie's fears just a little, but not much. She looked at the door, and then back at Dana. "Let me see my granddaughter before we go," She demanded.

Mulder carefully handed Hope over to Maggie, still reluctant to let go of her. Maggie poured over Hope all the joy and affection of a proud grandma, and both Mulder and Scully couldn't help but smile. Hope giggled and cooed at Maggie's comforting embrace, still somewhat amazed at all these people who had come to see her.

After awhile, Maggie finally handed Hope back to Scully, her mood becoming somber at having to leave her children again. she looked sharply at Scully. "You *had* better come back home soon, Dana, otherwise I just may keel over and die from lack of grandchild!"

Scully smiled slightly. Skinner put his hand on Mulder's shoulder, and a look passed between them. Then Skinner and Maggie quietly and somberly left the house, leaving the three of them alone together.

"So you've been here?" Mulder asked hesitantly as Scully wrapped up her bowl of soup and put it in the refrigerator for later. They had been silent for the past few minutes, and had concentrated on studying each other's faces. Both of them wanted to talk, but conversation seemed to be oozing like cold syrup.

"Yes," Scully sighed. "I really like it here. It was good to be alone."

"When I came back and heard that no one knew where you were, I was so afraid...I felt like I could have become sick."

"Do you remember what happened to you? Where you were, who did this to you?"

Unknowingly, both of them were desperate to hear of the other's experiences but were very reluctant to talk about their own. "Yes, I do remember..." Mulder looked down at the floor. "But I wish I didn't. I wish for all the world I didn't..."

"Skinner said he saw you be abducted. He never changed his mind, no matter how hard Doggett tried to prove him wrong."

"Skinner was right."

Scully edged to Mulder slightly. "Did you let yourself be taken?"

"The actual abduction I hardly remember...except that I didn't feel like I was in danger until I saw a familiar face. Then I was afraid." He breathed a long, deep sigh.

"Why did they return you?"

"They didn't return me. I escaped."

"How on earth did you escape?!"

"It's a very long and complicated story," Mulder stared down at the grain of the wood table. "One that I am sure you will eventually hear all the details of. But I'm also sure that you're not going to like some of it. When we go back to the others, we'll have to face it."

"You escaped and returned and then came looking for me?"

"I found Agent Doggett first. He and Skinner explained to me what had happened to you." Mulder gave Scully an upset look. "You were assigned a new partner."

"It was not my choice. But it was a good choice...Doggett is a good agent and a good person. Without him I probably wouldn't be alive right now. He was often skeptical, but always supportive." Scully caught Mulder's look. "Don't be jealous, Mulder. It was *hard* for me to support myself, and then the baby, all alone..." Scully found her own tone becoming angry. "I remained alone for a long time waiting for you. Too long. Don't start thinking that I had it any easier than you did, because I didn't."

"It wasn't my fault!" Mulder protested. "Don't you think that if I could have I would have come back to you the moment I was able? And I don't believe you know what you're talking about when you say you had it no easier than I did!"

"Really?" Scully glowered at Mulder. "Do you have any idea what it was like, going through every single day trying to do my job, feeling a child growing inside me, and having everyone tell me that the person who fathered your child is dead or missing or betrayed you? Mulder, it was hell for me!"

"THIS was hell!" Mulder suddenly stood, and pointed to the scars on his face. "Pins, drills, lasers, needles, saws, liquids, over and over again, EVERY SINGLE DAY. I didn't have an Agent Doggett to support me, I didn't have a baby to make me feel human! The first person to show a scrap of kindness to me all this past year wasn't even human!" His voice cracked. "You have no idea what it was like, every day, the same thing...and I never stopped thinking of you, no matter what happened to me..."

Scully looked with sad eyes at Mulder. When she had thought about his coming back, she had never imagined anything like this...them yelling at each other. She didn't want this...she wanted to hold Mulder, to have him close to her so that she could tell him how she missed him and how thankful, how eternally thankful she was that he had come back...and that she loved him...

"I told you I was sorry," Mulder stated, his voice now quiet. "What more do you want?"

"I want..." Scully stopped. What more could she ask for? She had Mulder, she had their child, she had a home and she had his apology. "I want you to prove to me that it will never happen again." Scully left herself shocked at her bizarre request.

Mulder's reaction was just the opposite. "Alright then. I love you."

Scully was completely speechless.

"There is your proof. I have said it before, and I say it again now. I love you. As long as this is true, we can never be separated like this again." Mulder paused, his face feeling hot, and he gulped down air. "Are you happy now?"

Scully just stared at Mulder, and she shook her head very slowly. "I.....I don't think I can ever be unhappy again..."

That was exactly what Mulder wanted to hear. He reached out his hands to bring Scully to him, suddenly desperate to hold her, and Scully did likewise. As they did so, their hands met and their palms touched.

And something unexpected happened.

Something like an electric shock passed between their skin. Mulder watched in amazement as blue light flashed against his skin, and then formed back into the firebird symbol, glowing just as brightly as when he had first touched the mural on the Argothian ship.

But the symbol also appeared on Scully's hand, lighting up her skin with a crimson red instead of blue. Scully cried out with horror and snatched her hand away from Mulder's, but the symbol continued to glow. Scully's face was a mixture of shock and disbelief as she stared at the thing on her hand. She tried to rub it away, but it remained just as bright as ever. "Mulder, what is this? What happened to me?!"

"The firebird symbol..." Mulder said quietly. He had not expected *this* to happen at all. "...Just touching made it come back."

"Do you know what this is?" Scully demanded.

"Where is Hope?" Mulder ignored Scully's question. "I need to see her!"

Before Scully could answer, he saw Hope sitting in her playpen behind the table. Mulder rushed to the baby, and picked her up, gazing with wonder into his daughter's deep eyes. Then Mulder carefully pressed his hand against Hope's tiny palm.

The same thing happened to the baby. Electricity passed between them, and the glowing symbol appeared in purple upon Hope's hand. Hope gazed at this strange occurrence and giggled at it in delight. Scully, however, was not quite as thrilled. She rushed to Hope and pulled out her hand to look at it. The symbols were identical except that they were different colors and Hope's was much smaller.

"What does this mean?" Scully gasped.

Mulder sucked in his breath. How on earth could he explain the firebird legend to Scully? There was so much involved, so much at stake...and he didn't even know where to begin.

"What does this mean?!" Scully's eyes shot to Mulder.

"It means..." Mulder hesitated. "It means that our baby is special. More special than you or I realize."

"But what does this thing do?" Scully said, rubbing anxiously at the glow on Hope's hand.

"It does nothing..." Mulder began. "Except mark us."

"Mark us as what?"

"As living legends."

"I don't understand."

Mulder took a deep breath. He was going to have to try and explain it now...it would be difficult, but he would try. "Scully...while I was on the ship, right before I came back, I found pictures on a wall that caused this to appear on my hand." He held up his palm. "Pictures of things familiar to me...of dragons, of unicorns, of birds made out of fire. Those pictures, those firebirds...they were us."

Scully said nothing. What could she say?

Mulder continued. "The pictures represented a legend that the...that the aliens believed in. It talked of a child, a child with magic blood, that could destroy their race completely. And now all they want to do is kill this child, because it is the only thing they are afraid of. And the child that this legend speaks of is *ours*."

Scully's lips trembled, but she said nothing for awhile. Then she looked back at Hope, gazing up innocently at them and wondering what her two parents could be so nervous about. "How do you know this?" She finally asked.

Mulder bit his lip. "While on was on the ship, I also met some other aliens, but not the same ones that you know of. They were different races, and they became my friends. They explained the legend to me, and helped me to get back home. One of them, Yallus, came back with me...she's with the Lone Gunmen right now. There are hundreds of races out there, Scully, in this corner of the galaxy, all of them just as threatened as ours is...and all of them depending on our baby."

Scully looked away from Mulder, not wanting to hear these things right now. If what Mulder said was true, and they were the realities of some alien legend, then they would have to return to the life she had tried so hard to leave behind, the life of danger and suspicion and threats that she wanted to shield their daughter from. She had been desperately hoping that now Mulder was here, they could live together in isolated paradise. But now Mulder had come back with talk of aliens, and legends, and she realized that they had obligations to fulfill. Obligations not just to the community, or the world, but to the whole damn universe.

She turned around, and picked up Hope. Scully held her baby close to her chest, as if trying to shield her from Mulder's words. "What can she do? She's just a little baby! If what you say is true...how can she possibly destroy a entire alien race? I don't understand it at all!"

"I don't really understand it, either," Mulder sighed. "All I know is what I heard, and what I saw. And somehow...I believe it. I don't understand it all, but I believe it."

"So what do we do now?"

"I...I don't know." Mulder shook his head. "This is just as confusing for me as it is for you. With this information and its implications, I feel like we should do something, but I don't know what. I don't even know if we're supposed to do anything at all, or just let whatever is supposed to happen happen."

"Let's do nothing," Scully breathed. "Just...nothing. After all this time apart, and we come together and there's some greater purpose for us all... It's too much. No aliens, no legends, no obligations. Just us three, together. That's all I want, and that's all I need."

Mulder came up to Scully, his gaze tired and thankful, and put his hands on her waist. "I already made a promise to you: I'll never let us be separated again. No matter what may come in the future. You know that I feel the way you do...I care only about us three. And it's that belief that I'm going to put first in my mind whenever I have a choice to make."

Scully buried her face in Mulder's chest, and they embraced tightly. Suddenly, the last two months Scully had spent in what she thought was paradise was instantly nothing. This was true happiness, this envelopment in Mulder and their emotions. She wanted to remain here forever, feeling his skin against hers, his breath in her hair, and his words in her ear. The glowing colors on their hands may have been reminders of their coming responsibility, but for now, all that mattered was them together.

Mulder leaned Scully back so that he could see her face, and kissed her forehead. She shuddered warmly in his grip. They did not need to speak; they just needed to be, to understand.

"It's...time for me to put Hope to sleep." After a long time, Scully finally dared to use her voice.

"I'll put Hope to bed," Mulder answered. "You get ready for bed yourself..." He paused. "I'll be joining you in a minute."


Mulder forced one eye open, his movements slow, and the first thing that he saw was the back of Scully's head. The sound persisted loudly, irritating his morning hearing. It sounded vaguely familiar, but it took awhile for him to identify it exactly...Scully's cell phone.

At first, Mulder ignored it completely. It wasn't time to get up yet, as far as he was concerned. The past five days he and Scully had not gotten up until the sun blazing through the window had hit their bodies, heating the bed when it was already warm. He simply snuggled himself deeper into the sheets and the feel of Scully's body warmth against him. After awhile, the phone stopped ringing.

The last few days had been filled with a contentment that he had never known before. He had very easily been sucked into Scully's quiet world of spending time with nature and with Hope. Mulder had fallen in love with his daughter the moment he saw her, and he loved watching everything she did. He especially enjoyed seeing Scully and Hope being together. He saw the joy in Scully's eyes, the joy of motherhood that she had longed to have but had never experienced until now. He loved seeing her be a mother. It was a side of her he had never experienced before, but was glad to experience it now.

Of course, Mulder and Scully had started making time for themselves only. They were not sure how it had started, but it had seemed to be the natural action to take now that they were together again. And throughout the entire time, they were both constantly wondering why they had not started this sooner.


The burring of Scully's cell phone began again, and Mulder winced at the sound. Scully moved next to him, and he realized that she was already awake. "Mmm...phone, Mulder," She sighed.

"I know."

"I'll get it." Scully forced herself up, moving the comforters away from her. She fumbled around tiredly on the top of the desk next to the bed until she found her cell phone, and switched it on. "Hullo?"

For a moment, Scully was quiet. Then Mulder watched as Scully's eyebrows furrowed and a look of utter astonishment covered her face. "Wha?...Who is this?!" She asked, confused.

"What's the matter?" Mulder asked.

"I dunno..." Scully looked at the phone as if she were holding a rotting banana. "It...it sounds like some kind of *bird* screeching its head off! What the..."

"A bird?" Mulder echoed, his mind still foggy with the morning. Then, he sprang up as though electrocuted with memory. "A bird! Here, Scully, give me the phone!"

Seeing the excitement in Mulder's face, Scully handed him the cell phone. She wondered who...or what...could be calling them at this time...

"Yallus, is that you?" Mulder asked.


Mulder could recognize that voice anywhere. "Yallus! Wait, hold on a second, I don't have my translo--"


Mulder was scrambling out of bed, looking on the floor for his pants. "Yallus, wait, I can't understand you! I'm getting my translo! Hold on..."

"Mulder?..." Scully said, completely puzzled.

Mulder found his pants, and fished around in his pockets until he found the black translo. With Scully watching him, bewildered beyond words, he fit the translo in his ear and picked up the phone again. "Alright, Yallus, go ahead."



"Mulder, who on earth are you..."

[Look, I've been explaining it to you for the past five minutes! We found a fuel source that we can use instead of chark.]

Mulder was stupefied for a minute, his brain not making connections. (Fuel source? Chark?) Then he finally remembered...chark was a fuel for the Argothian sky attack gunner; the fighter ship that he and Yallus had returned in. They had been low on fuel by the time they reached Earth. Mulder balanced the phone on his shoulder and started to put on his pants. "Say it again...what about a fuel source?"

Yallus sounded excited. [Those friends of yours, the Lone Gunmen, and I went back to the attack gunner and took a sample of chark for them to study. They looked at it, and said it was almost the exact same stuff as this thing you Humans drink called Vodka! So now we can put in enough fuel for me to leave your homeworld.] She paused. [Although why any intelligent race would want to actually *drink* chark I have no idea...]

Mulder couldn't help but grin at the thought. He remembered Yallus mentioning that Argothians had discovered a planet full of chark, which was why they used it for fuel...he wondered how some Humans would react if they knew that somewhere out there was a planet covered in Vodka. "Well, that's good that you were able to find a fuel source. I told you that the Lone Gunmen would be helpful."

Scully, meanwhile, had almost completely given up on trying to make sense out of what Mulder was talking about and who he was even talking to. Sensing that something was going on, however, she got up out of bed and started to get dressed. She glanced over at Hope's crib, and saw that the baby was still asleep.

[Mulder, listen to me,] Yallus continued. [You need to come back right away. Bring the red firebird with you.]

"Come back? Right now?" Mulder sounded like a kid that was being called in to do dinner and homework. "But..."

[It's important! The Argothians know where we are, they could be coming at any moment...]


"Mulder, I'm going to go get us some breakfast," Scully sighed. "Because as soon as you're done talking you're going to give a long and thorough explanation to me about all this."

Mulder was beginning to feel just a little too frantic. " Hold on a minute, Scully..." He went back to the phone. "Yallus, what do you mean?"

[When we went back to the attack gunner, I found the position tracker on and blinking...]

"Position tracker? What's that?"

[It's a device Argothians install into almost all of their ships, that connects them to the head base ship,] Yallus explained. [It acts as a homing beacon...Argothians on the head base ship can locate their craft from any point in the five sectors. I'm afraid I forgot to deactivate it when we stole the thing.]

Mulder felt the anxiety in him start to build. "So...what does this mean?"

"Mulder!" Scully's frantic voice came from the living room. "Mulder, hang up the phone now!!"

Mulder was pulled between two different situations he needed to attend to, and he chose the one on the phone. [It means the Argothians most likely know where their missing sky attack gunner is. And after all that happened when we escaped, they probably won't be feeling generous when they come to retrieve it,] Yallus warned.

"Mulder, please come here!" Scully's voice sounded desperate.

"Hold on, Scully!" Mulder told her, and turned back to Yallus. "Do they know...do they know that we are the firebirds?"

[I don't know, but I'm certain they won't be taking any chances. You need to come back right away, so we can--]

"MULDER! Hang up the phone and come here NOW!"

Now Mulder was finally getting anxious about Scully's cries. "Yallus, I have to go, I'll call you back!"

[Mulder! You must...]

"We'll come home soon! Just...wait for us!"


Before Yallus had a chance to speak again, Mulder hung up the cell phone and threw it aside. He then marched into the living room. "Scully, what is--"

He stopped mid-sentence, suddenly too shocked to use his voice. Scully turned and looked at Mulder with an expression of fear and confusion, and Mulder's reaction was nothing more than a reflection of Scully's face. Standing in the front doorway was a hauntingly familiar figure...a figure with steel gray hair, troubling, grayish eyes and wrinkled, pale skin.

Cancer Man gave Mulder and Scully a broad smile. "Good morning to you, firebirds."

Mulder moved towards Scully until they were standing next to each other, renewing each other's strength with their unity. They were afraid, there was no denying that, but they both felt stronger by each other's side. Cancer Man said nothing, just sighed deeply and let them ponder over the unwelcome miracle of his presence.

Meanwhile, all sorts of thoughts were passing through Mulder's mind as he stared at Cancer Man. (What could he be doing here...what would his purpose be here but to hurt us or our baby?) A terrifying realization came to his mind out of nowhere. (He is...Cancer Man is the dragon! It would make perfect sense...he has tried to end our lives many times before, he has made a pact with the Argothians for his life...he probably also staged my abduction. He even breathes fire and smoke! He has to be the dragon...otherwise how would he know about the firebird legend?)

"What are you doing here?" Mulder demanded between his teeth.

"I have not seen any of you for quite awhile," Cancer Man answered. "I figured that now would be as good a time as any to drop by."

Mulder spoke his thoughts aloud. "You're the dragon, aren't you?" Cancer Man didn't answer. "Get out of my house, dragon!!" He exclaimed, his voice rising.

Cancer Man chuckled to himself. "Of course, you would assume that. It makes perfect sense to you. I am sorry to disappoint you, blue firebird, but I am not your dragon. I'm not lucky enough to be a participant in the Argothian legend." He sighed. "Even those crackpot friends of yours get a role, but I don't."

As he was speaking, Cancer Man was slowly making his way towards them. As he was doing so, Mulder and Scully were backing away from him, remaining together. Scully began to feel the same threatened energy that Mulder was experiencing. "How do we know you're not lying?" She exclaimed. "You've never told the truth to us before."

"It doesn't matter whether he's lying or not," Mulder said angrily. "We know what he really is! And I want him to *leave* this house right now!"

Cancer Man continued to ignore Mulder's commands. "How is your little daughter doing? Well, I hope?...No pun intended."

"YOU WON'T COME ANYWHERE NEAR THE BABY!" Mulder warned, his nerves taunt. His voice was loud, and yet quivering, for he feared for his daughter's safety...

"That baby," Cancer Man hissed, "is your proof that I am not the dragon."

Both Mulder and Scully were shocked into silence. They had no idea how to answer this.

Cancer Man had them where he wanted them. "You, Scully...when you found out you were pregnant, you didn't know where the baby had come from, did you? You knew nothing about this child other than Mulder was somehow the father and you the mother. And after all this time, after the baby was born and has been growing healthily for five months, it is still a mystery to you." He looked over Mulder and Scully's agitated faces with mute interest. "You probably would never know if I didn't tell you now."

"If you're going to say something important, then say it now and leave us," Mulder said in a low voice. "We don't want you here."

"You know, most other people would be thanking me without stopping if I did for them what I have done for you. It was I who was able to put the pieces together to give you your child.

"You see, having been in contact with the aliens often when my colleagues still lived, I heard their legend of the firebirds. Most of my colleagues didn't think it was anything more than a legend, and concentrated on what they felt was the best way to protect themselves from the coming invasion. I, however, was fascinated by the legend and its implications. I must admit, Mulder, that when you and Scully were first partnered together the firebird legend did not even cross my mind. Everyone perceived you as another threat to our cause. But as time passed, and as I watched you two interact and grow, I became aware of exactly how close I was to the legend incarnated.

"Now, I must explain something to you. As magic as the firebird legend is, it is also science. Almost all other alien races in this universe are vulnerable to the Argothian's life- force, the black oil. However, there are chemical compounds and natural compounds that are resistant to it, and even destroy it. My colleagues' and I's main purpose was to create this compound; and we succeeded, to an extent."

Mulder started to put events and situations together. "You mean the vaccine. The vaccine I gave to Scully."

"Yes," Cancer Man continued. "Both of you have, at one time, been infected by the Argothian life-force, and have received the vaccine, preventing you from ever being infected again. This resistance is incorporated throughout your system - your blood, your skin, your genes. And so the firebirds are very powerful in magic...

"...But now powerful enough. As effective as your resistance is to the Argothians, it is still an artificial resistance. This causes the Argothians great concern, but not the fear that they feel when they hear 'Child of the Fire.' For since this resistance is incorporated into your genes, should you chose to reproduce, the genes would be passed on to your offspring.

"But it is not the same as before...any child of yours is *born* immune to the Argothian plague. A natural resistance to the universe's greatest sickness. I have found the irony of the whole thing to be quite amazing...that my colleagues have fought so tirelessly against you, and yet in a single moment of passion you could create perfectly what we for the past 50 years have tried to produce. I suppose it just goes to show you that the most natural ways of doing things are generally the best.

"*That* is what the Argothians fear the most...a being that is born resistant to them, and born to destroy them. They have never encountered such a phenomenon before. And it is not enough that your child is merely resistant to the virus...she can also *kill* it. Any Argothian life-force that tried to enter her body would most likely destroy itself in the process. Imagine how the Argothians would feel if there was a creature out there somewhere that could kill them if they dared to touch it. Now imagine that this power was given to *all* of that race of creatures...and then passed on to every other alien race in this galaxy. The Argothians would be powerless without the effectiveness of their life-force. They could be wiped out completely."

Mulder gulped down air. "That may explain how our baby is the way she is...but that still doesn't explain how Scully became pregnant in the first place."

Cancer Man couldn't help but grin. "Yes, there is that essential little detail, isn't there? It would be somewhat difficult for the Child of the Fire to exist if the red firebird couldn't conceive."

"Quit playing around and answer the question," Scully said through her teeth.

"The point is, I waited as long as I could for you two to come around to your senses. Apparently, I waited in vain. So I decided to take matters into my own hands. When I last met Scully, on our little excursion to my summer home, I decided to take advantage of the opportunity."

Scully felt her stomach turn at the reminder of the mistake she had made so long ago, and the knowledge of where Cancer Man might be taking this explanation...

"Although I must admit, Scully, that I was less than honest with you during our time together. The cure for any sickness had nothing to do with the disk that I showed you. Rather, it had everything to do with you. While you slept, I had a few friends of mine implant a fertilized embryo in your womb - one made from the necessary components of the two firebirds. I was able to put together the fertilized embryo earlier before giving it back to you. That is yet another thing you should be thankful for...I could have had it so that a different woman carried the child. But seeing you, and your own secret longing to have children, I let you carry it and give birth right from the beginning."

"I don't understand!" Mulder exclaimed, his mind boiling over with confusion. "Where would you get Scully's ova, or anything else to make that happen?!"

"Oh, that part was easy," Cancer Man answered. "Being in close contact with the Argothians, my colleagues and I were given a certain freedom to their storage facilities, including things concerning their abductees. And as far as Mulder's contribution goes...let's just say that I have had encounters with you, Mulder, that have enabled me to obtain the needed missing half. I must say that I at first simply wanted to return some of Scully's ova to her and let you two create the Child of the Fire by the most traditional means, just to add to the magic of the legend. But time was running short...as it is now.

"Do you understand now why I cannot be the dragon the legend speaks of? After all, what is the dragon's purpose in the story? To attempt to kill the firebirds, wound the blue firebird, and then be wounded by the red one. Then he returns as a stronger, Argothian dragon, still intent on destroying the firebirds. Then, the Child of the Fire kills the dragon instead.

"I gave you the child you hold dear. If the dragon's only purpose is to kill the Child, then why should he go to the trouble to make it live in the first place? Why not just prevent it from existing at all? It would not make any sense for me to do what I have done and still be the dragon, now would it?"

Mulder wanted to counter Cancer Man right away, but his tongue stayed firmly in his mouth. Try as he could, he couldn't think of anything that he could prove Cancer Man wrong with. If he had given Scully their baby by putting it together himself, then he couldn't be the dragon and still fit with the legend. Mulder also couldn't think of any way that Scully could have become pregnant otherwise...Cancer Man's explanation was the only one they had received, and the only one that sounded possible. (Can it be that...he's telling us the truth?)

Scully was a few steps ahead of Mulder. "But why are you telling us this now? Why suddenly show up now and spill the whole story?"

"Because you need to know, if you are going to use your knowledge to carry out the legend."

"Carry it out?"

"There is a war coming here, very soon," Cancer Man warned. "The Argothians know who you are, and they know where you are. They will strike with all the force they have to destroy the Child of the Fire. And if they do...I can guarantee you that there will be no other force in this universe that can stop them from ruling it."

Mulder did not like the sound of this at all. The idea of an entire race of hostile aliens coming specifically to kill their baby was not exactly happy news. "What do we do?" He asked after awhile.

"Do as the legend says," Cancer Man turned, and headed for the door. "After all, it ends in your favor."

"Wait a minute!" Scully stopped him. "Where are you going?"

"To do as you should be doing - preparing for the war. Nobody wants to be caught off guard." He turned to go again.

"Answer me one more thing!" Mulder called after him. "What has happened to you all this time? The last thing we heard was Alex Krycek tell us that you were dying." As Mulder asked his question, he felt Scully's body beside his suddenly go tense, and he saw her expression become anxious.

Cancer Man's eyebrows raised. "Yes...Krycek would say that to you. Perhaps he was telling you the truth, perhaps he wasn't. Or perhaps it was I who wasn't telling him the truth. Either way, I am alive and well, and I'm afraid that's one secret I'm not willing to share."

Just at that moment, a loud crying came from the bedroom...Hope was awake, and wanting attention. Scully turned her gaze to the bedroom, suddenly wanting to go to her child.

Cancer Man nodded towards the crying. "Take very good care of that child, firebirds...she is aptly named, for she is the hope of this world as well as the hundreds of other worlds that reside in this small spot in the universe. She has amazing abilities beyond even those which you know now...and which you shall see develop as she grows older."

With that, Cancer Man turned around and left the house, carefully shutting the door behind him. As soon as he was gone, Scully rushed to the continued crying in the bedroom. Mulder gazed after the front door, his mind whirling with thoughts, and then followed her.

Scully picked up Hope out of her playpen and held her to her chest. Mulder could tell that Scully was terribly shaken by all that had just gone on, and the only way she could calm herself was to hold her child close to her. Even so, her attempt to comfort herself only reminded her more of the immense responsibility that had been heaped upon them, and Hope felt very heavy in her arms. Mulder came in behind her, and she felt him put his hands on her shoulders. "Are you okay?" He said quietly.

"I don't think so..." Scully breathed. She turned to face him, her eyes somewhat misty. "She's just a baby...she doesn't deserve to be caught up in all this..."

"Scully," Mulder looked at her with deep concern. "Why did you become all tense when I asked Cancer Man about what Krycek told us?"

Scully opened her mouth, and then closed it again. Mulder thought he saw her grip on the baby become tighter as she pondered over how to answer him. "Mulder...there's something about what happened to me that I haven't told anyone yet. Not you, or Doggett, or even my mom."


She hesitated before speaking again, the memory of the event lodging her words in her throat. "The...the man who attacked Hope and I...was someone who we've seen before."

Mulder instantly got what Scully was hinting at. "Krycek?"

She nodded.

"But...why?!" Mulder said, completely confused. "Of all the people in the world, why Krycek? Why would he be after Hope?"

"I don't know!" Scully said, rocking their baby back and forth, her voice thick. "I don't know why...all I know is that it frightened me so much, seeing him there, not knowing what he was going to do..."

The situations that had before been a mixture of pure confusion suddenly seemed to make sense to Mulder, and he gasped aloud at the realization. "Scully! You said that you shot him when he attacked you, right?"

"Three times, point blank. I think I killed him."

"If the legend is correct, then you didn't..."

Scully realized what Mulder had discovered earlier, and eyes became wide with fright. "You don't mean to say that..."

"Krycek is the dragon!" Mulder finished for her. "Now it does make sense...he has attempted to kill us just as often as Cancer Man has. His last talking with us was right before I was abducted...the dragon wounds the blue firebird. And then he attacked you, and you shot him...the red firebird wounds the dragon."

"He's still alive, then?" Scully said, her fear mounting. Mulder had explained the exact firebird legend to her in detail, and she knew it just about as well as he did. "He can't be! I shot him three times! He just can't..."

"It is possible," Mulder sighed. "As much as I would like to think that he's gone, it is possible that he survived."

Scully did not respond. She looked down at Hope, now quiet and nestled contentedly in Scully's breast. It was hard to imagine that such a small, helpless creature could be so powerful, and so frightening to other creatures that were so dangerous. And yet here she was, holding and nursing this powerful entity.

"So...what do we do now?"

Mulder sighed heavily, and gazed about at the small cabin that had quickly become home. He knew that he was going to miss this place. "We have to go back now. It's time."

Scully knew that was what Mulder was going to say, and it was the last thing she wanted to hear. However, she also know that he was right, as little as she wanted to admit it. "What can we do once we get back? How are we helping things any more there than we are here?"

"We can prepare," Mulder said, "and we can be with other people. We have this amazing gift with us, Scully...it's our duty to share this gift with other people."

"Mulder, who will realize this?" Scully asked. "What do we tell people? That our baby somehow can cure an alien virus that's eventually going to infect us all? No one will buy it! The idea would be completely ludicrous to them...it's hard enough to believe for us."

"We'll just have to deal with it when we get back," Mulder said, putting his hand on his daughter's head. He felt a strange sort of strength come from touching Hope. "We'll go one step at a time...deal with problems as they come. For now, all we can do is prepare for what we think may be coming."

Scully looked down at Mulder's hand on Hope's head, and sighed. "Well then...will you help me pack?"

"Of course."

Scully turned around as if to start some task, but she stopped again. "You just take care of Hope for awhile, and I'll pack." Mulder offered. Scully nodded in silent agreement, and took the time she had to hold her child and think.

Scully's car pulled to a stop in the damp and dank parking lot, the rain plunking on the car's hood and the pavement. For just a moment, as soon as the car's engine died down, Mulder and Scully sat and stared at the rain outside silently. Then Mulder turned his gaze towards Scully. "We're there."

It was definitely the understatement of the year. The last eight hours spent driving had been very tiring for the both of them. Mulder had made a few calls to Skinner, Doggett and Yallus to arrange a meeting time and place for them, and there had been a little conversation between them, but other than that they had hardly spoken. Scully found it strange...before she and Mulder could easily carry on conversations in the car, but that ability seemed to have been lost along with the many other things that had disappeared when Mulder had.

"Let's hurry," Scully finally said, "so we won't have the baby be out in the rain for too long."

Mulder nodded, and they jumped out of the car with the rain attacking them as they exited. Scully opened up the back door, took Hope out of her carseat, and sheltered the baby from the rain with her overcoat. Together the three of them darted for the front door of Mulder's apartment building.

Once safely inside, they headed up for Mulder's apartment, and Hope began to cry. Scully shushed her, and they went up the elevator in silence besides. Still not saying a word, they traveled all the way down the hallway to the #42.

Just as before, Mulder knocked three times slowly on the door to his apartment. Scully clutched Hope tightly, almost afraid of what would be waiting for them behind the door. It seemed like an eternity since she had seen any of the friends she had left behind, and she did not know how she would act around them. After all, it was really she that had abandoned them, and it was she that was faced with the delimma of asking their forgiveness.

As the doorknob jiggled, Mulder gave Scully a look that was not a smile but was reassuring anyway. Skinner opened the door and gave them a relieved grin. "You're here finally...we've all been waiting for you. Please come in now." He ushered them into Mulder's apartment.

Scully instantly recognized almost everyone in the apartment. Skinner, whom she had seen less than a week ago, was looking tired but still very relieved to see them. Her mother was even more anxious than Skinner, and came up quickly to her daughter and granddaughter. Doggett had made himself at home on Mulder's couch, and he looked up at Scully with a face she could never forget. It was obvious that he had been very distressed and hurt by her disappearance...she wondered how quickly he would forgive her. If she even deserved forgiveness at all.

The Lone Gunmen were also there. Unlike the more somber members of the group, they appeared absolutely ecstatic. Whatever they had been doing recently, they had been having fun with it.

The last person Scully did not recognize at all, and made Scully gasp aloud with shock. This tall, red-feathered entity Scully could only assume was Yallus. As they had been packing to go Mulder had told her extensively about Yallus, and had warned her not to make a big deal once they met. However, Scully still couldn't hide her obvious surprise.

Everyone crowded around Mulder and Scully as they entered the apartment, and Scully stood close to Mulder for fear of her baby being run down. Everyone began talking at once, and it was Yallus's loud voice that drowned out the others.

[Firebirds!] She exclaimed, [you don't realize how incredible it is to see you all together!] She gazed at Scully carefully, looking over the creature that was indirectly the cause of the deaths of her own husband and child. Scully just stared back. She felt *very* nervous having this alien thing screeching in her face, considering Mulder with his translo was the only one who could understand her. Scully instinctively held Hope tighter to guard her.

Yallus noticed, and looked down at the small bundle in Scully's arms with a gasp of amazement. It took a moment for her to regain her voice. [Is...is that...]

Mulder just nodded.

Yallus inched her hands carefully towards the baby, reluctant and yet desperate to touch this thing that had the power to stop the Argothian invasion. Scully jerked Hope away in response, and Yallus looked a little concerned.

Mulder gave Scully a look that said he was somewhat disappointed. He wanted Scully to have the same trust in Yallus that he had in her. Scully looked at the floor. "I......."

Yallus understood what Scully was trying to say, and looked absolutely horrified. [My dearest woman! If I so much as harm a single cell on that precious child, you have my permission to kill me with the most terrible form of execution you can imagine!!]

"What did she say?" Scully asked.

"She said she'd never dream of hurting Hope," Mulder sighed.

[That's her name?] Yallus inquired, and smiled somewhat. [Hmmm...very appropriate.]

The Lone Gunmen, who could not restrain themselves anymore, forced their way up to Mulder with looks of excitement. Mulder tried to calm them down as they all started talking at once.

"Mulder, where on earth did you *get* her?!..."

"Well obviously I didn't get her *on* earth..."

"That technology is absolutely astounding!"

"We tried taking apart a translo...the entire thing is built so simply, it's a wonder we didn't think of it ourselves..."

"And the *ship*! Mulder, you have no idea how lucky you are to have gotten to fly in that thing..."

"...Just one engine can make the thing go faster than the speed of light! We wanted to study it, but..."

"Okay, okay, enough!" Mulder waved the Lone Gunmen away from him like the ice cream truck man waving away a group of kids. "You can tell me all about the things you found later. We have other things to do right now."

"We do..." Doggett stood suddenly, and everyone looked towards him. He appeared just a little bit nervous. "This past week at the FBI has not exactly been a walk in the park for me. I think the FBI is becoming suspicious of us."

"Suspicious? Why?" Scully asked. She felt somewhat strange talking to Doggett like this; as if the past two months had never happened. She knew that somehow she owed something to him, after she had abandoned him to ward off the FBI and the paranormal alone. But it seemed like Doggett was silently pardoning her for her crimes, and she was silently glad that he was. He was strangely understanding like that.

"You forget, Agent Scully," (She found it somewhat odd that they still used the term "agent'" when speaking to each other.) "That the FBI knows next to nothing about Mulder coming back. As far as they know, Mulder disappeared and was possibly conspiring against the FBI. And even with your baby, Agent Scully, they're suspicious of your sudden disappearance. Now with the way AD Skinner and I have been behaving around the office, with what has happened and what we know, they're nearly at the breaking point. There's too much secrecy, and they can't stand it."

Both Mulder and Scully considered this information carefully. But truth be told, the FBI's opinion of their doings was the last thing on their minds right now. Doggett was obviously the one who was concerned the most, since it was his job at stake.

"They'll eventually find out about your return, Mulder, and then once you explain everything to them, maybe they'll ease up on their suspicions," Skinner said in a voice that was only halfway believing itself.

"I highly doubt that," Mulder sighed. "But it doesn't matter now."

[We're here because I'm going to be leaving soon,] Yallus announced after a pause.

"You're leaving?" Everyone could detect the undertone of regret in Mulder's voice.

[Yes...now that I can refuel the attack gunner, I can leave your homeworld. I have to leave right away, because the Argothians are going to be coming here soon, I just know it.]

"You're leaving us alone to fight the Argothians?!" Mulder blurted. "But...you know more about them than anyone else! I thought you would want to stay and help us fight them! We can't..."

[You crazy Human!] Yallus said, and put her hand on Mulder's shoulder reassuringly. [I'm not running away from the Argothians...I'm going to go get help! There's no way I'm letting the firebirds' race fight this war alone and unprepared...you're going to need all the help you can get.] She paused, and looked at Scully carefully. [There's only one thing that I ask from you in return.]

"What is it?"

[I need a sample of the blood from the Child of the Fire,] Yallus said, her voice desperate. [Without it, no one in the ULR will believe a word I say about what's happened to me. I also need it so that we can begin spreading it out to all the other races of the five sectors.]

"Wait, Yallus...how can just a small blood sample be passed on to billions of creatures and hundreds of different races?"

[Think, Mulder!] Yallus squawked. [We can't use its actual blood! Especially for all the races, whose chemical makeup is probably very different from yours. We make synthetic copies! Your race is familiar with biotechnology, isn't it? You'd better begin preparing your own copy for your race...you're going to need it.]

Mulder looked from Yallus to Scully and then to Hope. Now he understood how this part of the legend played out...they had to use Hope's blood as a model for a new vaccination, one that was superior to the one he and Scully had received. (The Child of the Fire spreads its blood out to the riding army...and they are empowered with the same magic.)

"Scully, Yallus wants us to give her a sample of Hope's blood," Mulder told her.

Scully did not like the way that sounded, and she shot a wary glance at Yallus. "Why?"

"So that she can take it back with her and use it to make a vaccination for all the other alien races. We both know what our child can do, Scully...now we just have to use it."

Scully was still *very* reluctant. She knew that taking a small sample of blood from Hope would be no more difficult than taking her to get her needed shots, but she still did not feel comfortable doing it. She could not think of a good excuse not to, though. "Are you sure that's what we need to do, Mulder?" She finally mumbled.

Mulder could see Scully's anxiety, and he came up to her and put his hands on her shoulders to reassure her. "I'm sure. Don't worry, the baby will be fine, and we'll be helping billions of different people out there."

[To put it lightly,] Yallus added.

"We'd better get going," Skinner told them. "We can briefly stop by the FBI, so we can inform them that Agent Doggett and I will be out of the office for a little while. And we can also get some syringes."

"We'd also need to stop by the liquor store...for fuel," Langly added, snickering to himself at the thought.

With a silent agreement passing between all of them that now was the time, they all filed out of Mulder's apartment and went for their different vehicles.

Scully was all too familiar with the sights, sounds and smells of the scenery that surrounded them. They were back in the woods, heading silently through the trees and shrubs. True, it wasn't the woods of Vermont that Scully knew so well, but it was still a familiar experience that she instantly welcomed. She carried Hope carefully as they tread over the uneven terrain. The baby was awake, and silent, content to gaze around at the trees that stretched up neverending before her.

Scully looked down quickly at the small band-aid they had put over Hope's arm when they had taken the blood sample. Hope had obviously cried, but not nearly as loudly and long as Scully had assumed she would. It was as if she somehow knew that this pain she was experiencing would turn out good, and she decided to bear it as best she could. Scully, meanwhile, had been half-expecting Hope's blood to look unusual or at least obviously different. It could have been purple, or worse yet, green and acidic, but it appeared perfectly normal to her. It was hard to imagine that something so simple and natural could have such serious consequences.

Mulder was walking alongside Scully, and was always certain to help her and the baby whenever they came to difficult terrain. He had been thinking for a long time during their last day preparing for Yallus's flight. Mostly he thought about Scully, and the baby, and them together. He watched how carefully she guarded her baby...guarded it from almost everyone, including their friends. The only person she felt safe having Hope with was himself. (If she's this protective around our friends, I can't imagine what she would be like around our enemies...)

He could tell that Scully was very worried. She was worried about what had happened to them when they had gone back to the FBI. She was worried about what Yallus had been telling them about the Argothians coming. She was worried about Krycek. And there was nothing that he could really do to comfort her, since he was just as anxious as she was.

As they were walking, Mulder stole a glance over at Doggett, who was walking on their left. He was moving slowly and heavily, staring at the forest floor with sad eyes. This was partially because he had agreed to help carry the 50-something bottles of Vodka they had bought. But it was mostly because he had just been fired.

After leaving Mulder's apartment, the group had gone back to the FBI, and Mulder, Scully, Skinner and Doggett had gone inside. Needless to say, everyone at the office had been more than a little shocked to see both Mulder and Scully returned and together. The four of them had instantly gone to the attorney general to explain where they had been, what they were doing and where they were going. Unfortunately, the attorney general and Kerch were not exactly as happy to see them as they figured they would be.

Instead of being welcomed back, they were all told that none of them had a job at the FBI anymore. The attorney general briefly explained to them why they had been fired, but none of them really listened. They all knew that their "reasons" were nothing more that Kerch's self-generated crap to get rid of them. Skinner tried to protest against it, but the attorney general did not want to hear it. It was almost as if the FBI had been glad when Mulder and then Scully had disappeared, and hadn't been wanting them to come back.

Mulder and Scully weren't nearly as upset about the news as most would have been. They knew they had bigger, more important matters to attend to than their jobs. Mulder joked that he doubted he remembered how to do his job anyway. Scully had been on maternity leave, so she didn't feel like she was going through a big change. Skinner was very upset, obviously, but he stuck by Mulder and Scully boldly. He had become fed up with Kerch and the FBI anyway...he had now been absorbed into the grand crusade.

Doggett, however, was a different matter. He did not fully have the same contempt for the FBI that Skinner had, and her certainly did not have same nonchalance that Mulder and Scully had. He had liked his job and cared about it, even if the X-Files were not exactly where he had pictured himself ending up. Now that his job was gone, there was nothing left for him...nothing but this insane crusade, with its unbelievable characters involved, and he was willing and yet not willing to participate. He did not know what was going to happen to him now that he had no job and nothing to fall back on...he could only hope that Mulder and Scully and Skinner knew what they were doing.

They had been walking through the woods with no exact knowledge of where they were going, because the ship was parked somewhere in a clearing, and they did not know how far away it was. It had been by pure luck that Mulder and Yallus had made it back to the road the first time, and again by luck and partial memorization that Yallus and the Lone Gunmen had found it again.

The Lone Gunmen were about the only ones in the whole group that were not feeling at least a little downcast by all the recent events. They had not just lost their jobs, or were being faced with the heavy responsibilities of a special child. Instead, they had stumbled upon a wealth of information that could radically change everything about the planet - its technology, its economy, its government, its society, and its education. They were the only ones who seemed to realize what Yallus's appearance meant to the human race. Everything that the world believed to be true had suddenly been thrown way out of whack. The Lone Gunmen knew this, and the only way they could control their enthusiasm was to talk among themselves excitedly about the scientific and technological marvels they had experienced.

[Hey...] Yallus spoke up suddenly, breaking into the complex silence that existed among the ten people. [I think we've found it.]

Yallus was right. The ten of them emerged from the thick woods into a large clearing, where there seemed to exist a strange wall of rippling air. Everyone stopped before the energy wall as Yallus kept going towards it, and she turned around and addressed them.

[Don't worry, you can walk through the cloak shield,] She said. [It doesn't have a selective entry drive like the doctoral transports do.]

"Selective energy drive?" Frohike asked as they began to move forward again.

[It can be installed into the larger ships' energy cloaks. It only allows certain things to pass through it, depending on what you program it to accept.]

Slowly and unsuredly, the others followed Yallus through the energy cloak, feeling a quick jolt as they did. Scully hid the baby inside her jacket as best as she could when they went through, hoping to protect Hope from this unknown force. She was not sure if it worked or not, but Hope didn't seem to be too bothered.

Once inside, they were all able to get a good look at the attack gunner. Mulder, Yallus and the Lone Gunmen had obviously seen it before, but the others had not. They were all struck speechless at the sleek, black alien fighter ship. Doggett especially was more than a little shocked. Looking at this interstellar vehicle in all its technological glory made him forget for awhile that he had been fired.

Yallus was never one to waste any time. [Here, Mulder, grab some of that drinkable-chark-stuff and start filling up the left tank while I do the right. We should need about 27 bottles for each tank.]

Mulder complied, and he left Scully's side to go help Yallus. Hope stared out at the alien ship and smiled, wanting to touch and explore this new things she had found. Scully just held on to Hope tightly, wishing that she had same confidence in this situation that her daughter had.

"Do you know when you'll be coming back?" Mulder asked Yallus as he dumped his fourth bottle of Vodka down the chark tank tube.

[I don't know,] Yallus sighed. [It depends on a lot of factors.]

"What if the Argothians come back before you do?" Mulder's voice was anxious.

[Look, I'm not the hero of this story. I'll do the best that I can. But it's going to be up to you to so something about the Argothian invasion, blue firebird.]

Mulder was beginning to not like that name. But he said nothing and continued to empty his box of bottles.

In just a little while, all 54 bottles of Vodka had been emptied into the tanks, and it was time for the ship to take off. The group was gathered around the entrance to the attack gunner, all of them feeling a strangeness they could not describe. It was not every day that you had to give your farewells to a bird-like alien about to take off in a spaceship.

"You have the blood sample?" Mulder asked quickly as Yallus switched open the door.

Yallus grinned. [I have it. I can bearly believe that I am so fortunate as to be carrying this...millions of creatures out there would kill to be where I am right now.]

"Just please be back soon," Mulder said again.

[I'll try.] She turned around to go inside the ship, and yelled back. [Make sure you're outside the cloak field now! Take care and be strong, firebirds!]

The others did as she told and exited the circle within the energy shield. Just as they did, they heard a low humming from behind the shield as the attack gunner's engines started up. Light flashed from within, causing the group to shield their eyes. Then they all watched in silent amazement as the rippling energy rose into the air, and they could faintly see the image of the fighter ship behind it. The ship rose until it was higher than the treetops, and then shot off into the dusky sky.

For a few minutes, no one spoke. They just stood there in the middle of the empty clearing, feeling the leaves rustle next to their feet. The forest was cool and calm, indifferent to the incredible events that had just taken place.

Slowly, everyone turned their gaze to where Mulder and Scully and Hope were standing together. The three of them just looked back, seeming both courageous and frightened at the same time. For the first time, they really felt the weight of the world on their shoulders.

"Well..." Doggett said with a sigh, "I guess it's all up to you now."

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