Title: Glass Landscape
Author: Annie Sewell-Jennings
Feedback: auralissa@aol.com)
Disclaimer: The characters of Fox Mulder and Dana Scully are the property of Ten Thirteen Productions and Twentieth Century FOX, but FOX is evil and doesn't deserve them.
Category: SAR (Mulder/Scully), Post-Colonization
Rated: NC-17
Spoilers: Post-"Requiem"
Archival: This story will be posted to ATXC and then archived at https://web.archive.org/web/20020411102327/http://members.aol.com:80/auralissa/index.html

Summary: The world has fallen, Scully is nine months pregnant and alone in the desert, and Mulder is bound to her in a thousand different ways.

Author's notes: This post-colonization universe was inspired by my previous and unfinished WIP, "Justifiable Vengeance". America is a wasteland of desert, and other parts of the world are frozen. However, the world is a wreck, the aliens are still at war with the humans, and there is general chaos. I do not yet know if I will ever pick up "JV" again - maybe someday. ;-) Thank you, Heather and Alanna, for giving me a *great* beta job, and to Diana for reading the fic, supporting it, and naming it. ;-)

There were days when the sands became so hot that they peeled the skin from her feet.

The brutal sun blistered in the sky, looming large and menacing over the ruined world, baking the desert relentlessly so that the sands blackened into beads of obsidian. She wondered if they would turn the whole desert into glass, a shimmering and fragile landscape composed of superheated crystal, a virtual lake in the desert. One could skate across the desert as though it was ice instead of sand, and long for water in the resemblance between glass and frost.

Moisture poured from her brow and dripped languidly down her shoulders, colliding with other beads of sweat that had collected in the hollow of her throat and the crevice between her swollen breasts. The front of her plain white sundress was stained with her own salty sweat, and she smelled of heat and moisture, not caring as there was no one else around to complain about her scent. Not anyone for miles...

She leaned against the side of her small, plain house, resting her aching body against the railing on the porch, leaning her head back and feeling the burning breeze sear across her exposed skin. Her bare shoulders had burned and peeled in the first week, and now they were tanned for the first time in her life of fair skin. Everything adapted to the unforgiving atmosphere of the desert, whether it was milky skin or a lonely heart.

And Dana Scully had both.

The layers of her thin ivory dress brushed around her legs, falling just over the tops of her thighs, moving and rustling constantly with the power and fire of the breeze, tented by her rounded, ripened belly. The rest of her body remained thin and sturdy, nothing but toned muscle, as she rationed her food and kept in shape in case she should have to run. Run from whatever may threaten her, run blindly and despairingly into the endless and faceless desert, giving birth to her daughter amidst the cacti and underneath a vicious sun.

Run from the colonists...

Withering desert wind pushed cruelly at her carmine hair, tossing it into tumultuous waves and rolls of copper-streaked licks of flame, caressing her face invitingly and begging her to burn with the rest of the world. Her fiery hair trailed down to the middle of her back now, grown out after months of worrying about other concerns. Humidity and heat curled her hair becomingly, and she often looked at herself in the mirror, this bronzed woman drowning in a conflagration of wavy silk, and thought of Mulder.

She knew that he was dead now. She felt it with a great certainty inside of her bones and body, as their daughter grew stronger and the world grew weaker. They had killed him, murdered him brutally and left him for dead, slaughtered him and tested him until he couldn't hold out any longer, and Scully understood. What had happened on earth had not been any better than it had been for him. At least he had died, and had no more difficulties in front of him. Perhaps he was at peace, wherever he was, and her only regret was that he would never know about his child.

Her hands began to wash over the large rise of her pregnant stomach of their own volition, a subconscious motion that gently caressed the child beneath layers of cotton and skin. She oftentimes pondered names, wondering what to name her baby, the daughter inside of her. She had the memories of the sonogram before the world ended, three months ago. Sometimes she took out the picture of her baby, her little girl, and traced over the features in the unborn baby's face. That sonogram was a relic to her, a Bible consisting of fuzzy images printed on yellowing paper. It was all that she had left of her world sometimes.

Scully moved between Biblical names to names of family members, laughing somewhat madly over comical names that Mulder would have enjoyed, and then crying when the task of raising a child in this scorched earth overwhelmed her.

It had begun to overwhelm her when the colonists first arrived, their arrival subtle and swift, and with almost Biblical proportions. The plagues came first, and then the storms and droughts, until mankind gave birth to the aliens just as she prepared now to give birth to her daughter. She had been six months pregnant and five months without Mulder when the aliens had first destroyed Washington, leaving its population a screaming mass of hosts. All had perished, from her mother to her friends, and Scully had escaped the crumbling capital on an army truck with other survivors.

They trekked across America, picking up strays along their way, until they eventually stopped in Oklahoma. The aliens had intensified the sunlight somehow, thinning out the o-zone so that the world was a breeding ground for their kind. What had once been fertile land was now a barren wasteland, baking in the sun as crops turned to nothing but sand. It was here where Scully stayed behind, too pregnant to continue, and too desolate to see the rest of her country so ravaged and raped. America had been defiled.

The house that she lived in was a modest affair, nothing special, with two bedrooms and two stories and ugly furniture. Yet there was an old-fashioned ice box that didn't require power to keep cold, a water pump in the backyard, and a rusted Ford pick-up that had enough gasoline to get her to a settlement if she needed to. But there were no hospitals in this old farming town, none for miles, and no point in going anyway.

So she would have her child alone, raise her in Oklahoma, and then maybe move on to see the rest of the country and show her daughter the vision that her parents had tried so desperately to prevent. She would travel to California perhaps, show her the coast, and then tell her that there had once been a civilization worthy of celebration before its foolish secret leaders sold it for their own lives.

Or perhaps she would just raise her in the desert and see if a flower could bloom without water.

The blistering winds began to moan low, sounding like distraught mourners at a funeral, and Scully thought that perhaps they were crying for the death of the American dream. She had done that herself before, but her low, keening wails in her lonely house or the back of an army truck were combined with the anguished rage of losing a country that she had lost everything for. Losing the dream that she had lost Mulder...

Oh, she would only get herself upset again.

The sleeveless dress exposed her freckled and coppery shoulders to the sunlight, and Scully felt them burning underneath the heat of the sun. This was the world that she lived in, the world that she would give to her daughter, and the world that she had lost her lover for. She couldn't change it, couldn't erase its destruction, though she wanted to so badly. Mourning it wouldn't change the fact that it was gone, and missing it was only disheartening. Scully had to come to terms with the fact that her old America was nothing more than a barren wasteland filled with corpses and slaughter, and this was the world that her daughter would be raised in.

Movement pressed against her hands as her daughter kicked from within, and Scully cupped her hands around her belly, thinking that it would take a fighter to survive in this new harsh domain.

It would take a daughter born with her father's ingenuity and her mother's calm to get through the scorched hell that was Oklahoma, and Scully hoped that she would be able to bring out these necessary qualities in the girl that would soon be born. The dusty calendar of old Norman Rockwell paintings indicated that it was early January, and that the millennium had finally passed.

Her daughter was to be born in a matter of weeks, and Scully could feel the loosening of her bones, the swelling milk inside of her breasts, and the other preparations for her daughter's entrance into this hellish place once known as America.

A pain stabbed her ankle, and Scully winced, feeling thirsty and tired, wearied from the heat of the day. The scalding winds pushed at her clothing again, causing her white dress to blow around her bared legs, and Scully sighed, turning back toward the door. She had seen enough of the world for today, never mind that it was barely past noon. The world was dead, a fruitless earth, and she had paid her daily respects to its grave.

Yet as she turned, a piece of white caught her eye, and Scully moved off the porch and onto the sands, her white house shoes padding across the sands, grains of the burning bits of crystal singeing her skin. She swallowed a gasp when she saw it - a hand constructed of bleached white bone. Nothing more than a skeleton's hand, the delicate bones turned a ghastly alabaster by the constant assault of the sun. She looked at the long fingers, bending down to trace its structure, and then withdrawing when she realized why she had been so frightened when she saw the hand itself.

They looked like Mulder's fingers.

Pained, Scully abruptly turned around and went back into the house, refusing to think of the possibility of her lover's skeleton, meat picked from its bones and left to burn forever in the desert of America. Perhaps his death had taken place among the stars that he had always loved so deeply, his spirit stretched across space and scattered amidst the galaxies, unaware of the torment that was occurring at home. She hoped this for him; she prayed nightly that his death had been an ignorant one.

The baby kicked insistently once she got back in the house, and Scully genuinely missed the luxury of air conditioning. Nothing kept the sweltering heat at bay, not anything at all, and she could only occasionally indulge in the luxury of ice. Her rations were limited before she would have to brave the town, armed with weaponry and her natural immunity to the virus. She had not encountered aliens before; the bees had already ravaged the small town of Dora before abandoning the small farming community to continue further out west.

Sighing, Scully walked down into the basement to the old icebox, listening to it creak as she opened the door and stuck her head inside. Cool waves of air blew across her face, kissing her cheeks softly, but the memory of other kisses was too painful for her to remain in the icebox's soothing embrace. She procured a small bottle of water and drank, feeling the bliss of consuming cool liquid. After drinking the water, she placed the plastic bottle in a milk crate so that she could go out to the pump later on and refill it.

The bedroom was a darkened room, as she had hung heavy black curtains across the window to keep the heat from baking her bed.

The room was a simple chamber, but not a shabby one. The previous owner of the house had been a reader, an intellectual, and Scully found dozens of novels in the basement for her to read and pass the time with. Sometimes reading the fiction was too painful, invoking the memories of the world that she had lost in the everyday lives of the heroes and heroines.

Scully groaned as she lowered herself into the spacious queensized bed, placing a small pillow underneath her aching back to support her enormous belly. Sighing, she closed her eyes and winced, her bones aching and her heart raw from grief. Her hands cradled her stomach, feeling the warmth of her daughter thriving from within, and she wished that they were Mulder's hands.

Mulder's long, tapering fingers, easily surrounding the round rise of his child through her stomach, pressing his callused palms to her bare skin and whispering to their daughter the secrets of his heart. And she would laugh in their bed, their room back in Washington, snow falling from the sky in a shower of alabaster.

But her smaller hands barely wrapped around her distended stomach anymore, unable to contain the child within her, and Scully turned her head to the side, looking at the painted desert through the crack in the curtains and cradling the child that Mulder would never know.

A quiet wind blew through the boardwalk, the cars on the Ferris wheel slowly rocking back and forth, the gears creaking from rust and banners flickering slightly in the wind. The rusted nails in the wood moaned as footsteps paced across them, and spilled boxes of rotted popcorn fell across the abandoned boardwalk. The merrygo-round had broken down, and the painted animals looked menacing and forlorn from underneath the canopy.

Twilight settled in on the deserted carnival, painting the formerly colorful rides with a brush coated in violet. Cobwebs glittered with dew from the corners of the concession stands and roller coasters, and the heat rippled in the night sky as the moon rose above the park. In the distance, the sound of the waves murmured softly, a whispering rush against the sands.

It was there that Fox Mulder lay.

The waves lapped soothingly at his skin, licking at his bare feet like a cat soothing a wound. His face was buried in the sand, the medical I.D. bracelet encircling his wrist in a twist of plastic.

Foam itched at his skin, saltwater and brine clinging to him in a coating of spray until he stirred on the shore. Slowly, his head aching along with the rest of his battered body, Mulder rose into consciousness, emerging from a drug-induced haze that had clouded his thoughts and solidly knocked him out.

Wincing, Mulder stirred on the sands, his memory foggy and somewhat faded, and he was only aware of who he was, not where he was or how he had gotten there. He was Fox Mulder, Special Agent, and he could smell the shore. He was unaware of the sterile mintcolored hospital scrubs that he wore, or of the plain white tee shirt that was soaked with sweat by the scorching heat. The medical bracelet itched around his wrist, the plastic chafing at his skin, and Mulder rolled over on his back, wincing at the pain in his bones, looking at the bracelet with a puzzled expression.

The print listed his name, Fox William Mulder, his age and vitals, and then a computer bar code was also written in, as though he was a product and not a human being.

Then his memory flew back to him with a swiftness that was startling, and Mulder remembered everything. From Oregon to the abduction, the medical experiments that had ravaged his body and tortured his mind, and the drugged lapses in between time before the crash...

Slowly, Mulder lifted his eyes from the plastic medical bracelet to the surface of the waters, gazing out at the breaking waves until he saw the wreckage. Steel and metal were scattered across the sea, shards of broken bits of the vessel strewn across the water in smoldering bits of wreckage. Other bodies had washed up around him, some human and some decidedly... Not. "Jesus," Mulder whispered, and he stood up, padding across the shore to look for survivors.

He found none.

Blood from the others stained his hands, and Mulder leaned down, dipping his fingers into a tidal pool along the shore and washing off the crimson liquid that clung to his skin. He was the only remaining test subject from the alien ship, the only one who had managed to live through the destruction and survive the experimentation. Half of the Bellefleur abductees had died, Theresa Neumann and Billy Miles included, and yet Mulder had managed to live after being tortured worse than any of them.

And now he was here.

He dissolved in tears, tears of joy, tears of anguish, tears shed for his return and for his abduction. He spilled them onto the shore as he crumbled to the beach, raking his hands through his longer hair as he wept freely, his heart and body returned to the earth that he loved so dearly. He had been returned.

And now he could see Scully.

Scully... He wondered how she had been in the weeks following his abduction, and pain stabbed through his heart at the memory of her. She had sustained him throughout his agonizing experience on the ship, the glowing architecture of her face surrounded by the magnificently defiant color of her hair, and the simpler, less startling facets of her, like the gentility in her hands or the magic of her body. Imaginings of her voice had soothed him to sleep when the medicine wore off and he heard a thousand voices screaming in his head, and hers had been the only one who could calm him into sleep.

Now he could see her again. He could wrap his hands around her slender shoulders and draw her close to him, confess to her the wrongs done to him, and listen to her absolve him of the hell that he had endured. "Scully," he whispered, and it was the first time that he had uttered her name since the abduction. She had been a secret prayer, a private entreaty, and now it was safe for him to utter the words again and invoke her.

It was then that he noticed something: quiet. Ever since the aliens had opened up his brain and performed the lobotomy, shaving his head and experimenting on his frontal lobe, he had heard the voices again, sometimes screaming and sometimes whispering softly. He had learned to control them, to drown them out with his own thoughts or bits of remembered songs and melodies, but there was no such thing as complete silence as long as he was surrounded by people. And now he sensed nothing, heard nothing, and was startled by the unbelievable silence that the world had never possessed before.

Slowly, Mulder turned away from the wreckage of the craft and saw the abandoned carnival. The world was quiet... Dead somehow, as though a million voices had somehow been silenced. Something had happened in this world, something unbelievable, and yet Scully was out there... Somewhere.

Ignoring the tumult in his stomach, he began to walk toward the carnival, determined to find the lover that he had left behind.

The cicadas sang a high, reeling song their gigantic wings whirring out a melody that seemed to keen and wail throughout the painted sands of the Oklahoma desert. Tumbleweeds whistled and rustled as they rolled through the sands, and there was the constant moaning of wild dogs and coyotes that had migrated to the desert shortly after the land had dried out. The land was wild and the wind was cool, shockingly so, and the low night temperatures never failed to surprise her.

But her daughter had grown accustomed to them, reveling in the cool breezes that whistled across the desert when the temperature plummeted and the moon crowned the stars. She would leave their small house and walk out into the sands, barefooted and relishing the sensation of the cool sands beneath her feet. She also enjoyed walking the sands in the daytime, barefoot as well, and the soles of her feet had grown callused and hardened to the sizzling sands. Her daughter was a firewalker.

Scully sat on the front porch, reclining in the wicker rocking chair, citronella candles blazing around her like a lime-scented shrine. The short strands of her red hair blew restlessly around her face as she looked out toward the painted desert and the world that had grown around them, this land of outlaws and of danger, both from colonists and the native human beings. The slender figure of her daughter stood out there, her long, wavy crimson hair a mass of sugar-spun curls around her face, wild and untamed as she should be. Her slim body wore nothing but an olive green tank top and a pair of blue jeans that hung low on her hips and flared below the knees slightly, making room for her suede cowboy boots.

The mass of vermilion flamed tempestuously around her daughter's straight and slim shoulders, licking the small of her back, and she saw the delightful gold of her daughter's copper skin stained the color of blackberry juice from the twilight. The young woman who had been raised with the values of the Old America lifted her chin to the sky, the wide brim of her cowboy hat pushed back on her head, and Scully admired the straight, fine lines of her daughter's tall and strong body.

And then she turned back around, moving back toward the house, her boots sinking into the sands as she walked. The tank top was cut off, revealing her daughter's taut abdomen, and the girl sat down on the front steps of the house, pulling out a cigarette from her pack of Marlboros. Scully sighed, pushing back hair from her eyes. "I wish you wouldn't smoke," she chastised, and her daughter shrugged, lighting it with a silver Zippo lighter and exhaling a cloud of smoke.

"I get bored," she said, and then she smiled at her mother, stretching one long leg across the stairs, the sight of her limb paining Scully. She had inherited her father's height and lanky limbs, her mother and aunt's fiery hair, and that slightly awkward nose that was just a sliver too long for her face could only belong to one man: the father that she had never known. "The dogs are restless tonight, Mama."

Their low keening echoed throughout the desert, and Scully nodded, looking at her proud daughter through a haze of smoke.

"Makes sense," she said. She understood their calls and cries, knew their language by now, and thought that perhaps they were crying because they were confused. "When I first came here, there weren't any dogs. There was only me."

Her daughter tilted her head to the side, her soft Scully mouth curving into a smile that she had unwittingly looted from her father. "Isn't it better now that they're here?" she asked, and Scully smiled as well, taking a long drink of water while her daughter smoked. "I like the dogs. They make me feel that we're not alone out here." Scully's smile waned, looking at the wistful expression on her daughter's face, as she looked out at the sands and listening to the mourning dogs.

She often thought that she had done her daughter a great injustice by raising her out here, isolated from the rest of the world, raised only by the dogs and the desert. Yet the world was a dangerous place, too dangerous for anyone, and all that she could do was prepare her for when the fight inevitably came to them.

"Are you lonely?" Scully asked, and her daughter flicked ash and spark from the end of her cigarette, the fire dissipating into the cooling winds. An ironic smile crossed her face, and Scully ached at the haunted look in her daughter's hazel and hooded eyes, heavy black lashes falling over the secretive eyes in a fashion that was similar to her father's heartbreaking glances.

"Sometimes," she confessed. "But I know I'm not alone. The world is a lonely place, Mama. The desert can be beautiful in and of itself." She smiled, tilting her face to the side, removing her cowboy hat with her hand and allowing the spun curls of her vermilion hair to dance enticingly on the wind. "But it won't last forever." She would bring rain to the plains again, a phenomenon that her daughter had witnessed only a few times in her life. She would make the soil fertile, turn the barren wastelands into thriving farmlands, and then go to the coast and collect seashells for her mother. These were the plans whispered in the darkness, while cicadas sang and coyotes wailed.

"No," Scully said lovingly. "It won't last forever."

She woke in the darkness, twilight having fallen and the encompassing silence and desolation of the desert surrounding her as it always did. With a groan, Scully stirred in the bed, her back still aching as the pillow had slipped from beneath the small of her back in her sleep. "Oh," she muttered, a little frustrated with herself for having drifted off for such a long period of time, and she rolled her pregnant body out of the bed, brushing long threads of straight red hair from her sticky brow.

As she opened the window, the curtains rustled as the winds stirred from outside, now carrying cooler whispers rather than the screaming heat that had earlier plagued the land. Nighttime was safer than the day, if only for the absence of the powerful heat. Carefully, she piled her hair atop her head in a twist of red, and padded out into the hallway, slipping into her tennis shoes and heading outside to the water pump, carrying the milk crate full of empty plastic water bottles.

Sighing, Scully tilted her head back to drink in the stars as though they were water, swallowing as she looked at the heavy moon in the sky. It was as rounded and ripe as she was, and the celestial atmosphere surrounded her. Silver kissed her brow, and she thought again of Mulder, of how he would wake her up in the mornings with such a kiss, a smile on his handsome face before he rustled her from the sheets, and sometimes they would make love briefly before going in late to work. The memory of their lovemaking was a poignant one in her mind, and it was one of the memories of the old world that she held so dearly in her heart.

As she pumped the water, she groaned, feeling the pain in her back and in her swollen ankles, and she thought that she was getting too pregnant for all of this. Her pregnancy had startled her, rejuvenated and comforted her, as Mulder had been taken and her world had been crashing down around her. She often thought of the moment when she had discovered that she was with child, just minutes after the Gunmen had told her that Mulder had been abducted. The doctors had filed into her room and said that her cancer was still in remission, and that she was going to have a baby.

And the news had been wonderful and miserable all at once, as she wished that her lover were there instead of in the hell that he must be in now.

Strange noises came from a distance, and Scully lifted her head from the well, hearing rustling that sounded like footsteps.

Curiously, she tilted her head to the side, and then a figure emerged from the shadows. It was a man, raggedly dressed in overalls and a cowboy hat, dirt smeared over his bearded face.

Startled, she stepped back, and then she lifted her chin, her voice cool as she spoke. "Are you lost?" she asked, and the traveler smiled.

"Nope," he said, a country accent thickening his words as though his voice was filled with grease. "Just heading up toward Tulsa. Thought there might be people up there..." He shrugged. "Guess there ain't much a chance of that though, is there?"

Scully felt strange looking at him, straightening her shoulders under the thin straps of her white dress. "Tulsa is empty," she said. "The colonists have been there. There's no point in going there, but you might want to try for Colorado. I've heard people have had luck there."

The odd smile on the traveler's face didn't disappear at her discouraging words. "Then maybe I'll just stay here for the night," he said, and she heard an oily leer in his voice that made her stomach turn.

Slowly, Scully placed her crate of water bottles on the ground, and shook her head, her voice cold and unforgiving as she spoke.

"You aren't welcome," she said, her stomach turning at the smell of filth and grease on him. "There's nothing here for you."

He took methodical steps toward her, and Scully stood her ground, tilting her chin upwards toward the tall traveler whose smile turned menacing with every step that he took. "Oh, there's something here for everyone, girl," he said, and there was an oily quality in the way that he sneered "girl" that reminded her of Donnie Pfaster.

She gestured at the water on the ground. "You can have the water," she said. "There's gasoline out back that you can use to trade. I have food if you want that."

The man shook his head, removing his cowboy hat as he approached her and revealing his balding, sweat-soaked head. "Don't want none of that," he said, and she knew what he wanted. It made her ill, sick to her stomach, and she embraced her great stomach, cradling her daughter to show him her pregnancy. His smile broadened. "And that don't make a whit of difference to me, girl."

He was face to face with her now, and Scully didn't move a muscle, her hands still protectively spanning her belly as though she could hold the world in her hands. Slowly, his dirt-covered hand moved across her shoulders, slipping the straps of her white dress aside so that he could place his hands on her swollen breasts, and then he leaned into kiss her, sliding his tongue brutally and forcefully past her resistant lips. She struggled, fought, and then, as he moved to place his hands down her dress, she pulled out the gun tucked into her panties and shot him in the stomach.

Stunned, he reeled backwards, and Scully aimed the gun at his head and shot him a second time, square between the eyes, the bullet ripping through his skull and splashing brain and bone onto the desert, painting the sands the crimson of his blood.

Coldly, Scully wiped her mouth clean of his stale taste, and then replaced the gun in her underwear. Her would-be rapist's body remained still and silent, dust and sand blowing over him as a death shroud, coating his body. His eyes were wide with the shock of his victim's retaliation, and Scully kneeled down next to him, the heat and weight of her weapon heavy against her hip. She wanted it as such, wanted the security and comfort of her gun, and she looked hard into the man's eyes, seeing insanity and madness frosted over by the blindness of death.

It was not the first man that she had killed during her isolated stay in the desert, and it would never be the last. Mankind had changed along with the world, plummeting into despair and madness, turning on each other in their fear and their confusion.

Over the past three months, she had seen the best and worst of humanity, in the colonies that they had built to protect each other and in the murderers and looters that the apocalypse had spawned. Men like this... This wanderer who had been intent on raping a pregnant woman... They were the spawn of the fallen world.

It was then that Scully closed her eyes and leaned back, listening to the silence and stillness that had followed the explosive sounds of the gunshot, and felt like crying. This was the world that she was planning on raising her daughter in, the world that she would bring her child with Mulder into. A flash of confused and muddled memory stumbled through her mind, a blurred and distended memory of her day's dream, of a girl smoking while listening to keening dogs wail.

//This is the way the world ends,// she thought dazedly. //Not with a bang but a whimper.//

The mirror reflected a woman dyed in candlelight, everything tinted with a roseate hue that brought out different flames in her hair and skin. She tilted her head to the side and examined her appearance, looking at the curls of red hair cascading below her shoulders. She didn't recognize the woman looking back at her, seeing tanned and freckled skin, hard, anguished eyes, and a mouth that was ripe with sorrow. This unusual face was surrounded by hair, framed by it, and Scully saw nothing of the woman that Fox Mulder had once fallen in love with.

What he would have said to a day like today... He would have been appalled and angry, furious with rage over a man who would dare to touch Dana Scully. The stale taste of the traveler's kiss was still in her mouth, no matter how she had brushed her teeth to get it out, and she hated that Mulder was no longer the last man to have kissed her. The violation of the attempt clung to her skin, as did his greasy smell and flavor, and Scully ached for Mulder, ached to seek comfort in him. He would have...

Pained, she turned her eyes away from the mirror, not wanting to think about the solace that she might have sought in a dead man.

Regrets and wants tore through her body and mind, and she felt sick to her stomach again, her heart twisted into so many knots that she thought it might never come untangled. Her daughter turned restlessly inside of her, and Scully didn't blame her insomnia was a problem that she had to deal with as well.

The scissors glinted silver on the dresser, and Scully picked them up, wrapping a lock of red around her hand as she prepared to cut it off. She felt Mulder standing over her, his hands on the small of her back, and she closed her eyes briefly, listening to the sound of his voice murmuring nothing into her ears. She could almost feel his mouth brushing against the curve of her ear, and she felt the urge to weep from the memory of him.

Oh, Mulder...

In her loneliness, she longed for him, for a discussion, for conversation, for lovemaking and even for their arguments. She wanted something other than this stifling solitude, and oppressive isolation, and desired only his company. She yearned for his courage, for his wit and mind, for the loyalty and nobility that had all been key to Fox Mulder. From their challenging relationship to the bliss that they had wallowed in before his disappearance, she had loved him, and now that he was gone every piece of him seemed to whisper with the wind across the sands.


The first lock fell to the floor, a clump of red upon the wood, and all of the locks followed soon thereafter.

Slowly, methodically, she slid the ice cube over her exposed stomach, feeling it melt and enjoying the numbing bliss of frozen water as it caressed the rise of the child within. Lightly, she caressed her skin with the cool kiss of the ice, watching her stomach glisten as thought it had been coated with glycerin.

Usually, the water would have gathered in her navel, but her skin had stretched so that the surface of her stomach was smooth.

And as she cooled her skin, she spoke.

"Today I killed a man," she told her daughter, running the remaining sliver of ice over her stomach and thus over her unborn child. "People have changed since the world fell; they're untrusting and deceitful. It's understandable in a sense, that we would all become different people as the world changed around us. Environment affects everything, and geography can change a person just as society can. Trust has been destroyed, and people were affected by the deceit of the men who sold it, and now they seek to kill and maim.

"Anarchy is a dangerous element, and it's one that's now prevalent in this world. You'll find it running rampant when you're born, no matter how isolated you might feel in this desert. It hurt to kill that man, hurt to take a human life when life is so fragile now, but there are no rules, no morals, no ethics here. People think that this is some sort of distorted freedom, and they're wrong to think so. Anarchy is stricter than any dictatorship, in that there are no enforceable rules and therefore more danger.

"I've told before about the dangers of the world that you'll be born into. But I've only told you about the colonists, their plots and their plague, and never about the way that men have changed. People adapt to their surroundings, as I have had to do, but some people become mad when their surroundings change so disastrously. They can't handle it, and they can't swallow the fact that the world that they knew won't ever be again. And it won't ever be the same. It shouldn't.

"People say that history is a river, bound to repeat itself, and if we were to build the world as it were, then someone would forget the consequences of selling us all, and sell us all once again. If history is a river, then I don't want to swim in it when the water flows again.

"He wasn't the first man I've killed. When I was still an FBI agent, when there was still a government and a country that I could somehow protect, I killed. Your father and I have both killed men before, dangerous men who threatened to break the law, and deadly creatures that you could never fathom or understand. I didn't believe in them then, and part of me still denies that they ever existed. But we killed to protect ourselves, and we killed to protect the world." She interrupted her speech with a dry laugh. "I guess we failed."

Scully sighed, picking up another ice cube and running it around the globe of her stomach. "Your father was always anguished afterward, no matter if he'd killed a rapist or a murderer. He always punished himself for taking a life, and I respect him for that. He cared about them all, about every last life out there, and perhaps he was more breakable than I ever imagined. Under pressure he was almost godlike, fiery and passionate, and I added my own cool reservation to him. But afterwards, he was quiet, affected by what he had seen.

"Your father was the best of the world, all wrapped up in something marvelous. I hope the best for you, my little unnamed child..." She paused, looking down at her stomach, and the water that sluiced down the sides of her stomach looked as though her child was crying from within. "Your father..."

Mulder... She stood then, lowering her white dress over her stomach, and picked up the oil lamp from her nightstand. She moved toward the full-length mirror, looking at her body in the reflection, her pregnant stomach beautiful and full as a ripened fruit underneath the candlelight. And then there was her shorn hair, flying around her face like a crown of blood-dipped thorns, and this was the Scully without him. She wondered what he would say if he saw her now, this woman living in a scalded world, her body coppery and the hair that he had loved so much cropped around her face.

And the worst was knowing that he'd love her no matter what.

With a sigh, she returned to the bed, swallowing the water that had run off from the ice cubes in the bucket, and then blowing out the candle before falling into fitful slumber.

The world had changed completely.

Mulder realized this as he padded across the streets of what had once been Los Angeles, looking at the empty boardwalks and the crashed cars from which rotting corpses spilled onto the streets.

The carnival had not been abandoned; the city had. It had either died or left, and there was nothing left in the city but empty buildings that towered like phantom structures. The city burned to walk on, his feet raw from the abduction and from the heat of the cement.

And it ached to look at.

Confused, terrified, Mulder drank in the sights of the world that he had been taken from and felt his heart grow heavier and heavier. It had happened; Mulder knew that now. Colonization had finally happened, unraveling and descending upon the world in a plague of bees and viruses. The corpses' stomachs had all exploded, their bodies liquefied, and he understood it all upon first glance.

And he had been an unknowing player to it all.

"Scully," he whispered, his throat parched from the blazing sun and from thirst, and the thought of her dying like this brought him to his knees with misery and anguish. He hadn't been there, hadn't been there to stop this, drawn into the lights of his obsession and then washed ashore an impossible length of time later.

And now she was probably dead.

Mulder crumbled, falling to the streets and rocking from crying, weeping for the beauty of the woman that he had always loved. He would have given anything, be it his soul or his life, to see her well and alive, to listen to her voice, or just to feel her presence again in the world. But all that he heard inside was silence, and her voice was quiet as well.

Then a rumbling sounded, the sound of truck wheels grating across the road, and Mulder opened his eyes, his shoulders shaking from the force of his tears, and looked at a large army truck filled to the brim with passengers roving through the streets of Los Angeles. He stood, wincing in the unending sunlight, his skin covered in sweat and baking in the sun, and the truck slowed to a stop in front of him, pausing at the street corner to let a man wearing a wide-brimmed cowboy hat and a kerchief out.

The man approached Mulder, and Mulder winced, narrowing his eyes as he tried to read the man coming toward him. He felt good intentions, nothing else, and fearful exhaustion inside of the man's bones. The man smelled of medicine and death, but he thought that that particular odor must cling to everyone on this earth now. "Are you lost?" the man asked, and Mulder laughed bitterly, looking at the world around him.

"No," he said, his voice bubbling over with laughter that he thought might be mad. "No, but I think that the rest of the world is."

To his surprise, the other man laughed, removing his cowboy hat to reveal a bald head that was burned and slightly blistered. He wiped the sweat from his brow and extended a hand to the lost man. "Hell, son, we've been saying that for the last three months," he said, and Mulder stopped, narrowing his eyes to look at him.

"What day is it?" he asked, and the man frowned, tilting his head to look at Mulder with confusion.

"Son, it's mid-January of 2001," he said. "None of us have quite been keeping track of the days... It's difficult to, you know."

Mid-January... Dear God, he'd been missing for eight months.

Eight months spent in a drugged haze upon the ship, strapped to examining tables, given lobotomies, and then enough recovery time in a coma to allow for his wounds to heal and his hair to grow back before he had woken and thought that he had just fallen asleep. The memory of the explosion, of the war, of the crash...

They were all tumbled memories in his mind, and he had lost a sense of time and history during his abduction.

"Christ," he whispered. "Eight months."

Mulder was unaware of the man's arm around his shoulders as he took him to the jeep, pushing him gently but insistently in the back with the others. "You need shoes, son," the man said softly; Mulder sensed his concern and worry over the unstable man he'd picked up wandering the streets of the abandoned city. "And you need a hat, something that'll protect you better than the getup you're wearing now. The sun doesn't relent here. It's always burning, and if you don't cover up, you'll get burned."

A woman wearing something resembling the modest getup that women wear in the Middle East approached him, a white veil that was dusty and dirty covering her hair and yet exposing her sweet, saddened face. In her hand she held a frozen water bottle, but the sun's potent rays were already beginning to melt the ice into water. "We have a cooler full of supplies," she said. "But try to remember that there are fifteen other people who need them."

The water tasted blissfully cold as he drank, and he leaned back against the wall of the truck, closing his eyes and feeling a crushing sadness overtake him. The city had burned around him; he could smell charred buildings and crumbled houses, and the boardwalk would never entertain again. The shores were no longer resorts or refuges, and the sands would sting his feet if he were to walk upon them in day. The world's face had changed, and the country that he loved had died, and Mulder had been gone when it had all gone a-tumbling down.

The woman sat down next to him and picked up the medical bracelet on his wrist, turning it over in her hand to read the text. "Your name is Fox?" she asked, and he shook his head, swallowing another gulp of water before turning to her.

"No," he said. "My name is Mulder."

The woman smiled, and she extended her hand. "My name is Wendy," she said. "Wendy Wilson, and I understand what you're going through."

Surprised, Mulder shook his head, and she pushed back the white hood of her garb, revealing a mass of chestnut hair. She was younger than he thought, and perhaps he had just been fooled by the age in her wizened voice and eyes. Wendy turned her back and pulled her deep brown hair up, exposing the nape of her slender, pretty neck to him, and thus revealing a small, round scar.

"You're an abductee," Mulder said, his breath catching on his words. "Are you all..."

Wendy shook her head, releasing her brown hair so that it tumbled over the pale slip of her neck, and then her berry-brown hands pushed her white hood over her hair again, her smile soft and subtle. "No," she said. "Some of us are abductees and thus immune to the virus. And the others... They're just trying to escape."

Her voice softened, catching on the whispered sadness of her words. "We're all just trying to escape..."

Suddenly, Mulder turned his head to Wendy, frowning as he spoke.

"All the abductees are immune?" he asked, and she nodded her head, taking the plastic bottle of water from his lap and stealing a swallow for her own parched throat.

"Yes," she said, wiping water from her lips. "Whatever they did to us provided us with a natural immunity to the virus." She pushed up the sleeve of her white robe and revealed to him her deep copper skin, showing him the blistering scars of bee stings.

"I didn't escape unscathed, but only the stings hurt me. Nothing else." He caught a flash of her memory inside of his mind, a memory that was jagged and razor-sharp, as all stolen memories were. A child painted in red fire as she fell to the ground, a husband coated in a multitude of bees, and a house that burned in a conflagration of flames.

The empathy that the aliens had given him was a curse, a wretched curse, not only because of the images that he was constantly barraged with, but of the awful guilt that he felt invading another human being's privacy. The memories of Wendy Wilson were hers, not his, and yet he had pirated them and looted them, made them his own.

But he moved on to the idea that had sprouted inside of his mind... Scully. She was an abductee, and so was he. They would survive this barren world, and she had to be out there, somewhere, waiting for him. She wasn't dead; she couldn't be, and that was all the hope that he needed. The determination inside of him to find her, to be reunited with her, and to be with her once again.

No matter what.

The campfire glowed in the desert, flames licking and twisting, snickering slightly as it consumed the wood piled on the sands.

The smell of meat cooking mingled with the aroma of burning wood, and sparks simmered and sizzled under the curling flames. The flickering, crackling sounds of the fire were the only noises that could be heard in the massive silence of the desert.

He was distanced from the rest of the group, uncomfortable in his new pair of Levi jeans and in this radically changed world.

Quietly, pensively, he stirred the strong coffee that Wendy had given him, wincing as he took a sip and looked at the ragtag team of refugees that had just fled Los Angeles. They were dirty, some were bleeding, and all of them were tired and scared. Their world had disintegrated around them into a massive pile of rubble and ruin, and they were all frightened and confused.

And he was alone.

In the ship, he had dreamed of returning. He thought of it in different lights, in different scenarios, like being returned to a hospital in a coma as Scully had once come back, or being returned dead. Sometimes he dreamed that he was lost in the Oregon woods, naked and bleeding, blind and stumbling over pinecones and wood to get to her before dying. Yet he had never dreamed of this, of returning on the shores of California in an emptied world.

The wind whistled forlornly over the desert sands, and in the distance, Mulder could hear wild dogs baying to the full and swollen moon. He looked up at the celestial skyline, at the stars that were scattered like a handful of glitter overhead, burning brightly without the artificial lights of the city to block them.

"Everything's changed," he whispered, feeling alienated and confused, unsure of the world around him.

A gentle hand wrapped around his comfortingly, and Mulder turned his head to see Wendy sitting next to him. She had discarded her robes for a plain white tee shirt and a pair of khakis, and she buried her bare toes in the sands as she looked at him sympathetically. "It's hard, isn't it?" she asked. "Difficult to understand the way that the world's turned on you? I don't think I've ever fully accepted it." Tendrils of her deep mahogany hair whispered over her tanned face, and she grinned at him when she saw the skin on his arm. "You're sunburned, boy."

Softly, Mulder chuckled, turning his arm and smirking at the lobster-red burns over his skin. "I haven't been sunburned in ages," he said. "When I was back in Washington, we didn't have much time for suntans. It seemed that it rained wherever we went, and the clouds..." He choked on his words suddenly, swallowing any mention of Scully as though he could consume that memory and keep it for himself. She was a memory that he wanted to treasure, as though even idly breathing the first syllable of her name to anyone else would ruin all chance of ever finding her.

With a sigh, Wendy leaned her head back, looking up at the pattern of stars in the sky. "I used to have a telescope," she murmured, more to herself than to Mulder, but he caught a fleeting flash of this woman and her young daughter at the telescope, gazing through the lens to the magnified galaxies up above. "We lived in L.A., and we would take it out to Mulholland Drive to see the stars without any interference from the city lights. But now..." She shook her head, her smile a ghost of happiness. "Now I can see everything so clearly, but I don't understand anything at all."

Mulder tilted his head at her. "What happened, Wendy?" he asked, and she closed her eyes, her voice strained and taut as she spoke.

"They came shortly after Halloween," she said. "Right before Election Day. November 2, that was the day. All of the lights in the city died, and they died all across the major cities of the world as well. The men... They must have done it; the aliens arrived by ship. But they didn't come for another week, after the bees had already killed us and the cities were populated with their children. And then they bombed the cities." She bowed her head. "And I remained there for three months, hiding, crying, mourning..."

"You had nowhere else to go," Mulder said, and Wendy shook her head.

"No," she whispered. "I really didn't."

They remained in silence for a few minutes, and Mulder scanned the refugees of Los Angeles, the city of angels turned into a ruin for demons. Their skins were dirty, their clothing ragged, and their eyes so shattered that some of them looked mad. These were the new inhabitants of Earth, the new Americans, and their future was shaky and uncertain to say the least. "How did they do the sun?" he asked, and Wendy smiled bitterly.

"There are a hundred theories," she said.

His voice was gentle. "Which one do *you* believe?"

Slowly, she lifted her eyes and tilted her face to look at him.

"I think that they did it years ago," she said. "Slowly. After this was all planned." And that made sense to him - the men who had sold the Earth to them had planned this all out so intricately, and his futile efforts to stop them had been for nothing. With a plan so complex and twisted, thought out to the smallest detail, there was no escape and there was no way to stop it from happening.

And Scully had lost everything for nothing.

Groaning, Wendy stood up, stretching her arms and then ruffling Mulder's hair. "Get some sleep, kid," the brunette said. "We're going to try for Vegas tomorrow. Harry knows some abandoned highways, and we'll see if we can pick up some more survivors from Sin City."

With that, Wendy Wilson left, her long hair flowing behind her like a troubled banner.

Slowly, Mulder leaned backward, listening to the murmuring voices of the campfire as they talked in hushed voices about their plans, sighing as he slipped into his sleeping bag. The stars mingled above him, clustering into galaxies and constellations, all of these intricately patterned designs and maps. The North Star glittered bewitchingly above, and he looked at it, wondering where Scully was that night. Perhaps she remained in the ruins of Washington, sitting on the Mall or on the bench that they had shared for seven years, looking up at the stars and thinking of him.

The mind was a skilled artist, and his picked up a brush to paint a slender silhouette of Scully. She was awash in color, her red hair a magnificent flurry of furious coppery vermilion, her skin milky white and perfect, bathed by the light of candles. She wore nothing more than a slender tank top and a pair of blue jeans, her bare feet surrounded by wet grass and her shoulders glistening with a mixture of sweat and due. She smiled, her head tipped backward and her sharp profile like cut diamonds, and watched the stars like they held the mysteries of their changed world.

With that in mind, Mulder fell asleep.

The baying of the dogs wailed loud and plaintively in the massive wasteland of the desert, their calls long and sorrowful as the moon hung forlornly up above. The painted sands of the desert moved as the winds crossed the land, forming graceful sweeps of color underneath the starry sky. The stars seemed to have tripled in the skies, and it seemed as though the sky had turned silver, and the stars were really just pinpoints of dark night among them.

"It's beautiful," Mulder whispered, standing out in the middle of the desert listening to the keening dogs and gazing up at the millions of stars above him.

"Yes, it is."

Startled, he turned around, and saw a girl standing there. She could not be out of her teens yet, her tall stature matching his, and a torrent of unruly vermilion hair spilling across her bare shoulders in a feverish mass of ruby. Her skin was permanently tanned a healthy copper, and there were smatterings of freckles across the bridge of her unusual and slightly awkward nose, as well across her slim shoulders. The thin white tank top that she wore revealed a taut abdomen, and the waistband of her boot-cut blue jeans had been cut off and frayed by time, and her suede cowboy boots completed her Southwestern image.

The girl was stunning, standing out here with her proud body and that shocking mass of curly red hair, an unlit cigarette hanging loosely from her generous lower lip and a sad expression sighing in her lovely hazel eyes. "Do you mind if I smoke?" she asked, and Mulder shook his head.

"No," he said. "But I wish you wouldn't."

A ghost of a smile crossed this slender young woman's face, and she pulled out a gold Zippo lighter. "That's what she always says," she replied, flicking a flame that refused to remain steady from the power of the winds. "Damn," she said, and she cupped her long, slender fingers around the flame to keep it lit.

After the end of her Marlboro caught light, she took a hit and then exhaled a cloud of cerulean smoke. "It's difficult for fire to survive out here."

Mulder nodded. "It would be," he replied.

A light distracted him from the smoking girl, and Mulder looked past her slender figure to what looked like a small house. "You shouldn't be alone out here," Mulder said, and the girl shook her head, her smile sad and lonely.

"I'm not," she said. "But Mama is busy right now. She has to prepare, you know. And she knows that I'm perfectly capable of taking care of myself. I was raised out here in this desert."

Again, he nodded, feeling the wind tug at his clothing and watching with an awestruck expression at the disturbing beauty of the girl's untamed carmine hair, rustling in the wind like a live flame. "Do the dogs always cry?" he asked, and she nodded her head, turning her face to the side and looking stoically out in the distance in a fashion that reminded him of Scully.

"Mama thinks that they cry out of confusion," she murmured, her soft contralto voice pensive and thoughtful. "I think that she might be right. They haven't been here very long though."

"Why not?"

Her smile was faintly ironic, and she took another drag from her cigarette, the smoke ripped from her lips and tossed out among the desert sands in an explosion of slate. "Because this desert is new," she said. "It's barely older than I am."

Tilting his head to the side, Mulder tried again to guess the girl's age, looking at her slender, youthful figure and at her proud, stubborn chin. Yet the eyes were ancient; they seemed to carry aeons underneath a fine layer of hazel glass, and were haunted by the disturbing desert wasteland that she had been forced to flourish in. "I'm sorry that you had to grow up out here," Mulder apologized, feeling a guilt that he didn't understand.

Softly, the girl shook her head, a stray curl of red blew across her face and clung to the plush expanse of her generous raspberry-colored mouth. "It's not your fault," she murmured.

"You tried to stop this. You both did. It's just that this..."

With a broad sweep of her slender arm, she gestured to the massive desert surrounding them. "This couldn't ever have been stopped." Her eyebrows arched slightly. "You do know that, don't you?"

Sadly, Mulder nodded his head. "Yeah," he muttered. "I think I do."

The girl took another luxurious drag from her cigarette, and sparks flew off into the wind, stolen from the end of her cigarette and tossed into the night as though she were blowing kisses made of fire. "Before you start asking me your questions, do you mind if I ask you one of my own?" she said, and Mulder shook his head. "Was this your vision? Was it the truth that you fought to find?"

Slowly, Mulder turned his head to the side, drinking their surroundings in, and in a flash of stolen memory, he saw smoldering buildings, bombs falling, a plague of bees descending upon America, and dead bodies scattered along the side of the road like litter. A cacophony of screams and cries filled the sky, shattering his eardrums and crying into his mind. "No," he whispered. "It never was. This was the vision that I tried to destroy."

"Ssh," the girl whispered, her voice soft and steady, calm and comforting; a younger version of Dana Scully's own comforting contralto. "You couldn't have. Don't you understand? This was a world that was destined to be, and this is the world that I have to live in. But it's all right. It'll be okay."

Lifting his head, his mouth trembling slightly, Mulder asked her his questions. "Where is she?" he asked, and the girl turned her head to the side, her clear hazel eyes looking out toward the house where a shadow moved through the windows.

"The desert," she said softly. "But you won't find this desert on a map. It's a desert made out of the fertile farmlands of Colorado and scorched by the sunlight. Everything's burned by the heat of the sun."

Slowly, Mulder shook his head. "What's your name?" he asked, and the girl turned her head back to him, smiling softly at him.

"I don't have one," she said. "But I think that you'll give me one."

A tender, gentle smile spread across his face, curling his mouth and touching his haunted hazel eyes. "Yes," he murmured. "I think I will."


Barbara, Belinda, Brenda... The names rolled through his mind like a litany as the wheels of the truck ground across the gravel of the broken highway, crunching across Nevada and away from California. Mulder adjusted the Yankees hat on his forehead; a gift from Wendy thieved for him in Fresno, and wiped sweat from the back of his neck.

He didn't know why he was thinking of the names, but it helped to pass the time as the truck filled with despondent refugees crunched desperately across the desert to Vegas. They had passed the border into Nevada yesterday, and they should arrive in Vegas today. Bethany, Beth, Bonita. He didn't know what waited for them there; perhaps it was just a whispered possibility of hope and life, and perhaps it was just an opportunity to waste away in the remnants of Sin City.

All that he knew was that it was better than Los Angeles.

They had managed to rig up a canopy over the back of the truck, but the ice in the cooler had melted into oblivion and now their water was lukewarm and not very refreshing. The last gas station that they had stopped to loot had not been very fruitful, and yet it had produced the Yankees hat that Mulder now wore. The Yankees were champions; it was a reliable brand.

They were also probably dead.

"Is misery made beautiful right before our eyes?" the singer's distraught voice cried in his ear thanks to the Discman that he had stolen. The radio provided nothing, no sound and no hope, and so he clung desperately to the music of the Old World. "Mercy be revealed... Or blind us where we stand..."

They were all blind, these survivors, and blinded by a horrible combination of desolation and hope. They were scarred by loss and by confusion, aimlessly wandering through the dust and sands of the desert toward a goal that would inevitably bring them more heartache. They had no future, and Mulder sadly knew it. This world was dying, crumbling around them, and yet they were clinging so desperately to it. He was also guilty of this sin, because in between thinking of names, he was thinking of her.

Last night while they slept around the campfire, Mulder dreamt of the night spent staking out Robert Modell. Her mouth, open and softly breathing onto his shoulder, the warmth of her cheek radiating through his jacket, as she dreamed away reality, was a fond memory. He loved their time as partners and friends as much as he loved their time as lovers. The memories were all blended together in a rich mixture of history and chemistry, and he would never forget the incredible softness of her peachy skin underneath his finger as he stroked her into consciousness.

Now he wished that she had slept forever, slept away the future of cancer and dead daughters, of loss and apocalypse. Perhaps it would have been better if she had died the next day, if he had shot her under Pusher's control...

God, he was actually going mad.

Survival was best. The optimist inside of him pushed it on him.

The human race was a marvelous mixture of complexity and simplicity, and their survival was imperative. If this ragtag team of men and women wanted to find Las Vegas, then so be it.

Who was Fox Mulder to stop them? He could sense their hopes, their determination, and their desperation to find someplace where they could survive. That was all that they wanted - a safe haven where they could possibly dream of flourishing as they once had done in Los Angeles. Wendy wanted a place to see the stars again, and all that Mulder wanted was Scully.

But Jesus Christ, to look at the world today, to see the cars wrecked in the desert and the empty bodies liquefied by the alien virus, and to think of the rubble and haunted death of the boardwalk... What kind of a world would they inhabit? A sunscorched planet where mankind had died and where it was bound to find only more death and destruction? A virus-riddled land ruled by creatures only bound to slaughter them... That was America now.

And *God*, it was all because of the greed of man.

"Will we burn in heaven... Like we do down here..."

The tears stung at his eyelashes, flashes of the hopes and dreams of these bedraggled refugees flickering through his mind like a dying flame. There was nothing out in this desert, nothing but a sliver of hope, and he didn't know if that would be enough to save them all. Maybe nothing would. Wearily and brokenheartedly, Mulder leaned back in the jeep and sighed, listening as the musician's despairingly beautiful soprano practically wept the last lines of her song.

"Will the change come while we're waiting..."

Beatrice, Billie, Becky and Bonnie...

"Everybody's waiting..."

Scully had been to Vegas.

She had been furious, her complexion red and rose, and she used her Irish descent to her full advantage instead of disadvantage, her hair and cheeks flaming with indignity and injustice as she raged on and on about the Gunmen's trickery. They'd cleverly schemed to get her to go to Vegas, and she'd ended up drugged and somewhat slutty, though that description had come from Frohike and Scully refused to acknowledge any of it. But she was pissed as hell at all of them and intent on kicking their asses out into the Mojave Desert.

And she had been sexy as hell when she was mad.

The streets of Las Vegas, the Strip that ran past Caesar's Palace and through the middle of the great casinos of the city. The casinos remained intact, mostly, except for buildings that had burned and the inevitable looting that had gone on. As though money was worth anything anymore.

The truck swayed back and forth, the olive canopy moving as well, but the stars were out tonight and it didn't matter about the blistering rays of the sun anymore. He had discarded his Yankees cap as well as his Discman, saving the batteries for a less interesting day where only music or voices from his lost and beloved America would be able to keep him sane. Sanity was important; madness bred discontent and violence.

The slender flickering braid that Wendy Wilson wore in her hair switched against her back like a cat's impatient tail, and the anticipation and excitement in her bright eyes made Mulder's heart ache. He knew what she was hoping for, some secret colony that had survived, a rebellion thriving underneath the broken buildings, or perhaps a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

And Mulder also knew what Las Vegas had to offer her: A death like any other good old American city.

A broad smile swept over her face, and wisps of rich brown hair curled over her smooth features as she turned to him. "Did I ever tell you that I was good at gambling?" she said, and Mulder solemnly shook his head. "Well, I am. Paul and I went out to Vegas before our daughter Livvie was born, and I ended up winning a thousand dollars in a casino playing blackjack. And then I won two thou in a slot machine." Her smile broadened. "So that night, I married Paul, lost my virginity to him in the honeymoon suite at Caesar's Palace, and nine months later Olivia was born."

Mulder saw all of her memories in vivid color, the laughter and champagne being spilled as they wed in front of the altar, her hair a mass of curls and her husband's happy smile as he looked so blissfully at his bride. The splendor of that night was wrapped up in Wendy's wedding kiss.

The truck slowed to a stop, the gears ceasing and the brakes crying out. Slowly, Wendy's trembling hand tugged upon the canopy enough for her to peek through at the city where she had married her husband, hoping perhaps to recapture the hope and joy of that singular night, but all that she found instead was a dead town.

"No," she whispered, her voice filling with tears. "No, no..."

Blackened, liquefied bodies were strewn around the streets, some charred and rotted from exposure to the sun and from feeble attempts to burn the contaminated corpses. Cars were wrecked up and down the street, forming a pile-up of vehicles carrying people who had desperately tried to leave the town and therefore effectively blocking the roadway. The moonlight fell on all of them in gentle beams of silvery light, stars shimmering and twinkling from the blackened skies, as though they were being shown kindness in their exposure to the loss of these people's dreams.

"Oh, God..."

Slowly, Mulder turned his head to drink in the sight of the Los Angeles refugees, the survivors who had fought to get to the city for reasons of hope and want. Their eyes scanned the city with desolate expressions, and Wendy Wilson slowly, quietly, slipped away to enter the Caesar's Palace casino and hotel. Her slender shadow disappeared into the wreckage, and Mulder silently followed her.

Red velvet canopies fell from the ceiling, sweeping the floor of the casino, and Mulder quietly struck a match, lighting a candle that he kept in his pocket for nighttime. The candles illuminated dead slot machines and green felt craps tables, dice gleaming like cubes of bone in the moonlight. Slowly, Mulder walked through the tables, ignoring the desolate surroundings to find Wendy.

He found her in front of the blackjack table, her hands whispering along the edges of it, her fingers passing over the green felt and rifling through the pack of cards that she found abandoned there. "This was my table," she murmured. "This was where I won my money. Paul used to joke that it was my dowry..."

Her voice lowered. "Not so lucky anymore, am I?"

Gently, Mulder placed the candle on the table and put his hand on her shoulder. "None of us are anymore, Wendy. I think mankind's luck has run out."

The woman dissolved into tears at that, and he wrapped his arms around her, holding the mourning widow's body in his arms as she cried for her lost hopes and future. Tightly, Mulder closed his eyes, aching for Scully, desperate for her strength and her compassion, for her reserve and her calm integrity, wishing that he wasn't so damned alone out here in this desert, and wishing that she was still alive.

"It's all hopeless," Wendy whispered, and Mulder shook his head.

"I have a partner out there," he murmured, confiding in her what he had confided in no one. "I think she's still alive. Somewhere in the desert..."

//the girl's lovely red hair spun across her face as she said how the desert was barely older than her and made from Oklahoma// "Somewhere in Oklahoma," Mulder said. "I have to find her. She was an abductee like me, like you, immune to the virus. And I need her. So Las Vegas isn't where it ends for me, Wendy, and it doesn't have to be where it ends for you either." Softly, he pulled away and smoothed errant strands of mahogany away from her beautiful face. "Come with me."

And her smile was tight.


The night was quiet, eerily so, until he interrupted the thick and taut silence with the gentle whisper of silk sliding down between her thighs.

The lavish sensation of the silk burning down her sensitive inner thigh, slightly dampened and deliciously warm, was enough to make her hips move, and she nipped at the soft berry of his lower lip as he pulled off the fine pair of jasmine-colored panties. As he raised her legs to remove the skimpy pair of underwear, she leaned backward, her naked breasts peaked toward the mirrored ceiling and she gazed upon herself as though she was looking at a mural painted in lamplight.

Hair the color of burning foliage shimmered in a pool of lava around her slim and pale face, her lips slightly parted as she exhaled aroused breaths, and her milky skin was covered in coppery gold and shimmering with anticipatory sweat. The coral peaks of her hardened nipples stood out on her ripe breasts, and she linked her hands behind her head, fascinated by her slender reflection.

She was beautiful.

She watched her eyes widen as a mouth lowered on the fragile bone of her ankle, kissing her Achilles' tendon and then the arch of her foot. She watched herself laughing, stunned by the line of her neck and the color of her mouth as she let her joy spill over, and then she felt his mouth creep away from her feet and up to the inside of her knee. She never let herself laugh so freely, with such abandon, but she couldn't help it. She couldn't help the sensation of rapture and bliss culminating like wine inside of her body and heart, and she laughed as his lips tickled the inside of her leg.

Then all seriousness and sensuality took over, but it only served to continue the laughter and the frivolity, as his mouth dragged languidly over the inside of her thigh. Their lovemaking was usually an intensely passionate affair, serious and fiery, as though this would be their last night. But she had never allowed herself to laugh with him, never thought that being involved could reap such joy and bliss. But as she felt his kisses ascending up the inside of her leg, she exploded in mirth, if only because if this was their last night, then it would be remembered as joyful.

A sigh dropped from her mouth, and then a more audible and substantial cry interrupted her uninhibited laughter. The shocking sensation of his mouth on her, his lower lip moving upward and dragging moisture over her slick and swollen folds, and it was like spreading kerosene over a burning wick. Her body flew upward, and she watched herself in the mirror again, the glass reflecting a woman who seemed to be burning under her skin as her lover set an inferno through her veins.


His mouth was a wicked weapon indeed; the teardrop of his upper lip pursed over the hood of her throbbing clitoris, and his lower one teased her wet opening, and his tongue traced the individual flaming folds, thick and heated because of him. Her knees drew up around his shoulders, bare feet walking up the column of his spine, and then massaging his shoulders in encouragement for him to continue. "Please..." she whispered, and his lower lip nipped teasingly at the swollen bundle of nerves begging so shamelessly for his attention. She wanted everything, wanted him, and she wouldn't relent until he surrendered.

Slowly, smoothly, his tongue dipped inside her, and she contracted around it tightly, her hands reaching forward to run rapidly through his fine mahogany hair. She loved his hair, loved the rich color of it and the multitude of different colors that it was composed of. Everything was a mystery with him, and she loved every facet of his carefully constructed enigma, if only because she had unlocked most of him, and even the parts that she didn't understand were hers. "M..." she whispered, but was stopped when that delicious tongue moved upward and began to stroke the tiny coal hooded by swollen flesh.

He was so good at this. She always enjoyed it whenever he pleasured her such as this, with his constantly moving mouth.

Moaning, she tilted her head backward, her fingers stroking his hair lovingly as he brought her to new levels of pleasure and heat, fire racing through her body at escalating speeds. "Oh," she whispered, looking through her eyelashes at her figure captured in the glass, reflected onto the bed and spellbound by this most personal and visceral kiss. She saw the rosy tips of her nipples, the round and heavy fruits of her breasts, and the coppery milk of her skin set alight with his blazing oil of her own sumptuous sexuality.

God, she had never been so beautiful.

And she watched herself come, eyes wide open, blue orbs disappearing into her dilated pupils, a sheen of sweat glistening over her body like a coating of glycerin, and her back arching as the sensations blossomed like wicked magnolias all underneath her skin. She saw herself scream rather than felt it, and everything was sight and sensation instead of sound. She was a silent movie of sex, muted and delicious, and she was wonderful.

Tearing her eyes away from the mirror, she looked down at him, looked down to the man rising from between her thighs, and saw everything that he was. Brown hair in a disarray of elegantly tousled spikes, wonderfully high cheekbones, pearly pink lips moist from her arousal and taste, a nose that was slightly awkward on his beautiful face, and eyes that burned like a thousand different flecks of amber and green set aflame. Slowly, that delicious mouth tugged into a smile, and she moved for-

When she woke, she cried out, and not because of arousal, but because of the wrenching sorrow that was the essence and absence of him. "Mulder," she gasped, sitting up straight in the bed, her bed warm from her slumbering movements and from the heat of the night. It was warmed as though another body had slept there, slumbered spooned into her, and she could feel the warmth of his kisses fading between her thighs.

But there was no one there. No one but herself and the child within her.

Those were the moments that she had enjoyed best, after all. The moments following climax, curled up in a bed together, hers or his, it didn't really matter. She would have her nose tucked into his shirt, smelling the scent of waning male arousal and the spice that was Mulder's alone, and his fingers would be counting the discs in her spine as their bodies cooled and they lingered close to sleep. But they would lengthen these moments, as though they controlled time itself, fighting off sleep and whispering back and forth in an intimate exchange. Eventually one of them would fall asleep mid-sentence, and the remaining lover would just smile.

Now she was the last one.

Slowly, Scully walked down the stairs, her bare feet padding on the wooden planks as she made her way to the kitchen. Her shorter hairstyle had bothered her for the first two days, but it had been nearly a week since she had cut it, and now she appreciated its slighter length. It wasn't so damn cumbersome, so difficult to manage, but it was severe and strikingly different. But it was her face again, her body distorted but her face still the same.

She was still Scully.

The sun would rise soon over the Oklahoma farmlands, and she could feel the heat begin to rise as the sky lightened from black to sapphire. Her watch read out the early morning hour, less than an hour before the sun would rise again. The clouds were something that she missed, but there were a thousand other elements missing from this world that had been in the last one.

With a sigh, Scully settled herself onto the steps of her front porch, and she pulled her arms around her knees, barely able to encircle her pregnant stomach. The world was quiet around her, and Scully was grateful for the peace. Gently, she closed her eyes, and all that she saw was Mulder.

The dream had been vivid and real; she had woken up heartbroken and in that strange place between slumber and waking, when she remembered parts of things but forgot that others died in dreams.

She had woken aching for Mulder and thinking that he should still be sleeping next to her, before Washington had been desiccated and left to rot. The sex had been so real, too, but she blamed that on hormones and longing.

Softly, she smiled, tilting her head and looking at the moon above. After they had started making love, they had made strict rules for their sexual encounters. Only at home, and never out in the field unless the case was solved. They had never broken their rules, but it still hadn't kept their private lives separate from their business lives. The constant motion of his mouth would tantalize her at work, when he chewed on sunflower seeds or on the end of a pen, and she would find herself aroused just by watching him speak, imagining the possibilities.

But the power of his words could do so much to her. They could enrage her, excite her, and leave her breathless and heartbroken.

The memories that Scully held of him were precious and sweet, and she wouldn't ever let him go. No matter that he was dead, no matter that their world together had been shattered. He was hers no, hers and her child's.

And as dawn rose, Scully fought tears.

Dust flew out from under the wheels of the rusted Ford pickup truck as it ground over the dried out gravel of the dirt road heading into Dora. Gritting her teeth, Scully shifted the old truck into fifth gear, cranking the engine and forcing it to make it to Dora before running out of gas and stranding her on the side of the road.

She was a week past her due date and not surprised. How could she blame any child for not wanting to enter into a world like this?

But her child's reluctance was only increasing Scully's misery, and she was running low on food and water, not to mention gasoline for the Ford. An old cassette tape was left in the radio of the truck, and Scully pressed play, listening to Billie Holiday sing in her strong, proud jazz voice. "God bless the child that's got his own..."

"Amen," Scully muttered from behind her dark sunglasses, a white cowboy hat covering her head and keeping the sun from shining down on her skin. The air conditioning on the truck was blissful as it blew on her body, and Scully thought that she had honestly died and gone to heaven. Sweat fell from her body in droplets of moisture, spilling on the torn interior.

The country road was scattered and torn with tumbleweed, and Scully crunched over it with her tires. The jazz music changed at the end of the cassette to old rock and roll by Dylan, and Scully thought that appropriate for a post-apocalyptic America.

Dora had once been a quiet town, a farming village that had been populated by quiet folk and grain stores, a couple of bookstores and one decrepit drive-in movie theatre for the kids. Christ, there was even a soda shop, which had made Scully laughed.

Everything was a relic for a world whose time has passed, and a little farmer's town like Dora, Oklahoma, was a relic as well.

In the final days of Dora, the people had gone inside to die.

There were no bodies on the streets, no plague-riddled children to weep for on the side of the road. She had discovered this when first passing through Dora, when she had decided not to continue on to California with the other survivors. She had been eight months pregnant and tired of travelling, tired of running and hiding, and had found a place to raise her daughter in relative safety. So she had looted what she could, and found that the citizens of Dora had all swallowed their way into death, and had died by their own hands.

Perhaps the radio had foretold the coming plague of bees. Perhaps they had heard it from survivors passing through before she had.

It didn't matter - they had known death awaited them and decided to control how they went. If not for the child inside of her, Scully would have done the same thing.

And there were days when she considered it anyway.

With a slam, she shut the door to the Ford and stepped out, the hot wind embracing her and scampering under her skin, and she flinched, hating how the heat crept under the fabric of her maternity dress and crawled over and under her. The blessed air conditioning was as wonderful as it was miserable, in that it was just a temporary indulgence, one that never lasted.

The wind whispered around her, blowing against her thin silk dress, and Scully winced, glancing off into the distance of the forgotten town of Dora, and suddenly, horribly, she was transported by memory to the day that she left home. She remembered it all, wandering through the street carrying a gallon of pilfered milk that was beginning to warm and perspire in the brutal sunlight, wearing a pair of denim maternity shorts and a white button-down linen tank top that was also cut specifically for pregnant women. She had been tired, weary, and depressed, and when the bus had stopped for her a block away from her apartment, Scully had fetched a suitcase filled with clothing and climbed aboard with tears in her eyes and regrets in her heart.

It had not been the first opportunity for escape. Two other busses filled with survivors and refugees of Georgetown, many FBI agents and other government officials among them, had already asked her to go with them. She had hesitated because of Mulder.

If she left town, if she left this place, then he would never know where to find her. He was life, love, everything. How could she leave? But she had accepted it a while past. The war had broken out. The world had ended.

Mulder was dead.

So she had left all chance of ever finding him behind. He would not return. Scully took her suitcase and abandoned the city, and now she was here, in Dora.

And now she was here alone.

Slowly, softly, she drew the brush through her hair, meticulously combing through the luxurious vermilion curls that spiraled gently down her back like coiling snakes of crimson. Shorter threads of curling carmine hung in her slender face, shaped like a perfect oval, her sharp chin jutting out proudly as she admired her reflection in the mirror. A whisper of cardinal red was tucked absently underneath the thin straps of her blush-colored silk camisole top, tucked immaculately into the waistband of her khaki dungarees. She had abandoned her suede boots for a pair of red snakeskin ones, and they were much-loved and shockingly colored.

"You keep brushing your hair so fervently and it'll fall out," Scully teased as her daughter brushed, and her obstinate child stuck her tongue out in the mirror, a gesture meant for her meddling mother.

"I thought that all those ridiculous old wives' tales died with the rest of the world," she shot, and Scully shook her head, stretching her arms over her head as she sat on her daughter's bed.

"I am intent on carrying some of those sayings into the new world," she said.

Faint tendrils of red fell onto the floor, and Scully watched as they whispered across the carpet as the wind blew in through the curtains. "Your aim is superior," Scully commented, and the young woman arched a coppery eyebrow in the mirror, tilting her head with the pride that only a true Scully woman could possess.

"Is my aim the most important thing about me to you?" she asked, and Scully felt heartbroken by her daughter's pointed question.

Raising her daughter as a warrior of sorts, raising her to bring the colonists to their knees and to take the world by storm had sacrificed her daughter's youth and mirth. And she knew that the beautiful young woman sometimes thought that Scully regarded her as nothing more than a soldier.

Slowly, Scully rose from the bed, moving up behind her tall and imperious daughter, brushing her unruly and ruthless mass of ruby hair away from her slender shoulders, baring the slightly freckled and coppery skin and kissing her daughter's cheek. "No," she murmured. "I'm fascinated and exhilarated of every part of you. Your creativity, your ingenuity, your laughter and your tears... Everything that you do is wonderful. You are important to me, as a whole, and I love you."

The reflection of her daughter's smile was enough to bring the burning sun down.

The Jaguar screamed across the highway, its bright green body cutting down the road and spitting out a stream of dust in its wake as it crossed the border into Oklahoma. Rock music blared out of its CD player as the slender body of the vehicle roared down the highway, the top down and music filling the spacious emptiness of the desert's expanse.

"It's the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine..."

Wendy's voice screamed out an expression of unadulterated joy and bliss as she lifted her hands into the wind, and Mulder turned his head away from the road briefly to look at his companion, her mouth turned up into a smile and her eyes blankly happy.

He was worried about Wendy.

Joy. Bliss. Rapture. These were things that he should not have to be concerned with, elements that shouldn't worry a man in the least. Yet her happiness had come with an insanity that concerned him, a blank sort of ecstasy that bubbled over like dull champagne. She was reckless, thoughtless, wanting to drive with the top down on the Jaguar that she had picked out in Vegas, forgetful of the sunlight and the deadly potential of riding in a convertible on these treacherous roadways. Wendy had turned from responsible into frivolous, reverting from her cool, nurturing maternity into a state of perpetual childhood. A harsh word could send her into tears, like a spoiled little girl who wanted dessert before dinner.

Mulder was worried that Wendy was going insane, and the Valium she was taking wasn't helping a damn bit.

Slowly, teasingly, the brunette beside him opened up the glove compartment, revealing a flask of scotch. "Want some?" she offered, and Mulder shook his head, pushing his sunglasses further up on his nose.

"No, thank you," he said quietly and politely, as not to upset her. "And maybe you should think twice about having some too. You just took a pill a half an hour ago, and alcohol dehydrates easily."

Wendy pouted, pursing her mouth and furrowing her eyebrows together in the childlike fashion that she had so suddenly developed. "No fun," she said, and Mulder sighed, rolling his eyes and allowing her the liquor. It wouldn't hurt her; they had water in the back. Decadently, Wendy tipped back the flask and shrieked as the fiery alcohol burned its way down her throat. "I love this car!"

Gritting his teeth, Mulder took a sip from his bottle of icy Evian water, and then switched the song from jubilant R.E.M. to a quieter Neil Young, something that seemed to upset Wendy. "I liked that!" she protested, crossing her arms over her chest and looking at him with eyes that were wide with hurt. "I saw them in concert when I was a baby."

Shortly, Mulder laughed. "You weren't a baby, Wendy," he said.

She seemed to be losing track of time, forgetting days and months in the spill of constantly moving but never changing scenery.

"Will you look at the map for me and tell me where we are? We need to loot a gas station the next chance we get."

Giving Wendy the job of navigator for their journey had been a smart idea, as she needed the distraction from herself and from the shocking revelations that they had found in Las Vegas along with the other survivors. Thoughtfully, she unfolded the map and quizzically looked at it, frowning and tracing the lines of highways and intersections as the paper flapped in the wind.

Delia, Dorothy, Day... He couldn't stop thinking of names. They spilled forth from his mind as he endlessly repeated the alphabet, sometimes copying old names, sometimes remembering new ones. It was important to think of names, to conjure up titles and addresses, no matter how insignificant this task might be.

Every day he saw Wendy's sanity waning, disappearing as the Jaguar jolted across America, and in her fading coherence, he saw the possibility of losing his own mind.

And he was beginning to accept the possibility that Scully might be insane as well.

"We're nearing Tulsa," she said, and Mulder nodded, pleased. They could stop at a gas station, pick up some more gasoline for the Jag, and then perhaps spend a night there before proceeding onward tomorrow to a place that he didn't understand. All that he knew was that he felt like he was heading in the right direction, and every morning, he felt more certain of that fact. Oklahoma was an open prospect for him.

The Jaguar sped across the road, and he had to admit that the car Wendy had selected was delicious to drive. The wind blew through his hair, and through the tinted lenses of his sunglasses, he saw nothing but open road ahead of him. They avoided the main highways where there would probably be disabled vehicles and stuck to the more winding roads, and this thought had so far brought them good fortune. It was as though their map had been drawn out by some higher entity, and if God hadn't died years ago, then maybe He'd had something to do with their good luck.

Mulder downshifted the Jaguar into fourth briefly as they slowed to pass an overturned Honda, and then he sped up afterwards, choking back a grin as he shifted the car back into fifth gear and enjoyed the contented purr of the superior engine beneath him. Oh, if only Scully could see him now. She would laugh it off, claiming that he was letting his dick navigate the journey in her classy voice, only she would never use a word as blunt as "dick". No, no... That wasn't Scully at all. The woman that he knew would smile demurely for a mile and then demand that he pull over so that *she* could drive.

Scully had always loved to drive.

The Jaguar eventually slowed as they passed a small Texaco station outside of Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Mulder pulled the green car up to the mini-mart in front. "Can I come in with you?" Wendy asked, swinging her legs impatiently in the car. "I'm hungry."

"Sure," Mulder replied, trying not to be irritable or unkind to her in her delicate state of mind. Ever the polite gentleman, he opened up the car door for her, and Wendy exited the car, her dark hair a troubled storm of brown behind her in the dusty wind.

The mini-mart had not been looted, and Mulder jammed an elbow through the door, protected by the worn leather coat that he'd found in Vegas. The glass shattered underneath his arm, and he entered the gas station slowly, apprehensively. Something felt off here, eerily so, and Mulder didn't like the heavy atmosphere inside of the station, made erratic by Wendy's jittery mind.

"Stay close to me," Mulder warned, but Wendy had already moved toward the candy aisle and left him alone. He pulled out the gun from his pocket, and felt the weight of the pistol in his palm as a reassurance.

The gasoline was near the back of the store, along with motor oil that he thought he might end up needing, and Mulder carefully picked up nine gallons of gas and three quarts of oil, barely able to balance all of it in his arms. "Wendy," he called, and Wendy walked to him, tipping her head back to drink a Coke.

"Wendy, I need your help."

"Okay," she said, taking half of the supplies in her own thin arms, and then giggling when she dropped her marshmallows on the floor. "Oops."

Suddenly, another noise sounded from the back of the store, and Mulder tilted his head to the side, ears perking as he tried to get a mental reading on the other inhabitant. The shadows revealed nothing physical as he walked toward the door, and Wendy followed behind him, mindlessly laughing to herself.

"Ssh," Mulder whispered, trying to pick up something by means of his own mind. "Ssh..."

//ssh mulder ssh, but your wendy is a wasteland and the world is as well this is our world now and not your own and your scully oh yes your scully will die and so will the pieces you left behind so ssh mulder and surrender to us now//

"Oh, Christ..."

Wendy's laughter turned to screams as the alien burst forth from the back area of the store, its black and oily skin snarling and screeching as it came toward Mulder, fingernails turned to talons and its body fresh from birth. "DOWN!" Mulder yelled, Wendy fell to the floor, rocking back and forth and covering her head as the alien ran for them both. The alien screamed at him, and Mulder cocked the safety on his gun, eyes widening as the alien approached him, and then the creature ceased.

//I know you can hear me,// Mulder thought, his eyes glaring coldly at the creature. //Let us go.//

//let you go how can I let you go you are inferior you are nothing and your wendy is a madwoman she has lost her mind fox mulder what will you do with her in a world where you are no longer the hunter as you used to be//

//You claim to know everything. You know *nothing* about this world!//

The creature seemed to laugh. //we know enough to know that this world is worthless//

At this, Mulder smiled, and his smile was confidant, cool, and self-possessed. "No," he said. "It isn't."

And with that, he fired the gun four times, straight through the alien's screaming and disgusting features, as black blood splashed over his clothing and over Wendy Wilson's screaming and huddled body. The alien screamed as it died, and Mulder stood over it, disgusted by its existence and greatly disturbed by its thoughts. Scully and the pieces that he had left behind... He didn't understand. He didn't understand at all, but he knew this: he would find her. He would get to her no matter what.

The wrenching sobs that Wendy emitted were still loud and shrill, and Mulder picked her up, grabbing a cardboard box filled with Jolly Ranchers and dumping the hard candies onto the floor, piling the box up with gasoline and oil. "Come on!" he yelled, and the woman just remained hunched over on the floor, crying madly and rocking back and forth. The memories that she emitted were mad flashes of daughters dying and husbands screaming, of cities crumbling and oil flooding the streets...

Roughly, Mulder picked her up by her arm and dragged her out the door and into the Jaguar, as Wendy screamed relentlessly.

The cicadas were singing, and Mulder hated their constant droning falsetto wails. They were the accompanying violins of madness, screeching and railing on to no end as Wendy had only recently ceased doing. A valium and half of the scotch had calmed her jangled nerves, and she lay on top of her sleeping bag, her eyes heavy with alcohol, but startlingly, vividly clear. She was sane, if only briefly, and the scotch had brought out some semblance of consciousness inside of her.

Dolores, Darlene...

"Tell me about your partner."


But no, she had never been Dana. She had always been Scully to him, a beautiful portrait of strength encased in creamy skin and topped by vivid red hair that she always tried to mute and tame but still flamed brilliantly. She could never mute herself, could never silence herself, not when she was such a vividly colored woman in the first place. She was perfection poured into the shape of a woman, and her quick and rapid mind could come up with a thousand different ways to ensnare him in her fingertips.

Softly, Mulder looked at the mild fire that he had started, the flames climbing absently toward the sky, ascending to the stars as Scully had once unwillingly done years ago and as he had done eight months ago. "One time Scully and I were on a stakeout together," he murmured softly. "I was staking out something that I thought was inhuman, and it wasn't exactly a routine stakeout, nor was it exactly authorized. But I broke the rules all the time, and Scully thought that I was crazy back then. But she came to sit with me, and told me something that I never forgot. I think that this was when I started to fall in love with her 'Mulder, I wouldn't put myself on the line for anybody but you.'"

Wendy smiled, her mouth curling into a weary sigh. "What did you say back?"

His heart hurt at the memory of his own smart-ass, defensive remark, terrified that someone would start to care about him and afraid that she would suspect how deeply her soft confession had stirred him. "I told her that if there was an iced tea in her bag, it could be love," Mulder muttered. "And she said, 'Must be fate, Mulder. Root beer.'" It was all fate, just a bad twist of fate, that she had poured her heart out in a car while staking out Eugene Tooms, or that she had even joined him in the first place. And this world, this world that he lived in, with cicadas and desperation, was just another case of him receiving the wrong fate.

Sighing, Wendy rolled over in her sleeping back, her eyes searching the stars and her hands absently twirling two threads of brown together around her fingertips. "We're all doomed, Mulder," she murmured. "I don't think that there's much of a chance left for any of us. I saw that creature in the gas station, and we can't..." She softly sighed. "It's all over for us."

Worried, Mulder walked over to the slender woman and put his hand on her shoulder, frowning and looking into her eyes. "Don't say that," he pleaded. "It was one gas station out of ten that we've visited. One renegade alien. Nothing to be worried about; we'll make it to..."

Her bitter laugh interrupted him. "To where, Mulder? To Scully?

You're as mad as I am if you think she's alive..." Her voice whispered. "We're all dead..." When he tried to speak again, tried to protest, she shook her head. "Go away, Mulder. Get some sleep... There's a whole world out there." Her smile was soft.

"You'll find her, Mulder."

But as he lay his head on his pillow that night, he just didn't know.

The world was moving, slowly, not violently, spinning around underneath his feet and tossing him to and fro as he battled for a steady place to stand. The sands shook underneath him as though he was standing in an hourglass, ready to be poured through the funnel of time, and he groaned as he was pitched back and forth.

Slowly, the red-haired girl lowered her eyes, wrapping her slender arms around her fine, muscled body as her red hair blew in a tempest of deep ruby in the wind. "We're not dead," she whispered. "We can't be. I haven't..."

And then she was gone.

With a gasp, Mulder awoke, only to feel the first heat of dawn on his face and the stars disappearing into the sky like sand being poured into ink. "Dora," he whispered. "Dora. That's the name."

But it wasn't the name of a face, it was the name of a *place*.

The name of his destination.


Desperately, Mulder shook himself from the constraints of his sleeping bag, padding across the sands in his bare feet to where Wendy slumbered. "Wendy!" he called, shaking her thin, cool shoulder excited...


Tightly, Mulder's eyes closed, knowing what he would see before he turned her body over. Nothing but a corpse, with eyelashes closed tightly over soft, haunted and empty orbs of green, a mouth cooling with the absence of breath, and hair the color of burning chestnuts falling in her eyes softly. "Oh, Wendy," Mulder whispered, turning her so that he could see her face, and he held the woman's body close to his, smelling the alcohol on her clothing, and knowing that it had been valium to kill her.

This was the world that he lived in. A world not worth living for so many, a world where one threat morphed into another in the blink of an eye, where men and women were driven mad by confusion and sorrow and turned into shells of life. The mother and wife that he had met in Los Angeles had fallen apart, unraveled by the brutality of the world, and Wendy Wilson had been unable to take the harsh realm that she had been pitted against.

And as he held her body, smelling the scotch in her hair and the smell of cacti in her skin, Mulder wondered if there was anywhere to go but here.

He buried her body underneath the sands of the Oklahoma desert, and placed no marker for her body. There was no reason for her body to be marked, no reason for an epitaph or a reminder of where she had died, as the whole world was a cemetery anyway and nobody had a particular burial plot. But Mulder knew where she rested, layered underneath tons of sand and crystal, the body of Wendy Wilson. Her soul had already gone, perhaps to rejoin her daughter and her husband, perhaps regaining sanity after candy and scotch had swallowed her whole. She was another victim of this world, a victim of her own self-destruction, and Mulder ached with the knowledge that suicide wasn't such a reprehensible act anymore.

Suicide had once been considered an act of anger, an act of selfishness, and a cruel way to take one's self out of the world.

Now Mulder understood that anger, that rage at a world that could never give anyone a future or hope. He understood the selfishness, in that there was no other way to have control over one's fate than to control one's death. And as for cruelty...

There were harsher ways to die.

Yet Wendy had survived, one of the cursed and blessed abductees, holding blurred memories of torture and the key to survival, forced to live while those she knew and loved died around her.

She had lived though, immune to the virus, and yet she had still died in the end. The world was a horrible place, a place of danger and of fear, and the death of it all was enough to drive her to drown her life in valium and scotch so that it would all end. She may have been blessed with immunity, but the blessing was a curse.

Solemnly, Mulder stood over her grave, the scorching wind of the daylight tugging fervently at his untucked denim shirt and mussing his hair into a disarrayed fray of brown spikes. Softly, somberly, his hands folded over his belt, and he wondered if there was a prayer or a kaddish that could be said for her. He wished briefly for religion, for the knowledge to give her God's blessing, and then his heart ached with the understanding that Wendy would not be the only victim of this world to die without ceremony or forgiveness from her God. Scully would have known what to say, but...

But Scully might be dead.

Ever since the ship had crashed off of the shores of California, washing him to the beach and the deserted boardwalk, Mulder had possessed the certainty of Scully's being alive and thus the determination to find her. Learning that the abductees were immune had only fueled his desperate search to find her, crossing the states to Oklahoma in the hopes that she would be here. But he had learned something important from Wendy Wilson, and that lesson was that immunity to an alien virus would never protect everyone from the harsh realities of the world around them.

With a sigh, Mulder sat down on the sands beside where Wendy Wilson lay, and thought of Scully. The slender, suggestive arch of her copper eyebrow, the perfect slope of her sharp Roman nose, and the knowing tilt of her proud chin... She seemed so strong, so stalwart, with her stoic scientific infallibility and her courage. How had she taken this? How had she accepted his abduction and then later colonization, when she had never even believed in aliens in the first place? The confusion and the chaos of the world around her could have shattered her stability and unending confidence.

And then to see everyone she knew and loved dying around her...

Skinner was dead, as was her mother, and her brothers and their families. Scully would survive the plague, her abduction prolonging her life, but how would she take the destruction of the world? A vision of her standing at her window, the bees clouding the city and blackening the skies, ran through his head, her hair a torrent of copper and red behind her as despairing tears rolled down her face, and then sobbing as she picked up the knife and slit...

Miserably, Mulder fell to the sand, his hands running through his hair as he felt tears spring to his eyes. Scully couldn't be dead; she was all that he had to live for. The empathy and telepathy that his alien captors had unleashed inside of him made existence miserable, migraines sometimes paralyzing him aboard and whispered thoughts and memories of sorrow and death always churning whenever people were present. The curse of such honed telepathy was the constant barrage of emotion, of sorrow and of grief, and there was only a murmur of joy left in the world today.

What was the use of living in this world? He would never live alone, always accompanied by the constant cacophony of fears and demons, of tumultuous anguish and memories of the past, and he knew that he would eventually lose his mind as poor Wendy had.

Perhaps killing himself now was better than later, while he still had dignity and while he still knew who and what he was.

A memory came to him in his grief, and it was a beautiful one, one of his own, for no other human beings lived in this vast desert and he recognized it immediately. It was a memory set in the rain, in Oregon from nearly eight years ago, laughing with Scully as water poured from the sky and drowned the earth with fresh rain. Her young, proudly innocent face was lifted back in laughter, eyes bright and merry and water sluicing down her beautiful face, resting on the plush silk of a mouth that he had wanted to taste. He had wanted to drink her then, wanted to swallow her whole, because she was everything in the world that he suddenly wanted.

And then the memory faded, and Mulder was left in the dry, cracked desert, the sun burning through his shirt and scorching his skin, and the rain-soaked Scully was probably dead.

Sorrowfully, Mulder looked down at Wendy Wilson's grave, and kissed his fingertips softly, pressing his skin to the sand in a final worship of who she had been. "Goodbye, Wendy," he murmured, and then he stood up, moving to the Jaguar.

Pensively, he sat on the green hood, remembering how serious Wendy had been upon its selection, before she had erupted into laughter. "My husband always wanted a car like this," she had said, a wicked smile curving the corner of her mouth. "He said that Jaguars were wonderful little vehicles, and that one day, he was going to own one. A green one, convertible, with a manual transmission, because you can only use manual with such a great car." She patted the hood. "Now I'm going to own one for him."

And now she was dead.

Quietly, Mulder looked out into the endless sky, and watched the world that had fallen so darkly. The sun burned his skin, and he cared not, and eventually he fell into a turbulent sleep.

Carved into the old deserts, there had been canyons and caverns, some glistening with untold treasures such as gold or diamonds, and others nothing more than a beautiful abyss sculpted from ginger-colored clay and sand. These were the deserts in California and Nevada, the beautiful deserts that had been created by time rather than by man, and in Oklahoma, the deserts were nothing more than endless landscapes of sand and dust.

The new desert's only treasure, a redhead wearing a cowboy hat and a pair of bright red snakeskin boots, sat somewhat tranquilly amidst the sands. "I'm sorry about Wendy," she said, and Mulder sat across from her, his lanky legs crossed in the same fashion as hers. She had pulled her pack of cigarettes from her back pocket and was smoking already.

"It's not your fault," he said, and the girl smiled sadly, her full mouth twisting softly into a half-smile. She turned her head to the side, her eyes looking down at the sands, fingers absently drawing designs in the sands which were erased by the constant winds. "The same thing won't happen to me. I know that you wonder about it, wonder if I won't be able to survive in this world either, but I don't have any memories of the Old World. I just know this desert, and I know it well."

A circle of deep vermilion twisted and writhed in the sand, and the girl reached her hands into the sand, gently picking up the snake and allowing it to curl seductively around her fragilelooking wrists. Tilting her head, she watched as it writhed across her copper skin, and then she spoke, her voice soft and hushed. "I know how difficult it is for you," she murmured.

"Deciding whether or not the journey is worth it... It's a difficult task for one man to do alone."

The designs that she painted with her fingers were nothing more than lines, branches and curving veins, always fading into the wind and so she drew and redrew them. Gravely, Mulder watched the patterns, his photographic mind capturing them. "And you're here to help me decide?" he asked, and the girl smiled wryly, the corner of her mouth tugging upward in a fashion that reminded him of Scully's cynical grin.

"You're overestimating me now," she said, bitterness tinting her words. "Some decisions are personal; you can choose whether or not you want to continue." Her voice softened slightly, nothing more than a whisper caught on sandpaper. "But I wish you would."

Lightly, her fingers continued to whisper through the sand, the snake coiling around her arm like a painted tattoo. She drew the same pattern, over and over again, and Mulder eventually looked up to the young woman's face. Her mouth was slightly parted, ripe and rosy, and her slightly awkward nose was endearing in her long, slender face. Generous eyelashes hid her wonderful hazel eyes from his view, and the shade of her white cowboy hat kept her features veiled in shadow.

"It's easier for you," he murmured softly. "I remember the Old World. I remember everything that this place once was. Farmlands used to be here and now they're all dead, and I can't help but wonder if she is dead as well."

Softly, sweetly, the girl's hand landed on his shoulder, the snake coiling through her fingers. But the snake didn't scare Mulder; she had tamed it. She knew it. It loved her. "She will not look for you," she said, her mouth a little bow of sadness.

"She gave up hope when the world fell that you would ever return or that you would ever find her. I don't blame her for that. But she remembers you, the adventures that you had, and she still longs for the love that you gave her. She's alone now, you see, and dreadfully desperate for a voice other than her own."

His mouth trembled. "Then she's alive?"

The girl's perfectly straight teeth gleamed in the moonlight.

"Yes," she confirmed. "She lives, and breathes, and waits. She doesn't sleep at night because she fears her dreams, and she tries to erase her past but is unsuccessful. No one can escape his or her past, you see. History is essential."

Wondrously, Mulder shook his head. "How do you know this?"

Lovingly, she tipped his nose with her fingertip. "She tells me when I'm sleeping," she said, "and when I wake, I'll forget. But now, I dream, and you see me here when you sleep."

"When I wake, will I remember this?"

The wind blew, and her designs and patterns all whispered away.

The hand with the snake curled, and the snake slithered off into the sands again, peaceful and content after temporarily being a piece of her. "Maybe," she murmured, not really certain.

"Sometimes she does, and sometimes you will. I don't know."

She stood then, abandoning her drawings and her sketches in the sand, and Mulder stood with her, tucking an errant thread of crimson behind her ear. "I'll find her," he promised, and she smiled, kissing his cheek before turning her back and walking into the desert. She stopped briefly, turning around and flashing him a smile, her hair blowing around her face in a great maelstrom of carmine and copper, twisting and turning over her shoulder like a mass of beautiful snakes.

"I'll wait."

When she had been a girl, while her father was away at sea, her mother had gardened. They had a small plot in the backyard of their utilitarian Navy home on the base, and her mother did her best to make it blossom. Every spring that her father spent at sea, her mother spent in the garden, her dark hair swept back and kept underneath a bandanna, sleeves rolled up and gloves coated in black soil, and a smile on her face. Melissa would help, planting delicate flora such as lilacs or pink roses, and Dana would plant colorful tiger lilies and bright, vivid irises. Her flowers always turned out beautifully under her calm, scientific attention to detail, and her mother always praised their height and bloom.

Yet her mother's garden was the only garden that Scully ever knew, for she had never had time for gardening in Washington and no flowers would blossom in the desert.

Gardening had once staved off boredom for her, and she had time in abundance. Every nook and cranny of her small stolen house had been thoroughly inspected, and Scully had discovered something that must have been a garden out back near the water pump upon first moving in. Now she crouched by the sands, her hand cradling her stomach and her back aching from the weight of her pregnant stomach. A crate of filled water bottles rested beside her, and Scully had paused here to look at the sands longingly. The earth wouldn't sprout, and no flowers would bloom there.

It had been months since she'd had fresh food and her odd pregnant cravings always seemed to call for items that she couldn't have. Watermelon dripping juice and cold as ice...

Tomatoes ripe and red... Asparagus as slender as pencils and crisply sweet like candy... These fresh fruits and vegetables danced in her dreams, and she woke up tasting them on her tongue and aching to have something different than canned food and instant meals. Ramen noodles and Rice-A-Roni didn't make for very appetizing meals. She knew, however, that dried foods would probably be the cuisine of the world for the rest of existence.

And that was just a little sad.

The sun was beginning to scorch her, no matter that she had become nearly immune to the desert sun's rays. Sighing, Scully wiped sweat from her brow and ran a hand absently through her short hair, feeling tendrils of perspiration clinging to her makeshift bangs. She groaned as she stood up, and carried the heavy crate of bottled water on one hip. Scully was thirsty, her throat parched, and she walked into the small house, wiping sweat from her brow.

She missed wine. The house only had one single bottle of white wine, and it sat aging gracefully in the cellar, waiting for the day when Scully was able to drink again without the possibility of damaging the baby. She ached for the day when she could uncork the bottle, pouring the sparkling liquid into the glass and drowning her sorrows of the world that she had once belonged to.

Dana Scully was nothing more than a shadow now, a whisper of words that had made sense in one world and became meaningless in this one. She would always carry the memories of the Old World inside of her, always remembering nights spent in cheap motels that had been more blissful than she had ever thought, and days spent fighting enemies that defied science and reason. She had wasted so much of her life, not in their battle, but in her lack of appreciation for it. If she had only known how it all would have turned out, every word would have been cherished like a keepsake.

And now she could only remember and fight weeping.

The water cascaded down her parched throat in a river of cool liquid, and Scully slowed herself down as she drank, knowing that if she drank too much she would get nauseous and throw up the meager meal that she'd eaten that day. Canned goods were beginning to run scarce in Dora; she needed to ration better, but she had to keep her strength up for the baby's sake. The miserable heat crawled over her skin, and Scully felt both restless and weary all at the same time. Irritated with the fact that she would find no reprieve from the heat indoors, she sighed and resigned herself to the front porch.

Dust rolled across the desert as she settled herself on the front steps, and she watched as the sun began to descend beneath the sand. She sighed and pushed her hair back with one hand while tilting the water bottle to her lips with the other, swallowing cold gulps and trying once again to pace herself. God, of all the things that she had missed today, she thought she might miss air conditioning the most. The blissful feeling of walking in from a hot summer's day into a cool environment... All gone now.

A bitter wince touched her face, and she remembered that there was someone she missed more than any other luxury. Mulder. He was her necessity; he was a piece of her that had been amputated and now the gaping wound always ached with phantom pains. She yearned for his conversation and his arguments, for his stubborn faith and his constant intellect. Mulder was a memory as well, and a memory that would always and forever haunt her.

Scully was just a whisper after all.

Despair crept under her skin as she watched the sun fall, withering underneath the heat. Nothing was ever the same. Nothing ever would be. She should accept it, and yet she found herself completely incapable of letting everything go. Of letting the past go, of letting the world that she had loved and belonged to go, and now she just sat here on the front steps and felt like crying.

Despondently, Scully stood up and prepared to turn back around to go back into the house, abandoning the world that didn't accept her. Then suddenly, a motor sounded in the distance, the roar of an engine growing louder as it approached. Startled, she turned around, her shorter hair flying in her face in a starburst of red. Clouds of dust rose from the horizon, speeding toward her small house in a fury of sand and storm. Carefully, she ran her hand across her hip, checking for the handle of her weapon tucked safely and securely into the waistband of her panties. She wasn't going to risk anymore visitors, not when her last visitor's kiss was still buried in her mouth.

Coldly, she watched as the clouds grew larger, and then the car sped toward the house, concealed by the dust and sand that it had kicked up in its wake while traveling the abandoned dirt road.

Puzzled, she tilted her head to the side, always prepared to draw the gun and shoot whoever it was, and leaned cautiously against the railing, giving the appearance of casual detachment.

Then the car slowed, the dust still clouding over it, before it came to a noisy halt in front of the house. Narrowing her eyes, she placed a hand over her brow to shield her vision from the sunlight. The tension felt electric, and Scully winced as she looked toward the car, hearing the door slam and...

Oh, God.


The dust and sand settled around him in a shower of clay and dried dirt, and Mulder felt weak in the knees at the sight of her. He registered nothing, only the slender line of her back, her face startled under a cropped mass of short vermilion shards of hair. Eyes wide as seafoam, beautifully clear and yet despairingly haunted, and skin turned an unusually golden sheen from the sunlight. "Oh, God," he whispered, stumbling slightly as he walked away from the Jaguar, and then she turned around to see him...

Holy shit.

Her body was slender from the back, he wouldn't have known with her body position, but when she turned to the side and then around to the front, the large rise of her stomach stunned him and left him choking for breath. The ripened roundness of her body, the curves of her swollen breasts and stomach, and the unnaturally beautiful sheen of her skin were not unusual at all not when she was pregnant.

He staggered to see her, the thin sea-colored dress billowing around her beautiful body, small and precise hands cupping her swollen belly protectively, one hand on her hip. She was reaching for her gun, and Mulder knew then and there that no matter what had happened, no matter who she was or what had happened to her, she was always her.

She was Scully.

Scully's hand slowly fell from her hip as she saw him, his body sunburned and hair a disarray of ruffled brown, dust and dirt clinging to him as he walked away from what could only be a gorgeous green Jaguar. It couldn't be him, no, not when he had *died*, and yet there was no other possibility. She knew his body better than she knew her own, knew the sprawling architecture of his lanky limbs and body, and she knew the graceful elegance of that face. It was Mulder, only Mulder, somehow.

The man that she had assumed was dead swayed slightly when he drank in her rounded body, and she felt herself on the verge of tears as he ran up to her, her hands shaking and her heart swiftly beating as he stood before her.

They both drank each other in hungrily, as though they were starved, and they were. They were starved for familiarity, for comfort and solace, and for the simplicity of each other. Neither spoke, neither moved, they just faced each other. She consumed the uniquely beautiful sculpture of his face, the tender perfection of his rich and generous mouth, and the eyes that glowed like fire behind amber glass. Mulder took in the slender angles of her face, only slightly rounded by her impending motherhood, her slim arms and her enormously pregnant belly.

Wonder sparked behind his telltale eyes as he looked at her, and she finally smiled, taking his hand tenuously, her heated fingers cupping his tapering ones, and placed his palm on her swollen stomach.

The act of touching his child through his lover's skin undid him, and seeing him unravel tore through her calm as well.

Mulder collapsed to his knees on the front porch, tightly wrapped his arms around her great waist and rested his cheek on her stomach, his body shaking with the tears that came from the joy of finding her and the exhaustion of the journey. The memories of the abandoned boardwalk, of the alien in the gas station, and most of all of tragic Wendy's suicide, filled his mind as he held her, sobbing for the relief of finding her alive. Alive and pregnant... It was all so much.

"Ssh," she whispered, her voice shaken by her own tears, trembling fingers moving through his short brown hair softly and gently, the other hand steadily stroking the exposed back of his apple-red neck. "Ssh, Mulder..." Her voice stumbled over his name, and she began to cry earnestly now, overwhelmed by the return of a lover that she thought was lost forever to her.


And they wept together, underneath the darkening desert sky.

For the first time in the month that she had lived out here, there was sound in the desert.

Perhaps this sound was nothing more than the high-pitched singing of cicadas and crickets, their voices rising and falling with the wind, but it was still sound. It was the noise of nature, of life continuing on, and of possibility in the odd melange of music that the insects created. She could see fireflies flickering as she sat on the front porch with a glass of iced tea, and felt content for the first time since he had left.

After all, now he was here.

Quietly, she leaned in the doorway, watching him briefly while holding two bottles of ice water in her hand like they were flutes of champagne. His eyes were lifted up toward the moon that crowned the sky, a new moon, nothing but a sliver the shape of a child's tender fingernail. Brown threads of hair fell over his brow, and she looked at them, stroked softly in moonlight. God, she could hardly believe that it was him after all these months.

She wanted to touch him, every inch of him, to know everything, and yet there had been a moment of awkwardness after their initial breakdown and embrace.

And she was worried about the baby.

Children were a forbidden subject between them. She had been hurt over her inability to conceive, and angry with him for hiding that knowledge from her because of her cancer, and he was terrified to hurt her again. They never discussed her infertility except for when he had reached for a condom during their first session of lovemaking and she had reminded him that it was unnecessary. A moment of discomfort and infinite sadness had passed between them, and then she had drowned her sorrows in feasting on his skin.

Yet now she was pregnant and overdue for birth, and he was going to be a father.

The plastic bottle slipped from her hand, slicked from moisture, and it tumbled to the porch. Startled, Mulder turned around and she smiled a little self-deprecatingly. "Sorry," she mumbled, and she winced, placing her hand on her back as she started to crouch down to get the bottle. Instantly, Mulder scrambled to his feet to get it for her, and she smiled briefly at the gentlemanly action. As he stood, his hand skimmed softly across her belly, moving through the silk as though it were water.

"How..." he whispered breathlessly, and she couldn't see his face, momentarily wondering if he was afraid or joyful. Yet when he stood at full height, and she looked up from her familiar angle beneath him, she saw nothing but exhilaration in his eyes.

He was ecstatic, thrilled, and most of all she knew then and there that he loved her and the baby all at once.

Delicately, she touched his mouth with one fingertip, and was shocked at how callused her fingers had become. She almost feared that her roughened skin would catch and tear the finery of his delectable mouth, and yet the sensation of such luxury was wonderful to experience. "I don't know," she said in a hushed voice. "The doctors never knew either. But they also say that it's not the first time someone who was supposedly infertile has become pregnant, and that it won't be the last either. A woman carries thousands of ova."

Her burdened back pained her, and she winced, clutching at it slightly and rubbing the sore point. Keenly, Mulder's hands wrapped around her waist, and he pressed himself to her slightly, the heat of his body almost comparable to the unending heat of the dying day, and she sighed as his hands worked mildly on the small of her back. This was the reason that she had never been able to remedy the ruthless pains of pregnancy: Mulder was gone and so were his divine fingers.

While he massaged her back, his tapering fingers sending soothing ripples of relief throughout her body, she spoke, leaning her cheek on his shoulder and smelling the scent of sand and leather on his shirt. "After the initial surprise and the joy of being pregnant passed, I had genetic testing performed," she murmured, and he understood instantly. Their lives didn't allow for uncertainties or unusual occurrences, no matter how mundane they may be for anyone else.

Slowly, her eyes lifted to his, and she moved one of his hands from the small of her back, curving it around and guiding it to her ample belly. The warmth and tautness of her stomach was wonderful to feel, and as her eyes burned like blazing gasoline, she spoke. "I ended up having nothing to worry about," she said, utmost seriousness weighing heavily in her low, silken voice.

Mulder said nothing; he suddenly found that words had abandoned him. All that he could do was lower himself to his knees as he had done earlier, press the side of his face to her swollen stomach, and listen to the silence of his sleeping child resting snugly and securely beneath a layer of fabric and her golden skin. She said nothing, just loosely held his head at the nape of his neck, and stroked his hair with the other.

Suddenly, a strong, sturdy punch fell against his cheek, and Scully laughed at the same time that Mulder pulled away, startled and thrilled with the feeling of his child's energetic movement.

"She's a fighter," Scully said, and Mulder looked up, eyes widening. She nodded her head at him slightly. "I decided to find out the gender beforehand. It made more sense to know and be able to prepare beforehand." That was Scully, always sensible. "She's going to be beautiful, Mulder."

Languidly, he brought himself to his feet, lavishing attention on her ripe belly as he pulled her mouth into his. Kissing her with her rounder body was new, everything was new, and yet it was all the same. She was still Scully, in spite of this desert life and in spite of her new condition. It gave him profound and boundless levels of hope that he may one day become the same man that he had once been as well. She could revitalize him with nothing more than a whisper of a kiss and the knowledge that she loved him.

Even though she had been cruelly abandoned by him.

The kiss broke gently, and he leaned into her, taking her into his arms and whispering into her ear. "I'm so sorry, Scully," he whispered, and she felt the first glimmering of fear, that he was apologizing and that he didn't want this for his life. "I'm sorry that I wasn't here."

The joy that he felt when he looked upon her pregnant body was only tempered by the sorrow that he had not been here to experience it with her. Pregnancy was not a walk in the park; it was a difficult process and an intense biological and mental change. She had not only had to deal with being a sudden mother, but she had also had to accept that the father was gone and that the world had ended around her. The knowledge that he had been somewhere else, that he had not been there to help her when the city fell or just when her back hurt brought enormous amounts of guilt down on his shoulders. It was his fault, all of it, and he took it all.

And not to be there to experience this with her... He would never feel the pride of an expectant father, never watch with amazement and awe as his lover's body changed and as his child's body grew.

He wouldn't be able to shop for clothing with her, decorate a nursery, and go to Lamaze classes with her. Sonograms and shopping malls were memories and relics of a dead world, and he would never enjoy the experience of pregnancy in the modern world with her again.

Ashamed, Mulder turned his eyes away from her, looking at the rotting boards of the front porch and the illimitable leagues of sand rolling across the desert that had once been Oklahoma. "You must have been so angry with me," he mumbled, and she shook her head.

"I won't lie to you, Mulder," she said, her voice cool and calm.

"Honesty was always direly important between us, and that hasn't changed or will ever change. There were times when I was absolutely furious that you weren't there." She then pulled away, placing her hands on his chest, and separating their bodies slightly so that he would understand the full weight of her words. "But I wasn't ever angry at you. I was angry with the elements of the world around me. I was angry at our government for selling us all out so brutally, because I thought that you would never be able to survive after colonization. I was angry at the FBI for refusing to continue the searches. I was angry at fate, at God, at the world for taking you away from me." Her voice lowered. "But never at you."

Sourly, Mulder laughed, turning away from her. As he paced the front porch, the boards creaking underneath his boots, he turned his face over his shoulder to look at her, challenging her to hate him. "Did Skinner tell you about the abduction, Scully?" he said, his voice bitter. "I remember it. I was fully aware of what was going on around me. I didn't struggle. I didn't fight. They never even touched me. I just walked through that energy field and felt something take me over, and all of a sudden, I forgot everything. My name, my life, everything except for that I had to get on that ship."

"You were mesmerized," she murmured, digesting all that he told her, and he nodded his head, pausing his constant motion to look at the fragile light of the slender new moon. There was very little light, actually, and only the citronella candles that Scully had lit to keep away flies or mosquitoes lent them with any illumination. However, Mulder remembered a night in the moist woodlands of Oregon when the light had been deep and bountiful, and an incredibly impossible shade of gorgeous azure. It was as though the moon had been placed in an aquarium, and the earth had been bathed in water. The instant that he had seen that light, felt the energy around his hand and then all around his body, he remembered nothing. Everything had been forgotten.

All in a moment of perfect light.

Slender fingers slipped over his shoulders, and he felt the weight of her full stomach and ripened, heavy breasts against his back. The curve of a straight, Roman nose pressed against the back of his collar, and he felt the heat of her breath against the nape of his neck. "You're not the only one who left, remember?" she whispered. "I left the city and you were out there, and in order for me to rid myself of the guilt..." Her voice softened to nothing more than a sigh. "I told myself that you were dead. Mentally, spiritually, I buried you and then I left, and moved out here where no one could ever possibly find me."

A strangled breath caught in his throat like a consumed butterfly, and he turned around, tucking her into him as best as he could. "Leaving Washington was the only thing you could have done," he whispered.

The backs of her knuckles softly brushed his cheekbone, and fingers ran over his mouth mildly. "And I don't blame you for something that you couldn't have possibly controlled," she replied.

The wind whistled low in the background, bringing with it the cool fingers of night, chilling the heated sands as well as their heated skins. The desert nights always surprised him, and she kissed the corner of his mouth before picking up his hand and taking him inside. "Come on," she murmured. "I'm tired, and we have a lot to talk about."

Delicate-looking but intensely strong and capable gold hands threaded through his reddened and peeling palms, and he looked at the new shade of her skin and wondered if this doleful remnant of a world gone by would ever be happy again. Perhaps happiness had died with the rest of the population, carrying it into heaven and thieving and hoarding it for the rest of all time.

Perhaps they deserved it.

Bright, dancing fire sparked to life on the wick of the candle, burning tall and slender and smelling of lemons and ocean. It twisted and turned for a moment, struggling to get its bearings, and then it stood still and proud, dignified and beautiful on the tip of the canary-colored candle.

Gently, Scully moved her hand away from the lit candle and dropped the burnt-out match in the trashcan. The pleasant aroma of citrus and smoke blended together as it wafted throughout the simple bedroom, and she inhaled it deeply. The smell and the light mixed with the two other candles that had been lit, and she looked around their makeshift sanctuary with a look of quiet satisfaction. The meager setting had been transformed into a calm serenity, all with fresh-smelling candlelight and Mulder's mahogany hair.

His lanky body was draped across the pristine white sheets of the bed, and his eyes were closed as he caught precious minutes of sleep. His bronzed skin was turned into brocaded copper by the rich light of the candles, and she wondered if he was as warm as he appeared. The sheet moved slightly against the curve of his strong, firm leg, and she watched as the cerise and copper light fell over his face, kissing his mouth and brushing flame over his perfectly flawed face.

She then realized that she was happy for the first time since the end of the world.

Twin slivers of fine silk fell from her browned shoulders as she slipped off her dress, revealing fine, delicate bones and rounded, full curves. The mirror reflected a woman embroidered in candlelight and skin browned the color of deep mocha, with a fringe of oddly cut but marvelous red hair flying away from her face in straight shards of rubies. Fingers dipped into the waistband of her plain white panties that hugged underneath the curve of her belly, and she stepped out of those too. No jewelry adorned her, and she turned around slowly, walking to the bed that she had slept in alone for the past month and now shared with her returned lover.

The sheets were radiantly cool, and sinking into the bed with him was like entering a fall of summer rain. His skin wrapped around hers, one hand instantly gravitating to the globe of her enlarged and taut stomach. She chuckled briefly at that, at how quickly Mulder had fallen in love with their child and how protective he was of the baby within her belly. She relished the sensation, the magnificent feeling of having his hands on their slumbering daughter, and his palm tightened slightly when the baby kicked furiously from within. "You had to wake her up," Scully said, her voice a dry scold. In a combination of apology and general naughtiness, he ducked his head underneath the cover and blessed her belly with a kiss.

"Sorry," he said to the baby, and Scully grinned. Her fingers whispered over the base of his skull, coaxing him back above the sheets, and the wind tugged at the curtains through the open window. Never had she been so content, relief and bliss at her lover's resurrection momentarily swallowing the vast amounts of grief pouring through her system.

"When are you due, Scully?" Mulder asked, surfacing from the sea of clean white cotton and still scanning the circumference of her belly as though he could navigate the child's world. The night tasted good against her lips, as though the stars had flavor and spice instead of their constant bland dryness.

"Two weeks ago," she confessed, and she sighed, her fingers tiptoeing across the span of his slender, swimmer's hips. They carved out the architecture of Mulder, the bones and the flesh, and she wondered what sort of combination of their builds this baby would have. "I can't blame her for being late." Her voice turned bitter briefly. "Would you want to enter this world?"

It pained him, this brief reminder that the world was not the same as it had once been. Her words told him what he didn't want to contemplate or think of; the landscape was not the only difference. Society had changed to a mass of people mad with grief, and the world was a barren wasteland where life had once thrived. "No," he murmured. "I'd want to save it."

Smiling, Scully moved her fingers up his arm to the familiar scar that she had given him on his shoulder when she had shot him many years ago. In the brief months of lovemaking before his disappearance, he used to tease her about that scar, claiming that other animals marked their territory just by peeing on them.

His twisted sense of humor was one of her favorite things about him, no matter how she refused to laugh at his jokes. The smile that she wore faded into a frown when she noticed a newer scar beneath the bullet wound, a shiny and fine sliver the shape of the moon that hung above them. "What happened?" she asked, and Mulder turned away, troubled.

"The experiments," he whispered, his voice slightly strangled and trapped in his throat. "I don't remember much... Foggy, hazy things, like inserting implants or performing lobotomies... They usually remove the scars, but they didn't have time." His eyes were distant, gazing out the window toward the stars displayed in full by the clear night. "They tested all of us. Some were kept isolated, and others were allowed to mingle, depending on the testing that they required. I was isolated. It was okay most of the time; I was so drugged up that I was never aware of what was happening around or to me. Anesthesia wasn't a mercy with them; it was just easier to deal with us if we couldn't struggle. And I couldn't move. I could think, but I couldn't feel. I was aware of what happened during the surgeries, but afterwards..." He shook his head. Nothing.

"They focused on me a lot. The various operations that had been performed, the other experiments that have happened over the years, in addition to the brain activity, which was higher than the others, made them curious. And so they performed a lobotomy, operating until I could hear thoughts again." She was startled by this, and Mulder shook his head. "It's not as maddening as it was. They controlled it; honed it somehow. And that was manageable - it doesn't pain me to hear them. Not physically..."

He shook his head. "But coming back, after the ship was attacked and crashed, and listening to the grief of the world around me was hell."

Her mouth interrupted the flow of his words, and she swallowed the painful account of his abduction with a kiss. "You don't have to talk about it," she murmured, and he shook his head, his fingers still traveling protectively across her belly.

"It's okay."

They lay there together for a few more minutes, skin clinging to skin, cooling from the withering heat of the day underneath the crisp and clean cotton. She lifted one of his finely made hands, the fingers long and precise, like a pianist's should be, and held it in the candlelight, thinking of how her body had missed these hands when the bones had ached or her heart had been strained. In that instant, examining the structure of Mulder's hands, she desperately wished for her daughter to have these hands, if only because they were such giving ones.

As Scully devoured the shape and fabrication of Mulder's hand, he lifted his other one to her face, and began smoothing over her eyebrow, painting the arch of copper that crowned her clear china eyes. During his months locked in solitude, he often imagined her standing in front of him, dressed to the nines as she often was and looking at him with an inquisitive and doubtful expression, a smile playing on her full mouth as she doubted him so artfully.

She was the only person on the face of the Earth who could express that she thought he was crazy and do it so beautifully that he would instantly fall in love. It was the first arch of her eyebrow that had made his heart flutter, and seeing her glance his way now, one vermilion eyebrow elegantly arched in his direction made him feel like life was still somewhat sane.

"She'll be a beautiful girl," Mulder said, and Scully smiled, running her fingers across the reddened back of his hand before laying it back over the cotton-covered curve of her pregnant stomach.

"You know, I still have no idea what to name her," Scully confessed, a little guiltily. "You would think that I would have had time in abundance to think of something to name her, and I've read baby books looted from town, but I still can't find anything to fit her. Nothing makes sense."

A memory of a girl flashed through his mind, sitting Indian-style in the desert, a golden lighter in her hand and a mass of vermilion hair drifting around her slender, oval-shaped face.

Before he could make sense of the memory, it disappeared as quickly as the ash from her cigarette, and he shook his head.

"We'll think of something suitable," he quietly said, thinking to himself of the sudden importance of thinking of girls' names lately.

Her mouth moved slowly, painted in the darkness of the night that was both fragile and beautiful. "You've answered a lot of the questions that I had, Mulder, except for one," she murmured. "How did you find me?"

She had asked him this question before, and he was transported back to that time that was nearly three years ago, when he had infiltrated the snowy continent of Antarctica and a ship filled with impending death to save her. He had crossed the world for her, and she had asked him how. He gave her the same answer now that he had given her then.

"I love you," Mulder murmured, and he was stunned to find Scully cry as she had not done three years ago. She crumpled into tears, and brought the callused and sunburned palm of his hand to her mouth, kissing the myriad of lines etched onto the skin as though it was her map. He then, for the first time, felt Scully's grief, and felt it as he had not felt anything in his life before. It was the mourning of a woman who had thought that she would never hear those words again. The mourning of a woman who had lost everything and gained that which she loved the most, and he was almost in tears at the knowledge that of everything in the world, she loved him best.

"Don't worry, Scully," he whispered. "I'm not leaving you again.

I'm here, and I would have found you no matter where you were."

She laughed then, and kissed him, her mouth craving contact and his joyous at the sensation of his heavy kiss and touch. "Would you have found me in that car though?" she teased, and he grinned softly, thinking of Wendy's joy at selecting the emerald Jaguar and laughing as he struggled with the gearshift. "Where on earth did you find that thing?"

Still smiling lightly, Mulder told her about Wendy, with her calm kindness and good-hearted nature, her motherly actions and protectiveness that had later dissipated as the world consumed her strength and sanity. He told her of how she had taken care of him after the ship had crashed, of how she had also been an abductee, and of her final moments of clarity before the world had finally swallowed her whole and she had committed suicide. In the end, he was nearly in tears over the memory of the good nature of one lost woman, and Scully stroked his skin softly.

"The car is yours, Scully," he said. "She would have wanted you to have it, and I know how much you love driving it." He smiled wistfully. "Yeah, Wendy would have wanted it that way." He then moved her fingers to the hollow of his throat, and she was met with cool metal. "And this is my gift to you."

Surprised, Scully picked up the small object resting in Mulder's throat, and she was startled to find her cross hanging around his neck. She had given it to him just before he had left for Oregon, worried for him and worried for herself, still unaware of all that would unfold for them. "Oh, Mulder," she murmured, thinking of how she had given him this necklace and then kissed him for the last time before his disappearance and their reunion after colonization. "Thank you."

She was about to say more before a pain split through her abdomen, and she felt liquid flush from between her legs in a gush of warm wetness. Gasping, Scully jolted upward, and Mulder joined her, alarmed. "Scully?" he asked, concern and fear cutting into his voice as his hands supported her back. Slowly, she peeled back the cotton sheet to reveal a puddle of pooling liquid, and he sucked in his breath, shocked. "Oh, God..."

The pain faded from her body, and she turned her head, eyes wide and her hands clutching her stomach. "It's okay, Mulder," she said, a little breathless. "It's just..." And her smile was a little apologetic. "My water broke."

His eyes widened beyond belief, the green-flecked amber swallowing his black pupils. "You're..."

Scully nodded, linking one hand through his and covering her great stomach with it. "No," she said. "*We're* having a baby.


It was the fourth match before he could properly light the large kerosene lamp at the end of the bed; his fingers were shaking so badly from nervousness and anticipation. She watched him with some amusement as he tried to add more illumination to the room, propped up in their bed with a seafoam-colored pajama top on and a cool washcloth across her brow. Sweat beaded on his brow as a trembling hand placed the lamp on the nightstand, clearing away a book of Walt Whitman and her pair of familiar oval-shaped reading glasses. "Okay," Mulder said, his breath a little stilted and uncertain. "Now what do I do? What do you need?"

Her voice was cool and calm as she spoke, and she clinically laid out the materials that she would need. "I've prepared a small kit in the basement for this," Scully said, always the cool scientist and physician even when she was about to give birth in the middle of an abandoned country. "You'll need to take one of the lamps and go down for it. You'll find a washtub that has been sterilized, so all that you need to do is fill it with water to bathe the baby with after the birth. There will also be a pair of scissors to cut the cord with, and some forceps in case of an emergency. There are stacks of old rags and cloths, and a thermometer."

Wildly, Mulder memorized the list of items that Scully had listed for him. "Do I need to boil water?" he asked, and Scully laughed a little, shaking her head.

"No, the instruments have been sterilized and you probably won't use them much," she said. "But do add a few bottles of water and a bucket of ice to the washtub." Her mouth quirked into a dry smile. "This isn't going to be an exactly pleasant experience for either one of us-" A contraction hit her, and Scully flinched, pain squeezing her lower body so badly that it felt numbing.

"Especially for me... Ouch..."

Instantly, Mulder was at her side, a shaking hand pressing the washcloth worriedly to her brow, and she winced, gratefully placing her hand on his before patting it away. "Go," she said, and he stumbled a little, nerves overtaking his coordination as he stumbled down into the basement to retrieve the childbirth kit and the water.

The pain slowed in her abdomen, and Scully felt the constant shifting as her daughter slowly stirred inside of her. Two weeks late, her daughter, and now the contractions were coming in quicker intervals, speeding up toward delivery in an amazingly short length of time. All of this in an intensity that was remarkable, and all on the same night that Fox Mulder drove up to her door in a green Jaguar after she had thought him to be dead.

It was almost enough to make her believe in extreme possibilities.

Sweat beaded across her brow, the salty perspiration mingling with the clear liquid of the washcloth that Mulder had given her.

She had been so prepared for this, having gathered everything that she would need to deliver her own baby without any assistance, thinking that she would be alone in the desert without a doctor, and certainly without Mulder. It was odd, how prepared she had been to raise their daughter alone in the remnants of Oklahoma, and how she was almost frightened now that she would have to share their girl with the child's father. Her world had been a terrible one, a miserable one, and yet now that it had been turned on its axis, she had no idea what to do.

Another contraction seized her, and Scully bit down on a cry, her skin whitening and sweat dripping down her face in rivulets of liquid. She was alone briefly, just for a moment, contemplating how good of an idea it was to allow this child to be born at all.

What a world they had set up for her - existence in a lonely house surrounded by nothing but sand and populated only by two shadows of a world that didn't exist anymore. They had no guarantee of safety, no promise of life eternal, and the human race were considered to be an endangered species that was on the brink of extinction. And yet they found themselves about ready to bring another life into the world with all the arrogance of the dying race.

Yet Scully loved her daughter more than she loved anything else in the world. She loved this baby for sustaining her, for keeping her alive when the rest of the world was committing suicide to avoid death by alien plague. This child gave her a reason to exist when Mulder had disappeared and when her loved ones died around her, and when the sunlight had initially scorched her skin, she had known her child and loved her.

Tapering fingers squeezed the washcloth resting on her brow slightly, and Scully opened her eyes to feel water droplets catching on the thick fringe of her eyelashes and to see Mulder hovering worriedly above her. The awkward nose that she had always loved lavishing with kisses was burned and starting to peel, and his vivid amber and emerald eyes were wide with nervousness over the birth of their daughter. "I filled up the washtub with water and I got you some water. The towels look good and I got you a bucket of ice. Now what?" he asked, and Scully smiled, pushing her finger over the lush raspberry of his mouth to shush him.

"Ssh," she murmured. "Just be quiet. Just for a moment." Her smile wavered a little. "If you don't calm down, you might miss the birth of your child."

Instantly, his breathing slowed, and his eyelashes lowered to lend his eyes an almost slumbering look of tranquility, and she watched with a contented expression as he closed his eyes briefly, inhaling the night like a scented perfume. He smiled softly at her, wiping moist threads of hair away from her eyes.

"Oh, Scully," he whispered, and she patted the side of the bed, inviting him to join her.

"Come on, Mulder," she murmured. "Just... Lie down with me."

None of it mattered in this moment, not the war or the slow death of all mankind, not the months where he had been missing or the months spent on her own watching apocalypse exploding around her.

All that mattered was the fact that life went on, that existence continued, and that another human being would enter the world even after billions had died so brutally.

Life went on... It was a miraculous sensation.

A rapturous mouth captured her own in a kiss that seemed to seal the fate of the universe, even if it could only speak for the love between just two people and the life that was about to begin between them. His lower lip ravished hers, brushing over the plush and moist skin with a soft, soothing affirmation that this was all okay with him. "God, Scully," he whispered. "It's all going to be alright."

A slightly tearful gaze returned his own, and she gripped his hand in hers, holding it tightly within her own small, delicate fingers before lifting it to her mouth and kissing the back of his hand. "Yes," she whispered, "it is." Then the moment was broken as another contraction seized her, and she cried out, whipping her head back. God, it felt as if something had suddenly *dropped* inside of her. "Oh, Jesus, Mulder, it's happening..."

Swallowing, Mulder looked down at the woman that he had known for eight years and loved for all that time. This was the woman that he had crossed time and space for, the woman that he'd lay his life down for, about to go through the miracle that had supposedly been taken from her. This was his child, her child, *their* child about to be born, and he calmly walked to the end of the bed and lifted the sheet from her waist, folding it back above her legs. Slowly, he looked up at her. "Do you trust me, Scully?" he asked, and she nodded, her face contorted with pain and heat.

"Yes," she whispered through gritted teeth. "I trust you."

With that, he spread apart her legs and looked down at the swollen, dilated area between her legs and felt nervous again.

This wasn't like anything else that he had ever done. This was helping life into the world, and not only that, it was *Scully*.

The woman that he loved more than anything else. Childbirth was a dangerous procedure, and her life was literally in his hands.

And so was his daughter's.

Damp strands of hair clung to her face as Scully screamed, her fingers clenching around the cotton sheets and her knees bracing as she experienced yet another contraction, and after that was over, she gasped out instructions. "You... You need to look and see if you see..." She threw her head back as another contraction ripped through her, and Mulder suddenly gasped, seeing the head of the baby.

This was all happening so quickly. She had been counting on the average fourteen hours of labor and delivery, not this sudden urge to push that weakened her muscles and took over every sensation. She knew that her child was coming, knew it only in the way that a mother could, and that her baby would be born within minutes instead of hours. Gritting her teeth, she pushed, and Mulder gasped again. "Come on, Scully, I see the head," he said breathlessly, looking in between his lover's legs and watching his daughter's surfacing. "Push, Scully, you can do it..."

A scream ripped from her throat as she pushed, and he counted for her, trying to do everything that he could remember or anything that could help. Oddly, the counting helped, and the baby slid further, her shoulders breaching her dilated cervix and entering the open air. Instantly, as soon as her face was in the open, she began to scream with an awareness and alertness that was stunning and shocking. Shaking, Mulder placed his hands around his daughter and Scully pushed one more time...

And she was alive.

She was born with a fury and a vengeance, delivered by her father as her mother pushed fervently in spite of the short labor period. Her body was covered in blood and matter, and Mulder quickly cleared mucous from her tiny nostrils, gazing down at the raging face as her minute fists clenched hatefully with wonder and awe. His fingers trembled slightly as he cut the umbilical cord and he would later swear to Scully that their daughter glared at him for disconnecting her from her mother. The enraged screaming of their healthy baby girl filled a house that had been dead and empty, and the first life to enter the new world since its fall was passionate and strong.

Exhaustion and joy filled her all at once, and she sighed, relaxing briefly into the pillows, her eyes closing and tears spilling onto her cheeks. She was flooded with bliss, spilling over the rapture of giving birth and the wonder of this new life.

Laughter spilled from her mouth, and suddenly, the screaming of her strong daughter grew louder as Mulder placed her in Scully's waiting arms.

The rosebud of her mouth wailed insistently, and Scully laughed, unbuttoning the seafoam-colored silk pajama top and allowing her daughter to nurse, feeling her tiny arms and legs flail and kick furiously as she nursed heartily. The afterbirth still had to come, but not for a few minutes. Not until their daughter fed, latched onto one swollen nipple, and Scully felt the dull pain leading into the blissful pleasure of her daughter's hungry feeding.

"She's beautiful," Mulder whispered breathlessly, his hand covering the top of her head protectively. "Look at that mouth..." It was as ripe and as full as Scully's own mouth, suckling greedily on her mother's breast as one tiny, strong fist clenched and unclenched in synchrony with her ravenous feeding.

He winked at her. "But I worry that the baby's born bald. I always suspected Skinner of having something for you."

Chuckling, Scully slid a finger down her daughter's nose, her skin turned ripe and rosy in the candlelight. "I wouldn't worry, Mulder, because that's your nose," Scully said with a grin, and Mulder groaned.

"Poor kid."

As the baby nursed, it inspired the need to birth the placenta, and removing the afterbirth was a piece of cake compared to the birth of their screaming baby. After the placenta was taken care of, Mulder lay in the bed beside his lover and his daughter, stroking the fine peach fuzz of his daughter's nonexistent hair, exhausted from the amazing evening that he had just experienced.

Dana Scully had just given birth to his baby, and the newborn remained curled in an Aztec blanket embroidered with deer and arrows.

The satisfied baby rested in the arms of her mother, and her adoring parents gazed down with amazement at their daughter. She was a wonder of nature, a gift from a fate that had been cruel beyond belief to the rest of the world, and that had been mostly cruel to them as well. She remembered the anguish of losing loved ones throughout the years, feeling their breath in the strong, silent breaths of her daughter. Every tiny motion, every heartbeat, was a reminder of the world that had died, of its marvel and its majesty, and Scully realized then that she and Mulder were not shadows of that world, they were houses of memory. And their daughter was compiled of that history; it was evident in her clear and wise little blue eyes, incited with the passion of living, even if that life had lasted for only minutes.

"I think that I know why she was so late," Scully murmured, smoothing her daughter's hairless head with the palm of her hand.

"I think that she was waiting for you."

Smiling, Mulder looked down at his newborn daughter and was suddenly given an image again of the composed and passionate redheaded cowgirl sitting out in the desert, telling him that she was nameless. That spitfire of a girl made him smile again, and he felt as though he was naming the both of them when he spoke.

"I think I thought of a name for her," Mulder said, and Scully arched her eyebrow as she had always done, cradling their daughter in her arms. "Bess. It means God's earth."

And that was what their daughter was - she was the world, past and present, composed of both memory and mystery. The history of the earth rested inside of her wise little eyes, and the promise of its future was inside the strength of her tiny, fierce fists.

She was a warrior, this little baby, and she was the best of all of it. The best of mankind, when it was complicated and yet delightfully simple and beautiful lived inside of their daughter.

She was the earth, God's earth, whole and strong.

"Bess," Scully said. "I like it." Then her eyes flashed at him mischievously. "Figures you'd name her Bessie. You always had a thing for cow mutilations."

Mulder let out a loud roar of laughter, and this woke the newlynamed Bessie Mulder from her sleep, inciting a wail of fury at her father's laughter, her wide and proud china eyes blazing as the sky lightened and dawn began.

The baying of the dogs filled the night with their long, rolling keening as they howled at the moon. It was full and swollen in the night sky, spilling bountiful amounts of silver onto the desert sands, painting everything with a fine and fragile light that combined with that of the citronella candles. Lemon and lime, smells of citrus fruits that didn't grow anymore, wafted through the arid surroundings, and created a clean, marvelous aroma.

She had never smelled an orange before; she had never bitten into a tangerine and felt juice dribble down her chin in a long cascade of fresh fruit liquid. Pineapples, watermelons, apples and lemons were fairy tales to her, grown up on canned food and bottled water. She read of these sensory experiences in books and novels, and sometimes she dreamed of what a papaya might taste like.

But she knew what cigarettes were, and they were a comfort.

The gold Zippo lighter flicked, the flame jumping up high and twisting violently in the winds of the cool desert night.

Carefully, she cupped the flame in her fingers and briefly remembered a time when her father had told her that she had survived well in the desert, though she couldn't remember when he had ever said such a thing to her. Shrugging off the odd nostalgia, she bent her head to the flame and lit the Marlboro between her lips, deeply inhaling the fine tobaccos and allowing herself to burn with the cigarette.

"I wish you wouldn't smoke," her mother said from behind her, and Bessie turned her head, removing her cowboy hat and allowing her unruly mass of curly vermilion to twist as the flame had only moments earlier. Her mother sat on a white wicker rocking chair that her father had thieved from the ruins of Dora for her, dressed simply in a pair of khaki dungarees and a white V-necked three-quarter sleeve sweater. Her hair hung around her face, hugging her jaw, and Bessie secretly envied how elegant her mother always appeared. "It's not good for you."

Shrugging, Bessie took a drag from the Marlboro and then pulled the cigarette away from her full mouth, exhaling slate-colored smoke into the vivid night. "I know," she said simply. "But I get bored." She got lonely in the desert, restless somehow, even when her parents trained her or she read the history and geography of both her parents' world and the world that she lived in now.

The screen door creaked as her father walked out on the front porch, barefoot and wearing a pair of blue jeans and a gray tee shirt. His hair was a mussed tumble of spikes colored in dark brown and silver, all moving in different directions, and she figured that she had inherited her hair's absolute impossibility from him and the color from her mother. "Boredom's not a good excuse for anything, Moo," he said, and she rolled her eyes at the old nickname.

"Dad, you gave me this ridiculous name," Bessie said, taking another hit from her cigarette. "You would think that you could actually use it every once in a while." Moo was the pet name that her father had invented in her babyhood and refused to stop using even though she was now eighteen years old.

Fondly, her father ruffled her hair, sitting down on the front steps beside her as she finished her cigarette. Tilting her head to the side, she looked at her father's features, from the pout of his lower lip to the awkward nose that she had so unfortunately inherited. Smoke masked her own features, a mesh of both Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, from her clear hazel eyes to her father's too-large nose. Yet she lacked what they held in their eyes, and she sometimes envied them their experiences.

Both of them were shadowed by the old world, as though it had tattooed them both with permanent inking. They told her of the Old World, even though it pained them both, raising her with the knowledge that the human race was dying and that there were men who were selling lives that they did not own. These were men who must be destroyed, and the world had to be saved, and Bessie had never argued with the fate that had been laid out for her.

She was the earth, and she had to save herself.

But the desert was despairingly lonely, no matter how beautiful or wild it might be. She knew only her tormented parents and the baying dogs, the cicadas who sang haunting melodies and the wind who always whispered. She wore a cross given to her by her mother that symbolized a faith that she did not share or understand, as the only God that Bessie believed in was the power of the earth around her, but she wore it to symbolize faith itself. Her father had worn this when he had been taken and when her mother had been taken, in the faith that he would be reunited with her. And her mother had worn it in the belief that there was good in the world and that there was a chance at salvation.

They were both right.

Sparks fell from her cigarette onto the boards of the front porch, and Bessie flicked the cherry from her cigarette, standing up and stretching her tall, fine body in the moonlight. "You both gave me so much," she murmured softly. "I couldn't be happier."

She turned her head to look back at them, her aging but still beautiful mother and father. "You know that, right? That you did right by me?"

Slowly, her mother nodded, and her father nodded as well.

"Always, Moo," he said, and her mother just smiled enigmatically, cocking an eyebrow at the daughter that she had raised so well.

Smiling, Bessie turned back around, leaning against the railing of the porch and looking out at the massive expanse of the desert sands, scrolling across the plains and scattering underneath the moon. Everything glimmered and glowed with such awe-inspiring beauty, and Bessie closed her eyes, listening in the way that her father had taught her to the world around her. She felt the strength of the earth inside of her veins, and knew that the time would soon come to leave this desert and fight.

Flashes of violence whipped through her mind, of bullets flying and blood spilling and painting the sands with a vermilion that would rival the color of Bessie's own crimson hair. She knew the time would come for war soon, and she knew that she might die in that war. But not humanity - that was a force that would never die. It was life, life eternal, and it would always survive.

Everything changed, but that one remaining fact would always stay the same.

Life goes on.

And Bessie smiled, and waited.


Feedback would be delightful, delicious, and delovely. Send me a pack of Marlboros (though I smoke mine with menthol) if you liked it. ?

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