Title: Homeward Bound
Author: Marie Raymonde
MSR, Post-Col, Post-IWTB

Summary: Ten days ago fireworks lit up the sky... Post-col.

Ten days ago:

Fireworks lit up the sky, exploding colors, popping bursts that made the dog scrabble over the kitchen tiles and wriggle through the pet door. It stood for a moment on the porch, wild-eyed, before it slunk away into the brush.

One of the overhead lights in the dining room shook, then separated from the ceiling and hung by a thin wire. The spoke-shaped wheel of bulbs swayed, illuminating and then shadowing cracks appearing on the walls of the small, boxy room. A roar, at first dull, then gaining in sound and fury until it was an ear-splitting maelstrom, filled the once-silent night. If crickets chirped in the darkness, they'd been long silenced. A single coyote howled, once, its lonely voice barely discernible over the erupting din.

In the barn the horses whinnied, frightened half-senseless. One of them, a large stallion, kicked a hole in the rear of its stall, and kept kicking until there was enough room for it to turn, and bolt. A protruding nail raked its shoulder as it pushed its way through the jagged opening, but the stallion didn't notice. It ran, screaming its rage and its fear; ran toward the scrub and the low-lying hills beyond the ranch. Toward whatever safety it could find.

Other horses followed, kicking and breaking through their stalls.

Running in blind panic. A mare cried for its foal, a brief, agonizing squeal that went unanswered, before she, too, succumbed to her fright, and galloped away.

Inside the house, more cracks appeared in the walls, now accompanied by ripples in the floorboards that erupted into buckling craters.

Somewhere in the basement a water heater rumbled, then ruptured, spewing its contents over the concrete walls and floor. The small windows along the ceiling shattered.

As the once-sturdy ranch house seemed to fold in upon itself like a crumbling tower of cards, a pickup truck raced away, bumping down the road, swerving wildly from side to side, its driver struggling to reach the pedals. He was too short, but he knew how to drive, and nothing else mattered.

Nine days ago:

"What have we got?"

"Nothing. Damn it!" He raked both hands through hair already standing on end, and turned his frustration and worry on the one person who would understand. "It's started, Scully. I know it. I feel it." He jerked his chin toward the calendar pinned to the wall. "I'm not talking about just checking out the date. Inside, I feel it."

Pressing a fist to his chest, he relaxed only slightly when she moved to his side and laid a soothing palm over that fist.

"Mulder, it's been years-"

"Doesn't change anything. The connection has always been there." He raised his eyes, met the concern in hers. "Somewhere, it's started."

"All right." She acknowledged his intuition. "Can you tell how?

Maybe a general idea of where?"

"No." He sighed heavily, leaning back against the edge of the desk and tugging at her arm until she nestled against him, her head on his chest. Idly he sifted his fingers through her hair, smoothing it over one shoulder, letting the repetitive movement calm him. For a few minutes they took comfort from one another, while Mulder tried to sort out what he'd felt.

It was a kind of...wrenching, he decided. In his gut a pinching, wrenching feeling, as if there were a knot that needed untangling. A dark slide of foreboding, a nasty clench of panic, winding in and around that wrench, too. An overwhelming imbalance, as if the world tilted too far on its current axis. And until something hit the news, they had no idea whatsoever where to start looking...or what the hell they were looking for.

"What can we do?" She tilted her head back, stared at him worriedly.

"Hell if I know. Nothing right now. Just monitor everything we can. Contact a few folks, give them a heads-up. Pray." He brushed a soft kiss over her cheek and left his lips there, a warm balm. "We pray, Scully."

"What about-" She couldn't finish; couldn't speak the name aloud.

He kissed her again. "We pray even harder, that he stays safe."

Eight days ago:

His ma was dead. His pa was missing, probably dead, too. And the boy, frightened and in shock from what he'd seen outside his bedroom window, had run for his life.

That awful night, ten miles away from home, he'd pulled over, slamming on the brakes until the truck shuddered to a stop sideways on the empty road. He barely got the door open in time to avoid throwing up all over the steering wheel. Coughing and choking from sickness and tears, he slumped in his seat and tried to catch his breath, while above him in the night sky those weird lights and colors slowly faded.

There was nothing he could do for his family. No way he could salvage anything he'd abandoned. And no way to assuage the massive guilt he felt, from leaving everything behind, even though he acted on his parents' express orders. The boy sucked in huge gasps of air as he replayed those orders, a litany of caution he'd heard his entire life:

"When it starts, you leave, Toby. No matter where your ma and I might be, no matter what happens, you leave. Don't worry about us.

Just go."

His folks made him promise, each time they reinforced the command.

They made him swear he'd leave, just drop it all and go. The boy laid his hand over the small bag he'd stowed on the seat next to him. His mother put it together on his fifth birthday and placed it under his bed. His 'escape kit,' she called it. Money, a credit card, some clothing. Over the years she replaced the clothing, as he grew.

Two years ago she added a slim address book to the bag. Six months ago, along with several articles of clothing still a little too big for him to wear, she slipped in a cell phone. Important contacts, she'd told him, tousling his hair. Names and phone numbers, listed in order of importance, for his use and protection.

Then she dropped in a gun and a box of bullets.

"Only if you have no other choice, son."

He'd nodded solemnly. He knew how to use it, and had decent aim for a kid.

She'd tapped a finger on the cell phone. "Promise us. Start with the top and work your way down until you get someone. Tell whoever answers that you need help."

She'd leaned in close, whispered a name in his ear. "You say that name, to whoever answers the phone, and do whatever you're told. You hear?"

"Yes, Ma." At the time it was easy enough to promise.

Now, the boy took a deep, fortifying breath, reached across the seat and tugged the bag into his lap. The truck idled quietly in the dark.

He'd driven fifty miles that first night, before pulling over in a truck-stop parking lot and curling into the narrow back seat, praying he could sleep; praying even harder that no one would find him. The next day, he'd ventured into the truck stop for a hamburger, which he'd forced himself to eat because he'd needed the energy. Off and on through the day he'd driven a little, rested some...cried, often.

It was dark again and he shouldn't linger here, but he didn't have much gas left and he was afraid to draw attention to himself by pumping gas at a station where someone would surely notice how young he was. At least he'd gotten far enough away from home, that he felt more or less safe.

Home. What a joke. He didn't have one, not any longer.

His fingers trembled around the cell phone as he used his other hand to open the little address book. His lips worked soundlessly over the name printed in neat, block letters. He didn't recognize it, but that didn't much matter. They'd help him.

They had to help him. Because be couldn't go any farther by himself.

In the sudden quiet of the night, he flipped the phone open and began punching in numbers.

Seven days ago:

"No, I haven't heard a thing, either. Yes, I know you'd tell me, if you did. Thanks, anyway." Walter Skinner pinched the bridge of his nose to stave off the headache coming on strong and fast. He'd been up most of the night and he was exhausted, but he knew his level of weariness paled in comparison to the couple who sat across from him, their faces etched with tension.

He shook his head as he closed his cell and pocketed it. "I'm sorry, nothing. Shit." Fumbling in his desk drawer, he came up with a half empty bottle of Tylenol and thumbed off the lid, murmuring his thanks when Scully silently rose and poured him a glass of water from the side credenza.

He gulped down three pills and most of the water and gave his forehead a final, hard rub. "Damned migraine. I need bifocals. Son of a bitch, I'm getting old." He quirked a faint smile at Mulder, gratified to see some lightening in his friend's somber expression.

"John hasn't heard anything. It was a long shot, but he's better connected these days than I am. And he keeps to himself even more than you do, Mulder."

"Yeah. It's a talent." Mulder adjusted his collar, hating the damned tie. He should have left the stupid thing off, but an official visit anywhere required something more formal than a pair of faded jeans and a baggy henley. Briefly he debated ripping it off and stuffing it in Skinner's wastebasket, fingering the neat Windsor knot.

Skinner snickered softly as if reading his mind. "Go ahead. I don't care."

"No, I'll suffer in silence. It's the pious thing to do." Mulder adopted a note of self-righteousness and forced a chuckle out of Scully, which made him feel instantly better.

She faced her old boss. Up to now she'd been quiet, listening to his one-sided phone conversation, contributing little. Now she stated, "We know something has happened, Walter. Mulder isn't imagining it, that awareness he's been experiencing. And you know the date is roughly correct." She narrowed her eyes, pinning Skinner with her stare. "I'd also bet you've been expecting something to happen, the same as we have. I want to know about them, Walter. I want to know what you've found out." She didn't have to elaborate on who 'they'

were, and Skinner didn't pretend not to understand what she was talking about.

"I told you. Everything is fine. Don't you think I'd have said, right up front, if I'd heard anything out of the ordinary?"

"I don't know. You tell me," she retorted, leaning forward until her elbows rested on the edge of his desk. Her red-rimmed eyes held the same quiet determination he'd always admired about her. "Something has changed, and it's monumental. And you know how to get hold of..."

She fumbled a bit, swallowed, hard. "You know how to get hold of William's...parents." Her soft mouth trembled, her voice dropped to a whisper. "Please. Please get hold of them. Something's happened to him, Walter. I feel it, too."

"Scully..." He paused, heaving a sigh. "Dana. Years ago, I was removed from any knowledge of where William relocated, once his adoption was finalized. You know that. I tried to keep track but the adoption was handled in such a way as to force me completely out. I used to suspect Kirsch was involved. Which is a moot point since he passed away two years ago." Skinner spread his hands helplessly, dropped them to his lap. "Kirsch could have been a link, and if there was more than one, I never discovered who else might have known."

"What about a general region, Walt? Where did the parents hail from?

Even a multiple-state area would at least give us a place to start looking," Mulder appealed.

"I don't know. Truly, I don't. John doesn't know, either. The guys might have been able to find out, but..." Skinner trailed off, sadly.

He didn't have to say anything more. He watched Scully wipe at the sudden moisture in her eyes and knew she still mourned for the three best allies any of them ever had.

So many losses, over the years. It never got any easier. He didn't want their precious son to become one of those losses, but he felt helpless and ineffectual. Adoption records not only sealed, but missing. No one left to ask or interrogate. It was a hair-thin thread that had snapped years ago.

But for the bone-deep feeling of dread Mulder had been experiencing the last few days or so, all seemed right with the world. And that was the most unsettling thing of all.

For their sakes, he tried to remain upbeat. "Let me make one more call, if I can locate the number. I have to do some digging, and where I dig is, well, sensitive." Pushing back from his chair, Skinner rose to his feet and moved toward the closed office door.

Mulder stood and pulled Scully out of her chair, both of them approaching the doorway with reluctance. They didn't want to leave until they had better answers, and Christ knew he wanted to provide them. When Scully passed him, she laid a hand on his arm and gave it a gentle squeeze. Without a word, just a brief smile tossed in his direction, she walked out, leaving Mulder to make appropriate goodbyes for both of them.

Mulder glanced after her with a worried frown. "She's having a rough time, Walt. Hasn't slept decently, ever since this started."

"I wish you'd come to me sooner, Mulder. I could have-"

"No. You couldn't have. We both know it. You're as in the dark as we are, and Scully does understand; that's why she's-well, that's why."

He stuck out his hand and clasped Skinner's, then patted him on the shoulder in the kind of one-armed embrace buddies were wont to express to each other. He stepped back and saluted Skinner, his usual, cocky self.

But his eyes were still dark with the same worry Skinner felt, deep inside. "Give us a call if you hear anything."

"I will." Skinner watched Mulder stride to the elevator as it opened, and join Scully in the spacious box, both of them waving as the doors closed. He turned back to his desk, dropping into the seat with a frustrated grunt. Sat there for a few minutes, staring at the ceiling, remembering a tiny fair-haired boy who'd once teethed on his knuckle and cooed milk bubbles at him.

Ah, hell.

Reaching into his pocket, Skinner palmed his cell phone, flipped it open, punched in a number. Waited for the inevitably vague message, and beep.

He spoke into the small receiver. "You know who this is. If you're still-if you can, you also know how to get hold of me." He paused, sighed, "I need your help."

Five days ago:

Under the lightweight bedspread, she shivered. Too early in the season to remove the heavier quilt; what had she been thinking? She curled on her side and spooned against Mulder, curving an arm around his middle, her palm against his heart. He emitted a humming kind of purr, covered her hand with his, twining their fingers together.

"You know, I worked damned hard, wearing you out. Why aren't you asleep?" His voice was a drowsy rasp in the quiet room.

She nuzzled a sudden grin on his bare shoulder and stretched alongside his back. "Yes, you did. And thank you for that. I guess I'm just thinking too hard. Anxious. Worried. You know, all the things that sap the Zzzs away." Another nuzzle, mid-spine, paired with a yawn that fanned moist breath over his skin. "Why aren't you asleep? I worked you over, just as hard."

"Yes. Yes, you did, and don't think I'm not appreciative, Scully."

He wriggled his backside against her and she stifled a chuckle.

Turning in her arms, Mulder pressed close, finding her mouth by instinct and taking her lips in a deep kiss. "Mmm. Peanut butter."

"No way. Not after some of the places my mouth has been. And I brushed my teeth." She protested, between nibbling kisses.

He barked out a brief laugh of delight at her smart-aleck remark.

"Ah, but the bouquet lingers. Either that, or you missed a spot behind your ears." He tugged at her lobe with his teeth as if to test the theory.

"Why on earth would I dab peanut butter behind my ears, Mulder?

You're crazy."

"So you've said, and more than once." He reared back, enough to see a shadowy outline of her face, the moonlight outside their window his only illumination. "Did I make you feel better?"

"Yes, of course you did. You always do." She kissed him, a warm stroke of mouth. "I'm just-I'm worried. And scared," she admitted, huddling closer, clasping him tighter.

"Oh, Scully, so am I." He stroked her cheek. "It's an impossible situation, having to wait. Feeling this way, and knowing there isn't a thing we can do until someone, somewhere, reports something."

Mulder shifted, pulling the covers over their shoulders as Scully rested on his chest with her leg thrown over his hip.

She sifted her fingers through the fine hair that grew low on his stomach, musing, "Skinner knows something. I could sense it. What do you think?"

"I think if he had what we need, he'd give it to us. He knows what's at stake, Scully. Not only life as we know it, but William, too. Everything."

"The date was set, years ago. Watching, waiting. On guard, it seems all of the time. No matter where we lived, regardless of anything else, we've waited." She rose over him, reaching out for the small bedside lamp and flicking it on, ignoring his groan when the soft light made them both blink. But she wanted to see his face. She needed to see into his eyes.

He squinted up at her, one eye slammed shut and the other cracked open. "I think you blinded me." He felt around on her bare body with a questing hand, tapping his fingers along her spine as if wielding a seeing-eye cane.

She slapped at him. "Cut it out, Mulder. I'm serious." She pinned his wandering hand and held it tightly. "I need to talk about this, and I need some kind of reassurance."

"Scully..." He sighed, understanding just how she felt but also knowing there wasn't any point in worrying at three o'clock in the morning when they had another pins-and-needles kind of day ahead of them, anticipating Skinner's call. He leaned against his pillow, catching her worried eyes with his. "Listen. What I felt all week hasn't increased any. It's still panic, but at about the same level.

That tells me whatever's going on is in some kind of holding pattern."

"You can't know that for sure."

"It's a pretty strong feeling. Besides, I think I know who Skinner might be calling next."

She sat up straight, the covers pooled around her waist, and stared at him. "Well, why didn't you say so earlier? Who is it?"

"I think Skinner's got a way to get hold of Monica," Mulder stated, watching Scully's jaw drop as she processed his words.

"No." She shook her head decisively. "No, that's impossible. We lost her years ago, Mulder. For God's sake, Skinner went to the funeral!"

Her voice roughened with emotion, just remembering. Sadly, she affirmed, "And we'd have gone, if it would have been safe to do so."

"Scully, look at the facts. He said it was a closed coffin. There were guards at the door of the church... at the time I was too upset to give it a lot of thought; now I can't help but wonder who was in that coffin-if anyone. Over the years that puzzlement has returned several times."

"Why am I just hearing about this now, Mulder? Why didn't you say something sooner?" Scully asked, perplexed.

"Because it never started to gel until a few days ago after talking to Skinner." Mulder shrugged. "There was no point in speculating.

Besides, I always figured if Monica were alive, we'd find out sooner or later. And if she'd been in hiding then she had a damned good reason to stay hidden."

Four days ago:

"We have to go." He flung a battered suitcase on the bed and strode to the closet, yanking out shirts and jeans, stuffing them haphazardly into the opening.

Calmly, she retrieved the mangled clothes and smoothed them out, folding them neatly, stacking them to the side. Watching as her man dug into the bureau for underwear and socks. It seemed pointless to tell him that her suitcase was already packed; had been packed for almost two weeks. It would have only worried him further.

"Lyra, you're wasting time." He turned around, arms filled with shoes, and stared at her as she stood next to the bed, her pale gray eyes reflecting an inner serenity he'd somehow lost-years ago-the ability to maintain, for himself. His own deep brown eyes narrowed, taking in her utter calm. "Damn it. You already knew." His tone was a tired mix of resignation and wry amusement. He dropped the shoes on the floor and crossed his arms across his barrel chest.

"Yes. I'm packed and ready. We'll make it in time, I promise." Lyra came to him, extending her slender hand, cupping his cheek. So worried, this man of hers. Too somber much of the time, never got enough sleep. Never turned off his brain. Her fingers winnowed through his thick hair, grasping the coarse locks firmly, a caution as well as a caress. "Stop obsessing, Andy. Look within, as I have already done. He's safe, and he's going to stay that way until we get there."

When she stepped closer, curled her arms around his neck, half a head taller than him, slender as a wand, Andy swept her into a hard embrace and buried his face in her neck. "You ground me, Lyra.

Always, you keep me level and sane." He pressed a kiss to the fragile skin just under her ear, before releasing her and turning back to the bed to finish packing.

She cocked her head to the side, studying him. Still somber, for the most part, but there was a flush now to his normally-pale complexion, and his body language bespoke new confidence instead of so much worry.

She'd gladly give her life to keep him balanced. With a smile curving her full lips, Lyra helped her husband pack the rest of his belongings.

Two days ago:

The room was small and windowless but felt warm, secure. A bookshelf crammed with everything from antique tomes to comics, sat in one corner. Two tables held lamps, a tiny black and white TV sat on a stand across from the twin bed; a rocking chair rested nearby. It wasn't much, but it was comfortable... and he was safe.

Beyond the closed door he could hear the murmur of voices, the soft tones of a woman, the deeper rumble of a man and the muted slam of a door. Faint music wafted through as well, something that sounded like violins and pianos. He'd grown up on bluegrass, but this was nice, too. He relaxed against the fat pillow at his back and let himself drift. He was still so tired.

He remembered little about driving the truck, other than shaking in fear that he'd run it into a ditch, or worse, crash into a tree. It was a lot different than bumping over the rough roads surrounding their land, with his pa sitting next to him, explaining what to do next. He scrubbed at the sudden tears welling up in his eyes. Tears wouldn't do a bit of good. His folks were gone and he was on his own.

Making that phone call, not knowing who'd answer, had scared him spitless. But the name he'd whispered hoarsely into the little cell phone must have had magical qualities, for it got him instant help, a kind of freedom-train effect, like the one he'd read about in his Civil War History class. Within an hour he'd been picked up. And within twelve hours more, he'd been brought to this room, dead on his feet, beyond exhausted, but thankfully safe from whatever ugliness might now be brewing in the night skies.

A light knock sounded at the closed bedroom door and with a creak of wood on hinges, the dark-haired woman who'd helped him settle in early this morning, peeked around the frame, smiling at him. He found himself smiling back.

She entered, moving silently across the thick rug, sitting on the edge of the bed, one slim hand reaching out to tousle his hair. Her eyes were weary but kind, and her voice washed over him like a soothing rain. "Hi, Toby. Did you sleep well? Are you hungry?"

"Um..." He cleared the rasp from his throat, and nodded. "Yeah. I could eat."

She beamed at him. "Great! You want to come to the table, or would you rather eat in here? It's up to you." She busied herself with straightening the rumpled sheets, added, "My son is coming by soon."

Leaning in a little, she confided, "I haven't seen him in a long time. I've missed him. Would you like to meet him?"

"What grade is he in?" He didn't think he wanted to leave this warm, safe room. Even to meet another kid.

She chuckled happily. "Oh, he's grown now! But you know what? You kind of remind me of him."

"I do?" Maybe he'd venture out of the room, after all.

"You sure do! Tell you what. You get dressed, and come down when you're ready. The kitchen is easy to find, just follow your nose.

We're having pizza." At his eager grin, she laughed aloud. "There, I knew it! A fellow pizza aficionado. I'm not a bit surprised." With another tousle of his hair, the woman rose and glided to the door.

"You'll find towels in a cabinet next to the sink, if you want to clean up."

In a sudden flash of incomprehensible panic, Toby called to her. She turned and gave him a curious look. He gulped, and blurted, "I don't know your name."

Her eyes softened with understanding. "You can call me Mrs. D." The door shut with a soft creak.

Toby lay still for a few seconds more, before flinging back the covers and jumping out of the little bed. He should probably take a shower, but the promise of pizza was too tempting.

His bag sat on top of the dresser, and he brought it over to the bed, opening it quickly, rooting around for the jeans and shirt his ma had packed, months ago. Both were a little loose, but with the shirt tucked into the jeans, they wouldn't fall off his hips. He grabbed a package of socks and opened them. A leather wallet was tucked into one of the zippered compartments; he'd found it the night he finally stopped driving, and used the cell phone. And made the call that had eventually brought him to this little house, out in the middle of nowhere, and to the dark-haired woman who called herself Mrs. D. At the time she hadn't given him a name, and he hadn't asked her. It was better not to know...and not to ask too many questions.

Now he was glad of a name to call her, even if it seemed kind of sketchy-sounding.

Outside the bedroom he heard another door open and close, a few more voices, a happy greeting. Hurriedly he dressed, ran his hands through his unruly hair, and left the small room. He walked slowly down the stairs, almost salivating at the heavenly smell of hot pizza emanating from the kitchen. He couldn't recall when he'd last eaten.

As he entered the brightly-lit kitchen, he saw a young man turn toward him in silent regard. Short and stocky, he had somber brown eyes and the merest quirk curving one side of his mouth. Next to him, holding his hand, a tall girl with long, blonde hair and the palest eyes he'd ever seen offered a sweet smile.

Mrs. D came up behind Toby and eased an arm around him. "Toby, this is my son and daughter-in-law. They've been very anxious to meet you." She gave his shoulder a reassuring squeeze.

Toby stared at both of them. There was something in the guy's deep-set eyes, something familiar and scary and exciting. Toby tilted his head to one side, puzzled. In silence they regarded each other, while Mrs. D looked on and the girl named Lyra watched with tears suddenly bright in her pale eyes.

"I know you." Toby's words came out in a high squeak.

The young man shook his head, but his smile widened a little. "No, we've never met. But we're a lot alike." He offered a callused hand, which Toby stared at for a moment, before reaching out to shake it.

"You can call me...Andy." At the girl's smothered giggle and Toby's look of confusion, Andy shrugged, "Kind of a private joke." He released Toby's hand and gestured toward the table, where two large pizza boxes had been placed next to a six-pack of Coke. "I bet you're hungry. We are, too. It was a long drive."

Andy took a seat at the table and Toby soon found himself sitting next to him, a paper plate loaded down with pizza placed before him.

Lyra handed him a Coke while Mrs. D took the seat on the other side of him. "Eat, first. Then we'll talk, okay?"

"What about?" But Toby already knew. He glanced sideways at Andy's mom, and she gave him a reassuring smile. Under the table, without conscious thought, his hand sought hers, and he sighed when she clasped his fingers in her warm palm.

"All kinds of things. That's what we'll talk about. Including what happened to you, and your folks." Andy bit into a slice of pizza, nodding toward the food on Toby's plate. "Eat, okay? You're going to need your strength."

And as Toby obediently picked up his pizza and dug in, Andy caught his mother's eye, and muttered, very softly, "You're going to need a hell of a lot of strength...William."


As soon as he saw the news flash, he knew. "Scully! Come in here!"

She ran in from the kitchen, a damp dishtowel clutched in her hand.

"What? What is it?"

Mulder pointed to his monitor. "Take a look." He wheeled aside, pulling her onto his lap and turning them both until they faced the small screen.

Her jaw dropped as she gaped at the photo of the crater in the ground, out in what appeared to be a flat, brown landscape. "What the hell-Mulder..." She frowned, trying to understand what she was looking at. "Where is that?"

"Wyoming. Southern Wyoming, to be exact. Approximately ten miles outside a small cattle town called Lindy." His fingers coasted over the keypad, zooming in closer on the photo. Scully could see the outer edges, burned and blackened, of what appeared to be pieces of wood planks sticking up out of the crater at irregular angles.

Something dingy-white caught her eye, and she put her hand over Mulder's. "Zoom in some more. Is that-oh, my God. Mulder, that's-"

He nodded. "A sink. Kitchen sink, to be exact. This was someone's home." He pointed to a dilapidated building in the background that might have been a barn or a stable. "A ranch, in fact. There's a short article that appeared with the photo, stating local authorities think a meteor hit the house, and affected the power line running to the roof, which caused an explosion that did the damage you see here." His tone was as disbelieving as the expression on her face when she turned to him.

"No meteor did this kind of damage, for God's sake. It would have been all over the news," Scully retorted. She traced a finger on the monitor, along the edge of the crater. "Every scientist in the world would be there, treating it like some kind of celestial excavation. Look at the size of that hole."

"Yes, exactly." Mulder clicked on another screen and brought up the brief article so that Scully could read it. "The ranch belongs to a couple named Van De Kamp. According to locals in the town, the family was on vacation when this happened and so far no one has been able to reach them." Mulder paused, caught Scully's widened eyes, and added, "Dan and Mary Van De Kamp. And their eleven-year-old son...Toby."

Stunned, Scully whispered, "Eleven. Oh, my God." She jumped off Mulder's lap and paced in an agitated circle, then rushed for her purse to retrieve her phone. "We have to call Skinner! We have to go out there, now, Mulder!" Frantic, she started punching in numbers.

"Scully, wait a minute-"

That was all Mulder got out, before his own cell phone started to trill. He yanked it out of his shirt pocket and looked at the display before flipping it open and putting it to his ear. "Yeah, it's me. I have Scully right here." Scully hastened over and put her ear as close to Mulder's as she could. She bit back a sobbing gasp when she heard Skinner's voice on the other end.

The words he spoke were a miracle.

"We've got him. Mulder, you hear me? Tell Dana. We've got William, and he's safe."


The flight had seemed interminable; the drive, even worse. All the way, Scully had been on edge, alternately smiling like a fiend and then wiping away silent tears. When they spoke, it was in a whisper, as if anyone nearby could hear and then understand what they were talking about.

They'd had a fast meeting with Skinner just a few hours before they left. Bringing them up to date on everything he knew, he'd assured them the rest of the answers were fairly small details. What had to be dealt with, first and foremost, was their son's safety and continued wellbeing.

"He's amazingly upbeat considering all he's been through. But his safety isn't assured. You're going to have to relocate, and immediately," Skinner stated, as he handed them a thin folder. He eased back in his office chair and watched as Mulder and Scully quickly leafed through the contents. "Birth certificate and change of identity for William. They knew where to find him, which tells me there's a high-level leak somewhere. John assured me it's been contained, but where there's one leak there can be others, so don't take any chances."

"What about the initial strike? It was aimed at the Van De Kamp ranch; do they believe they exterminated the family?" It was hard to get past the lump of residual panic in Mulder's throat, even knowing their boy was safe.

"Whatever's leading this zeroed in on William because they see him as a threat to the pre-set sequence of colonization, as much as we suspect it's coming into play," Skinner replied. "They had no way of knowing William would escape the explosion. He's a resourceful boy."

Scully smiled, a mother's pride evident in her eyes. "Yes, he is."

She glanced through the folder again, before catching Skinner's attention. "Tell us about Monica."

Skinner sighed and rubbed at his forehead. "I can only assume John buried an empty coffin, then found a way to hide Monica. By then, they'd decided to keep Gibson Praise, no matter what they had to do.

Initially he didn't want to go with anyone and put them in danger, but Monica won him over. He considers her his mother, and John, his father."

"How did you find out all of this, anyhow? You seemed as in-the-dark as we were," Mulder ventured.

"I thought Monica was still alive, although each time I asked John, I got the same reply. Plus, the man gave a hell of a performance as a grief-stricken husband. It was just a gut feeling on my part. I finally took a chance and called one of my old Bureau contacts, someone who dealt with both Doggett and Reyes when they were still agents. And that's all I'm telling you," he held up a hand as Scully started to speak. "This contact is too valuable to lose. The less you know, the better."

"Will we see her?" Scully wanted to know.

Skinner shook his head regretfully. "No. You won't see her, or John.

It's best this way. All I can tell you is that Monica moves around a lot, and where she goes, sooner or later Gibson follows. She calls him Andy. I guess Andrew's his real middle name. His wife's name is Lyra."

"Wife? He's too young to-a wife?" Mulder protested. He and Scully looked at each other in shock.

"He's twenty-two. Plenty old enough, if you ask me. I don't know what he's doing with his life, nor do I want to know. John says he's happy. That's enough information for me."

A few hours later, armed with an address and a folder containing William's new life, they were on their way to get their son.

Dusk was just falling when they got to Illyia. Tiny and quiet, the town nestled itself in the lower Little Belt Mountains of central Montana. Mulder looked out the window as Scully drove slowly through town, mindful of the twenty-five-an-hour speed limit.

"I can't tell if this is a house or a motel we're looking for," he commented, as he read the address again. "Cabot Cottage."

Scully glanced at him, one eyebrow raised. "I doubt it's a motel, Mulder. Look around. This is a very small town. I can't imagine they'd have a motel-"

No sooner had she spoken, than Mulder exclaimed, "Stop! We're here."

He pointed up ahead, at a little clearing scattered with tiny, roughhewn cabins.

"There's no sign," Scully pointed out.

"I saw a mailbox. Turn down this road." Mulder indicated what appeared to be a wide, mud-coated rut. "Just watch out for the potholes. We're looking for cottage number five."

A minute later they pulled up in front of a whitewashed cabin that could have easily fit into their living room back in the house they once rented, outside of DC. Scully killed the engine and jumped out, hurrying up to the door and raising her hand to knock, Mulder right behind her.

Before she could drop her fist on the door, it opened, revealing a stocky young man with thick brown hair and deep-set brown eyes. His round face creased into a wide smile as soon as he saw them.

Wordlessly, he opened his arms, and Scully stepped into his embrace.

"Gibson, oh my God." She pulled back a little, gave him a once-over.

"Look at you. All grown up. I'm so glad to see you."

He hugged her again, then freed one arm and reached out for Mulder.

For a long moment the three of them stood on the minuscule porch, linked together.

Finally, Mulder stepped back. "Saying 'thank you' doesn't seem like enough, Gibson-"

"Please, just call me Andy. No one's called me Gibson since-well, in years." He gestured them inside. "And no thanks are necessary, I promise you." He guided them to a small living/kitchen area. "It's been...good...to be around someone else like me."

"Like you," Scully echoed. For a few seconds she looked stunned, then her eyes cleared and she formed a smile of hesitant wonder. "I should have seen it, though I had him for such a short time," she mused. "Yes, definitely like you."

A small sound coming from the back of the cabin caught their attention, and both Mulder and Scully stood nervously as a door opened and a young woman came out, holding a slender boy by the hand.

Mulder swallowed, hard, as he looked at his son for the first time in eleven years.

He had a clear, smooth complexion, large blue eyes and brown hair that would have a tendency to curl. Despite his below average stature, Mulder could tell he'd grow into his already-rangy frame.

William stared at both of them with those wide eyes...then something must have clicked for him, because he smiled. And in that smile, Mulder saw Dana Scully.

As his knees threatened to buckle, Mulder held out one shaky hand.

William let go of the young woman and took a step, then another. The third brought him into his mother's embrace; he clutched her hard around the waist, his breath choking in a hoarse sob. Mulder caught them both in a hug, bent his head over his family, and let the emotion take him over, unashamedly.

A thousand questions clamored inside of him, as he held his woman and his son. What was coming for them. When it would get there. If it was full, true colonization, or merely a monstrous warning that had claimed its first, early victims. How they could stop it...if they even could stop it. So many questions.

All those questions could wait, he decided.

While the boy they once knew as Gibson looked on, his young wife snuggled at his side, Mulder pressed a kiss on his son's downy cheek and felt an answering squeeze from the thin arm the boy had wound around his waist. Scully cried softly, tears falling on William's hair. Well, she was entitled to those tears. He'd most likely shed a few himself, before this reunion was all over. Scully lifted her damp face to him and he kissed the smile that curved her lips.

William sniffled once, then pulled back, enough to look up at his parents. It felt...right. He'd always love his ma and pa, but these people, well...

He smiled at them, and they smiled back. "Hi, Mom. Hi, Dad."

Scully answered for both of them, her eyes brimming with emotion.

"Hi, William."

The End

Thanks to Martina, for inspiration

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