Title: Iunctio ut Redimio – Book 1
Author: Kay
Feedback: kay101342@gmail.com
Spoilers: IWTB
Time Span: Post IWTB; February 2008
Disclaimer: Characters that are not mine do not belong to me.


Friday, 6:45 p.m.

Dana Scully walked through the quiet house, wondering where he could be. His office was empty, but there was a note taped to the computer screen that read, "Gone out. Do wonders never cease, or what?"

Rolling her eyes and rubbing the back of her neck, she wandered back down the hall and into her bedroom. He had made the bed that morning. Wonders indeed. She kicked off her shoes, let her hair down, and dropped backwards across the bed.

When the front door opened ten minutes later, she was still lying there on her back with the back of her hand resting across her eyes. From the doorway she heard, "What's up, Doc?" Like that didn't get old at the end of every day.

She moved her hand up to her forehead and opened her eyes. He was leaning against the doorjamb, new haircut, new clothes, and a big smile on his face. She raised an eyebrow at him. "You look happy, Mulder. "

He stepped forward and took her foot into his hand, reaching up the leg of her slacks and pulling off her knee-hi. As he began to massage the foot, he replied, "You don't look happy, Scully. Long day?"

She closed her eyes again and sighed deeply. He repeated the process with her other foot, this time reaching his hand all the way up her slacks and stroking the back of her thigh before removing the stocking. Her eyes drifted open. "Looking to get lucky before the evening news? You are just full of surprises tonight, now aren't you?"

Dropping her foot, he sat beside her on the bed, running a fingertip along her side. "Why don't you rest while I make dinner? You look really wiped out."

She wrinkled her nose. "That's just another way of saying I look like crap, Mulder."

He leaned down and kissed her forehead. "Scully, even on your worst day, you take my breath away."

She ran a hand along his smooth cheek and looked into his eyes for the first time that day. What she saw there made her heart pound and her stomach tense. That look was back. She hadn't seen it in years. "Oh, Mulder." As she sucked in her breath, a sob caught in her throat. She curled onto one side, so he couldn't see her face. Slowly, she forced her breathing back to normal.

Sensing her vulnerability, he stretched out behind her, spooning his body around hers. He could feel the quivering all along her body. It had taken him a long time to figure out. It was how Scully cried – or at least how she tried NOT to cry. The first few times he felt it, it reminded him of that night in Oregon when she knocked on his door and said she couldn't get warm. The very first time it happened, he had been lying there in New Mexico, almost asleep, when he felt the quivering start. He had asked what was wrong, but her only response had been even further tightening of her body. It was the breathing that finally gave it away. She took deep, quivery breaths in and out. It had scared him half to death that first time. From then on, he never asked; he just wrapped his body around hers and held her until her breathing returned to normal and she fell asleep.

Tonight she quivered for a lot longer than usual before relaxing. When he thought she was finally sleeping, he started to slip out of bed. A small hand clamped onto his forearm. He dropped his head down to kiss her cheek. "Sleep, Scully." Still the hand held tight. "Scully?"

"Mulder?" she whispered.

"Hmm?" he asked, nuzzling her cheek.

There was a long silence. He waited. Sometimes, it took her several false starts when she wanted to talk. He was used to this as well. He could see the veins in her hand she was holding his arm so tight. She took one more deep, shuddery breath. "I love you." The hand loosened.

His heart started pounding. Scully never said that. It scared him to death. He hugged her into him again, almost too tightly.

He rubbed her cheek gently and felt a teardrop. "Ah, Scully." You are breaking my heart, he thought.

She kissed his fingertips. "Even though I don't show it. Even though it doesn't seem like it. I do. I have. I will. Always. No matter what, Mulder."

She would not turn to face him, so he rolled over the top of her to the other side. He needed to see her eyes. The sadness in those crystalline depths sucker punched him every time he saw it. Forcing her to hold his gaze, he held both of her hands to his lips. "You do. It does. I know. Me too. Forever." Finally, he stood up and tucked a blanket around her. "Sleep, Scully. I'll wake you when dinner is ready." As he walked out the bedroom door, he stopped. "And Scully?"

She opened her eyes and looked at him. "Hmm?"

He hesitated. "I hate to bring it up. But I can't not...When you said you weren't coming home...it's just...Scully, I don't know what home means to you. But to me, home isn't a place. To me, you are home. You have been for a long time."

The hurt in his voice tugged at places she just couldn't go right now. She shut her eyes tightly. "I'm sorry. I just don't know how to be right now. Nothing feels right, Mulder."

He sighed deeply. "Don't be sorry, Scully. I'm not asking you to be something you aren't. Just...I do worry...that you've already given up." He abruptly walked away.

But she heard the knot form in his throat. That was something that had taken her a while to learn about him. When he abruptly ended a conversation, turned his back on her or walked away, it was usually because he was getting emotional and needed to regain his composure. For the first time, it occurred to her that she never really did anything to comfort him anymore.


Friday, 9:45 p.m.

She stretched, noting that the only light was coming from the flicker of a candle across the room. Her stomach rumbled as the smell of food made its way to her. She sat up then realized that he was sitting in the dark, looking at her. "Hi."

He smiled a little. "Hi."

"You said you would wake me."

"I couldn't bring myself to."

She blinked rapidly, trying to adjust her eyes. "Is the power out?"

He shook his head. "No."

She wrinkled her brow. "Oh. Something smells really good." He had become a top notch chef these past few years. "I'll warm it up," he said. They ate by candlelight, neither saying much. The food, however, was great. She ate more than she had in the past month. As she began to clear the table, he stopped her. "Let's leave the dishes. I promise to do them in the morning."

Normally, she would not stand for this...but..."What'd you have in mind instead?"

He waggled his eyebrows at her. "Bubble bath for two?"

She tilted her chin up towards him. "By candlelight?"

He nodded. She took a deep breath. This wasn't your everyday seduction. This was seduction of the mind, of the emotions, of the heart. This was Mulder at his most terrifying. He wanted to talk. Really talk. And he knew the best way to get her to let her guard down when she was wide awake was in a darkened room, where she felt warm and safe – hence the bubble bath and candlelight. She had known this was coming. He had just given her a reprieve these last several days. May as well try to delay it for as long as possible. She reached out and snagged him by the waistband of his jeans. "Okay, Mulder. But I get to undress you first."

Finally, she settled into the bathtub, perfectly sized for the two of them. He lay back on one end, she on the other, bubbles up to their chins. She wedged her feet beneath his thighs. "Tell me about your day, Mulder."

He shrugged. "I joined the gym. Played some B-ball. Got a haircut. Shopped. Saw a movie. Had my nails done," he said all this in a singsong voice.

She gave him the patented Scully look, one eyebrow lifted.

"Not THAT kind of movie, Scully." He twirled his fingers in the soap suds. Suddenly, he spoke seriously and quietly. "I know you're worried about me coming back to the land of the living. I know you've worried all week about what will happen next, what I'll do, whether you'll be able to cope with it. I think you already know that I'm not going to open a private practice and charge some desperate housewife $200 an hour to tell her that her husband still loves her. "

She looked at him for a long time. "So I take it you decided all this without me. That this is a unilateral decision."

He was getting aggravated. "Scully, I haven't MADE any decisions. I'm just stating the facts that we already both know. Surely you didn't think that we would continue as before, with me sitting here all day and half the night waiting for you to come back."

She bit down on her bottom lip. "I liked our life, Mulder."

He sat forward. "That is not fair, Scully. Our life was out of necessity. Not choice. In fact, you were the only one who had anything resembling a life. Besides, you didn't like our life, Scully. You haven't smiled in months. You haven't laughed out loud in...God, I can't remember when. "

Tears formed instantly in her eyes. She knew what he was saying was true. "Don't put me through this, Mulder."

He felt the trembling start. This time, he couldn't comfort her. "Scully, you talk about the darkness. How you don't want to chase monsters anymore. I'm not asking you to. Medicine is your career now. But let me ask you this. Is there not darkness at that hospital? Aren't there monsters lurking around every corner, fighting you for your patients? You ARE chasing monsters in the dark. They just come at you in a different way."

She tilted her head defiantly. "I don't risk my life every day, Mulder. When I walk out that door each morning, you know there is a good chance I'm coming back in one piece that night. You've already started again. You run off half-cocked and get yourself into a jam. If I'm not there with you, who is going to make sure you come back home to me? I don't want to get that phone call saying you aren't coming home. I have lost everything else, Mulder. I can't lose you, too." Tears slipped freely down her face. "And I hate this person I've become, Mulder. I've never been this way. Nothing makes me happy. I hate to go to work. I dread coming home and finding that you're not here. I am afraid all the time."

He was out of the tub and wrapped in a towel. He made her stand up, and wrapped her thick, furry robe around her. "Look at me. Think back, Scully. You WERE always afraid of our work. The difference was that you didn't let the fear paralyze you. Anyone in our lives can be gone in an instant. We have to make the best of the time we have. I have to be me, Scully. I have to keep fighting the fight. Now that I can, I have to go back out there." He tilted her head gently up to look at him. "But I promise you, Scully, that I will ALWAYS come home to you as long as I'm alive. I'm in this completely. I told you that when we settled down here. Would I like you out there with me? Of course I would. But I can't ask that of you anymore. I don't know how much I can even stand to do without you. It won't be like before, if that's what you're afraid of. But I have to try to do something." He pulled her close to him.

She shoved against his chest, still shaking. "You have to promise, Mulder. When you go out there," she waved her hand in an all consuming gesture, "that you will remember that you have a commitment to me, to us. There are truths in this room between us that are just as important to me as the truth about the rest of the world." She crossed her arms over her chest. "I know it's wrong of me, Mulder, to ask you to forsake your feelings about your sister for me. I know that's what has driven you all these years. But, Mulder, I'm here and she's not."

He sighed deeply. "Scully. You always come back to that. I'm not doing any of this for Samantha. Not anymore. How many times do we have to go through this? When I said that...about finding Samantha being all that matters...that was fifteen years ago. You helped me come to terms with all that, to find closure. You were always there." He dragged her down onto the bed beside him. Propping himself up, he stared into her eyes. "I will always be drawn to those kinds of cases, but Scully, that has as much to do with you now as it does my sister. When I think about what scares me most in the world, it's the idea that you may not come home one night. That if it happens again, I may not be able to bring you back to me. Just like Samantha. And I can't just sit back and let that happen. I have to fight. I don't know how else to be." He caressed her cheek. She buried her nose in his chest. After holding her for a long moment, he kissed her forehead. "There's something else, isn't there? I can see it in your eyes, in the way you carry yourself these days."

A half laugh escaped her. "Oh, Mulder. There is so much more, I don't know where to start. You know how awful I am with feelings." She sighed deeply. She took another shaky breath. "It's just...I think about him all time, Mulder. Where he is, if he's happy, if he knows about me, if they ever tell him that I gave him to them because I loved him too much not to. And Mulder....there is something else. I've been afraid to tell you. I know I've been awful. I really am trying. It's just an effort to get through the day right now, Mul-"

He draped one leg over hers and put his fingers to her lips. "Look, Scully...what's wrong here can't all be fixed in one night. Does it make me feel awful knowing I don't bring you any joy? Yes, it does. But if we weren't together, wouldn't that make you worry more? Never knowing where I was? I know I would worry more. I would worry whether you made it home okay from the hospital late at night...And just answer one question: is there somewhere else you think you would be happier right now? Other than here with me?"

She kissed his fingers. "Of course not, Mulder. Having you here at night is the only thing that makes my days bearable. That's why I don't want you running off trying to save the world. I worry it will destroy my world. And I guess I thought it would be better to willingly give you up than..." She paused, licked her lips, then started again. "I don't know how much I can take, Mulder. I know it's who you are. And I know it doesn't make sense because I'm the one who pushed you to get back out there." Her voice broke. "It has always been this way with you, Mulder. What made me love you has always been the thing about you that caused me the most pain."

He rubbed her arms. "Scully, you and William are the only things that matter to me now. I know he isn't here. But I have to try to make this world safe again – for you and for him. I have to believe that there is a way. That's the only reason I get up in the mornings. You have been by my side for fifteen years. You have never wavered. Give me four or five more, Scully. Please. I really will try to be everything you've always wanted, try to make your world right, try to make it so that we can be a part of William's life again in the future, if..."

She did that funny little thing. That half sigh, half exasperated laugh. "Oh, Mulder. If what? If you can save the world? I should have known the truth wasn't enough for you."

He was a little sheepish. "Of course it's not, Scully. I'm a true believer. I only wanted the truth so I could use it to save us. I want it all. For us. For you. For our son. For the rest of the kids in this world. I will die trying to get it. You have always known that. I've just been on...a necessitated hiatus. The truth is that I've been here licking my wounds these last few years because there was nothing else I could do. I have always lived in the dark, Scully. But ever since I met you, you were my light, my beacon. I just wish I could be yours."

She kissed him, on the lips...another rarity. "Oh, Mulder, you are. Why do you think I'm so afraid? I don't know if I will be able to go on if you go and get yourself killed. The last time, the only thing that kept me sane, Mulder, was knowing I had to think of the future of our child. Why do you think you have to save the world? Why can't we just be a normal couple, who goes to work and comes home, and...and..."

He never had understood this desire of hers to have a "normal" life. How could she claim that's what her heart desired and at the same time think she loved HIM? Why hadn't she just settled down with some schmuck all those years ago? It's like to make her happy, he'd have to be someone else. "Scully, we can do normal things now. We can go to dinner, movies, vacation, parties." She gave a half laugh at the look of distaste on his face. "But you can't ask me to ignore my life's work. I want there to still be human life on this planet when our son is all grown up. I can't just sit back and hope someone else does it. When did you become like this? What made you give up hope? Why won't you keep fighting this?"

She sniffled. "Mulder...I just...I can't. Don't you ever want just a few years of peace? So what if the world ends in four years. Why can't we just be us for now? Not worry about everything else?"

He looked at her like he didn't even know her. "Because, Scully...that wouldn't BE us. I don't know who this person is saying this. That's not the woman I fell in love with."

She rolled away from him. "Mulder...maybe you just don't know me anymore."

They lay in silence for several minutes. He tucked a stray strand of hair behind her ear. "No, Scully. Maybe you just don't know yourself. Maybe that's why you're so miserable all the time. You know that you feel a compulsion to do this, too. But you're fighting it because you're so afraid. But Scully...you don't have to. I will do this. For you. All you have to do is be a doctor. But I have to go back out there." He lay behind her again, thinking he spent more time looking at her back than her face these days. Finally, he spoke. "So...are we okay? For now?"

She took another deep, shuddery breath. "WE are fine, Mulder. I'm just not. I just...I need more time. I feel like I'm going to fly apart into a million pieces. I never did finish telling you..."

A knock at the front door startled them both. "What the hell?" He jumped up and grabbed his gun from his bedside drawer. "Stay here," he commanded her, pulling on sweatpants and a t-shirt.

No one had knocked on that door for pretty much the whole time they had lived there. She listened for voices. When she recognized the low pitched voice, she dropped back onto the bed. Skinner. "This is not happening," she muttered. For half an hour, Mulder did not return. She refused to go out there. So she paced like a caged animal. Finally, after great internal debate, she donned Mulder's favorite silky long nightgown and matching robe and went in search of the voices. She found the two men in Mulder's office. She braced herself in the doorway, leaving her robe open in front, crossing her arms across her chest. "Mulder, I'm cold. When are you coming back to bed?"

When Mulder looked up from the file, his jaw dropped and eyes narrowed. She wasn't indecent, but still...He walked over to her and pulled her robe closed in front. "Soon. I promise." He leaned down and kissed her soundly.

She kissed him back. Really kissed him. "You'd better, Mulder. And you'd better be staying there all night." She was not going to make it easy for him to run off and leave her. She wanted him to realize what he was leaving behind every time he did. She leaned around him and eyed Skinner. "Would you like a cup of coffee for the road?"

Skinner cleared his throat. "Uh, yeah, that would be great."

Scully left the doorway. She returned fifteen minutes later with a steaming Styrofoam cup, handing it over to her former boss. She perched herself on the edge of Mulder's desk, refusing to look at the photos scattered around the file. She ran a finger up Mulder's arm. When she crossed her legs, the slit in her nightgown rose up to reveal her thigh. She looked at Skinner. "I guess I never did say a proper thank you for your help the last time I called you."

He cleared his throat again, clearly uncomfortable. "No thanks necessary, Dana. I guess I should head out. Mulder, if you come up with anything else, call me."

Mulder stood up and followed him through the house. Once out of earshot, Skinner looked at Mulder. "Listen, man, I'm sorry to just show up unannounced like this. I can tell Scully wasn't thrilled about it."

Mulder shrugged it off and stepped out onto the porch. "She's going through a rough time right now. I don't know what all is going on with her."

Skinner nodded. "Yeah, she hasn't seemed herself the last few times I've seen her."

Mulder looked at him oddly. "You've seen her? I mean, other than when she called and asked for your help?"

Skinner looked at him strangely. "Well, yeah. I mean, we meet for lunch every now and then...look, I thought you..."

Mulder shook his head. "Don't worry about it. Let me get back inside. I'm either about to take a big ass chewing OR get really lucky..."

Skinner nodded. "Yeah, well, from her body language, my money's on the OR... in which case, you can thank me by calling with info in the next twenty-four hours."

Mulder looked around. "Uh, Skinner? Where's your car?"

Skinner scowled. "I climbed around the fence and walked up the drive. At least I have coffee in a handy to-go cup to keep me warm for the hike back."

"Why didn't you call the house? I could have come down and opened the gate."

Skinner gave him a look. "Well, I didn't want to risk Scully answering the phone and telling me to call back at a decent hour...or worse."

"Ah."

Mulder locked the door, turning out the lights on his way back to the bedroom. Scully had the light off and the candle lit again. He looked up as she came out of the bathroom. "Well, well, Daaaana. That was quite a show you gave. I just wish Skinner hadn't enjoyed it so much."

She gave a delicate snort. "Oh, please."

He crossed his arms. "Seriously, Scully. I have always thought Skinner was halfway in love with you."

She raised an eyebrow as she lifted her gown over head, leaving her hair a wild mass of waves and the rest of her completely naked. "Only halfway? Huh. I'll work on that." She came right up to him and stripped his t-shirt off. "If you do check out on me, Mulder, you can eat your heart out from the other side because the next time I have a man in my life, he will definitely have a desk job." She shoved his sweatpants down his hips and pushed him back onto the bed.

"You would die of boredom, Scully," he murmured as she straddled him. To himself he thought, thank you, Skinner. I owe you a profile first thing tomorrow.


Saturday, 9:00 a.m.

She stumbled into the kitchen, rubbing her eyes with the back of her hand.

He looked up at her. "Morning, sleepyhead. Whoa, you look pale." He leaned forward and touched her cheek. "You okay?"

She looked at the eggs on his plate, "Ugh. No, I feel really queasy. I have to go make rounds at the hospital, though." She eyed the gory photos spread out on the breakfast table. "Mulder, my kitchen was carefully decorated to be light and airy. Please don't bring that kind of thing into this room."

He scooped the stuff back into its folder and kissed the top of her head. "You're the boss, babe. I'll make you some toast and drive you to the hospital, okay?"

She nodded. "Thanks. I'll throw on some makeup and clothes, try to tame my hair."

He looked over at her. "Your hair looks nice tousled and wavy. It's long enough now you can get away with it. Plus, it's Saturday. I'm sure your patients won't mind."

A smile shaped her lips. Had she known that being the initiator would tame him, she'd have done it much more frequently.

She dozed in the car on the way to the hospital, her head leaning against his shoulder. While she checked her patients, all of whom were under the age of 14, Mulder followed her around making small talk with them, showing them cool tricks. When she went down to the lab, he stayed upstairs in the rec room playing Wii bowling with one 12 year old. When she returned, he was happily playing against another child who wasn't her patient. Four others watched and cheered. She smiled. "Hey, you ready?"

He shook his head. "Nah. I have two more sets promised. Do you need to work some?"

She nodded. "I could stand a half hour of paperwork. Come up and find me if you finish first?"

He waved her away with his left hand. As she rounded the corner, she him yell, "Strike!" She shook her head. He would no doubt be the talk of the nurses' station later.

Time slipped away from her. When she looked at the clock, it was almost noon. She closed up her office and started up to find Mulder. He was still in the rec room, and as she expected, there were two nurses and an aid peeking in the doorway. She cleared her throat so they would let her through.

He was just finishing his game when he caught sight of her out of the corner of his eye. "Hey, Doc...we should get one of these Wii's. Seriously." The boys looked at her, then back at him.

"Are you married to Dr. Scully?"

"Cool."

"Can you come back next weekend?"

The kids were all talking at once. "I'd love to come back. Maybe not next weekend, but soon, okay? Right now I'm going to take Dr. Scully out to lunch."

On the way out to the car, he asked if she minded driving to D.C. with him that afternoon to see Skinner. She sighed deeply. "Mulder, I don't want to spend the whole afternoon in the car." The look on his face changed her mind. "Fine. Tell him we're going to that little Thai place I always liked. He can meet us there because I will be starving by the time we get there."

He wrinkled his nose. "Thai? Scully, I've been locked away for years. I

should get to pick the restaurant."

She shook her head. "No way. I brought you food from anywhere you wanted."

"But that doesn't make up for the atmosphere." He gave her a pleading look.

She backed down. "Fine. Anywhere you want to go." She leaned her head back and slept all the way to D.C. Mulder wondered if she was getting sick or if this was just part of the depression she was sinking into. He'd never seen her sleep as much as she had these past couple of weeks.

At the restaurant, Skinner was already waiting with a younger, brunette woman. She stood up when they walked in and threw her arms around Scully. "Hey, Dana. Seems like I keep missing you when I'm in Richmond. I stopped by your office a couple of times this week."

Scully hugged her back. "Yeah, it's been crazy. Wait, what are you doing here?" She stopped and looked at Mulder. "Oh, wait, sorry. Mulder, this is Kate Carter. She's a fellow doctor. Kate, this is Fox Mulder."

Kate shook his hand. "Hi. It's nice to finally meet you."

"You, too." He kept looking at her, trying to figure out where he knew her from. "Is this the first time we've met?"

She nodded. "Yep. Pretty sure."

Mulder studied her features. Thin but athletic looking. Long, chestnut brown hair. It was the eyes, though, that stood out. They were a strange, pale shade of green, startling in contrast to the dark hair. He was sure he'd seen her before.

She sat across from Scully and pushed a plate of appetizers towards her. "Eat. You look like you've lost more weight. So anyway, I was at the dry cleaner's and saw Walter coming in. He said he was meeting you guys here. Hope you don't mind that I crashed." She glanced at the two men, who had moved to another table to spread out the file Mulder was carrying. "So...what did he say?"

Scully sucked in her breath and puffed out her cheeks. "I didn't talk to him yet." She noted the look Kate gave her. "Kate, I'm trying. I just can't get a handle on everything. Please. I was about to talk to him, but then I got interrupted, and then I lost my nerve. Just give me a little time."

Kate leaned forward. "No, Dana. You have to talk to him. This weekend. You can't keep this up. Keeping secrets was never easy for you. Promise me."

Scully nodded. "I promise."

Kate stared at her for minute. "Okay. I believe you. Change of subject... listen, I have to tell you about this weird case I had come through my office this week..."

Skinner and Mulder moved back to their table after they ordered. When Scully went to the bathroom after they ate, Kate caught Mulder's eye. "I know you think you know me, but you don't. I can see the wheels turning in your head."

"I know I've seen your face."

She nodded. "Look. I've known Dana a long time. You've probably seen a picture of me or something."

Recognition dawned. He had seen a picture of her. It was in a wooden box with the few things of William's that Scully had kept. "How long have you known each other?"

"A long time, actually." Her phone rang. "Oh, I need to take this. Excuse me."

Skinner looked at Mulder, answering his unspoken questions. "She spent some time at the CDC in Atlanta, does some cutting edge genetics research. She consults for me at the Bureau sometimes. She and Scully lectured together some at Quantico after Kate first moved back here. Anyway, she was a good friend to Scully after William was born."

Mulder nodded. It amazed him how he always thought he knew Scully so well, but then something else would come up and he'd realize all over again just how closed off she kept herself.


Saturday, 4:45 p.m.

Driving back home, Mulder looked over at Scully. She'd been quiet since they left the restaurant. "You okay?"

She kept looking out the window. "I'm fine, Mulder."

He grimaced. "I thought we banned that phrase years ago?"

She smiled slightly. "What did you think of Kate?"

Mulder shrugged. "She seems nice. How do you know her?"

"We met at a medical conference back in...oh, '98, I guess. I actually used to call her quite a bit for consults on our cases. She was always curious about things that were medically hard to explain. She was respected in the medical field, even for someone so young, but she was also really open to..."

Mulder prodded, "X-Files type stuff?"

Scully nodded. "Yeah. It was hard for me in those days, Mulder. When I needed support from the medical community, I couldn't turn to just anyone. Very few serious people would take me seriously." She paused, lost in thought. "Anyway, she moved to Richmond after leaving Atlanta and eventually to D.C., but she still spends a couple of days a week in Richmond. She has a steady patient base there. I usually see her when she's in town."

He glanced over at her, huddled down in the passenger seat. "I think I've seen a picture of her."

Scully looked at him. She knew he had already placed Kate from that picture of her holding William at the zoo. It was one of her favorites. William had just giggled out loud in delight from Kate blowing raspberries on his cheek and his toothless grin was huge. A lump formed in her throat. "Yeah, you have. Can we not talk too much about it right now?"

He sighed. Sometimes, he really wanted to talk about William, but Scully never seemed to be willing. He wanted to know about those months she'd spent taking care of William. He needed to hear about the good times she spent as his mother. There were only a few photos – no videos – and she kept those tucked away in a small wooden box along with a blanket and one baby outfit. He felt like he was doing something wrong any time he pulled the box out. "You never want to talk about it," he muttered.

She was suddenly exhausted. "I know Skinner wants you to go out of town on a consult soon. When do you leave?"

He shook his head. "I told Skinner you needed some time to get used to things. That, for now, all I could do was consult from home." He paused a minute. "Scully, I'm not dying to get back in with the government, you know, even just consulting on a regular basis. It doesn't feel right anymore. I told Skinner I would only help on certain types of cases. He understands."

She let out a breath that she didn't realize she had even been holding. Maybe they could still have a somewhat normal life.

"Speaking of Skinner, why didn't you tell me you had seen him over the last few years?"

Feeling guilty and not knowing why, Scully looked down at her lap. "He and Kate are good friends. They meet for lunch at least once a week, sometimes in D.C. and sometimes Richmond if he has business there or out at Quantico. I usually met them every few months or so when they were meeting in town and weren't talking about a case. I figured people would seem less suspicious if I tried to maintain normalcy in the day to day things."

Mulder glanced over at her. "I didn't ask how often – it doesn't bother me that you had contact with him. And I'm glad you have friends. I want to know why you thought you couldn't tell me."

Scully finally looked at him. "Mulder, you settled here – in Virginia – for me. So I could have a normal life again. Somewhere else, maybe you could have had a more normal life. I didn't tell you because I felt guilty having a life that you couldn't. Skinner was your friend, too."

Mulder shook his head. "That was the whole point of us moving back here. So you could be near friends and family."

Back at home, Scully's mom called. She had been staying out in California for weeks at a time these past several years. She liked to be near Matthew, and Scully also thought it hurt her too much to be nearby. She never had agreed with or accepted the adoption. In fact, she never had really agreed with any of her daughter's decisions, though she loved her unconditionally. While Scully suspected that her mom knew Mulder was still with her, Margaret Scully had never asked. Not once. Sometimes, Scully thought that was probably for the best. She knew it hurt Mulder, though.

After talking with her mom for about twenty minutes, she handed the phone to Mulder. "Mom, hang on. There's someone here who I know wants to talk to you."

Mulder looked hesitant as he put the phone to his ear. "Hi, Mrs. Scully. It's Fox."

Scully could hear her mom through the phone. "Fox. It's good to hear your voice again."

Mulder gave a dry chuckle. "Sure it is."

Margaret Scully hesitated. "Fox. I have always known that you wouldn't be very far from Dana. I just never asked because...well, I figured Dana would tell me if she thought she could. Listen, you are not what I would have picked for my daughter. Every mother has hopes and dreams for their children. They never want a child to suffer the kind of hurt Dana has. But that does not mean I don't love you all the same. I know we don't get to choose who we love. And for whatever reason, my daughter loves you more than anything else in the world. That makes you family. I'll see you soon, Fox. Take care of my baby girl."

Mulder's eyes were tearing up. "I will, Mrs. Scully. I will do it better this time. I swear I will." He handed the phone back to Scully then walked out onto the back porch. The sun had set already.

Back inside, he found Scully wrapped in an afghan by the fireplace. Her eyes were vacant, and he knew she was slipping away from him...putting a wall around herself. Something else was going on; he just couldn't figure out what. "Scully." He knelt in front of her. "Tell me. Please. What's wrong?"

He could have guessed a million times and never come up with what she said finally said to him. "Mulder, I didn't even know if I was going to tell you. I had thought a hundred things. I really had decided to just leave – you jumping into that case and not willing to back away panicked me that bad on top of this. I was just going to go away, not come back home. At least until I figured out what to do." She looked down at the man kneeling here, his hazel eyes searching her blue ones. She knew this was going to change everything. She didn't want to hurt him anymore. "Mulder... I'm pregnant again."

He stared at her. It was like the neurons were firing too fast. He could hear the rush of blood in his ears. Time seemed to expand. Finally, he managed, "How?"

She didn't say anything for a long while. "You know what they say, Mulder. Life will find a way."

He moved onto the sofa beside her, pulled her into his arms. "My God, Scully." He kissed her cheek. "Everything's going to be all right."

She started the weird shaking. "How do you know?"

"I just do."

She shook for a long time, and then, "I don't know if I can stand to lose another child, Mulder."

He knew there would be no calming her fears tonight. Tonight, he would just hold her.

She spoke again. "I hate myself for this, and you probably will, too. But I have to tell you. I even considered having an abortion – without even telling you. I've been completely out of my mind, Mulder. Kate made me promise to tell you before I made any decisions. And I don't think I could have done it without you knowing. I've just been..."

Mulder hugged her tight. "Scully. It's okay. But I'm glad you didn't. This is something we need to deal with together. Ultimately, it's your body. But that's my baby." He paused a moment, stunned by the news. "Scully, this child...it's as much a miracle as William was. How can we take into our hands what...fate...or... destiny...or...God...has taken out of our

hands? This child must be meant to be, Scully. Look at the odds it has already overcome. Just like William."

She met his eyes. "What if...what if it's not fate...or destiny...or God? What if this child wasn't meant to be? What if it's the work of something more sinister...of someone? That's my biggest fear." There. She had said it. It was out there now.

Mulder shook his head again. "No, Scully. I feel it." He put his hand under her shirt, on her stomach. "This is life at its most miraculous. You were always the one with faith, Scully. Don't let it falter now."

She breathed her first easy breath in over a month. "I'm trying. I just...Mulder, this is taking a lot out of me. I'm too old to do this again. Too much can go wrong."

He ran his fingers through her hair. "We will deal with that when it happens, as long as YOU aren't in any danger." He paused and looked at her. "You're not in danger, are you?"

She shook her head. "My life isn't in danger. But, I mean, anything could go wrong as the pregnancy progresses, Mulder. I didn't have an easy time the first time, and I was almost a decade younger."

For a moment, he didn't say anything. He ran his fingers along the inside of her arm. "I don't want anything jeopardizing your life. If it comes down to you or the pregnancy, I'm going to choose you."

She kissed his palm when he caressed her face. "Look, there are two issues here. The first is whether or not to terminate the pregnancy."

He ran his hands along her jawbone, not believing they were actually having this conversation. "Could you live with it? An abortion?"

She chewed her lip. "I thought I could...when I was in pure panic mode. Now, I don't know, Mulder. It would be hard for me to look in the mirror each morning. But I COULD do it. The truth is that I have trouble looking in a mirror now."

He shook his head. "No. The point is to work through all of that, Scully. Not add to it. No abortion. End of discussion. The only way we abort is if you're in danger, then it's my call. Not yours." His eyes closed, then reopened. "Okay. See? One issue dealt with. What's the other?"

She breathed deeply. "If I have the...baby...what happens after it's born? I've thought a lot about it, Mulder. I was thinking we could ask the adoption agency if they could contact the people who have William....you know? See if they want his, um, sibling? That wouldn't be as hard for me, you know? If I knew the baby would be with its brother..."

Mulder wrinkled his forehead. "Wait. Why would we do that? Why would we give it away?"

She licked her lips. "Why would this baby be any safer than William? Besides, Mulder, I can't raise a baby knowing I gave my first one away. I couldn't live with that." Her voice cracked. They were dangerously close to things they had never really talked about.

He didn't meet her eyes. "You have had a little longer to deal with this, Scully. I guess I need to think through it all. It's just....okay. Look, for starters, lots of people have children after putting one up for adoption. Adoption is the best thing you can do for a child that you aren't sure you can take care of. I will always support the decision you made for William. You are his mother. You did what you thought was the only way to keep him safe. I will never question that. To be honest, Scully, I have always admired that you were able to do it. I don't know that I could have been that selfless in your absence. Now, though, WE have to decide what the best thing is for this child that you are carrying. Our situation is a lot different now, Scully."

Big tears formed in her eyes. She bolted from the sofa and started pacing the room. "No. Don't say that. You don't know what all happened. You don't know why I really did it. You don't know at all, Mulder. You would hate me if you really knew. Please." She was sobbing now, the words not coming out very well. Her whole body shook with sobs. She wrapped her arms around herself.

Mulder was truly bewildered. He had always known there was a lot of emotion pent up inside her, just below the surface, but he didn't understand why she was saying these things. He tried to grab her; she pushed him away. Finally, she collapsed back onto the sofa, and sobbed. Every time he tried to get near her, she cried harder and drew away from him. Her phone was ringing incessantly. Not knowing what else to do, feeling shell-shocked, he searched for the offending phone. "Hello?"

"Hi, Mulder, it's Kate. Dana is expecting my call; can I speak with her, please?"

He looked over at the sofa. "Uhh...Kate, now is really not a good time. Can you call back?"

"Is she sleeping?"

"Umm...no."

Kate said nothing for a second. "Mulder. I need to talk to her. Just tell her I'm on the phone."

He walked away from the living room. "Kate, she's really upset right now."

The woman on the other end did not sound happy. "All the more reason to tell her I'm on the damn phone, okay?" She gave him a few seconds to respond. "Mulder, you either put Dana on the phone, or I'm coming out there." She paused. "In fact, I'm actually on my way to Richmond and not even 20 minutes away from you guys. You decide. Put her on the phone or I'm on my way."

He walked back to the doorway. "Hang on, Kate." He walked close to the sofa. "Scully, Kate is on the phone. Can you talk to her?" She was still sobbing, though maybe not quite as hysterically. She gave no indication that she'd heard him. He tried again. "Scully, Kate is on the phone. She says you either have to talk to her or she is going to come here."

Another minute crept by. Finally, he heard something other than the strange keening sobs. "Tell her," sob, "that I," sniff, "can't talk," hiccup.

He put the phone back to his ear. "I heard her." Kate sighed. "Tell her I'm on my way there. You need to see if you can get her to breathe deeper. Give me directions from the exit?"

He rattled them off and she repeated them back. "Okay. I'll be there in twenty; and Mulder? This is a good thing. She's needed to do this for a long time. Whatever set her off is probably not your fault. She has been a time bomb lately. I'm just glad she was at home."

He threw open the front door twenty-five minutes later, hair standing up all over his head. "What took you so long?"

Kate raised both eyebrows. "I had to pick the lock on your gate. It took a few minutes." She swept inside with a medical bag in her right hand and a backpack on her left shoulder.

Following the sobbing sounds, she made her way to the sofa and pulled Scully upright by tugging on the afghan wrapped around her. She stared into the swollen bloodshot eyes. "Hey, Mulder? Hold her upright for a second." She shined a pen light into Scully's eyes and put a hand on her forehead. The sobbing was almost silent now, but the tiny body was still shaking. "Let's put her to bed. I'll give her something to calm her down."

Mulder lifted Scully into his arms. "Can she have anything? I mean, with the baby?"

Kate's sea-green eyes met his. "Yeah. It's fine. I promise." She waited as he settled Scully into the bed, wrapping her in the comforter with the afghan still around her. "Hold her arm still." She injected a small amount of liquid into Scully's upper arm. "Can you bring me a cool washcloth?"

When Mulder returned with it, Kate rolled it lengthwise and pressed it lightly over Scully's eyes. Sitting on the bed beside Scully, she started to speak quietly. "I know you feel like you're falling apart, Dana, but trust me on this. I have been right where you are. Not for the same reasons, but in the same state of mind. Anyway, though it may not feel like it right now, this is the first step in putting your life back together. There is no reason to feel ashamed or embarrassed by this. I know you talked to Mulder about the pregnancy. That took a lot of courage. I know you were terrified. He's still here, though, isn't he? You told me once that way before he was your lover he was your best friend. I think you are going to find that you are a lot harder on yourself than he will ever be on you. You cannot keep projecting your feelings onto him. It's not fair to him. And Dana, if I am taking up for a man after well, let's not dredge that ancient history up. Anyway, I can see in his eyes that he would literally crawl through hell for you." When she finally realized that Scully had stopped shaking, Kate removed the cloth from her eyes. She noticed that Dana was holding onto her sleeve.

Kate patted the hand with her own. "Go to sleep, Dana. Just relax. Everything is going to be fine."

Scully shook her head, eyes still closed. Her breathing was quivery and uneven but more normal than it had been ten minutes ago. It took her a long time to get out because she was still sniffling between breaths. "Kate. You're...my ... friend, too." She opened her eyes.

Kate wrinkled her eyebrows. "Well, of course I am."

Scully's eyes drifted closed. "Talk to him for me. Please. Tell him how hard it is for me. Make him understand. I know he wants to know all about those months, with William. I can give him everything else, Kate. Anything else. But those are my memories. I need to keep them close to me. But you tell him. For me. Give him your memories. Try to make him..."

Kate nodded simply. "Okay."

Scully squeezed Kate's hand. "Thank you." She dropped off finally.

When Kate walked out the bedroom door, Mulder was sitting in the hallway, with his back braced against the wall. Kate reached out her hand to help him up. "She's asleep. I know you'll want to check on her, though. Can I make myself at home in your kitchen? I'm starving. I haven't had dinner." She wandered down the hall without waiting for an answer. In the kitchen, she dug in the pantry and toasted some bread. Spreading it with butter, she shoved half of it in her mouth before pouring a glass of red wine. She whipped out her cell phone and hit redial. When the man answered, she said, "Hi. It's Kate. I hope you got my message earlier...." She sighed as she listened. "I know. Well, it's not like I stood you up so I could wash my hair. It really was an emergency..." She looked up to find Mulder in the doorway. Rolling her eyes, she cut the man on the phone off. "Okay, well, look. I have to go. What? No. I'm not going to apologize....that's okay; I don't want to reschedule the date." She flipped the phone shut. "Asshole," she muttered. Looking at Mulder, she talked with the other half of the bread slice in her mouth. "Beer or wine?"

He went to the fridge. "Beer." Twisting the top off, he took a swig and pressed the cold bottle to his head. "Sorry about your date."

Kate shrugged. "No big deal. He was a jerk, as it turns out. Better to know on the 2nd date than the 5th, huh?" She swallowed more wine. "Of course, Dana will owe me big time." She snagged a bag of wheat pretzels. "Come into the living room. I brought some stuff to show you."

Mulder followed her down the hall, noting that she wasn't too much taller than Scully. Tonight, her dark hair was more wavy than straight.

She dropped onto the sofa and patted the cushion next to her. "Sit. I had a feeling about this today, believe it or not." She was digging in the backpack she had brought with her. She pulled out a photo album and handed it to him.

Mulder opened the album. All pictures of William. His eyes were glued to them. The first page was how he remembered William from the few days he was with him. The next few pages showed a baby who still looked pretty much the same but was rapidly becoming more alert. There were lots of pictures of Scully with William, several of Kate with William, pictures of Scully's mom with the baby, pictures of William's Baptism, and there was actually a picture of Skinner holding William at three months looking rather uncomfortable. He looked again at the photo of William grinning at Kate that he remembered from Scully's box and pointed, "Tell me about this one."

Kate looked at it. "The day was gorgeous. I made Dana take him to the zoo, even though she balked at first, saying he was too little to know the difference. We had stopped in front of the elephants so that Dana could put her hair into a ponytail. He was starting to fuss, so I picked him up and started blowing raspberries on his chubby little cheeks. He laughed out loud for the first time."

This went on for over an hour, Mulder turning the pages back and forth, her telling him little stories when he asked for them. As he finally turned to the last page, he saw a disc there. "Is that what I think it is?"

She nodded as she picked up her empty wine glass. "Yeah. I was the worst kind of godmother. Always sticking a camera in his little face. Dana used to groan every time I pulled it out. In fact, that's probably why she had so few, you know. I was the designated memory keeper." She put the DVD into the slot and handed him the remote. "I'm going to let you watch this in private, okay?" She stopped on the threshold. "Oh, and Mulder? That whole album is yours to keep. I made it knowing Dana would want it one day. I have duplicates."

He looked up at her. "Thank you. For this – for the memories. I...didn't even know you were his godmother."

Kate shook her head. "Mulder, I get Dana. Believe it or not, she gets me, too. When you lose a child, for whatever reason, you do whatever it takes to keep yourself sane. So...don't worry. There is no debt here. I'll be in the kitchen."


Saturday 9:30 p.m.

When he walked back through the kitchen door, Kate was at the table working on her laptop. She looked up at him and smiled. "Hi."

He grabbed another beer from the fridge and leaned against the counter. "So...why do you think Scully freaked out?"

Kate rubbed the back of her neck. "Well...I wasn't here for the conversation, but I think it's obvious to anyone who knows her even remotely that Dana still has not really come to terms with giving William up. I think she still has mixed feelings about whether she did the right thing." She wrinkled her eyebrows. "Well, actually...I think she worries that she didn't do it for the right reasons."

Mulder tapped the side of his bottle. "See...that's what she was talking about. About how I didn't know what really happened, why she really did it."

Kate took a deep breath. "Look. I don't know how much she wanted me to tell you. Okay. So, when things got crazy with William...especially after the incident with Spender – I was out of town on business at the time, but Skinner called and said she had freaked out and was thinking of giving William up. He also said that he did believe they wouldn't just leave William alone. Anyway, long story short...Skinner was just trying to help. It tore his heart out, you know, to think of Dana giving that baby away? So...he offered her an alternative. He could arrange for her to take William and start over somewhere else...as someone else." She rubbed her forehead.

Comprehension dawned on Mulder. "Why do you think she didn't do it?"

Kate broke eye contact and looked away. "I don't know. Several reasons, I guess. Most of them probably boil down to fear, though. Fear of the unknown, fear that she still couldn't keep him safe, fear that she would no longer be herself, fear that they would still find her, and fear that...you wouldn't." She rubbed her eyes with both palms. "Mulder, it was a lose-lose situation. If she left with William, she may never see you again, not to mention her mom and brothers. If she gave him up, she may never be able to forgive herself – or worse – you'd never forgive her. It was a decision no woman should ever have to make alone. Anyway, I believe that Dana thinks that if she had been stronger, less afraid, maybe she would have made a different decision all those years ago. So...she spends every day trying to make up for it, trying to save every other child she can, living in fear that she made the wrong decision, and punishing herself for not being able to do things differently." Kate stood up and put her hand on his upper arm. "Knowing Dana, she's too afraid to let herself even think about wanting to keep this new baby....so, she's already convinced herself that it's impossible." She yawned.

Mulder stood there, lost in his own little world. Finally, he spoke. "This time, she won't have to make any decisions alone. I'll be right here the whole time."

Kate's eyes were watering from exhaustion. "Don't promise what you may not be able to deliver, Mulder. I think Dana is right about you. Your quest is the most important thing to you. Before you try to convince her that the heartache is over, you had better be damn sure that you aren't going to cause her more hurt." She sucked in a breath and shook her head to try to rouse herself. "Look, I'm beat. I have early rounds in the morning at two different hospitals in Richmond. I'm going to head out. Turn Dana's phone off. Let her sleep this off. Tell her that I will take care of her patients in the morning and to call me when she's up and moving." She rolled her eyes. "Oh, damn. Can you come out and deal with the gate for me? You need to get a keypad or remote and an automatic gate for that thing tomorrow."

He felt sorry for her. She looked way beyond tired. "You pack your stuff up. I'll get shoes and take you out to the gate."

Kate stretched and went in to check on Dana. Her forehead was cool, and she had thrown off the extra blanket. Satisfied that her friend was fine, she went out to the living room to wait for Mulder.

When Mulder came out of his office several minutes later, he found Kate dead to the world on their sofa. He tried to get her alert and awake, but she didn't budge. Exhausted himself, he threw a blanket over her and went back to the bed where Scully was now sleeping soundly on her back, her arm flung above her head. He crawled in beside her, hooked an arm around her waist, and pulled her close. Dropping a kiss on her cheek, he breathed in the scent that he always associated with her. Why couldn't she just let her guard down? Fifteen years later and she still hid her innermost feelings. He brushed the tear stains on her cheek with his thumb. Dana Scully. Master of making his heart pound since the early 1990's. She seemed really out of it, sleeping soundly. He put his hand under her shirt and spread his palm across her belly. He could swear the skin there felt warmer than anywhere else. Scooting down in the bed, he put his face to her tummy. "You're going to be Daddy's little girl. I just know it." He dropped a kiss there, then turned his cheek against the warm flesh.

Scully's hand came down and her fingers twirled at the nape of his neck. "Mulder," she murmured. "Love you."


Sunday, 11:00 a.m.

Scully sat up, realizing she must have slept for well over twelve hours. She heard someone in the kitchen, but she also thought she heard Mulder on the phone in his office. When she peeked in the kitchen doorway, she saw Kate pouring coffee into a mug. "Hi. Did you never leave?"

Kate wheeled around. "Good morning. Would you like some juice or something?"

Scully nodded. "Yeah. So have you been here all night?" She still felt groggy and disoriented.

Kate took a sip of the coffee. "Well, I did fall asleep on the sofa for a while, but I woke up around four this morning and drove to Richmond. I made rounds early this morning for both of us, so you could have the day off. Your patients are fine, by the way." She placed a glass of orange juice in front of Scully, along with a plate of toast and some honey. "That little Nathan kid is a piece of work, though. I swear he pinched my butt on my way out of his room."

Scully smiled. "That sounds about right. He's a trooper, for sure." She took a bite of toast and a sip of juice. Finally, she made eye contact with her friend. "I'm really sorry to take over your weekend. Did you, uh, talk to Mulder last night?"

Kate tucked a lock of hair behind her ear. "Yeah. I brought him all of the pictures and stuff I had of William." She looked up to see the tears sparkle in her friend's eyes. "Dana. You are killing me here. What can I do? Don't you know that I would never have let you give that baby up if I had thought you truly had a choice at the time?"

The tears spilled over. "Really? I always thought you would have done things differently."

Kate reached for Scully's hand. "Dana....I probably WOULD have done things differently. I'm a different person. But that doesn't mean that I would have done things better, you know."

Mulder walked through the doorway. "Hey. I thought I heard you. How do you feel?" The corner of his mouth lifted in a small smile as he reached out for her hand and pulled her up and against him.

Scully wrapped her arms around him. "I'm so sorry."

He lifted her off the ground. "Don't be. I'm just glad you're all right....that you and the baby are both all right." He kissed her cheek, her forehead, her palm before he let her go. "Listen, I've booked a trip – like we talked about before. For just the two of us. Kate has already said she'd make sure your patients were taken care of. I think Christian will be fine in your absence. I'm not taking no, Scully. You, me, sun, sand, and surf...ten days. We leave tomorrow morning."

She hugged him tightly. They could definitely get through this. "Okay."

He kissed her. "Okay."

Kate made a gagging sound. "Spare me, okay? I'm leaving soon. You can make out then."

Scully laughed as Mulder released her. "Kate's just jealous because she's not getting any these days."

Mulder cringed. "Scully, I'm sure Kate does not appreciate..."

Kate interrupted, shrugging. "It's true, actually. But it's my own fault. Since I refuse to put out on the first date..."

Scully nodded as she polished off her toast. "And since you can't seem to get any second much less third dates..."

Kate glared at her friend. "That's not true. I can get them. I just can't get them with men I actually want to have sex with."

Swallowing the rest of her juice, Scully asked, "What about that investment banker? I thought for sure you would sleep with him."

Kate rolled her green eyes. "Sleep is right. He was a snoozer."

Mulder looked at the two women curiously as he cracked open a sunflower seed. "I didn't think women talked about sex."

Both women raised their eyebrows. "That's a total myth," Kate said, finishing her coffee and rinsing the mug in the sink. "We may not think about it as much as men, but we talk about it a lot more. In fact, I know all about your coital strengths and weaknesses, Mulder."

Mulder glared at Scully. "See, I know you're lying because I don't HAVE any weaknesses, do I, Scully?"

Scully smiled at the look on his face. "Of course not." She looked back at her friend. "Kate, stop tormenting him."

Mulder flicked the back of Kate's head as he walked by. "See, I am the perfect male specimen. Stay for lunch. I'm cooking, as usual, and Skinner's coming out to clear up some details on this case I've been looking at."

Kate nodded. "I never pass up a meal that someone else has cooked. Oh, Dana, I have your patient files in my car. I knew you'd want to look at them before you leave. That way, you can tell me what you want me to do while you're gone. That's actually why I came back out here."

Scully looked grateful. "Can I take a quick shower first?"

"Sure."

A half hour later, Kate was lying on their bed, reading a journal article, while she waited for Dana to finish drying her hair. Mulder had run her out of the kitchen. Apparently, he did not like people watching him cook. It was like some kind of weird therapy for him, Scully told her. She heard a knock at the door, then Mulder yelling, "Can someone else get that?"

Kate rolled off the bed, pushing up the sleeves of her sweater. "I got it."

When she opened the door, Walter Skinner stared back at her. "Kate, what are you doing here?" He sounded annoyed.

Kate gave his cheek a pat. "Great to see you, too, Walter. Mulder's in the kitchen. Follow the smell." She wandered back to the master bedroom, still reading the article.

Mulder looked up as Skinner entered the kitchen. "Hey. Almost finished here. Have a seat."

Skinner crossed his arms. "What's she doing here?"

Mulder stared at him. "Who, Kate?" He shrugged. "She's going to fill in for Scully at the hospital this week – just like I told you earlier. What's the problem?"

Skinner shook his head. "You know how I asked if that other agent could stop by later? The one who was just recently assigned to me?"

Mulder nodded. "Yeah, so?"

"Well ...he's Kate's ex..."

Mulder looked at him expectantly. "Ex...what?

Skinner sighed. "Ex-husband. And I don't think she's going to be happy to see him, since I haven't told her yet that he's back in the area."

Mulder smirked. "Well...this is better than Dr. Phil. What time is the ex-husband scheduled to make an appearance?"

Skinner looked at his watch. "Not for about an hour." Peering into the pot Mulder was stirring, he asked, "When the hell did you learn to cook, Mulder?"

Mulder gave a wry laugh. "I've watched a lot of daytime television recently." Mulder yelled to the other room, "Scully...Kate...lunch is ready. Hurry up." He looked up as Scully came into the room, wearing jeans and a sweater, feet bare. She looked more relaxed than he'd seen her in ages. There was a sparkle in her eyes, and her cheeks were flushed.

She came around to the stove and peeked into the pots. "Ooh, smells great. Thanks for cooking." The top of her head didn't even come up to his shoulders without heels.

He leaned over and smelled her hair. "You know I don't mind. Can you butter the bread?"

She nodded, pushing red hair back off her face. "Sure. Hi, Walter. Help yourself to something to drink. There's tea, soda, water, wine, beer..."

Kate wandered back in to the kitchen. "Smells good, Mulder. If I had known you had this in you, I would not have had bread for dinner last night. I'll set the table." She grabbed a stack of dishes and went into the dining room.

After lunch, Kate made coffee. Scully declined, but Mulder and Skinner had a cup. "So, Walter, what's new with you?" Kate pulled a leg into her chair and wrapped an arm around her knee.

He sighed. "Well...I've been meaning to talk to you."

She raised her eyebrows. "Oh, yeah? About what?"

He took a deep breath. "Kate...Nic has been reassigned to one of my divisions at the Bureau."

She looked at him for a long time, a stunned look on her face. "Not...my Nic."

Skinner nodded. "Well...Agent Cruz requested to be transferred back to D.C. a while back, and I was informed last week that I would be his superior. I was going to tell you, Kate, but we haven't really talked lately. I hate to break it to you like this, but...he's coming here soon to talk with me and Mulder about a case..."

Kate jerked her head up. "He's coming here? Walter...how could you do this to me?"

He sighed, exasperated. "I didn't know you were going to be here today, Kate. I thought I could talk to you sometime this week...Look, I'm sorry. It's obvious this is bothering you more than I thought it would."

Kate shook her head defensively. "No. It doesn't bother me. I'm surprised. That's all. I just don't understand why you didn't tell me before now. And why does he have to be assigned to you?"

Scully interrupted. "Yeah, why couldn't you ask that he be assigned to another person?"

Skinner rubbed the back of his neck. "He's a good agent. You both know that."

Kate covered her mouth and looked down at her lap. "He's a great agent. He was even a great father...but he..."

Skinner blew out a breath. "Kate...I really am sorry. This has to be done. And it's time for you to deal with it."

She pushed away from the table and threw a killer look Skinner's way. "That's really not your place to say, Walter, now is it? Look...I'll clean the kitchen, Mulder. Lunch was wonderful. I just...I need a few minutes, okay?"

Scully glared at Skinner. "Kate...if you want to avoid him, you can go. I'll come to your house later..."

Kate shook her head. "No. Seriously. It's fine. I just...I need to take a walk." She threw on her coat and walked out the front door.

Scully narrowed her eyes. "Walter, you should have said something before this."

He rubbed his face. "I know. I just...it's been one thing after another these last couple of weeks."

Scully threw her napkin down on the table. "Still. Nothing should have been more important than this."

"I know, I know. I'll go out and talk to her." He stood up and slipped on his coat.

Mulder watched him catch up to the smaller woman on the path through the kitchen window. As his former boss reached out and grabbed Kate's hand, locking his fingers with hers, Mulder turned to Scully, stunned. "How close are Kate and Skinner?"

Scully slipped beneath his shoulder and looked out the window. "Pretty close, Mulder, why?"

He lifted his eyebrows. "Like sleep together close?"

She shook her head. "No way. Just...friends close. You know? He has always looked out for her."

Mulder moved his head slowly back and forth. He watched as Kate pulled away from Skinner and waved her hands around wildly. Skinner grabbed her shoulders. Kate closed her fists around his coat's lapel and pushed him away. She finally stopped fighting him and let him put his arms around her. Mulder watched as Kate composed herself and walked away from Skinner. He paid close attention to the way Skinner closed his eyes and clenched his jaw when she turned her back on him. Mulder looked at Scully. "No, Scully. They've been lovers."

She looked out the window. "Kate would have told me..." She sounded uncertain as her eyes tracked between Kate and Skinner, seeing something she'd never noticed before. "Well....maybe."

Mulder nodded. "Definitely." He heard a car door slam out front.

About the time Mulder and Scully reached the front door, they saw Kate round the corner of the house. The man who stepped out of the government-issue Ford and onto the front porch was tall and dark. Kate stopped in her tracks as Nic's eyes landed on hers. She glanced behind her, then at him again. He cocked his head to the side. "Kate? What are you doing here?"

She backed up a step as the man on the porch came back down the steps and walked towards her. "Nic," she finally managed breathlessly. "I'm...visiting a friend." Scully came out onto the porch, but Kate didn't hear her.

Nic seemed not to hear the front door open either. He advanced on Kate rapidly and drew her into his arms. Burying his face into her neck, he breathed deeply, opening his mouth against the skin there. "I've missed you," he muttered.

Scully watched as Kate went slack in his arms. She saw Skinner come around the corner just in time to get a glance of Nic Cruz trying to inhale Kate. Confused, Kate pulled away and looked into the brown eyes staring down at her. "Nic...I..."

He wrapped his arms around her tightly and lifted her off the ground. "Shut up, Kate. You can resume hating me later."

Kate closed her eyes and melted into the spot where she'd spent so many nights. As she was lifted off the ground, she felt him drop kisses on her face, her jaw, and her lips. Finally, he was still and placed his lips on her forehead. "Oh, God, Kate." He noticed the tear drop onto her cheeks. With one thumb, he wiped it away. Kate almost never cried. "It's okay, baby."

She pulled away. "Don't call me that. You don't get to call me that."

He leaned forward to speak into her ear. "You will always be my baby." He took her wrist and kissed the inside of it. Dropping Kate's arm, he noticed Skinner at the corner of the house. "Good afternoon, sir." He looked back into the eyes whose depths he once knew so well. "We'll talk later, okay?" He turned around and finally noticed the two people on the porch. He stuck his hand out to Mulder. "Nic Cruz."

Mulder shook his hand in return. "Fox Mulder. This is Dana Scully." Scully nodded at him and shook his hand. "Let's go into my office," Mulder suggested.

Skinner stopped beside Kate. "Are you okay?"

She nodded slowly. "Just go away."

He touched her cheek. "You don't know how sorry I am."

She turned her lips into Skinner's hand. "I have an idea," she muttered shakily.

He looked up to make sure the other two men were inside the house. His eyes caught Scully's, but he deliberately looked away and back at Kate. "You never loved me like that, Kate. No matter what he put you through, you know that's true."

She leaned back against the house. "Just go, Walter. Please. I can't handle any more today." As he walked away, she called him back. "Walter?"

He stopped and looked at her eyes. "Yes?"

"I couldn't love you like that. I'd lost too much by the time we..." she trailed off, then looked up again. "But I did love you; I do."

He walked back to her and kissed her cheek. "I know. I understand." He traced her cheek with his palm.

She let out a huge breath as he let her go and walked back up the steps to the house.

He passed Scully on the stairs. "You make sure she's taken care of."

Scully saw the depth of the hurt in his eyes. "You know I will." He opened the door and disappeared into the house. She watched her friend lean heavily against the outer wall of the house. "Ah, damn it, Kate. Why didn't you tell me?"

Kate wrapped her arms around herself. "I don't know, Dana." Scully started to laugh the more she thought about it. "I really haven't slept with him recently," Kate said sincerely, stifling a laugh herself now.

Scully laughed harder. "I believe you." She sniffed. "It's freezing out here. Let's go inside."

Kate followed Scully inside. "I know you have a thousand questions, but you know you owe me a reprieve on this. I talked to Mulder for almost two hours last night for you."

Scully shed her winter boots by the front door. "I know. I guess you can call us even."

Kate laughed dryly. "Okay. We're even."

Scully dropped down onto the sofa and pulled the blanket there up to cover herself. "Wait, no. I take that back. We are not even. Talking to Mulder for me doesn't even come close to cancelling out the fact that you slept with Skinner and never told me."

Kate fell into the armchair and slouched down. "Dana...I am really sorry. It just...it felt too weird. I didn't want to make things awkward."

Scully dragged her patient files into her lap and started sorting through them. "When did it happen?"

Kate knew she wasn't going to let this go. "A long time ago, Dana. It's ancient history now."

Scully pressed. "When, Kate?"

Kate sighed deeply. "During the investigation."

Scully looked at her incredulously. "Ten years ago? You had an affair with Skinner almost ten years ago and never thought to mention it?"

Kate rubbed her temples. "You have to understand. Nic and I had split up not even a year before. I had lost custody of my daughter. Then she vanishes. Seemingly into thin air, right out of Nic's parents' house. I was a basket case. And Walter was there. He was brought in as the ASAC because the case was so high profile and because she was the daughter of another agent. I would not have survived those weeks without him. Besides, I didn't even really know you then. Why would I have told you? And it wasn't an affair."

Scully shook her head. "So...when you moved back here...you've been just friends these past eight years?"

Kate shrugged. "Dana, it's...complicated."

"Spill it, Kate. How long did you sleep with him?"

Kate chewed on her bottom lip. "We never really stopped, okay?"

Scully's eyes widened. "You HAVE to be kidding me. You've been screwing Skinner the whole time? So, what, do you just sleep together when neither of you is seeing other people?" Kate threw a pillow at her. "Oh my God. Keep your voice down, would you? I haven't even really dated anyone else until the past several months."

Scully batted her eyes trying to process this, remembering that Kate had started dating in strange spurts about six months ago. "So what happened back last summer?"

Kate shook her head. "Dana, please. Some things are too private."

Scully shook her head adamantly. "Bullshit, Kate. Tell me."

Kate debated. Did it really matter now? "About a year ago, I found out I was pregnant. Can you imagine? It was totally unexpected. I was completely bowled over. But Walter was...I can't even describe it. I've never seen him so out of sorts. He did NOT want that baby, Dana. I wasn't even sure I did. He just...shut down." She looked at her friend's disbelief. "I didn't hear from him for almost a month after I told him. I was actually just getting ready to tell you, but you got called out of town, remember? To give that lecture in Philadelphia? Anyway, I had a miscarriage. It was fairly early in the pregnancy, so it wasn't really bad. That was a Thursday night. Sunday, Walter shows up at my door. He's all jittery. Can't sit still. Tells me he just doesn't think he can be a dad. But that he'll try – if he has to. I could tell he was beside himself. The way he said it really upset me, though, but I kind of let it go. Anyway, after that, I just figured that we shouldn't be sleeping together if we weren't that committed."

Scully looked at her a long time. "You could have told me you were seeing him. You know I wouldn't have judged."

Kate nodded. "I know. I just...Dana, he was my compartment. Does that make sense? The way you have to compartmentalize some things? That's what Walter was to me. He is STILL my friend. He will always be my friend. I've gone to some Bureau functions with him over the past several years; you've always known that. He was there for me on nights I just couldn't stand to be alone. Neither of us could handle a real relationship with expectations during those first few years. There were no strings attached. I never expected anything from him. And I honestly wouldn't have expected him to take part in that baby's life if he wasn't comfortable with it. Things feel strange even now, though. When we're alone, it's awkward. But we're getting better again. Or at least, we were before this."

Scully bit her lip. "Huh. So...what was the sex like? Was it good?"

Kate felt a little awkward, then laughed it off. "Dana...I didn't look elsewhere for eight years. What does that tell you?"

Scully looked back down at her patient files. "Well, then." They heard the door to Mulder's office open.

Nic came down the hallway and stood in the doorway. "It was nice meeting you, Dana. Kate, would you mind walking me out?"

She wrinkled her brow. "Nic...it's cold out there. If you're living in D.C., we can talk any time."

He gave her a look that said he didn't believe her. "Just come sit in the car with me. Don't make me beg."

Kate met his eyes with hers. "Fine."

Scully watched as he helped her with her coat and put a hand at the small of her back. She went back to her files when she heard two car doors slam.

She glanced up as Skinner came into the room. "Mulder's making a couple of calls." He shoved his hands into his pockets and walked over to the window.

Scully studied his face while he stared outside. She knew that he could probably see Nic's car from where he stood. She couldn't help but notice the muscle tensing in his neck. "Did she tell you everything?" Scully jumped at the sound of his voice.

"Enough to know that this probably isn't easy for you either."

He shook his head. "Did she tell you...about the baby?"

Scully nodded. "Yeah."

He sighed. "Weird to think I could have been a first time father at my age." He rocked back on his heels. "I blew that, Dana. I was so shell-shocked that I handled it all wrong."

Scully shook her head. "Walter...Kate seems fine about it. Really. Don't beat yourself up."

He was quiet for several minutes. "It's just..." He trailed off.

Scully lifted her eyebrows. "What?"

He dragged his eyes away from the window, glanced at Scully, then away again. "Did she tell you that I asked her to marry me? She must have thought I was a complete idiot. I had agonized over that decision for a month, you know. I felt like...she'd been through so much else alone; there was no reason for her to raise that baby alone. I even bought her a ring. I never even returned it. It's still in a drawer at my condo." He paused. "I don't even know why I'm telling you this."

Now that she wasn't expecting. Funny how Kate had conveniently left that part out. Scully looked up as Mulder came to the door. She waved him away. "What did she say when you asked her?"

Skinner worked his jaw. "Basically, she said she'd had a miscarriage, so I was off the hook. And she said that she would never get married just because of a baby." He looked Scully in the eye. "I know it has all worked out for the best. I'm more than fifteen years older than her. But at the time, I had convinced myself that what we had together could be enough for her." He gestured towards the car in the driveway. "She never looked at me that way."

Scully stood up and put her hand on his arm. "Walter, you don't want her to ever look at you the way she looks at him. The emotion in her eyes isn't just great passion; there is a wealth of pain behind the way she looks at him. He was her first great love. And he broke her heart. He broke her heart long before his family broke it again by taking her daughter away from her." She paused for a moment. "If you miss her so much, why'd you let her go?"

He shrugged. "I don't guess I even realized how much I miss her until I saw her look at him. Obviously, she didn't feel like we had much of a relationship. You're probably her best friend, and she never even told you. What does that tell you?"

Scully shook her head. "It tells me that you probably mattered to her a whole lot more than she let on. Kate is open about everything except what's closest to her heart." She patted his arm again and walked away.

He called her back. "Scully? Please don't tell her about this conversation. Just...don't."

Scully walked into Mulder's office. He was bouncing a tennis ball off of the wall. "Hey."

He cut his eyes at her. "It's like a 90210 midlife crisis around here."

She laughed. "Tell me about it." She rubbed a knuckle under her eye. "At least we're normal."

He jumped out of the chair quickly, shoving it back. Catching her off guard, he grabbed her around the waist and pulled her up against him. "Dana. Katherine. Scully. NEVER call me that again." He didn't bother to remind her that last night she was distraught because they weren't normal. He kissed her neck quickly.

She smacked his forehead with her palm when he dropped his hands to her butt. "Come on, Spooky. Let's see if we clear this drama out of our house."


Sunday, 3:00 p.m.

Kate closed the front door behind her and went to the kitchen to do the dishes as she had promised. Skinner came in as she was loading the last plate into the dishwasher. He offered to dry as she started hand washing the larger cookware. The silence was awkward. He hadn't realized how easily they made conversation until it was suddenly missing.

Finally, he couldn't take it anymore. "Cruz seemed really glad to see you."

Kate shrugged. "I guess."

Skinner looked over at her. "Was it hard seeing him?"

Kate wrinkled her nose. "I don't know. Maybe not as hard as I thought it would be." She handed him the last of the dishes and dried her hands.

Skinner could tell she wasn't going to talk much. She started gathering her things from the table where she had worked that morning and began stuffing them into her laptop bag. She bumped into Scully going out of the kitchen. "Hey. I have to go. Are your files ready for me?"

Scully nodded. "Yeah, I'll get them." She returned moments later. "Thanks again for doing this, Kate. Are you sure you're okay?"

Nodding, Kate shoved the stack of files into her bag. "Yeah. Just tired. Plus, I have to stop by my office for a couple of hours. Have fun and call me when you guys get back."

Mulder came to the front door. "Here are extra keys to the house and gate. Remember that you only need to come once to water the plants."

"Got it."

Skinner walked her out, opening the car door for her. "Do you think maybe we could get together Wednesday evening and you look at a case for me?"

She shook her head. "I'm not sure where I'll be this Wednesday, but I'll try. I have a pretty packed week. Can I call and let you know Wednesday afternoon if I'm in Washington?"

He nodded. "Yeah, sure." As he watched her drive away, he knew that she was distancing herself from him.


Wednesday, 8:40 p.m.

Kate sat down at a quiet booth and sipped a sweet tea while she waited for her order to be ready. She looked up as a shadow came across her. "May I join you for a minute?" Nic asked when she made eye contact.

He sat down opposite her without waiting for a response. "I'm just getting something to go," she told him. "I can't eat any more hospital food this week."

He studied her face. There were dark smudges under her eyes. "You look exhausted, Kate."

She nodded. "I am. Some weeks are crazier than others." She changed the subject. "How's your caseload shaping up these days?"

For a few minutes, she watched him talk to her. She had always loved the way his mouth formed his words. When a woman brought over both of their orders, Kate stood. "It was nice seeing you, Nic."

He followed her out and was surprised when she headed in the same direction as the Hoover building. He trailed her all the way there, perplexed to see her disappear into the building. He heard her tell the security guard she was there to see Walter Skinner. The guard nodded at her and addressed her by name. "He's expecting you, Dr. Carter."

She corrected him. "Just Kate, Tom, remember? Thanks. How are those boys these days?"

When she rounded the corner, she saw Skinner heading towards the elevator. "Hey," she called to get his attention. "I haven't had time for dinner yet. I brought enough for two. Can we eat in your office, then I'll look at that file for you?"

He smiled a little, glad to see her. "Sure. I was just on my way back up there."

In his office, she kicked off her shoes and spread the food out on the conference table there. He rolled up his sleeves and sat at the head of the table near her. "Chinese. I should have guessed."

She shrugged. "When you buy, you pick." After eating all of her sesame chicken and noodles, she glanced at his food. "Can I have your egg roll?" Without waiting for a response, she snagged the egg roll from his plate, then stuck her feet out and propped them in his lap. He had always liked the way she did that when they were just sitting and talking.

"Make yourself at home," he teased.

She smiled a little sadly. "Sorry. My feet are killing me. I have worked three 16 hour days in a row." She started to remove them from his lap.

He reached down and held the small feet. "I was kidding, Kate. Leave them." As she opened the case file he needed a consult on and began to read, he started to rub her feet through the thin socks.

She groaned. "Oh, you do that for ten minutes, and I won't even charge you for this consult. Can you take the socks off and rub them?"

He looked hesitant.

"Please, Walter? No one has rubbed my feet in...geez, since the last time you did." On nights when he used to come to her place, he would almost always sit on her sofa watching the eleven o'clock news and she would stretch out to read medical journals with her feet in his lap. If she dug her toes into his thigh long enough, he would finally get a clue and rub them.

They talked about the case for a long time, and she made some notes for him. Finally, she closed the folder and leaned her head back against the headrest. He resumed the foot rub from earlier.

"Sorry to have you out so late. I know you should be home in bed and that you probably have to leave the house by six in the morning."

She moaned again. "By five. But this has been worth it. Believe me. Tell me about your week. Anything exciting?"

From the doorway, they heard, "Excuse me, sir..." the voice trailed off.

Kate opened her eyes at the sound of Nic's voice.

Skinner stopped the foot rub. "Yes, Agent Cruz?"

Nic cleared his throat, unsure of what to make of the situation in front of him. "I have that report you wanted. Do you have a few minutes to go through it?"

Slowly, Kate withdrew her feet from Skinner's lap so he could stand up. She started putting her socks and shoes back on. "Walter, I need to get going anyway."

He shook his head, his eyes pleading with hers. "If you wait a few minutes, I'm leaving, too. I'll walk you to your car. Give us five minutes."

Kate's phone rang then. She dug it out of her coat pocket. "Kate Carter...oh, hey, Dana...is everything okay?" She listened for a minute, then laughed. She stepped out into the receptionist's area to tune out the sound of Skinner and Nic talking. "I haven't been out to the house yet. I'm planning to go Friday evening or Saturday morning." They talked for a few more minutes. "I'm so glad you're feeling well and relaxed, Day. So, any reason you called?" She paused to listen. "Well, I'm at the Bureau now. Hang on, I'll ask."

She stuck her head back inside the door to Skinner's office and put her hand over the mouthpiece. "Walter, Dana's on the phone. She said Mulder's been uneasy and wants to make sure nothing strange is going on."

Skinner gave her a funny look. "Tell Mulder that everything has settled down nicely and that I will let him know if anything strange happens."

After relaying the message and hanging up, she started cleaning up the Chinese takeout. She ate hers and Skinner's fortune cookies. Finally, she couldn't stand it anymore. "Walter, I'm exhausted. I'll just call to let you know I made it home, okay?" She stopped at the door. "See you soon. Thanks for the foot rub. Goodbye, Nic."

Nic stared after her as she left. Finally, he made eye contact with his superior. "I didn't realize you knew my wife so well."

Skinner gave him a long, stony look. "I didn't realize my personal life or that of your EX-wife was any of your damn business, Agent Cruz."


Thursday, 11:21 p.m.

A knock at Kate's door startled her just as she was going to crawl into bed. She made her way downstairs to the door and looked out the peephole. When she saw who was there, she opened the door immediately. "Walter? What are you doing here?"

He had his hands in his pockets. "Can I come in?" He followed her through her brownstone. He noticed she was dressed in pajama pants and a t-shirt, hair all tousled. "Did I get you out of bed?"

She shook her head and fell across the sofa. "Nah. I was just about to get into bed, though." She yawned. "Sorry. I'm dragging this week. So, tell me what's up."

He shrugged and walked the length of the room. "I just...I haven't been sleeping." He noticed her eyes closing again as she pulled the blanket from the sofa around her. "You're too tired. I'm going."

She shook her head. "No. Tell me why you can't sleep? Nightmares?"

"No. I just can't fall asleep and stay that way. You know how I get." He sat on the end of her sofa and pulled her feet over into his lap. He smiled at the thick wool socks she always wore at night in the winter.

She couldn't really relate because she never had trouble sleeping at night, but he had always had trouble sleeping. That was what had brought him to her door a lot of nights...he had always been able to sleep at her place. She stood up and tugged his hand. "Why don't you sleep here tonight?"

He was unsure. "I didn't come here looking for an invitation."

She tugged again. "Shower. Then bed. Your pajama bottoms are still in the drawer."

Fifteen minutes later, she could feel him standing by her bed. "I'll sleep in the guest room, Kate."

She drew the covers back on what she considered his side of the bed. "That's stupid. You know you won't sleep well in there. Get in bed, Walter."

He could just make out her face. "You're sure? I don't want you to be uncomfortable."

She opened her eyes. "Get in the damn bed. I'm too tired to think tonight." She felt him slip into bed, carefully trying to stay on his side. After a couple of minutes of feeling his tension, she rolled towards him. He was facing away from her. She scooted towards him and twined her warm socked feet with his bare cold ones. "I had this little boy come through the other day – nine years old. He said he wanted to be an FBI agent when he grew up. I told him my best friend was an FBI agent. He's hoping for your autograph the next time he comes in. Can you put together a kit for him or something?"

Grateful to her for making him feel more comfortable, he shifted to his back and put a hand on her thigh. "I've missed you," he whispered so quietly she could barely hear him.

She knew he slept best with one hand touching her. She wrapped her hand around his upper arm to let him know the contact was okay. "I've missed you, too."


Friday, 4:30 a.m.

Kate woke slowly. As she became aware of her surroundings, she felt the warm hand on her lower stomach. She hated to move and wake him up. Through the years, he had rarely touched her outside of the bedroom other than to rub her feet. But in the bedroom, even while sleeping, it was like he needed human touch to relax.

Debating whether she needed to get up or could lie there until five, she heard a phone vibrating. It was coming from his pants in the chair. Slipping out of bed, she pulled it out of his pocket. She did not recognize the number. She nudged him gently. "Walter? Phone."

He rolled over groggily. "Answer it."

She pressed the connect button. "Hello?"

There was silence, and then, "I'm looking for Walter Skinner. Is this not his number?" The gravelly voice sounded vaguely familiar to Kate, but she couldn't place it.

"It is. Hold on." Kate covered the mouthpiece, "Walter. Phone." He still didn't move. "Can I have him call you back?"

The man spoke again, and this time she recognized the voice immediately. "Yeah. This is John Doggett. Can you have him call me as soon as possible? Tell him I've stumbled onto a case that I really need to talk to him about."

"Hang on." Her heart did a funny little beat. What would Doggett be calling about? He didn't even work in D.C. anymore. She covered the mouthpiece again. "Walter. It's John Doggett on the phone." That had him up and moving immediately.

When he hung up, she was out of the shower and putting on makeup. "What is it?" she asked him.

"Doggett got a call about a couple found burned to death in their home. Problem is that the house does not show signs of fire. And the couple's young son is missing. He said there was something about the photos that weirded him out."

She paused in applying eyeliner and lifted her eyebrows to him in the mirror. "Weirded him out? He didn't get over that after all that time he spent on the x-files?"

Skinner worked his jaw as he finished putting on his belt. "That's what freaked him out. Said the bodies of the adults looked like an x-file he remembered." After putting his weapon in its holster, he leaned against the doorway. "Kate. Thanks for letting me stay." He watched her in the mirror. He had always liked lingering around the bathroom in the mornings to watch her get ready for work. It was something he had paid no attention to when he had been married. He was almost always out the door before Sharon was even in the shower.

She smiled at him after hastily putting on her mascara. "You needed the sleep."

"I have to go. Doggett booked a flight for me. He said he really thought I should come out there."

She nodded. "Walter, I have a funny feeling about this. Will you call me later?"

He nodded back at her. He had the same feeling. "I will."

As he walked out of the bathroom, she called him back. "Wait. Where are you headed, just so I'll know?"

He looked down at her. "I'm meeting Doggett somewhere in Wyoming."

She straightened his tie and smoothed it. "Just be careful, please."


Friday, 1:15 p.m.

Kate rounded the corner of the hospital to put Scully's patient charts back. Only two were still in the hospital. She was relieved to see Skinner's name pop up on her caller ID when it rang. "Hi," she answered.

"Hey." His voice sounded crackly and far away.

Anxious, she asked, "What's going on there?"

She heard Doggett's voice in the background, and then heard Skinner say. "Kate. The kid who's missing from here? It turns out he was adopted."

She felt the hair on the back of her neck stand up. "How old?"

Skinner knew she had already made the same leap that had Doggett dragging him out of bed that morning. "Almost seven. We're trying to get the adoption records now."

Kate licked her lips. "I have a friend I can call. Give me the couple's info." She paused to write it down. "Walter, don't call Mulder until you're sure."

He was on the same page. "Glad to hear your say that. Doggett wanted to call him in earlier. He said if it were his son..."

She shook her head. "No. I agree. You should wait until you're sure."

"Kate, listen to me. Don't go out to their house yet. I'm nervous about this. There's been a similar incident at a research facility in San Diego. I have people checking into it now. There are no reports of children missing, but there are several bodies burned the same way as these and no damage to the rest of the facility." He paused. "You need to be careful. Where are you?"

"I'm at the hospital in Richmond but about to head back and go to my office."

"I'm going to have an agent meet you at your office. As soon as we confirm the identity of this little boy, we'll regroup."

She hung up and walked quickly out of the hospital to her car.

When she got to her D.C. office a couple of hours later, she made the phone call she'd promised Skinner. Ten minutes later, she heard someone at the front door and went to check. She opened the door to let him in. "What are you doing here?"

"Skinner sent me," Nic told her.

Kate sucked on her lower lip, not exactly thrilled with Skinner's choice. Her phone rang back. She listened for a moment, closing her eyes in disbelief. She called Skinner immediately. "Walter. My friend just verified who the Van de Kamp's son was. I can forward you the adoption file by email. You're going to have to call Mulder."

Skinner blew out a breath. "Did Cruz show up?"

"Yes. What were you thinking?" she demanded.

There was a short silence. "That I wanted the person I knew would protect you no matter what. Put him on the phone, please."

She handed the phone to Nic, disgusted. "Sir?"

"Cruz, don't let her out of your sight. She's supposed to go out to Mulder's house tonight, so you can look around then and make sure no one has been there. Call me if there's anything suspicious. If anything happens to her, you're a dead man."

Cruz turned his back to Kate. "We'll be fine, sir. Is there anywhere I shouldn't let her go?"

Skinner barked out a half laugh. "Cruz, if you can stop that woman from doing something she has set her mind on, please let me know how it's done."


Friday, 6:15 p.m.

On the way out to Mulder and Scully's house, Nic tried to make conversation with Kate as she drove. She seemed to be in her own little world, though. And she drove the rural roads way too fast for his taste. She'd always driven like a maniac. Finally, she spoke up. ""It will kill Dana if they don't find him."

Nic looked at her for a long moment. "People can survive more than we think they can. We never found Emma and you survived."

Kate sucked in a breath and glanced at him. "Sure. I survived. That doesn't mean that every day when I open my eyes, I don't remember all over again and hope that today's the day something gives besides my sanity."

Nic reached across the seat and touched her shoulder. "You were so angry with me when it happened, Kate. I couldn't get close enough to you to find out how you really were. I know you probably don't believe me, but I worried about you all the time back then."

She flashed him a dangerous look, momentarily taking her eyes off the road. "Why didn't you worry about me when you were having that affair? Why didn't you worry about me when your parents were suing me for custody of our daughter?" She was trying hard to hold on to her composure. Pulling herself back together, she started over. "Nic. I have worked very hard not to be angry anymore, to try to understand some of this from your point of view. But I don't think this is something I want to talk about with you."

He sighed. "Kate, normal people talk through things, not avoid each other for ten years."

"I don't want to be normal," she told him.

He kept staring at her, his eyes burning holes in the side of her head. "She was my daughter, too, Kate. You left town after the search was called off without even saying goodbye, and I never heard from you again. How do you think I felt?"

Tears sparkled in her eyes as she turned onto the long driveway and stopped at the gate. Both hands were gripping the wheel tightly. "At the time, Nic, I was lucky to get through a day. At first, I channeled all of my energy into searching for her. Later, I channeled it all into just surviving. You were too painful for me. I couldn't remember us before Emma. I was too young and too ambitious, right? Isn't that what your parents said about me? Oddly enough, they were right. Only not about being a mother. Maybe I wasn't home as much as some because I was trying to finish a residency, but I was a great mother. What I was too young for was being your wife. I know I wasn't a good wife. But I loved you, and I loved Emma. Christ, Nic. All I wanted was you, our daughter, and my career. I never imagined I would end up with only one out of three. The problem was that a third of me wasn't enough for you. You wanted a perfect wife waiting at home for you when you came home from a tough case. You knew that wasn't who I was when we met." The anger in her voice was escalating.

He gave her an incredulous look. "Kate, at the end of our marriage, I would have been thrilled if you had given me a tenth of yourself, much less a third. You took a residency halfway across the country."

She threw her head back. "It wouldn't have been forever, Nic. Why couldn't you see that?" She got out of the car to unlock the gate.

He got out of the car as well and grabbed her by the arms. "I see it now. I screwed up back then. It wasn't even an affair, Kate. It was a one night stand. Haven't I paid dearly for it?"

She tried to escape his grasp, but his fingers were digging into her arms. "But haven't I as well? Your parents wouldn't have taken my daughter as long as we were married." She looked at the stunned expression in his liquid brown eyes. "And you are hurting my arms."

He still wouldn't let her go, but he loosened his grip. "You divorced me, Kate. I screwed up, but I didn't want that divorce."

She shook her head. He was so close to her. Her body still responded to him like it did when she was twenty-one and they had first met, and she hated it for betraying her. She swallowed hard. "It wouldn't have worked, Nic."

Leaning down as if to kiss her, he whispered against her lips, "I guess we'll never know, will we?"

Breathing hard and trying not to let her tears spill over, she shoved away from him and got back into the car.

After Kate assured him that everything looked in order inside the house and he had checked out every room carefully, he went outside to sweep the area. Kate was just coming out of the bathroom when the house phone rang. She didn't answer, but it rang again immediately. This time, she picked it up. "Hello?"

A quiet male voice startled her. "Is this Dr. Carter?"

Perplexed, she answered, "Yes."

The voice spoke quickly. "Dr. Carter, I have information I need you to get to Mulder and Scully. I can't wait around for them to come home. Can you come into the diner down on Hwy 12 when you leave? I'll be waiting there. Don't tell anyone. Not even the man you're with right now. It's really important."

She stared down at the phone as he hung up. There was something about that voice. She knew it from somewhere. Why couldn't she place voices today? She rubbed her face with her hands. This day had been so long already. Kate knew she was taking a chance, but she couldn't help it. Some instinct told her to do it.

Fifteen minutes later, she pulled into the diner. "I need coffee; can I get you anything?"

Nic shook his head. "No. I'm going to call Skinner."

Kate walked in and looked around. The place was almost empty, but she saw a guy peeking around the corner of where the restrooms were. Nervously, she walked that way. When she got closer, she recognized the face.

She followed him into the bathroom, where he locked the door behind them. "Oh, my God. Gibson?" Kate, astonished to see him, hugged him. "You are supposed to be in hiding."

He nodded. "I was. I am. Listen, I have a, um, package I need you to get to Scully and Mulder. I can't wait for them to get back, and I need to move quickly."

She looked around, not seeing a package. "Where is it?"

He shook his head. "I can't give it to you here. I need you to meet me later. You can't bring that man who's with you. I don't think we can trust him completely. You have to get rid of him. I know you're worried, but I swear you can trust me. I wouldn't do this to you if I could think of another way. But more than my life depends on this, Dr. Carter." He slipped her a piece of paper. She went back out of the bathroom and ordered coffee. Gibson never came out. Outside, Nic was still on the phone. She pulled out of the parking lot and drove home. Once inside, she went to her bathroom and read the note. There was an address and the time 11:00 p.m. How was she going to shake Nic by then? Okay. She had to formulate a plan. And she really didn't think she should go alone tonight. She took out her cell phone and made a call.


Friday, 6:42 p.m.

Mulder glanced at Scully as she hoisted her bag onto her shoulder and prepared to board the connecting flight in Miami. She had been silent much of the time since Skinner had called. The days on the island had been perfect, and he hated that it had to end this way.

As she walked through the terminal, he put his hand on her back. "Scully, you don't have to go to Wyoming. I don't want you to put the baby in danger. Skinner, Doggett, and I can handle this."

She gave him a steely look. "Mulder, my son is missing. The only parents he has ever really known are dead. Do you think I can just sit back and wait for news?"

He had always known that the only thing that could get her to reinvest in this fight was William. "No, of course not. But there are things that can be done from home, Scully. I'm worried about you doing all of this while you're pregnant."

She lifted both eyebrows at him. "Mulder, I chased aliens for you while I was pregnant with William. I will chase them again now for him if I have to. End of discussion."

The fear in her eyes was unmistakable; Mulder could even hear it in her voice. He reached over and gripped her hand tightly. "We will find him," he insisted softly. "I will not stop until we find him."

She squeezed his hand in return, one tear making its way down her cheek. "I know you won't."


Friday, 9:30 p.m.

Kate glared at Nic as she walked from her kitchen through the living area. "Can't you stand guard outside the door?"

He flipped the channel on the television. "No." She sat down on the sofa. "Why would anyone come here anyhow? This doesn't even make sense. I never even worked for the damn FBI." She was very antsy. She had tried to call Skinner, hoping she could convince him to send Nic packing. She stood up and started pacing again. Her phone rang, breaking the spell. She opened it quickly. "Kate Carter....Walter, hi. Are you okay? What's happening there?" She listened for about a minute. "Did Mulder say how Dana was?"

"Silent," he told her.

She nodded. "That sounds about right. Are they coming straight there?" They talked for a few more minutes, then he asked, "Is everything okay there with Cruz? You sound kind of funny."

She sniffed and walked into her bedroom. "Walter, I want him out of my house. I don't want him here. There's no need for it. Call him off."

She heard him sigh. "Kate, please humor me for tonight at least."

Kate knew he'd had a long, rotten day, but hers hadn't been great either, she didn't have much time...and she was itching to pick a fight, especially if it helped get Nic out of her house. "Christ, Walter. How about you humor me for a change? You send me all of these mixed signals. Last night, you show up here, but then you throw my ex-husband in my house for the night. You can't have it both ways, you know. We're either just friends or we're something more. I'm tired, Walter, and more than that, I'm tired of being alone."

There was silence on the other end of the line. She knew he must be confused. The whole thing was out of character for their relationship. She held her breath, hoping there may be a spark of jealousy in him somewhere and he'd make Nic Cruz get out. But of course not....Walter Skinner would never behave emotionally. Finally, he said, "I can tell you aren't feeling reasonable tonight, Kate. Please just stay put and let's talk tomorrow."

"Reasonable? I'm tired of being reasonable, Walter. I've been reasonable for the past eight years with you and look where it's gotten me." She flipped her phone shut and threw it down on the bed. She hoped Nic had overheard the conversation. That would make him less suspicious about what she was about to do. Walking back into the living room, she could tell by his face that he had been listening.

"Since it looks like we're stuck together for the night, care to have a drink?" Kate poured herself a glass of wine. "What would you like?"

Nic shook his head. "Nothing."

Kate narrowed her eyes at him. "I'm trying to be civil, Nic. I want you to have a drink with me." In the kitchen, she poured him a scotch, which he had always liked. Stirring in the contents of a capsule, she took both her wine and his drink back to the sofa.

He looked warily at her as she sipped her drink. "So...you and Skinner?"

She waved her hand dismissively. "We're just friends."

He took a swallow of his drink. "Really? He seems a little possessive of you."

She licked her lips slowly. "He's... a good friend." She tilted her head back and closed her eyes, watching him finish his drink from beneath her lashes. "The thing is, Nic, I don't need a friend right now."

He swallowed hard. "No?"

She shook her head. "No." She stood up and started to unbutton her shirt. She watched his eyes go dark with desire.

He looked at her body as she threw the shirt in lap and stepped out of her slacks next, leaving herself bare except for bra and panties. "Kate. Stop. This isn't you." He felt lightheaded.

She took his hand and led him slowly up the stairs. "I'm not the same person I was ten years ago, Nic. I know how to ask for what I need now. And tonight, I need you to make love to me."

She stripped him out of his clothes slowly, trying to buy time for the pill to take effect. Leaving him in just his underwear, she pushed him down on her bed. Stretching out beside him, she propped herself up and watched him fight to keep his eyes open. She dropped a kiss on his chest, then injected his arm with a sedative she had prepared. The liquid going into his arm barely affected the haze he was in from the pill and the desire. She looked longingly at the body before her. How unfair. Two different men in her bed on two consecutive nights and she still hadn't had sex in a year. She sighed as he passed out completely. He would be pissed when he came to, but at least he was tucked into a nice, comfortable bed.

She threw on her clothes and unbolted the front door. Monica Reyes was waiting for her down the street a ways. Kate headed for her car. "Can you drive? I'm afraid they'll start looking for my car if Nic wakes up."

Monica nodded. "I had almost given up on you getting out of there."

Kate put on her seat belt and straightened the collar of her shirt. "Tell me about it."

Monica asked, "So...how did you get away from him?"

Kate smiled. "I drugged him and seduced him."

The other woman lifted her dark eyebrows. "In that order?"

Kate rolled her eyes as they stopped for a traffic light. "You know what I mean. He passed out before I had to put out."

Reyes made a tsking sound. "Were you prepared to put out if he hadn't passed out?"

Kate looked at the directions in her hand. "Hell, yeah. You be sure to tell Dana how far I was willing to go for her. Get on the freeway here, heading south."

Laughing a little as she took the exit, Monica retorted, "Yeah. You're a great friend."

They were silent for a couple of minutes, then Monica spoke up. "So...how much trouble are you about to get me in?"

Kate told her the whole story so far. When she fell silent again, the female agent pursed her lips. "How did John hear about this case?"

Kate shook her head. "I have no idea, Monica. I haven't talked to him. Are you two still on the outs?"

Monica gave a wry smile. "I guess that's one way to say it. I haven't seen him in almost a year."

"Wow. Really? Oh, take the next exit." Five minutes later, they pulled into a somewhat seedy looking motel parking lot.

Kate got out of the car. "Wait here until I let Gibson know you're with me. Then, I'll motion you up."

As she reached the room, the door opened before she had a chance to knock. Gibson peered at her through the crack. "Tell Agent Reyes to come on up."

Kate turned around and motioned for the other woman to come up. Once they were both on the landing, Gibson opened the door enough to let them in, then locked it back and put a chair beneath the handle.

Getting nervous at his nervousness, Kate spoke again. "Gibson. What is it?"

He motioned her through the little kitchen area in the mini-suite. As she stepped into the main bedroom, her breath caught in her throat. A young teenage girl was sitting on the edge of one bed, but what held her attention was the small child sleeping soundly in the other bed, his arm wrapped around an oversized stuffed frog. Kate's mouth dropped open as she looked at the child. His long lashes were dark as was the thick, wavy hair on his head. She almost didn't make the connection; he looked so different from what she thought he would. The frog in his arms, though...she had bought that for him at the zoo that time all those years ago. "Oh, my God. Gibson. Where did you find him?"

Gibson pointed at the girl. "I can't even explain it. I woke up several days ago and just knew what I needed to do. When I got to San Diego, she was waiting for me outside some sort of research lab. She said they were coming to kill her. Something inside was telling me where to go, what to do. When we got to the turn for his driveway, he stepped out into the road right in front of me. When I stopped, he climbed in the car and told me the bad people were coming. I think they've found a way to track me. I've been running constantly for the past few years, and they still find me every time I start to let my guard down. We all need to get out of here. I don't think you guys are safe with me around. That's why I need you to take them. Get them somewhere safe until you can get them to Mulder and Scully. Agent Reyes, Dr. Carter...the thing is...she can read MY mind. She's connected to me somehow. She's connected to the little boy, too. But he's different. He knows things."

Kate nodded. "Okay. Okay. I know a place we can go. Are you sure you can't come with us?"

Gibson shook his head. "It's not safe for anyone. I have to go. And you and Agent Reyes have to get out of here quickly."


Saturday, 12:00 a.m. Mountain Time

Mulder woke Scully up by tapping her cheek. "Hey. We're at the motel." They were both exhausted. They had managed to make it commercially to Denver pretty quickly, but then they couldn't find a connecting flight until morning. Doggett had called on a friend, who had managed to fly them within an hour of the Van de Kamp's farmhouse.

She stretched. "Why aren't we at the house?"

"Scully. Nobody is at the house. We can go first thing tomorrow."

She shook her head. "No, Mulder. Now."

He sighed and took out his phone. When he hung up, he told her, "Skinner is out with a search party. He's going to meet us."

Without making eye contact, she told him, "They won't find him."

Mulder nodded as he drove. "I know. It's 20 degrees out there, Scully. We don't want them to find him out there anyway."

When they pulled up at the house, Skinner was already there. Mulder stopped to talk to him, but Scully made her way inside immediately.

Mulder found her ten minutes later in what was obviously a child's bedroom. She was holding a pillow to her nose, her eyes closed. He looked around the bedroom. There were several models, a collection of rocks sitting around on every surface, and lots of books. In a cage near the dresser, there was a bird. "Lights out, William," the bird squawked when Mulder turned on the overhead light.

Startled, Scully jerked her head up and looked at the bird. They hadn't changed his name. Mulder walked over to look more closely at the bird. The bird looked at him as well, twisting its head first one way, then the other. "Hey, little guy," Mulder put his finger through the slats on the cage. "Are you hungry?"

The bird pecked his finger, drawing blood. "Ow. Damn it."

More squawking, then, "Damn it. Lights out. Sleep tight."

Slowly, Scully started moving again and examined everything in the room. She stopped beside a drawing pinned to the wall. There was a stick figure, with "William" written beneath it in childish handwriting. She couldn't figure out what all the other stuff in the picture was, but she took the drawing off the wall, folded it, and put it into her coat pocket. She nosed around the rest of the downstairs, looking at the photographs of what appeared to be a perfectly happy family. As her eyes drank in the child, she was devastated to find that she didn't recognize him. She guessed she always figured that a mother would always recognize her child.

She stood before the mantel, unmoving. Mulder walked up behind her. "He still has your eyes. And your skin coloring."

She stared hard. The resemblances started to peek through, and she started to breathe easier. "His eyes are my color, but they're shaped like yours. I can see you in him, Mulder. I couldn't when he was a baby, but I can now. He's so big," she whispered longingly.

Finally, she made her way into the kitchen, which was obviously the hub of the house's action. There were Lego's on the countertop and magnets, photos, and drawings all over the fridge. She noticed the bowl on the ground by the floor. She turned to look at Skinner. "Has anyone found the dog?" She pointed to the bowl and the bag of food nearby.

He shook his head. "To be honest, I don't know if anyone even noticed the dog bowl yet."

Scully looked back to the refrigerator. "There's a smallish dog in a lot of the pictures with him."

Mulder chewed a sunflower seed. "Doesn't look like we can do much here. Scully, do you want to see the bodies?"

She shook her head. "No. You can look at them, though, if you need to." Scully would rather avoid dead bodies these days if at all possible.

Skinner rubbed the top of his head. "I'm going to let the local people handle the search around here, since we agree that we probably aren't going to find anything. Mulder, I want you to come with us to look at the facility in San Diego. Scully, are you coming, too?" She nodded at him. "We're flying out in the morning. Oh, Scully, the observation about the dog is a good one. I can't believe we missed it. I'll put someone on it. Have them ask neighbors. Not that there really ARE neighbors around here." When he looked back up, he saw Scully give a funny little swoon.

Mulder caught her. "Okay. Off to bed for you. You've been up way too long, and you aren't going to do anyone any good if you don't rest. Skinner and I can talk on the flight tomorrow."

She shook her head. "You and Skinner finish up. I can sit here on the couch until you're done." She plopped down and put her head in her hands, breathing deeply. She had just dozed off when her phone rang. She groped in her pocket for it. "Dana Scully."

"Dana? It's Kate."

"Hey. Sorry I haven't called you. I haven't had a chance."

Kate cut her off. "Dana. Where are you? Still in Wyoming?"

Scully yawned. "Still? I just got here. And we're flying to San Diego in a few hours."

Kate cut her off. "Listen. About that. Don't go to San Diego. I need you to meet me somewhere. Mulder, too."

"What? Why?" She sat up and rubbed the sleep from her eyes.

"I can't tell you over the phone, Dana. Please. Just trust me. This is more important than going to that facility," Kate responded.

Scully looked around helplessly. "Kate. I can't just drop everything if you won't even tell me what it's about."

Kate gave a sharp sound of disgust. "Damn it, Dana. You know I wouldn't ask if I didn't think you should. You are going to regret it if you don't get here quickly."

Scully wavered. "Where is here, Kate? D.C.?"

"No. And I can't tell you over the phone. I'll leave instructions for you. Just fly into D.C. as soon as possible. I'll get you the rest of the information."

"Kate, I can't. But I'll be home in a couple of days tops."

"Oh my God. What is wrong with you? Listen to me. Come back now. Let Skinner and Doggett go to San Diego. "

Scully could hear another voice in the background, then the phone changing hands. "Dana? It's Monica Reyes. Trust us. Come here first. Then you can head out to San Diego if you still need to."

She was stunned to hear Monica's voice. What on earth was going on? Her mind finally cleared. "Just tell me what you've found, Monica."

About that time, Skinner came back through the house. "Scully, we're about ready to go."

She nodded at him.

"Dana. Just get on the first flight to D.C. I have to go. I'm trying to drive." Monica handed the phone back to Kate.

Kate was tired of arguing. "Listen, Dana. Someone will meet you at the airport. Make sure he knows the pass phrase – the one we used to use – before you go with him, okay?"

Skinner's phone rang about that time. He listened for a minute, then exploded. "What do you mean she's gone? How did you lose her?...You think she drugged you? You expect me to believe this crap?" He looked up to see Scully staring at him, the phone still to her ear. "Is that Kate?"

She nodded, looking confused. "Give me the phone," he commanded her.

Skinner all but snatched her cell phone away from her. "Kate? Where the hell are you?"

Kate looked over at Monica and mouthed. "Damn it. Skinner. What should I tell him?"

Monica shrugged. "Just hang up on him."

Skinner asked again. "I said, where are you? Who is that with you? Can't you just do what I asked for once? Kate? KATE?"

For a minute, he thought she had disconnected, then he heard, "I can't tell you where I am, but I promise that I'm fine. I have to go. Put Dana back on the phone."

Scully watched as Skinner went back to his other conversation. "Who'd you drug?" she asked Kate incredulously.

Kate was tired and cranky. "Never mind. But ask yourself this: would I go to all this trouble if I didn't think it was necessary? You know I detest drama. Please just trust me and do what I asked. And for God's sake, don't tell Skinner or Doggett yet. Keep this low profile until you at least get here and can get a read on this situation. Let them keep investigating their own way right now so no one gets suspicious."

The line went dead. Scully noticed Skinner looking at her. "What's she up to?"

Scully shrugged. "How should I know? She just wanted to make sure I was holding up okay."

Skinner narrowed his eyes suspiciously. "Why don't I believe you? She drugged Agent Cruz. He was supposed to be watching her. She can't be up to any good if she drugged him and slipped off. He said her car's still there. He was worried something awful had happened to her."

When Mulder walked into the room, Skinner and Scully were staring each other down. "What?"

Scully stood up. "Nothing. Skinner's gone all paranoid. Can we please go now?"

In the car, Scully told Mulder about the call. He looked perplexed. "I hate to miss the opportunity to check out that facility before it's handed over to some other jurisdiction. But there's really no reason for us to go. We can go out after checking in with Kate and Monica if we still think we should."

She nodded. "Okay. Mulder, Kate and Monica don't think we should say anything to Doggett or Skinner just yet. They think we should let them keep investigating and go to San Diego."

Mulder nodded. "I agree. I think they should carry on as planned for now."

That made her feel better. "Okay."


Saturday, 1:00 p.m.

As soon as Scully and Mulder picked up their luggage in D.C., a man with long, grey hair accosted them. "Dr. Scully? Dr. Carter sent me to pick up you and Mr. Mulder. She said to tell you that I'm here for the bullfrog."

Scully felt a little better about the man after hearing the pass phrase. It was one of several she and Monica and Kate had used when trading off William duty as a baby. They wouldn't let each other in unless one of the pass phrases was uttered. Maybe it wasn't great protection, but it made them all feel better at the time. Thinking back, Scully realized how much she had relied on them during those months. Her mother had been so critical of her lifestyle and job that she had eventually tried to avoid asking her to help out unless she volunteered. Monica and Kate were pretty much the only help she had.

The man leaned towards her. "She also said for some strange reason that you may feel better if I show you my neck?" It was spoken as half question, half statement. Shrugging, he turned his back towards them and lifted the ponytail.

Both Mulder and Scully looked relieved at the absence of any bony protrusions. The man took Scully's bag from her hand and led them outside. He put them in the backseat of a waiting car and got up front with the driver. They drove out of town to a small airstrip, where the man hopped out and ushered them towards a small business class jet.

In ten minutes, they were flying south, the same man from the airport acting as pilot. After they reached cruising altitude, Mulder asked the man, "Where are we headed?"

The man shook his head. "I'm not at liberty to say, sir. We will be arriving soon, however."

Mulder watched as they flew south, almost parallel to the coastline. After a while, the plane began to descend, coming to rest in a small area. Another man came forward and opened the door to let them out. The pilot hopped out, handing the craft over to the other man to deal with. He led them to a car and began to drive. Finally, he spoke. "We may speak freely now, Dr. Scully. Do you know where you are?"

"Are we on Hilton Head?" The man nodded. "Mulder, I was here with Kate once. Her family has a house here, on the beach. We brought William here for a long weekend."

Mulder nodded. He had seen the pictures in the album of Scully walking with William in front of the surf. She was facing away from the camera in one photo, but William was looking back over her shoulder. The sun was setting, casting a strange light over the whole scene. It was a hauntingly beautiful picture. Mulder figured it had been taken just before the adoption because William was so big.

They turned onto a secluded drive and stopped in front a large house. Mulder whistled. "Whoa. Cute little beach bungalow, huh?"

Scully hopped out of the car as soon as it came to a stop, her heart beating loudly in her chest. She was nervous. Why had Kate brought her here, so far from DC? She approached the house slowly, memories of her last time here making her feel weak. She heard the driver tell Mulder to have Dr. Carter call him if they needed anything.

As they reached the top of the steps, Monica Reyes answered the door. She gave Scully a quick hug, then threw her arms around Mulder. "Look at you!"

He hugged her back. "So...where's the partay?"

She led them through the house and out the back door, which opened onto a large stone patio and then stepped down directly into the sand. Kate was standing in the sand, halfway between the water and the patio. She was bent down looking into what looked like a pit. She glanced up and waved to Scully. "Hey!" she yelled.

A little dog came tearing out of the hole about that time and ran straight for Mulder, grabbing his pants leg. "What the..." He looked down and tried to shake the dog off.

A little head popped out of the hole in the sand. The boy's eyes widened. He climbed out of the pit and went barreling towards the patio.

When Scully saw the face pop up and out of the sand, her knees went weak. "William?" she whispered.

The little boy ran straight for her, yelling over his shoulder, "They're here. They're here. Just like you said!" he hollered. "Claire! Come see. They're here!" He hit Scully at almost full speed, wrapping his wiry arms around her waist. She took a step back to try to keep her balance.

The little boy buried his face in her stomach, then looked up at her. The tears in her eyes stopped him cold. "What's wrong? It's me...William the Bullfrog! Why are you crying? Aren't you happy to see me?"

She knelt down to look at his sand streaked face. "Oh, my God...William. Of course I'm happy to see you. I just...I didn't know you were here." She ran her hands over his head, down his arms, feeling the warm little body she had missed for so long.

He gave her a grin that rivaled Mulder's. "I surprised you, then, huh? I'm really good at surprises."

She looked at his bright eyes. "You are VERY good at surprises. I don't think I've been this surprised ever in my life," she said huskily. He beamed brighter at the compliment. "William...how do you...do you even know who I am?"

He gave her a perplexed look. "Of course I know who you are. You're my first mom."

She looked at him strangely. "But...you were just a baby when I last saw you. How can you remember that?"

He laughed and touched her nose with his pointer finger, almost like she was the child. "You're silly. I would never forget you. You used to sing me the bullfrog song. And you took me to the zoo. And when I was tiny and scared, you would pat my hands and say, 'Everything's going to be all right. Go back to sleep now, sweet William.' And, and... " He was so wiggly that she couldn't keep him in her arms; he managed to pull away from her as his attention shifted, and he looked down at the dog. "Stop, Togy. Bad dog." The dog let go of Mulder's leg and sat looking at the boy adoringly. William looked up at Mulder kind of shyly. "Togy's a wire-haired Jack Russell. He's a really smart dog. I got him when I was three cause our Border Collie died. He was just a puppy underneath the Christmas tree. Only, he chewed up Mama's house shoes that first morning and Mama said a swear. But now he doesn't chew up anything but his own toys. And sometimes moles." He took a deep breath and stuck out his hand to Mulder. "You were away when I was a baby. Do you remember me? I remember you."

Mulder looked into his eyes and smiled the happiest smile Scully thought she'd ever seen on his face. He took the small hand into his own and shook it, impressed by the grip and solidity. "Of course I remember you. I carried your picture in my wallet all these years."

William looked at him, not sure he believed him. "No way."

Mulder nodded and pulled out his wallet, squatting down to be at eye level with the child. He showed the little boy the worn picture. "See. There you are. You were only one day old."

William laughed at the picture. "Why didn't I have any hair?"

Mulder gave a pretend scowl and looked up at Scully. "I wondered that same thing the first time I really looked at you." He reached out and ruffled William's brown, wavy hair. "You don't have that problem anymore, though."

William kicked at the stone beneath his feet, then asked Mulder if he could go dig again. When Mulder stood up and told him sure, he ran back out to the sand pit he was digging and dove in, the dog following close behind. He stuck his head back out for a second and waved to Scully.

On the patio, Scully dragged her eyes away from William long enough to look at Kate and Monica. "How did you get him?"

Kate and Monica pieced the story together for them and told them all about Gibson. Then they told them about the girl that had been with Gibson. Scully looked around. "Where is she?"

Reyes pointed to the upstairs window. There was a small face peering down at them. Mulder waved to her. She didn't wave back but looked away quickly. "So...she says she was raised at a facility in San Diego? The same facility Skinner and Doggett are investigating as we speak?"

Kate shrugged. "Presumably."

Scully took a deep breath. "Okay. Let me get this straight. Gibson was first led to rescue this girl. Then the two of them were led to the Van de Kamp's, where William just happened to be waiting outside at night in the freezing cold, with a dog, a backpack, and a stuffed animal. Gibson also claimed that Claire and William were somehow psychically connected to both him and each other."

Kate nodded. "Well, yeah. In a nutshell." She took the raised eyebrows and petulant look on her friend's face to be pure Scully skepticism. The kind that made you want to slap the hell out of her. "You're kidding me, right? You don't think stranger things than this have happened through the years?"

Scully thought back through all the times she'd been certain something could not be true in the last fifteen years, only to have to eat her words later. "Well...I guess you have a point." She just wanted her child to be safe, happy, and normal. Of course, he was Mulder's, too...so maybe she could be content with the first two.

Mulder looked up at the window. The face there was gone. "Does she have parents who are looking for her?"

Kate shook her head. "She says no. She says she never had parents. Look. I'm going to get her down here. You guys are the trained investigators. You can pull all of this out of her. She seems okay to have been locked away all of her life."

Mulder asked Monica more questions while Kate was gone to get the girl. Reyes shook her head. "Mulder. I witnessed the connection between that little girl and William. They behave like they've known each other their whole lives instead of forty-eight hours. It is uncanny. It's like they talk silently."

Mulder shrugged. "Maybe they do."

Scully stuck her tongue to her top lip. "Mulder..." She cautioned.

After all these years, Scully was still afraid of what she couldn't explain. Mulder, of course, was still as fascinated by it as he had been that night he'd sprayed the big "X" on the road in Oregon. They glanced up to see Kate coming back out the door. Claire hid behind her, peeking around timidly.

Mulder leaned around to speak to her. "Hi. My name is Fox Mulder. And this is Dana Scully. You must be Claire. We heard you helped bring William safely to us. Thank you for that. You've helped us a lot. Maybe we could help you now."

Finally, the girl spoke. "Please don't let them come and get me. I think they were going to kill me. They didn't think I was a very successful experiment."

Slowly, Mulder won a tiny bit of her trust – enough so that she stepped out from behind Kate and began to answer his questions. Scully simply watched her for a while, trying to judge her age – probably somewhere around twelve. She was very thin, very pale, and had very long, wavy, reddish brown hair. Her eyes were a deep green, possibly hazel. It was hard to tell from a distance.

In time, they dragged enough of the story out of her. The little girl talked more openly. "There were a bunch of us at the facility. Some had been there all along, but some were new. There were little kids who were taken out of their homes. They were the only ones who cried a lot. There hadn't been any new babies brought to the facility in a long time, though. They stopped coming several years ago. Until then, we used to get a couple a year. I'm good with little kids, so they let them sleep in my bunkroom usually."

"Did they hurt you?"

She shook her head. "Not really. Sometimes their tests would hurt. And nobody liked having blood drawn every couple of days, but you get used to it. And they weren't really intentionally mean. Some were nicer than others. One lab lady used to bring treats for the younger kids and extra books for us older kids to read."

"What kind of tests did they do?"

She shrugged. "Stupid tests. Like to see if you could read minds. Or if you could move objects with your mind. Or what would happen to you if they spun you around like an astronaut or put you in an anti-gravity chamber. I always liked that one, but it made some kids puke. And there were medical tests. They looked at your brain and hooked you up to other machines. And we had school. People came and taught us, but mostly we taught ourselves. The older kids taught the little kids. At night, everyone went home except the guards. After lockdown, the guards would watch us on video camera in our bunkrooms."

Mulder looked at her closely. "Do you remember your parents?"

She shook her head. "Most of us didn't have parents. We were at the facility since right after we were born. We had a host mother, though. That's what it was called. Someone who grew us in their womb while they hibernated. There was a room of host mothers at the facility for a while. But then they weren't there anymore. And then the babies stopped coming at all."

A chill went through Mulder. Host mothers. Like at that nursing home. "What happened right before Gibson rescued you?"

She looked very sad. "Well. A group of people stormed the facility and said it was time to move. They rounded up all of my friends, even the little kids, and took them away. They didn't take me, though. One man started to, but another stopped him and said, 'No. Not that one. The order said to leave that one.' Before everyone else could clear out, faceless men showed up and burned the rest of the scientists and the guards. But they walked right past me. After that, I ran outside and Gibson was there." No one said anything for a long time. Then the little girl turned her eyes to Scully. "I can tell you're afraid of me."

About that time, William came stomping back up to them. He tugged on Scully's sleeve, but her eyes were locked on Claire's. He tugged harder. "Mom." That got her attention. "I want Claire to help me dig now. She promised." He turned his eyes to Claire. "You promised."

Claire looked down and nodded at him. "I'm coming." She looked sadly at Scully for a moment. "You were my egg donor, you know. I read all about you in my file. I used to lie awake at night and dream about finding you. Because I thought being my egg donor made you my mother. Now I know it doesn't. What makes a person your mother is when she looks at you the way you look at William. That's not something they taught us in the lab."

Scully's mouth dropped open a little as the girl walked away. Egg donor. Emily. She had always worried there were others. Did this one have green blood, too? She shivered in the cool wind. The sun was going down, and the temperature was dropping. She was having trouble processing the entire situation.

Mulder put his hand on her shoulder. She shrugged it away. "I'm fine, Mulder. Can you call Skinner and Doggett and see what they turned up out in San Diego?" She turned to Monica. "How long has he been digging that hole?"

Monica looked down at the beach. "Since early this morning. We had to bribe him to even get him to eat lunch." They watched as sand came flying out of the pit every so often. "He's amazing, Dana."

"Do you think he really remembers us?"

Monica looked at her with a half smile. "Dana, no offense, but I don't think any of us ever imagined William would be 'normal' except for you. He was a true miracle, right? I think you need to start learning to expect the unexpected with him." She patted her friend's shoulder and thought to herself – this poor woman is in for some good times.

Scully walked back down to the hole where the kids were digging, content just to watch William as much as possible.

Kate walked up to Monica, her hands in her pockets. "So...did you tell her about how he can pour his own milk with no hands?"

Monica gave her a look. "Hell no. She's had enough excitement for one day. She can figure that one out for herself."


Saturday, 6:30 p.m.

Mulder stood over the giant hole. "William. You have to come out of there. It's dark and time for dinner."

He looked up with those sharp blue eyes. "I'm not finished yet."

"You can dig more tomorrow, William. It's too dark and too cold."

"I'm not cold. I never get cold. And Togy can see well in the dark."

Kate yelled from the back door, "Pizza's here."

William hopped up to his feet. "Pizza? I love pizza. I only had it twice in my life when we went into town for something." He crawled out of the hole, barreled towards the back door, and ran to the kitchen. Scully snagged him by the waist. "Hold it. You have to wash your hands and face first."

He sighed loudly. "Okay." He came back with half of the sand removed from his face and plenty still stuck to his knees.

Kate waved her hand at Scully's look. "He's fine. This furniture has been around since I was a kid. He's not the first sandy kid in those chairs." She set a plate with a slice of pizza in front of the boy. Scully watched as he bowed his head, said a blessing, and made quick work of the pizza before anyone else had even joined him at the table. Mulder slapped another piece on his plate.

Claire, who had never had pizza, savored every bite of hers and was too shy to take another piece until Monica made her. When she finished, she washed her own plate and cup and sat back down beside William.

After three pieces of pizza, William's eyes were droopy. Scully took him upstairs to put him in the bath. Once he was settled in a bubble bath, happily making soap mustaches and beards, he assured Scully that he took his own baths all the time and she went down the hall to talk to Mulder. Mulder was putting the phone away when she walked in. "Skinner and Doggett said the facility was basically empty. No files, nothing incriminating left. Surfaces were wiped clean, too. Whole place smelled like ammonia."

She sighed. "So another dead end. Of course. Mulder, I don't understand this. Why did they kill the adults and let Claire and William go?"

He shook his head. "I don't know. But I have a theory."

She cocked an eyebrow. Of course he did. "Let's hear it."

"I think the faceless men – the rebels, whatever – I think they killed the adults to protect Claire and William. I think someone or something was coming for them, and the rebels knew that they had to give them a chance to escape."

Scully shook her head. "That doesn't make sense in William's case. The Van de Kamps' would have tried to protect him from whoever was coming."

Mulder shook his head again. "No, see, I don't think they understand things like we do. I think they knew Gibson was on his way there and that they had to clear the way for William to leave with him."

"So...who was coming for them then?"

He shrugged. "That's what I don't know. The aliens, or the government, or someone else. I don't know. But Scully, I think this connection those two share may be key to unraveling the whole plan for colonization. I don't know how, and I don't know why, but I think William was sent back to us now for a reason. The time has come for him to play his part in this." He saw her eyes cloud. "And you have to let him, Scully."

She sat for a long time after Mulder left the room. She looked up when she heard Claire shriek. "William! Why is that dog in the bath with you?"

"He was sandy, too. And I don't want him to get sand in my bed tonight." Scully started back towards the bathroom. When she got there, William was out and wrapped in a towel, writing on the fogged up mirrors with his finger. Claire was bathing Togy.

She looked up as Scully came in. "I'll clean up the soap and water. I'll clean out the bathtub, too."

Scully looked down at her. "Claire. It's okay. You don't have to take care of William or clean up after him. That's my job."

The girl lifted the dog out of the draining tub. "I like taking care of younger kids."

Scully scooped William up into her arms. "Oof. You are heavier than you look, kid."

He giggled as she put him down in a bedroom. "Kate had someone bring me clothes here. They're in those bags. I like the shirt with the frogs on it. Can I wear that?"

Once he was dressed in pajama pants and the frog shirt, he snagged the stuffed frog and climbed up on the bed beside Scully. "Will you sing to me?"

She looked at him uncertainly. "William, I am NOT a good singer..."

He gave her puppy dog eyes. "Sing the bullfrog song."

She looked at the door to make sure no one was nearby. "Okay. No laughing, though." She tickled him as he scooted down beside her. "William was a bullfrog. He was a good friend of mine..."

She finished the verse and heard from the doorway, "Chorus." Mulder was leaning against the doorway with his arms crossed over his chest, smiling at the pair on the bed.

William nodded vigorously. "Chorus."

Scully gave Mulder a shy look but finally continued. "Joy...to the world...all the boys and girls....joy to the fishes in the deep blue sea...and joy to you and me."

William beamed up at her. "You sing great, Mommy."

She rolled her eyes. "You are probably the only one in the whole world who thinks so, kid. I love you, William."

He opened his now droopy eyes. "More than all the stars in the sky?"

She nodded. "Yes."

He shook his head. "No. You're supposed to say 'and the fishes in the sea.'"

"Sorry. I didn't know my line. I'll do better tomorrow." She stroked the little cheek and watched as the dog hopped on the bed and laid its head on William's chest. Scully scratched the dog's head. "Sweet dreams, you two."

Mulder came over to say goodnight after that. William was asleep before they even turned out the light. Scully stayed at the doorway looking at him for a long time. Finally, she pulled the door almost shut and went back downstairs. She found Kate giving Claire a haircut. "Are you sure you know how to do that?"

Kate gave her a dirty look. "She's going to be very fashionable. You are going to want me to cut yours next." Scully snorted her disbelief. Kate left the hair fairly long since she didn't know how curly it would be with the excess weight removed and layered the ends a little. She couldn't believe the difference it made on the girl's face. "Look at that. You look much older now. We're going to be beating boys off with a stick soon. When was the last time you had a haircut?"

Claire shook her head back and forth, amazed at how light it felt. "This is my first one ever! I'd never had a bubble bath before either. All we had at the facility were showers."

All three women raised their eyebrows. "Well," Kate promised her, "when things settle down, I'll take you into my salon for the entire package, okay? It'll be my treat. I didn't want to cut it too short right now, but you can decide how you want to wear it then." Kate took the towel off of the girl's shoulders. "If you go upstairs into my bathroom, you can use my hair creams and blow dryer."

The girl wrinkled her slightly freckled nose. "I don't know how..."

Monica stepped up. "I'll give you a lesson. Come on."

Kate cleaned up the hair and then sat down to talk with her friend for the first time that day. "Surely you know she's your biological daughter. I can see you in her."

Scully chewed on her lip. "I'm so scared about her. What if...what if something's really wrong with her...like Emily?"

Kate leaned her head back and looked at the ceiling. "Tomorrow, we can take blood samples and do all the necessary things...but Dana – you thought you would never have children. Now you're sitting here with two wonderful kids upstairs and another on the way. Sometimes, you just have to let go and enjoy life when you can. Neither of those kids seems like they need therapy – yet – and that in itself is a miracle after what they've been through. I don't know how they are so resilient but just enjoy it."

Scully smiled at her friend. "I hate when you're right. So...tomorrow we'll test Claire?"

"Yeah. I think we should also test William." She saw the look on Scully's face. "JUST as a precaution and so we have a blood sample, okay? We all know that's your baby up there. And if anyone had doubts about who his biological father was back then, all they have to do is look at him now."

"He does look a lot like Mulder, doesn't he?" She rubbed the back of her neck. "Mulder said Skinner and Doggett were coming here in the morning to start sorting through legalities and custody issues."

Kate rolled her eyes. "Can't wait for that. Walter's been a real pain. I've avoided his calls all day."

Scully gave her a look. "What was up with Nic at your apartment?"

"Skinner sent him to 'protect' me."

"Well...he wouldn't have been my first choice given the histories involved."

Kate nodded. "No kidding. Walter is clueless sometimes. And I don't think there was ever any real danger to me."

Scully shrugged. "I think Skinner knows you're probably the biggest danger to yourself. After all, you managed to drug your bodyguard, ditch him, and turn up 600 miles away...oh, and you stole his case right out of from under him. Gee, you don't think there was a need for him to worry?"

Kate threw a small pillow at her. "Hey."

Scully laughed. "Seriously, though. He was probably panicked. At least he cares."

Kate snorted. "Funny way of showing it. Throw my ex-husband in my house overnight, whom I have actively avoided for almost ten years? Yes. A real Hallmark moment."

Scully laughed. "Any chance of you and Nic reconciling?"

Kate was suddenly serious. "Dana – it physically hurts me to look at Nic – that's how much I loved him fifteen years ago. It's like a wound that won't heal. Seeing him doesn't make it better. It just rips it open all over again. No matter what I do, I can't get past losing Emma. I don't hate him, and I honestly don't blame him for her disappearance, but I don't even want to try to get past it. It doesn't seem possible."

Scully nodded. "I guess I can understand that. What about you and Skinner?"

Kate looked rueful. "Dana. If we didn't move forward in ten years, I doubt we're likely to now."

She shrugged. "Maybe he wants to move forward."

"I don't think so. The idea of commitment scared the poor man to death."

Scully shook her head. "No, Kate. I think the idea of fatherhood terrified him. Not the idea of you."

Kate wrinkled her eyebrows. "Why are we even talking about this? You can barely keep your eyes open, and I can't even feel my feet anymore they're so tired. Oh, yeah. I have your two remaining patients covered at the hospital until Wednesday, but I will probably go back myself Monday or Tuesday."

"Thanks. You really are a good friend, Kate. And I'll let you off the hook about Skinner for now because I can see you're struggling emotionally right now whether you want to admit it or not. But soon you and I are going to really talk about how you feel about him, Kate, and what made you hide your relationship for so long. That's not normal."

Kate's mouth dropped open. "I'm not normal? Dana Scully. You hid a MAN in your house for four YEARS. That is so like the pot calling the kettle black."

Scully argued with her as they went upstairs. "Yeah, but at least I did come clean with you on my own."

Kate looked at her. "Only because you were PREGNANT."

"All right. You win that point. I am as emotionally inept as you."


Saturday, 9:15 p.m.

Mulder lay in the darkened room, listening to the faint sound of the ocean. Scully was sleeping soundly. He traced his fingertip along her side, thinking about the changes that had occurred in the past twenty-four hours. He propped up when he heard the door to the room squeak and begin to open. A little figure came to stand at the end of the bed.

"William? What's wrong, man?" He sat up.

The little boy was staring at him in the dark, clutching his stuffed frog tightly. "I have a lot on my mind."

Mulder hid a smile at the adult-like phrase. "I bet you do. You've had a lot happening these last few days. Would you like to climb up here so we can talk about it?" William crawled quickly onto the bed and squirmed his way to sit between Mulder and Scully. "So, tell me what's on your mind."

William fiddled with the frog. "Are my other mom and dad dead?"

Mulder swallowed hard and nodded. "Yes, William, they are."

The little boy nodded and a tear rolled down his cheek. "That's what I thought." He looked down for a long time. "When you die, you go through the starlight all the way to heaven. They'll be happy there."

Mulder wiped the tear. "And you'll be sad because you can't see them anymore."

William looked at him with wide eyes. "I'm so sad it hurts my throat. But I'm glad at the same time to see you and my first mom. Is that okay?" There was a worried expression on his face.

Mulder nodded. "Of course it's okay. That's exactly how you're supposed to feel right now." He hugged the little boy close. "You know, William, when my mother died, I was so sad that –

"Didn't you have another one?" the little boy cut him off.

"No. I only had one mother."

"I'm luckier than you were, then."

Mulder gave a little laugh. "Yes, you are. So anyway, when she died, I was so sad I almost couldn't stand it. But your mom..."

William interrupted, "This mom?" He patted Scully's sleeping form.

"Yes, that mom. I never knew your second mother."

"I called her Mama. I'm gonna call this one Mom, so they don't think I get them confused."

Scully was awake now but stayed still to listen to them. Mulder nodded. "That's a good plan. So anyway, when my mom died, your mom listened while I told her about my favorite times with my mom. I was still sad for a long time after that, but I felt better knowing I could talk to someone when I wanted to talk about my mom. Would you like to tell me something about your mama?"

William nodded and thought for a minute. "Well, she was very pretty. And she made all kinds of things fun, even chores because she turned them into a game. And she taught me to cook. And when we would be cooking in the kitchen, she would tell me funny stories about when I was a baby. And she used to tell me that she asked God for so long to send her a baby and that I was her miracle. I think my favorite story about her, though, is the day that my Papa – that's what I called my second dad – went to an auction and I stayed home to help Mama with the chores. So anyway, that day Mama and I went out to feed our chickens, but she left the house door open, and when we went back to the house, there was one of our goats inside and standing ON our table eating Mama's apple pie. She said a swear that day, too, just like the day Togy ate her shoes. And when she tried to chase the goat outside, it got mad and head-butted her. And Mama got really mad then, but the goat didn't know what was good for it, Papa said later, because it STILL wouldn't leave the house. So Mama lassoed that goat with a rope. Isn't that funny, Dad? I didn't even know Mama could lasso. And she dragged the goat outside, but not before it grabbed hold of our curtains and ripped them down and started eating them!" He giggled, amused by his own story.

Mulder laughed hard, while Scully tried not to so she wouldn't interrupt their time together. "That is one of the best stories I've ever heard, William. What a great Mama she must have been."

William nodded. "Oh, she was, Dad. Do you think I'm a good storyteller?"

"You're a great storyteller, man. Say, why don't we trade stories? Since you told me your story about your Mama, I could tell you a story about this mom here."

William sat up on his knees. "Yeah! Tell me a story, Dad."

Mulder thought for a minute. William wasn't really old enough yet for a lot of his favorite Scully stories. Finally, Mulder said, "Okay. How about I tell you a story I remember from when you were growing inside your mom's tummy?"

William practically bounced. "YES. Please tell me."

"Only if you lie down here and snuggle down so you can go back to sleep soon." William scooted under the covers between them and waited. "Okay. Well, I remember this one time your mom was pregnant with you, her belly was so big that she could hardly move anywhere without knocking things over. So, we were coming back from a class, and I took your mom to lunch. At the restaurant, she knocked over her drink, then she knocked over the chair behind her, and when I laughed, she burst into tears and poured my drink all over me. So I'm standing there soaking wet from the tea she poured on me, and she's standing there crying – because pregnant women sometimes cry for no real reason – and then suddenly we both started laughing. Well, eventually she was laughing so hard, that you started kicking from inside her tummy. She was still mad at me for laughing at her, but she let me put my hand on her tummy. That was the first time I felt you kick." Scully reached over and pinched him hard, not caring much for Mulder's portrayal of her. "Ow."

William yawned. "No way! I used to see pregnant women at church sometimes and I bet that's why everyone was always rubbing on their stomachs. Dad?"

"Yes?"

"Am I going to be able to go back to my house in Wyoming?"

"I'm afraid not, William. You'll have to live somewhere else now."

William nodded. "I figured that. But am I going to be able to go back and get my stuff? I need to get my myna bird. He'll be lonely."

"I think we'll be able to get some of your stuff, William. And we have someone taking care of your bird until we can get it, okay, big guy?"

"Okay." William snuggled down and threw an arm over Scully. Togy, who had been waiting patiently on the floor by the bed, hopped up and laid his head on William.

Scully smiled as she closed her eyes again. She patted the little arm lying across her. This was the first night she'd gone to sleep not dreading the morning in a very long time.


Sunday, 8:30 a.m.

Scully woke to the sound of the ocean. Oddly, she didn't hear any noise in the house. Knowing Mulder would watch William, she showered and dressed. Downstairs, she found Claire helping Kate make bread. Scully knew she should try to talk more with Claire, but she just couldn't think of anything to say yet. "Where's everybody else?"

Kate nodded towards the beach. "Mulder's out there watching William. Monica went for a run."

Scully looked out the back doors. "Is he digging again?"

Claire looked up at her with flour on her nose. "Since six o'clock this morning."

Scully swiped the flour off with her palm. "You got a little something on your nose there, sweetie. And your hair looks gorgeous, by the way."

Claire beamed. "We made pancakes earlier. I saved you some. They're in the microwave."

Scully poured a glass of orange juice. "Thanks. Homemade bread? Wow."

She walked out back and stopped in her tracks. William wasn't digging anymore. He had taken all of the sand he had dug out of the pit and was making what she first thought was a giant sand castle. Mulder was sitting near the beach grass, his knees drawn up just watching William work. The hair on the back of her neck stood up.

"Mulder..."

He put his finger to his lips. "Shhh...Scully." He pulled her down beside him. "This was my vision, Scully. When you were in Africa? And I was out of my mind? I had this vision – a little boy building that same spacecraft out of sand. But it wasn't just any little boy, Scully. It was William – just like he is at this moment."

She spoke hesitantly. "Mulder, that's impossible. William didn't even exist then. There was no way for you to foresee this."

Mulder shook his head. "No, Scully. William just wasn't conceived yet. I think he was always meant to be. I know; I'm not making much sense. I didn't know what it meant then. I thought it symbolized, I don't know...my search for the truth and not giving up. But it didn't. The same thing happened this morning that happened in my vision. He kept messing up and started to tear it apart. But then I told him I would help him, just start over and keep trying, and eventually he was mesmerized again."

Scully stared at the spacecraft in the sand – so realistic that it looked like an artist had sculpted it there. It didn't seem like the same child who had drawn the stick figures she'd seen in Wyoming could have done this. As William began to put on his final touches, tears sprang to her eyes. She recognized the writing he was etching into some places. "Mulder. I don't like this. I'm going to make him stop."

Mulder grabbed her arm and stopped her. "Scully. You can't. Leave him alone." She pulled away and ran back to the house.

Monica came back down the beach then. "Oh, my God. That's incredible," she said to Mulder.

He nodded. "I know."

"What do you think it means?"

He shrugged. "That I don't know. But I have a feeling we're going to find out in the next few years. I can't explain it, Monica, but I have a suspicion that William's going to change the fate of the world. I'm as certain of it as I've ever been about anything. But Scully is..."

She put her hand around his upper arm. "Give her time, Mulder. She's just going to need more time."

An hour later, they were all outside. The weather was amazing for late February – one of those rare days in the southeast when the temperature makes you think that it's mid spring instead of still winter. Monica, Kate, and Claire were combing the beach for things that washed ashore during the night. Mulder was helping William again. And Scully was sitting mutely in a deck chair, staring at her son with looks that oscillated between infinite sadness and immobilizing fear.

Suddenly, William spoke to her for the first time that morning. "Look, Mommy. Look what I made." He beamed at Scully, a look of utter satisfaction on his face.

Scully recognized the look. It was the way she felt when a patient who shouldn't have lived did. She couldn't help herself – the innocence on his sweet little face brought a smile to her lips and kicked her body into motion again. She stood up and went to stand beside him. "It's amazing, William. Why'd you build it?"

He shrugged. "I had to see if it worked."

Scully wrinkled her brow. "Well. Does it?"

He stuck his little tongue between his lips and stared hard at the triangular sand sculpture. The strangest thing happened at that moment. The ground beneath them shook a little and a loud rumble could be heard. Everyone stopped and looked around at the cloudless sky. Scully looked in every direction and couldn't find the source of the disturbance. She heard Mulder say in an awestruck voice, "Scully. Look."

She spun around to see the entire sand sculpture rising from the ground, as if it were made of something solid rather than damp sand. William was staring at it intently, a serious expression on his face. When it reached his eye level, William put out a hand and pushed its corner gently. Slowly, the craft began to spin, as if willed to do so by the little twirling motion he was now making with his outstretched hand.

Kate and Monica were standing about twenty feet away, mouths open. Claire didn't look all that impressed. William turned to Scully with a big grin. "It works." He looked back at his creation, which shot off above the water and came to a stop about a hundred yards out. It hovered there for about thirty seconds then disintegrated, sand falling into the water beneath it with a series of plops.

No one moved for what seemed like forever. William broke the spell when he looked up at Mulder and said knowingly, "The real one will have to be much bigger."

Kate and Monica exchanged a look. "Whoa," Kate said finally.

"No kidding," Monica replied.

William ran over to Claire and started begging her to help him look for shells, as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened.

Scully looked like she'd been punched in the gut. Mulder turned towards her slowly. "Hey. It's going to be okay."

She backed away from him and then turned and ran through the house and out the front. As she slung open the front door, she ran straight into Doggett. He grabbed her by the arms. "Dana? What's wrong?"

She pulled away from him. "I gotta get out of here." She took off down the driveway quickly. Skinner and Doggett watched as she slowed to a walk a little further down. They walked through the house, Doggett calling out, "Anybody home?" He stuck his head through the back door, which was still open and looked at the adults all still standing there silently. "Hey," he called out. "You three look like you just saw a UFO or something."

Kate finally walked towards him. "Yeah. Or something." She gave him a quick hug. "Hi, John."

He hugged her back. "What's wrong with Scully? She flew out the door past us without even saying hi."

Mulder looked at Kate, who sighed. "I'll go after her. You deal with them," she nodded towards the two other men.

As she walked by Skinner, he snagged her by the arm. "Aren't you going to say hello, Kate?"

She smiled coyly. "Hello, Walter. Welcome to Hilton Head. I do hope you enjoy your stay. If you need anything, feel free to ask someone else." She unclamped his hand from her arm and continued walking.

He closed his eyes, willing himself not to lose his temper. "Very mature," he muttered under his breath.

"I heard that, and I wasn't aiming for mature," she warned over her shoulder. "Don't pick a fight today, Walter. I'm in no mood to let you win."

Kate found Scully down the road a little ways, walking beside the sand dunes. She caught up and fell in step beside her. They walked in silence a little ways. Finally, Scully spoke. "Aren't you going to tell me I'm overreacting and that everything will be fine?"

Kate shook her head. "Nope."

Scully stopped and stared at her. "Why not?"

The other woman shrugged. "Well, let's see. Your son, whom you haven't seen in six years, just made a spaceship that he built entirely out of sand fly without even touching it. I'd say your reaction was just about on par with what any mother's would be."

"So that's it? No words of advice? What kind of friend are you?" Scully gave her a suspicious look.

"The kind who under normal circumstances would buy you a stiff drink at a time like this but is currently at a loss as to how to handle the situation because you've gotten yourself knocked up again." Kate nudged Scully's arm with her elbow.

Scully bit back a laugh and blew out a breath. "What am I going to do, Kate?"

"Well...the way I see it, it's all about your mindset. Whatever he is, and however he came to be – none of that really matters. You can't change that he's different, but you can shape what he does with his abilities – just like any other parent of any other child."

"Can I really? He's not even seven years old and already seems to have an agenda all his own. What if..." she trailed off, unable to say the words.

Kate picked up where Scully left off. "What if it's not the same agenda as you and Mulder fought for? Dana. That child is not evil. I can look into his eyes and see the light behind them. Maybe he WAS born with a purpose, a course already charted for him. Maybe we all were. Who the hell knows? Don't waste your energy fighting what you can't change."

"It's just...I always thought whatever Spender gave him made him normal; or maybe that's what I hoped. I don't know." She tucked the hair that had escaped her ponytail behind an ear.

"Dana. I don't think that's something we'll ever know. Maybe it just tamped his powers down for a while. I think you're going to have to take things one day at a time – I know I keep saying that, but for now, maybe you need to start teaching him when it's okay to use his...powers...and when it's not. He's old enough to be taught to control them and why it's necessary to. I mean, the last thing we need is for toys to start flying off of shelves and into his hands in public."

Scully closed her eyes. "God. I hadn't even thought that far ahead. Thanks for bringing it to my attention," she muttered dryly.

Kate shrugged. "On the other hand, you'll never have to worry about putting away things on your top shelf or getting locked out of your car or house as long as William's with you."

"Okay. You can stop now, Kate. You're not helping anymore. "

Back at the house, Skinner had set up a command center of sorts in the downstairs office. As Scully and Kate walked through the front door, Reyes was coming out of the office. "Kate, Skinner wants to debrief you now." She leaned in close. "He's in a great mood, too. I don't think I've been chastised that hard since I worked on the x-files."

Kate gave her a look. "Oh, brother. I'm not going in there."

Skinner came to the doorway. "Kate, can I talk to you?"

Scully patted her on the back. "Just get it over with." Kate scowled as she reluctantly went into the office. Skinner closed the door behind her.

"I see you've made yourself at home." She nodded at the computer and papers strewn across the desk.

He stuffed his hands into his pockets. She leaned against the oversized desk and crossed her arms. Neither wanted to be the first to start the conversation. Finally, Skinner spoke. "Do you care to tell me exactly what kind of drugs you gave Agent Cruz?"

Kate shook her head. "Nothing that would hurt him or compromise a Bureau drug test. Probably left him with a bad hangover, though." She picked up a glass paperweight and turned it over in her hand.

"What were you thinking, Kate? Don't you think I ordered Cruz to stay with you for a reason? You could have been killed. You had no idea what was lying in wait for you when you ditched Cruz." He spoke with his jaw clenched, the way he did when he was trying hard to keep his temper in check.

"I haven't figured out why you ordered him to stay with me, unless there's something you're not telling me. There was no reason for that. And it's not like I ditched him and went alone. I called Monica because I knew I shouldn't go alone and because she was the only one I could think of in town at the time that Gibson would trust."

He gave her a long look. "You need to learn to follow orders, Kate. And Monica shouldn't have gone along with you."

She stood up straight and stared at him, bright green eyes flashing, her voice escalating with every word. "I don't take orders from you, Walter. I don't work for you. I never have, and I never will. You know damn well you have no business even thinking you can give me orders. Your bluster doesn't scare me. I'm not one of your agents you can rein in at your discretion."

For a moment, he thought she was going to throw the paperweight at him. "Listen to me, Kate. You don't realize what you've gotten yourself into. You had no business taking custody of that little girl out there. You don't know the kind of people who are looking for her and the lengths they would go to in order to get her back if for nothing more than just to silence her about their operation."

Even though the hair on the back of her neck was standing up, she stood her ground. "I knew when I walked into this that there were risks, Walter. I saw those risks as acceptable. I still do. And just what do you propose I do? Abandon that little girl, whose probably Dana's daughter? Give me a break, Walter. You know none of us is going to go for that, least of all me. What I can't figure out is why you seem to know more about her than you're telling. Why do I feel like you're taking orders from somewhere else?"

He took her by her arms. "Kate. You know that there are pressures from above and outside the Bureau that fall on me. I have to walk a fine line with all of this. You only see one side in all of this – Scully's side. I am forced to see it from different sides."

She jerked away from him. "Well, why don't you get out of the Bureau if they expect you to keep up this charade?"

"Kate, the truth is that they would probably kill me if I left the Bureau. At least this way, I can still be of some use to Mulder and Scully."

She rolled her eyes. "How much help are you if you keep hiding things from everyone?"

"The politics behind this are just too big. And to be honest with you, I already worry that some of us here today aren't going to live through this when it all finally hits the fan."

She shrugged. "Well, according to Mulder, maybe none of us is going to live through the next several years, so we may as well keep doing what we're doing, right?" She started to leave.

He grabbed her arm. "Kate! Don't walk away from me when I'm trying to talk to you. Regardless of what all has happened between us, we have always respected each other."

She wheeled around. "Respect? You want to talk about respect? If you respected me, you wouldn't have thrown my ex-husband, whom I have avoided the past ten years, back into my life without even asking."

He looked at her closely. "You obviously still have feelings for him or you wouldn't have an issue with it."

Kate ran her fingers through her hair, agitated. "Of course I still have feelings for him, Walter. He was my husband and the father of my child. That doesn't mean I want him in my home." She paused and looked at him. "You were married for over seventeen years. Are you telling me you don't still have feelings for her?"

Skinner looked at her with narrowed eyes. "That's different and you know it. I haven't actively avoided her for the past ten years."

She raised an eyebrow. "Oh really? How is Sharon these days?"

Exasperated, he replied, "How would I know? You know I haven't spoken to her since the divorce."

She glared at him. "See? My point exactly. What made you think I would welcome having Nic thrown into my home and life any more than you would welcome having Sharon thrown back into yours unexpectedly?"

A nerve ticked in his jaw. "I'm not still in love with Sharon, so I don't think it would have bothered me at all, Kate."

Kate rolled her eyes at him. "I'm not still in love with Nic, either, Walter. I just don't care to have him in my personal space. And I'm pissed at you for putting me in that position."

He glared at her. "Well, according to Agent Cruz, you seemed more than happy to have him in your personal space the other night before drugging him."

Kate put her hands on her hips. "See now that's a lie. I drugged him first. I only seduced him because the drugs weren't working fast enough."

Skinner looked away, not sure how to respond to that. He tipped his head back. "Look, I don't even know why we're arguing about all of this. I just want you to get out of this case and stay out of it, Kate. Please. That was my only goal when I asked Cruz to watch you – to keep you out of this as much as possible and to keep you safe. You're making it personal when it wasn't meant to be."

She sighed, rubbing her temples. "We both know I'm not going to turn my back on this situation or that little girl out there, Walter. Let's just try to move past this."

He exhaled slowly. "I can't, Kate. I'm having trouble staying focused on my job knowing you're putting yourself in danger."

"Now who's making it personal, Walter?" She watched as he stared at the ground.

"I can't help the way I feel about this, Kate. You aren't a trained agent. I don't want you in the middle of this."

Kate wanted him focused on Scully, William, and Claire – not on her. Stepping towards him, she put her hand on his arm. "Okay, listen...you promise me you'll do everything you can to keep everyone else safe – especially those two kids and their mother – and I promise to stay out of it as much as possible when we get back home. If you can keep them safe, I'll step back and let you guys figure it all out." She looked into his eyes. "Is that good enough?"

Uncomfortable with her proximity, he stepped back and turned away from her. "I guess it'll have to be."

Kate stood staring at his back for a minute before walking out of the office and closing the door behind her. She looked up to see Scully staring at her. "What?"

"You slept with Nic?" Scully looked at her in disbelief. "Didn't you just finish telling me that it hurt too much to even be around him?"

Kate rolled her eyes. "I didn't have sex with him, Dana. I only pretended like I was going to so I could get him to bed and drug him. And how did you hear that from out here?"

"You were yelling half the time. And if you didn't really sleep with him, then why'd you let Skinner believe you did?"

Kate shrugged her shoulders. "What difference does it make? He doesn't care who I sleep with."

Scully crossed her arms over her chest. "I think he cares a lot, and I think you know it."

"I don't really think he does, Dana. And besides, he should know me better than to believe I would fall in bed with Nic again that quickly."

Reyes walked back into the room at that exact moment. "I thought you said you were perfectly willing to put out that night if you'd had to." She popped a grape into her mouth.

Kate glared at her. "Thank you, Monica, for your perfectly timed input."

Scully raised her eyebrows. "So which is it, Kate?"

"Dana, please just get off my case, all right? I'm having enough trouble coping with everything without you nagging at me. You're supposed to be my friend. Why are you on his side?"

"Kate, I'm not. I just think you're reading this situation all wrong." To Scully's dismay, Kate's eyes filled with tears. In all the years she had known her, she had never seen Kate cry.

"Dana, I know it may be hard to see from the outside, but I am barely holding it all together here lately," her voice broke. "I had everything shoved neatly into its own little compartment and now things are getting all jumbled together. Please just leave me alone about it for now, okay? I'll work through it all in my own time." She pulled herself together, just managing to keep the tears from falling.

Skinner opened the door to the office, hanging up his phone. "Scully? Can you and Reyes get Mulder and Doggett and come in here so we can sort through all of this?" He looked up to see the tears pooled in Kate's eyes. "What's wrong with you?"

She turned away from him as Scully and Reyes headed in opposite directions to find the others. "Nothing. I'm fine."

He sighed deeply. "You don't look fine." He walked over to her and put his hands on her shoulders. "Tell me, Kate."

She took a deep breath. "Walter, you knew there were parts of me that just never healed from all those years ago. I thought you understood that about me because you never pushed me about any of that. But then, you throw me together with a man I have spent ten years running away from, as if you don't know me at all."

"You SAID you were okay about seeing him again, Kate...that it didn't bother you." He forced her to turn around so he could see her face.

Instead, Kate put her face in her hands, letting her hair fall forward. She didn't say anything at all.

"Kate, this is a dangerous time. And I need you to trust me when I ask you to do something. If the...past...is getting in the way, we need to work through it." She ignored him. "Kate?" Still no response. It wasn't until he tried to force her hands away from her face that he realized she was crying – really crying. Oh, shit. Now he was terrified. He had only seen her cry once. Way back when they were looking for Emma, she had lost it and cried in a car with him for over ten minutes. After she pulled herself together, they had never talked about. And aside from the occasional misty eyes, which she always blinked away, he never saw her cry again. At a loss, he put his arms around her. "Kate, please. Talk to me. I don't know what to do."

"That's just it," she mumbled against his chest. "You never do."

"Now, Kate, that is really not fair. Normally, you don't seem to need or want anything from me other than an occasional foot rub and sex a couple of times a week." As soon as it was out of his mouth, he regretted it. It had not come out the way he meant it. On the other hand, it stopped her crying almost immediately. Instinctively, he distanced himself from her, but not before her fist connected with his solar plexus.

He wasn't expecting it, so it knocked the wind out of him. She gave him a really dirty look. "I can't even believe you just said that," she said loudly.

Skinner had always been amazed the way women could go from one emotional extreme to another in a split second. He was bent over, trying to breathe regularly. "Kate. What the hell is wrong with you?" He finally righted himself, holding his midsection. "Maybe it wasn't worded well, but you know it's true or it wouldn't have made you so mad."

She stomped a foot impatiently. "It is NOT true. You don't have a clue. You don't know what I wanted or needed because you never even asked. My God, Walter, we slept together for over eight years and never took a vacation together, never even spent a holiday together. I invited you to spend Christmas with me here once, do you remember? You said you didn't think that was a good idea. So I wasn't under the impression I was allowed to ask for more. And I never did ask you for anything. I didn't ask you for anything last year, either. And I certainly didn't ask you to insult me by asking me to marry you after you'd..."

She was talking very loudly, and he knew that she had one of those voices that really carried. He cut her off quickly and loudly. "Kate! Please lower your voice. The whole damn island can hear you."

She looked at him with a hurt expression, but she did drop her voice several notches. "See. All you care about is what other people think."

Scully stuck her head into the room. "Listen, you two, I know I shouldn't interrupt...but you're really loud. Maybe you should take a walk or something."

Finally, Kate looked at Scully. "It's okay. We're finished here, anyway." She pushed past Scully and out the back door of the house.

Skinner just stood there looking dumbfounded. "I have no idea what that woman wants from me."

Scully patted his arm. "I don't think she even knows."

From the doorway, Mulder deadpanned, "Now THAT's what I call entertainment."

Skinner gave him a look that would make most people cringe. "Don't make me kick your ass, Mulder. Just get Doggett and Reyes and get in here." He stalked back into the office, still rubbing his gut. "Women," he muttered under his breath.


Sunday, 12:00 p.m.

Scully and Reyes finally re-emerged from the office. Kate had been playing Frisbee with William, Claire, and yes, even Togy for about the last hour, but she had just brought the kids back inside to make lunch. William was icing a cake that Kate had baked earlier, his little tongue stuck between his lips as he concentrated on covering the entire concoction with cream cheese frosting. About every third spoonful went to his tongue before going to the cake. Kate looked up and laughed at the frosting stuck to the tip of his nose. "William, if the others saw you licking that spatula, no one would eat any of your cake."

He smiled at her sheepishly. "That would mean more for me, then."

Scully came into the kitchen and kissed his sticky little cheek. She swiped the tip of his nose with a napkin.

"Mo-om, I was saving that for later." He stuck his tongue out and licked the tip of his own nose.

"Oh, William, that's disgusting, honey. Stop doing that."

Claire laughed. "I can do that, too! Thee?" She stuck her tongue to her nose to show Scully. "Can you do it?"

Scully stuck out her tongue, angling it upwards towards her nose. "Not quite."

Monica stuck her finger in William's frosting bowl and licked it. "Good stuff, big guy. What do you say we forget the cake and just eat the frosting?" She poked her other pointer finger into his side, making him squirm and giggle.

He nodded at her. "YEAH!"

Scully shook her head. "No, way."

He whined, "Aw, Mom, you're no fun at all."

She dipped her own finger into the bowl and wiped it on William's nose. "That's all you get for now, kid. Put the rest on the cake."

He smiled up at her adoringly and stuck his tongue to his nose again, licking a little of the frosting.

Scully looked at Claire. "What are you chopping there?"

The little girl smiled shyly at Scully. "Vegetables for the salad."

Scully snagged a cucumber and popped it into her mouth. "Looks good. Listen, you two. Before we have lunch, I need you to let Kate draw some blood. She's going to take some from me, too. Will you guys do that? It will only take a few minutes."

Claire nodded reluctantly, looking dejected. William looked at his mother strangely. "Why do you need to do that?"

"Well, we just need to make sure we're all well and everything."

Claire shook her head. "That's not true. You want to check to see if you're really my egg donor." The little girl turned to William. "She doesn't believe we're really related." She looked sadly at Scully and then turned to Kate, who already had her medical bag on the table. "Which arm do you want?"

Scully didn't realize she had been holding her breath until she felt the relief at seeing the red blood pour out of the little girl's arm. After Kate finished with Claire and Scully, she turned to William. "Your turn, Champ."

He shook his head. "No."

Scully looked at him, surprised. "It will only take a minute, William. Your dad's going to do this, too."

William shook his head again. "I'm not doing it. I don't want my blood taken out of me."

Kate looked at his blue eyes. "William, it's just like when you go to the doctor. It only hurts for a second."

He kept shaking his head. "I've never been to the doctor because I've never been sick."

Scully raised her eyebrows as she pushed her sleeves back down. Mulder and Doggett had come into the kitchen at that point. "Of course you've been to the doctor, William. Maybe you just don't remember it. I can remember a doctor taking your blood when you were a baby."

"Then find that doctor and get that blood back from her. Besides, it's dumb for you to test all of us. There's nothing wrong with me or Claire. And I'm telling you that you're my mom, he's my dad, and Claire is my sister. Just like the baby growing in your tummy right now is gonna be my sister."

All movement in the kitchen stopped. Startled, Scully opened her mouth to speak but nothing came out. Mulder recovered first. "How do you know that, William? How do you know there's a baby in Mom's tummy? Did you hear us talking about it?" Mulder knew they hadn't said anything about it around him.

William shook his head. "No. I can hear the baby, Dad. I can feel her heart beating." He put his hand to his forehead. "I can hear her in here." He then moved his hand to a spot on his chest. "And I can feel her here. Just like I can hear Claire and feel Claire. That's how I always knew about Claire. We talk without words."

They stared at Claire, who looked scared. "I don't know what he's talking about."

William looked at her accusingly. "Yes, you do. Stop telling fibs, Claire. You're just scared to tell them because you're afraid for anyone to know." He went and stood in front of Scully, putting his ear to her abdomen. "She's little, but she's growing. Right now she's sleeping. But she was awake a few minutes ago."

Scully put her hand on the little boy's head. "William, you're scaring Mommy."

He looked up at her. "Don't be scared. I scared my other Mama at first, too. She didn't like it much when I used my moving powers, either. Papa said God made me perfect just the way I am, though. But he also told me not to scare Mama with my powers when he wasn't home and never when anyone who wasn't family was around."

Scully nodded at him. "William, why'd you move your spacecraft in front of everyone this morning, then, if you knew better?"

He looked at Kate and Monica. "They're family, aren't they? They've been around since I was in your tummy. And I only feel good things about them. I thought it was okay. Was I bad?" He looked scared.

Mulder scooped him up. "No, William. You weren't bad." He hugged the little boy close to him. "Can Claire move things, too?"

William shook his head. "No. But she can do things I can't."

Mulder let it go for now. "Well. Are you going to let Kate take that blood? I'm getting awfully hungry."

William looked at his godmother hesitantly. "I don't know."

She leaned across the table and whispered something in his ear. "Well....all right." He stuck out his arm and squeezed his eyes tightly shut.

Thirty seconds later, he opened his eyes. "That didn't hurt at all. When will I get my surprise?"

Kate tweaked his nose. "It will be here later this afternoon." She packed the samples and swabbings up, making sure she kept a second sample of everything. Mulder and Scully were adamant that the samples not go to any of the Bureau labs. They were planning to send them to the private lab that Kate used for her office.

They all had lunch out on the patio. Scully seemed better now that they had hatched a plan and had some direction. And William was pure sunshine. He enjoyed the attention from the adults and was completely comfortable talking to them. After completing his sand sculpture that morning, he was in a silly, carefree mood, making everyone laugh with his antics. Scully seemed delighted by this side of her son. Mulder couldn't take his eyes off of her as she played with William; it was as if the last fifteen years had fallen away from her in the last fifteen minutes. Her eyes sparkled in a way he honestly hadn't seen very often since that first time she had walked into his basement office. He was glad Kate had been taking pictures. He couldn't wait to have one for his desk. As Scully stretched out in the sand beside William, making the equivalent of a snow angel, Mulder laughed out loud. He could watch her like this all day.

Reyes was staring down the beach where Doggett was throwing a stick for Togy. Kate caught her watching him. "He looks like he's lost some weight since the last time I saw him. And he didn't need to lose any weight."

Reyes kept watching as William jumped up from the sand and ran down the beach towards Doggett and the pup. Scully dusted herself off and made her way towards the other two women. She dropped into a chair in time to hear Reyes say, "I always told him he was a dog person."

Scully looked at her. "So what happened to you guys, Monica? Last I heard you guys were doing well."

The dark haired woman finally dragged her eyes away from the man, boy, and dog. "I wanted to talk about having a baby. He couldn't even discuss it."

Scully nodded. "Ah."

"He just clammed up. Wouldn't talk about it at all. He grew more and more distant with each day. I never said I wouldn't be okay without children. He never gave me a chance to say anything. He came home one night and told me he had requested a transfer and that he wanted me to move on with my life."

Kate looked up at her. "I can understand why, you know. When you've lost a child, the idea of bringing another one into the world is terrifying – almost emotionally paralyzing. Believe me."

Monica looked at her sadly. "Right now, I'd just be happy to have him back in my life."

Scully glanced between Doggett and Reyes. "Well, Monica...maybe you need to make him understand that."

They watched as William held onto Doggett's arm, laughing as he slung him around in a circle, the dog running around chasing William's feet. "Just look how good he is with that little boy. I know he'll never get over losing Luke, but I really think he looks happiest at moments like these," Monica said sadly.

Scully looked at Claire, who was hanging back from everyone else. The biggest problem they seemed to be facing right now was that Claire just didn't seem to exist. Skinner and Doggett hadn't been able to locate a record of her birth anywhere so far. Claire had told Doggett earlier that she was born in July of 1994. Scully was adamant that there was no way she could be the girl's biological mother if that were the case. Claire was able to give Skinner and Doggett the name of her "host" mother, so they hoped to eventually find a record of her live birth. The problem was that it was Sunday and not a lot of business was really able to be done. Labs and records offices were closed everywhere. Everything would just have to wait until tomorrow.

Scully was just about to go over to the girl when she saw Kate walk up to her. The two started walking down the beach together, picking up shells every so often. Scully watched as the little girl slipped a hand into Kate's.

Claire looked up at Kate, feeling shy after taking her hand. She started to pull away, but Kate closed her fingers tighter and swung their hands between them. "So, what's on your mind, kid?"

"Kate, if I don't live with William and his parents, do you think I could maybe stay with you? I'm not any trouble. I can take care of myself."

Kate smiled at the girl. "I have no doubt that you can take care of yourself, Claire. But why wouldn't you live with them?"

Claire shrugged. "Well, I don't know. Maybe they don't want a kid they barely know. Maybe the government people aren't going to let me."

Kate stopped and put an arm around the little girl. She wasn't about to tell her that if the government people didn't let her live with Mulder and Scully, it was likely they weren't going to let her live with Kate either. "Sweetie, if for some reason you couldn't live with them, I would definitely love to have you if they would let me. Who wouldn't want you, Claire?" She hugged the child tightly, suddenly realizing that Emma would've been only a little younger than Claire.

Claire shrugged. "Well, Dana doesn't seem to like me that much."

Kate took the little girl's face in her hands, pushing the reddish gold hair back off of the forehead. "It's not that she doesn't like you, Claire. It's that she doesn't know you well yet. And she's afraid."

Tears formed in Claire's eyes, "Of me?"

Kate shook her head. "Well, no, not exactly. I can't say for sure, but I think she's afraid to let herself care about you until she's sure you're hers to love. Does that make sense?"

Claire shook her head. "Not really."

"Okay. It's like this, Claire. Dana has been my friend for a long time. She doesn't let a lot of people get close to her. I think she's scared to get too close to you until she knows she can keep you. I bet it's scary to learn you have a daughter you never knew about."

Claire nodded, her eyes still teary. "I guess."

Kate hugged her again. "But I bet it's also scary to meet your biological mother for the first time when you're thirteen."

Claire nodded harder, tears spilling onto her cheeks. "I just really wanted her to like me."

"She does, sweetie. I promise."

Skinner brooded as he watched Kate with the little girl down the beach. He shook his head slightly. He really didn't want to see this end badly. Maybe if he did everything perfect, the little girl could be left alone. He looked up to see William standing beside his chair. "Hi," he said to the little boy.

"Hello. My mom used to work with you, right? I remember you a little from when I was a baby."

Skinner nodded. "Yes. Your mom and dad used to work with me."

William nodded. "They don't anymore because there were more bad people than good people at work."

He shook his head. "I don't think that's true, William. I just think it takes fewer bad people to make bad things happen than good people to make good things happen."

The little boy wrinkled his nose and eyebrows. "What happened to all of your hair? Did you never grow any from when you were a baby?"

Skinner scowled at him. "No, I once had more hair. A lot of it fell out because your dad and mom gave me so many headaches when they worked for me."

William laughed. "That's funny."

"Glad you think so."

"Do you want to throw the football with me?"

Skinner looked around for another adult to do it, but they were all busy or inside. "Okay."

William smiled at him. "Cool. I'll go long." He ran in the direction of Kate and Claire.

Skinner tossed him the ball, but it went over the little boy's head. William turned and chased it. He snagged the ball, ran half the distance back to Skinner and threw a somewhat wobbly spiral. After a few passes, Skinner walked up to the little boy and repositioned his hands on the ball. Scully, watching from the patio, smiled at such an unexpected sight.

Kate was watching, too, as she approached from behind. When she was close enough, she ran between William and the football, intercepting it neatly. "Hey!" he yelled. She laughed and threw a perfect spiral back to Skinner.

"Where'd you learn to throw a football?" William demanded.

She laughed and ruffled his hair. "I used to play with the boys here every summer."

William laughed up at her, then called to the other adults. "Mom, Dad! Monica, John! Come and play."

They split into two teams. Scully couldn't play at all, although she was a quick runner. It always surprised Mulder that she had grown up with two brothers and a military dad but had never even played the typical male sports. Monica was a pretty good receiver. Claire showed natural athletic ability, although she had never really played any games before. William ran the ball most of the time since the whole game was for him anyway. They all cracked up when the little boy, trying to dodge Doggett, ducked down and ran between his legs, scoring a touchdown. Skinner looked pretty uncomfortable with the whole game, but he ended up playing with them anyway. Finally, the game wound down as clouds moved in. Scully, in a completely out of character show of affection, wrapped both of her arms around Mulder's neck, pulling his head down close to hers. "Kiss me," she whispered against his lips.

For some reason, he was bashful, knowing everyone else was nearby. "Scully, everyone's watching."

She put her lips against his, licking his bottom lip gently. "I don't care, Mulder. I want to remember this day as perfect. Just kiss me."

He dropped his hands to her bottom and lifted her up, urging her to wrap her legs around him. He walked to the nearby railing and sat her on top of it, so that she was eye level with him. Her legs were still wrapped around him, her feet pressing into the backs of his knees. Leaning forward slowly, he kissed her for what seemed like forever. Finally, he drew back to look at her again. Her lips were swollen, her hair was slipping out of her ponytail, and the happiness radiating from her blue eyes was infectious. He smiled back. "I adore you like this, Scully."

She tipped her up and laughed; she had spent so many years listening to him crack one-liners when he was pushed emotionally that this side of him always caught her off guard. He nipped the soft skin of her neck. "You're supposed to adore me all the time, Mulder." She sighed happily.

Scully looked over when she heard William say loudly, "Why is Dad licking Mom's neck?" Skinner was discreetly ignoring them while Doggett was talking quietly to Monica, but everyone looked up at his question.

Kate scooped William over her shoulder and spun him around. "She must have some leftover frosting there that she can't reach herself. Let's go see if that surprise is here yet, kid." She looked up and met Scully's eyes.

"Thank you," Scully mouthed at her.

Kate gave her a dry look. "Yeah, you owe me." She wheeled William around once more and then headed into the house with him.


Sunday, 5:00 p.m.

When Skinner's phone rang, he took it into the office and closed the door. Fifteen minutes later, he called Mulder and Doggett into the office as well. Twenty minutes after that, Mulder and Skinner left the house together, leaving Doggett behind.

Doggett walked into the kitchen an hour later, where Kate and Monica were making margaritas in a blender. Both women lifted their eyes at him. "So...what are we doing for dinner?" He nodded at the steaks on the counter. "Want me to light the grill?" No one said anything to him. They both just continued to look at him. "Ladies?"

Kate spoke first. "Want a beer, John?"

He nodded. "Sure."

She handed him a Dos Equis. "Tell us where Mulder and Skinner went."

Doggett took a long swallow. "I don't know where they went."

Monica threw him a look. "I know you're lying, John. I can see that little twitchy thing your ear does when you lie."

He touched his ear. "Huh?"

"Come on, John. We deserve to know if there's a possibility those two are up to something dangerous."

Scully walked into the kitchen, having just put William in the tub. "Who?" She looked around. "Ah, you have to be kidding me. Where'd they go, John?"

He shook his head, holding his hands up in the air. "Really, I don't know. Skinner got a call about meeting a guy who had information for him."

Kate tipped her head to the side. "How does anyone even know where we are?"

Doggett could see the panic in all three faces. "Whoa. Hold on. They took a helicopter. The person they're meeting won't know exactly where they're coming from."

Monica crossed her arms. "But how do we know the intention wasn't to lure them out of house because someone already knew where we were?"

Doggett looked at the three women. "You guys are really paranoid." The power went out at that exact moment, plunging the entire house into total darkness. Two screams came from upstairs.

Scully and Kate bolted for the stairs to get to the kids, while Doggett and Reyes ran to make sure the bottom floor was secure, both of their weapons drawn.

Just as Doggett and Reyes finished checking the doors and windows, a loud crash from the foyer grabbed their attention. The front door was lying on the ground and a man was stepping through. The next couple of minutes passed in a blur. Both Doggett and Reyes fired several rounds straight at the man, but he never stopped. Scully came halfway down the stairs in time to see the man walk straight towards Doggett and sling him out of the way.

"Monica, shoot the back of his neck!"

"I already tried. It's not working!"

Upstairs, Kate was trying to get the kids out a window and down a trellis. She sent Claire out first, but William was fighting against her for some reason, refusing to go out the window. "William, you have to go. Your mom wants you to. Come on." Finally, she just shoved him through the window and went out after him. He grabbed the trellis on his own and then did something she couldn't believe. He let go and dropped from about twenty-five feet up. Kate looked down to see him miraculously get to his feet. Inside, the man headed straight to the stairs and grabbed Scully, picking her up by her shoulders. Several things happened simultaneously.

Outside, Kate yelled out, "William, no! Don't go back to the house. Claire, grab him!" She jumped down from the trellis from halfway up, her ankle twisting a little beneath her. "Damn it. Never mind, Claire, run the other way. Don't you go after him, Claire. Run. I'll get him." Kate chased William just as Monica burst out the back door and around the corner of the house, having heard Kate scream. "Monica, get Claire out of here."

William was already at the broken down front door. Kate lunged for him just as headlights shone in the driveway. The little boy evaded her grip and ran inside. He stopped and looked at the man holding Scully. "Don't you hurt my mommy." Kate dragged herself up out of the broken glass from the door and snagged William by his shoulders. The super soldier, or whatever he was, did something that truly shocked them: he released Scully and started backing towards the back door and out into the night.

Kate was holding a still struggling William by the shoulders. Thinking he was trying to get to Scully, she let him go. He lit out towards the back door. Kate and Scully both chased after him. "William, no!" Scully yelled as she saw him streaking after the super soldier. It seemed like they weren't gaining on him at all because of the sand.

They heard his little voice carry back to them. "He's going to kill Claire, Mom. I have to stop him."

Mulder rounded the corner from the front just in time and grabbed William. "Dad. Let me go. You don't understand. I can stop him. He'll kill her. He'll kill her and Monica, too, if he gets to them." Skinner ran past them, trying to get to Reyes and Claire before the man did.

The child was screaming, punching, kicking, crying, and scratching. Mulder was having trouble even keeping a grip on him. "Tell them, Kate. You saw him. He's scared of me. Let me go, Dad. I can stop him."

Kate looked at Mulder for a long moment, sent up a little prayer that she was right, and then nodded slowly. Mulder released the child and began following him down the beach. Scully screamed as only a mother who believes her child to be in mortal danger can. "How could you? He's just a little boy!"

Kate grabbed Scully by the arm. "Come on." They started after Mulder and William.

Miraculously, William was gaining on the man, who was quickly gaining on Reyes and Claire, even though he wasn't even running. Out of nowhere, a large piece of driftwood flew into the man's head, temporarily slowing him down. William lunged for the man, jumping onto his back. "You. Leave. My. Family. Alone." William put his hands on either side of the man's head. The man's blood started bubbling up, veins popping out everywhere. Then, the man just...imploded, shooting off into the air above the water.

Scully reached William and dropped to her knees. "Are you okay, baby?" He was lying in the sand on his back.

He spit out a mouthful of sand. "Blech. Tuuh." He smiled his megawatt smile at Scully, struggling to sit up. "I'm fine, Mom." She picked him up and held him tightly.

Everyone else, including Mulder, was standing there awestruck. Monica suddenly remembered Doggett lying on the floor of the living room bleeding. "John!" she yelled and started running back. Claire and Kate ran behind her.

William was wiggling in Scully's arms. "Mom, I can walk. Put me down." He took off after the others.

When they arrived at the living room, Monica was pressing her hands to John's head, which looked like it had been cracked open by the tile or whatever he had struck when the super soldier threw him out of the way. There was a huge pool of blood around him. Claire threw herself down beside them. "Move," she told Monica. "I can help him." She pried the woman's hands off of Doggett's head and replaced them with her own. Closing her eyes tightly, tears began to fall down her cheeks. "Please be all right; please be all right," she chanted. She put her forehead against Doggett's. Finally, the little girl removed her blood soaked hands from his head and inspected the wound. "I can't get it to close up all the way, but I think it's stopped bleeding."

Doggett opened his eyes slowly. "What's everyone staring at? What'd I miss?"

Reyes leaned over and kissed his forehead. "You cryin', Monica? What's wrong?" He struggled to sit up. "Whoa! Who's bleeding?"

Claire shook her head. "I can't do anything about his confusion." She looked down at her hands. "Eeew. I hate blood. Come on, William. Let's go get cleaned up."


Sunday, 9:00 p.m.

Finally, the house was cleaned up and quiet. Kate had called the same man who piloted the plane and had him deliver and install a new front door, no questions asked. Skinner wondered vaguely why he couldn't get agents to follow orders so efficiently. He also learned something about Kate at that moment: she was accustomed to giving orders, albeit kindly ones...and he knew that people used to giving orders rarely took orders well. That explained a lot about her.

Mulder had just finished tucking both kids into bed. Reyes had managed to get both herself and Doggett showered and changed. Kate was currently super gluing the gash that remained on John's head shut. Mulder looked over at Scully, who was sitting on the sofa with an almost empty glass of red wine in her hand. "Is she supposed to be drinking that?" He directed his question to Kate.

Kate glanced at him incredulously. "You're kidding me, right? After what she went through tonight, you think one glass of red wine is going to hurt her?"

Scully gave them both a dirty look. "Hello? I can hear you talking about me."

Mulder sat down beside her, putting a hand on the back of her head. "Are you all right?"

She looked up at him with those baby blues. "You know, Mulder...I really think I am. I keep waiting for the anxiety to hit...but it just doesn't. It's like I feel better knowing the super soldiers can't hurt William." Mulder nodded. He knew what she meant.

Skinner paced the living room. "What can I do?"

Kate looked up at him. "I don't know about everyone else, but I'm starving. I fed the kids a quick sandwich while everyone else was showering. Can you throw the meat on the grill? I put it back in the fridge."

Skinner looked at her and gave a short laugh. "Nothing stops you from eating, does it?"

Kate gave him a wry look. "You know me. I'm fine as long as my stomach's full."

He looked at the cuts on her face, knees, and hands. "Why don't you go get cleaned up now?"

She looked down at herself for the first time, taking in her own cuts and bruises. "Oh. Right."

Skinner went out back and lit the grill. Kate looked over at Mulder. "So, I was wondering....how did William KNOW he could kill the super soldier?"

Mulder looked up at her. "If you can believe it, he said that this was the third one he'd seen. He said two others had come to his house in the past couple of years."

Reyes shook her head. "Wow."

Scully looked at Mulder. "What about Claire?"

Mulder reached over and took her empty wine glass, setting it on the end table. "Well, she said she had hidden her powers from everyone, even the scientists. She doesn't think anyone from the facility knows what she can do."

Doggett rubbed his forehead. "Then why did the super soldier come after her?"

Monica answered. "That's easy. I think they're worried about what she can tell us about what all went on with the kids in that facility. They don't want her for what she can do...they want her for what she knows the other kids can do."

Scully spoke up. "How will we ever keep her safe?"

Mulder took her hand and brought it to his lips. "We do the best we can, one day at a time. That's all we can do. She told me tonight that these days have been the best two of her life. I think she's just happy to be with William...and with you, Scully. Besides, I think she and William are going to do a pretty good job taking care of themselves over the next few years."

Kate went upstairs to take a shower. After dinner was ready, she still hadn't come back down. "You guys eat," Skinner told the others. "I'll go check on her."

He knocked on the door to her room. "Kate? I'm coming in." He pushed the door to the room open. She was blow drying her hair, standing there in a towel.

She turned the blow dryer off. "Sorry. I didn't hear you."

He looked at her legs and the smooth skin of her shoulders and arms. "Dinner's ready."

She nodded, going over to the dresser to drag out some of the clothes she left there year round. She stopped him before he closed the door. "Walter?"

He stuck his head back in. "Yeah?"

"I'm sorry I aired out all of our dirty laundry earlier," she said without turning around. "I don't know what's wrong with me. My emotions are all over the place these days." She threw the towel over a hook outside the bathroom. He swallowed hard. She had never been shy about being naked around him, even after they had stopped sleeping together. She slipped on a pair of exercise pants and a sweatshirt and walked over to the door where he was standing.

He nodded. "It's okay. I just...I had no idea you had all that pent up inside. I guess I didn't realize how hurt you were. I'm not a mind reader."

She gave him a sardonic look. "No kidding?"

He looked at the bruises on her face, reaching out a thumb to touch the worst one gently. "Come have dinner."

She nodded. "Okay." He followed her back down the hallway. On the way past the doorway where the two kids slept, she stopped and pushed the door open a little, slipping inside. The moonlight lit both of the children's faces. Kate leaned over Claire's bed, tucking covers around her. Then, she leaned over William's bed, feeling his cool little forehead. She petted the dog lying on top of him before turning to go.

Skinner watched the look on her face as she kissed her fingers and pressed them to the little girl's cheek on her way back out the door. He felt like she had punched him in the gut for the second time that day. She should be home tucking her own child into bed. Maybe she could have been if he hadn't caused her so much heartache back in the early days of that pregnancy...or if he had actually found her daughter all those years ago. She had lost the chance to do this kind of thing with not one but two children over the past ten years. When Kate walked by him at the door, she noticed the sad look on his face. Linking her hand with his, she tugged him after her down the stairs. At the bottom of the stairs, she stopped and put her arms around his neck. "Not everything is your fault, Walter." She held him tightly, rubbing the back of his neck with one hand, but he remained rigid against her.

They ate in the kitchen, conversation finding its way to lighter topics. Monica managed to salvage the margaritas from earlier and Scully ate like she really was eating for two, which made Mulder happy. Skinner ate and excused himself to the office to work.

Scully looked up at Kate. "I don't think he's quite gotten over that upper cut to the gut you gave him earlier. Or maybe he's still brooding because you let him think you slept with Nic."

Kate made a face at her. "Whatever." She turned to Reyes. "Monica, you know John probably has a concussion, right?"

The dark headed woman nodded. "I'll watch him through the night, and we'll take care of the dishes."

Mulder pulled Scully up out of the chair, where she was already looking sleepy.

Kate stopped by the office on her way upstairs. "Walter? I'm going to bed. Please don't sleep on the sofa in here. There's an extra bedroom down the hall."

He stopped her. "Kate?"

She turned around. "Yeah?"

A muscle clenched in his jaw as he considered what he wanted to say. "Nothing. Sleep well."

Kate gave him a quick grin. "Don't I always?"


Sunday, 11:21 p.m.

Kate turned over in bed, feeling like something was wrong. Sitting up, she clutched the bedcovers to her chest. A voice startled her from the other side of the room. "I don't want to scare you." Of course, that's exactly what it did – scared the hell out of her. When she realized who it was, she lay back down.

"Christ. Don't do that, Walter. What are you doing in here?"

He was sitting forward in the arm chair where she liked to read when she was here. "Watching you sleep."

She rolled over towards him, putting her hands under her cheek. "Well, that sounds about as much fun as watching someone eat."

He didn't say anything for a while. "I really like it here. This house, the ocean. It's soothing."

She nodded. "I've been all over the world, but this is probably my favorite place. I don't get down here often enough, though. Only a few times a year." She yawned and stretched. "I spent every summer that I can remember here as a kid. Of course, I spent most of them here with nannies, hoping my father would make it for even a long weekend."

He knew her father had founded a pharmaceutical company and had grown it into a global corporation. "How old were you when your mother died?"

"I was only four, so I barely even remember her. Funny how my father spent all of his time looking for cures to other people's weird illnesses, then his own wife killed herself." She noticed the sympathetic look on his face. "Walter, that was over thirty-five years ago. I'm really okay about it." For a long time, neither one said anything. She knew his father had died when he was a teenager and that his mother was still alive, although Kate had never met her.

"Kate...I wanted to tell you something. When you asked me to come here with you for Christmas all those years ago, it's not that I didn't want to. It's that I wasn't comfortable coming here with you and meeting your father."

She gave a dry laugh. "I can assure you that my father wasn't here. I usually flew to wherever he was on Christmas morning."

Her father had died a few years back, and he wondered who she spent holidays with now and why it had not ever occurred to him to ask. Seeing the look on his face in the moonlight, she spoke up. "Our pilot, Godfrey, the one who came to install the door tonight, he's always taken care of me. Nannies have come and gone, but Godfrey has been here for as long as I can remember. Don't look so sad, Walter. I had a good life. It was just a quiet life."

He nodded. The same was true for his. His mother was never the same after his father died. He stood up and put his hands in his pockets. "Kate...do you want to take a walk?"

She looked at him as if he'd lost his mind. "Walter, that's really not a good idea..."

He shook his head. "Never mind. I'm sorry."

Kate sat up, still clutching the covers. "It's not that I don't want to. It's....do you hear that wind? We wouldn't be able to even see. The wind would blow sand all in our eyes, even if we went out towards the main road."

"Oh. Well, go back to sleep then. Maybe we could walk and talk tomorrow?"

She sat there for a second, her heart beating loudly in her chest. Now this was a different side to Walter Skinner. "That would be nice."

"Well...good night."

She bit her lip, hesitating for only a moment. "Walter...just come to bed."

He shook his head. "I can't tonight, Kate. I can't just get into bed with you and go to sleep and pretend like everything's okay."

"So...don't pretend or sleep, just come to bed. I'm not asking for you. I'm asking for me."

He looked down at the outline of her body beneath the covers. "I don't have any pajamas here with me."

She threw the covers back. "That's okay. Neither do I."

For a moment, he just stood there. He had been imagining her lying there in her flannels and Georgetown t-shirt, winter socks on her feet. Instead, she was wearing nothing at all. "Kate..."

She propped herself up on an elbow. "Walter. I didn't sleep with Nic."

"Then why did you let me think you did?"

Kate looked down, then up to meet his eyes. "Maybe I wanted to see if you even cared."

He traced a finger down her shoulder. "And what did you decide?"

She shrugged. "I couldn't tell."

He stripped out of his shirt, pants, and socks, then slid into bed beside her. "Are you sure about this? It feels like we always end up in bed, no matter what we try to talk about."

She laughed as she rolled onto her back, pulling him over towards her. "There are worse ruts to be in, Walter."


Monday, 6:15 a.m.

Skinner was on his way downstairs to make coffee. When he opened the door to the bedroom, he saw William coming out of another room. "Why did you sleep in Kate's room?" The little boy asked him. Uncomfortable, he looked up and saw Scully rubbing her eyes, closing the door to the other bedroom.

"William. Come on, I'll get you breakfast. "

Downstairs, Scully made William a bowl of cereal and sat at the table with him, watching Skinner make two cups of coffee. He was already showered and dressed. "So...is Kate awake?"

Skinner turned a little red. "Yeah. She's getting dressed."

"Ah."

"Uh, do you want coffee?"

She shook her head and poured herself juice instead. Kate came into the kitchen then. "Morning, you guys." She leaned down and gave William a quick kiss on the top of the head.

Skinner handed her a cup of coffee. "Thanks."

He watched her as she toasted a couple of bagels. Leaning against the counter, he marveled at how comfortable she seemed. He felt sick wondering what to even say to her. She put cream cheese on his bagel and handed it to him. "Dana? You want one?" Scully shook her head. Kate added cream cheese and jelly to her own bagel.

Scully noted their familiarity with each other's preferences and habits. How bizarre. Kate hopped up on the counter to eat her bagel, but Skinner ate his standing and then finished his coffee. When he turned to face Kate, she fixed the collar on the back of his golf shirt. "You're dressed casually. Are you not heading back today?"

He shook his head. "I'm going to stay here another day and try to sort through the reports with Doggett. Are you leaving today?"

Kate nodded. "Yeah. I need to get back. I asked Godfrey to be ready to fly out at ten. He'll fly you guys out whenever you're ready, though. It will take forever to get back commercially from here, believe me, so just accept the offer and say thank you."

He smiled at her. "Thank you."

He was close enough that she was able to hook one leg around the back of his. "So...you want to take that walk now? The wind has died down."

Skinner looked uncomfortable. "Well..."

Kate let her leg drop. "It's really okay. I have a lot to take care of before I leave, anyway."

He braced himself by putting one hand on the counter beside her hip. "I just need to make a few calls, Kate. Can you give me a half hour?"

She nodded. When he walked away, Scully came to stand beside her. "So...I've been trying to figure out exactly which one of you is dysfunctional." Kate rolled her eyes at her redheaded friend. William opened the back door and ran out with Togy. "And I've decided you both are. Who initiated this?"

"I did. I invited him to bed."

Scully sighed. "Kate, why? I thought you were confused... and weren't you the one who wanted the split to begin with?"

Getting angry, Kate hopped off the counter. "Dana, to answer your second question first, I am confused, but the split was mutual. Besides, I hardly consider it a split when we were never really together. And as far as why I slept with him last night...for a lot of reasons, the primary one being that I hadn't had sex in over a year and he was there...and because we're both adults...but also because I do care about him...because I am attracted to him...because I wanted a memory of him here, in a place that I love. I know he and I will never work, Dana, not in the long run. But I just wasn't ready to leave things like we did last winter. We left a lot of things unsaid, and I only recently realized that I walked away last year really hurt. We tried to shove everything else away and salvage our friendship. This seemed like a better ending than the door slamming of last year."

Scully shook her head, "Kate...you aren't supposed to use sex to say goodbye."

Kate glared at her. "Don't act like you've never had sex without commitment, Dana."

"Monogamous sex for eight years IS a commitment, whether you realize it or not. He asked you to marry him for God's sake. And you shot him down."

"He didn't WANT to get married. He just thought I expected it. And I didn't. And I don't want to get married again, Dana. It's an antiquated arrangement, and to be quite honest, I sucked at it the first time." Kate walked out of the kitchen, and Scully knew she was upset.

Scully called her back for a second. "Kate...to you, it's an antiquated arrangement. But Skinner is old-fashioned – military. He doesn't know any other way to say, hey, I'm committed to you or to us if you'll have me. You don't know how much trouble he had letting his first marriage go. He married young and stuck with it for a whole lot longer than he should have."

Kate shook her head. "Dana...that's just it. Walter and I come at life from two very different directions. I don't want to be with someone who feels obligated to me." She escaped upstairs to gather the rest of the things that she needed to take back with her.

Skinner stuck his head back into the kitchen. "I'd really rather, Scully, if you wouldn't try to defend me to her."

Scully looked at him, embarrassed. "I didn't realize you heard all of that."

He shrugged. "Well, I only heard the end."

"She's my friend. I just want to see her happy...and settled."

"I'm not sure those two things can ever really exist in Kate's life simultaneously."

Scully put a hand on his arm. "I think you're wrong."

He looked down at her hand. "I know you're probably her best friend, but I think I know her better than you. Kate doesn't do well when she feels tied down, Dana. It's nothing for me to call her on a Friday night and have her say she's on a plane headed for Boulder for the weekend, no warning or anything...even if I just left her house that morning."

Scully tilted her head to the side. "Yeah, but why couldn't you be on that plane with her...or be waiting at home for her when she gets back?"

He looked at her somewhat sadly. "You know real life doesn't work that way." He thought for a minute. "Some mornings I used to wake up to find her doing yoga at four a.m. And sometimes, Dana, she'd walk around naked for half an hour, talking on the phone or whatever, after a shower, not thinking anything of it. Once, I woke up at three a.m. to find her painting a mural on the bedroom wall. She will sing karaoke, for God's sake. You never know what she'll do."

Scully laughed. "That's what makes her Kate, Walter. But you always know she's going to go to work each day and come home at night...well, most of the time. She's one of the most dependable people I know. You can always count on Kate to do what she promises."

"You don't get it, Dana. I don't fit with that kind of spontaneity. I only hold her back. I don't want her making promises to me that she really doesn't want to make."

Scully shook her head. "Maybe you just...tether her to earth...kind of like I do Mulder." She saw the skeptical look on his face. "Just think about it, Walter."

Kate came back downstairs a few minutes later, her laptop backpack on her shoulder. She dropped it by the front foyer. Skinner opened the back door. "You ready?"

She nodded, kicking off her shoes and rolling her pants up. "You have to take off your shoes or the sand will bog you down."

He grimaced and took them off.

"You also have to roll up your pants or the damp sand will get the cuffs wet."

He drew the line there. "I don't care if the cuffs get wet."

Kate shrugged. "Suit yourself."

For a long time, they walked in silence, side by side. She stopped every so often to inspect a shell or crab hole. Finally, he spoke. "So...are we just going to walk or are we going to talk, too?"

Kate pulled hair away from her mouth where the wind had blown it. "I guess we should talk, Walter."

Still, she didn't initiate the conversation. Finally, he asked her, "What would make you happy, Kate?"

She didn't think he'd ever asked her that before, or that anyone had for that matter. Reaching out a hand and snagging his pinky finger with hers, she told him, "I'm pretty happy right at this moment."

He curled his finger around hers. "Well, what would make you happy for a sustained period of time?"

She laughed softly at his choice of words. "I honestly don't know. Let me ask you something. Were you happy with the way things were before I got pregnant?"

He hesitated. He never considered himself a coward until it came to emotional talks. "Well, I wasn't unhappy. Were you unhappy?"

She shook her head, "You know, I've thought a lot about it, and I really wasn't. I didn't feel like I needed something more until there was the idea that there suddenly was something more. Does that make sense?"

"But we can't go back now to the way things were before." Even he knew that wouldn't work. Something had shifted between them and they couldn't go back to being friends who slept together twice a week.

"No, I guess we can't."

He stopped and looked into her eyes. "Tell me what you want."

She sighed deeply. "I don't know anymore what I want, Walter. And I'm afraid that a lot of the things I want, you couldn't – or wouldn't – give me."

That hurt his feelings. "I could try, Kate. I don't like the idea of being away from you."

She stopped him, afraid to hear the rest. "Just hang on a second, all right? Let me try to say this. My whole life, I've spent chasing after the things I thought I wanted. When I was twenty-one, I set my sights on Nic and had to have him. When Emma came along, I wanted to be the perfect mother, and I thought that meant I had to be the perfect wife, too. I wanted to be the top of my med school class at Stanford. I wanted to be the most accomplished thirty year-old in my field. And the list just goes on from there. But, Walter, not once during all of this did I ever stop to consider what I NEEDED. I think the time has come in my life to think about what I need instead of just what I want."

He let out a breath. "So...what do you need?"

She bit her lip. "You're not going to like this...but I think I need to be alone for a while. I need to stand on my own – I know that sounds crazy because I have spent most of the past decade alone – and sort through all of my feelings – about Emma, about Nic, about you, and about the baby I lost last year. Walter, I want to be your friend, and I will always be there for you if you need me, but maybe it's best for now if I just try to sort through this. I'm having trouble moving on. And since we never really dated, just slept together, I haven't really been able to get a handle on how I'm supposed to feel or what I'm supposed to be doing when I'm still seeing you in every other way besides the physical."

He swallowed hard, rubbing her arms, not liking where this conversation was heading. "Kate. That's not really accurate. You know you mean more to me than just someone I sometimes slept with."

She nodded. "Of course I know that."

He looked down at her red toenails in the sand. "Okay. So now we're not going to be seeing each other at all?" The idea of not seeing her even for lunch really bothered him, a lot more than he ever thought it would.

She closed her eyes. "Just for now. Please understand. I didn't even realize how many walled up emotions I still had about Nic, either, until I saw him. There's so much going on inside me right now that I can't make any progress."

He finally made eye contact with her, confused about the previous night they had spent together, but wanting to end this conversation as expeditiously as possible. "Kate, it's fine. I just want you to be happy, and I want you to be safe. If this is what you need, I understand. But please stay out of this mess with Mulder and Scully right now as much as possible. Let me and Doggett do our jobs and try to settle this without anyone getting killed." Since they had just had a year away from the physical part of their relationship, he didn't think more time apart was going to bring her closer to his reach. He only hoped that over time they could at least be friends again. She was probably the best friend he'd ever had. Glancing around, he realized they were almost back at her house.

She knew she had hurt him; she could see it in his eyes. "Walter, please take care of yourself." Kate looked over to see Doggett and Reyes sitting out on the back step. "You coming in?"

He shook his head. "I think I'm going to walk the other way for a while."

"You know, maybe without taking me to lunch once or twice a week, you can find time to go on a real date. Maybe you can figure out what you need in your life." He did not comment, and she watched as he began walking away. When he was twenty yards away, he turned and jogged back towards her. She was back to the patio when he called her name. "Yeah?" She stopped at the top step, wrinkling her brow.

He came right up to her, putting one hand behind her head and the other around her waist. With him standing in the sand, and her on the step, she was almost his height. She stared into his brown eyes. "What is it?"

Dipping his head, he kissed her for a long moment. She pulled away and looked at him. "What was that all about?"

"Just in case."

"In case what?" she asked breathlessly.

He whispered to her, "In case part of what you need is to know that I am capable of not caring what others think. Or in case part of what you want is being kissed on the beach in the morning when you're on vacation. Or in case that's the last time I ever get the chance." He pulled away a little, pleased with the look of surprise in her eyes. "You pick. You can let me know what you decide."

She stood there with her hands on her hips as he headed back down the beach. Now she was even more confused. Finally turning around, she heard Doggett say, "Whoa. Never thought I'd see Skinner do THAT."

Mulder, who was leaning in the doorway, piped up. "Hoped was more like it." He gave a fake shiver, then leered at Kate. "So...where's MY good morning kiss, Kate?"

Kate didn't smile. "That was not a good morning kiss. That was a goodbye kiss." She looked down at her watch. "And I need to hurry."

Inside, she said her goodbyes, promising William and Claire she would visit them both soon. Kate was surprised when the little boy wrapped his arms around her waist and hugged her tightly. "Can we come back and visit here when it's warm enough to swim?" She'd seen him eyeing the empty swimming pool the day before.

Kate nodded as she tousled his hair. "Sure we can. And your parents can bring you here for vacation any time, whether I'm here or not." She kissed the tip of his nose.

Claire looked at her accusingly. "You're leaving?"

Kate hugged her tightly. "I'll see you later this week, okay? I promise everything's going to be all right, Claire. Just give it time." Scully walked her to the front door. "Don't worry about cleaning anything when you guys leave. The caretaker will handle it. Honestly, don't bother. She'll just redo everything you try to do anyhow. I'll call you when I get DNA results, okay?"

Scully hugged her at the front door. "Thanks for everything. I can't tell you how different I feel than I did just a few days ago."

Kate nodded and smiled. "A lot can happen in forty-eight hours, huh?" She flipped her hair out of her coat collar. "Dana? You'll make sure Walter's all right, won't you?"

Scully sighed. "Sure, Kate."


Thursday, 6:30 p.m.

Kate stopped at the beginning of the driveway, happy to see that Mulder had finally installed an intercom and automatic gate. Once she was buzzed in, she made her way down the drive, waving to William when he came out onto the porch.

"Hi, big guy," she said as she scooped him up for a hug. "Where's your mom?"

He giggled. "She's inside."

Kate had a big bag in her hand. "I brought you a surprise."

He tried to peek into the bag as she made her way into the house. "Here. Have at it." She handed him the bag.

Scully and Claire came down the hallway. "What's that?"

"A gift I brought for William." She handed the smaller bag to Claire. "This one's for you."

Fifteen minutes later, the kids were tucked away upstairs with their new purchases – a robotics set for William and an iPod for Claire. Kate followed Scully into the kitchen, where Mulder was making dinner. She had a folder with her. "You guys ready for this?" She spread out on the counter. "You are definitely Claire's biological mother, Dana."

Scully shook her head. "How can that be? Skinner said he's found evidence that she really was born in 1994."

Kate shrugged. "I ran the tests three different times. I'm just stating the facts." She glanced up at Scully. "Here's the part that's really going to freak you out."

Mulder and Scully both looked at her expectantly. "I ran her DNA against William's, and it was such a close match that I ran it against yours, Mulder."

Scully shook her head. "No way."

Kate looked down at the reports. "I'm just telling you what I found. I can't explain how it came to be. You're that little girl's parents. Both of you."

Scully covered her mouth. "That's crazy. She would have been conceived....almost before we met. I mean, surely we would have known if someone had harvested...eggs and sperm...I mean, Jesus."

Mulder looked as shocked as Scully. "Had to have happened while we slept, right? I mean, we didn't have any episodes of missing time before... " he trailed off, making eye contact with Scully.

Scully looked at him, realization dawning on her as well. "No way," she said again.

Mulder nodded, pinching his bottom lip. "Think about it, Scully. Maybe nine minutes was all it took."

The implications were terrifying. Scully shivered. What other hidden truths had yet to find their way to them?


Thursday, 10:13 p.m.

Mulder slid into bed beside Scully and wrapped himself around her from behind. "I think both of them are finally asleep," he said quietly.

She turned her head to look at him. "They were pretty wound up after dinner."

He traced his fingers along her forehead and eyebrows. "I can't get over it, Scully. They're ours."

She nodded. "I know. It's unbelievable."

They lay in silence for a long time before she rolled onto her back to look at him. "What are you thinking, Mulder?"

He cupped her breast with his hand. "I was thinking...if I had known we already had a child out there, I wouldn't have waited seven years to get you naked."

She laughed – that breathless, throaty little laugh that made his insides weak. "Mulder, even after seven years, it was ME who finally got YOU naked. If I had waited for you to make the first move..."

"Hey. I kissed you first."

She propped herself up on her elbow. "Only under the guise of New Year's 2000." Suddenly serious, she stared into his eyes. "What will we do?"

He shook his head. "I don't know. We'll figure it out, Scully." He threw one leg over hers. "Do you remember that first night on the run six years ago? What we talked about? I am certain now that there is hope."

She leaned forward, nuzzling his face with her nose. "Mulder. All those years, when I wouldn't believe, when I was afraid to believe the things we saw...there was one thing I always believed in."

He fingered her necklace, as he had so many times through the years. "What's that?"

"I always believed in you." She kissed him gently. "You kept me going. You still do. We will win, Mulder. We can't lose."

He dipped down and kissed her stomach before finding her lips with his. As he ran his hands along her body, she arched into him. He stopped suddenly as the bedroom door creaked open. He looked up to see the small child silhouetted in the doorway.

"I can't sleep, Dad." William stood there clutching his stuffed frog.

Mulder sighed, fixing the straps on Scully's nightgown. "Why not, sport?"

William stood there. "I don't know. I just can't."

Scully sat up. "Want to sleep with us, baby?"

William broke into a smile and climbed into the bed from the foot. He wriggled down between them, tucking his frog in with him. "Will you sing the bullfrog song, Mom?"

Scully dropped a kiss on his warm little forehead. "Sure. William was a bullfrog..." She looked over the top of her son and met Mulder's eyes as she sang. He waggled his eyebrows at her. She smiled and linked her fingers with his as he reached across William.

"Chorus," William muttered sleepily.

The End

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