Title: Marry Our Fortunes
Author: Alicia K.
Rating: R for R-type stuff, including language and sexual situations
Disclaimer: Not mine, not for profit, not a chance I have any money to be sued for.
Distribution: Please do not archive without permission.
Category: Post-colonization, Mulder/Other, Angst, major character already dead
Spoilers: The first story took off right after the movie [Fight The Future], so nothing after that ever happened.

Summary: Sequel to "Looking For America." Kate and Mulder arrive in Vancouver, only to be used again as pawns in the game.

If you haven't read "Looking For America," this will probably make no sense to you. It can be found here: http://colonizationhq.xphilefic.com/lookingforamerica.txt

Author's Notes and Thanks at the end.

"Marry Our Fortunes" by Alicia K.

We crossed the border into Canada in May, two months after leaving California. We had made it over the Cascades, up what was left of the rainy coast, and into a country just as empty as America.

Mulder and I didn't expect to be greeted by anyone at the border, but we were. Not by the crumpled bodies of the border patrol, but by a man and woman. As we approached, we saw them sitting on the ground, leaning casually against the guard shack.

I stopped in my tracks, the heavy backpack slipping down my arms, but the couple didn't seem very surprised - as if they were expecting us. "Hello," the woman said. Her tone was not unfriendly, but I took note of the possessive grip she had on her rifle.

"Where you from?" asked her companion in the same conversational tone.

Mulder didn't answer, but turned to look back at me. "It's all right," he said gently, gesturing for me to join him. I walked up to him, keeping a wary gaze on the couple, not missing the keen way they watched our every move. "D.C.," he answered.

I hadn't spoken since the night before, and all that came out was a dry crackle. I cleared my throat and mumbled, "Wisconsin."

The woman smiled. "Wow, you guys have come a long way. Haven't seen anybody come through in a few weeks now. Has it just been the two of you the whole time?"

Mulder squeezed my elbow, telling me not to speak, which was fine with me. It had been so long since we'd encountered another person that I felt like I didn't know how to communicate with anyone besides Mulder.

"For a while," Mulder answered vaguely. His words were cautious. "How many of you are there?"

Now the man rose to his feet, carrying his own gun in his hand. "Just over three hundred." He stepped closer, eyeing us carefully. Mulder held his gaze, but I could only look off into the distance; somewhere down the road were three hundred people, survivors of an alien invasion and counter attack. "How'd you hear about the city?"

The woman hopped to her feet and placed her hand on the man's arm. "Jim," she said softly.

Jim looked down at her, then back at us. "Yeah," he sighed. A laugh puffed out of his mouth and he wiped his fingers across his forehead. "I'm sorry. We're still kind of . jumpy. You know how it is." He cleared his throat and threw a glance at his companion.

The woman flicked the safety back on her gun. "I'm Kara," she said, holding out her hand to me.

I stared at it until Mulder nudged me and I blinked, taking it. "Kate." The contact of her palm against mine flicked a switch in my brain and I met her gaze with a small smile.

Mulder shook her hand stiffly, his guard not totally down yet. "Mulder."

Kara and Jim shared a surprised look, which puzzled me, but Kara smiled at us before I could see if Mulder had noticed as well. "Welcome," she said.

On the outskirts of the city, there was a painted wooden sign that read: Vancouver. Beneath that: Population 298. The 298 had an "x" through it, and it read 306 above it. I wondered if a more appropriate sign would have been: Earth, Population 306.

Mulder and I had not spoken in the three hours since we'd met Kara and Jim at the border. But now he turned to look at me, a strange half-smile on his face. "Huh," he said. "How about that."

We must have stood there for a good five minutes, staring at the sign. It was surreal to be among the last of the human race, or any race, for that matter.

"You okay?" I asked, watching him chew on his lower lip.

He shook his head slowly. "Part of me doesn't want to go any further."

I knew what he meant. Over the past months, I had often felt like I was wandering aimlessly across a barren continent, not sure what I would find, not sure where I was even going. I had followed Mulder to California only because I had always wanted to see it. There hadn't been anything else to do, seeing as I hadn't been sure whether or not I wanted to live in this quiet, lonely world.

But here we were - we had each seen our quest through, and this was the end of the line. What would we find here? Who would we find here? Would people welcome us? Or would they be secretive and skittish, unsure of how to live in such a world?

But here we were.

I hoisted the backpack more securely onto my shoulders. "Yeah," I said. "But part of me wants to see what's still here."

At that, he turned and put his arms around me. Surprised, I froze within his embrace. There had been days that had gone by without a touch, and then there were the times when we had reached for each other in the dark, quiet night, looking for comfort and release.

My pause lasted only for a moment. The need to touch him and mark this moment was too great. My arms encircled his waist, and I relaxed into him. "We made it," he whispered into my hair.

California had not been the end of the world - this was. There was nowhere else to go after this. I blinked back my sudden tears and hugged him tight.

We followed Jim's directions and entered downtown Vancouver. I had never been here before, and was surprised at the number and size of the buildings. I was stunned to hear sounds of life - I heard voices, the heavy footfalls of someone running down a street, and I thought I even heard a dog barking in the distance.

I looked up at Mulder and saw shock on his face. As we drew closer, I heard something I thought I'd never hear again: the sound of children laughing, calling to each other as they played.

Tears once again sprang to my eyes, and as I swiped at them, Mulder reached over and grabbed my hand, squeezing it, as if trying to reassure himself that this was real.

The streets were clear, save for a few lone semis and trucks. Almost every parking lot or open space we passed was packed tight with cars; they must have been pushed out of the road in an effort to clean up the dead city. I wondered what they had done with the drivers, but shoved the thought out of my mind; I was sure I'd find out soon enough.

We looked up at the building we had been directed to by Jim and Kara. Mulder still clutched my hand, and I was grateful. I needed something to hang on to, just in case this all turned out to be a mirage, an illusion created out of desperate loneliness.

From around the corner, a handful of children ran past, shouting at each other. They tossed a basketball throughout the group as they ran. Mulder and I stared after them, our jaws hanging open. In any other situation, it might have been comical - we must have looked like small town folk on their first visit to the big city.

"Did you see that?" Mulder whispered in disbelief.



He looked down at me and smiled with a little laugh of disbelief. "Ready?"

I squeezed his hand and gave a shaky version of his smile. I wasn't sure that I was, but what could I do?

I lay in my bed, not sleeping. The moon was full and shone through the large picture window, but the kerosene lamp on the table overpowered its glow. It was the first artificial light I had seen since the world had ended, and I refused to turn it off.

Rolling onto my side, I clutched the second pillow to my torso, hugging it close as my mind played the day's events in a loop.

Mulder had known.

He had known what was coming, had known about the battle that would take place.

He knew.

I didn't know how to feel about this knowledge. The Vancouver leaders had been excited to learn that Mulder was here, was really here, had survived, but where was Scully? They had been saddened and more than a little disappointed when Mulder had told them, "She's dead." His words were blunt, his face a mask.

"How did she die? Was she killed in the attack?" Their questions piled on top of one another, but Mulder only shook his head and gave them the simple facts: she had died on the side of a dark road, killed by looters while she slept.

Vancouver had been the predetermined location for the survivors to meet, chosen by the conspiracy theorists and those who had been prepared. The further from D.C. the better, they had figured, and they all knew Mulder's name. It was as if he and Scully were mythical legends, giants who could slay the beast with one flick of their golden swords.

They asked him if he would help them, if he would become a leader among them, as he was so respected and known. He'd declined with simple words. "I can't help you," he said, not unkindly. "Not in the way you want me to."

I could only sit beside him, forgotten, as they came at him from left and right, asking questions he could not answer. He knew nothing more than they did. He'd known in advance, that it would happen, that's all.

Eventually I tuned out their incessant questions.

Mulder had known.

Mulder, the man I had traveled with across a vacant country, had known and had fought to stop it.

I rolled over again to stare at the ceiling.

The lamp flickered, and I hoped it wouldn't go out. I needed this. I needed this light, reminding me I had made it, that I had reached an uncertain goal.

Mulder had disappeared after the council had finished with us. Ann was telling me about the hotel/welcome center when I realized he wasn't there at my side. We had been with each other for so long now, he was like an appendage, even though we didn't keep a close physical proximity.

I hadn't seen him at dinner. It had been so long since I'd had to interact with people other than Mulder that my heart pounded in my chest throughout the whole meal. I had nothing to say to these people; they wouldn't understand, even though they had all suffered and lost.

It was just me, the council of twelve and a man who had also turned up that day. Moira and Ann gently prodded me to talk, asking about my home, but all I could do was shake. The other new arrival, whose name was Dan, caught my gaze and I saw my own fear and confusion reflected in his wide blue eyes.

Now my stomach rumbled. I had only managed to force down a quarter of my meal. More canned goods, of course. I had seen enough rotting carcasses during the past months to know that meat and dairy products were a thing of the past. The handful of people in Vancouver were all that remained of animal life.

They told me about farms outside the city where volunteers grew fresh vegetables and wheat to make bread. That was a small comfort, but as I stared down at my plate of Spam, I found myself craving a juicy steak.

After the late meal, Moira had shown me my room. "We'll find a more permanent home for you and Agent Mulder tomorrow," she'd said.

Agent Mulder. Home. I didn't know which words sounded odder to me.

I'd only nodded vaguely at her before slipping inside the room with the broken lock. All of the doors on the rooms were splintered and cracked, the electronic locks forcibly removed and the doors busted open so people would have a bed, a home.

I washed up with the cold, cold water, splashing it over my skin to try and wake me out of my fog. But it only made me shake harder, so I'd carried the lamp to the table and crawled naked into bed.

The moon was still high and bright when I heard the door creak open.

It was Mulder. The combined light of the lamp and moon cast an odd pall over him as he sat in the chair and closed his eyes.

I stared at him. Why was he here? I knew that he was assigned his own room.

"Kate?" he asked, eyes still closed. "I ..." A sigh, a shift in his chair.

"You what?" I snapped. "You knew."

He was silent for long moments. Then, simply, "Yes. We knew."

There didn't seem to be anything else to say. I turned onto my side, away from him, and Mulder closed the door softly behind him on his way out.

By noon the next day, I was alone again in my new home - a quiet hotel room. It was a smaller room than the one I had slept in the night before, but my new home had glass doors that opened to a small patio.

Moira had given me a bag of things I might need, including new underwear and birth control pills. "Even if you aren't sexually active," she'd said, "use them. We aren't equipped or prepared to handle babies around here yet."

After her post-apocalyptic welcome wagon was over, she had gotten up to leave. "Agent Mulder's room is right next door," she'd said, then blushed, as if she had known that we were ...

Were what? What was the word for two people who sometimes slept together out of a need for touch and comfort, just for the need to feel?

Fuck buddies sprang to mind, but that vulgarity belonged in the vernacular of what used to be, not in a world where people might blink with incomprehension at such a frivolous term.

In any case, Mulder's room was next to mine. Maybe we could chat in a neighborly way some evening while we each barbecued steaks and drank cold beers.

Or maybe I would never see him again. Save for his brief visit last night, he had all but disappeared since yesterday's debriefing. Maybe he was done with me; maybe all the questions about Scully had brought back his guilt and he couldn't stand the sight of me.

Or maybe he was off planning to save the world.

My stomach rumbled and I stroked it absently, briefly considering how thin I had become - how thin everyone had become.

I was surprised at my hunger; I had gotten used to sparse meals. Maybe the air of domesticity in my new home reminded my body that the last time I had lived anywhere, I ate at noon. The room was well stocked with food and supplies; I grabbed a handful of crackers and a bag of dried apricots, then left.

The sun was trying to peek through the clouds, but a light drizzle still fell. I zipped up my windbreaker and headed down the street. I had no plan for the day, so I walked without purpose, eating my meager meal.

Weeds had sprung up everywhere: the cracks in the street and sidewalk, around trees and shrubs that had once been tamed. They grew high, as if relishing the most freedom they had seen in decades.

I turned the corner and headed back the way Moira had brought me earlier. I passed a small group of people who smiled at me, but as they moved past, I heard their murmurings about Mulder. This happened twice more, and I heard Scully's name mentioned both times. It was like they were disappointed that I was not her.

Suddenly feeling like everyone was staring at me, I ducked into the nearest store and slumped against the wall. This was . weird. It was the most appropriate word that popped into my head, and yet it seemed so inadequate. Weird. Bizarre. Foreign. Wrong.

I was in a clothing store, something once trendy and overpriced. Some of the displays had been picked over, the clothes in a messy heap, but other tables looked as if they hadn't been touched. "Organized looting," Moira had described the new way of shopping. "Take what you need."

I picked up a neatly folded pair of khaki pants and closed my eyes. I swore I could picture the salesgirl who had folded them, perhaps a petite teenager with a blonde ponytail, folding the pants and thinking about how it was almost time for her lunch break. She would be thinking about having a cigarette or two, maybe a latte . and then she was on the floor, eyes wide and panicked, blood trickling from the soft shell of her ear.

I dropped the pants and ran from the store, my heart pounding in my throat, choking me. I ran all the way back to the hotel - home - and up ten flights of stairs before collapsing onto the floor, gasping for breath and sobbing.

When I woke up, I was still on the floor, eyes sticky from tears and cheeks slightly raw from being pressed against the carpet. Hours had passed; it was growing dark, shadows snaking along the walls.

Getting to my feet and stretching, I lit my kerosene lamp and carried it into the bathroom, where I shed my clothes and took a much-needed sponge bath.

As I rinsed my skin with the cold water, I looked at my reflection in the mirror. The glow of the lamp cast a yellowish pall over my skin; combined with the weight I'd lost in the past months, it made me look ill. My eyes were black in the dim room, and I remembered the dream I'd just had.

I'd dreamt of the people from the clothing commercials, colorfully dressed but sullen twenty year-olds. Instead of lip synching pop tunes on my TV, they sat in my old living room, looking at me with disinterest as the world died around us. As the blood began to trickle from their ears, an alien creature with skin like chalk and ink-black eyes tapped me on the shoulder and said, "Everyone in body bags."

Done with my bath, I opened the glass doors and stepped out onto the deck to have a cigarette. Voices reached my ears, and I looked over to see Mulder on his own deck with two men. Their voices were low, but animated.

Mulder saw me and a flash of something - guilt? pain? - crossed his face before he called, "Kate. There's some people I want you to meet."

I let myself into his room and noted that either he made his bed very meticulously, or it hadn't been slept in. As I walked onto the deck, Mulder held my gaze for a moment, then turned to the dark-haired man to his left.

"Guys, this is Kate. She came with me to California and then here. This is Byers," he gestured toward his left, and then to the smaller man with glasses to his right, "and this is Frohike."

Byers and Frohike both nodded at me, eyeing me carefully. "Hi," I said, not sure why I suddenly felt as if I were the enemy.

"They're friends of mine from ... back home. Good friends." Mulder blinked rapidly a few times, as if shooing away tears. "They had a conspiracy newsletter, called 'The Lone Gunmen,'" he continued. "But ... uh, one of them didn't make it. So ..." His voice trailed off.

I felt a pang of jealousy. Mulder had friends here. It was not unlike the first day of junior high school, when your best friend fell in with the in crowd and left you to eat lunch with the outcasts. I only had Mulder, but somehow he already had a tribe of admirers and friends.

"Nice to meet you," I said, preparing to make my exit. His friends were still staring at me, and I had no desire to stand around on display.

"Kate," Mulder said, stopping me. "We'll talk later."

I nodded, hoping that I understood the meaning of his words - we would talk about his past, his friends, what would happen now.

What could happen now? I adjust to a new quiet life in the new quiet Vancouver? I meet a nice, shell-shocked man and build a tidy house with a picket fence?

Frankly, I didn't see that happening.

The night was mild and I couldn't sleep, so I went outside. I leaned against the balcony railing, toying with an unlit cigarette.

I stared across the street at a silenced skyscraper, trying to remember what it must have once looked like: steel and glass gleaming in the bright sun, lights covering its face after the sun went down.

Now the only lights were the soft flicker of kerosene lamps coming from other windows and balconies, and the white glare of the high moon. They were the only lights reminding me there once was a world here, noisy and alive.

Gentle murmurs from somewhere below reached my ears; others were outside as well, restless and pondering their existence. Less than a year ago, such a thing would have been said in jest, in mock pretentiousness. Only now did the phrase carry weight.

Turning back to go inside, I saw Mulder standing on his own deck, watching me. His fingers plucked at the empty air at the base of his throat, and I was reminded of Scully's cross, floating down to the crashing waves below.

"Hi," he said, voice soft.

I crossed my arms over my chest and swallowed, giving him a nod in return. I hadn't yet been able to get past the facts revealed yesterday. The little voice kept whispering in my ear, "Mulder knew."

I felt an ache that I took for loneliness, but I could have been mistaken; why would I feel lonely when I was now among more people than I had seen in months? It seemed like I was lonelier than I had ever been. It was a physical pain that made my chest tight, made my gut ache, made me tremble even in the mild night air.

Giving Mulder a small, joyless smile, I went back inside to go to bed. Just before I fell asleep, there was a knock on the door.

Mulder walked in before I could answer, and he gave an apologetic smile to my pointed, "Come in." He crossed the room to stand before the glass doors, looking out as if my view were any different than his. I sat up in the bed, dangling my feet over the edge and listening to the hard ache thrumming inside me.

"How are you, Kate?" he asked, palm pressed against the glass.

"I'm fine," I lied. He gave a sharp gasp in return, and I wondered what I'd said to garner such a response.

His palm slid off the glass and his head dipped. "You're not." An indignant laugh was on my lips, but he spun around to face me, finger pointed in accusation. "You're NOT fine."

"Okay, so I'm not fine," I bit out. "What would you like to hear - I'm fucking tired? I'm depressed? I'm scared? I'm angry?"

He took two steps over to me and gripped my chin between his fingers almost roughly. "Just don't hide from me."

I wanted to say, "Like you did?" but his mouth was already over mine and the ache was melting, blossoming through my body as pure need, and all I could think was, "Yes."

This is what I needed: this contact, this lust. His hands were on me, squeezing my curves, tugging my long dark hair out of his way, pushing me back to the bed. My own hands remained on his head, holding his mouth to mine. The heat and weight of his body felt better than sleeping with a light, better than rest after the journey, better than forgiving his lies of omission.

I spread my legs for him, groaning at the press of his cock against me. Our mouths separated only long enough to push clothing aside. His jeans were around his knees as he pushed into me with a strangled gasp.

Pulling him down on top of me, I kicked away my underwear and wrapped arms and legs around him, tilting my hips to feel him deeper. I stared up at the ceiling as I met his rhythm, not even wincing as our pelvic bones met forcefully with each thrust.

It felt good, felt full and thick, slick and hot and fast. Too hot, I was too hot and awkwardly tugged the thin tee shirt off my body.

"No!" I cried when he pulled away from me.

"Turn over." His voice was both a plea and a demand.

I crawled forward to grasp the headboard, trembling with heavy want. When he didn't immediately return to my body, I looked over my shoulder to see him untangling the clothes from his legs. His heat covered me from behind, the head of his cock pressing against me again. I reached down to stroke him slowly, bringing him to my opening.

"Kate," he groaned, resting his hot cheek against my shoulder before thrusting back inside me. I pushed down to meet each thrust, biting my lip and tasting blood. I stared up at the watercolor print on the wall above me, not realizing I was crying until the purple flowers blurred in my vision.

Mulder's hand was on my hip, clutching and guiding, and the other reached around to delve between my legs, fingers slipping through curls and folds, pinching and rubbing as I moaned and dipped my head, pressing my cheek against the cool wood of the headboard.

My orgasm shocked me with its speed and force, and after the cries and tremors faded, I found myself with my forehead on the mattress, wetting the white sheet with tears as Mulder thrust erratically, filling me and filling me with a low moan.

He remained braced over me for long minutes, hot and breathless. I wondered why my tears wouldn't stop, but did my best to keep them silent, keep my face pressed into the mattress, keep my shoulders from shaking.

After he rolled off me, I felt his breath tickling the side of my face. "It's going to be all right," he whispered, kissing the curve of my ear.

I wished I could believe that.

It had been so long since I had seen any sort of working electronics, I'd almost forgotten the sounds they made, the lights that blinked, or how to even turn them on. But less than a week after arriving in Vancouver, I stood in the hotel that served as the city's headquarters and saw a ham radio.

I stared at it like it was some piece of alien technology. "Where did you get this?" Mulder asked. "Does it work?"

Byers, Frohike and Dave smiled at our incredulous reactions. "'Course it works," Frohike replied. "You didn't think we'd be unprepared for an EMP, Mulder, did you?"

Mulder laughed. "No, I guess not."

As I reached out a tentative hand to touch the dirty metal box. "But who can you talk to? Who else has one? Where are there other people?" I asked, curious about the need for a radio in a dead world.

Dave stepped forward, placing a hand on my arm. "There are other camps, twenty others that we know of."

My hand froze above the handset. "Where?" I whispered, my vision suddenly blurred through tears. We weren't the only ones?

"All over North America," he supplied, squeezing my arm gently in understanding. "There may be more that we don't know about; they may not have radios."

I didn't know what to say. There were others. Others had survived.

"Here." Dave guided me into a chair. "Why don't you say hello?"

I swiped my fingers under my eyes, wiping away tears. "To whom?"

Mulder leaned over my shoulder, reaching for my hand. "To whoever hears you. Someone's always listening," he said. I was relieved to hear a tremor in his voice; I didn't like being the only one overwhelmed in the room. He squeezed my hand once before releasing it, then pressed the button on the handset.

"Hello," I said tentatively, licking my lips. I glanced up at Mulder, unsure but not knowing why. He smiled in encouragement, his own eyes glistening. "This is ... Kate and Mulder, in Vancouver. Is anybody there?"

Mulder released the button, and we waited, listening as if our lives depended on it. After a moment, there was a crackle and a hiss, and then:

"Hello, Vancouver, this is Ray in Florida. Kate and Mulder, you must be the new arrivals." Mulder answered in the affirmative, and Ray's voice came over the speaker again.

"Welcome to the new world."

And someone was always listening. Byers and Frohike had a second, smaller radio in their home -- an old storefront several blocks away from the hotel.

Mulder was there a lot, either on the radio with other camps or sitting quietly while his friends talked and worked. He told me who he'd talked to, repeating their words with a disbelieving laugh: "Hello, Mulder, this is Miami." "Hello, Mulder, this is Chicago." "Hello, Mulder, this is Dallas."

Someone was always listening.


I was eating lunch with Mulder on his patio when Byers and Frohike came in. "Come with us," Frohike said, hitching a large duffel bag over his shoulder.

Mulder swallowed another spoonful of canned corn before looking up at him. "What is it?"

Byers smiled. "We have something to show you."

"So show me here." Mulder appeared uninterested, tired of secrecy.

"No. We want to show you, not the whole building." Frohike nodded at me. "You can come, too."

Mulder remained seated, and his friend added, "You'll like it. I promise."

Mulder looked at me, then back up at Byers, squinting in the bright June sun. "All right."

They led us halfway across town to the Trout Lake Park, a huge expanse of overgrown green, dotted with sports field and playground equipment. I quickly committed the route to memory so I could come back again, and maybe use the swings. I saw Mulder eyeballing the basketball court with the same scrutiny and chuckled.

"Okay, Frohike. We haven't seen anyone else for the last twenty minutes. Are we suitably isolated now?" Mulder asked, shoving his hands into his jeans pockets.

Frohike set the bag on the ground, opened it, and pulled out a boom box. My jaw dropped. "Where did you get that? Does it work?"

Byers laughed as I knelt before it, touching the black plastic with reverence. "We were able to salvage it with some extra parts we'd brought from D.C."

Frohike's hand emerged from the bag with a handful of CDs and a pack of batteries. "Ta-da!" He knelt to insert the batteries. "And yes, we'll share it with everyone. We just thought we'd share it with you first."

"And for the first musical selection." Byers announced with fanfare, putting in a disc and pressing play.

The opening chords of "Jailhouse Rock" filled my ears, and I grinned in astonished delight. Looking over my shoulder at Mulder, I saw he wore a similar smile.

It was incredible - after months of nothing but my own singing, the music was loud and clear and the most beautiful thing I had ever heard.

We tapped our feet to the beat but it wasn't until "Don't Be Cruel" began to play that Frohike began an absurd Elvis-like dance.

His impromptu dance inspired the rest of us. Laughing, I clapped for Frohike before joining him, swiveling my hips and shaking my ass. It felt free and good, like stretching after a long, cramped car ride.

The four of us broke the stillness of the long empty park, dancing and clapping to the music, laughing and singing along. Mulder had a passable Elvis impersonation, complete with lunge and hand gestures, but a terrible singing voice. Byers could sing but had no rhythm at all.

I just laughed and laughed, the foreign sensations building upon each other throughout my body and making me giddy.

After "Hound Dog," Byers replaced Elvis with the Stones.

"Yeah!" Mulder exclaimed, automatically revving up his air guitar to the opening riff of "Satisfaction."

I watched him, amazed at how his easy smile changed his face; years were wiped away. He met my gaze and I blushed, caught. Instead of becoming awkward, he only smiled more broadly and held out his hand to me. I took it eagerly, and we danced together, singing along with Mick Jagger. The words to great songs were not unlike bicycle riding - you never forgot.

The rhythm of dancing came back to me just as easily, and I soon found myself dancing without inhibitions, arms raised over my head as I moved to the music. God, I thought, this feels so good I could cry.

Mulder reached out and snagged my hips with his hands, surprising me. When his grin turned lascivious, I returned the sentiment and placed my hands over his and we both guided my body closer to his.

We were being playful, but there was a strong undercurrent of sexual awareness beneath our teasing. I draped my arms around his neck, pushing my hips against his and laughing.

There was silence when the song ended; the CD player had stopped. Still laughing, I turned to yell for more, but stopped when I saw the looks that Byers and Frohike were giving us.

Byers was looking at us with surprise but Frohike's gaze, directed at Mulder, was full of hurt and accusation.

Immediately, I stepped away from Mulder, unsure of why I felt guilty but angry that I did.

He came to me that night.

We'd last been together three nights ago; I had woken to find him kneeling by the bed, watching me. No words were spoken as I'd sat up in silent invitation, and only gasps and muffled cries were voiced until he left my room as unheralded as he'd entered.

But tonight wasn't going to be like that.

"Kate," he whispered, brushing the hair from my eyes. "Can I..." He stopped his question with a shake of his head and leaned forward to kiss me.

Since we had arrived in Vancouver, the sex between us had been greedy and quick, each of us taking what we needed from the other. His lips and hands were hard on my body, and I responded almost desperately.

My lips met his, and instead of the roughness I had become accustomed to, the kiss was unhurried, undemanding. I almost pulled away, unused to this gentleness I had not felt from him since that night in the desert, so many months ago.

He stroked his tongue against my own, and I gasped in pleasant surprise. Instead of the familiar burst of urgent lust, slow liquid warmth filled my body. I moaned softly as his lips slid along my throat.

After, I laid beside him on my stomach and closed my eyes, exhausted from the aching slowness with which we'd had sex. I was relaxed and sated. A little voice in the back of my head wondered about this sudden change, but I refused to listen. He'd looked into my eyes as he entered me. He'd told me once that my eyes looked like Scully's; I wondered if he thought of her when he looked at me like that.

Maybe this was what I needed. My mind replayed the moment he had come inside me: his eyes fluttering closed, the cords in his neck taut as he thrust into me, calling me "Katie" in a cracked voice.

Long, lazy minutes passed, listening to him breathe beside me. I opened my eyes and gave him a smile. He returned a smaller version and reached out a hand to stroke my hair, once. His eyes closed briefly before he rolled over and sat up, swinging his long legs to the floor. I moved behind him and pressed a lingering kiss between his shoulder blades.

His hand briefly covered mine on his shoulder as he murmured my name. It sounded like an apology. I watched him get dressed and pulled the sheet over me; I suddenly felt very cold and exposed.

Then he was out the door, his fingers at the base of his throat, as if searching for something that was no longer there. Most people wore religious symbols to draw comfort from their faith. Mulder had used his to find comfort in Scully, and I looked for my own comfort with him.

I rolled onto my back and blinked away a film of bitter tears. "I'm sorry I'm not her," I whispered, but the ceiling did not answer.

Another night, just like the nights before. I waited for him to get up and leave the way he always did, but tonight he stayed. We lay awake, side by side on our backs. I was afraid to speak, afraid to breathe, lest he change his mind.

"Kate," he said, and I rolled over onto my side, facing him. He glanced at me, then away again. "There's something you need to know."

"Yeah?" I traced a fingertip over the curve of his bicep, stroking him with the lightest of touches.

He rubbed his arm absently, as though my touch tickled his skin. "The men ... the people that I fought, that Scully and I fought to stop. They're still here."

"How do you know?" I sat up, tucking the sheet over my bare chest and under my arms.

"There've been reports from the other cities. People have been missing, taken from the camps."

"Taken?" Too many questions buzzed through my head, but I stuck with the basics. "How? Why?"

He shook his head, rubbing his palms over his face. "I don't know," he answered, his voice muffled from beneath his hands. "The reports have been coming in from the camps for the past few weeks; since the middle of June."

I swallowed and looked down at my knees, knobby beneath the white sheet. "Wow," I said, unsure of what else to say. "You don't think it's the ... aliens coming back, do you?" Even after all that had happened, after all I had witnessed and lived through, it still felt odd to say the word aloud.

"I don't think so. Not yet. But ..." he sighed. "I don't know, Kate."

We were silent for a while. "Does everyone know?" I asked.

He shook his head and stared up at the ceiling. "No. Just the council, the Gunmen and me. And you," he added unnecessarily.

"So why tell me?" I somehow gathered that this wasn't merely an attempt to start opening up to me.

"These people ... they may be waiting for me to turn up somewhere."

Even now, I still didn't fully understand Mulder's role in the game, and it struck me as egotistical for him to think that he still played a key role. "Why?" I asked with a bitter laugh. "Why are you still so important?" I clutched my knees tighter to my chest. "Yeah, yeah - I know about your father. And your sister. Aliens and viruses and spaceships in Antarctica. And Scully." He winced at the mention of her name, and part of me felt guilty for the way I'd spat it out. "But ... why?"

His expression contained vague surprise as well as irritation, as if he'd forgotten how much he'd told me over the months. He got out of bed and stood by the glass door, the hazy moonlight barely illuminating his naked body. "All I'm saying is that they may have heard me talking over the radio. They may know I'm here." He leaned his forehead against the glass. "All I'm saying is that we have to be careful."

Two nights later, Mulder was on his balcony and I was on mine. He'd barely acknowledged my presence, so it surprised me when he spoke.

"They're running tests."

I moved to the side of the balcony and leaned on the wrought iron railing. "Tests for what?"

He looked down at his hands and shook his head. "I don't know. We've just been listening to the reports from the other camps, and ... I don't know," he repeated softly. "It's just all very familiar." His hand was at his throat again, stroking the skin where the cross had once lain.

I had grown restless after only a week or so of being in Vancouver. Part of it, I knew, was due to the months of travel that had brought me here - I wasn't used to being at rest. But I also felt useless. Everyone seemed to have their place, including Mulder, who was always off with the Gunmen or with the council.

Everyone had their place but me, and I didn't like that feeling. I didn't like feeling like I should be doing something. People looked at me as if I should be taking Scully's place at his side because I had arrived with Mulder. It pissed me off. I had never met this redheaded wonder woman, and yet I had to endure endless comparisons? It was ridiculous.

So while wandering through the park one day, I'd come across Jill and Suzanne leading a joined-hand line of children and playing a gentle version of crack the whip. It had made me smile, and Suzanne invited me to join them. The children liked me, and I'd been helping them ever since.

I sat down in the green, weedy grass of the field and watched the loosely ruled game progress, smiling as Jill helped four-year-old Brian run the correct path to first base.

A chill tickled up my spine as I watched, and I tensed; someone was behind me, watching me. Turning slowly, I saw a slim figure standing next to the basketball hoop about fifty yards away. I rose and faced him, letting him know that I saw him. It was probably just someone coming to watch the game, one of the parents.

But as I cautiously approached, I saw his shoulders shake and realized he was crying. "Hello?" I called out. "Are you all right?" From behind me, the kids cheered - someone must have kicked the rubber ball well out of the field.

He was whisper-thin, and he hung onto the metal pole of the hoop as if it were the only thing holding him up. He was shaking, and not only from tears; he looked like he'd been traveling for weeks. I recognized that look.

He wasn't the first newcomer the city had welcomed since I'd arrived. I knew to be gentle but wary - many had arrived in a less than stable mental state. "Where've you come from?" I asked, not unkindly, but keeping a safe distance.

He passed a trembling hand over his dirty, unshaven face. "Um ... Denver. There ... there are people." His voice was crumpled and pained; I wondered how long it had been since he'd used it.

"This is Vancouver. You made it to Canada. How long have you been walking?"

He shook his head, bending his legs and squatting on the cracked pavement. "I don't know."

I knelt before him. "It's all right," I soothed, bringing a comforting hand to his shoulder, then his cheek. He flinched at first, then leaned into my palm, sobbing. "You're all right now."

His name was Robert, and it took us almost an hour to walk back to the center of town. I took him to the hotel, where I could find help. Moira saw us enter, and we guided him to a chair. She brought him a bottle of water and a handful of crackers.

"Don't drink it too fast," she cautioned. "Kate, stay with him. I'm going to find Dave or Craig."

She rushed off and I stayed at Robert's side, his hand firmly in mine as he nibbled on the crackers. He looked as though he could eat for days, but he ate slowly, as if trying to make it last. Maybe he thought this was the only food he would see for days. I wondered when he had last eaten.

Dave appeared with Mulder close behind. I was prepared to leave him in their care, but when I moved to pull my hand away, Robert gripped it forcefully, so I stayed, a comforting presence while they talked to him.

"Where did you come from, Robert?" Dave asked, sitting on the wood and glass table in front of him.

"Denver. There's about five hundred people there."

"Why did you leave?"

Robert looked down into his lap. "There was nothing there. There's nothing anywhere." He shook his head, and a tear fell onto our clasped hands. "I couldn't stay there."

I understood what he meant. There was such confusion and sorrow, so much loneliness among the survivors. It was part restlessness, part fear, part determination to leave it all behind.

"Do they have a radio in Denver?" Dave continued. "Do they communicate with other cities?"

Robert looked up at Dave. "We thought we were the only ones." He shook his head again. "There's no radio, no nothing. Just a bunch of people thinking they're all that's left." He gave a short, harsh laugh. "And the only way to reassure them that they're not is to walk all the way back down there."

We were silent for a few minutes, until Mulder spoke up. "Have people been ... taken from Denver, Robert? Taken and then returned, maybe hurt or.?"

He dropped his gaze back to his lap. "Only people that leave Denver are the people that want to die. And they don't come back."

There were times when I was glad to be Mulder's confidant; he told me what was going on. Combined with the simple pleasure of playing with the kids, it made my existence almost fun. It felt like I was caught in the midst of a cat and mouse game of global proportions.

I didn't know the exact reasons that Mulder kept me informed. Maybe he was starting to open up to me, and personal revelations would soon be following. Maybe I was just his sounding board, so I could ask the questions. The Gunmen trusted him implicitly, and I suspect it frustrated Mulder at times; he had his yes-men, but he needed someone to question him, help him fill in the plot holes.

The night of Robert's arrival, I was in the bathroom with my lamp, trying to scrub away a grass stain on my jeans, a remnant of my kickball referee duties. Mulder was in the other room, lying on the bed.

"I would bet that there are more cities like Denver. They can't communicate with the rest of the country, and no one can communicate with them."

I came out of the bathroom, lamp and jeans in hand. "Yeah," I agreed.

He raised himself up on one elbow. "And if that's the case, then I would bet good money that THEY aren't aware of the people in these cities, either."

I sat down in the chair by the bed. "So you think the only way they know about the camps is by radio contact?"

Mulder shrugged, picking at the bedspread. "Possibly. They seem to know where the majority of them are. They must be picking up the transmissions on their own radios. We can't let this get out over the radio, or they WILL know."

"So where does that leave us? They're going to reach Vancouver eventually," I said, and wondered if he would be staying tonight.

"Yeah. We've been talking about that. Short of packing up the whole city and moving, there's not much else we can do."

I often met up with Mulder and the Gunmen at their office. Frohike still refused to look at me with anything but a frown or a glare. Byers seemed to be aware of his friend's behavior and did his best to compensate, drawing me into conversation or explaining things to me when I seemed lost.

The abductees had begun to be returned to the camps. Some were dead, others died within days of their return. Some were physically broken, others couldn't or wouldn't talk. And there were still others who appeared unharmed, mentally and physically.

Without the necessary equipment, it was next to impossible to determine what had been done to them. The only way they were able to investigate further was to study the bodies of those who had died, although there wasn't much to be learned from simply cutting open the bodies.

I closed my eyes and tried to picture Scully, the pathologist, cutting up the bodies and struggling to make sense of it all. For the first time since I'd met Mulder, I wished I could be her. Maybe then I'd understand.

Over the period of a few weeks, reports of abductions ceased, but from time to time we heard of an abductee committing suicide or running away from the cities with nothing but the clothes on their backs.

Frohike's dislike for me seemed to grow as summer marched on. I'd overheard him once, just outside their door. "Stop trying to pretend she's Scully!" Frohike had shouted, a wobble in his voice as if he were near tears.

It was a moment before Mulder replied, but that moment was filled with pain - my own and, I guessed, his. "God damn you," he said, his voice deceptively low. "I have never pretended she was anyone she's not. Stop blaming her for not being Scully, Frohike. It isn't fair."

"We just miss her, Mulder," Byers said quietly.

"But I miss her, too. So much. You have no idea."

I didn't go in. I didn't speak to Mulder for two days after that, and it was a week before he came to me again.

By August, Vancouver's population had rocketed up to 348. The survivors kept coming - though the numbers were small, it was comforting to see more people arrive, to see that there were always others.

I still helped Jill and Suzanne with the children, and now there was also Erin, a more recent arrival. We took the kids to the park on nice days, giving them exercise and sunshine. Other days, we took them to quiet libraries and bookstores, leaving them to explore and read, helping and teaching those who were too young. We hoped that by the time winter arrived, an educational system of sorts would be in place.

Erin showed up one morning with red eyes. "Jake's gone," she told Jill and I. "He did this before, when we were traveling north. Just took off one day, caught up with me later. Said he needed some space." She laughed sharply, then sniffled. Jill handed her a Kleenex while I rubbed her back. "We thought we were the only fucking people left alive, and he wanted SPACE."

Erin and her husband Jake had shown up in July. Once they'd gotten settled in, they'd both been eager to help however they could. They missed human interaction and having a purpose, they said. So Jake began working with the council, and Erin helped us with the children, most of whom no longer had parents.

And Jake did return, a week later. Just waltzed back into town, cool as a cucumber and just as skinny. He walked past the park where we were playing with the kids, and we watched as Erin yelled at him, hit at him with her small fists, and finally hugged him. He comforted her, telling her things we couldn't hear, and then they walked back into town.

"It was weird," I told Mulder that night as we sat on my balcony, sipping drinks made with warm Coke and old Jack Daniels.

Mulder turned the plastic cup around and around in his hands. "Jake's quiet," he commented. "But eager to get into the swing of things and help out."

I drained my too-sweet drink. "Want another one?" he asked, jiggling the half-empty bottle.

"God no," I groaned, pushing my dark hair from my face. "I haven't had alcohol in ." I tried to think of the last time I'd had a drink; I thought I'd had a beer just over a year ago, during my Labor Day vacation. The last vacation - anywhere, for anyone. "A long time." I leaned back in the chair and looked up at the stars. "I can't handle my liquor anymore."

"Could you ever?"

"No," I laughed. "Never."

"I never was much of a drinker, myself." He looked at the bottle, as if expecting it to nod in affirmation.

"So a few Jack and Cokes and you're schnockered?"

He gave me a wide, loose smile. "Yep."

I laughed again, standing up and stretching before walking over to the edge of the balcony and leaning on the railing. "Wow."

"Wow what?" he asked, joining me.

"Wow, this is my life." I gestured out toward the dark city before us. "This is where I am, and sometimes I can't believe it."

Mulder clasped his hands and leaned on the railing. "You make it sound like it's a 'poor girl makes good in the big city' story."

"Sometimes that's what I have to tell myself," I said. "To explain things."

He turned to me, bringing his hand up to cup my cheek. I leaned into his palm with a small smile. "Katie," he said, affection in his voice.

"Yep." I expected him to tell me again that we had made it, that although things were different, this was the way the world was now.

His response instead was to kiss me, a slow kiss that made me ache, made me want to curl up onto his chest and stay there.

When we parted, his hand slid from my cheek to the back of my head, fingers tangling in my hair. He bent to kiss the shell of my ear, and I gasped against his jaw. "Let's go inside," he whispered.

And when I woke up the next morning Mulder was still there, stroking my back as he held me.

Slowly but surely, our small corner of the world struggled to rebuild some sort of normalcy.

On a warm Thursday night at the end of August, we even had a party. There were makeshift torches lining the street, and the boom box, our lone source of electronic entertainment, played loud music - everything from big band to Van Halen. About one hundred people gathered in the street, talking, drinking and dancing. Others watched from the sidewalks and surrounding buildings, refusing to join in.

Maybe they sensed that a lot of the merriment was forced, that it felt strange and wrong to be partying when the world had, for all intents and purposes, ended. The idea formed a ball of tension in my stomach, but I forced down the feeling with alcohol and too-loud laughter.

Mulder was there, eating pretzels and talking. We had both made friends over the months, although Mulder mainly stuck with Byers and Frohike - neither of whom were participating in the street party.

Erin and Jake were there as well, although Jake was staying on the sidelines, just watching. Erin didn't seem to mind - she danced with Jill and me and didn't pay him any attention. Maybe she needed some space as well.

I left the group of dancers after a while, in search of another drink and Mulder. I found him sitting on the curb with Jake, talking. "Hey," I said, gently tapping his shin with the toe of my sneaker. "Hi, Jake." Mulder smiled up at me and returned the greeting, but Jake merely nodded at me. I sat down beside Mulder. "Having fun?"

Mulder laughed a little. "Oh yeah," he said, raising his cup to his lips. "A ball."

I nudged his shoulder with my own. "I'm looking for a strapping hunk of man to dance with me. Up for the challenge?"

He grimaced. "Nope."

"Oh, come on." He shook his head. "Fine." I leaned over to smile at Jake. "How about you?"

Jake smiled tightly. "No thank you."

I made a big show of sighing. "I guess I'll just have to find someone else. Someone who'll make you insanely jealous," I added with a teasing grin at Mulder.

He turned his head and gave me a soft kiss. "Do your worst," he grinned back.

I hopped up and headed over to the table that held the dusty bottles of booze, cans of soda for mixing and plastic cups. Once I had a drink in hand, I turned back to give Mulder a jaunty toast, but he was gone.

Jake was still sitting there, watching me. My smile faltered a bit, but I raised my cup to him anyway in an offer of friendship, even if he didn't want it.

He smiled at me, but it wasn't a particularly friendly smile. It almost appeared smug, satisfied. He said something, too quiet for me to hear above the music.

I'd never been much of a lip reader, but it looked like he was saying, "You have your fun, Kate."

Uncomfortable, I turned away and headed back to my friends.

"Kate!" Kevin shouted from somewhere behind me. "I can't find it!"

I sighed. "Sam, go meet up with the others by the basketball court. I'll help Kevin find the ball." The boy nodded and ran off toward the group, and I made my way through the trees toward Kevin. "Are you sure this is where it went?"

After a few unsuccessful minutes, a faint sound reached my ears. I stood and cocked my head, trying to figure out what it was. It sounded vaguely familiar, a low mechanical rumble that grew in volume and pitch as I tried to place it. Whatever it was, it was getting closer.

"Kate?" Kevin asked. "What's that noise?"


The sound grew louder still, and I realized what it was: a car, maybe two or three.

"Come on, Kevin." I grabbed his hand and made my way back to the edge of the woods, but stopped when I heard the sounds of car doors slamming and people shouting.

The hairs on the back of my neck rose; something was really wrong. "It's a car! I want to see it!" Kevin yelled, yanking his hand from mine and running out of the forest.

"Kevin! Shit," I hissed as he emerged from the woods and onto the field. As I started after him, the shouts turned to screams.

Kevin stopped ahead of me as he saw - we both saw - what was happening. I grabbed him by the shoulders and spun him around to face me. "Run, Kevin. Run and get help."

He nodded, eyes wide, and took off toward the street in a sprint. No one followed; he had gone unnoticed.

Fight or flight. Fight or flight. I didn't know what to do. I watched my friends struggling with men, five or six of them. Some of the older children tried in vain to protect Jill and Suzanne, but most of the kids ran further into the park, screaming.

I stumbled closer and saw guns in the men's hands. Closer still, and I saw Jill slump forward against one of the men, who easily swung her body into his arms and carried her to a dark colored van. Suzanne fell onto her side in the grass.

Jesus. I took a few slow steps backward, intending to run toward the trees; I could hide there, Kevin had gone for help, no one had seen me ...

As I spun around, something slammed against my chest and I fell to the ground, landing heavily on my back. I gasped and tried to sit up, but hands held me down.

"No ..." I moaned. "No."

A shadow fell over me, and I opened my eyes to see Erin leaning over me. I opened my mouth to ask her what was going on, but a sharp pain in my shoulder made me cry out instead. "I'm so sorry, Kate," she said. "I'm sorry."

She leaned back, and I saw an empty syringe in her hand. "Jesus," I whispered. "Erin."

I closed my eyes as she stood up. It was a struggle to open them again, but when I did, Jake had taken her place. He stared down at me, and his face swam in my vision.

My eyes fluttered closed as I was lifted off the ground. In my mind, I saw him sitting on the curb at the party, saying to me, "You have your fun, Kate."

Have your fun while you still can.

Oh God. He knew.

Mulder, he knew.

Whether it was from shock, panic or fear he couldn't say, but the world seemed to slow down around him.

It was strange - when Kevin had come running down the street yelling, "Help! Someone help!", time had sped up. He barely remembered running through town and down to the park, but now here he was, one among a group of twelve who had answered the boy's cries, watching the world move in slow motion around him.

Mulder moved with sluggish steps past the frantic, crying children, moving toward the one boy who appeared calm and able to tell him what had happened.

He remembered a similar molasses time, walking amongst burned bodies, looking for red hair, looking for Scully as panic-induced bile stung the back of his throat.

But there were no bodies here, only children and confused adults. And the adults that should have been there were gone.

Mulder touched the boy on the shoulder, and the world snapped back into place. "What happened here?"

The dark-haired boy looked up at him, eyes wide. "They took Kate and Jill and Suzanne," he said in a quiet, frightened voice.

Mulder's voice became dry. "Who took them?"

"They had cars." They boy swiped at his eyes with his fist. "We tried to stop them, but they had guns and ... and ... and needles." His breath hitched with his tears.

"It's okay," Mulder told him. "It's not your fault." An automatic response.

He walked over to where the grass and weeds had been pressed into the ground by tires. He closed his eyes.


It never ended. It just never ended.

Mulder was exhausted. For days after the three women were abducted, he sat in his small room and did nothing.

What could he do? Start walking until he found them? Hell, they could be on a boat to Hawaii for all they knew.

All they knew was that Jake and Erin had been among the abductors, and had not been seen since. Several kids thought they saw Jake carrying Kate to the car, but they'd been too far away to see for sure. A small part of him had been surprised when the several kids dutifully reported the color of the car and said there had been no license plates - someone had ingrained the safety rules into their young minds, and it had stuck, even after everything had been wiped out.

Mulder couldn't know for sure that Kate had been taken because of him. Sure, he'd announced to anyone who'd been listening that he was "Mulder from Vancouver." But maybe this had just been the last stop for the abductors. Vancouver was the westernmost camp in North America, and the pattern of abductions had shown movement from east to west.

But he refused to dwell on the "what ifs" and "if onlys." It had never done him any good in the past, and it wasn't going to do him any good now.

Kate was gone. He had no shadowy informants anymore, no one to bargain with for information. All he could do was wait it out and hope she came back in one piece. If she came back at all.

She was in his dreams now, replacing the nightmares of Scully, dead beside him in the morning dew. It was Kate lying by the road, arm stretched onto the blacktop. It was Kate on the surgical table, belly distended, eyes and mouth open in pain and fear.

And it was Kate's name that he screamed out in the middle of the night.

Somewhere between California and these dark nights, he had fallen in love with her. Well, not exactly in love, he rationalized to himself. The sex had stopped being about fear and need. It had become a gesture, a series of kisses and caresses, more tender than when it had begun. He had stopped needing it and started wanting it - started wanting Kate.

He admired her strength, and didn't pretend it didn't remind him of Scully. Her smile was charming, and he loved seeing it. She was quick and intelligent, and she knew when conversation and companionship were unwanted. He appreciated and respected her. He had grown to trust and love her.

So he waited, feeling fear and worry for Kate, anger at his helplessness, and guilt for letting Scully be replaced.

"Jesus, Mulder." Frohike yanked open the drapes. "Let some light in here." Mulder blinked at the offending glare of the afternoon sun, but didn't answer. "How long you going to sit in here? Until she comes back? What if she never comes back?"

"Fuck you," Mulder muttered, but his heart wasn't in it. "I'm sorry I'm worried about someone who's not Scully."

"Damn it, Mulder, that's not the point. We've all lost someone," Frohike replied.

Mulder closed his eyes and thought briefly of Langly, caught outside when it came, returning from warning his sister and nephew. He'd been a block away. Byers and Frohike had found him and buried him, after.

"Yeah, I know. But the fucking world ended. Why is it that we STILL have to worry about people being used as goddamn guinea pigs?" Bile rose in his throat, and he grimaced.

Byers sighed. "The point, Mulder, is that if it were Scully, you'd be out there, looking."

Mulder got out of the chair, scratching his chin through the heavy stubble. "I don't know what you guys think I should be doing. Should I start walking? Okay, tell me which direction I should go. Should I sit by the radio and wait to see if she's returned in Texas? Or Florida?" He gestured wildly. "Or maybe I should get on the horn and say 'Listen, you motherfuckers, I know you're out there! Bring back Kate or I'll kick you ass!' Is that what I should do, guys? Help me out here, because I'm feeling pretty damn helpless!"

They had no answer for him, and Mulder slumped onto the bed. "It never stops," he said. "It just never stops."

Mulder had once thought that the world would come to a crashing halt if he and Scully ever became lovers. And the first time they'd made love, he'd told her as much, and they'd shared a good laugh at such a crazy notion.

Imagine their surprise when, mere weeks later, they were scrambling to warn their loved ones that the sky was falling.

The morning after their post-Antarctic hearing, Mulder had gone home to change clothes. He'd left Scully with gentle kisses on her still frostbitten skin and driven home, a goofy, post-coital grin on his face.

The smile had faded when he saw Alex Krycek sitting on his leather couch. "What the fuck do you want?" Mulder had snarled, reaching for his gun almost as an afterthought.

Krycek stood, hands plainly in view. "I'm here as a friend, Mulder."

Mulder lowered his arm but kept his finger on the trigger. "Great. Let me get you a cold one."

Krycek had ignored the sarcasm. "You don't know what you've done, do you?" Mulder just looked at him, waiting for the punch line. "Labor Day weekend. The president will declare a state of emergency. Do you follow me, Mulder?" Krycek's voice was tight, angry. "They know about the virus and all deals are off."

So he'd saved Scully and inadvertently killed the rest of the world. Granted, it would have happened eventually, but still. There hadn't been time to linger on the weighty implications; there was only time to prepare.

After it was over, after they'd crawled from the rubble of the city, after Scully had been murdered while he slept beside her, there had been plenty of time to think.

But now Mulder was exhausted, and could dwell on it no longer.

All he could do was wait.

Two weeks and a day after they were taken, the women were returned.

Moira woke Mulder in the middle of the night, pounding on the door. They jogged to the building that housed the crude hospital, where they were greeted by three council members and Dr. Schultz, a pediatrician turned head physician. Two RNs and a veterinarian comprised the rest of the meager staff.

"Where's Kate?" Mulder asked tersely.

"Come with me," Dr. Schultz replied. Mulder followed him down the hall to a cluster of rooms. He heard high-pitched shrieks from behind one closed door. "Hang on," the flustered doctor muttered, entering the room and closing the windowless door quickly behind him.

Mulder ran a hand through his hair and cursed impatiently. He was considering opening doors until he found her when he glanced around the corner and saw a covered gurney against the wall.

He went to it, his legs heavy and slow. No, he thought. Please, no. He took a breath and pulled back the sheet with a trembling hand.

It wasn't Kate. He let out the breath, knees trembling. It was Erin; Jake must have sold his wife along with his soul.

"Agent Mulder." Dr. Schultz's voice startled him, and he dropped the sheet back over Erin's bruised, still face. "She's in here," he said, his hand resting on the door to a different room.

"How is she?"

"Physically she looks okay, but she's in shock. She hasn't said much, except to tell us she isn't in any pain." He opened the door and paused, as if deciding whether or not to go in with him. "I'll be next door if she needs anything."

Mulder went in and closed the door softly behind him. "Kate?" He could barely see her in the dim light of the lantern. All he saw was a dark shape on the bed, shying away from the glow of the lantern.

He walked with care, not wanting to frighten her. As he approached, the dark shape became Kate, huddled in a blanket, curled in a fetal position and facing the wall.

Let her be all right, let her be all right, let her be all right, he chanted silently with each step.

He sat on the edge of the bed. "Kate, it's me." He laid his palm on her back. "It's Mulder." She didn't flinch at his touch, so he stroked her back, murmuring to her in soothing tones. "You're all right now. You're safe. I won't let anyone hurt you, Katie, you're all right."

Beneath his hand, she shifted and he helped her sit up. He took her cold hands in his, gently rubbing warmth back into them. A rasping sigh was her response, and he put two fingers under her chin, tilting her pale face toward his. With a blank stare, she met his gaze, and he pulled her forward into his arms, burying his face into the crook of her neck, squeezing his eyes shut to keep the tears from falling.

"I'm sorry." Her hair and the scratchy wool of the blanket muffled his voice.

She raised a hand to cup the back of his head hesitantly, a brief caress. "I don't want to be here," she whispered, her voice thick.

He pulled back and kissed her temple. "Okay," he replied, stroking the pad of his thumb along the gaunt line of her cheek. "Okay."

Mulder left the room and went next door, where Dr. Schultz was wrapping Suzanne's ankle in an ace bandage. "I'm taking Kate home."

"Agent Mulder, she really should stay here, at least overnight."

"No. She doesn't want to be here." Mulder was firm.

Dr. Schultz sighed heavily and stood. "Be right back," he told Suzanne gently, touching her hair. She gave no response, and he sighed again. He followed Mulder into Kate's room. She sat on the bed, shaking. "Look at her. She's obviously in shock. She's not going anywhere."

"No," Mulder repeated. "Please, let me take her."

"Agent Mulder ..."

Mulder spun around, violently overturning a metal tray of instruments. "I'm not AGENT Mulder!" he roared, and Dr. Schultz stepped back from his sudden rage. "There is no more FBI, and there are no more fucking X-Files! That life is OVER. Now god damn it, I am taking her home."

The heavy silence that followed was broken by Dr. Schultz leaving and closing the door with more force than was necessary. The noise shook him out of his trembling rage, and he let out his breath with a whoosh.

Mulder sat on the bed again and stroked her hair. "Let's get out of here." Kate nodded, her teeth chattering loud enough for him to hear. "Can you walk?" He shifted to help her up, but she pushed his hand away and got off the bed herself.

In the hallway he stopped, seeing the others at the end of the hall. Kate must have seen them as well, for she turned away quickly. "What's wrong?" he asked.

She shook her head. "I don't want to talk to anyone."

"We'll go around the back."

They walked the few blocks back home slowly, Mulder close at her side. Halfway there, Kate stumbled and Mulder caught her before she fell, waiting while she composed herself. She allowed him to help her the rest of the way, keeping a firm grip on his arm.

It took them another half hour to climb the ten flights of stairs. Each time they had to stop for her to rest, Mulder berated himself for not making her stay at the hospital; she was too weak after her ordeal.

But they finally made it to her room. Kate curled up on her bed and shivered, clutching the blanket around her. Her eyes were open, and she stared at the wall while Mulder pulled her shoes off and tucked her under more blankets.

He sat beside her on the bed, running a soothing hand over her. Were they still conducting the same tests? He swallowed over the lump of rage in his throat. Was Kate now barren? He'd seen her take birth control pills daily - what would be her reaction if he told her to stop preventing what would never happen?

"I'm cold," she whispered, so he slipped under the blankets and curled his body around hers.

She drifted into sleep just as dawn broke; her shivers had ceased an hour before. Feeling her relax in his arms, Mulder allowed himself to follow her.

Jill died two days later. When Mulder told Kate, she had wept and pushed him away when he tried to comfort her.

She came to him later, surprising him with the childlike manner in which she curled up into his lap, wrapping her arms around him and snuffling into his neck.

He held her and tried not to think of the world of difference between Kate's demeanor and the way Scully had handled herself after her own abduction.

"Do you remember anything?"

She took the mug of instant soup from him and wrapped her hands around it. Wisps of steam rose from the cup as she stared down into it. "I remember being in pain," she said, quiet but matter of fact.

It had been four days since her return; she had slept for a solid day and night, then dozed off and on for the next. Mulder had stayed with her, alternately watching and catching up on his own missed sleep.

She woke several times in a blind panic, and he was there to calm her down. Each time she did return to sleep, but Mulder came away from his vigil with bruised arms and a swollen lip. He hoped she'd fought her abductors just as hard.

Today she was fully lucid, and they sat together on the small deck in the warm glow of the late afternoon sun. She sipped at the soup he'd insisted she eat, he sat next to her and patiently waited for her to say more.

"Erin and Jake were there. She injected me with something and said she was sorry."

"Erin is dead," he told her.

"Good." Mulder waited for her to ask how, but she instead said, "I don't remember anything else."

Of course she didn't, he thought. Her memories would come out in scattered pieces, most likely in her nightmares. "I could hypnotize you."

She looked at him. "What?"

"You could uncover your memories that way. I did it once, to remember what happened to my sister, and Scully ."

"What makes you think I'd WANT to remember?" she asked, her eyes hard and dark. "I told you I was in pain."

"I know. I just want to know what ..."

"What?" she interrupted again, her knuckles white as she gripped the mug. "You want to know what they DID to me?" She slammed the empty cup down onto the table. "They TOOK me, Mulder. They drugged me and took me away and they hurt me. I don't want to know what they did, and I hope I NEVER know."

He paused, trying to find the right words, to make her understand the importance of what he was suggesting. "Kate, we need to know what they're doing with the abductees."

She shook her head vehemently, and he saw a tear drop from her eye. "Fuck you," she said, her voice thick. "I'm already their guinea pig. I'm not going to be yours." She stood and walked inside, closing the door hard enough to make the pane of glass shudder in its frame.

Mulder didn't follow.

Mulder went to try and talk to Suzanne. Dr. Schultz apparently remembered Mulder's outburst - he slammed the door behind him after bringing him to her room.

Jill was dead, Kate was recovering and Suzanne ... Aside from her broken ankle, Suzanne appeared to be physically unharmed. She had not, however, spoken one word or made a sound since her return. No one, Dr. Schultz had told him tersely, knew what to do with her, other than sit and wait.

Mulder pulled a chair over to her bedside. "Hi, Suzanne." Her eyes, half-open and staring, did not shift to him. "It's Mulder, Kate's friend."

She blinked then, slowly, and he wondered if it was a response to his name or Kate's. Mulder took it as a sign of encouragement either way. "I know you're scared and hurt, but you're safe now. I know you're not up for talking right now, but when you are, I'm going to ask for your help, all right? I need to know if you remember what happened." He kept his voice gentle and low, as soothing as he knew how to be. "Kate's doing well; she said to say hello."

That was a lie; he hadn't spoken to Kate since the day before, when she had told him exactly how she felt about his lines of investigation.

Investigation - the very idea made him want to laugh. Just days ago he'd disavowed his title as "agent," and now he was investigating anyway.

That life was so far behind him now; it seemed so far away and past. But he had to do this - he owed it to Scully, to stop them from playing with anyone else's life the way they had toyed with hers.

And he owed it to Kate.

He was linked to Kate now. He couldn't leave her and didn't want to leave her; she'd become his friend, his companion. Mulder hated to think where he'd be if she hadn't insisted on going with him to California. Dead, perhaps - washed into the sea after jumping from the cliffs, following Scully's cross into the waves below.

Kate had saved him from himself, in a way. He owed her this.

But Suzanne had nothing to say, although at one point she turned her head and looked up at him with her empty brown eyes. Mulder sat patiently by her side for several hours. When he took her hand in his and she squeezed back ever so lightly, he stayed for several more.

When he got home, Kate was asleep on his bed, bathed in the flickering light of the kerosene lamp. Mulder watched her sleep for a few minutes before sitting on the edge of the bed. He brushed a bit of dark hair from her face, and she opened her eyes.

She looked up at him and let him touch her softly. He thought she was waiting for him to say something, but then she spoke up: "I'm sorry."

He brushed his thumb along her lower lip, then bent to kiss her. When he pulled away and opened his mouth to tell her no, she had nothing to be sorry for, he was the one who was sorry, she sat up and kissed him again, cupping his face in her hands.

They kissed for long, slow minutes, stopping only when she dipped her head to press her lips to his throat. She paused at the spot where the pulse throbbed beneath his skin and kissed him there before moving lower. When she placed a reverent kiss in the hollow of his throat, he bent to capture her mouth with his own once again.

He soon spooned his naked body around hers, burying his face in her dark hair as she wrapped her hot fingers around his cock and guided him inside her. She gave a gasp and tensed upon his first thrust, and he paused. "You okay?"

"Yeah," she whispered, taking his hand and placing it over her breast. "Don't stop." She reached a hand back to touch his cheek, and he kissed her palm softly.

"I missed you, Katie." Her response was only a groan as he moved within her. He smiled.

Only minutes later they laid side by side, facing each other. Kate fought to keep her eyes open; Mulder held her hand in his, kissing her fingertips every so often.

"Stay here with me."

He saw a sheen of fear in her eyes and felt a pang of guilt; he hadn't stayed with her the night before after their argument, and he could only imagine what it must have been like for her to wake from her nightmare alone.

He drew her to him and held her close, kissing her forehead and nose. But as she slept, he remained awake, knowing that if he wanted answers, he would have to leave her after all.

He knew he would never forget the look on Kate's face when he told her he was leaving: a stricken combination of hurt and betrayal.

"I'm coming back," he told her, pushing down the fresh guilt brought on by her reaction. "I promise."

"Fine, " she said, the tremor in her voice revealing the tears she'd turned away to hide. When she finally faced him again her eyes were dry, but now full of fear. "What if you don't come back?" He opened his mouth to reassure her, but she cut him off. "Look at what they're doing to people! They brought Jill back with her insides so fucked up that no one could help her! Suzanne hasn't said one word since she's been back!" Her voice had risen with panicked tones but when she spoke again, it was barely above a whisper. "And what did they do to me, Mulder?" She hugged herself protectively. "Why am I the only one who seems to be all right?"

Mulder slumped forward in the chair with a defeated sigh. "I don't know, Kate. Maybe whatever they're doing . maybe it didn't work."

It hung unspoken in the silence between them: maybe it did.

The council and the Gunmen had fought him, had wanted someone else to go with him. But Mulder knew that he had to do this alone. He was the only one who'd faced these men, and he was still fairly certain that they would not kill him. If they were continuing with the project, or attempting to, he could only assume that he was still key, as they had told him before.

For what purpose, he didn't know. He wasn't sure he wanted to know. But he had to find out what they were doing. Maybe he'd run across Krycek again. The man was like a cockroach - exceedingly difficult to destroy, able to survive anything.

And so a week after Kate and the others had been returned, Mulder headed north. No one had any idea, of course, where these people might be, or if they were even still there. Mulder knew it might be a fruitless search, but he had to try. He would head north, then east, and then to the south. He didn't know how long he would be gone, but he hoped he would be home before the winter months, empty-handed or not.

After he'd told her his plans, Kate had agreed to be hypnotized, if it would keep him in the city, but she'd resisted, snapping out of the hypnosis before he could learn anything. Her nightmares had been so horrific that night that he hadn't tried again, and Kate had tearfully agreed that he should go.

Night after night he stopped to rest, if not sleep, pitching his tent wherever he could find shelter. Sometimes he was able to stop in a small town and sleep in an empty house or store, out of the rain. It was the end of September and the cold, rainy months of winter would soon be coming.

During the journey across the states, he'd often dreamed of Scully, and now she appeared at night again, calling for help while he slept beside her. He dreamed of holding her limp body in his arms for hours, rocking her and crying. He often woke with the tears still damp on his cheeks.

Mulder wondered why these dreams had returned. He still thought of Scully, mourned the loss every day, but the dreams had slowly faded. During the half year in Vancouver, she would come to him only occasionally, and she was as he remembered her - raising an eyebrow at his theories, rationalizing something they'd seen, or sometimes moaning his name, flushed and beautiful as he moved over her.

The days following the nightmares of Scully's death were full of waking memories, of conversations they'd had, moments of reprieve they'd shared, bad jokes she hadn't laughed at.

"Do you think the Gunmen made it?" she'd asked the evening before her death, looking up at the stars overhead.

Mulder had scoffed. "Of course they made it. They're the Gunmen." A pause, and then, "I'm sorry we couldn't find your mother."

Scully hadn't answered for a long while. Finally, her voice thick with unshed tears, she'd said, "At least we were able to warn her. All I can do is hope she's alive."

They'd both known that they wouldn't see her again. And when he'd woken up the next morning, Scully was dead beside him, and all of their supplies were gone.

Now Mulder woke up alone, either Scully's or Kate's dream face fresh in his mind.

He walked north, then to the east, and to the south, moving in a zig- zag pattern in the hopes of finding something he might miss if he stayed on the main highways. For nearly two months, he'd seen nothing, heard nothing, come across no other survivors.

It was nearing the end of November, and Mulder was getting tired. He'd already walked so far after Scully's death, and here he was doing it again. He often thought he should just head home; the stakes had been pulled up from wherever they had been, the abductors were long gone. These thoughts came more and more frequently as his frustration grew. If it weren't for his dreams of Kate and Scully, reminding him of why he was searching, he would have gone home weeks ago.

One hundred and fifty miles southeast of the city, Mulder stopped for the night before it was fully dark. The next day's terrain would be difficult, according to his map, and he would need as much rest as he could get. He zipped up the tent and laid down on the sleeping bag, his hand resting on his gun, as always.

But the gun could not protect him from the truth. Two days later, he found what he was looking for.

When I was thirteen, I found my aunt's copy of "Our Bodies, Ourselves," and spent many fascinating hours pouring over it. The pictures of women dead from botched, self-performed abortions stuck with me for years, and it was the one thing that stopped me from doing it myself.

I was pregnant. I assumed - hoped - that it was Mulder's. We had, after all, had sex after I'd been off the Pill for two full weeks. The other option, that THEY had somehow done this to me, was unthinkable.

I'd never been regular and thanks to the stresses and changes of the past year, I rarely had a period anymore. But it was the six mornings in a row spent hunched over the toilet that clued me in.

Night after night, I lay in bed with my hand on my stomach and tried to imagine Mulder's reaction. Assuming he came back, that is. Questions flew into my head and refused to leave.

Who was I to bring a child into this world? Was I giving birth to hope, or to just another sacrificial lamb to the aliens on their next time around? How would I get through the pain of childbirth? What if Mulder was angry? What if I had to do this alone?

I had always imagined that when I had a child, I'd be happily married with a nice house, a great husband, maybe a dog. I'd stay home and raise the baby until he or she started school, and then I'd go back to work, probably part-time. I'd show my mom and grandma the baby pictures, and they'd respond with love and smiles. I'd be so proud.

But now I had no one: no family, no friends who would let me cry on their shoulder - one was dead, the other wasting away to nothing in her catatonic state - and a lover who I might not ever see again.

It felt strange to think of Mulder as my lover. We slept together, we cared for and about one another, but love wasn't involved. If it was, we hid it well - him from me and me from myself.

How would love make itself known now? Would I meet another survivor and start thinking about him all the time? Would my heart beat faster when he came into the room? Would I realize that I would lay down my life for him?

Or maybe what we had was all we could hope for now. Maybe this was it. I missed him and worried about him, and I hoped he would come back soon. I didn't care if he had any answers or not. I just wanted him home, wanted to tell him and see his reaction so I could get it over with.

Mulder had been gone for almost two months when I finally gathered the courage to see Dr. Schultz. I sat in the chair by the window and looked down at my feet as he removed his glasses and rubbed his eyes with a sigh.

"Okay," he said softly after a long silence. "Okay, Kate." We would deal with it, like we'd dealt with everything else that had come our way.

Two days later, Mulder was back.

He went to see the council first, which stung a little but also relieved me; I didn't mind putting off telling him my news. I was with the children at the time anyway, sitting with them in a bookstore and keeping watch while they read and played.

Moira came to tell me he was back. "He said he didn't find anything. If there were any people or any facilities around Vancouver, they're gone now."

"Did he say anything else?" I asked, not sure what I was hoping to hear.

She shook her head and stood to leave. "No. He looked like he was about to collapse, Kate. I think he went straight home to sleep."

The rest of the afternoon dragged on, but the kids finally returned to their parents and foster families, and I hurried home.

Mulder didn't answer my soft knock, so I let myself in. He was asleep, sprawled on his stomach on top of the blankets. His hair was too long, I thought absently as I stood by the bed and looked down at him.

As much as I wanted to crawl into the bed, I didn't want to disturb him. Instead, I pulled up a chair to his bedside and watched over him, occasionally reaching out a hand to stroke his hair, his back. Eventually I drifted off myself, my hand resting on his forearm.

When I woke again it was dark. The only sound in the room was the rain falling onto the quiet streets and buildings outside. I blinked the fuzziness from my eyes and rubbed them before noticing that Mulder was awake and watching me.

"Hi there," I whispered, swallowing past the nervousness and fear and managing a small smile.

He squeezed my fingers before bringing them to my lips and kissing them lightly. "Hi."

I leaned over to run my free hand through his hair. Tears sprang to my eyes as he pressed a second, longer kiss to my palm. "I missed you."

He pulled my head down to his, and as we kissed I could feel his fingers trembling against the back of my neck. He moved over to give me room, and I lay down next to him, resting my head on his shoulder.

I splayed my fingers over his heart. With every strong beat, the same two words echoed through my brain: Tell him. Tell him. Tell him. Tell him.

But I didn't say anything. I didn't want to say anything, I didn't want to hear anything. I just wanted to lie here and be here with Mulder, relieved and glad to have him back in one piece. Apparently he felt the same way; neither of us spoke, or smiled, or barely even moved.

And when his breathing became deeper and heavier and I thought he had fallen asleep again, I licked my dry lips and tested the words I would soon need to say: "I'm pregnant, Mulder."

When he wrapped his arms around me, I knew he had heard me. I tensed in his embrace, waiting for his stunned response, but there was none. He only continued to hold me, turning me onto my side so he could curl his body around mine.

His hand moved to my still-flat abdomen and caressed it, and my eyes filled with tears of relief. It was going to be all right. I drifted off to sleep with that relieved thought.

A sound woke me sometime later. Mulder's arms were still around me, and his face was pressed into the curve of my shoulder. But he was crying, tears soaking my shirt as he muffled his sobs.

I didn't know what to make of it.

As we walked to the Gunmen's place the next day, he asked, "Do you remember anything more, Kate?"

I didn't have to ask what he was talking about. "Only small things." They had filtered in and out of my dreams while he was gone, and hadn't faded until I learned I was pregnant. "I remember being in pain, and sometimes there's a woman's voice, telling me that everything will be all right. I can't see her, but she sounds kind." I let out a little snort, thinking that anyone who was involved was anything but kind. "There's a cold table, and sometimes I think I can smell cigarette smoke."

Mulder clenched his jaw so tight that I could see the bones jutting out beneath his bronzed skin. After a moment, he exhaled heavily and squeezed my hand in reassurance.

He didn't ask again. In fact, he barely said anything to me over the next few days. I would catch him watching me, staring at me, but he wouldn't talk to me. I started staring back, trying to intimidate or shame him into talking to me. But all I got in response was a good look at what was in his eyes.

I saw sadness there, which was nothing new, but now I also found fear and anger. I finally had to look away, heart pounding at what I had seen.

He was acting strangely; it was almost as if he knew something but didn't know quite how to say it. I wondered if he had learned something on his trip and was trying to figure out what to do about it.

Four days after his return, I couldn't take it anymore. "What's going on?" I asked. He was sitting on his deck despite the steady drizzle, and I had marched right up to him without any preamble.

He turned his head to me in a slow movement, almost like he had been in a trance, or lost in some far-off dream world. "Kate?"

"You know something," I accused. "What aren't you telling me?" When he just fixed me with that undying stare again, my voice rose. "Quit staring at me and tell me what's going on, God damn it!" I felt a little like a nagging wife trying to get her lazy husband to tell her where he'd been all night, and lowered my voice again. "Please. Don't hide anything from me."

He frowned and turned away, a pained look on his face. After chewing on his lower lip for a minute, he turned back to me. "Kate ..." He leaned forward and covered his face with his hands. "It's complicated." He gave a short, humorless laugh, as if he knew how silly that sounded. He dropped his hands and reached for my own. I let him take them, although I was still impatient to hear what he had to say.

No shit, it was complicated, I thought. We live in a dead world and I'm having a baby. "What's complicated?"

He looked down at our joined hands. "I need a while to think," he said, rubbing his thumb over my knuckles.

"About the baby?" The words sounded foreign to my ears. Mulder's head snapped up, and a look of surprise flashed across his face. But it was gone just as quickly, and he gave his head a brief shake. "I know." I pulled my hands from his grasp and shoved them into my pockets. "If there was a way, I'd have an abortion. I don't want to bring a child into this world." Tears sprang to my eyes, but I blinked them away. "I'm sorry. I should have ..."

"No," he interrupted, looking as if he might cry himself. "No, Kate. Don't." He raised a hand to touch my stomach gently. "Don't. It's just ..." His hand dropped. "I just need a little time, okay?"

"Okay," I whispered.

I planned to stay out of his way for a while, but I didn't even see him. Two nights later, he crawled into bed behind me, curling his long body around mine and whispering, "Go back to sleep, Kate." He stroked my hair and kissed me, and I easily obliged, slipping back into sleep.

I made the decision to confront him almost a week after his return. I had given him his space; I didn't hound him, I didn't pressure him. But I was sick of this secret bullshit conspiracy crap that Mulder and the Gunmen were always talking about. He couldn't justify hiding it from me anymore; I was involved now, too. The people who had taken me had made sure of that.

When I got home, someone was already waiting for me, sitting calmly on the bed. It wasn't Mulder.

The gut instinct to yell for help froze in my throat as I studied him by the dim lantern light; he looked familiar. He looked much older than he probably was; his dark, thick hair that had not yet begun to turn gray contradicted the lines on his face and the sadness in his eyes.

"Kate." There was relief in his deep voice.

"Help!" I broke out of my stillness. "Mulder!" I turned to run down the hall and almost ran into Mulder, who burst out of his room. "There's someone in my room!"

"Kate, wait!" The stranger came into the hall. Mulder gasped, and I turned my eyes back to him.

"Kate, go inside and wait for me," Mulder said without looking at me.

But I faced the stranger instead, wanting to know why he looked so familiar to me. "Who are you?"

"I'm one of the doctors who worked on you when you were taken."

The lantern trembled in my hand. "What?" I hissed, a chill running through my body.

Mulder put a firm hand on my shoulder. "No," he said, a plea in his voice. "Don't do this."

I shrugged off Mulder's hand and watched them exchange a glance. "She deserves to know, Agent Mulder."

Mulder knew him? "What the fuck is going on?"

"They said I'd be helping humanity." The man's voice turned bitter. "But their definition of "helping" was different than mine."

My mouth opened and shut a few times as I tried to process what he was saying. I noticed someone down the hall staring at us, drawn out by the commotion. We stepped back into my room and faced each other, a bizarre standoff.

"Mulder, what's going on?" I demanded, but his response wasn't directed at me.

"I need to be the one to tell her." His voice was quiet.

The man shook his head impatiently. "No."

I couldn't stand there and wait while they decided. I jabbed a finger in Mulder's direction. "You had your chance. You knew since you got back. If you couldn't tell me before, then you're shit out of luck now."

Mulder's response surprised me. I expected argument or anger, but he only nodded briefly after looking at me with sad eyes. He walked away, standing by the window, shoulders slumped.

"I couldn't do it anymore," the stranger said. "And they'll be coming to kill me now, once they find out that I'm gone."

"Good," I snapped.

"I didn't come here for sympathy. I just thought you should know what was done to you. I want to ... I don't know. Try to make something right."

"Telling me will clear your conscience so you can get into heaven when they shoot you in the back?"

He shook his head. "No. What I was made to do to you was far from the worst, Kate. You have no idea." He bowed his head.

"Then tell me," I said through clenched teeth.

He threw a glance in Mulder's direction; Mulder didn't turn around. "You know you're pregnant, don't you?" Needles of cold fear pricked my skin; my hands began to shake. "The baby is Mulder's, but you're not the mother - Dana Scully is."

I wanted to laugh, feeling something akin to relief. "That's crazy!" I jerked my head, as if trying to turn away from such a bizarre idea. "This is MY baby. I'd been off the Pill for two weeks, and we were careless."

He shook his head. "This was no mistake, Kate. Your ova were removed before they put her fertilized egg into you." He sighed. "Even if they hadn't given you the fertilized ovum, you wouldn't be capable of bearing a child."

This couldn't be true. It was ridiculous! "What? You're lying!" I insisted.

"I wish I were, Kate." He took a step toward me, and I raised the lantern as if it were a gun. I hadn't realized it was still in my hand. "I'm sorry."

"You're sorry," I repeated in a whisper. "What ... but this is crazy!"

"I just wanted you to know." His voice trembled, and he passed a hand over his face. "I'm sorry I can't do more for you."

I stared at him.

Finally, Mulder turned from the window and crossed back to us. "Get out," he told the man.

The man looked Mulder squarely in the eyes. "I sought you out, Agent Mulder. I risked my life to find you."

"Get out!" Mulder yelled.

The man - this doctor who had turned me into an experiment - gave me one final glance before slipping quietly out the door.

"Kate," Mulder began, but I interrupted him, moving to sit on the bed, not facing him.

"You knew." I was surprised at the level of calm I was able to maintain in my voice. Inside, I was churning like the ocean; I felt heavy and dark. "Were you planning on telling me this?"

He sat down on the opposite side of the bed, not facing me. I was glad; I didn't think I could look at him. "I thought I was protecting you," he said, sounding defeated. I was still trying to find words to yell at him when he continued. "I guess I nearly stumbled across their camp. Tom heard that I was nearby and decided to find me, I guess."

"Tom," I breathed. So the messenger had a name. "You guess." This was so bizarre. My head was spinning. A laugh rose in my throat, and I choked on it as I asked, "Is it true? How can it be true? How can it even be possible?"

Mulder paused. "They had my sperm, and Scully's eggs, which were altered to include a vaccine." His voice wavered. "They were trying to create the perfect human, immune to the virus that the colonists were supposed to bring."

It sounded rehearsed, despite the tremor. I closed my eyes and tried to picture him practicing, thinking of ways to tell me. "So I am an experiment." I knew all along that I had been, but learning its purpose made it all the more real.

Anger rose up in me like a wave, hot tears stinging my eyes. "Are you grateful they're giving you Scully's baby?" A red film dropped over my eyes as the anger rose; a tear dropped onto my hand and I half expected it to be tinged with the same color.

"No," he whispered. "Jesus."

I was panting now, the rage and fear washing over me. I clutched two handfuls of my hair and doubled over as the sobs tore out of my throat. Mulder was instantly at my side, but I hit out at him. "Get away from me!" I pushed and clawed at him, kicked to get away, but he was too big, he was all around me, wrapped around me in an obscene parody of the way we sometimes slept.

Even as his hot tears wet my hair, I fought him, shouting out wordless fury and attacking him wherever I could reach. "Stop," he sobbed. "Kate, stop. Please."

I let out another burst of rage, but the wave was subsiding and I was now panting out of exertion. My body slowly uncoiled until I was limp within his arms; my tears showed no sign of stopping.

Mulder reached for my hand. "I don't ... I don't know what to say."

"How about 'I'm sorry,' you son of a bitch?" My voice was muffled by tears and the blankets. As if "sorry" would help anything.

He must have agreed, surely he knew it was a pointless gesture, but he said it anyway. Over and over again, sobbing into my shoulder, matting my hair to my skin with his tears.

"Let me up," I mumbled when he had calmed down. "I'm going to be sick." He rolled off me and I dashed to the bathroom, barely making it to the toilet in time.

The situation settled over me like a heavy, wet wool blanket, smothering me with its weight. I pressed my damp, hot face against the cool porcelain and wiped a shaking hand over my mouth.

Part of me wanted to run back into the bedroom and hit him, scream at him. Part of me wanted to run back into the bedroom and into his arms; the other part wanted to grab him and fuck the truth right out of my head, so I could live in blissful ignorance again.

I didn't know how long I was in the dark bathroom, but Mulder eventually helped me to my feet; I let him, too drained to struggle. As he carried me back to the bed, I felt like I should be humiliated at being carried like an invalid. I couldn't bring myself to care.

He stayed by my side throughout the night; neither of us slept. "Why?" I whispered when the sun began to inch through the window. "Why couldn't I have just died with everybody else?"

Mulder laid a cool hand on my cheek and pressed a hesitant kiss to my forehead. His eyes were dark and tired, but not hollow as I was sure mine must have looked. "Because then I would be dead, too."

I wasn't sure I wanted to be his savior, much less anyone else's, but I closed my eyes and finally slept.

Tom was found a week later in a field outside the city with a gun in his hand. We knew it wasn't suicide, but I couldn't bring myself to care.

I was nearly three months pregnant, and I didn't know whether to care for the baby as best I could, or do my best to cause a miscarriage.

Dr. Schultz seemed to sense my conflict. "You know, Kate," he said one day after I stepped off the scale, "your body will protect the fetus before it protects you." He handed me a bag with bottles of vitamins. "So you might as well take care of yourself."

Mulder and I didn't talk about it. He couldn't have avoided my resentment; I often felt like it was rolling off me in waves. Not only was I carrying a baby I didn't want, it wasn't even my baby. I couldn't blame the baby for what had been done, and that only added to my resentment.

I didn't know where to lay all of it. It wasn't fair to take it out on the baby, and I'd only be hurting myself. It would be too easy to place it on Mulder, to lash out at him every chance I got, but he seemed to be doing a fine job of carrying the guilt as it was.

He did his best not to hover. I wasn't sure if he was more concerned about me or his baby, and that didn't help, either.

As much as I didn't want this, I couldn't ignore it. Against my will, I started dreaming of babies. Sometimes Mulder was there, loving the baby and discarding me; sometimes we were a family, happy and together. But in every dream, the baby had red hair.

"Kate, we need to talk."

It had been a month since I had found out; my pregnancy was entering the second trimester. Mulder and I hadn't really talked since that night, and we'd barely even touched each other. There was a third person between us now; she'd always been there, a ghost of a presence, but now she was more concrete.

We walked the few blocks to one of the buildings with a fireplace; once winter had set in, the council had set to work distributing more blankets and winter clothes, and designating buildings where people could go for warmth.

The sun had come out that morning, and so we were the only ones in the lobby of the hotel. The large room had been cleaned thoroughly to receive visitors, but the rest of the building seemed to sag from lack of care.

Mulder started a fire and I settled into an overstuffed chair, putting my feet up on the matching footstool. If I stepped outside myself for a moment, I could almost imagine that we were a normal family, having a lazy winter afternoon in front of a cozy fire.


Once the fire was lit, Mulder sat on the couch in front of me and looked at his knees. "They didn't do this out of the goodness of their hearts, Kate. They're going to want this baby back."

My hands instinctively rose to the swell of my abdomen. "Fuck them. If they think they're just going to waltz back and take my baby, they're crazy." I paused, replaying my words in my mind.

My baby. It was rare that I thought of it as my baby, and not just the product of an experiment, not just someone else's baby. But the protectiveness had swelled up inside me with Mulder's words, and I knew that I had meant what I said.

Mulder's lips twitched, as if he wanted to smile; I thought I saw relief in his eyes. He nodded in approval. "No," he said. "I'm not going to let that happen." The slight amusement faded from his face. "We're going to have to leave." He looked down at his hands, fidgeting in his lap. "We can go to Denver; I'm fairly certain they still don't know about the survivors there."

The thought of leaving Vancouver should have upset me, should have even frightened me, but I merely nodded. It had to be done.

"But either we leave now and risk going through bad weather, or we wait until the baby's born and risk ..."

"Them finding us first," I finished for him. My hands absently stroked my belly as if I were rubbing a crystal ball, looking for guidance. "I think we should go now." But even as I said the words, I didn't feel right about them. Looking at Mulder's face, I could see he agreed.

"It's a big risk, either way," he murmured. "I don't ..." He cleared his throat. "I don't want you to get hurt."

I couldn't argue with that. Logic told me that traveling now would put the baby at too much risk, and having that kind of problem in the middle of nowhere wouldn't be so good for me, either.

"Why don't we sleep on it," I suggested, as if we were having a discussion on whether or not we should buy a new SUV.

"Yeah," he agreed softly.

We sat in awkward silence, knowing that we didn't have much choice; we would have to wait.

We started sleeping together again, curled up around each other for warmth in the cold, damp nights. We had reached a truce of sorts - he stopped pussy-footing around me and stopped wearing his guilt on his sleeve; I did my best to accept what I had been given, what had been done to me. This baby needed a mother, and I was the only one who could do that.

But on the day after Christmas, we were eating in front of a fire with the Gunmen when Frohike put down his soup spoon and said, "We've been receiving reports from the camps."

"Of?" Mulder prompted.

Frohike exchanged a glance with Byers. "The abductees are getting sick."

I dropped my fork with a clatter. "What do you mean, 'sick'?" Mulder's voice was low and tight.

Byers folded his hands on the table in front of him, as if praying for guidance before delivering the news. "Headaches, dizzy spells, weight loss." He lowered his gaze. "Nosebleeds."

Mulder put his silverware down with measured care and covered his face with his hands. Byers and Frohike looked at me with more sympathy than I'd ever seen on their faces. I suddenly lost my appetite.

"Take me home," I whispered, my mouth dry with fear. Mulder held my hand tightly all the way back.

In my chilly room, I draped my coat over a chair and faced Mulder. He looked back at me, his Adam's Apple bobbing over unshed tears or unspoken words. "Tell me," I said, sounding calmer than I felt.

"Cancer," he said, his voice trembling. "Most likely a naso-pharyngeal tumor." Somehow, I wasn't surprised. "Scully had it," he continued. "But it didn't develop until she removed a chip that had been implanted in her neck. And we think another chip put it into remission."

I swallowed. "And do I have a chip in my neck?"

He shook his head. "I was hoping that it would be different this time; I didn't know what they were doing, maybe different tests would have different results."

"Apparently not." I sank slowly onto the bed. "So now what?"

He shifted, then hesitated, as if he weren't sure if I would allow him to sit by me. Perhaps my calm demeanor had caught him off guard. "I don't know."

"Yes, you do." I leaned my elbows on my knees and rested my head in my hands. "I'm going to die."

Mulder knelt in front of me and put his hands on either side of my hips. "Maybe there's a chip that can cure this, just like it did before."

"You're not going to put a chip in me!" I yelled from behind my hands. "Knowing these people, I'm sure those things served some purpose other than saving Scully's life." He didn't have anything to say to that.

"You're right. But we have time. We'll figure something out. They wouldn't have timed the experiment so you would be sick before the baby is born." He put his hands on my shoulders. "We have time."

I raised my head and pushed his hands away. "What do I have?" I asked bitterly. "I have nothing. I have a baby that they're going to take from me, and a disease that will kill me."

"You have me, Kate." His voice was firm. "I won't let this happen." His face was blurred through my tears, and my shoulders sagged. He raised a hand again to stroke my face; I leaned into his palm in a moment of sorrow. "Kate, I ..."


He swallowed the unspoken words and blinked back his own tears. "You're not going to die," he promised, his voice fierce.

I wanted to tell him not to make promises he couldn't deliver, but he was crying now, looking at me like he could make his words gospel by sheer force of will. I took his hands in mine and kissed the dry skin of his knuckles.

I didn't know if Mulder could save me, or if I could save myself. All I knew was that they were not going to take my baby.

By the fifth month of my pregnancy, I was beginning to feel a bit like the main attraction in a circus. Granted, I was the only pregnant woman in the entire city, but on top of my already swirling hormones, the attention irritated me.

Mulder and I were the only ones who knew about the true parentage of my baby. We didn't feel it was necessary to tell anyone else; it would only have added to the stares and whispers that already followed me wherever I went.

After months of distrust, the Gunmen seemed to have finally accepted me and stopped blaming me for not being Scully. They had given me the boom box for Christmas; I was so touched I almost cried right there at the table. I was sure they didn't think too highly of me being pregnant, but there wasn't much I could do about that.

Mulder did his best not to hover and fret, but I could sense how antsy he was around me. I knew he was concerned for me as well as the baby, but sometimes I caught myself wondering if he would care as much if it were OUR baby, and not his and Scully's.

It was unfair of me to think that, because I knew he loved me in his own way, no matter who I was or who I wasn't. We slept together in the king-sized bed, huddled together for warmth underneath the wool blankets. He was tender and yet chaste, and it was beginning to drive me a little batty.

I had read as many books I could on pregnancy before their "isn't motherhood wonderful" cooing started to depress me, and every one of them had talked about the increased sex drive of a pregnant woman.

Mulder kissed and held me, but I started to wonder if he were clueless about the things pregnancy did to a woman. My mood swings and alternating nausea and appetite nonplused him, but I figured cliches took a long time to die.

I didn't have the weird cravings like ice cream and pickles, but we did have a lot of fun late at night, talking about all the foods we missed, and what we would eat if we woke up tomorrow to find it had all been a dream.


"Fettuccini alfredo."

"A cold glass of milk."


But we never did wake up back in our own beds, back in a world of noise and people, back in a world where I muddled through a mid- twenties career crisis and Scully lived at Mulder's side. When morning came, I was still carrying another woman's baby in a quiet, half-dead world.

Signs of life began to appear before spring began. The council had decided that the weary citizens of Vancouver had spent enough time living in small hotel rooms, and families would be able to move into houses.

To us, families could be everything from mom-dad-daughter-son, to man- man-informally adopted children, to man-woman-unborn child of another woman. So teams of workers were cleaning out houses, making them as livable as they could.

We both knew we would only be there until the baby was big enough to travel, and when I saw the house, I was almost sorry we'd have to leave. It would be nice to have a place to call my own - our own, anyway. The pretense of raising a child had precluded any debate over our living arrangements, but I wondered if Mulder and I could have become a family on our own.

I still lay awake at night and thought about the wisdom of bringing a child into this world. I wondered if I should have tried to cause a miscarriage, if only to stop the work of those who had helped to bring about this apocalypse.

But in doing so, I very well could have harmed myself, and I hadn't come this far to die. They didn't beat me at the end of the world, and they weren't going to beat me now. They would have nothing, and we would have a child. We would be watching over our shoulders for the rest of our lives, but we would have hope.

As February began, the fact that spring was still a good three months away settled into my brain like an unwelcome house guest and refused to leave. The rain fell daily, sometimes in a downpour, sometimes in drizzle, and I could count the number of times I'd seen the sun since fall on one hand.

I was tired of reading, bored with taking walks under an umbrella, and sick of sitting in my room with my ever-changing stack of CDs. Once in a while, I played with the kids and their new helpers, Tracy and Ashley. The younger kids would come up to me and ask me questions, or shyly touch my swollen belly.

"Does it hurt?" they asked. "Who's the daddy? How did it get there? Is it in your tummy?"

Most of the questions were answered with the truth or an evasion of the sex talk that they were too young for. Part of me waited for one of them to ask, "Who's the mommy?"

Mulder was often at the Gunmen's all day. I wasn't always sure what they did over there; sometimes they tinkered with electronics, trying to find something salvageable. I knew they always kept one ear tuned to the radio, waiting for news or even just small talk from a lonely soul somewhere in America.

The abductees continued to get sick. I half hoped that it was a fluke - after all, an aborted attempt at colonization wouldn't mean the end of illness. The women were literally wasting away before our eyes - or at least our ears, as Mulder, the Gunmen and the council kept a tense vigil around the radio, waiting for the weekly updates from the other cities.

On a damp evening in February, he came home and paused in the doorway with a secretive smile. "What?" I asked, smiling back as he lingered by the door.

"I have something for you."

"Yeah? So let's see it." He turned back into the hall and reemerged with a huge chocolate brown teddy bear. "Wow," I said with a laugh. "That's a big bear."

He closed the door behind him and brought the toy to me, setting it beside me on the bed. "Byers and Frohike wanted me to bring it to you."

I stroked the soft fur with my hands. "They did?"

Mulder wiped the dust from the bear's glassy dark eyes. "Missed a spot," he murmured. "Yeah."

"That was nice of them." I dropped the bear's paw back into its lap. "Why?"

He sat down on the other side of the bear and kicked off his wet shoes. "They don't hate you, Kate."

"Oh, I know. They just seem so ... horrified by all of this."

His eyes met mine over the bear's head. "Who wouldn't be?"

Tears sprang to my eyes, but I blinked them away before they could fall. There wasn't anything I could say in response to that, so I just looked down at my hands and tried not to cry.

Something soft touched my shoulder, and I looked up to see the bear. Mulder hid behind it, making the stubby paws stroke my arm. "Don't cry. I can't BEAR it when you cry," he said in a squeaky voice. His head appeared over the bear's, a hopeful smile on his face. "Why are you looking at me like I'm from another planet?"

My lips twitched. "Did you HEAR the voice that came out of your face?"

He thrust the bear at me, growling like it was attacking me. I laughed and pushed back at it, surprised but pleased by this uncharacteristic burst of playfulness. He gently pinned me back onto the bed with the bear, and I hugged it for a moment before tossing it behind me.

Mulder lay on his side next to me, propped up on one elbow. He dropped a soft kiss onto my mouth and reached down to caress my belly. "Hey," he murmured. "It's going to be all right."

I licked my lips, wanting to be kissed again. "It is?"

He took the bait, and this kiss was a lingering one. "It is. We're going to have a beautiful baby, and we'll get out of here. We'll be safe."

The unspoken fear of the cancer hung between us, but I ignored it, concentrating again on his lips. He hovered over me for too long, and I grew impatient, reaching up to capture his mouth with my own.

"Want to go find some dinner?" he asked when we parted.

"No. Make love to me."

He blinked. "Right now?"

I raised a hand to stroke my fingers through the hair at the back of his neck. "We've barely touched in months, Mulder." I pulled his head down and kissed him again, twining my tongue with his.

"I thought," He was trembling suddenly, and I clasped his fingers in mine, "it would ... be weird for you. I mean, knowing the things that we know, and ... what's happened."

"It's okay." I tried to fill my words with understanding instead of disappointment. "I know it's weird," I said lamely, for lack of a better word.

I let go of his hand to let him pull away, but he dipped his head and kissed me. He kissed me like he hadn't in months and I gasped beneath him, grasping at whatever parts of him I could reach: his shoulders, his face, his arms and shoulders, squeezing and pressing his hot skin.

Thank God, thank God, I thought as he moved over me, drawing my sweatpants over my hips and down my legs, trailing his mouth over the skin he exposed. I shoved down my underwear and kicked them aside before reaching up to pull Mulder back down to me, kissing him, tugging his lower lip between my teeth, soothing with my tongue.

My body had softened over the past six months, and it was a welcome feeling to feel soft curves instead of sharp, undernourished ones. I didn't miss seeing what I'd begun calling "my bony self" when I looked in the mirror. I felt lush and sexy, and while I knew Mulder had found me desirable before, the way he looked at me now made me feel like the most beautiful woman in the world. Granted, there wasn't much competition anymore, but still.

I struggled with the buttons of the heavy flannel over shirt I wore, but Mulder helped me with the last few; my hands were shaking too much. My breasts had become fuller and heavier, making bras almost unbearable most days. I had forgone the undergarment today, and I could see the appreciation on Mulder's face as I yanked the tee shirt over my head.

He bent to take one into his mouth with an almost grateful sound, and I returned the sentiment, holding him to me as his lips and tongue played over the nipple, tugging and stroking. It felt so good but it soon became too much, and I drew him up back to my lips. He didn't let go of my mouth as he struggled out of his own damp clothes; our tongues teased and darted, licking and twining.

He smelled like cold rain and fireplace smoke. I couldn't get enough of him, breathing him in and tasting his skin as he lowered me back to the bed. The stuffed bear was behind me and I leaned against it, liking the way its plush form felt against my back.

Mulder spread my legs apart and I bent my knees, ready to take him inside me. But he instead moved lower, settling between my thighs, stroking the soft skin there with his hands, tickling the thatch of hair with his hot breath.

His tongue moved over me in slow, smooth strokes, and it wasn't long before I could feel the orgasm building within me. "God," I hissed, threading my fingers through his thick hair and holding him in place.

As my breaths quickened and my hips moved against him, he crooked his finger inside me and stroked insistently. I flew off the edge seconds later, and the sounds that came from my throat were feral.

"Wow," Mulder breathed, smiling down at me with a heavy-lidded gaze. "You're beautiful when you come, you know that?"

I grabbed him and kissed him, my tongue swiping over his lips and tasting myself there. "Shut up and get on your back," I commanded with a growl.

He obeyed, shoving the bear onto the floor and pulling me on top of him. I straddled his hips, took a firm hold on him, and lowered myself onto his hard cock. We both groaned as he easily slid into me.

He looked up at me with half-closed eyes, biting his lip as he watched me move over him. I held his gaze, bracing myself on his chest and clenching the walls of my vagina around him. His eyes closed as he groaned my name.

His hands closed around my hips and he moved with me, thrusting up to match my rhythm. I reached behind me and scratched my nails along his inner thigh, smiling when he gasped raggedly. My hand snaked up along his leg higher and higher, and he looked up at me with a loopy smile when I reached his testicles.

I loved seeing the blush of desire on his face as I stroked and rode him; I wanted him to feel so good, to remember how we had been before all of this, I just wanted him to feel again.

He was close; I could hear it in his panting, see it in the way the tendons of his neck stood out with the strain. "Come on," I urged, clenching around him again as we moved. I closed my eyes, loving the way he felt inside of me. He tensed and gasped beneath me as he began to come.

"Kate oh God, Kate!"

The sound of his voice, full of fear and not passion, startled me. I opened my eyes to see him staring up at me, wide-eyed. Before I could ask him what the matter was, a splash of color caught my eye; my gaze dropped to see two small dots of red on his chest. They mingled with the beads of sweat and turned pink, running in small rivulets over his skin.

As I watched, still puzzled, another red dot appeared, then another. Mulder said my name again, his hips still thrusting mindlessly, and I felt a tickle beneath my nose. I touched the skin there, wiping it, and my fingers were smeared with red when I pulled them away.

Mulder gave a final groan as he spilled over inside me; his teeth were clenched as his body shuddered. "Jesus," he hissed, still staring up at me in horror.

I finally realized my nose was bleeding.

I lifted myself off him and stumbled into the bathroom, where I grabbed a handful of tissues and sat down on the toilet seat, tilting my head back and squeezing the bridge of my nose to try and stop the flow.

Mulder came in and knelt before me. "Let me see," he said, his voice tight.

I pulled the red-spotted tissue away from my nose and let him look. "I'm fine. It's just a bloody nose."


"All those books I read, they all said that it's not uncommon for pregnant women to get a nosebleed sometimes." I pulled his hands away from my face and held them tightly.

He was trembling, and I pulled him into my arms. "I'm fine," I repeated.

And as long as I kept telling myself that, I would be. For now.

"I have to try, Kate."

I looked at Mulder, trying to understand what he was telling me. I knew he hadn't slept much last night after our lovemaking had taken such a frightening turn; I had woken up several times to see him sitting by the window, looking out at the rain. "Come back to bed," I'd told him, but after holding me until I fell asleep again, I woke up to find him back at the window.

And now he wanted to leave, to see if he could find their camp again. "I stumbled across them the last time," he reminded me. "It could happen again."

So many things flew into my head, I didn't know how to sort them out. "But how long will you be gone?" I asked, for lack of anything better to say. Visions of me giving birth by myself flitted across my brain.

He frowned. "I have to try," he repeated lamely. He didn't know how long he'd be gone; maybe he'd find what he was looking for within the week, maybe he wouldn't be back for months.

"What if they come to take the baby before you get back?"

His dark eyes flashed. "That's NOT going to happen."

I almost laughed. Mulder thought he could control everything; he thought he could find every answer and prevent every bad thing from happening. Maybe it was because he couldn't stop Scully's death. Maybe it was because he couldn't stop my abduction. Or maybe he felt as helpless as I did - pawns in a game that we couldn't control.

He walked from beneath the overhang of the roof and stood at the railing, ignoring the drizzle that continued to fall. I followed.

"What if there is no chip, Mulder?"

His chin dropped to his chest. As I waited for his answer, I studied the way the rain fell on his bare arms, watching the droplets weave their way over his skin.

"But what if there is?"

The childish answer brought my emotions to the surface. "Then you know what they'll want in exchange for it," I snapped.

He turned to me then, gripping my upper arms. Whether it was to calm me or himself down, I didn't know. "It doesn't have to be that way." His grip relaxed, and the pads of his thumbs stroked. "There's always another way."

Tears rose in my throat, as if his soothing caress was urging them from my chest to my eyes. "Maybe I won't get sick," I protested, but my voice was as weak as the words. Mulder enfolded me in his arms and held me tight. "I don't want you to go."

"I know," he whispered into my hair.

We didn't talk about it the rest of the day, but I knew he was still thinking about it. I caught him watching me while we ate, while we met with Dr. Schultz, while we walked home under my red umbrella.

That night as we laid in bed in the dark, he reached out to stroke my side and the baby with a gentle touch.

"I don't want to go through this alone," I whispered. His hand moved up to cup my cheek, and he leaned forward to kiss me.

"You won't," he said firmly, and I believed him.

When I woke up the next morning, he was gone.

Byers and Frohike couldn't or wouldn't tell me anything other than, "He promised he'd be back before the baby is due."

The council knew nothing of Mulder's little trip. Moira looked at me with sympathy, but I stalked out before she could say something that might make me burst into tears.

I hadn't cried yet. After waking up to find the bed cold beside me, I'd curled onto my side and willed the tears to come. All that had surfaced instead was a litany of curses that would have shocked my mother.

He hadn't told me that he wouldn't go, but I thought that his "I knows" and "You won'ts" meant the same thing. Apparently I was wrong.

I felt like I had been ditched. Mulder was off running around looking for a chip that might or might not exist, and all I could do was sit here and wait. Maybe he'd come back before the baby was born, maybe not. Maybe he wouldn't be coming back at all.

It wasn't entirely unthinkable that it had been too much for him, and he had just taken off. It as also possible that he might find what he was looking for, only to die at the hands of those controlling the game.

Both scenarios left me with no option but to flee to Denver on my own, once the baby was born. I wasn't about to sit around and wait for the inevitable like a simpering little fool. Mulder might have every intention of returning in time but if he didn't, fuck him. I wouldn't be waiting around for him to make his big Mighty Mouse entrance.

I was able to keep the tears inside for nearly a month. I tamped them down with anger, packing them into a little ball that I could easily throw away.

But as February drew to a close, my baby began to make her presence known more often. Instead of a little twitch now and then, she began to kick and stretch during the day and sometimes at night.

It was an amazing feeling, resting my hands over where she grew inside me and feeling her move. I may not have given her life, I thought, but she wouldn't be alive without me.

I had no one to share this joy with, and that's what finally made me cry.

I lay down on the bed and sobbed for hours. I wanted my mom.


March brought signs of spring, as well as an aching back, aching breasts, and restless nights.

Byers and Frohike helped me move into the house when it was ready, and they even offered to stay with me. I told them I would be fine, and they looked relieved.

I would be fine. I had to be.

At the end of my seventh month, I prepared to leave.

I collected the things I would need - bassinet, changing table and crib. At least I didn't have to worry about finding the money to pay for all of this.

While I was shopping, I tried to pretend that I was a normal woman having a normal baby in a normal world. But it was difficult to fake it while shopping in dark and dusty stores, still feeling like a looter even after all this time.

When the time came, I knew I would be leaving most of it behind, but I needed to continue the pretense so everyone would think we would be staying.

"We" became the preferred pronoun by default; it would either be me and my baby, or three of us, if and when Mulder came back. No one else knew about the plan, not even the Gunmen. Mulder hadn't wanted to risk their safety by giving them knowledge that could be used to hurt them.

I wished they were coming with us, even though I knew they were uncomfortable around me. I wasn't sure I could do it alone. I had traveled for endless miles by myself before coming across Mulder and the others so many months ago, but with a baby? The thought frightened me.

I planned on taking a bicycle, one with a rack in the back for our things. I would hold the baby close, strapped to my front in one of those baby carriers that were once so popular. It was the only way I could think of traveling. Walking would take too long.

And if I got sick before I reached Denver ... then I would just have to deal with that, too.

It was another rainy evening at the end of March when I heard footsteps on the front porch. Expecting the sound to be followed by a knock, telling me that Byers or Frohike was here, I was surprised when I only heard the shuffling of feet on the dirty wood.

As quickly as I was able, with my round belly making me less lithe than I used to be, I went to the bedroom nightstand where I kept the gun. My palms were damp as I pulled it from its hiding place. There was no baby for them to take yet, but I wouldn't put it past them to cut her out of me and leave me to bleed to death on the floor.

My hands shook as I stood in the hallway and waited for the door to open. The houses had locks, but I knew if these people wanted in, they would get in. I flicked the safety off, then raised the gun and aimed toward the door.

The door opened, and it was a good ten seconds before I realized that the man staring at me in wide-eyed surprise was Mulder. "Jesus!" he said, raising his hands defensively. "Kate, it's me!"

I almost shot him anyway.

I didn't know whether to run into his arms or stalk away without a word. I wanted to do both; I wanted to yell in anger and cry in relief, but all I could do was lower the gun and slump against the wall, shaking from the adrenaline coursing through my veins.

He approached with a hesitant step, as if he were waiting for me to fly into a rage. Instead, I pushed his hands away roughly when he moved to touch me. "Come on," he said. "Come and sit down." I refused his touch again. "Kate, you're shaking."

"I've been shaking for two months, Mulder! You ran off and ditched me, and I thought I was going to have to do this alone. And right now, as far as I'm concerned, I still am."

He didn't have anything to say in response and he let me pass by him to go and sit down on the couch.

I lowered myself against the cushions, shoving a throw pillow behind my aching lower back. "So was it worth it?" I asked after a long silence. I opened my eyes and saw him sitting across from me in an easy chair.

"No," he answered, looking straight at me. "I didn't find anything. But ..."

"You had to try," I finished for him, trying for a mocking tone but only reaching weariness. "You know, Mulder, whether you wanted to find this chip to save me or to make up for not being able to save Scully ." I shook my head. "You're no better than they are."

His hazel eyes flashed in anger and hurt. "How can you say that?"

"Because you didn't give me the choice. They've taken so much away from me already. I don't have that much left, Mulder. They want me to just let them take the baby and then roll over and die, and I'm not going to give them that satisfaction."

He stood up then, and I frowned when I noticed how thin he was. "It doesn't have to be that way, Kate. We can have both the baby and your health, I KNOW we can!"

My eyes closed again. I wondered if he had been like this with Scully - so headstrong and stubborn, refusing to look at the logic. "So let's say you find a chip that can cure the cancer. In exchange for what? My baby?" I shook my head vehemently. "No. That's exactly what they want."

"But if you can live and be healthy, it would give you the chance to get our baby back."

"Or I could make sure they don't get her in the first place," I argued. Mulder began to pace across the darkening room. "Look, it doesn't matter now! Even if you had found a chip, who's to say I would want it in me?" He stopped and looked at me, opening his mouth to argue. "That's MY choice to make, Mulder. Not yours. And if I know these men at all, I would bet any money that the chip would do more than cure cancer." His mouth clamped shut, and I knew I had stumbled upon something. "What did it do to Scully?" I asked, my voice softer now.

He went to the window, but then turned to face me. "It made her go somewhere ... it "called" her, against her will. She almost died. Others weren't so lucky." He folded his arms across his thin chest.

"I don't want that, Mulder. They've taken away enough of my control already. I know I can't have it both ways - I can have my baby, but not my life." I took a deep breath; that was the first time I had said it out loud, and it felt like I was giving myself a death sentence.

Mulder sat beside me and reached for my hand. I let him take it this time. "Kate," he whispered. I waited for him to say more, but that was it.

I blinked away hot tears and looked down at our entwined fingers. "I don't think there is any chip. I think these people ran out of favors with the colonists a long time ago."

"If you believe that, then there's only one choice." He looked at me, and the rest of my anger dissipated when I saw the tears on his cheeks.

"I know." I raised a hand to stroke his hair, and he leaned his head into my palm. "We should have had this conversation before you decided to leave."

He took my hand in his and squeezed my fingers. "Yes," he agreed simply.

There wasn't much more to be said after that.

A silent hour passed with us on the couch before his stomach started rumbling, and I realized how late it was.

I watched him finish his meal as the last light leaked away. He looked ridiculously sad - those big eyes of his always brimmed over with whatever emotion he was feeling - and his swallows looked hard and painful, as if he had to force himself to eat.

And then we went to bed, only to fall into silence again. I still didn't know what to do with him; I wanted to touch and kiss him, I wanted to cry in relief onto his shoulder, I wanted to pummel him with my fists.

I felt him shift beside me, and then felt his gaze on me in the darkness. I waited for him to say something, anything to break this tension, but he didn't, and I got tired of holding my breath for it.

"Would you just say you're sorry and get it over with?" I snapped, punching my pillow.

"I love you."

We'd never said that to each other, and it certainly wasn't what I had expected him to say now. My mouth snapped open and shut a few times before I was able to reply. "Then why did you leave?" I asked weakly.

He propped himself up on one elbow and covered my hand with his own. "Because I don't want to see you die. Because if I have to make a choice, I will choose you over a child that was conceived without anybody's consent and was never meant to be."

The tears leaked out faster than I could stop them. I wiped ineffectually at them anyway. "I wasn't sure," I said, my voice no more than a trembling whisper, "if you stuck around because of me or because this is her baby."

He moved closer to me, his hands slipping down to my distended belly. "They underestimated you, Kate. You're stronger than they thought you were." He raised my flannel nightshirt and bent to place a kiss on the skin he revealed. "And I love you for that."

"Just for that?" I sniffled.

He lifted his head, and I could see his smile in the darkness. "Among other things."

I rolled over into his embrace, but the baby got in the way. After a few shifts and teary chuckles, he was curled around my body, his hands reaching around to soothe and caress me. He gently kissed the nape of my neck, and I shivered. "I'm so sorry, Kate. I shouldn't have gone."

We fell back into silence, his apology settling over me like a warm blanket. "Mulder," I said after a while. "I love you, too." He tightened his arms around me and kissed my neck again.

When I felt myself drifting off into sleep I said, "I'm afraid," but he was already asleep.

As April progressed and spring slowly arrived cool and damp, conflicting emotions warred within me. I couldn't wait for the baby to be born so I could stop feeling like such a clumsy oaf, waddling around with one hand on my sore back. I couldn't wait until we could get out of here and stop all this waiting; I just wanted to go.

But at the same time, I didn't want the baby to come. As long as the baby was inside me, it seemed, I wouldn't get sick. Mulder didn't want me to die, and I certainly didn't want that either. I still held onto hope, however. Maybe I would be the exception - I was the one they had impregnated, maybe it would be different with me. Maybe I wouldn't get sick. I would gladly accept a life of looking over my shoulder if it meant I would get to have a long life with my child.

The nights were still often sleepless for me as I contended with aching body parts and kicking babies. At least now Mulder was there to rub my back and bring me water when I was hot and thirsty. It was nice to fall asleep after a massage, Mulder's warm body against mine, his arm draped around my belly.

On nights like those, I let myself pretend that it would be like this forever. I tried to pretend that word hadn't been coming in that the sick abductees were dying.

I went into labor on the second Tuesday in May. I was outside hanging clothes to dry in the fresh spring air, when I doubled over in pain. I'd had the false contractions off and on during the past month or so, but somehow I knew this was it.

A wave of panic washed over me. Jesus, I wasn't ready for this! I wasn't ready to raise a child, wasn't ready to fight for my baby, wasn't ready for the pain I knew was coming.

"Mulder!" I yelled, still clutching at my belly. What do I do what do I do what do I do?

He appeared at the door. "What's wrong?" He must have seen the fear in my eyes, for he ran over to me and pulled me into his arms. "Kate, Kate," he murmured, cupping my face in his hands. "It's all right."

He tried to soothe me with hands and voice, but I could see the same panic rising in his own dark eyes. I straightened up carefully, the contraction over. "You should go tell Dr. Schultz,"

"I don't want to leave you alone."

"I'll be fine," I told him, squeezing his hand and trying not to notice that we were both trembling. Still he hesitated. "Go."

He dropped a quick kiss on my lips. "I'll be right back."

"And I'll be fine," I repeated. It didn't make me feel any better, and Mulder didn't look convinced, either.

I had always imagined childbirth would be extremely painful and draining. I had no idea it would be like this. Ten hours and counting, and I was ready to give up. All I wanted to do was sleep, to lie down and close my eyes, and let the darkness overtake me.

A cool washcloth on my forehead provided a brief spot of relief, and I inhaled deeply as the contraction faded. "Try and relax," Mulder whispered, pushing the sweat-soaked hair from my face.

I leaned back against him, and he rubbed my arms gently. "Can I push yet?" I barely recognized the strained, trembling voice that came out of my mouth.

"Soon, baby." Moira smiled at me from her position next to Dr. Schultz at the foot of the bed.

"Baby," I mumbled. "Why is she calling me baby?" Mulder chuckled and handed me a cup of water.

It was so hot in the room; as soon as the sun had begun to go down, they filled the room with the kerosene lamps, so many that Mulder had told Dr. Schultz to get rid of some of them. "I need to be able to see!" he protested, but Mulder had replied by telling him that all he needed to see was a head coming out, and that would be hard to miss.

I was glad for less light; the brightness had hurt my eyes and made me so hot. "Mulder."

"What is it?" he asked, bending his head down and sliding his hands between us to rub my lower back gently.

"What if there's something wrong with my baby? What if ... what if what they did ..."

"Ssh, Kate. Don't think like that. The baby is fine. She's going to be fine. And so are you."

"But ... " I didn't get to voice the rest of my concerns. The next contraction hit and I reared forward, crying out in agony. It burned and ached, my legs trembled uncontrollably, and I struggled not to push.

"Breathe, Kate," Moira urged. "Come on, do it with me."

But it was hard to keep the rhythm of the panting going with all the pain. I began to cry, sobbing between breaths. Mulder winced behind me, but I didn't loosen the vise-like grip I had on his thighs.

"I want to push!" I screamed, trying to find the strength to dig my heels into the mattress.

"Just a little longer," Mulder whispered into my ear. "You're doing so well, Kate, just hang in there a little longer." He stroked my hair, but I yanked my head away from his touch.

The pain subsided and I collapsed back against Mulder. "I can't," I wept, turning my head and resting my face against the hot skin of his neck. "I can't do this, it hurts so bad, I just want it to be over."

He put his arms around me and held me as best he could, whispering things that barely registered in my brain. I couldn't relax, I couldn't get a decent breath, I was cold, I was hot and I couldn't stop shaking.

"Soon, Kate," Dr. Schultz promised. "Not much longer now."

Mulder kissed my forehead. "Almost there."

When the next contraction hit, I cried out again, and almost missed Dr. Schultz's command: "Now, Kate! Go ahead and push."

I pushed as hard as I could, groaning with the pressure. It felt like my head would explode, but I pushed and pushed until I heard Moira say, "Kate, the baby's head is crowning!"

My tired muscles wouldn't let me smile, but I tried. I looked down, but all I saw were my pale thighs and the bloody towels beneath them.

Dr. Schultz picked up a clean towel and mopped his face with it. "Okay," he said tiredly. "Next contraction, push as hard as you can."

I glared at him. "What do you think I'm DOING?!"

And then the next contraction hit, and I pushed, and I screamed and yelled, Mulder's hands on my back as I pushed and hollered. I felt like I could push hard enough to shove the pain into the next room, where I wouldn't have to deal with it.

"PUSH!" Dr. Schultz yelled, and I wanted to punch him; like there was anything else I would be doing right now.

Mulder was encouraging me in a voice that was almost soothing, and I gripped his hands hard enough to make him hiss, "Ow!" behind me.

Just as I was ready to collapse against Mulder and give up on this attempt, Dr. Schultz announced, "Keep pushing keep pushing, Kate, keep pushing!"

"I can't!" I wailed, but did anyway, feeling like I was delivering all of my internal organs along with the baby.

But then there was a feeling of emptiness between my legs, and Moira cried, "It's a girl!"

I wanted to see her, I wanted to see my daughter, but all I could do was fall back against Mulder's chest and weep with relief. The pain was gone, but I was so tired, so exhausted I could barely move. I could feel my legs trembling, and I heard Mulder saying something to me, but none of it registered.

I had a baby, I had a daughter, a little girl, but why wasn't she crying? Why didn't I hear her crying like all the babies I used to see born on TV, the newborns that my mother the OB nurse would criticize, saying, "Oh, that's not a newborn baby," why wasn't she crying?

Mulder was laughing. I could hear the loose sounds coming from him somewhere above me, even as he stroked my hair and my face.

And then there was a weight on my stomach, and I heard a small sound, like a faint sound in the middle of the night, and I realized that my daughter was in my arms, and she was crying.

I looked down, and her pink face was contorted, the most awful sounds coming from her tiny mouth. Her head was pointed, her skin was stained with blood and fluids, and she was beautiful. "Oh," I breathed. "Look."

Mulder's whole hand was bigger than her head; he touched her with trembling fingers. "You did it, Kate," he whispered. "Look at her, she's beautiful."

Ten fingers and ten toes with tiny perfect nails. A lusty cry from that round mouth. A spattering of dark hair on top of her pointy little head. She hadn't opened her eyes yet; she was too busy protesting this new, cold world.

I had a daughter. A daughter who, before latching onto my breast with her hungry mouth, looked up at me with the clearest blue eyes I'd ever seen. Mulder gasped when he saw, and I smiled. "Beautiful eyes," I praised, wiping her off gently with a clean towel.

"Beautiful," he agreed, his voice no more than a whisper.

Moira knelt beside us. "Congratulations," she said, tears in her eyes. "What's her name?"

I smiled again. "Anna." And then I drifted off into exhaustion, my daughter tugging sharply at my breast.

When I woke up, the sun was streaming in through the bedroom window and my whole body ached. My throat was parched, my stomach was empty, and I had to go to the bathroom.

Turning my head on the pillow, I saw Mulder in the rocking chair by the window, our daughter in his arms. I smiled and opened my mouth to say something, but then I saw the tears on his cheeks.

I wasn't surprised at the sharp wave of bitterness that welled up inside me as I watched him touch the face of the child that should have been his and Scully's.

Never meant to be.

Mulder's words echoed in my head as I swallowed my own tears. Never meant to be, perhaps, but here all the same, and I wanted her. "Look at you," I said, my voice strangely squeaky. "Daddy's little girl already."

He raised his head in surprise and smiled. Immediately, he got up and brought Anna over to me. "You're awake," he said needlessly, wiping his cheeks with his free hand while I struggled to sit up.

"How long have I been asleep?"

He placed Anna gently in my arms, and it felt so right, having her there. She yawned, her mouth contorting into a grimace. I stroked her tiny hand, and she grabbed onto my index finger with surprising strength.

"About five hours." I moved over to make room for Mulder on the bed. "You didn't even budge when we cleaned up and changed the sheets under you." He chuckled. "You even snored."

"Oh, I did not." I pressed my lips to her head, marveling at the warmth of her skin and the wonderful way she smelled.

Mulder brushed the hair from my face and leaned down to kiss me gently. "How are you feeling?"

"Hungry. So tired. Relieved." I took the opportunity to count her fingers again. "Is she healthy?"

"As far as we can tell. Dr. Schultz will be back later to check on you." He kissed me again. "I'm so proud of you." I rolled my eyes, and he chuckled. "Well, you did great."

"Yeah," I said, my eyelids becoming heavy again. "Yeah, I did, didn't I?"

I fell back asleep with Mulder's soft chuckle in my ear.

I wanted to leave right away. Anna was here - she was mine, she was healthy, and I was ready to go. But it was difficult when the spirit was willing and the body was weak. I had to use common sense; we would be traveling by bicycle or by foot. We had to wait until I was up for the journey.

Mulder was eager to leave as well; I saw it in the way he fussed with our bags, checking to make sure everything was packed well, and in the way he watched me with Anna. It looked like he was studying me, measuring my strength and energy.

Byers and Frohike came to see us often during the week after Anna was born. They gave each other knowing looks when she opened her blue, blue eyes and looked up at them. Mulder never said it, but I had seen his one picture of Scully enough to know that Anna had her mother's eyes. He'd told me once that my eyes were like Scully's, but I knew who he saw when he looked at Anna.

It didn't matter. She was beautiful and she was mine, no matter who she looked like. She was a quiet baby, content to lie in our arms and sleep, or watch us with her clear eyes.

I would watch her for hours, wondering how such a tiny creature could be so important to the fate of the world. What made her so special? Was it something in her genes? Something buried deep in her mind? A code hidden within her DNA that held answers I couldn't even begin to ask?

Mulder was wrong; Anna was meant to be, but I wasn't going to let her serve that purpose.

It was a sunny Saturday when I heard footsteps on the porch. I wasn't expecting Dr. Schultz or anybody, and Mulder wasn't due back from the Gunmen's until dinner. But instead of the knock I was expecting, I heard the door open.

Fear grabbed at me, and I ran into the bedroom and took the gun from its hiding place, tucking it into the loose pocket of my skirt. I returned to Anna's side and waited. My palms grew damp as I listened to the footsteps move through the house.

Then all I could hear were the sounds of my own shaky breaths and the soft snuffling of Anna's as she slept. I glanced down at her to steel myself for what might happen. Before I turned back, a hint of cigarette smoke pricked at my nose.

A man stood in the doorway to the room, looking at me with curiosity and a hint of satisfaction. He was tall and old, with a thin, lined face and small, cold eyes.

I hadn't had any more memories of my abductions, but as I looked back at him, I knew I'd seen him before.

"Hello, Kate," he said, and I was very aware of the weight of the gun in my pocket.

"Who are you?" I said, my voice cold and cautious.

He smiled a thin smile. "I'm surprised to see that Fox isn't at home with you. Where is he?" I didn't answer, and he pulled a pack of cigarettes from the pocket of his dark trench coat.

"You're not going to smoke in front of my baby."

He gave me a look of false surprise. "YOUR baby, Kate? I was under the impression that one of my men grew a conscience and made his last confession to you." I didn't reply, only raised my chin and stared at him with defiance. He merely shrugged and put the cigarettes back.

"I know you're here for my baby." He looked genuinely surprised at that, and I tamped down a smile of smug satisfaction. "But you're not going to take her."

His smile returned. "Really?" He took a step forward, and I forced myself not to take a step back.


"Not even if I have something you want? Something you need?"

I gritted my teeth and locked my knees to keep them from trembling. "You have nothing I need," I spat.

"I find that hard to believe, considering you're ill." He paused, apparently waiting for me to respond with the appropriate shock and confusion. I kept my face a stony mask, and he frowned. "Then you must know that this illness has only one possible end. And one sure cure."

"I'm not making any deals, and I'm not giving you anything."

A brief flash of what looked like admiration crossed his face. "Not many people would walk away from a chance to live a long and healthy life, Kate."

"And not many new mothers would eagerly give up their child." He stared at me, as if sizing me up. "Go into the kitchen. I don't want to wake her up," I said, like we were two friends just chatting about the new baby.

I was hoping he would do as I instructed, and he did. After reassuring myself with a quick glance at Anna, I followed him out of the room, reaching into my pocket and disengaging the safety on the gun as I walked.

I was amazed at how strong I felt. After months and months of being angry and afraid, I was finally facing my fear, confronting the man who had done this to me. Maybe holding Anna in my arms and loving her had given me enough strength to face him.

He sat down in a chair at the table, I leaned against the counter across the room, resting my hand on my leg, close to the gun. "Now," I said, my voice steady. "You tell me why I should listen to one goddamn thing you say."

"You give me what I want, and I give you what you need, Kate. It's not complicated." He again pulled out the cigarettes and lit one, but I didn't stop him this time.

"What I might need and what I want are two different things."

"You don't want the chance to live?"

"I'd rather die than let you take my daughter."

He leaned back in the chair, inhaling deeply on his cigarette. The smoke swirled above his head in thin wisps as he exhaled. "Be careful what you wish for," he replied, making no effort to mask the threat. He paused to let his words sink in, then appraised me coolly. "You know, I think perhaps I underestimated you, Kate."

I pulled the gun from my pocket. "Yes, I think you did." I fired once, the force of the recoil causing my head to slam back against the cupboard door.

The bullet had hit his shoulder, and he looked at me in horrified surprise as he fell onto the floor. The anger I had been holding back spilled over, and I walked over to where he lay, panting with anger.

He stared up at me with what looked like fear as I stood over him. "Fuck you," I spit out, and fired another round into his heart.

I must have stared down at his motionless body for a good ten minutes before I snapped out of my shock. The sound of Anna's cries began to reach through the ringing in my ears, and I dropped the gun onto the man's bleeding body and ran from the room.

I picked up my daughter and clutched her to me, not even trying to calm her with soothing whispers and coos. My legs began to tremble, and I sank to the floor. I didn't cry, even when I felt the now familiar tickle beneath my nose, even when the first bright drop of blood fell onto my daughter's flawless skin.

The sound of Mulder screaming my name still echoed in my ears as we drove away that night in the old man's car. Mulder had come home, saw the body in the kitchen, and screamed for me. He found me in the bedroom, still huddled on the floor with Anna in my arms.

The Gunmen had found the car a few miles away; he must have left it to avoid attracting unwanted attention as the foreign sound and sight moved through the long empty streets. Byers and Frohike checked it for bugs or tracking devices, but found none. So now the black Lincoln was packed full, and Anna was safely nestled in a car seat.

Our travel plans had changed with the acquisition of the dead man's car, but we still had to use caution. We would rest during the day and drive at night, using smaller state highways and less obvious routes, just in case someone was on the lookout for us.

With any luck, we had a few days' head start; Mulder reasoned they would be expecting the old man to return within a couple of days, so they wouldn't suspect anything right away. But still, we were careful.

We broke into a motel room somewhere in Montana the next afternoon. I lay down to rest while Mulder pulled a chair up to the window. He watched the still world through a crack in the heavy drapes, Anna sleeping soundly in his lap.

A sound woke me up sometime later, and as I struggled out of sleep I realized Mulder was singing. Dust particles floated in the lone beam that had snuck in through the drapes, and the golden light fell on the couple in the chair. Anna grasped at his long fingers as he smiled down at her.

"You like that?" he whispered. "I've got more, I can keep going." He bent down to kiss her head.

"Let us be lovers, we'll marry our fortunes together So we bought a pack of cigarettes and Mrs. Wagner pies And walked off to look for America.

"Kathy, I'm lost I said, though I knew she was sleeping I'm empty and aching and I don't know why Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike They've all come to look for America."

I smiled. "You left out about half the words."

He looked up and smiled. "It's been a long time since my sensitive Paul Simon stage." He picked up Anna and brought her to me. "Here," he whispered as I settled her down beside me, pressing my nose to her head and inhaling her sweet scent. "Keep Mom company for a while."

I watched him return to the chair by the window. "Mulder," I said. He turned to look at me. "You need some rest, too."

"No," he said, shaking his head. "I'll be all right."

I knew he didn't want to let his guard down. I didn't know if he would ever forgive himself for failing Scully in that regard, no matter how many times he tried to make up for it with me, and now with Anna.

I closed my eyes and eventually drifted back into sleep, waking only when Mulder joined us on the bed, wrapping his arm around me and resting a hand near his daughter's head.

Tomorrow we would once again find a new home and face our future.


Summer passed and autumn began. It had been two years since the invasion had begun and ended so abruptly. Mulder and I still looked over our shoulders, expecting to find someone ready to take Anna away from us, but so far it seemed we had slipped under their radar.

We had foiled some of their plans, but not all. The nosebleeds began coming more frequently shortly after our arrival in Denver. We tried to blame them on the thin air of the high altitude, but when I started losing weight, we couldn't look the other way any longer.

When the leaves turned and the cold wind blew down from the mountains, I knew I wouldn't make it through the winter.

I wondered what might have been, had there been a cure and had I accepted it. I might have been healthy then, might have been able to look forward to spring.

But I wouldn't have my daughter. And as I stood in the doorway and watched Mulder playing with her, I realized I wouldn't have given that up for anything.

Because I had won.


Author's Notes: This story would not have been written if not for syntax and Alanna. They helped me figure out plot holes, told me when a character screamed "Plot Device!" and talked me down when I'd had too much Dr. Pepper.

Beta by Alanna, CazQ, Jamie, Marasmus and syntax six. Thanks also to Cofax, M. Sebasky, Mish, Maria Nicole and Terma, for support, cheers and much appreciated critical feedback. Everybody in chat, who helped me procrastinate - thank you. Finally, a little evil thanks to Narida Law. Because she refused to read anything regarding a Mulder/Other story, I made her promise to help me with the next story. I have her to thank for wanting to hurry the heck up. ;)

And I really miss Scully.

Feedback to spartcus1@msn.com

Thanks for reading!


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