Rating: G Category: MSR I guess? Disclaimer: The characters are not mine. They belong to Fox Author's Note: I had this idea in my head and I saw that some authors write in parts instead of one single fic, and I thought with this particular story, that approach may be better. So here goes nothin'! :)
A young boy stood in front of his bathroom mirror. His gaze roamed over his own features as though they were foreign to him, but then, as of about thirty minutes ago they were.
"Adopted," he whispered to himself, as though imparting some great secret.
All his life, William had felt out of place as though he just didn't belong to the existence in which he found himself . Oh, his parents loved him very much but even so there was a small voice inside him that always said "Not right. Not mine" and a gaping hole gushed pain he didn't understand. For a long time, he had thought himself crazy. Doting parents, friends, a nice home...how could he not be happy? And yet he wasn't. Something was missing.
It had gotten worse in the past few years. He was angry all the time--at his parents, himself. Nothing was as it should be. And today, on his twelfth birthday , he finally understood why. His parents had recognized his unrest and pain and had finally given him what he needed for so long--the truth. Suddenly his world made sense. He was not their child. This was not his world.
He studied his eyes, bright blue with flecks of green at the edges and moved to his nose, quite elegant but strong. His lips were full and pouty. Mom always said all he had to do to make his way in the world was use that secret weapon. He had to admit, it worked like a charm. All he had to do to get his way was make "the face," that sad soulful one and puff out his bottom lip. People were putty in his hands.
His hair was dark brown and scruffy from a night of sleep. Did his father look like that when he woke in the mornings? Or maybe he favored his mother? He stood back for a better look. He was tall for his age but his feet were rather small for his size. Perhaps his father was a tall man while his mother was petite? He held out his hands and turned them over. In contrast to his feet, they were large. Though, his fingers were long and graceful.
It was strange. Some part of him felt as though he should be upset at learning his life did not begin with the people who raised him, but right then he felt more of an excitement. Finally everything made sense. The absence of baby pictures before the age of six months; his parents reluctance to talk about his birth; why he looked in the mirror and never saw their faces.
As he stood there letting each revelation take root, he knew one more thing. His parents--his biological parents-- had wanted him. He knew it just as sure as he knew his own name. Strangely, that was the one thing that always seemed right. William. Yes, he was William. 'Now, William,' he thought, 'where did you come from?'
Always a resourceful and highly intelligent child, (some would say spookily so) William set to work on discovering the mystery of his own identity, despite his parents worrisome objections. 'You don't know what you'll find,' they warned him. But he had managed to get some information from them. His mother had given him up and no father had signed the adoption papers, which had always worried them. Only his mother? That didn't seem right.
Sighing inwardly, he moved on to the next bit of information. His mother was from Washington, DC. That was all he had beside his own birth date. No name. No address. No number. This may take a while. But he had the time. His father always said when he got an idea in his head, he held on to it like a rabid dog to meat. He had trouble relating to his dad a lot of the time... Perhaps he needed a professional to get to the bottom of this. More excited than before, William ran to find a phone book and flipped to the name of various private investigators. His finger moved down the list to one of his liking. Ah, this one sounded interesting, to say the least. He would start there. He picked up the phone, dialed, and nervously waited for an answer. "Mulder," greeted him on the other end.
"Mr. Fox Mulder? You're a private investigator, right?"
"That's right. What can I do for you?"
"I... I'd like...I need you to find my parents for me...please."
Mulder considered the young voice on the line. "You're a bit young, aren't you, son?"
"I'm not a baby," came the indignant reply. Mulder wondered for a moment if the boy might be a redhead. His personality certainly seemed to match the color. Smiling at the thought of a certain fiery redhead in his own life, Mulder continued.
"No, I'm sure you're not," he answered blithely. "I'll tell you what, why don't you tell me a little bit more about your situation and we'll see what I can do, all right?"
"Well...my mom and dad...are not my mom and dad. I'm adopted. "
"I see. "
"So?" the boy asked, as though that were all the information necessary.
"So...you want me to find your biological mother and father."
"Aren't you happy with your adoptive family?"
"Yes...and no. I just, I feel like something's missing and until I find it, I can't feel...complete. I've felt that way for as long as I can remember. But you probably couldn't understand that."
"Actually, I can," came the gentle reply. His voice rose to a more assured level as he continued. "But, you know, things don't always turn out the way we expect....
Young people often imagine scenarios that are far from reality: their parents are famous; they're in the witness protection program; they're government agents, heroes saving the world... But they're none of those things. They're just regular people," he said solemnly.
There was a silence on the line, then finally an answer. "I just want to know who they are. I want to know who I am."
Mulder sat back in his chair and considered the timid request. This wasn't the first time he had been asked to do such a thing, but normally the clients were adults themselves by the time they came to him. He flicked a pencil back and forth between his fingers.
"Do your parents know about this phone call?"
"Um, sure they do."
"Maybe I should speak to them."
"No! I mean...You can't. They're busy right now."
"I think you should make sure that this is all right with them first," Mulder told him knowingly.
The boy sighed in frustration. "They'd just tell me to wait. I don't *want* to wait. I've got my own money. I've worked lots over the summer. I could pay you, and they'd never have to know."
Mulder closed his eyes, hating to voice his next thoughts. He sympathized. He really did but... "Money's not the issue here. I'll need your parents' permission. If not, call me in a few years, and I'll be happy to help you, son," he told the boy compassionately. "What's your name?"
"William," the boy answered angrily. "And I'm not your son. Thanks for nothing." Then the line went dead.
Mulder sat dumbstruck as his mind continued to process the name. William. It couldn't be...It just couldn't be. The odds of not only the call but it being on this date were astronomical. Even as he sat doubting it, his heart began to pound wildly with the possibility.
Oh, God. What if?
William sat at his desk and slammed the phone down. Fox wasn't a real name anyway. Who needed him? There were plenty of other people to choose from.
Or so he thought.
It turned out no one had much interest in a kid who couldn't accept the good life he had been dealt. Some even accused him of " looking for greener pastures" and told him to worry about "girls and school." The only one who had treated him with a modicum of dignity had been his first choice, Mr. Mulder. Despite his reluctance, he had been patient and kind. Genuinely so. There was something soothing in his easy manner and cool intellect. And they say always go with your first choice.
'Well, Mr. Fox Mulder, it seems you haven't heard the last of me,' he mused. It was late, however; it would have to wait until tomorrow. In the meantime he had some strategizing to work on. He scribbled the phone number on a piece of paper, folded it and laid it on his desk, turned out the light and got into bed. As he lay staring up at the ceiling, he imagined all the ways he would sway this Mr. Mulder into seeing the light. Tomorrow was a new day.
Morning came and young William shifted restlessly as the sun peeked through his window announcing the day. The same dull ache of emptiness shadowed his subconscious until...'Fox Mulder.' He bolted up and jumped out of bed, unfolding the piece of paper on his desk and glancing at the clock on his dresser. 8:30
He might be in. Still, some people start work at eight, right? Quickly, he dialed the number on the paper. A now-familiar voice greeted him.
"Hi...Mr. Mulder...this is..."
"William," the man finished. If William didn't know better, he'd say the man sounded knocked for a loop. But then, he himself was surprised this man would remember him so quickly.
"You remember me."
"Yes...I do," came the gentle reply.
"Listen, I just wanted to apologize for the other day. You know, for what I said."
"No, no that's all right. I understand," came the hurried reply.
"And I was hoping that you might reconsider...If you would just listen for a minute..."
"William, when is your birthday?" The man sounded anxious.
"My birthday was yesterday. Does this mean you'll help me?" William answered a bit perplexed.
"Yesterday," the man repeated, sounding more on edge. "How old are you now?" he coaxed.
"I'm twelve. Hey, does this mean you're going to help me?" William repeated.
"What else do you know about your adoption?" the man continued.
"Not a lot. Just that my mother gave me up and my father never signed the adoption papers. Oh and my mother probably lived in DC. That's all, really. Do you think that means my dad didn't know? Maybe he's looking for me." Another long silence. "Hello?"
"I'm here," came the shaky reply. Something was clearly wrong.
"Sir, are you ok?"
"William...how did you get this number?"
"I just looked in the phonebook. Is there something the matter?"
"Everything's fine. Listen, I live on Madison Avenue a few blocks away from the Oaks Plaza . Is that close to you at all?"
"Sure, it's only a few miles...why?" William heard a huff of laughter before the answer.
"I'd like to meet with you. How about...uh...Highland Park. Do you know where that is? "
"Sure, I do!"
"All right, let's say...twelve O'clock at the baseball field. I'll be wearing jeans and a gray sweater."
"Great! Thanks, mister. You won't regret it."
"You're welcome...son." he added in a whisper.
It had been hard on them both, not knowing. For years on William's birthday Scully just broke down. She blamed herself for not having enough faith-- in him and herself. He had tried to reassure her that it was better for William, that he would grow up in a stable home instead of always fearing every stranger he met. He told himself that, too, though he had to make himself believe it. If he didn't, he wouldn't be able to get up in the mornings. If it wasn't true then he had had a hand in this heartache in which they found themselves.
He had left--albeit at Scully's threats of disappearing with William if he didn't. She had been through so much that year, losing him for those three months. She had cried in his arms that morning, telling him she didn't want him to go, but that one man had more mobility than a family with a small infant, that it wouldn't be forever, that they just needed time to figure something out, and in the meantime, he had to disappear. He had tried to refuse but in the end he couldn't. God help him, he did what she had begged him to do.
Things had seemed to be going ok for a while. He was able to get messages through to Scully every month or so, and things seemed to be fine...until the last month. She never answered. She always answered. It's what kept him sane. It was that same week that he had gotten a tip on a government facility having information on the planned invasion. He had had to do something. Things just weren't as they should be and he had to make things right. He had thought that information might bring him back to his family, and in a way it did. He'd been caught and Scully had come to him. As foolish as he felt for his folly, he was indescribably happy to see her and hold her again. For a while he thought just maybe things would work out as they planned.
And then he had talked with Skinner. He had absently commented on how he imagined William "could probably take his old man by now," and the look on Skinner's face told him nothing would ever be the same again. He hadn't wanted to hear it but he had forced his boss to say it. He had had to know what happened to his son. And just like that, his world had changed forever.
Scully had broken down trembling in his arms, begging his forgiveness. It wasn't a matter of forgiveness. Forgiveness implied something had been done to harm or hurt. She had not done anything like that. He knew how long she had anguished over not being able to have children. And in some ways he shared that pain because as far as he was concerned, if Scully could not have children, then he could not have children either. Though it hadn't been a deep desire, he'd at least thought about it from time to time. He knew for her the infertility was a deeper violation, though, something that had been stolen from her personally. William had been a miracle for them both. So he knew the decision she had made for their son was one in which she felt she had no choice .
In her sobs she described attacks and kidnappings that made his stomach turn. She told him of her request that William keep his name so that he would have some legacy of his father, some family connection as a Mulder. He would always be William.
She told him of how she had tracked down the adoption records, took them home, agonizing over whether she could bear to know-- and burned them. No one would ever find him. Not even them. And so he hurt for her and for himself, nearly breaking with the knowledge that maybe, just maybe, if he had stayed he would still have his little boy.
Honestly, the years after their escape from the government were no life for a child. Living somewhere for a few months or so then moving, changing names. But he always wondered if somehow they could have made it work.
It was only four years after their escape that Melissa Anne had been born. Neither he nor Scully believed they could or would have another child. They had even taken precautions, but there was no denying that bright pink strip. They had both had the same reaction--happy as hell and scared as...hell. They were still on the move and still fighting to find a way to prevent the end of the world. Parenthood hadn't worked out the first time and all be damned if either could go through giving up a child again. So they did what they had always done--hoped and prayed. God certainly seemed to have a sense of humor. As it turned out, it wasn't humor but grace.
Missy was born at home. They didn't dare allow a record of her birth. Despite his initial paralyzing fear, bringing his own daughter into the world was the most amazing experience he had ever had...watching her as she took her first breaths. He had missed that with William.
Later, holding her, he had had a revelation. Clones. Hosts. Viruses that took possession of the human body...They weren't looking to over take the earth. They were looking for a way to propagate and humans were their way of searching for an answer .
William....he represented the possibility of salvation. He was born despite the impossible, despite what they had done to Scully. Had they been waiting all along to see if a woman on whom "they" had subjected forced infertility much like theirs would somehow bear children? Believing, perhaps, that humans might find a solution if forced to do so? They had wanted William so they could understand how he came to be...to somehow help themselves. That's what they needed.
How ironic that they could reverse infertility in humans but not themselves. It was somehow poetic. But there was no explanation for William. There was no cure for them. Mulder had realized then that destroying them was the only option left. Suspecting the aliens' genetic make-up would be almost identical, he had helped Scully in researching their own deadly virus. In the aliens case, because of their identical nature, it would rip through them faster than anything they could have imagined. To hell with stilettos. Scully's science had kicked their asses.
The ease of it was almost laughable. It was, of course, a plus for them that they knew exactly where to find their target--in the heart of the FBI. Better still, was that the virus was harmless to humans. So what had he done? He had rubbed it on his palms, gone in, walked up to the first replicant bastard he recognized, shook his hand and said "Congratulations, you've just been fucked, courtesy of the Mulders," and walked out, knowing full well there were still plenty of human beings around to raise the roof, had an FBI agent attacked an unarmed man.
And so, for about four years now, they had lived in peace. No more running, no more assumed identities. They had moved to Wyoming to get away from the memories, to start over. He worked as a private investigator and Scully taught medicine, while they raised a beautiful daughter, and he hadn't missed a minute of it--her first smile, her first steps, the first time she said daddy. But through it all, their family was, as the young voice had so aptly put it--incomplete.
He looked at his watch again.
William raced his bike as fast as he could pedal. He glanced at his watch again.
He was going to be late. Trees whipped past him as he pedaled harder still. He could see the park just ahead and took a shortcut through the field. As he coasted through the open space, his eyes scanned the area. He nearly panicked at seeing nothing but an expanse of green grass, but then, he spied it. A dark figure sitting low in the bleachers, shoulders hunched. That had to be him--Fox Mulder. As he came closer, the features of the man became more defined, but remained mostly hidden in shadow as he bowed his head. It seemed the world weighed on his shoulders.
When William approached, the stranger lifted his head and for the first time, he could see his face. Confronted by the image of himself as a man, the world seemed to tilt on its axis which would explain the feeling of freefall in his stomach. He stopped and dropped his bike to the ground, just staring. In that instant he was lost, but even as he stood there gaping, his eyes pleaded with this man-- 'tell me the answers.'
Fox Mulder had no voice for answers as he stood and looked at a child who could be no other than his son. His own eyes asked so many questions. 'Are you real? Do you know who I am?' Will you hate me when you do? Please, don't hate me. Please, don't go...' And just as he feared his sins may go unforgiven, he was granted grace once again when William stepped closer.
"You...didn't come to help me find my parents, did you," he asked meekly.
Mulder took the two steps down from the stands and stood mere feet from his boy. "No," his voice cracked. "I came to find you."
Father and son, once separated by years, were now just toe to toe. Separated by their own hesitancies, unsure of being accepted, afraid of being rejected .
William, looking up at a man who seemed so strong yet so fragile in his presence, ended the anguish for them both when he threw his arms around the father he had never known but whose absence he had somehow always grieved. Gentle hands held him as though afraid to break him as he buried his face deeper into the plush gray sweater, and for the first time in his life, William found himself in a place he felt he belonged.
Though he hated it to, William knew the moment must end so he drew away from the man who shared his likeness as well as his sense of awkwardness at the moment. Both were at a lost for words as they regarded each other with obvious wonder.
Mulder finally broke the silence. "I've tried to picture what you might look like so many times." His gaze was warm and all encompassing as he shook his head in amazement. "...I'd know you anywhere."
"I... think I've always been looking for you, somewhere inside. Now that I've found you, I'm not quite sure what comes next. This emptiness has been part of me for so long... " his voice trailed off.
William's words took away any hesitancy Mulder may have had at acting on his paternal instincts. As he took the boy's face in his hands, he hoped that he could somehow give him some of his own faith and perhaps some measure of the indescribable joy he felt .
"We'll figure it out, together, ok?"
The small smile that came to the boy's face was all the answer Mulder needed.
Just then, William's keen eyes spied something that piqued his interest-- a small gold band.
"You're married?" he said, sounding a little apprehensive. "Do you think she'll like me?" A gentle smile spread across Mulder's lips.
"Oh, I guarantee she's going to love you," he said confidently. "Have a seat. We have a lot to talk about...starting with your mother..."
Mulder paced restlessly in his kitchen alternately sitting and standing every few times he passed the seat at the kitchen table. They would be home any minute. How was he going to tell her? What was he going to say?
The tension jumped exponentially when he heard the front door open. He could hear Missy bounding through the door. A petite, red-haired, green-eyed, eight- year-old dashed into the room and hugged her father about the waist.
"Found you first!" she exclaimed happily
"You sure did," he told her affectionately as he stroked through her wavy red hair. "But you know what, sweetie, I have something I need to talk about with your mommy, ok? So I need you to go play in your room for a little while."
The little girl rolled her eyes, exasperated. "I know you guys kiss already. I'm not a baby."
Mulder had started to laugh but his face fell in slight surprise at the eerily familiar final comment. Even the inflection was the same. "What's the matter, daddy?"
"Nothing, baby. Just go play for a bit, all right?" he told her softly. He watched his daughter head up stairs, glancing back at him with that quizzical look that reminded him so much of Scully then turned to find his wife heading into the kitchen with a grocery bag .
"Here, let me get that." Nervous energy rolled off him in waves as he took the bag and set it on the counter.
"Thanks. I'll put them away," Scully told her husband as she slipped her arm about his waist and gave an affectionate squeeze.
"That can wait," he tried to protest, but she was already about the task of putting everything in its place. "Scully something happened today..." he began.
"Work?" she replied as she continued busying herself with the groceries.
"No...No, I didn't work today..."
"Didn't you feel well?" she cut in. "You should have told me," she said worriedly.
"I feel fine," he answered, frustrated with himself for not being able to tell her what he could barely keep inside. How do you tell someone something like this? "Scully, I saw...someone."
If she would just sit down, he thought.
"Scully, would you sit down, please," he told her beseechingly. That got her attention. She seemed to be trying to discern what it was that had him wound so tightly. She rarely saw him like this.
"Mulder, what is it?"
"Just sit down, " he told her.
"All right," she answered warily as she tried to read his expression. She took a seat at the table and 'waited for the other shoe to drop' as they say.
"Yesterday...Well today, really...He called and...at first I wasn't sure...but today...shit." This wasn't going well. He couldn't seem to string a complete thought together. It must have been obvious to Scully as well.
"Mulder, just slow down and tell me what it is your trying to tell me."
So he got straight to the point. "William."
The mere name seemed to knock the wind out of her. "What about him?" she asked cautiously.
The next words trembled out of Mulder as the emotional roller coaster of the day began to take its toll. "He found us, Scully." Mulder waited for a response from Scully as he kneeled in front of her, looking for a reaction. She simply sat stunned. "Scully? Did you her what I said?" When she again said nothing, he decided to continue. "I saw him today. He's beautiful," he whispered, each word dripping with the emotions he could barely contain.
"You saw him?" she whispered.
"I talked to him."
"You saw William," she repeated.
"Yes. He called here looking for someone to find his natural parents for him. He called *here* looking for *us,*" he added, almost giddy.
Words were a jumble in Scully's mind as she tried to clear her thoughts enough to speak. "Di..did...did you talk to him? What happened? Where is he? How is he? How could you not tell me?"
"He's fine, Scully. I didn't want to tell you until I knew for certain."
"And you are, you're certain?" There was a desperation in her voice that made his heart ache.
His hand moved to caress her cheek. "Yes, I am."
"I found them."
"What...?" Mrs.Van De Kamp gasped.
"I found my parents," William said nervously, suddenly very interested in the potatoes on his plate as he sat at the dinner table. "They live here, just down the road."
"William," Mr. Van De Kamp warned, "You know that's not so."
"Yes it is," he flared. "I met my father today."
"What are you talking about?"
William went through the whole story from the beginning. By the time he finished explaining all that he had learned, he wasn't sure coming clean about his day had been the best choice.
"You went to meet some strange man without telling us?" his mother accused.
"He's my father," he told them with an insistent glare and crossed his arms.
"I'm your father," Mr. Van De Kamp scolded. "And I want you to go to your room while your mother and I talk. Until further notice, you are not to see those people. They're strangers, do you hear me, boy?"
"I knew I never should have told you. I have a mother and father and sister who love me just the same as you. They do! And I want to see them! YOU CAN'T STOP ME!" William shouted as he shoved his chair away from the table, stormed out the front door, and took off on his bike.
"William! William, you come back here!"
The phone rang. "Mulder."
"Fox Mulder? *You.* You're the cause of all of this!" Mulder could hear a female voice in the background, shushing the man.
"Don't play dumb with me. If you think..."
"I'm sorry, I don't have the slightest idea..."
"William! He ran away--took off on his bike..."
Those simple words sent a terrifying jolt through the center of Mulder's heart. "When?" he demanded, before the ranting could continue.
"A little less than an hour ago," a woman's voice replied. Apparently she had taken the phone from her husband. "It's getting dark, and it's beginning to storm. We thought he might have gone there."
"No. I don't think he knows the way."
"Oh, Lord," she whispered under her breath. "It's just that we've never seen him like that before. He was so upset..."
The panic grew with each passing moment. He didn't need to hear any more. "I'm going out to look for him, alright? I'll call you as soon as I know anything."
Scully watched as Mulder scribbled down a number. Her eyes begged him to tell her what was happening. He finally hung up the phone. "William ran away." The anguish weighed heavily in his words. "You stay here with Missy in case he does show up here." He snatched his keys off the table.
One thought played through his mind, threatening to crush him: "Dear God, we can't lose him again."
It was getting dark. Madison Avenue. They lived on Madison Avenue. He could find them. He had done it once before, and now that he knew where to look, it should be simple. Feeling quite confident, William turned down street after street toward his goal. But just as it seemed his plan was going his way, spattering raindrops began to fall lightly on his face. For a moment he thought perhaps it would pass, but then it seemed the sky had opened and rain came gushing down.
Undaunted, he continued on his way, squinting through the hard rain. He knew the car. He had seen it at the park, when his father had offered to give him a ride to his house. All he had to do was find it. The problem was, through the rain, they all looked the same. One looked just like all the rest. The pouring rain drenched him as he circled back and forth, intent on reaching his goal. His body ached with the strain on his muscles so he sat in the cold rain and scanned the lamp-lit road over and over again while the rain beat wildly down.
He watched as a dark figure dashed out of a house and jumped into their car which sped in his direction-- watched without really seeing as the car screeched to a halt beside him. The car door swung open, and the faceless figure exited into the rain. William, still in shock, barely recognized his own name.
"William?!" the man shouted.
Shaken from his daze, he looked up into the face of the man who had made him believe that everything would be okay, and he needed to feel that again. As if reading his mind, his father took his face in his hands and, oddly, he found that the gesture from earlier that day was already a familiar comfort.
"William, are you all right?!" he heard through the crashing rain.
All he could do was nod as tears pooled with the cold rain running down both their faces. Those same arms that had been so tentatively around him before now swept him up with ease and placed him in the passenger seat of the car. Then Mulder went back to toss William's bicycle in the trunk.
When he jumped back in the car, Mulder stared hard at the trembling boy next to him.
"I'm sorry," was barely a whisper.
Mulder's voice betrayed the words of a man who was shaken to the core yet was trying to appear calm.
"It's all right."
They drove the short distance back to the Mulder home; William still clearly not himself. Mulder said nothing as he scooped the boy up once again and jogged through the rain to the front door.
Scully, who had obviously been surprised by his quick return, turned to the sight of her husband carrying a limp, dark-haired child in his arms. Both were soaked to the bone.
"Oh my God," she gasped.
Mulder was already moving him to the couch. When she finally saw the child's face, it took her breath away. Mesmerized by the young boy who was the picture of her husband, she could only manage two words as she rushed beside him. "What happened?"
"He's all right. He was outside."
"He must be freezing."
The doctor and mother in Scully took over as she went to the hall bathroom and got an armful of towels and handed them to Mulder who was already removing the soaked shirt that stuck to the boy's body.
He took one towel and wrapped it about his upper body, using another to dry his hair. The child just seemed to sit, dazed, while his father fussed over him. Mulder was growing more concerned by the minute. Scully moved to help, but Mulder's eyes told her it was best if he did this. Her heart hurt with the realization. William knew Mulder--not her.
"William," he coaxed. "William, look at me."
Thankfully, after a moment, the boy's eyes came to focus on him.
Mulder's voice was soft and reassuring. "You're going to have to get out of these wet clothes, okay?" William simply nodded in understanding. "I'll get you a shirt and some sweatpants. Go on into the bathroom and dry off, and I'll bring them to you." Mulder directed him down the hall, then came back to Scully. "You better let the Van De Kamps know we found him while I get him some dry clothes." Scully nodded and headed to the phone.
"I told them we'd call them back in a few minutes. You should go change, too."
"You called my parents?"
Both Mulder and Scully were startled by the young voice and looked up to find their son wearing clothes twice his size as he padded into the living room.
"They called us. They found my cell phone number in your room. William, you scared them, not to mention your mother and me, half to death." Before Mulder knew what he had said, the boy's gaze shifted quickly from him to the red-haired woman who had been sitting, saying nothing, as she watched him intently from a few feet away. She seemed focused on his eyes. It was then that he realized her eyes were the very same shade of brilliant blue. "How are you feeling, William?" she asked.
"I'm fine," he answered hurriedly.
Mulder smirked at the all to Scully-like comment.
"You must be tired. Why don't you sit down? Do you want to tell us what happened?" she continued, obviously trying her best to keep the trembling out of her voice.
William simply sat and shook his head no.
Just then, a little girl made her way over to stand next to him and began to openly scrutinize his face. "Wow. You look just like daddy...Mom, can William stay the night?"
The Van De Kamps were no closer to agreement during the drive to bring their son home.
"NO. No way, Beth. Absolutely not."
"You know as well as I do that he's always seemed to have a cloud over him. Maybe this is what he needs."
"What he needs is us. We're his parents."
"We're not the only ones anymore."
"He wants to know them."
Mr. Van De Kamp slammed his hand on the steering wheel. How had this all happened? Just days ago life had been just fine and then these people waltzed in and turned everything upside down. All be damned if he was changing his life for them. Who the hell says they are William's parents anyway? Even if they are, they gave up their rights to William a long time ago. It was with this thought in mind that Mr. Van De Kamp pulled up the driveway and came to the Mulders' door.
A knock, and the door swung open to reveal a man and woman whose likeness removed any doubt as to whether they were indeed William's biological parents. And, so far, nothing was as the Van De Kamps had expected. They had always envisioned some poor uneducated teenager barely making ends meet whose boyfriend had run off with another girl. The people in front of them were around their own age which meant they were mature adults when William had been born. They were obviously well educated and did very well for themselves. Why would they give up a child? The four stood awkwardly for a moment until the man put out his hand."Fox Mulder. This is my wife Dana."
"Beth and Joseph Van De Kamp," the woman offered.
"William, son," Mr. Van De Kamp called into the house, "Come on."
William made his appearance from the living room but stayed a good distance behind Mulder and Scully. Seeing them together sent a sting of jealousy to Joseph Van De Kamps' cheeks. They looked like a family. "Come on, boy, we're going home. You've been enough trouble to these people," he said gruffly.
"He's not any trouble," Mulder answered flatly, a tone only Scully recognized as reigned hostility.
"Won't you come in? I think it would be beneficial for us to discuss the situation..." she offered.
"There's no situation. Come on, William," Mr. Van De Kamp ordered more sternly. William moved closer but remained out of reach. Forgetting who he was dealing with for a moment, Joseph moved to enter the house and take William away by the arm. But he quickly recalled the facts when a strong hand came up to his chest and Fox Mulder's eyes pinned him in place with a look that lost nothing in the translation.
"Let's just calm down, shall we?" he deadpanned as he squared his shoulders in silent warning. William darted between the two men.
"I just want to be able to see them... " There was no apology in his voice, just a simple statement that was not to be denied. Joseph had seen that same look just moments before in the older man's eyes which only inflamed him further. William was indeed Fox Mulder's son and both were united against him.
"You listen to me..." he began.
"Can William spend the night with us?" came an innocent request. All eyes tuned to the small redheaded child who had made her way into the center of it all. Where William was every bit his father, the girl was a reflection of her mother. Her eyes, big and bright, waited patiently for an answer. "I like my brother," she told them with a happy grin.
Just when it seemed that Mr. Van De Kamp was about to challenge any notion of William spending time with people who were demons incarnate--they had to be, they were causing his family strain and discord-- the angel face of the tiny girl in front of him kept his emotions in check, and the irrational nature of his hatred became obvious. Not sure how to respond, he stuttered and turned to his wife.
"Well...if William would like to... I think that would be ok," the woman answered cautiously, gaging her husband's reaction.
Melissa turned and beamed at her brother, while William looked back at the people who held the answers he had waited so long for.
"Yes, I would...like to," he answered.
Mr. Van De Kamp tried to hide his frustration at the situation but realized the futility of fighting William on it. And perhaps his wife was right. Maybe William did need this time to discover himself.
"You can call us in the morning, when you're ready to go, son," his father offered begrudgingly while still fighting the urge to tell these people to stay out of their lives. They hugged there goodbyes, and William couldn't help but wonder what the night would hold as he made his way back into the house but was eager to find out.
The rest of the evening was unexpectedly comfortable. But then, that was probably their intention. They had dinner and Melissa had talked the family into playing Trivial Pursuit. Girls against boys. Though his father tried to appear casual about it, William could see his happiness at the notion of 'the boys.' By the time they were half way through the board, he wondered if there was anything his parents *didn't* know. Though, he and Melissa were no slouches either. He had always had a good memory and obviously so did she. The girls won, although his father protested dramatically and objected on the grounds of gender bias. 'Come on, Scully, what man knows Ricky Martin's best selling album?'
During this time, William quickly found that he loved watching his mother and father together. Watching them, listening to them--it was quite an experience. They had an ease and affection with each other that he was sure not many people could claim, which made the fact that they used each others surnames all the more intriguing. He needed to ask them about that some time.
Words that left most people tongue-tied were tossed about fluently and yet it didn't make them seem stuffy at all. They carried intelligence in their words as some carry an exotic accent. It made their language more engaging, but they were still every bit warm and interesting as people, at least as far as he could see. He couldn't help but wonder about how different he might be had he grown up with these people.
He did have more questions, but there would be plenty of time for that. The peace and happiness he found just being with them was enough for now. As the night came to a close, he was shown to a bedroom and told goodnight. And, though he couldn't see them when he closed his eyes, he could feel them watching over him from time to time.
It was dark and eerily quiet in the house. William had never been a particularly heavy sleeper, and every now and then, he had his bouts with restless nights. This was one of those nights. That hardly surprised him, though. After all, his life had gone through the ringer in the past couple of days. One minute he was a moody, sullen misfit in his own home and the next he had an entirely different family of people who seemed hold the pieces that were missing from inside him. He turned fitfully onto his back and stared up at the ceiling. With a frustrated sigh, he sat up and rubbed at his eyes. It was useless. There was no way he would rest tonight. Giving in to his insomnia, he tossed the bed covers aside and wondered into the dark of the hallway. He hadn't had a chance to see the house, really, and suddenly his curiosity got the better of him. As he tiptoed his way out of the bedroom, he wondered what might be behind the door off to the left of the living room. He knew it wasn't anyone's bedroom, he'd seen where those were. Without a sound, he crossed the distance, pushed his way into the shadowed room and closed the door behind him. He could make out a desk and some shelves as he fumbled around for a light source until his hands skimmed across a lamp that flickered on at his touch, casting a soft glow across the room that revealed what appeared to be a study. This must be where his father worked. There were a few files strewn about on the desk, but what interested him most were the things kept there. There were a plethora of odds and ends that seemed out of place or, at best, best, just plain odd. Old clipping hung on a cork board. He stepped closer to study them-- Mothmen, spaceships, fluke worms. What exactly *did* his father investigate?
Two coins that appeared to be welded into a sphere shape sat on the desk ....odd.
A baseball bat rested in the corner of the room. He picked it up and turned it over in his hands. Written in permanent marker-- "I thought we could use more practice, Scully"
It must have been a gift to his father, although, the true meaning of the words were lost on him.
"Mulder and Scully," he murmured to himself. What exactly *was* the reason they called each other by their surnames, even as a married couple, he wondered?
William looked about and discovered a box which had been folded shut and decided he had gone this far, he might as well go all the way so he pried it open. The first thing that caught his eye was an old wallet. William grabbed it and flipped it open.
"Wow," he gasped. The words 'FBI' and 'Special Agent Fox Mulder' were in bold on the ID he found inside. "Cool," we whispered as he ran his fingers over the shiny badge on the opposite side. He didn't think you could keep these. Perhaps his father was something of a rebel, he mused. Digging deeper, and found a second, this one reading 'Special Agent Dana Scully.' Could they have been partners? That would explain the use of surnames. As his fingers fumbled lower he dug out an old photo. His parents, looking somewhat younger, were standing beside each other in an office. It looked as if they were studying a case file together. The edges were a bit singed, as though it had been in a fire. Flipping it over, he read the words 'back in action --1998'
The voice started William to his feet as he gaped wide-eyed at his mother.
"I didn't mean to startle you. I saw the light under the door.
"Sorry." The shock and apology were evident in his voice. He looked for all the world, like the toddler caught with his hand in the cookie jar.
"No, that's all right. Couldn't sleep?"
William shook his head.
"I see you've come across some old keepsakes." Scully gazed at the picture William held in his hand. "You father has had that for years."
"What...what does this mean?" he asked quietly, showing the written words to her.
To his surprise, his mother made herself comfortable on the floor next to the box and gestured for him to sit.
"Well, that was a rough year for your father and me. We weren't sure we would be working together much longer and," she paused at the thought, "I suppose this was his way of marking the occasion of our first case after...when everything looked as though it would be all right."
William could tell by her words that there was more to it than she was letting on. "Weren't you getting along then?"
His mother gave a light laugh. "I think we always got a long despite the fact that we may not have agreed often."
"So why would you not work together anymore?"
He could see her deciding on how much to say and whished he could know it all but settled for what she offered. "I was...very sick that year, and for a while things weren't looking very good."
He swallowed. "You mean, you could have died..." he finished.
"I'm all right now,"she told him assuredly.
He suddenly didn't feel comfortable talking about it anymore. It was better to change subjects. No one in his life had ever come close to dying. The whole subject made him uneasy.
"So...you guys were partners?"
Scully smiled at that. "I'd say we still are."
That made him smile as well. "You caught crooks and stuff like that, huh?"
"Something like that. I'll tell you stories when you're older, but for now I'd like you to be able to sleep soundly for a few more years."
William actually chuckled at that. "Come on," he cajoled.
"Our work was...unusual. We worked on something called the X-files. They were cases that were unsolved, usually having some element that defied scientific explanation. That's where I came in. It was my job to try to give them one," she explained.
"But, my father, he likes that doesn't he, the unusual? He likes for things to be less mundane, to know that there is the unexplained in the world because... the unexplainable makes anything possible. "
"That's right, he does. You'd make a good agent," she told him, surprised at his eloquence and insight.
"I feel that way, too," he admitted, "But...I like science. It's my best subject."
Glancing into the box, William saw something else-- an award for outstanding service in the name of one Fox William Mulder. He fished it out and studied it harder.
"William. Like me," he thought out loud with delight . He hadn't thought to ask where his name had come from, but now that he knew, he found that he took pride in it. "Like you," his mother repeated affectionately.
He had had the chance last night, but they had been talking, *really* talking and it seemed like a bad idea to bring up at the time. Today-- he was definitely going to ask today. As he dressed in the outfit his mother had washed and dried for him, he worried over what to say, how to ask. What if he didn't like the answer? What if she didn't want to give an answer?
Staring at himself in the mirror, he gave himself a mental pep talk. 'It'll be fine. They wanted you. There has to be a logical reason for what they did.'
Sure in his belief, William made his way to the kitchen and was surprised to find both his parents already dressed and up and about. Watching them from behind, he noted how even when doing something as simple as pouring cereal and making coffee, they seemed to gravitate toward each other, as if drawn together by some unseen force. Their hips eventually met in a whisper of a touch . It truly fascinated him. He'd almost forgotten that he was actually *in* the room with them. Just when he considered putting his plans on hold, his father spotted him from the corner of his eye.
"Good morning," Mulder greeted warmly.
His mother turned and smiled. "Hungry?"
How could he ask them now? They seemed so happy and had tried their best to make him feel welcome--which he did. In fact, he could hardly describe what he did feel now that he was here. How could he hurt them by asking them to explain themselves? His spirits sank as he walked to the table and sat. "Cereal is ok."
"Morning, mom. Morning, dad."
William turned to find his sister traipsing into the kitchen in pants pajamas with a bad case of bed hair. He smiled at the sight and was caught off guard when she wrapped her arms around him. "Morning, William."
A little sister. He had a little sister. Not that he hadn't known that before now, but somehow when she looked at him like that and hugged him so tightly, the reality of it just seemed to smack him in the face . He had always been an only child, though he begged his parents for a sibling and could never understand their coy reaction to it...until now, of course. But, suddenly, he had a sister and more than that, she seemed to adore him. She looked up at him with those green eyes and he wondered how she could accept him so quickly.
How could he do it? He could he make these people talk about something that he knew was a hurtful subject? Sighing and poking at his cereal, he decided against it, at least for now. It was best to let things be. After all, they were just beginning to know each other. As if on that cue, his mother excused herself to finish readying and his father joined him and his sister at the table with cereal.
William opened his mouth to speak and a strange thought occurred to him. What was he supposed to call them? As silly as it seemed, they had always spoken to him first so he hadn't really addressed them as anything yet. Mom and dad? That seemed a bit presumptuous and premature. Mulder and Scully? Fox and Dana? He hadn't even finished breakfast yet and already he had a problem. Finally he settled on...
Mulder looked up at him, obviously surprised and a little disappointed by the formal address.
"I...I was wondering..."
"You can call him dad. He won't mind," Missy piped in, trying to be helpful.
Blushing, William continued. "I was wondering...if the weekends would be an okay time to come for visits...sometimes. If that's ok..."
If William ever doubted how beloved he was, he had no doubts now. The father that raised him was a kind man but never one to show emotion very plainly. Fox Mulder apparently had no such issues. His emotions were unmistakable, there for all the world to see -- 'you never have to ask that question.'
"Of course. You can come here any time you like. This is your home, too. Just promise me no more unauthorized excursions, all right?"
William released a breath he hadn't realized he had been holding and a slight smile tugged at his lips.
"And," Mulder paused searching for the right thing to say, "you can call me whatever makes you comfortable...Mulder...Fox."
William stopped him before he could continue. "You know, my dad says 'sir' is a lost courtesy with young people. I say it a lot around him... you know...instead of 'dad,' " he said timidly.
"You don't say," Mulder answered casually.
"Yes, sir," William said brightly.
"Well, I've never been one for conformity and at times may have lacked varying social graces, but I'm all for the younger generations learning some form of decorum. Just look at Mtv these days," Mulder said in mock exasperation with a sly wink.
William smiled openly then. "I don't watch Mtv." "Good boy," Mulder told him proudly.
"What's Mtv?" Missy asked from behind her own bowl of cereal.
Father and son exchanged a knowing look but said nothing.
"I know you know..." she prodded.
"What do they know? Are you two contaminating the mind of an innocent eight-year-old girl?" William heard from behind, and turned to find his mother.
"It's nothing, Dana," slipped out with ease before he realized it.
There was a heavy silence, then Mulder finally cut in. "We were just discussing pleasantries and lack thereof on television."
"What's Mtv, mom?"
"Something you're not going to know about for years," Scully informed her daughter, which earned a pout.
With that, William excused himself to brush his teeth, and Scully watched him go.
"Well, I guess we should have expected that. It was just a little jarring to hear. I suppose we're Fox and Dana. I'm just surprised he didn't prefer Mulder and Scully after our talk last night." Upon Mulder's quizzical look, Scully told him about her chat with William the night before, which only left him more puzzled as to what had just happened. William seemed to reject the idea of their first names. What had changed his mind?
Minutes later William returned while Mulder picked up the dishes and, if Mulder was not mistaken, seemed a bit fidgety.
"Do you know much about basketball?"
Mulder just stood and stared. "Do I know basketball?"
William trudged in the front door of his house, still dripping with the sweat from his earlier game. He had to admit, his father had surprised him. Not only could the man talk circles around any of his teachers, but he was a pretty good basketball player for any age, much less for a man in his fifties.
Truth be told, he had only suggested basketball as a way to spend some time together when he noticed the hoop out front, but William soon realized how mistaken he was to assume that brains couldn't possibly go with athletic prowess. What was it his father had said? "People often have trouble comprehending what cannot be programmed, categorized, or easily referenced...it's fun to mess with their heads." He laughed at the joke even now. His father had such a...unique... sense of humor. He had even learned thing or two about the game from him. And the fact that William played basketball on his school team had been quite happy news.
It was strange, his dad never had much use for things like basketball or expressing his feelings openly. He wasn't a stupid man, but never reached much further than the newspaper. And he was supportive but sports just weren't his thing and now, this man he barley knew, he was just...everything his dad wasn't--everything he never realized he had been missing. Was it so wrong to want that?
"William? Why didn't you call? We would have come and gotten you."
"It's ok, mom. I wanted to ride my bike home."
"My goodness. What did those people have you doing over there?" she asked at finding him in such a disheveled state.
"We just played some ball, mom," he answered wearily.
"You know, I'm sure your father would be happy to play with you sometime," she offered nervously. As if playing ball was somehow a breach of some understood contract.
"I did play with my father," William deadpanned, resentful that this simple thing was viewed as some kind of competition between families.
"William," he heard from behind. His dad had come in the back door. "Go wash up for lunch," he said with an edge to his voice.
"Dad..." he tried to explain.
"I said 'go.' "
Not wanting to chance making things worse, William headed to the shower. As he stood under the hot spray, William couldn't help but be dumbstruck at the turn his life had taken and how fast it all had happened. He had to believe it was meant to be. Things had just worked out so perfectly. But how could something that made him so happy make things so hard at the same time? He loved his parents but these new people, he just...fit with them, in a way he never fit with the life in which he had found himself. Was it impossible to have both?
As William stepped out of the shower and looked in the mirror, he remembered not so long ago when he had had so many questions about what he found there. At least those had been answered. He smiled at seeing his father's face and his mother's eye color and found himself grateful that he had taken after his father's hair color, too. Red was more attractive on girls than boys. His mother was quite beautiful, he thought--as was his sister. But he flinched at the idea of his own hair being such a color. With his head still a jumble with so much new information, he made his way to the kitchen. There were voices:
"...this was your idea. I don't like it one bit. He spends one night with them and already he..."
"Likes them? Needs them?"
"That's not what I was going to say."
"But it is what bothers you. I know because it makes me nervous, too. Seeing him with them, he seemed...at peace for the first time in his life. It scares me that we haven't been able to give him that."
"Oh, come on. Are you going to stand there and tell me that he and those people, that they share some kind of 'cosmic' bond? We raised him, damn it. Where were they? I'll tell you where--furthering their own careers, that's where. They had *another* kid when it was convenient for them. Well, that's just great. This all works out pretty nicely for *them* doesn't it? They get their perfect, ordered life and *our* son. Excuse me for not rolling out the red carpet."
"We don't know what happened..."
"They're smart people. They seem to do well. I don't see another explanation. Do you? Hell, the girl can't be that much younger than he is. It seems pretty clear to me what happened. William didn't fit in with their plans so he was shipped out. For all we know, this is exactly why *he* didn't sign those papers--just to keep a hold on their property in case they *happened* to want him back." William wiped away the tear he hadn't realized had fallen. Those words were a prick to the center of his heart. Knowing that you were given away was one thing, to entertain the thought that it was just because you weren't 'convenient'-- like some bothersome pet-- was another. Everyone needs to feel that they were a welcome gift when they came into the world. Now, not only was his belief in that basic truth shaken, but he was being put in the position of choosing one family over the other.
It had been days since William had seen his newly discovered family. Ever since his parents' argument in the kitchen, he wasn't sure he could face them with his doubts. But he found that being without them hurt him just as much as anything they might tell him. The truth would remain constant whether he approved of it or not. Shouldn't he at least know what that was before being hurt by it? And so he found himself at their front door, his heart pounding just as wildly as if he were meeting them for the first time. In a way, he would be. Today, he would know what his parents were feeling the day they gave him up.
He knocked at the door...
And was met by his father. That was somehow poetic, since this whole situation had arisen following an innocent phone call-- a phone call that just happened to reach the father he was searching for. He watched as an elated smile spread to his father's face, a smile that gradually faded. He must have seen the trouble in his son's eyes.
"Sir..." William began, sounding meek and lost even to his own ears.
"William, what is it?" his father asked, the worry plain in his face.
The boy had to look away. "They said...They think you didn't... I heard them arguing...and...I just...they're wrong aren't they?" So much to say. Such insecurity. Everything came out in a jumble.
Mulder was obviously confused and somewhat alarmed at this incoherent stream of thought. "Slow down, son," his voice gentle and soothing.
Son. He had called him "son..".
"You did, didn't you?" the young boy implored.
"Did what? I don't understand," Mulder gently prodded.
In his mind were the words 'want me' but his lips whispered, "Love me..."
He chanced a look at his father then and found a man who was literally speechless. Just as William started to back away and apologize for his visit, Mulder moved outside and took him by the arms.
"Wait," he pleaded, searching blindly for the right words. "wait...," his voice was now the one sounding unsure. "...'love' doesn't even begin to describe it...I just don't know the words." His father--a master of words-- rendered speechless, was something William hadn't been prepared for. The proverbial "Of course we love you," seemed an insult compared to the emotion in that honest statement.
"Come in. Please," Mulder answered softly, placing a guiding arm around William's shoulders. A moment later, Scully joined them. The look on the faces of both William and Mulder must have spoken volumes because she didn't speak. Instead, Scully waited for Mulder to let her know just what was going on.
Once inside the house, William found himself seated between his parents-- his father on his right, his mother on his left. It was, at once, comforting and disconcerting. If he didn't like what they had to say, there was no where to run. His mother finally began. She seemed on the verge of tears.
"It was my decision," she explained.
"It was my decision," she repeated, ignoring Mulder's interruption. "You were our only son, the only child we thought we would ever have. There were...so many bad things going on around us then. I know you won't understand this now but...as our son, you were...special."
"Special to you..."
"Why would I be special to anyone?"
His father now cut in. "Your mother wasn't supposed to be capable of having children. You were...a miracle to us. And there were others within the government who wanted to know just how you came to be. Others who thought that there was more to it than a simple blessing, who would never have let you grow up in peace. Your mother wanted to spare you that."
William was still turning the last few words over in his mind "more to it..." What more could there be?
"You mean they thought that I was what?...some kind of freak?" His voice rose in alarm. Scully put her hand over his. "I was like one of your..." his mind raced searching for the word, "X-files...I was an X-file, wasn't I?" he questioned in fear and panic.
"No," his father vowed, kneeling in front of him. "Look at me. Look at my face. Look at *us.* You are *our* son."
For a moment William lost himself in the comfort of their familiarity. There was so much of them that he saw in himself. Of course he was their son. As he held to that thought, some of the tension eased from his body.
"But that fact is also what put you in danger," his mother finished.
William turned to Mulder. One thing still didn't make sense. "Then why didn't you ever sign the adoption papers?"
A dark shadow fell over Mulder's features. "I wasn't there." The sorrow in his words was black as night. It was an answer William never expected.
"I don't understand..."
"I had worked against those people for many years," he admitted shakily. "It made me a target. So it was decided I shouldn't be near you..."
"So why not all go together?"
"They could find me, William. If they found me, they found us all. " his mother answered, unwittingly touching the back of her neck. "And your father couldn't travel and do the things that were necessary, with a newborn infant to care for. There was just no right answer. After a while I...I lost hope, and the only thing I could do for your father and for you was to make sure they never found you. You were our one enduring hope."
William sat, letting all the information sink in. It all seemed so unbelievable, straight out of an action-adventure novel.
"These people...where are they now?"
"They're gone now. We won." It was a simple statement but held such conviction and pride. It's all he needed to know for now. He felt as if he too had had a part in that victory. He was a part of them, and their family had prevailed over this danger.
"You know...this all sounds...pretty out there," he looked carefully from one to the other. "But...I believe you." He could see them both relax a little. And he knew exactly how they felt.
At that moment, he glanced down at the photos sitting in their frames on the small table next to him and saw a family photo of his parents and Melissa as a baby. They were sitting on a couch together, looking at her with such love and pride. What must that have been like? How lucky she was to have her life in order. No surprises...well...except maybe for him. He picked up the photo and eyed it meticulously. How young they all looked.
"I guess Melissa must have been a surprise then, too."
"Well, yes, she was," his father told him, "but that's not Melissa. That's you."
12 years earlier
"Mulder, man, the delectable Agent Scully and a little rug rat? Some guys have all the luck. You make me sick, you know that?" Frohike groused in his usual way, Mulder knowing all the while that no one could be happier for him. He grinned at the older man.
"Don't you pay any attention to him, William," he cooed to the baby wrapped in his arms, his voice warm and low. "Uncle Melvin is really a big softy--kind of like a giant marshmallow."
"Marshmallow, eh? You're lucky you're holdin' the kid. By the way, where is our lovely Ms. Scully?" The man tried to seem unaffected but Mulder could tell being called "uncle" had had its desired effect.
"Getting some rest," came from behind him. Frohike spun around to find Scully in her robe padding into the living room and blushed.
"Oh, hey, Scully. I didn't mean to wake you."
"You didn't. I was just coming out to get some water," she told their friend as she settled next to Mulder on the couch, fussing with William's blanket.
"And check on the baby," Mulder finished.
"Just to sit with him," she corrected. "He's in good hands." Mulder practically burst with pride as he smiled at her words. He seemed to be doing that a lot lately, and it felt...wonderful.
"This is what they call a Kodak moment," Frohike announced. "Dude, where's a camera?"
"There's one in the kitchen," Scully offered.
Frohike moved over to the kitchen counter and came across a small automatic camera. Taking it in hand, he returned to the living room where Mulder and Scully still sat with their son.
"All right, you two. Here's to sleepless nights and I ain't talkin' about the baby. William, you might as well know now, your parents are majorly hot to trot for each other, buddy. You may have to turn the hose on them," he said as he raised and aimed the camera.
"He already did that," Scully moaned.
"And that was what we call ' too much information'," Frohike retorted as he lowered the camera to his chest.
Mulder couldn't help but laugh, smiling wider at all the goodness in his life. Who would have thought he'd find himself here?-- with the most amazing woman he'd ever known and a beautiful son that had arrived despite all the odds.
"Oh my God, Mulder, I think he just smiled."
"Scully, newborn babies don't smile. He's barely two days old."
"Skeptic. I know what I saw," she countered.
Mulder looked down at his son who looked up contentedly from the crook of his arm-- and now appeared to have quite a knowing little smile on his face . "Oh my God," escaped in a breathless chuckle. "Look at that." Both parents beamed.
A trace of a smile crept to William's lips as he tilted the frame and focused more intently on the image within it, tracing his fingers along each form as if trying to commit it to memory. He could hardly believe it. The three of them. A family. Together. He had proof of it in his hands, and, as foolish as it seemed, found himself wishing he could remember some small fraction of the short time they had had together. The family he saw there seemed so full of hope and possibility.
"You're welcome to have that one," Scully offered tentatively.
"Of course," she gently assured him. "You know, Melissa is spending the night at a friend's house. She'll be sorry she missed seeing you today, but we'd love to have you for as long as you'd like."
"Unless you'd rather not."
"No-- no, I would. I just need to call home to let them know where I'll be. Is it all right to use the kitchen phone?"
"Go right ahead."
At that, William set the picture on the table with care and made his way into the kitchen where he dialed his home, careful to keep his voice down. "Mom? I...I'm going to spend the day at Josh's house, ok? I'll be home later. Ok, bye."
He headed back into the living room where his parents sat and found them somewhat fidgety. Could it be that they were as nervous and excited as he was? This would be the first time just the three of them actually spent some time alone together. "Everything's fine," he told them. "Good. So--" his father began, "we thought, since we picked last time, you might have something in mind. Is there anything particular you'd like to do?"
William thought for a moment, and then it came to him-- an idea that had been turning over in the back of his mind ever since that night in his father's office. "Well...there is something."
"Are you sure?"
"Sure, I'm sure. Now, pay attention. Your mother may be a small woman, but she's got a mean pitch," his father warned. "Head up, spread your feet a little. That's it."
A warm breeze brushed past the open green baseball field where father and son had first come face to face. Now, they worked together to perfect a woefully flawed swing that often had William picked last at Phys. Ed. But perhaps not this year. The summer had brought many new things, maybe there would be one more. Perhaps he would finally learn to actually *hit* the ball.
Mulder stood behind him, his arms wrapped about him, gripping the bat around the boy's hands. They moved as one with a few practiced swings.
"Ready?" Scully called.
"Just a second," Mulder called back. "Now, keep your eyes on the ball, William, alright? Ready?"
"Yeah, I'm ready, " he answered in nervous anticipation.
"Okay!" Mulder shouted.
William watched as the ball flew toward him...
And past him. Again. He let out a huff of frustration.
"That's alright," his father assured him. Mulder moved behind him again, taking a tight grip on the bat, using his right foot to scoot the boy's feet apart. "I think I see the problem here. You don't want to attack the ball, son, you just want to meet with it. Here, let me show you. This time, when the ball comes, just relax. Mr. Bat and Mr. Ball are two old friends who are dying to get reacquainted. Just let them." William looked back with a Scully-like raised eyebrow.
"Mr. Bat and Mr. Ball?"
"Hey, It worked for your mother. Okay now, I'm going to swing with you this time. Just relax. Ready!"
Scully, who was waiting oh-so-patiently, took up her pitching stance and let one fly.
"Here it comes. Keep your eye on the ball. Just relax." William felt the pair of strong arms guide his swing with ease and heard the crack of the bat when they made contact. He gaped at the sight of the ball soaring high through the air.
"Good job, William!" his mother called to him.
"Thanks!" Mulder smiled at the honest awe and thanked God that he was able to have this moment-- teaching his son to play ball. "Do you want to try it solo?"
"Sure. Yeah," William gripped the bat with rugged determination as his father again stepped away.
"Here it comes!" Scully yelled.
"Your stance looks good. Remember, just meet the ball." William nodded as his concentration narrowed to the small sphere headed in his direction. Eyes on the ball. Feet apart. Relax. Just meet the ball and...*crack.* Up it soared into the clear, blue sky.
William dropped the bat and turned to Mulder. "I did it!"
"I never doubted you," Mulder told him confidently.
"I really hit it far!" Bursting with laughter and excitement, William threw his arms around his father, who, caught up in the excitement himself, practically lifted the boy off the ground.
Scully smiled as she jogged in from the field, watching the celebration, and her heart took a picture.
It had been a good day. A very good day. It had been nice not to think about things for a while, to just enjoy the afternoon after such an emotional start. Strolling into his bedroom and locking the door, William simply sat and stared at the family photo he had been given, reflecting on everything that had happened--the time they had spent together, the answers they had given him.
He could tell they had been nervous about how he would take the news. It *was* a pretty amazing story. He still had no idea who these "people" were but decided it really didn't matter right then. He would learn specifics eventually. What mattered most at that moment was that he had been right. His parents had loved him. And it was obvious they still did.
William's train of thought was broken by a knock at his door.
"William--open this door," his dad ordered.
He shuffled to the door and swung it open. "Yes, sir?"
"Where were you today?"
"I...I told you. I was at Josh's house," he lied, shifting his gaze.
"Are you going to lie to me again, or do I get the truth this time?" his dad demanded.
"I don't know what you mean."
"William Van De Kamp, I do not abide lies in this house. Your mother called Josh's house, and they hadn't seen you all day. Now, I'll ask you one more time, where were you today?"
"I spent the day with *them*," he answered softly.
"I'm going to assume by 'them' you mean the Mulders."
"Yes, sir," he whispered.
So is this what you learn from them? Is this what we can expect from you now that they're in our lives? They make you a liar, is that it?
"No, sir," William answered firmly yet quietly.
"Oh really? That seems to go against the facts that have presented themselves, wouldn't you say?" his dad chided.
"No, sir," William answered in the same quiet but firm manner.
"I'm all ears for this one," his dad dared.
"I didn't lie because of them. I lied because of you," he answered honestly.
Mr. Van De Kamp started to protest. "You wait just a moment young man," he warned.
"You hate them. I know you do, and you want me to hate them, too. Well, I don't-- I *don't.* " His voice trembled with restrained emotion. "If they're so awful, how come lately I only feel bad when I'm with you?" he asked defeated. "How come you're the one to make this hard? Did you even ask what we did today? It doesn't even matter to you, does it? All that matters is that I was with them...
"He taught me to how to bat, you know. He had taught my mother, too," he added fondly, reminiscing on the story. "He says she was a natural and that she insisted on learning to pitch for him. He says he was sure that she just... wanted to strike him out," he had started to smile but trailed off, realizing that his story wasn't of any interest to anyone there but himself. "We had fun," he stated simply as if to plead against the backlash he knew was coming.
But it never came. His dad just stood there, seemingly at a loss as to what to say, until finally-- "Dinner will be ready soon," and he cleared his throat. "Look, just...let us know where you're going next time, all right?" Then he turned and made his way down the hall.
William closed his door and huddled himself around a pillow on his bed. That's the way it had always been with his dad-- never talk about anything. Leave it alone, and it will go away. He once again held the picture of his family, and thought of what might have been. Well, if one father wouldn't talk to him, he knew one that would, he thought. William put the pillow aside, picked up the phone by his bed and dialed a number he had memorized the very day he discovered its importance. He was again greeted by a now familiar and comforting answer.
"Hi," was all he could think to say.
"William, is everything all right?" Funny how his father seemed to know when something was bothering him, but that's not what he wanted to talk about.
"Everything's ok. I just...wanted to call.-- I had fun today, and I guess I just wanted to say 'thank you.' "
"You're very welcome." William could hear the smile in Mulder's voice.
"You, um, probably taught Melissa a lot of stuff like that, huh?" he commented quietly.
Mulder was taken aback by the reminder of all that he had missed with his son. His voice faltered slightly, though he tried to hide it.
"Well, she does have an above average jump-shot for a girl her age."
William chuckled despite himself, "Do you think maybe we could play again sometime?" he asked tentatively.
William gave a weak smirk, forgetting Mulder couldn't see his reaction.
"William--" Mulder's voice grew somber, "Are you sure everything's all right?"
"No," he quietly admitted, surprising himself with his confession.
A heavy silence hung between the two until Mulder found his voice, which betrayed the heartache behind it. "Do you want to talk about it?"
There was silence again and then, "I think I'd rather listen," more a shy request than a statement. "Tell me about the first time you met my mother..."
Letting William guide the conversation, Mulder took a deep breath to clear the worry from his voice and began, his tone warmed by the memories. "She was... something. A fresh-faced agent stuck with the most disreputable assignment in the FBI-- being my partner. At that point in my career, I wasn't exactly the FBI's golden boy. The cases that got my attention weren't what most would consider worthy of anyone's time. I begged to differ. If she was put off by the assignment, she didn't show it. Regardless, I had other plans and was pretty confident that I could get rid of her in a day or two--a week tops. Then, all five-foot-three of her walked through my door, stood toe to toe with me, her steady stare and firm handshake daring me to chase her away. " Mulder's affection for the story was contagious. William found himself smiling as he imagined the scene his father painted.
"And you changed your mind."
"Mm...Not entirely, but she had me intrigued, and that was no simple feat."
"So it wasn't love at first sight," William pressed. Oddly, he found himself a little disappointed.
"No, I'd say it was like at first sight, which is, of course, inherently better."
"What do you mean?" William noticed how Mulder never seemed to treat him as though he couldn't possibly understand something, instead always answered in a way that made him feel somehow beyond his years.
"It's easy for men and women to be infatuated with one another, William, but truly appreciating the person behind the beauty, that comes second for most people, if it comes at all. Your mother and I, we've liked and appreciated each other from the beginning--so I guess you could say we were one step ahead of the game."
Taking all of it in, William pushed for more, "So 'like' is better than 'love?'"
"I'd say that 'like' is the best part of 'love'-- actual love-- and not some superficial attraction masked in a thin imitation of it."
"You liked her."
"Oh, yes." Such plain words spoken with such gusto brought an even bigger smile to William's face.
Just then, "William, dinner's ready, " drifted into his room. Frowning at the interruption, William had to cut the talk short.
"Sorry. I guess I have to go."
"That's all right," his father assured him. Another pause, then Mulder spoke again. What he said took the young boy by complete surprise.
"William...you're a good boy, and I'm proud of you. I want you to know that."
Like cool water over a throbbing wound, it lifted some of the hurt away-- at least for a while.
William sat poking absently at the food on his plate-- too much to process. Eating was secondary to the thoughts that plagued him as he jabbed his fork in and out of his roast beef. In just the short time they'd spent together, he *did,* in fact, feel some kind of bond with his new family. He could no more stop seeing them than he could have chosen to have been born to the Van De Camps. That was not on option. But the quietness of discontent in his home haunted him. Where there were once questions about his day, there was now only silence.
His mom finally spoke."Are you not hungry, William?"
"No, not really, I guess," he answered dolefully.
"That's surprising, considering how busy you were," his dad remarked, barely hiding the snide edge in his voice.
William's eyes snapped up and narrowed at the man across from him. "What's that supposed to mean?" "It means 'eat your dinner,' " his dad tossed back casually.
Fine. If his father wanted to take this road of denial again, William was going to take him on a detour. "I'm going to see them tomorrow, just so you know."
His dad froze for a second. "Don't you think you're spending a lot of time there? There are things that need to be done here."
"I'll finish my chores before I go," the boy answered coolly.
"Fine. Do what you want."
"Joe, stop it," his mom cut in.
"Why does everything have to be about you?" William challenged. "Why can't you think about other people for a change? Why do you have to be so...so..." William's mind churned, trying to find the appropriate word, "myopic," he finally spat.
Mr. Van De Kamp dropped his fork then and studied the boy across from him. "What?"
Where *had* that word come from? William had shocked himself with it. "It..it means narrow minded."
"I know what it means," his dad stammered in a lie.
But it was clear to William what that word had meant to Joseph Van De Camp. A word the man didn't know uttered by his twelve-year-old son? That had never happened before. It may as well have been a curse word. In that moment, it was clear that his dad did not see William Van De Camp. He saw William Mulder... and looked away. What came next was inevitable.
"William, go to your room," both said in unison--one tense, the other flippant.
William shoved his chair roughly away from the dinner table. "Fine," he grumbled as he went back to his room. As he closed the door, he could hear the argument start in the kitchen, but he didn't care to listen. He just turned on his radio, put on his headphones, drowned out the noise with the CD in the player, and counted the hours till he could be somewhere else.
The next day was Sunday morning, and as William thought about the day ahead, he was surprised to hear a knock at the door. It wasn't often that they got visitors in the early morning. Curiosity got the better of him, and he listened intently as his dad greeted the company.
"Morning," he greeted gruffly. His dad was never so short with strangers. Who could he be spea...oh no.
An accusatory "I don't need you to tell me about my son," wafted through to the kitchen where William was fixing breakfast. He wanted to move but somehow couldn't. So he stood and listened.
"I'm just saying I think we should all sit down and talk about this, to make things easier." His father's voice.
"*Things* are just fine here," he heard his dad bark and suddenly wished his mom weren't still asleep. She was the only one who would know what to do, the only one who could make his dad listen.
"I don't think that's true," Mulder disagreed.
"And just how would you know what goes on in my house?"his dad's voice dripped with disgust.
"This is about William--what's best for him, Mr. Van De Kamp," Mulder tried to reason.
"Which is why this has nothing to do with you," Mr. Van De Kamp accused. "You walked out of his life twelve years ago and now you're telling me what's best for him? You don't have a clue..." The 'talking' was getting louder but Mulder's voice remained tense yet restrained.
"Yes, sir, I do," came the terse reply.
"In a week you think you know..."
Finally finding the will to move, William stepped closer and peeked into the living room. Both men were still standing at the door.
"Not a week-- Twelve years. Twelve years of knowing that all I had to do was walk into an office to prove paternity and my son would come home." His words were more angry now but still held in check. "But I didn't. I couldn't take him away from the only life that he knew. For twelve years I've done what I thought was best for him. Maybe I made a mistake..."
What happened next was so fast William barely had time to react. The punch landed square across Mulder's cheek and knocked him into the doorframe.
Joseph Van De Kamp turned to find William rushing toward them. "William...I," he began to explain, but the boy pushed past him--to Fox Mulder.
"Dad, are you ok?" he pleaded while taking his arm.
The man could only watch helplessly as his son stood protectively in front of this--this stranger and called him...
Mulder straightened and shrugged the blow off quickly, not wanting William to be upset any further. "I'm okay. It was my fault. I... " Then he paused, suddenly aware of what William had just called him, though William didn't seem to realize it himself. After a beat, he continued. "I should have called before coming here."
"What is going on here?" Mrs. Van De Kamp appeared in her robe.
"I'm sorry, ma'am, I shouldn't have come at such an early hour," Mulder apologized.
"Mr. Mulder?" Stepping closer she saw the red mark across his cheek. "What happened?"
Avoiding the answer, he backed away. "I'll come back at a better time." Things were too heated. No good could come of this particular situation. Things had gone terribly wrong.
But William's grip tightened on Mulder's arm. "I'm going with you," he said shakily.
The abrupt silence weighed heavily in the room. Mulder turned to his son and forced words that felt hollow and dishonest from his lips. "I think it would be better if you stayed here..."
"I don't want to stay here," William begged brokenly.
Mulder took the boy's face in his hands, fighting the overwhelming urge to give in, to take him and run. Instead, he spoke with measured warmth. "I'll be back. I promise."
Mrs. Van De Kamp, who had been watching the two intently since she had entered the room, was struck by the calm strength that seemed to radiate from this man. Where her husband was harsh and jealous, Mr. Mulder was supremely gentle and understanding. How could she blame William for being drawn to him? More importantly, how could she deny him that?
"He can go."
"What? After...?" Mr. Van De Camp gasped.
"I *said* he can go," her tone daring him to argue with her. "William, be home for dinner, honey."
Mulder nodded a silent, grateful thank you. "Come on," he coaxed the boy, placing an arm around his shoulders. They walked out the door, closing it behind them.
"I can't believe you just did that. It's bad enough..."
"It's bad enough that you are destroying your relationship with your son by acting like a jealous child," she snapped but soon softened with sympathy at her husband's pained expression. "If you want to be his father, then let him know you'll always be there for him. That's the only thing you can do. If you keep this up, you may lose him for good." She walked back to the bedroom, leaving her husband alone with his thoughts.
Scully winced at the redness she saw along Mulder's cheekbone as he walked into living room. "Oh my God, Mulder. You didn't get into a fight over there, did you?" She was headed to the kitchen before he could answer. "I told you to be civil," she called back.
"I was civil," his voice cracked as he slouched dejectedly in the living room chair. After nearly twenty years together, Scully knew well that the higher the crack of her husband's voice, the more upset he obviously was. "Besides, I wouldn't exactly call it a fight when only one person is doing the swinging." Mulder touched lightly over his cheek as if to punctuate his innocence, only to flinch at the brief contact .
"Here," she said softly as she kneeled in front of him. Pulling Mulder's hand away from his face, Scully held a small zip-lock bag of ice to the offending red swelling. "Tell me what happened."
"I just suggested that we all talk the situation out, for William's sake."
"And then he hit you..." she finished incredulously.
Mulder dropped his gaze to the floor as he continued holding the bag of ice. "I...may have strongly implied that he...wasn't always doing what was best for William," he said oh-so-diplomatically.
"Mulder," Scully groaned
"Well, what was I supposed to do? If you had heard how unhappy William sounded last night, Scully-- We had to do something. I went over there, and he just *wouldn't* listen. Do you know what it's like to have someone not listening to a word you say?"
That earned a look. "No, not at all, Mulder," she deadpanned.
"I'm being serious, Scully. The man, he..."
"Is afraid of losing the child he's raised to us."
"Well, he certainly doesn't need my help in that department." The tone was low and dark.
"What do you mean?"
"I think he scared the hell out of the boy this morning."
"William was there?"
"William *is here*" he corrected, "he's outside playing ball with Missy." Mulder's face betrayed his worry then. "The look on his face..."
"Is he all right?" Knowing her husband's propensity for rash, emotional decisions, she had to ask," You didn't just bring him with you without...?"
Mulder waved off the notion. "No, no-- *Mrs.* Van De Kamp apparently thinks her husband's being an ass, too," he told her glibly. "William was upset, but he seems better now. Scully-- something else happened." She stiffened at his hesitancy and the emotions in his gaze. "When things got... heated, William got between us and..."
Scully was growing more panicked. "He wasn't hurt, was he-- "
"No," Mulder swore, his eyes telling her he would never have let that happen."That's not..." Scully watched as Mulder's features softened with the memory he couldn't seem to articulate. He swallowed hard as if to smother the feelings he was struggling against. "When he called out to me...Scully, he called me-- he said-- 'dad.' " The final word was barely a whisper as it spilled from him. "He turned on that man, and he-- It shouldn't have felt good but, God help me, it did, Scully. It felt good." Each word was soaked in guilt. "I look at his face, look in his eyes., the way he walks, talks-- he's my son," he told her, as though the words drew blood. Finally, he broke. Unable to be strong any longer, he dropped the icy bag and slumped forward into his wife's arms. "He's our son." His mournful loss wrapped itself up in those simple words as she stood and brought her arms around him. Wanting to comfort him, her tender voice belied her own pain.
"I know, Mulder. I know."
They drew closer, each needing what only the other could give. Her small palm massaged the expanse of his back. A shudder passed through him as her gentle touch soothed him, and he held her tighter. "I don't know if I can do this, " he murmured. "I'm trying to be a good guy-- but I wanted to hit him. I wanted to hurt him. I wanted to punish him for all the memories I'll never have, for all the times he was there when I couldn't be..."
"I'm so sorry," she whispered against his ear, her words revealing her own struggle. "Don't."
"I know you can't help but think..."her voice trembled.
"That you've given me two beautiful children," he nuzzled against her.
"Scully..." his tone a warning to her not to go down this worn path.
But she couldn't seem to stop herself. "This is all my doing," she told him as if offering herself for punishment.
"Stop it." A half plea, half demand as he straightened and peered into her with a mournful gaze. "I refuse to do this again. 'They' were responsible," he declared as if it were the final say.
"I should have believed..."
"I said, stop it, Scully!" was filled with more pain than anger from him.
"Please, don't be angry," came a frightened, beseeching voice. Mulder and Scully turned to find their young son standing nervously near the front door, and whatever sorrowful place they may have entered with their conversation was quickly abandoned. "Everyone's mad," he lamented.
"Oh, sweetie, we aren't angry at each other," Scully said as moved toward him, "we're just...feeling a lot of things right now, and we needed to talk about them."
"But I heard you," he protested.
"Sometimes people get upset, but that doesn't mean they're actually angry with each other." William looked at Mulder as if to confirm this strange bit of information.
"It's true. Really," he assured his son.
They seemed ok, he thought...
"So...you weren't fighting?"
"No, we just--"
"William," Melissa interrupted. " I thought you were just going to get something to drink," she complained in her little sister way as she came through the door to find her brother.
William's gaze remained on his mother and father as though if he turned away, their easy manner might be an illusion, some magicians trick, but as he stared, he noticed something.-- that even as the two stood apart their eyes met in some curious, silent communication he didn't comprehend yet somehow found great comfort in. Yes, they were his parents, but they were also the 'Mulder and Scully' he had learned about-- two people who had relied on and trusted in only each other for many, many years. Two people who knew each other so well that apparently speaking wasn't necessary. Perhaps being work partners should be a prerequisite for marriage, he thought as he relaxed. How different they were from his adoptive parents. It seemed he had momentarily confused the two. Where they were sometimes vengeful and most interested in victory with their disagreements, these two people were most interested in each other. Had it always been that way? Or maybe it came with time. Either way there was a security in it that he found most alluring.
"William, aren't you coming back outside to play?"
"In a minute," he gently pacified her.
"All right," she conceded, "but if you're not out there in five minutes, whatever baskets I make count. Mom, daddy, tell him to hurry up," Melissa taunted as she stepped back outside and closed the door. William stared harder, two words keeping him where he stood. He dared not let them know how much he had actually heard. Just two words-- words he found himself jealous that his sister could use so easily. She'd been born with the right to them, but then, hadn't he also? They were so small, so simple and yet their meaning held so much: "Mom" and "Dad." Should he? Was there ever a 'right' time to say them? Perhaps it would be the final betrayal warned against in Joseph Van De Camp's eyes.
He just couldn't get it out.
In a few hurried steps, he went to Mulder and held him in the tightest hug he could manage as he closed his eyes against him, much as he had when they had first found each other. "Hey now, what's all this?" his father asked, his voice tender with emotion.
William looked up then. "Just because," he said matter-of-factly. He let go and embraced Scully next, saying nothing more when he turned to go back outside but stopped and looked over his shoulder, offering an affectionate smile, hoping it would say what his voice could not.
When the door clicked behind William, Scully put her arm around Mulder and released a deep breath as she rested her head against his arm. "He's his father's son, Mulder."
William was only at the "o" in his and Melissa's game of "horse" when he looked up and saw Mulder coming out of the house. Bouncing the ball casually, he took it up and swished the ball into the hoop with a beautiful jump-shot. Secretly, he hoped to have impressed the man and was not disappointed.
"Nice," came the prideful compliment.
"Daddy, play with us, *please,* " Melissa pleaded.
"I would, short stuff, but your mom needs you inside for a minute."
Melissa eyed her father suspiciously. "Is this one of those times when you want me to go somewhere but you don't want to say you want me to go somewhere so you find something for me to do?"
Mulder let out a huff of laughter. "All right, how about 'I'd like to speak to your brother a moment. Will you excuse us, please?' "
"Sure," she answered brightly, "all you had to do was ask."
William watched Mulder scruff the little girl's hair as she passed and smile at her spirited answer. He had to smile, too. When she was inside, William spoke. "She's funny."
"You think so?" Mulder smirked.
"Yeah, she's a cool little sister." A thought occurred to him. "Do you have brothers and sisters?" The ball stopped bouncing and remained cradled in his palms.
Mulder's voice turned distantly sorrowful with his answer. "I did have a little sister, but she died when she was very young ."
He quickly moved on. This was not a conversation William was ready for. "I was wondering how you were doing." William seemed to give the question its due thought as he stood quietly, but his eventual answer wasn't what Mulder had been expecting. "He wishes that I was his real son. When he could pretend, it was okay, but he can't pretend anymore."
"I really don't think..."
"He looks at me and sees you. I think he hates us both for it. Anyway, if that's how it is, he was never my father, and I'm glad I'm not his son. "
"William, I'm sure that's not true."
"How can you say that after everything, after what happened today?"
"I don't really know the Van De Kamps, but I do know about being a father. It's not something that just goes away. It never goes away."
"Yeah, but we're your real children. That's different."
"Melissa has grown up with us, just as you have with the Van De Kamps. I've helped her grow, but if I were to find out tomorrow that she wasn't my biological child, I wouldn't love her any less."
The wheels were turning in William's young mind. "But if being a father is raising someone, then how come you care so much about me?"
Mulder thought about how to best answer his son's very astute question. "Have you ever had a good friend that went away for a very long time?"
"My friend Josh had to move away for two years once."
"Did you feel any differently about him, even though he'd been away?"
"No, of course not. He's my friend."
"Well, it's kind of the same thing, in a way. You were our son. We loved you very much. Then you had to go away, but we never loved you any less. We *don't* love you any less today than we did then."
William absorbed this information, nodded, then seemed perplexed. "But I thought you'd be happy, you know, that I want you to be... my dad."
Though his heart overflowed at that moment, and he gave deep thanks for those words, Mulder spoke his own truth. "I'll always be your dad, William, whether you want me to be or not. It's not a choice anyone can make for me. It's worrying about you, protecting you, loving you-- I will *always* do those things."
"So you're saying I'm stuck with you," William teased with a half smile, a little embarrassed to show how much of an affect his father's speech had had on him.
"I'm afraid so."
"No matter what?"
"No matter what."
A comfortable silence fell over the two for a moment. "There was something else," Mulder began "It's true I don't have any family to speak of, but your mother does. We haven't told them about any of this yet. They'll want to see you, and we weren't sure you felt ready for that."
"Well, there's your Grandma Scully, Uncle Charlie, Uncle Bill, their children-- which would be your cousins."
"I have an Uncle Bill? As in William?"
"Yes, your Grandpa Scully was Bill Senior. My dad's name was Bill also, actually."
Having the name 'William' now seemed like a family tradition which was a strange source of comfort."It's kind of funny having so many people with the same name in one family. It must be a good thing your first name isn't William. That'd be kind of confusing when he visits, huh?" William smirked.
"Well, your Uncle Bill doesn't visit too often ."
This caught William's interest. "Why not?"
"Uncle Bill and I...we don't agree on a lot of things, that's all."
Mulder shifted somewhat uncomfortably. "It's not important, really. I know he'd love to see you. Everyone would. When that is, is up to you."
William said nothing for a time then nodded. "You're positive they'd want to come? I mean just to see me..."
"Want to come? When your uncle finds out you've been here and he wasn't the first to know, I'll have to sleep with my eyes open," Mulder groaned lightheartedly. "And he's gotten to be a big man," he added with mock trepidation.
William had to chuckle at that. He was very fond of his dad's easy manner and dry sense of humor. The word 'dad' rolled around in his thoughts a second time. What Mulder had said made sense. Being a father was about being there, caring, worrying. So yes, he had two dad's.
William's thoughts were interrupted by his dad's voice. "It's up to you all right? I'll send Melissa back out to finish your game." The man scruffed his hair as he had done to Melissa's earlier and turned to go. He was only a few steps away from the front door when he William called to him.
"Dad," it came out as more of a timid question than he had intended, as though he was asking permission to say it. As soon as it left the boy's lips, his father froze, straightening a little taller, tilting his head ever so slightly as if listening for something he wasn't entirely sure he'd heard.
"Dad," the boy said again with more confidence.
"Yes, William?" Mulder answered unsteadily as he turned to face his son.
"You *are* a good guy," came the sincere answer.
Mulder's words to Scully regarding Mr. Van De Kamp a short while ago played back in the length of a breath. < "I'm trying to be a good guy-- but I wanted to hurt him...".>
He wasn't sure what surprised him more: the boy's use of "dad" or the fact that his son had heard as much as he had of the earlier conversation and handled it with such grace and composure. Seeing such a young innocent standing in font of him, making himself vulnerable, trusting that his words would be accepted for what they were-- a sentiment from father to son, an offer of understanding---touched Mulder's heart, warming him with its honesty. He walked the few steps back toward his child--not a boy, not yet a man but somehow both-- his eyes shining with emotions that words could never capture as he rested a hand on his son's shoulder.
"Have I told you lately what a great kid you are?" Mulder said with a gentle smile. William thought he could never hear it enough.
When Mulder returned from outside, he seemed markedly more content than when he'd left. "You look happy," Scully purred as she move closer to him and planted a tender kiss on his lips. This morning had been hard for him--confronting he man who had taken his place in his son's life. He had broken under the strain of it, yet now it seemed that burden had been lifted from him. "I take it things went well."
"You could say that," Mulder grinned, his eyes soft with emotions as he slid his hands around his wife's waist. Her steady gaze urged him to go on. "It seems like Mr. Van De Kamp will have a lot of mending to do, but I think William will be all right. It's just going to take time, but we knew that, didn't we?" he asked as if assuring her and himself as well.
"Yes, of course. I just wish there were something more we could do. This must be so hard on him. I still say, if we could just talk to them..."
"We tried, Scully. Maybe when they become used to the idea that we're here, we can try again, but I think the next move is theirs." Scully nodded knowing no amount of talking was going to get them anywhere if both sides weren't willing to listen.
"So what did he say?"
"Well, we talked about what makes a family and...I'd say he's beginning to accept us as part of his family," he told her with the same happy grin from earlier.
"Mulder, I know you want him to, but you can't just expect..."
Just then, there was the sound of the front door being pushed open and William made his way into the kitchen.
"Oh, William, I'll call Melissa for you."
"No, that's ok, dad. I actually wanted to talk with her," he nodded to Scully, "if that's all right."
Something in the uncertainty of William's words gave Mulder pause but perhaps the time alone would rectify that. "That'd be just fine...I'll...I'll be outside with Melissa. She's been wanting me to play a game or two." Mulder hesitantly slipped away from Scully and gave his son the space he had requested. When William was sure Mulder was out of earshot , he stepped closer.
"Dad says I have other family, your family--that they would want to see me," he started quietly.
"That's true," she tried to offer with a smile, though she couldn't help but notice they way he had avoided addressing her in any particular way--not "Dana" and not "mom" yet he had called Mulder...
"That's some of what I wanted to talk about...I was wondering...if...if it might be weird. I mean, you probably never thought this would happen, and now all of a sudden everything's changed. Things might come up. Know what I mean?"
"You're worried about my family coming to visit?"
"Well, yeah. I thought maybe some people might have been...upset...with what you did, and now...if they come..."
"William, how my family felt about my decision shouldn't stop you from getting to know them."
"People are fighting too much already." Not able to say that wouldn't be the case, Scully offered something different to her young son.
"They've missed you, William. They'd be thrilled to see you."
William stared for a moment then went on. "You and I haven't talked much, not the way dad and I have," he stated, making a pertinent yet tentative observation.
"It's all right if you feel more comfortable with your father right now. We have plenty of time to get to know each other," she tried to assure him, all the while feeling the hurt of knowing he apparently didn't feel for her what he did for Mulder. She thought she had been doing the right thing by letting William find his way to her, but now she wondered if perhaps she should have encouraged him to talk to her more. Maybe he had been waiting for that.
"That's just it. I want to know more. So tell me about them-- your family," he coaxed.
Scully relaxed a little. She took a deep breath and sat at the kitchen table where he followed her. "Okay, well, your Grandma was a Captain's wife. My father was in the Navy so she opted to stay home and raise her children. It gave us some stability given how much we moved from place to place."
"Who's the oldest in your family?"
"That would be your Uncle Bill."
"He wasn't happy about what happened, was he? That's why he doesn't visit much. Dad told me," he added upon his mother's questioning look.
"That's part of the reason. Your uncle was never happy about my decision to join the FBI. He'll always see your dad as part of the life he believes I should not have lived, as the reason for the grief brought about by our work. He wanted a much simpler existence for me. Guns, criminals, and the paranormal were not what he had in mind for his little sister. "
"Just because you're a girl doesn't mean you couldn't do those things," William told her indignantly as though offended at the idea that his mother was anything less than the woman his father had described to him, anything less than the strong woman he saw in front of him now.
Scully had to smile at his passionate answer. "To be fair, I don't think he doubted that I could. He just preferred that I didn't."
"Still, he shouldn't try to tell you what to do," William grumbled.
"Big brothers tend to do that," she reasoned.
"I'll never do that," he countered.
"I have no doubt you'll be a wonderful big brother, but try not to be too hard on your Uncle Bill. He's always tried to do what he thought was best for our family. We just had different ideas about what that was from time to time," she explained.
William sighed, "I'll try, but I can't make any promises," he told her very dramatically, his expression and tone so similar to Mulder's just then that she couldn't help but marvel at it. Was it possible he was developing Mulder's sense of humor so quickly? Or had he always had it? God help Bill, she mused.
Caught up in the revelry, it took Scully a moment to realize her son had asked her a question. "Nothing...I...it still amazes me how much you remind me of your father."
"Really?" he brightened.
"Very much so. That being the case, I think you'll like your Uncle Charlie," she added with a smirk. "He always did have an appreciation for your father's way with Bill."
William smiled. "What does he do?"
"Oh, Charlie does a little bit of everything. He's what you might call a free spirit. He'll want to tell you all kinds of stories about me. Don't believe any of them," she teased. She seemed happy when she talked about them.
"So why don't we call them?"
Scully's face dropped in surprise.
"Well, I.. I hadn't quite figured out what to say..."
"There's never a right thing to say. Come on, let's just do it," William could feel the anticipation building by the minute. The more they talked about these people, the more real they had become and the more curious he was. "I'll do it," he offered anxiously.
"What a minute," she chuckled nervously.
"What are we waiting for?"he prodded.
"It's not as simple as that, I can't just pick up the phone and..." she started to protest.
"Sure you can," he insisted, "that's how I got here, isn't it?"
"Well, yes but..."
"But?" he echoed back with that expression that was again pure Mulder--the gleeful one that said 'I dare you to prove me wrong, but I'll have fun listening to you while you try.' Scully tried to think of a million reasons why it just wasn't appropriate to pick up the phone and announce to her family that she'd found the child she sent away so long ago-- or rather that he had found her .
William's face suddenly turned more serious. The image of Scully in his father's arms asking forgiveness as he stood watching in silence came to him. She had seemed so much smaller at that moment, as if a feather touch would crush her. Mulder had forgiven her, but had they? "You are scared, aren't you?"
"It's not that..."
"It's not easy to face your family when you think they're disappointed in you--that you've done something to hurt them," he continued, his voice laced with understanding as he pictured his adoptive father's unhappy gaze . Perhaps he and his mother had more in common than he had realized.
Scully questioned herself then about whether it was fair to have caused him this strife in his own life when she as an adult couldn't seem to dealt with it herself. "No, it's not," she told him honestly. "But it's a wonderful thing to know we have loved ones who will always be there for us."
Her tone and loving expression told him she must be speaking of Mulder, and his own expression slid from comforted to thoughtful in a blink. "Do you mind if I ask you something?...What happened to his sister?"
"Your father told you about Samantha?"
So that was her name-- Samantha. "Just that she died a long time ago," he answered honestly. "Was she sick?" His eyes darted away, unsure that he was welcome to be asking such things.
"No, she wasn't sick," came the hesitant reply as Scully straightened in her seat. The truth seemed somehow revealed to him with her simple action.
"It was them, wasn't it?" His ominous tone left little doubt that he understood perfectly.
The uncomfortable silence was all the answer he needed. How horrible it must be to have your family taken. It didn't feel right to talk about her now, he thought. Perhaps his father would discuss her with him in time, but for the time being it was enough to know the simple truth. 'They' had taken a sister from his father and she had never come back. With that knowledge, a fierce protectiveness for the man overtook him.
"If you hadn't gotten them first, I would have"-- No hint of boyish heroics in his words, just a statement of simple fact. It reminded Scully of the many prophecies so many had proclaimed at his birth. Could some part of him know?
"I believe you," she told him sincerely. "It's not right that such things happen in the world, but you know what I think those that are gone would want for us right now? I think they would want to know that we're happy and that their parts in our lives bring us happiness still. That's what your father and I have tried to do for those we've lost. We've tried not to focus on the sadness."
"Then you should call your family. I think it would make them happy."
"How's everyone doing?"
William and Scully turned to see Mulder's lopsided smile.
"Ha-ha. I beat you, dad!" came a happy, taunting shout from the other room as Melissa bounded up the stairs to change out sweaty clothes.
"Just remember who pays for basketball camp!" he called back.
"Daaaad!" she whined, knowing he was only teasing. He was still grinning when he looked back to William and Scully.
"I think I'm getting too old for this," he groaned as he leaned against the doorframe.
William's eyes were soft with affection, "Nah, she's just freakishly fast. Why do you think we only played 'Horse'?"
Mulder chuckled. "So how are things in here?"
"Things are just fine."
Then William spotted it again--that mysterious silent language. He actually thought he might have understood it this time...perhaps. But he had the feeling that the finer points were still lost on him: 'Are you really okay? Is there anything I should know?' Mulder's eyes seem to ask.
"We were just having a little chat," she assured him.
"I see." His tone was light yet curious as he walked past to the sink to get a glass of water and began to sip it."Nothing bad about me, I hope," he remarked cheerfully, though there was still an undercurrent of concern in his voice. Were things all right? Was there a problem?
"No, just your old video collection."
At that, what little water he had in his mouth spurted from his lips. A restrained, playful smirk played across Scully's own lips. William was happy to see how effortless it was for them to put one another at ease. With such a harmless remark, the tension in the room seemed to lift.
He watched as Mulder straightened and treated Scully to his most serious gaze. "My predilections have long since changed, my dear," he told her, his voice altered with some strange nasal accent as he waggled an eyebrow her way and took another sip from the glass. William wanted to comment on what he was sure "video collection" meant but his pre-adolescent alarms were blaring at full volume-- 'Adult domain, do not enter.'
There was so much that was still left to be discovered. Sitting there, he just took in the moment. Himself in the kitchen with his mother and father listening as they did what they seemed to do best: talk to each other.
A few steps and Mulder was seated with his glass at the kitchen table with them. Things just felt so...right. "I say we do it," William finally broke in, hoping to rope his father in and make it a team effort.
"Do what?" Mulder peered over his glass.
"Call the family," he explained.
"Are you sure?"
"I think it'd be cool."
"I just think it might be better to wait a little longer..." his mother chimed in.
And it was there again. Mulder's awareness of the world narrowed to her. His entire body spoke his concern for something he seemed to sense in her.
"It's not a decision we have to make right now, " his voice lowered to a warm timbre.
Scully cast her eyes to the floor. "I know that... Is it all right if we talk about this later?" There was no bitterness or sadness in her words but William could tell now that something wasn't right. She got up from the table then. "There are some things I have to get done, but why don't you two go out and do something together?"
As if on cue, Melissa called from upstairs. "Maahhhm! Have you seen my Knicks T-shirt?!"
"We'll talk about this later, okay?" And as if saved by the bell, Scully excused herself and headed to Missy's room.
William had thought his father would be able to get through to his mother in a way that he could not, but he had upset her nonetheless. He should have let things be. Guilt and fear--fear of disappointing them-- colored and shook his words. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have..." he started to apologize.
But Mulder shook his head , refusing the apology. "You didn't do anything wrong," and with a simple softening of his father's eyes, the panic began to subside in the young boy. Still, he worried. A small motion of Mulder's hand told him to stay seated. He watched nervously as his dad walked after his mother.
Mulder had expected her to be in their daughter's room but she hadn't quite made it that far. Instead, she stood at the foot of the stairs seemingly willing herself forward yet still finding herself in the very same spot. She didn't look at him as she spoke.
"I don't want to talk about it, Mulder." Her voice was small and unassuming
"Scully..." He moved directly behind her, and molded his form against her as he brought his arms around her, offering his strength where her own seemed to be giving way. "I thought you wanted this. William wants it, too. He wants to know us. All of us."
"He wants to please you," came soft and wistful.
"What?" brushed across her ear on warm breath.
"Mulder, I'm worried the only reason he wants this is because he thinks you do," she told him honestly.
He turned her to him to look into her eyes. Maybe he would better understand then. "What are you saying? That he's lying to us?"
"No, I'm saying I think he would do anything he thought would make you happy. You should see his face when I just mention your name. He adores you, Mulder," she said, sounding almost sad, as if she were somehow outside of that.
"It seems to me he cares about us both." His confusion was more than evident.
Mulder blinked in surprise. "Do you think he blames me? Do you... Do you think some subconscious part of him remembers what it was like when I left him?" she whispered.
"Of course not," rushed roughly from his lungs. "What's all this about? What did the two of you talk about? Did he say something to you?"
"What is it then?"
"It's just...I see the way he is with you." She paused and switched her approach. "It sounds so selfish, but there was a time when I was his whole world and now...I'm not."
"Scully," he cooed gingerly, "William isn't the little boy we brought home from the hospital anymore. He hasn't been for a very long time."
She stiffened at his words. "I know that."
Mulder closed his eyes trying to focus his thoughts, be more clear. "He's just being a normal twelve-year old-boy. It's an awkward time for him as a young man. Moms are a little more difficult to relate to right now, that's all," he tried to assure her. "Not only is he changing in all the usual preteen ways, his whole life is changing. And just because he happens to agree with me doesn't mean his thoughts aren't his own. He's a pretty smart kid who doesn't strike me as the follower type. I suppose he can thank us for that."
He waited for a response which came in the form of Scully allowing her weight to rest against him. An all too familiar gesture. It was as if she were exhausted and relieved to be setting down some heavy load and needed a safe place to rest. His chest rose with a deep breath that seemed to release some of the worry inside him, "But he needs you just as much as he ever did, Scully. Especially now. He wants to know so much about us," he went on, "that has to be a good thing. "
Scully leaned back to gaze up at her husband's face, taking special note of the light bruising, and traced a finger there, moving along the symbol of his own trials and tribulations that came along with finding a place in their son's life. Her touch was extremely gentle as she spoke with equal care. "You really should learn to duck." A smile danced in his eyes at her humor, understanding her reminder that his own plight wasn't suddenly lost on her, and that she had found some solace in his words.
"I still don't know that I'm ready for my family to know just yet," she admitted. "I guess part of me wants to keep him to ourselves for a little longer. You know how they felt, Mulder. I don't want that tension around him. Things are already difficult enough for him."
Mulder became serious once more. "We're a family," he murmured into her hair as he pulled her close. "We'll face Bill together." The ominous tone gave her a chuckle as he knew it would. "We'll have to do it eventually, Scully. And the longer we wait, the more hard feelings there'll be when they do find out. Everything will be fine. You'll see."
She believed him.
William sat nervously tapping his toes studying the design of the kitchen floor when he looked up into the face of his father and bolted to his feet, a bundle of insecurity after his time alone. "She's mad at me isn't she? I knew something was wrong but I went ahead anyway. I wasn't thinking. I..." he rattled off.
"Whoa , take it easy. Slow down. Your mother is *not* mad at you."
But he went on without missing a step. "I knew shouldn't have said anything. I don't know why I did..."
The babbling was beginning to alarm Mulder. "Hey," was firm yet soothing in its tone as he tried again to get the boys attention. "Listen to me. Everything is all right. Your mother is just getting Melissa's shirt for her. She is not in any way, shape, or form upset with you. In fact, we decided that--if you still wanted to-- we could call your grandmother tonight."
"Really?" His disbelief was evident.
"Yes, if you'd like." That seemed to settle him but his nervous was still apparent. "William...talk to me."It was somehow a relief that his father could read him so well. "I...don't know. I knew something wasn't right and...I guess I was scared I messed things up."
"Messed things up?"
And suddenly the past two days seemed to collapse in on him at once: His adoptive parents fighting--angry and spiteful. His adoptive father's accusing eyes, biting words. All because he had to look for answers, he had to know the truth. William looked at his newly found father's face, marred in his attempts to *be* a father to him. The image of both parents holding each other...so much pain. His fear of having hurt his mother. How long before it was enough? How long before they couldn't deal with it anymore? Yes, they loved him now, but surely there was only so much pain a person could take... How long before they were angry, too? How long before they couldn't help but say 'good-bye'?
The last thought choked him as he struggled for even breaths. But even as he fought, tears stung the corners of his eyes. He heard nothing, saw nothing, knew only this present misery as he trembled with want of control. And then he was warm. Strong, protective arms were holding him, as they had many times all ready. It was only then that he heard his father's voice...
"It's all right."
William held Mulder tighter burying his face into his chest, could feel those words vibrate against his cheek. Everything came pouring out in the safety of that embrace.
"I'm sorry, dad. I'm so sorry," he wept as tears spilled into his father's cotton t-shirt. "It's all my fault. If I hadn't... Everyone was happier before. I don't know how to make anything better. I'm sorry...I'll try. I'll try to make everything better. I promise. I will, okay?" His voice had the edge of desperation.
Mulder's heart lurched as he choked back his own sob at his little boy's pain. He took a moment to decide whether to pull back and look him the eyes or simply hold him. The boy's fierce grip made the decision for him. So he simply held him as he spoke, his own voice unsteady with emotion.
"Listen to me. Your being back in our lives makes us happy. *So* happy. There aren't words for the feeling of knowing we can see your face each day. You're a part of us. Your *being* here makes everything better." He felt his son burrow deeper against his chest. His voice somewhat muffled when he answered.
"How can you say that?"
"Because it's the truth." Mulder's tone became more contemplative as he continued. "There are things that we'll have to work through, but we'll get through them. Do you remember what I said to you that first day at the baseball field?"
"What?" his voice still small and unsure.
"That we would find a way together."
"Yeah." The certainty and ease of his answer was a welcome sound.
"We will. But I don't want you to worry. That's my job. And whenever your sad or afraid, I want you to remember something, all right? Your mother and I, we love you and your sister more than life itself. We're so proud of the young man you've become. I told you, son, being a parent never goes away. We thank God every day that we'll be here for so many things we thought we'd never see."
William was more settled but made no move to pull away. His curiosity got the better of him "Like what?" he asked with a sniffle.
"Like...your first girlfriend. You...don't have a girlfriend yet, right?" Mulder asked with mock seriousness in a quiet voice. He could hear the small laugh in William's answer.
"So your first girlfriend, your prom, teenage rebellion-- you and Melissa will stay past curfew and be grounded," he said fondly in a sing-song voice.
William openly laughed a little that time."You'd actually ground me?"
"Hell yeah," he said with zest. "That's the best part of being a dad," Mulder teased.
Though he might feel differently later, there was actually something comforting in that thought-- his parents would ground him. He and Melissa would be treated no differently. They were the Mulder children and would be treated as such. Then it hit him. They planned on being there for it all. They really weren't going anywhere. For better or worse, they were there to stay and nothing would push them away.
There was only one more thing to be said.
"I love you, dad."
"He called him 'dad.'"
Beth Van De Kamp turned from her reflection in the mirror where she had been combing her hair and faced her husband. "What?"
"William...he called a man he's known less than...he called him dad," Joseph repeated, more irritated and hurt than the first time.
Unsure how to answer--what exactly do you say to that?-- Beth could only ask another question. "When?"
"This morning when I...just before they left," he admitted sadly. "That Mulder" he spat, "He all but said that we hadn't been good parents and...I hit him. I just hit him." His wife's silence told him to continue. "William, he saw and he got in between us and...he was worried about him. 'Dad, are you, ok?,'" he mimicked sorrowfully. "Beth, his eyes dared me to touch that man again. I've never seen him this way. He's always been a little distant, but he's been a good boy. Respectful. Now..."
"He's still a good boy, Joe. You're forcing him to make choices he shouldn't have to make," she reasoned softly.
"I'm not doing any such thing."
"Yes, you are. Every time you roll your eyes or say something about 'them' you practically ooze hostility. How can you expect him not to respond to that?"
"Because they're practically strangers? I just don't get it. Haven't we been good parents? Haven't we done everything we're supposed to do? Why does he care about these people so much? They weren't there when he spoke his fist word--which just happened to be 'daddy.' They weren't there when he took his first steps. They weren't there when he fell off his bike... "
"I don't pretend to have the answers, Joe. But I know I've been expecting this day. You know as well as I do that he's always seemed aware of our family being...different. Always wanting to do things for himself, not wanting any comfort when he did fall."
"So you're saying he's never loved us?" he asked woundedly.
"No, I know he does. He's the same little boy that ran to meet you when you got home from work every day, but...he's been looking for something. Maybe now that he's found it, it'll be a good for him and us. He can finally relax, finally put to rest whatever it is he's been struggling with all these years."
"And if that means he chooses them?"
"Who says he wants to choose at all?"
"Maybe I want him to choose," he admitted guiltily. "Maybe I want him to tell them to go to hell, that I'm his father and your his mother and they missed the boat. It's too late for them."
"Joe," Beth sighed, "Part of me feels that way, too. But nothing has been the way we imagined about this whole scenario. What if they didn't give up William because they wanted to? What if they felt they had to?"
"I really don't care," he groused.
"But William does, and that's the bottom line, isn't it? The more you push, the further away from us he's going to be."
Joe closed his eyes and ran his hand roughly through his hair. "Damn it! How is that possible?!" he shouted. "How did they do it, Beth? How the *hell* did they manage this? How can they have a hold on him, even now, after twelve years?"
"I don't know, but they're here and he wants them here, and if we ever expect to have any peace, we've got to get used to it. I think it's time we went to see the Mulders."
There she was, going through Melissa's closet. "It's not there mom. I have to have it for my game tomorrow," Melissa told her mother.
"Well, maybe it's in the wash. Why don't you loo...Oh, William, sweetie, I didn't see you there."
"Oh hey, William." The sight of her brother put aside any worries about a shirt. "Let's go do something else, ok?" Melissa piped up.
"Well, I don't know. I thought--" his eyes darted to his mother.
"Please," she beseeched. Having a big brother was clearly agreeing with Missy and William had to admit, that face--the one that said 'my big brother must be the best big brother in the whole world'-- could easily manipulate him. So, though he had come to speak with his mother, he now found himself at the mercy of his baby sister.
"What do you want to do?"
"Let's play cards. Dad has a deck in his office. It's ok, mom. I'll find it later. Can we go get the cards from daddy's desk?"
"Sure you can. Just don't touch your dad's things. You know he doesn't like it when you move his belongings."
"We won't. Come on, William."
William shortly found himself back in the room he had explored during his nightly visit not so long ago. It was different in the light of day, less mysterious, but his eyes wandered just the same, taking in each detail again. The box he had searched through was now neatly put away and there was something else that was different...
"What are you looking for?" Missy startled him.
"N...nothing. I was just looking around."
"Dad keeps all his weird stuff in here. And the stuff from before."
From before? "Before what?"
"Before we moved here, but they don't like to talk about that... William, can I ask you something?"
"Sure, go ahead," he told her absently as his thoughts wandered. What else was here? What exactly had happened before? He knew a little but--
"What are they like?" Missy asked, her eyes cast shyly to the side as she opened one of her father's desk drawers.
For a moment, he wasn't sure what she meant and then-- "You mean my p...my other parents?"
"Yeah," she prodded as she absently shuffled the contents of the drawer searching for the cards.
"They're okay, I guess."
"Are they nice to you?" she asked with pure sisterly concern.
"Sure...most of the time. They yell sometimes, but they've never hit me or anything like that. They love me. They're parents."
"Do you...like them better than us?"
"I...I don't kn..." he began to stammer at the innocent question, but just then something caught William's eye. Up above them was a shelf he hadn't noticed in the dim lamp light the last time he'd been there. And on it was something peculiar-- along with trophies and a few awards was a small wooden box with a tiny lock. "What's that?"
Melissa's eyes followed her brother's. "That's daddy's from before."
"What is it?"
She seemed genuinely perplexed as she answered, "I don't know. I'm not allowed to open it. Here are the cards. Let's play here," she told him as she took her place on the floor. She seemed to have forgotten or moved on from the earlier question. For that, William was thankful. How could he explain the relationships he had with each family? Everything was more complicated than he ever imagined. So he took the opportunity to ask his own questions.
"Have you ever asked what's in it?" he said glancing up at the box.
"Yes." She didn't seem to want to say anything more. This of course piqued his curiosity even further.
"Well, what did they say?"
"They said that one day, when I was older, they would tell me about it."
"I told you. It's from before. They don't like to talk about that," she explained.
He sat silently for a moment and then continued. "What do you know-- about before?" he clarified.
Melissa sat shuffling the cards, concentrating on them as she spoke. "I know they worked together and moved away when their jobs were over. They've told me for as long as I can remember that I had a big brother. They said you went away to be safe. I think it had something to do with their work. I know there's more but they would never say. I think they don't want to worry me or something. You know, before you came back, sometimes I used to be jealous.".
That surprised him. "Of me?"
"Sometimes. You were first. But mostly I just wondered what you'd be like. What it would be like if you were here." She sat quietly and stopped shuffling the cards. "William?"
"I'm really glad you're home," she smiled.
They might have said more but a knock at the front door interrupted the conversation. Both children listened to hear who the visitor might be. The sound of the door being opened was followed by an unexpected greeting from their father.
"What?" William said a little louder than he had intended.
His voice instantly dropped. "Why are we whispering?"
"Uncle *Bill* is here," she replied, as though that explained everything.
"So. We were going to tell the family anyway. He'll just be the first," he whispered back.
"You don't know Uncle Bill," she answered. "If he finds out you've been here all this time..." but she didn't get a chance to finish. She was interrupted by her uncle's loud, haughty voice.
"Matt and I were passing through. He wanted to look at some colleges out this way. I thought we'd stop by to see my sister and niece," the man stated flatly. William, of course, noticed instantly that his father had been left out of that list of people. Oh, he didn't like this, didn't like this one bit.
Both children continued to listen intently. It was obvious Mulder had been caught off guard and was stumbling to regain his footing, "Scully's, uh, Dana's upstairs. She'll be down in a minute. Hey there Matt, why don't you two, um, have a seat? You, uh, surprised us a little. Everything all right with the family?"
"Everything's fine," Bill said curtly.
"That's good," an uncomfortable pause and then, "Scully, your brother's here!" Had Bill known anything about Mulder after all these years, he might have recognized the sliver of panic in that call, but uninvolved as he was, he didn't notice a thing.
Scully's voice soon joined in with the others. "Bill?"--a mix of shock and nervousness.
"Well, don't sound so happy to see me," he teased his little sister.
"Of...of course I'm happy to see you. We just weren't expecting you," she hurried to explain.
Both children inched toward the door in hopes of catching a glimpse of what exactly was happening in the other room. "Who's Matt?" William asked quietly.
"He's our cousin. He can be a real pain," Missy complained. "He thinks he's God just because he can drive," she whispered back.
"So when did you get in?" they heard from the living room.
"The plane got in this morning. We'll be leaving tomorrow. We just stopped in for a quick visit. We should have called, but we thought we'd surprise you. Where's Missy?"
Mulder cleared his throat. "She's in the other room playing."
"Missy! Come see your Uncle Bill!" Missy heard her uncle yell. Her eyes went wide, she wasn't much better at lying than her mother was.
"Actually, Bill, why don't you letter her play for a little longer-- There's something we really need to discuss now that you're here," she heard her father say, and she breathed a sigh of relief.
"We just got here, Mulder," Bill groaned in annoyance, "Whatever it is can wait. Miss--"
"No, it can't," Scully cut in.
Looking out from Mulder's office, the two children turned to each other, wondering what they should do, ultimately deciding to stay put for the moment.
"What is it?" Bill finally said. "Matty , why don't you go find Melissa and shoot some ball while I have a talk with your aunt and uncle."
"No, this concerns him, too."
Bill sat back, the look in his eyes showing his apprehension. "All right, what's going on?"
"We need to talk about William," Scully began, but she was swiftly cut off by her brother. His shoulders straightened, his body showing instant resistance.
"I really don't think another 'discussion' is a good idea," he told her gruffly while shooting a glaring look at Mulder.
"Bill, you don't understand..."
"There's nothing to understand. It's done. It's over. Long over. Talking about it again isn't going to change it. It never has and never will," he told them in controlled anger. "So let's just agree to drop it, shall we?"
"Bill..." Mulder tried to say.
"And I *especially* don't need to hear anything about it from *you,*" Bill snapped at Mulder. With his son next to him and his niece somewhere in the house, he wanted to keep his calm. "Look, I just came by to see my family. Can we drop this now?" he growled.
"Not until you hear what we have to say--"
"What?" Bill asked impatiently.
All eyes went to the young boy who had entered the room, having surprised them all with his sudden appearance. He stood looking as though he was afraid he may have just offered himself as a meal for a dangerous animal. Bill could only sit and stare as that single word registered in his conscious thought--Dad. Those eyes, that face...
"Who is this?" he demanded.
William, not to be ignored, answered the question himself. "My name is William," he said, hoping to sound more confident than he felt under his uncle's sudden scrutiny. "Dad, is everything, ok?"
"Everything's fine, son." Mulder gestured for William to move closer to where the adults sat on the couch. Melissa tip-toed out then, too.
"What's going on here? Dana, who is this kid?" Bill repeated. He asked the question even as his eyes revealed the answer that was as plain as, well, almost every feature on *Mulder's* face, only younger.
"Bill," Scully said gently, "this is William. William, say hello to your Uncle Bill." William's eyes shifted from mother, to father, to uncle. "Hi," he said as he offered a handshake.
Bill Scully barely blinked as he took the young boy's hand in a half shake. "You're...William." he repeated more to himself than anyone else.
"Yes, sir," Standing before Bill then, more sure of himself with his parents beside him, William saw just a man and with a glance began to appraise this uncle of his. The room was silent for a time and then, "Nice to meet you."
The man shook his head as if to shake off an imaginary vice on his thought process-- "Yeah...yeah, it's...nice to meet you, too," he stammered. "Uh, this is my son, Matt." The two boys exchange greetings while the older man continued to sit in bewilderment still scrambling to catch up with the moment.
"Uncle Bill," Missy said shyly, with all the innocence of a child,"William's a part of our family now so be nice to him, ok?"
"William, son," Mulder said, "Why don't you, Melissa , and Matt go outside for a while and give your mom and me a chance to talk with your uncle, ok? Then later maybe you two can get to know each other a little bit." William looked from his uncle back to his father, obviously apprehensive. "It's all right," his father assured him.
Once the three children were out of sight, Bill finally gathered himself. "What the hell is going on? How could you not tell anyone about this? How could you not tell *mom*?! And how did you find him?"
"He found us," Scully began,"he wanted to know who we were. We haven't known long. We wanted to give him a chance to know us, to adjust to our family before..."
"And his...his *other* family, where are they?"
"They live nearby. It's all right. They know he's here."
"So...what, he just showed up at your door?"
Scully ran through all the events which lead up to that morning and waited for her brother's response, which didn't take long. "You seem to piss a lot of people off, Mulder," he said gesturing at his brother-in-law's bruised cheek," not that I can blame the guy. That was the one good thing about the adoption--getting the kid away from you." Scully gasped as though the words had physically struck her.
"Bill, stop it! How *DARE* you speak to my husband that way!" she yelled furiously.
"It's all right, Scully," Mulder said tiredly. "Look, Bill, I know you think I'm to blame for every tragedy to befall the Scully family. Hell, there are times when I agree with every wretched thing you've ever said about me. But I will not allow you to upset *my* family. Not here. Not now. Our son is home. You could at least make an attempt to be happy for us."
"I'm happy for my sister. She deserves a chance to know her own child--a child she went through hell to have-- but you," he dripped with contempt, "what right do you have?" he asked, his voice rough and accusing. "If you hadn't walked out on her, sorry son of a bitch that you are, we wouldn't be here at all right now, would we? Tell me again where you were, Mulder? Oh, that's right. *Aliens* were going to take over the world and you were on what, some kind of lone crusade? I don't know how you convinced my sister to buy into that bullshit but that's exactly what it is-- bullshit. You LEFT your family. Do you *get that*? YOU LEFT!"
With each harsh word, emotions brimmed over in Mulder's chest. His palms rubbed over his eyes in a futile attempt at control until the words exploded out of him, "I GET IT! For the thousandth time...I. GET. IT ! What do you want from me?! To punish me?! News Flash! You're too LATE! I beat you to it!"
"Then maybe there is justice in the world!" Bill shouted back
"Both of you, stop it!" Scully roared over them, shaking with the effort of keeping control. She had to put a stop to this *now.*
Both men quieted, both still teeming with unexpressed anger as they glowered at one another
Melissa played solitaire with her cards on the driveway while the two boys pitched rocks to see who could hit the their chosen target--a discolored leaf near the center of a tree.
"So. You're the infamous William."
"Yeah," William answered, a little put off by the arrogant tone of the question.
"Never thought I'd see the day," Matt said. "So how's it been? Finding out where you *really* came from?"
"It's been fine." He didn't care to go into details not with this person. "They're really nice people."
"I wasn't talking about that. How does it feel to know your real parents are crazy?" he whispered menacingly.
William's eyes narrowed. "What'd you say?"
"What? You didn't know? They say they gave you away to keep you away from the 'aliens,' " Matt taunted with a grin.
"That's a lie. Who says?" William questioned harshly.
"I've heard my dad talking about it," he smiled "My dad says your dad's crazy."
"Shut up," William warned.
Matt was amused at the unexpected loyalty. "Oooo I'm scared. But then you look just like him, maybe you're crazy, too," he teased.
William raised his voice. "You shut up about my dad," he ordered.
"Which one?" Matt taunted again.
An anger was building in William the likes of which he had never known. He wouldn't hit him, couldn't hit him. What would his parents say? Surely his uncle would take Matt's side. It would be a terrible choice and yet he wanted to...he wanted to knock the smirk right off the older boy's face. In the end, he knew it was the worst possible decision he could make. No trouble, he reminded himself, and made the choice to return inside where at least Matt wouldn't dare to say those things aloud. At least, he hoped he wouldn't. He turned to go back into the house. Then he stopped and turned back. " I want to be like my dad. Too bad you had to be like yours."
"Hey, William! Where are you going?" Missy picked up her cards and came trotting after him.
"If you're going to condemn Mulder, I've got the same retribution coming," William heard his mother say.
"How can you still defend him?" his uncle shot back.
"What's going on?" William questioned suspiciously. All adult attention was on him in an instant.
His father's face softened at the sight of him as he said, "Your uncle and I were just having a discussion. But we're done now," he added with a pointed stare at the man.
Scully moved over next to her two children. "Melissa, ask Matt to come inside and we'll all sit down and have lunch," she said calmly, obviously trying to restore some order to the situation.
"I'm not very hungry," William said glumly as he gave a sidelong glance to his uncle, excused himself, and headed off to the guestroom. He sat quietly on the bed in the plain room with plain walls--hardly a child's room. Not his room. No space to call his own when he needed to be alone, he thought. He felt his father's presence before he heard it.
"It's been a tough day, hasn't it?" Mulder said tentatively.
"You could say that," William sighed as he cast his eyes downward, feeling the bed dip as his father sat next to him.
"I don't know how much of that you heard but..."
"I heard enough."
"I don't like the way he talks to you," the boy interrupted.
Mulder stared in surprise, obviously expecting his son to say something else. Taking a moment to group his thoughts, Mulder explained, "You have to understand that your Uncle Bill is used to being the protector in the Scully family ever since your grandfather died."
"My mother doesn't need that kind of protecting ," William protested.
"You know that and I know that, but it may be that Uncle Bill will never understand it. Even if that's true, he's your mom's brother. I'm guilty, too. I should never have let him bait me into an argument, and I did," he said apologetically.
"It's not your fault."
"A lot of things are my fault," his father said, eyes clouding over with remorse. William looked up, for the fist time seeing the emotional weight in the man next to him. Did he realize he had actually spoken those words out loud?
"Your uncle is right," Mulder conceded with weighted words. "I should have stayed. I should been there to protect you and your mother. I should never have agreed to any plan."
It occurred to William that he was in over his head here. This wasn't about today, this was about years of regret spilling over. His dad always seemed to know what to say to make things better but what was *he* supposed to say to *him*? His age left him somewhere above 'naive child ' and far below 'degreed psychologist.' How do you make something like this better? Suddenly something came to him. Three words. Could it be that simple?
"I forgive you."
Mulder looked up, obviously taken aback . "What?"
"I forgive you for leaving."
"William, I didn't mean..."
"No, just listen. I know you loved me. I *know*," he swore, "and I don't want you to feel sad when you think of me anymore, I just don't. That's not fair. You said I make you happy." The words were sincere, honest.
"You do," Mulder said, his voice tender yet shaken by unshed tears. "I meant every word I said."
"Then just remember that, okay? I'm not gone. I'm not hurt. I'm not sick." His last words struck him hard as they came to him and he realized they must have been his parents' worst fear. Despite how well they thought they'd hidden him, it was a possibility for any child, really. He almost couldn't say them but forced himself to do so-- "...I'm not dead."
Mulder took in a ragged breath, barely keeping what composure he had left.
"They never found me. But *I* found *you.*"
His father was the picture of a man teetering on the edge of an emotional landslide. The problem with Matt seemed miles away now. This man had been so strong for him all this time. William could see what his uncle's words must have done to him and wanted to nothing more than to pull Mulder back from that dark corner he must have visited so often all those years. He rested what he hoped would be a comforting hand on his shoulder and squeezed. "Everything's okay now."
"Dana," Bill hissed under his breath, "come on. Give me a break here. You can't expect me to be on his side with this."
"With anything, apparently. I do expect you to treat the father of my children with respect."
"He's not a father to that kid!"
"And I'm not his mother?"
"No, of course you are," he amended. "You took care of him. You worried over him. You did what you thought was best for him, I suppose. All that jackass did was knock you up." The searing look Bill brought upon himself with that remark could have burned a hole right through his forty dollar shirt but for the fact that Scully turned her back to him and used a cutting knife on the turkey sandwiches as one might use a meat cleaver.
"You don't know. You don't know the look on his face when he would see other children, children who were just the right age, who just might have been... I had to live every day knowing what I had taken from him, from us. I lost my faith and for that he lost his son. He doted over Missy so much when she was younger, blanketed her with a protectiveness that others would tell me I needed to curb-- he was too obsessive about her, they said. Never allowed her to explore her boundaries the way she should, they said. But what they didn't see was the man who held her high on his shoulders to look inside a bird's nest so she could see what was beautiful in the world. They didn't see the man who let her play in a filthy mud puddle because he wanted her to know the feel of cool mud between her toes. They didn't know him. You don't know him. Never question Mulder's devotion to me or his children. And the last thing he needs is your forgiveness. So you can either give him the God damn respect he deserves in his own home or leave. It's your choice. " Those words were final and absolute. With that, she handed him the plate of sandwiches. "Take these to the table." Bill had never seen his little sister be so hard, nor heard her speak with such passion. For the first time in his life, he was actually intimidated by her. He opened his mouth to speak but found that no words were forthcoming so he just took the plate.
Between the distance from the counter and table, Bill had made his decision. Funny what a little walk and a lot of Scully sass can do. He wouldn't apologize. No way in hell. He would just--smooth things over. Yes, smooth things over. He set the plate of sandwiches down and walked toward the guestroom. It seemed quiet. Maybe they'd gone somewhere else and he just hadn't noticed, he thought. But as he turned and ducked his head around the doorframe, he saw them there and something stopped him from going any further. Mulder was slouched forward at the foot of the bed looking positively miserable, which might have been a good thing if not for the child next to him watching so worriedly over him with a hand at his shoulder.
"...Everything's okay now," he heard the child say gently. Then Mulder moved his hand atop the smaller one and inhaled, making a sound that could only be called a sniffle. Jesus, the man was crying? Well, close to it.
"You know, I think you got your good sense from your mother," Mulder answered after a moment. Bill couldn't argue with that. "What do you say we go have some lunch?"
"What are we having?" William asked cautiously.
"I like turkey," the boy said as if answering a question.
"You do, huh? What a coincidence, so do I."
William played along. "You don't say."
Bill had been so caught up in the conversation that he had nearly forgotten where he was. When both started to rise, he pretended as though he had just reached the door and cleared his throat. His greeting was a leery look from both. Great, Mulder times two.
"Look, Mulder, I uh, I didn't come here to-- I don't want my sister upset so, well, you know," he barely strung together.
"You're sorry?" William interjected, pinning the man with a hard stare.
"Well, I don't..." he started to protest but thought better of it. He didn't actually apologize, after all. "Sure. Whatever."
William looked to his father.
"You're a big man, Bill," Mulder said with a smile that didn't reach his eyes, putting an emphasis on 'big'.
Bill wasn't sure, but he had the feeling he had just been insulted.
"Let's eat," he added in good humor.
It was too bad they were eating sandwiches, William thought. Maybe if they were eating, say, chicken, then Matt, who kept making the sign for crazy from across the table, would choke on it. But as it was, William came to the conclusion that all families must have their less than amiable members. His Aunt Grace was no barrel of fun. And it wasn't as if his Uncle Bill and Matt be around that much. He could ignore it. For now.
"So, William, do you play any sports?" Bill asked.
"Basketball," he answered then looked up at his parents and added, "But I might try out for baseball this year."
"He's still not better than me, though," Missy teased. Her parents smiled. "We'll, he's not."
"Missy is good," Bill agreed. "You better be on your toes with her. What do your parents do?"
It seemed like such a simple question but for a moment William wasn't sure how to answer. Should he say 'my other parents'? Ultimately, he gave Bill the answer he wanted. "My, uh, dad has a feed store and my mom stays at home."
"Those are nice professions, as opposed to some," he added with distinct dislike for the 'some' he had in mind-- namely paranormal chasing FBI agents. "Any brothers or sisters?"
"Sure." Mulder and Scully looked up in surprise. "Missy's my sister," he clarified.
"Yes, of course. You know, the name Bill goes back a long way in the Scully family. Our great great great grandfather was Bill Scully. The Scullys are a good family. " As subtle as he was trying to be, William could almost hear the words Bill wasn't saying: "Unlike the Mulders, unlike your father." "Did you ever think about using the name Bill when you grow up?"
"Actually, my name is just William-- like my dad," he countered nonchalantly.
Bill stared uncomprehendingly. "Your dad's name is William?"
"His middle name. Fox William Mulder," William explained. "You didn't know that? Did you know he has awards for outstanding service to the FBI?"
However unintentionally, some lines had just been drawn "No, no I didn't," the man answered and shifted in his chair. Across the table, Matt again motioned the sign for crazy at his temple and quickly dropped his hand before anyone else noticed.
The rest of lunch consisted of a discussion of current careers, children's accomplishments, decisions on whom to call and when to spread the good news of William's homecoming. The table was being cleared and dishes washed when William saw Matthew gesturing for him to come closer. One of the follies of youth is the plague of curiosity, so against his better judgment, he walked over to the teen who looked like the toddler who had swiped a cookie from the counter and gotten away with it.
"You want proof?"
"You know," Matt said as he shifted his eyes to Mulder, "what I told you about" he said and mouthed the word aliens.
"You're so full of it." His parents did not believe aliens were going to steal him. There was no such thing as aliens.
"Oh really? Come with me." When he was sure no one was looking, Matthew headed toward Mulder's office. William hesitated and then followed after him. It wouldn't do to let him go in there alone.
"This is my dad's office," William said worriedly, looking around as if for an escape. "What are you doing?"
He hadn't yet been scolded by his father and wasn't happy at the prospect of it. They didn't have permission to be here and he was sure Matthew didn't have a simple guided tour in mind. Whatever it was, it would get them in trouble. He was sure of it.
"Just getting something."
William felt his stomach churn when Matthew reached above his father's desk and brought the locked wooden box he'd seen earlier down from its place on the shelf.
"Don't," William hissed through his teeth. "It's locked. You can't..." but before he could protest any further, Matthew had pulled a lock pick out of his pocket. Why was he not surprised?
"You wanted to see," Matthew said as he worked on the lock. "I saw it a long time ago. Snuck in and looked while they were outside. Never keep anything locked around me," he boasted.
"You can't open that," William protested more urgently. Just as he finished saying it, he heard the lock pop.
"Too late," Matthew grinned. "Come on. Take a look."
Looking back to make sure no ones was coming, William made his way over to what might as well have been Pandora's box, as far as he was concerned. Matthew shuffled past some papers and pulled out what appeared to be a hunk of metal.
"Here. Look at this."
"What is...?" But before he could finish the thought, he got his first very good look at the object as Matthew held it out to him. A fragment of something. Strange symbols.
He couldn't breathe. Could move. Couldn't think. He could feel his body shaking with a terror that gripped his stomach and squeezed with all its might and he was helpless to stop it. Stumbling a few steps back, he wasn't aware of whispering, "Get it away from me."
"What's the matter with you?"
If William had heard him, he would have heard the panic in the older boy's own voice. But he heard nothing save the sound of his own heart pounding in his ears...growing louder and louder. His hands came to cover his ears, desperate to block it out as he clenched his eyes shut against it. He wasn't sure when he'd begun to scream but the power and terror behind the one word brought the entire house to a screeching halt:
That blood curdling cry was the stuff of parents' nightmares. Mulder found sudden youth as he dashed over their living room couch instead of around it and stumbled into his office. 'No blood' was the first fact that registered in his mind as he rushed to his son with Scully close behind. Matthew ran from the room, and Mulder grabbed hold of his boy by the shoulders as he continued screaming for him, tears forming in his eyes.
"What happened? What's wrong?" Mulder questioned as his eyes traveled over the child searching for some cause for his near-hysterical behavior. He somehow managed to sound more or less in control, though a slight trembling betrayed him. "William, answer me," he coaxed more firmly, taking the boy's face in his hands, "What happened?"
"Mom? Dad? What's wrong with William?" Melissa asked, obviously frightened. Bill, who had only come as far as the door frame, ushered his niece away.
"He'll be fine, Missy. Don't worry. Everything is all right. Just stay out here. Matt! Matt get over here!"
Matt sheepishly came to his father's side, looking as though he expected the thrashing of his life, "I don't know what happened, dad. He just freaked out."
"Don't give me that! Something happened!"
"We were just looking around!"
To add to the chaos, just then there was a knock at the door. "Jesus, Christ," Bill muttered "Don't move" he growled at his son. "Look we can't..." he began to tell the unexpected visitors as he opened the front door.
"My God, is that William?" Before Bill could answer, the man and woman forced their way past him.
"Hey, you can't just come in here!"
"The hell we can't. That's our son! William!"
"William," Scully called to her son as she knelt next to Mulder.
Voices and emotions raced through his mind ahead of his ability to process them.
<<"Don't grow too much without me, little man. I'll see you soon." Love. Aching hurt.
<<"Wait till daddy sees how big his little man is getting. < < <<"Daddy will be home soon, then everything will be all right." Worry. << "They'll kill Mulder. What if he's already dead?" Blind terror. <<"Fox Mulder must die." Cold insanity. <<"William was a bull frog." Singing. Hope and longing for what once was.. <<"Mulder, I can't do this without you." Desperation. <<"So you're my nephew, eh? Pity. You can't help what you are, but I can.": His own piercing pain. <<"When daddy comes home, everything will be all right." <<"What if he's dead?" <<"Fox Mulder must die..." William fell to his knees clutching his head, crying out against the ambush on his senses. "Oh, God," Mulder gasped in horror, "Scully, what's wrong with him?" he begged. "I don't know," she told her husband as she ran her hand over her son's head, searching for the cause of his pain. "What the hell is going on here! What did you do to him?! Get your hands off him!" Mr. Van De Kamp shouted as he stormed into the room. He tried to yank Mulder's hand away, but was suddenly jerked away himself. Bill had come up from behind and pinned the man's arms behind his back, and for the first time in his life, Mulder thanked God for his ill-tempered brother-in-law. "Settle down," Bill warned the man. "Let go of him!" Mrs. Van De Kamp demanded. Just as Mr. Van De Kamp was about to begin a litany of curses, the room went quiet. The cries had stopped. William kneeled silently. Small tremors were still running through him. Scully was the first to speak out in the eerie stillness. "William? William can you hear me?" He nodded mutely without looking at her. Mulder ran a hand through the boy's hair . "Let go of me! We're taking him to a hospital now! If you've done anything to him, I swear...!" Mr. Van De Kamp began shouting again. "William was a bull frog." It was little more than a listless whisper of a tune on the air, "was a good friend of mine, never understood a single a word he said..." trailed of off into nothingness. "What is he saying? Is he all right?" Mrs. Van De Kamp pleaded. Scully sat mouth agape taking in each word from her son, " Mulder, did you tell him?" Answering the unspoken part of her question, " No, I didn't," he said, sounding just as unsettled as she looked. Author's Note: I had this idea in my head and I saw that some authors write in parts instead of one single fic, and I thought with this particular story, that approach may be better. So here goes nothin'! :) Thank you to my wonderful beta, sallie, who has stuck with this story far longer than I'm sure she ever thought it would be, for putting up with my grammatical ineptitude, for letting me know when I needed to stop worrying about making a complete fool of myself ;) Can you believe how long it's been? I am eternally grateful for all the hard work you do. Thanks to Nancy, whose enthusiasm kept me writing at times when I thought of taking a break :) And thank you to all the readers who have come this far with us. You all rock :) After a nod from Scully, Bill released his hold on Joseph Van De Kamp who pulled away and glared at him. "You people just made a very big mistake." Scully rose and turned toward Mr. Van De Kamp while Mulder hovered over William. "I'm very sorry, sir. My brother wasn't certain of your intentions. He was only trying to protect William. I am a medical doctor., and I'd like to take a look at him if that's all right." Even as she spoke, he moved to take hold of William who stood up and was easily guided away, not seeming fully aware of what was happening. Mr. Van De Kamp shot Scully a disbelieving look. "You'll be lucky if you ever see him again after this," he spat. "Come on, Beth." "You can't do that," was more of a helpless plea than a stated fact as Mulder said it. "Just watch me," the man answered as he walked William out of their house and possibly out of their lives. "Start talking, young man." "I don't know anything. I told you," Matt protested. "Matty, so help me, you may be too old but that won't stop me from taking you over my knee. Those people were William's legal guardians. Do you have any idea how serious this is?" With that Bill took the teen by the arm and pulled him back to the scene of the crime. "What. Happened?" The boy fidgeted and looked as though he'd like to make a run for it. "I just told him what you always said," he mumbled. "And what would that be?" "That Mulder was... that he was a little off." Matt knew his father always preferred that Mulder not be referred to as 'uncle' so he only did so around his Aunt Dana. Although, he knew she believed the same as Mulder, so in his eyes it made her just as crazy, but he didn't dare say that to his father. Bill pinched the bridge of his nose and hung his head. "You told a twelve year old boy that his father is insane?" The words were slow with an air of incredulity. Surely he misunderstood. "I was just kidding around," Matt squirmed. "Kidding around," the man parroted. "I didn't think..." "No, you didn't think!" his father exploded. "What else?!" he demanded abruptly. "What do you...?" "What else" the man repeated. "There's more to it than that. That boy was terrified." "I...I told him about...about the aliens and I...I showed him that," he said, gesturing to the metal object still laying where he dropped it. Walking over and picking it up, Bill looked back at his son, "What is this?" "I don't know," he shrugged. The question of just how his son knew anything about something that had obviously been put away would have to wait. "Well, I'm sure someone here will." Bill grabbed his son by the arm and brought him back out to the living room where Mulder and Scully came downstairs from Melissa's room. "I think she'll be all right," he heard them say. What was he going to say to his sister? My son bullied yours because I didn't teach him any better? Sorry about that? Somehow this thing had gotten way out of hand. Mulder was no longer the man hurting his family, he was. And at the moment he had no words. "Dana, Mulder. Matt has something to tell you." Matthew reddened and squirmed further but knew better than to openly defy his father. "I was just teasing, having fun. I didn't know he would react like that." "Matt says he gave this to William," Bill told them as he handed them the unusual metal piece. "This? You gave *this* to him?" Mulder questioned, sounding as though he might be ill as he took the object back. "Oh my God," Scully croaked. "We don't know anything for sure, Scully." "But what if? Oh, my God, Mulder." It was all she could manage to say. "What?" Bill interjected. "What is that thing?" "It's nothing," Mulder hedged. "It's obviously something," Bill insisted. "It's nothing you would understand." "He's my family, too, Goddamit. Now, what's going on?" Getting no answer, he turned to Scully. "Dana, I'm your brother. Talk to me." "This doesn't concern you, " Mulder finally said. "Like hell it doesn't." "Look, you got what you wanted. I think you should go." His words were tired, beaten and frothed with misery. The words of a man at the end of his rope. "Mulder...." For once, Bill didn't sound like a man about to meet his proctologist. Instead, he actually managed to sound remorseful, sympathetic even. But then, how could he not? He was a father, too. And damn it to hell, he'd seen him with the kid. As much as he hated to admit it, he was moved by it. He wasn't heartless after all. "Dana," he tried again. "You really should just go," she told him. "That would be best for now. Just give us some time to get this sorted out. William will be all right. We'll be all right." "I'll tell them it was my fault. You two had nothing to do with what happened. Maybe that--" he offered. "I'm afraid that wouldn't make much of a difference." Seeing them both steadfast in their decision, he did the only thing he could. He hugged his baby sister. Just as it she had always said, this was not his child, not his life. He would deal with his own child shortly. "I'll be in town until tomorrow afternoon. After that, I'm only a plane ride away, all right? Dana, please--let me help if I can." Mulder looked to Bill who seemed to be waiting for something that he was uncertain of getting. It was then that he realized Bill held out a hand and offered a gentleman's handshake. He glanced down at the extended fingers then up again as if he fully expected them to be pulled away. Charlie Brown and the never-present football briefly came to mind. But looking up once again, he saw, to his surprise, that the offer was genuine and took the man's hand, giving it a polite shake. Bill looked over at his son. "That doesn't just extend to Dana. I really am sorry," he offered then cleared his throat. Small steps, he thought. Fifteen years of habitual hate is a hard habit to break. "I won't say anything to mom yet. Call me," he told them both. "Sorry about what happened," Matt offered before they left.
< <<"Daddy will be home soon, then everything will be all right." Worry. << "They'll kill Mulder. What if he's already dead?" Blind terror. <<"Fox Mulder must die." Cold insanity. <<"William was a bull frog." Singing. Hope and longing for what once was.. <<"Mulder, I can't do this without you." Desperation. <<"So you're my nephew, eh? Pity. You can't help what you are, but I can.": His own piercing pain. <<"When daddy comes home, everything will be all right." <<"What if he's dead?" <<"Fox Mulder must die..." William fell to his knees clutching his head, crying out against the ambush on his senses. "Oh, God," Mulder gasped in horror, "Scully, what's wrong with him?" he begged. "I don't know," she told her husband as she ran her hand over her son's head, searching for the cause of his pain. "What the hell is going on here! What did you do to him?! Get your hands off him!" Mr. Van De Kamp shouted as he stormed into the room. He tried to yank Mulder's hand away, but was suddenly jerked away himself. Bill had come up from behind and pinned the man's arms behind his back, and for the first time in his life, Mulder thanked God for his ill-tempered brother-in-law. "Settle down," Bill warned the man. "Let go of him!" Mrs. Van De Kamp demanded. Just as Mr. Van De Kamp was about to begin a litany of curses, the room went quiet. The cries had stopped. William kneeled silently. Small tremors were still running through him. Scully was the first to speak out in the eerie stillness. "William? William can you hear me?" He nodded mutely without looking at her. Mulder ran a hand through the boy's hair . "Let go of me! We're taking him to a hospital now! If you've done anything to him, I swear...!" Mr. Van De Kamp began shouting again. "William was a bull frog." It was little more than a listless whisper of a tune on the air, "was a good friend of mine, never understood a single a word he said..." trailed of off into nothingness. "What is he saying? Is he all right?" Mrs. Van De Kamp pleaded. Scully sat mouth agape taking in each word from her son, " Mulder, did you tell him?" Answering the unspoken part of her question, " No, I didn't," he said, sounding just as unsettled as she looked. Author's Note: I had this idea in my head and I saw that some authors write in parts instead of one single fic, and I thought with this particular story, that approach may be better. So here goes nothin'! :) Thank you to my wonderful beta, sallie, who has stuck with this story far longer than I'm sure she ever thought it would be, for putting up with my grammatical ineptitude, for letting me know when I needed to stop worrying about making a complete fool of myself ;) Can you believe how long it's been? I am eternally grateful for all the hard work you do. Thanks to Nancy, whose enthusiasm kept me writing at times when I thought of taking a break :) And thank you to all the readers who have come this far with us. You all rock :) After a nod from Scully, Bill released his hold on Joseph Van De Kamp who pulled away and glared at him. "You people just made a very big mistake." Scully rose and turned toward Mr. Van De Kamp while Mulder hovered over William. "I'm very sorry, sir. My brother wasn't certain of your intentions. He was only trying to protect William. I am a medical doctor., and I'd like to take a look at him if that's all right." Even as she spoke, he moved to take hold of William who stood up and was easily guided away, not seeming fully aware of what was happening. Mr. Van De Kamp shot Scully a disbelieving look. "You'll be lucky if you ever see him again after this," he spat. "Come on, Beth." "You can't do that," was more of a helpless plea than a stated fact as Mulder said it. "Just watch me," the man answered as he walked William out of their house and possibly out of their lives.
<<"Daddy will be home soon, then everything will be all right." Worry.
<< "They'll kill Mulder. What if he's already dead?" Blind terror.
<<"Fox Mulder must die." Cold insanity.
<<"William was a bull frog." Singing. Hope and longing for what once was..
<<"Mulder, I can't do this without you." Desperation.
<<"So you're my nephew, eh? Pity. You can't help what you are, but I can.": His own piercing pain.
<<"When daddy comes home, everything will be all right."
<<"What if he's dead?"
<<"Fox Mulder must die..."
William fell to his knees clutching his head, crying out against the ambush on his senses.
"Oh, God," Mulder gasped in horror, "Scully, what's wrong with him?" he begged.
"I don't know," she told her husband as she ran her hand over her son's head, searching for the cause of his pain.
"What the hell is going on here! What did you do to him?! Get your hands off him!" Mr. Van De Kamp shouted as he stormed into the room. He tried to yank Mulder's hand away, but was suddenly jerked away himself. Bill had come up from behind and pinned the man's arms behind his back, and for the first time in his life, Mulder thanked God for his ill-tempered brother-in-law.
"Settle down," Bill warned the man.
"Let go of him!" Mrs. Van De Kamp demanded.
Just as Mr. Van De Kamp was about to begin a litany of curses, the room went quiet. The cries had stopped.
William kneeled silently. Small tremors were still running through him. Scully was the first to speak out in the eerie stillness. "William? William can you hear me?" He nodded mutely without looking at her. Mulder ran a hand through the boy's hair .
"Let go of me! We're taking him to a hospital now! If you've done anything to him, I swear...!" Mr. Van De Kamp began shouting again.
"William was a bull frog." It was little more than a listless whisper of a tune on the air, "was a good friend of mine, never understood a single a word he said..." trailed of off into nothingness.
"What is he saying? Is he all right?" Mrs. Van De Kamp pleaded.
Scully sat mouth agape taking in each word from her son, " Mulder, did you tell him?"
Answering the unspoken part of her question, " No, I didn't," he said, sounding just as unsettled as she looked.
Author's Note: I had this idea in my head and I saw that some authors write in parts instead of one single fic, and I thought with this particular story, that approach may be better. So here goes nothin'! :)
Thank you to my wonderful beta, sallie, who has stuck with this story far longer than I'm sure she ever thought it would be, for putting up with my grammatical ineptitude, for letting me know when I needed to stop worrying about making a complete fool of myself ;) Can you believe how long it's been? I am eternally grateful for all the hard work you do. Thanks to Nancy, whose enthusiasm kept me writing at times when I thought of taking a break :) And thank you to all the readers who have come this far with us. You all rock :)
After a nod from Scully, Bill released his hold on Joseph Van De Kamp who pulled away and glared at him. "You people just made a very big mistake."
Scully rose and turned toward Mr. Van De Kamp while Mulder hovered over William. "I'm very sorry, sir. My brother wasn't certain of your intentions. He was only trying to protect William. I am a medical doctor., and I'd like to take a look at him if that's all right." Even as she spoke, he moved to take hold of William who stood up and was easily guided away, not seeming fully aware of what was happening.
Mr. Van De Kamp shot Scully a disbelieving look. "You'll be lucky if you ever see him again after this," he spat. "Come on, Beth."
"You can't do that," was more of a helpless plea than a stated fact as Mulder said it.
"Just watch me," the man answered as he walked William out of their house and possibly out of their lives.
"Start talking, young man."
"I don't know anything. I told you," Matt protested.
"Matty, so help me, you may be too old but that won't stop me from taking you over my knee. Those people were William's legal guardians. Do you have any idea how serious this is?" With that Bill took the teen by the arm and pulled him back to the scene of the crime. "What. Happened?"
The boy fidgeted and looked as though he'd like to make a run for it. "I just told him what you always said," he mumbled.
"And what would that be?"
"That Mulder was... that he was a little off." Matt knew his father always preferred that Mulder not be referred to as 'uncle' so he only did so around his Aunt Dana. Although, he knew she believed the same as Mulder, so in his eyes it made her just as crazy, but he didn't dare say that to his father.
Bill pinched the bridge of his nose and hung his head. "You told a twelve year old boy that his father is insane?" The words were slow with an air of incredulity. Surely he misunderstood.
"I was just kidding around," Matt squirmed.
"Kidding around," the man parroted.
"I didn't think..."
"No, you didn't think!" his father exploded. "What else?!" he demanded abruptly.
"What do you...?"
"What else" the man repeated. "There's more to it than that. That boy was terrified."
"I...I told him about...about the aliens and I...I showed him that," he said, gesturing to the metal object still laying where he dropped it.
Walking over and picking it up, Bill looked back at his son, "What is this?"
"I don't know," he shrugged.
The question of just how his son knew anything about something that had obviously been put away would have to wait. "Well, I'm sure someone here will." Bill grabbed his son by the arm and brought him back out to the living room where Mulder and Scully came downstairs from Melissa's room.
"I think she'll be all right," he heard them say.
What was he going to say to his sister? My son bullied yours because I didn't teach him any better? Sorry about that? Somehow this thing had gotten way out of hand. Mulder was no longer the man hurting his family, he was. And at the moment he had no words. "Dana, Mulder. Matt has something to tell you."
Matthew reddened and squirmed further but knew better than to openly defy his father. "I was just teasing, having fun. I didn't know he would react like that."
"Matt says he gave this to William," Bill told them as he handed them the unusual metal piece.
"This? You gave *this* to him?" Mulder questioned, sounding as though he might be ill as he took the object back.
"Oh my God," Scully croaked.
"We don't know anything for sure, Scully."
"But what if? Oh, my God, Mulder." It was all she could manage to say.
"What?" Bill interjected. "What is that thing?"
"It's nothing," Mulder hedged.
"It's obviously something," Bill insisted.
"It's nothing you would understand."
"He's my family, too, Goddamit. Now, what's going on?" Getting no answer, he turned to Scully. "Dana, I'm your brother. Talk to me."
"This doesn't concern you, " Mulder finally said.
"Like hell it doesn't."
"Look, you got what you wanted. I think you should go." His words were tired, beaten and frothed with misery. The words of a man at the end of his rope.
"Mulder...." For once, Bill didn't sound like a man about to meet his proctologist. Instead, he actually managed to sound remorseful, sympathetic even. But then, how could he not? He was a father, too. And damn it to hell, he'd seen him with the kid. As much as he hated to admit it, he was moved by it. He wasn't heartless after all. "Dana," he tried again.
"You really should just go," she told him. "That would be best for now. Just give us some time to get this sorted out. William will be all right. We'll be all right."
"I'll tell them it was my fault. You two had nothing to do with what happened. Maybe that--" he offered.
"I'm afraid that wouldn't make much of a difference."
Seeing them both steadfast in their decision, he did the only thing he could. He hugged his baby sister. Just as it she had always said, this was not his child, not his life. He would deal with his own child shortly. "I'll be in town until tomorrow afternoon. After that, I'm only a plane ride away, all right? Dana, please--let me help if I can."
Mulder looked to Bill who seemed to be waiting for something that he was uncertain of getting. It was then that he realized Bill held out a hand and offered a gentleman's handshake. He glanced down at the extended fingers then up again as if he fully expected them to be pulled away. Charlie Brown and the never-present football briefly came to mind. But looking up once again, he saw, to his surprise, that the offer was genuine and took the man's hand, giving it a polite shake.
Bill looked over at his son. "That doesn't just extend to Dana. I really am sorry," he offered then cleared his throat. Small steps, he thought. Fifteen years of habitual hate is a hard habit to break. "I won't say anything to mom yet. Call me," he told them both.
"Sorry about what happened," Matt offered before they left.
"God, Mulder. What if this did something to him? What if it did to him what it did to you?"
"He's fine, Scully," he said to convince himself almost as much as her.
"How can you possibly say that? You saw what I saw. It almost killed you. He's only a child. He's just a little boy."
"He's been exposed to it before."
"Yes, but that was before. Who knows what effect it would have on him now."
"I said he's fine, Scully," he insisted, unwilling to be drawn into the speculation of worst case scenarios. Nothing was wrong with him. Not his son. Not William.
"Refusing to look at the facts doesn't make them any less real."
"The facts? The fact is, they could take William and move to Alaska tomorrow and there's nothing we can do about it. The fact is I have to believe that he's all right because if he's not...if he's not," he tried, again losing the battle with his weakening voice. The words wouldn't come. But the anger did. "Goddamit!" he yelled as he turned and threw the offending chunk of metal at nowhere in particular, shattering a lamp that dared to be in its path. "I'm sorry," he muttered as Scully calmly walked over and started picking up the shards of glass.
Casting a glance up to Melissa's room, hoping she was still asleep, Scully whispered, "I need you to *not* fall apart on me right now, Mulder, because if you do, I won't be far behind you. " She walked quietly to a small wastebasket to throw away the glass, giving Mulder time to absorb her words, then came back to him. "We'll wait till tomorrow morning. That will give time for things to settle down. If there was anything serious happening between now and then, I have to believe they would call us. We were with him when this happened. We can answer questions they can't. And Mulder," she murmured as she put a gentle hand on his chest, " if they moved to Alaska, we'd learn to love ice fishing."
The doctors had checked him over thoroughly and could find nothing unusual. To their best estimation, what he had had was a simple migraine, especially given the stress his parents had explained he had been under lately. If only it were that simple, William thought as he pulled the family photo from under his mattress, stared at it, then tucked it to himself as he rolled over in his bed and closed his eyes.
Sleep would not come tonight. That was certain. So he rubbed his face and sat up, slipping the picture inside the pocket of the shirt he hadn't bothered to change when he laid down.
Forbidden. That's what his father had said. He was forbidden to see them and his mother had actually agreed this time. He didn't know for how long. "Them," "they," "those people"-- his father never called them by name. He supposed it was easier to hate what you didn't know, to attack when the other side had no substance; were simply an idea, a phantom person who does not exist outside one's line sight. They had no idea what hell they would be sentencing him to, if that were true. Had his birth parents been only phantoms, he would have nothing to which to anchor himself. He needed that--needed them. Especially now.
The Van De Kamps couldn't understand and he couldn't explain. How could he? They would never look at him the same again, if they knew. When the clock struck 1:00, he crept through the house to the front door and outside into the charcoal night. He was about to break the first promise he had ever made to his birth father and openly defy the parents who have loved him as the son of their hearts if not of their blood.
Mulder sat at his kitchen table, bare-chested in sweatpants that hung loosely about his waist-- dressed for bed but not currently in one. The days had taken a heavy toll on his body and heart. Shadows fell across his form as hauntingly as they fell across his mind, a mixture of moonlight and darkness. The worries and heartaches which plagued his thoughts pulsed through his very veins, allowing him no rest tonight.
Loving hands slid over his shoulders and down his chest to catch around his neck, as soft red hair draped over his skin and warm breath touched his ear with gentle calm.
"I thought I'd find you out here."
A deep breath as he closed his eyes and leaned back into her embrace, was his only answer for a while, and then "It doesn't seem real, does it?"
"I think no news is goods news," she offered, obviously just as concerned and restless as he.
"I mean any of it," he went on, pressing her palm to him as if she might pull away. "Not so long ago, if anyone had asked me something as simple as whether my son had red, brown, or blonde hair, I wouldn't have known, couldn't have guessed. "Now, I know," he added quietly. "I know, and I still wanted more. I wanted to be there when he woke. When he fell, I wanted to be the one to pick him up. When he had children of his own, I wanted us to hear that breathless 'I'm a dad.' I must have wanted too much, because at the moment I'm sitting here hoping that the phone doesn't ring, that someone isn't going to tell me our son is sitting in an emergency room where no one will be able to help him."
"Fate isn't punishing us, Mulder. I don't believe that."
He laughed without humor. "No? I'm not a young man, Scully. I've seen things in my lifetime that I wouldn't wish on the most vile soul on this earth. We both have. I'm not a fool either" he amended, "I know I've been blessed with a great many gifts, but I suppose I thought we had earned some measure of leniency from the powers that be. I thought this was over. When is it going to be over?" he asked tiredly.
"Our son has brown hair, blue eyes, and his father's beautiful spirit. Nothing's over. It's just beginning."
His sleepy eyes sparkled briefly. He knew she wasn't as certain of her own optimism as she seemed but appreciated the gesture. "Are you ok?"
Now, it was her turn to laugh but the sound quickly died. The quiet room seemed to want to burst with all it held inside before, "When I saw his face for the first time, it was like," she paused, " It was as if time had skipped a beat. I closed my eyes for a second and suddenly my baby was a boy I didn't know. He has ideas, thoughts, views on the world, and I don't know what they are. I don't know him. I should know my own child. I want to put my arms around him and never let go, but I'm not sure I have the right."
So there it was. She didn't doubt William, she doubted herself. Mulder could have offered her assurances, but it wouldn't be enough so he offered what she could never deny-- logic: "Isn't that his decision to make?"
William had pedaled so hard and so fast that, by the time he had reached his destination, his body was beginning to tire along with his mind. Heavy feet made their way to the large wooden door, hand poised to knock when he stopped and pressed his palm to it instead. They were just on the other side. There was so much to tell them, so much to say. What if they were angry? Disappointed? This little stunt would no doubt cause them more trouble. Hadn't he caused them enough? What would his father say? He had promised him not to do this again. He supposed he should have thought this all the way through. He knew he couldn't go back home. Tired and confused, he turned his back to the door and slid to the ground, letting his head fall to the side as he closed his eyes. He just needed a minute to think...
<<"William was a bull frog."
<<"Mulder, I can't do this without you."
<<"When daddy comes home, everything will be all right."
<<"What if he's dead?"
<<"Fox Mulder must die..."
<<"Don't grow too much without me, little man. I'll see you soon."
The words and feelings followed into his dreams, cutting into his reality and his heart. The power of them was too much. Then and now became a blur. No past, no present, only a world of the unreal, seeping through the cracks of his subconscious, sharing its pain, its loss. His mother and father were gone.
<<"William was a bull frog." <<"Don't grow too much without me, little man. I'll see you soon."
Dreams now slipped their way into his reality, and he cried as he must have then, the day his father left, each sob more sorrowful than the last as he hovered between the waking and dream state.
" I know you're right. I know I should just..." Scully stopped and seemed to focus on something outside of the room.
"What?" Mulder queried .
"Do you hear that?"
Most people would have asked what exactly they were supposed to be listening for. Mulder straightened and listened intently, needing no further explanation. After a few moments, the sound came again and seemed to register with them both as they hurriedly pushed their chairs away and quickly made their way to their front door. Scully pulled open the large door to find their son huddled on the ground at their doorstep, weeping. Mulder instantly made a move to pick the child up, horrified by the heartbreaking sight. Every paternal instinct told him to act, to protect his son against whatever the Van De Kamps obviously could not, to right whatever wrong they had perpetrated. But as he moved to scoop up the child, a small, sure hand came up to stop him, her eyes telling him her worry. They still didn't know what was wrong. She didn't want to frighten him.
"William?" she called gently as she knelt down at his side, touching him lightly. He didn't answer.
Mulder shifted anxiously from foot to foot, his eyes intense and watchful over their boy as his wife examined the young child with the eyes of both a mother and a doctor. "Scully, is he...is he hurting...in pain?" he managed to sputter through worry that had all but crippled his voice.
"I don't think so," she answered. "I think he's dreaming. William." She shook him and called him again, stroking his hair. "William, sweetie, wake up. It's all right. Please. Answer me. William." After another gentle shake, the boy's eyes sprung open as he sat upright with a start.
The tears that streaked his face glistened in the moonlight. He seemed disoriented for a moment until "Mom? Dad?"
Not sure how to respond, not certain whom he was asking for, just grateful to hear him speak, the doctor in Scully took over once again. "Do you know where you are, William? Do you know who I am?"
He turned to the sound of her voice and recognition instantly lit his face. "Mom," he answered then wrapped his arms around her as if he would never let go. A sense of peace came over Scully as she held, *really held* her son for the fist time since his return. He welcomed it greedily.
Then he pulled away.
"Dad. Where's my dad?" he panicked, his eyes searching frantically in the dark.
Mulder stooped down next to Scully, touching his boy's face. "I'm right here, too. It's all right", he said as he moved protectively into the child's personal space. William finally relaxed into the welcome security of both parents. The fear and loss that had tossed about in his dreams now began to fade.
"I didn't mean to scare you," he told them in a thin whisper. "But I had to come."
"Let's just get you inside," his mother said. "Are you feeling all right?" she questioned when they all settled themselves on the couch.
William wiped at his still teary eyes as he answered. "I'm not sick."
The ambivalence of his answer did nothing to reassure her. "Anymore pain at all?" she continued as she studied him carefully.
"The doctor says they were migraines."
"What if they weren't?" he said after a moment, shifting uncomfortably in his chair.
"I don't understand."
"I think you know something--about me," he answered nervously, as though his desire to believe was greater than the reality of it.
Mulder straightened a bit taller with tension that tightened his muscles. "What about you, William?"
William kept talking as though no question had been asked. "I had to come, had to see you. They don't understand. And they'd be afraid of me."
"Why is that?" Mulder gently coaxed, swallowing the lump in his throat.
William looked away. As much as he believed he was right to come to them, saying the words was more difficult than he thought it would be.
"Why would the Van De Kamps be afraid of you?" His father's voice was every bit as soft but more resolute than before.
"Because I'm a afraid of me, of what I am," he managed and then looked up into his dad's eyes, having decided something. " 'Don't grow too much without me, little man. I'll see you soon,' " he said then waited, a scientist waiting to see if his hypothesis was correct. The result would either fizzle out or blow up with a big boom. There was no in between.
So William watched as understanding took hold in every part of Mulder's being. How could any man forget the last words he ever said to his child? By the astonished look on his face, his father certainly had not.
"You did say that, didn't you," came shyly.
"Yeah-- yes" was corrected meekly as if bad grammar was unforgivable at that particular moment. Mulder was clearly not prepared for what he had just heard. Where normally strong, he weakened. Where normally sure, he faltered.
William tapped his temple in answer to the questions that silently waited in his parents' eyes. "What am I?" he asked in a small voice that put forth so many more questions than just that single one.
"But more than that , right?" he added. "That--that thing, when I saw it, I couldn't get away from it fast enough and then--then it was too late," he paused for what seemed like an eternity. "I know things...and I don't know. There were all these words and feelings, and things I shouldn't remember-- like someone hit a rewind button in my head. I don't understand a lot of it." He looked to his father. "You. Someone wanted to," he couldn't bring himself to say the actual word, " to hurt you. But it was more than what you said before. They weren't just after you because of what you knew or did. There was something about you, too, something different--like me, wasn't there?"
Mulder closed his eyes against the truth. As much as he championed it, such may not be best for such a young boy. "Yes," was only a whisper.
"Please, dad--mom. Please, tell me. I need to know. What's wrong with me?," he begged.
"Nothing is wrong with you. You were-- are perfect. That is why they wanted you." William crinkled his brow, still not understanding much more than he did before.
" 'They,' -- aliens?"
His father blinked in surprise.
"Matt told me and I didn't believe him, but" William put his hand to his chest, "they felt different. Here. Cold," was the only way he could think to describe it. It was strange, the situation should be more alarming, but as it was, he simply felt like someone who had suddenly remembered where they had left their keys.
"You're all right?" his father pressed gently.
"I don't feel or hear anything from anyone now. Maybe I can't. Maybe I just don't remember how. I don't know. I do remember things from before."
"I'm sorry." Scully offered.
They were concerned for him but they weren't backing away in horror. In fact, it was as if he had told them he had just fallen from his bike: worried but not looking at him as anything other than their child. He wasn't something strange or unusual. He was still just William. He was normal to them, just as he thought he would be.
"I don't know that I am. I mean... " but he couldn't explain himself so he switched his line of thinking. "How did all this happen?"
"You're right when you say I was like you."
"But you're not now?"
"Not anymore, no. An alien virus had...changed me. But when they realized how my body had reacted-- that it actually made me more resistant to their biological warfare not unlike a vaccine would-- they removed it and tried something...different. By then your mother was already pregnant and you seem to have been given my resistance along with other abilities I had had for a short time."
"But how could they do that?" he had chosen to reword 'how did they' not entirely sure he wanted to know.
"There was time when I was...missing. Taken. Ironically, a race that seemed determined to cause pain were remarkable healers when they chose to do so. I think that's part of what brought your memories back, being near something endowed with that energy." William could tell there was a lot more to the 'taken' part but somehow knew he wouldn't want to know too many details about that. His dad seemed fine now and that's all that mattered. And by the look on his mother's face, it wasn't something she wanted to revisit.
"So that's why Melissa doesn't have it?"
His parents nodded. "We believe so."
"Is that why they wanted me?"
He could see them deciding how to best answer his question. "At first, they only wanted your father. We believe when you were born, some became worried of a certain prophesy-- that a miracle child would either lead or defeat them."
"I don't understand. What prophesy?"
"A man once claimed that a special child would be born who would follow in his father's footsteps to fight the aliens. If his father died, he would side with them. The father's life or death would determine this child's destiny."
William felt the blood drain from his face. "And the child was me? But I'm not a miracle," he gulped.
"Not divine in nature. But under ordinary circumstances, you should not have been possible to conceive. That's all they needed to know. Some of them began to worry. Others didn't."
Being twelve, William was far from knowledgeable about the technicalities of conception but he understood the basics of what was necessary. "Couldn't it have just been, you know" he began to redden, "I mean people have babies when they don't think they can."
"Sometimes," Scully answered, "but they knew how very unlikely it was...for me. And when they discovered your uniqueness, they were even more concerned." There it was again. That tone that said there was more but not for young ears as of yet. "I couldn't deny the possibility anymore than they could. They would always know where you were as long as you were with me so most were happy to leave you with me. They could find you: to protect you or to hurt you." Again, she touched the back of her neck-- a gesture she had made the last time they had discussed his adoption and why she couldn't hide with him herself. He was sure it meant something. "They feared what you might become if your father survived but were unwilling to sacrifice what you would be to them if he didn't. They planned to make sure that he didn't survive. And they believed that he hadn't."
"Those that believed in the prophesy also believed that in you was an answer they desperately needed-- a way for their race to survive, to go on without the need for humans. Though they did not believe in God, given their own abilities, they thought it was at least possible to predict the future, but that still left the question as to what made your existence possible. You're mother hid you well, but if the prophecy held true, it didn't matter. You would come to them. They planned to wait until you came of age to take your place among them --They had no use for a small child in the meantime." Mulder explained.
A cold streak ran down William's spine then back up to his heart. "No. no, no no. No!" he nearly yelled. "I--I could never. I would never do that. I could never side with them," he vehemently protested.
"We know that, son. There were many prophesies, many beliefs. That doesn't make them true. I do believe in God, but I also believe he gives us free will. That our lives may be guided but our paths our ultimately our own choosing, and that's a good thing. The love that was strong enough to create you, was strong enough to protect you. You gave us the strength to do what we had to do. And now it's over," Mulder assured the boy who seemed so confused. "I promise you it's over."
William rubbed at his eyes then covered his face with his hands. "I'm really tired," he moaned softly, more a weak protest at hearing anymore than actual fatigue, although he was indeed tired. He just needed time to sort it all out and luckily they seemed to understand that.
"You must be exhausted. Come on, sweetie. I'll take you to bed."
The boy hugged his father and made his way sluggishly down the hall with his mother's arm around his shoulders. Scully tucked him into his bed this time and lingered at his side. He blinked up at her. "It's okay to hug me, you know. I don't mind," said more hopeful than explanatory.
"I'm glad you don't mind," she smiled, stroking his hair.
"Unless, you don't want to," he added nervously.
"Come here." She tugged at him, shifting his pillow to her lap. Coming to rest there, he felt her arms around him. She was much smaller than his dad, but he felt no less protected he thought, letting go of a contented breath as he settled. Perhaps sleep would come tonight after all.
"It wasn't just a mistake," he murmured sleepily as she stroked his hair.
"What wasn't a mistake?"
"What I said before," his voice drifting a little more. "I meant to say it."
" 'Mom,' " he murmured.
The long silence that followed jolted him awake as quickly as any loud crash . William's eyes sprang open. Maybe he shouldn't have said that. He didn't move for a moment but eventually forced himself to look up at her. A single tear had slipped down her cheek, leaving a trail that glistened in the light from the hallway. She was crying?
"I didn't mean to make you cry," he said, worrying his bottom lip.
"You didn't," she claimed, as her voice trembled, which earned her William's most "who are you trying to kid" look. "Well, I suppose you did," she went on, "but in a good way."
He understood that people cried when they were happy. He was just relieved to hear that they were indeed happy tears and settled down again.
"I felt safe with you. Even when you probably didn't think I should," he shared with her. He didn't get an answer, but then he hadn't expected one. Somehow she knew he just wanted her to listen for the moment. "I remember you used to sing to me," he finally added.
"It was the first and *only* song I ever sang for your father," she told him.
He could tell despite pretending to be put out by having to perform such a task, it was a happy memory for her. She must have sensed he wanted the rest of the story because she continued, "We were unofficially involved in a case down in Florida and were stranded in the woods where he was injured. Something had... bitten him and he wasn't well. It was late, and he had said he could only rest if he heard me sing as I kept watch." He could almost imagine her eyes rolling at such an excuse. His parents really were funny people. He wondered how long she had pretended to be annoyed instead of charmed by his father.
"So you did."
"I did. In fact, we were sitting almost exactly like this that night. "
He smiled. They were sitting like this? "You must have really liked him then." ..
"I must have," she teased gently, and he smiled broader with the memory of what his father had said about 'like' and 'love.'
"When did you know that you loved him?"
"I suppose that depends on one's definition of love." Where had he heard that before? "But I would say I knew I wanted him with me almost from the time we met. It seemed he was meant to be by my side, but by my side as my husband? I don't know if there was a particular moment. I suppose when your father had come back from his trip to England. That few days without him taught me a great deal--that life is short and you shouldn't waste it on the wrong kind of relationships, that when you find the right one-the one that makes you better than you are alone, you don't hold back because you never know when the time you have together is going to be over. I didn't want to waste anymore time."
"So you told him you loved him," he mumbled, beginning to drift off as she continued to stroke his hair.
"You could say that," she whispered, looking down at the sleeping boy who was conceived that very life-altering night.
"What are we going to do?"
"We'll have to call the Van De Kamps."
"Of course, but what are we going to do if they want to take him?"
"They have every right. But if it's not what William wants, after what happened tonight, I'm not just going to stand by and watch it happen."
Scully nodded. "Do you want to have the honors or shall I?" she asked offering the phone.
Mulder took it and dialed. "Mr. Van de Kamp, sir, this is Fox Mulder. I'm calling in regards to William. Yes, sir, I know what time it is. I realize that sir. No, if you would just. Sir.. Sir.. If I could just. " The incessant complaining was tiring Mulder. "Tell you what, would you do me a favor? Could you walk into William's room and check on him, please? I'm sure he is fine, but could you just look, please? "
Shuffling noises. Then a not so amused answer and question.
"I know he's not there. Yes, he's here. No. No. He showed up here about an hour ago. I *am* calling," he sighed. "Well, I didn't want him to know," he explained to the phone. "Because I was worried about what he might do; he was upset. He can't. Because he's sleeping. Is that really a good idea? Why don't we bring him by in the morning? But he's already sleeping. "
"What happened? Where's William?"
"Where's William? He's exactly where he is not supposed to be. I'll give you one guess where that might be." Joseph told his wife as he headed groggily to his closet.
Beth rolled over, still half asleep, to look at the clock. "My God it's almost three in the morning. Where are you going?"
"I'm going over there to get him right now."
"Does he know that?"
Joseph stared back at her as he slipped on a pair of slacks, confused."What does it matter? He defied us, Beth."
"Joe, we can get him in the morning. It's late."
He continued to stare as if she were speaking another language. "Are you serious? After what happened today? After what he just pulled tonight?"
"Honey, I'm just as upset as you are. We were both worried and upset earlier, but you heard what the doctors said. He's okay. It was probably a migraine. The Mulder's didn't do anything wrong. William said so himself. Apparently, we've only made things worse."
"It's the principal of it, Beth. We said no and hours later he goes ahead anyway, in the dead of night when God knows what could happen to him I might add," he objected, fed up with her woman's logic.
"What are you going to do? Bring him back and put a lock on his bedroom door? Keep him there under lock and key? If he ran away this time, what makes you think he won't do it again?"
Joseph frowned. "So we're just supposed to let him do what he wants?"
"Right now? Yes. They seem very educated. They have a daughter. They seem like good people. If we try to stop him from spending time with them, we're going to be the bad guys in this." He breathed heavily in that ' give me a break. You're being too diplomatic' way. "What? Since he won't choose, you're going to choose for him? I have a feeling the harder we try to hold on to him, the more he's going to slip away. Is that what you want? "
"Of course not," he snapped back tiredly and slouched on the bed.
"Then let him be. If he starts collecting knives and sharpening them, we'll worry. Come back to bed. We'll pick him up in the morning and have a talk with the Mulders."
"That Fox Mulder," he growled.
Oh, yes. They would have a talk with the Mulders.
"Mom!! Dad!!" Always a light sleeper, Mulder was down the hall and by his son's bed before actually thinking to move. William shifted restlessly and screamed out again.
"Hey. Hey, it's okay," Mulder soothed as he sat on the edge of the bed and jostled the boy, taking care to ease him out of his nightmare. Then William sat up and looked about, confused.
"I'm here" was rough with sleep.
A deep sigh. "I'm sorry." It was the third time since William had first fallen asleep that his parents had come running to wake him, but given the nightmares, he was glad they had. It was turning into a long night.
"Don't be sorry," his father said, and, as before, he sat and waited for William to settle back down and fall asleep, but that didn't happen. Mulder knew nightmares well. "I'll stay here as long as you want."
"You don't have to do that," the boy yawned, still not wanting to go back to sleep.
"I want to. Why don't you try to go back to sleep."
Silence was the only answer until, "They're not about that-- aliens. Well, not really. It's mostly... They're mostly about...what it's like... losing my family and not being able to stop it." William didn't have to explain that he was referring to his dreams.
"When I was your age, I had those nightmares, too."
He was surprised to say the least. He had expected his father to say he was sure he couldn't understand, that he wished he could and all the rest of the things adults usually say to children. Needless to say, Mulder now had his undivided attention.
"For a long time," came the still scratchy reply.
Then William remembered: Samantha.
"About your sister." It wasn't a question. He could see decisions being made in those shadowed hazel eyes. His father must have decided to go ahead with whatever he was going to say, obviously hoping it would help his boy if he knew he wasn't alone.
"Her name was Samantha. She, uh, she was eight. We were playing a game and arguing over what to watch on TV one night while our parents were next door playing cards with the neighbors. There was a bright light. Then, just like that, she was gone." William found himself scooting closer as his father spoke.
"Do you...ever wonder what it would have been like if things had been different, wonder how your life would have been?"
"I did. And I will always miss her. But when you get older, you begin to see that 'what if' only keeps you from appreciating what you have now. "
"They said I'm not allowed to come here," was low and mournful. What William had in his life seemed to be slipping through his fingers.
"I know," Mulder answered, obviously unsure of the right thing to say to that-- should he say it didn't matter? Surely disregarding the Van De Kamps' wishes wasn't the right example to set for his son. Should he support their decision? He couldn't imagine doing that either.
"It's not fair. They don't even care about what I want," the boy complained.
"What do you want?"
"Well. I. I guess. I guess-- I'm not sure," he finally said. "They're my parents, but you're my parents, too," he reasoned, getting no closer to an answer. "My whole life I've known something was missing . I've tried to be William Van De Kamp, tried really hard, but I just never have been. I love them, but it feels like I've been trying to wear shoes that don't fit. I want to know what it's like to be...to be William Mulder," Reaching into his shirt pocket, he pulled out the family photo of he and his parents. "I want to know what that's like," he decided, pointing to the picture. "I don't want to stop being their son, but I want to be yours, too. " Now he was more confused than ever. "That won't ever happen, will it?"
"The truth is, I don't know what's going to happen. When your mom and I first met, she used to tell me I didn't have enough faith. I think that's what we have to have right now: faith that things will work out for the best. If your Uncle Bill can humble himself, anything is possible," Mulder added, hoping to coax a smile from his young son. It only vaguely worked. "I told you. Let me do the worrying, okay?"
"But what if--"
"No buts. No what ifs. Now, I want you to get some rest." Though his voice was laced with warmth and concern , there was also a finality to it-- one William had not yet heard from his father which caught him slightly off guard.
"Yes, sir," was a simple, reflexive reply as the boy tried to banish his fearful thoughts.
"One parental decree and I'm demoted to sir?"
William could hear the teasing in his father's voice. He was obviously trying to lighten the mood. "No, dad," came the singsong reply. "Just showing some 'social decorum'," he quoted, not to be out done by such scholarly language. He had picked up a thing or two from his mom and dad, and he wasn't afraid to show it.
" 'Decorum,' " Mulder repeated thoughtfully. "I'm going to tell your mother you said that," he warned, as if the word held some sordid meaning.
William smiled that time, but despite Mulder's best efforts, his thoughts turned serious again.
"It's not so scary anymore--being different. It still is, a little, but--" Try as he might, he couldn't find the words for what it meant to know he was accepted for everything he now knew he was and what it meant to know he could share it with someone. "Was it scary for you?"
"Yes. It was."
He didn't need to hear anymore. The soft answer comforted him more than he expected it to. If his dad had felt like he did, then it meant that he too could still be just like everyone else. With that thought in mind, he snuggled into his pillow.
"Try to get some sleep, okay."
The boy nodded and closed his eyes.
"How is he?"
Mulder jumped at the unexpected voice. "Scully. I thought you were still asleep," he murmured as he stood just outside the bedroom door, still watching their son as he slept.
She shook her head. "I didn't want to interrupt," she told him, gesturing toward the darkened room.
He heaved a weary sigh from his chest and ran a hand roughly through his hair. "He has so much on his shoulders for such a little boy," he said as he made his way to the living room, something weakening in his voice. Their many years together told her what he wasn't saying. Now that they knew William was physically well, both were left questioning how nightmares and being torn between two families could possibly be for the best. "I wanted better for him. Jesus Christ, Scully, every time he cries out, it's like a knife in my heart," he groaned miserably. "What have we done to him?"
She would have liked to have said that she knew for certain that everything would be okay, that it would have been worse if William had spent his entire life wondering who and where they were. But she couldn't. And what was done, was done.
"We've loved him," she tried to assure him. "I know how you feel, but I have to believe William was given back to us for a reason. You said it yourself -- we have to have faith." The words were as much for herself as for him.
"I have faith. I just don't have patience," he muttered, crossing the floor with purposeful strides, heading into the kitchen.
"What are you doing?"
"I'm calling your brother."
William sat across the breakfast table eyeing the unexpected houseguest as he poked at his cereal. Bill looked up awkwardly from his paper from time to time-- just often enough to know that his nephew was still studying him with the same unwavering gaze until he coughed uncomfortably and finally folded the paper down.
"I told you. I don't know where they went," he lied. "They called early this morning and asked me to come and sit with you two while they took care of some things. You'll have to ask them when they get back."
William shifted his attention to Melissa, whose face told him she wasn't any more convinced than he was.
"They didn't say *anything*?" she prodded.
"No," he answered curtly and snapped his paper back into place.
Something was going on and it was now their mission to find out what it was.
"I bet they went on a secret mission and won't be back for months. Yeeaars even. You'll have to stay here for a looooong time and we'll have to pretend to be your kids because they took Matt with them as part of their cover story. Or *maybe* they went looking for *him* because he joined the evil underworld world of crime! " Melissa tossed at her uncle, weaving a grand, outlandish tale and telling it as such.
"They did no such thing," he sighed, slightly annoyed and not bothering to look up from his paper.
"Aha! So you *do* know where they went!" she announced.
"I know your mom isn't Emma Peel," he droned impatiently, not giving in to the bait and switch tactic.
Obviously, grilling their uncle wasn't getting them anywhere. With a glance, it was clear to each that the other wanted to talk-- but not in front of "certain people." The mystery had to be solved.
"What are you doing here? It's six thirty in the morning. Where's William?" It was far from a cordial greeting, but Mulder supposed that had the situation been reversed, the man had a right to be concerned. It was very early and they didn't have William, which probably didn't appear to be the best of circumstance.
Scully had eventually agreed with him that calling would only give the Van De Kamps the opportunity to avoid them yet again. And while it was true that they had changed their minds and had offered to pick William up that morning instead of taking him taking him home in the middle of the night, that didn't guarantee a discussion. So here they were.
"He's fine. My brother is with our children." Though Scully had meant 'our' as inclusive to the Van De Kamp family, the look on the gentleman's face told her that he hadn't taken it that way. So far things were not getting off on the right foot. "We thought it would be best if they weren't present," she finished. Before the man could answer, his wife appeared behind him in her robe.
"Oh my goodness. Won't you come in? We weren't expecting you," Mrs. Van De Kamp fumbled to say.
"We apologize for surprising you like this."
"I guess we should expect it from some people," Mr. Van De Kamp mumbled to Mulder.
"As my wife said, we're sorry for coming by unannounced, but given what happened last night, we felt this was best," ignoring the other man's slight.
There were tense pleasantries and then muffled voices as the couple excused themselves and readied for their company, leaving Mulder and Scully alone in the living room. One couldn't help but notice the many pictures that hung on the walls. Many pictures. It was, at once fascinating and painful. There they were, the years Mulder and Scully had missed with their son on proud display in a stranger's house: William at what appeared to be a year old on a baby blanket, looking thoughtful yet disinterested in the things around him. Could he have still been waiting for their to return? William at perhaps five as he road a small two-wheeler. Did he get it right away and did he fall and get back up? Who picked him up when he fell? Another of William, but something about this one caught Mulder's eye, and he got up to take a closer look. The couple and young boy of about four were sitting on a bench. There was nothing special about that per se, but it seemed to be the only picture in which William genuinely smiled not for the camera but from his heart.
"Mulder, what are you doing?" Scully whispered.
"Look at this," he answered in awe.
"Will you come sit down. You shouldn't be looking around their--" Suddenly, Scully couldn't quite find her words as she stood next to him and saw the photo for herself-- and gasped. It was their bench. Well, they had come to think of it that way. It was the very bench they went to when they needed each other most, knowing the other would always find them there. "I used to take him there when I needed to feel closer to you," she admitted, barely able to process her thoughts and speak as she stared at the photo. His fingers brushed against hers.
"That was taken on our trip to D.C. William just loved it there," said a female voice. Mulder and Scully turned to find Mr. and Mrs. Van De Kamp, looking as awkward as they felt. "Have you been there? Oh, of course you have," she added nervously, "I had for gotten. You used to live there, isn't that right?"
"Yes, both my husband and I lived there for many years," Scully answered as she and Mulder returned to the couch.
"Look, um, we've discussed this situation and, uh, we feel that William needs to have more...stability. We went back and forth all last night over how best to establish some boundaries. Children need solid boundaries," Mrs. Van De Kamp offered, getting straight to the point.
"Good. That's good. Because we think...it would be best...if you didn't see him for a while."
"What? Now hold on a minute--" Mulder began to stand and protest.
"Don't misunderstand," she hurried to add. "Not permanently. Just for, say, a month. Just until he understands that running away when he disagrees with us is not an answer. He has to know that he still lives under the same rules he always has, and we're concerned that if he feels he can run to you any time he isn't happy with a decision we make, we're looking at some serious problems down the road."
"We can understand your position, but I have to say I'm not entirely sure what you're suggesting. If he reacted as he did last night, what makes you think today will be any different?" Scully questioned.
"Because...It's going to come from you. You have to tell him that he can't see you. "
"As long as it only comes from us, it's going send mixed messages. He needs to hear it from you." the woman explained.
"No. No way," Mulder said staunchly, leaving no room for negotiation and looking to Scully for support.
"To be fair, I don't think you're seeing the whole picture here," she tried. But Scully knew the dilemma as well as Mulder. William hadn't run away because he was simply being defiant. He ran away because he was afraid. The problem was there was no way to explain that without getting into details the Van De Kamps were best kept in the dark about. "And don't you think a month is a bit extreme?"
"Well, maybe not a calendar month, but three or four weeks. We understand he wants to spend time with you, but this is his home, his family. Children tend to focus on what's new and exciting. We don't want him to become confused," she told them, trying to be as diplomatic and persuasive as possible, while honoring her husband's wishes.
"Confused," Mulder echoed.
"About who his parents are," Mr. Van De Kamp finished firmly.
"I'm sure you did what you did for good reasons," Mrs. Van De Kamp jumped in. "But we've been his parents all these years. He's at an awkward age. It would be better for him if there were some distance from you for a little while, just so he can get back to his life somewhat. He's a very passionate child. He tends be overwhelmed, consumed. We just think he needs some time to...put things in perspective."
"He seems exceptionally lucid to me, for a boy of any age," Mulder countered. "Have you even talked to him about how he feels about all this?"
"We've tried, but he doesn't seem to want to discuss it, which is part of the problem,"Mrs. Van De Kamp answered, seeming open to the subject.
"Beth," her husband warned, as if they had come to some agreement that she was about to break.
"Why don't we just see how this goes," she suggested.
"And if we say no?"
"Then, it could be that the next time he takes off in the middle of the night, we'll both be paying for it," the man accused.
"He wouldn't have run away, if he hadn't..." but realizing what he was about to say, Mulder quickly averted it. "If he hadn't felt he had no choice."
"Just what are you implying?"
"I'm saying that there are things about William that we can understand, things you *can't* understand."
That was apparently the wrong thing to say. "I've heard enough. If you can't respect our wishes, we'll have to rethink this whole arrangement. He's got one set of parents. End of story. He's done fine without you and he will again."
"You'd like to believe that, wouldn't you? But he hasn't been fine, has he?" Mulder shot back.
"Mulder, don't," Scully interrupted.
"I said that's enough. Now, we are *asking* for your help. You seem to think this whole thing is very simple. Are you willing to bet his life on it? Finish what you started when you gave him up. You said before that you stayed away all these years to give him a better life. Do that. We're asking for a few weeks. Then, if he wants to visit on weekends, come by in the afternoon, fine. But he has a life that he needs to get back to. He is *our* son. We make the decisions, not you. And right now, this is what we've decided is best."
"We never said this was easy. This is the epitome of *not* easy. You may be able to dictate what he does but you cannot control what he feels. I won't do this," Mulder threw down.
"Well, then I don't think we have anymore to say each other."
"I suppose we don't."
"So what do you think is going on?" Melissa asked as she closed the door to her room, and turned to her brother.
"I'm not sure," William said as he sat on her bed fiddling with a teddy bear he found there. " I think it might have something to do with me."
"Do you think something's wrong? Do you think you're in trouble?"
"I know I'm in trouble. I just don't know how much."
"Do you think Mr. and Mrs. Van De Kamp will punish you? What if they won't let you visit us anymore? He was really mad yesterday, you know." William knew his sister had a hard time with the idea that though they had the same mother and father, he lived with different parents, but she coped with it well.
Something in the boy's eyes hardened. "It doesn't matter. You guys are my family, too, and I'm not just going to forget about that. If they think I am, they're wrong."
"Is that why you ran away last night? Because they said you couldn't visit us anymore? I've been thinking about that. I know what we could do. I'll leave dad's office window unlocked and you could come in any time you wanted," Missy said hopefully.
"No, that's not it. I mean, I don't know. I might have thought about it, but that wasn't the reason." Knowing his inquisitive little sister, he would have to give a reason. "I just had something to tell mom and dad that couldn't wait. It was something really important. Guy stuff. You wouldn't understand."
Missy eyed him with a healthy dose of annoyance and cynicism. "Guy stuff?" she snorted. "I'm not stupid, you know."
"Look, I can't tell you, okay? I can't tell anyone," he complained. "Not even my other family."
"But you told our mom and dad?"
"They already knew." Missy wasn't quite following this, he knew. Coming to tell their parents something they already knew wouldn't make a lot of sense. He looked away from the expectant stare. "That's all I can say."
"But why would you want to keep a secret from me? I won't tell," she insisted.
"I don't want to keep secrets from anyone! " be barked, frustrated. "I didn't want any of this. I just want to be a normal kid!"
If he had known his mother and father would hear the last part of the conversation, he might have phrased it differently, but, as it was, it sounded more damning than anything else he could have chosen to say. A decision was made then, one he would have given anything to change. Then, the door clicked and opened, surprising the two youngsters. "Mommy, Daddy, you're back. Where were you?" Missy asked, having been distracted from her conversation with William.
"We were just having a talk with Mr. and Mrs. Van De Camp."
William didn't like the sound of that. "Am I in trouble?"
"No. you're not in trouble, but there is something we should talk about." That sounded even worse. And the long pause before his father finished the thought gave him time to fill in any number of possibilities: They wanted to tell his parents about what he was, or they already *had* told them what he was. "We feel that maybe you need time to get back to your life, the life you had before us. At least for a while. " 'Worse' was becoming just plain 'bad.'
*That,* he hadn't expected. "But...But I can come to visit tomorrow, right?" his eyes pleading for the answer he wanted to hear.
Mulder swallowed and tried to be resolute in his words. "No, you can't," he managed with only a slight, tremble, and William's heart broke a little more.
"I won't run away again. I promise," he pleaded more worriedly. "I swear I won't."
"It's not that," Mulder tried to explain.
"Then what? Whatever I did wrong, I'll fix it," the boy begged as tears started to form in his eye, blurring his vision.
"You didn't do anything wrong," Mulder struggled to get out, "It's just something we should do."
He turned to the only other person who could fight for him."Mom, tell him he's wrong. Tell him, please."
"William, we just want what's best for you, and we think that you've had so many changes happening in your life lately...it'll be good for you to get back to some familiar things for while." The trouble was, Scully was worse at this than Mulder.
This was not right. This was not them talking. They would never push him away. What was going on? "No, you don't mean that," the boy whimpered. "You lied to me!" he exploded with hurt, as a tear slipped free. "You said this was my home too! You said you wanted me here! You said you loved me!" he cried, grasping for anything he might be able to say that would change what he was hearing.
"We do," the man's voice broke.
"Then don't send me away," William begged with the innocence of a fearful child.
"It won't be forever, just for a little while. Just till things settle down," Mulder added, hoping against hope that it sounded better to his son than it did to him.
"No," William refused, still fighting back tears. "I don't need time for anything."
"Your parents need you at home. You need to spend time with them. They're here to take you home."
There it was. They wanted him to go. William was at a loss, had nothing left. He could only stand gaping helplessly. Just then, Mrs. Van De Kamp called up to him, announcing it was time to go. As he opened the bedroom door, he mumbled, "You said we would find a way together. I believed you."
Scully followed after him.
"William," was only a whisper as Mulder's fingers flexed, resisting every urge to reach out and grab his only son, to stop him from walking away. Stop the madness of their family being pulled apart again. He was the husband, the father, the protector. He was supposed to be able to keep his family safe, together. And yet he could not. Again. His head felt too full, his heart too empty. Dear God, what had he done? No, as much as they wished for William to be theirs and only theirs, he wasn't, and they couldn't bear to cause him any more pain by opposing the people who raised him, the only parents he'd known until now. It would only hurt him, having inevitably to agree with one side or the other on who knew how many issues in the future.
Melissa, who had been sitting quietly on her bed, seemed in shock. "I want my brother," she said sadly as she walked over to her father and leaned her head against him, resting her hands at his hips It was an old gesture, something she did when she wanted daddy to fix something for her, make it better. Daddy didn't know how to make this better.
"I know you do. So do I. He'll be back", Mulder murmured, but kept 'I hope' to himself.
Scully had said something to William as he was leaving, but Mulder was too distracted by his own fears and doubts to guess what it might have been, and then they were gone.
"I told him not to worry. Everything would be all right." She was trying to be strong, he could tell, but was just as afraid as he was of what the future held now. A lot could change in a few weeks. Recent events had more than proven that.
"I need to go for a run," he announced absently when the others had gone, not really seeing his wife. Both he and Scully had their own way of coping with strain and running was his. "You should visit with your brother before he has to leave. I'll be back in a while. I need some air. " He knew how ridiculous that sounded. They had just sent away the son they hadn't seen in nearly twelve years, and he was behaving as if Bill's visit was like any other, but he couldn't seem to help it. The banal words came out of his mouth seemingly of their own accord.
Mulder had to run. And run, he did. He ran in a vain attempt to escape from the hurt-filled words of his children, from his own ineptitude, his failure to be everything he had promised to be, everything his own father had failed to be. He ran until the ache in his heart was dulled by the ache in his body, until he couldn't run another step, until finally exhausted, panting, and sore, he found himself back where he had started from just an hour before, praying hot, streaming water would wash something of his guilt away. But even as he stripped the sweat soaked clothes from his skin and stood under the beating shower, he could find no relief. If anything, his chest felt tighter, his heart heavier.
Dressed in fresh clothes, with still-damp hair, he wandered wearily to the kitchen, finding Scully straightening odds and ends with Bill offering a second pair of hands as they talked. Something about their mom and dad was all he caught before what Mulder often called the Scully sense apparently made her aware her of his presence. If he had expected anger or disappointment in her eyes, it wasn't what he found there.
Her "How was your run?" was layered with nothing less than concern.
"I, uh, it was...tiring." Normally quick with words, his thoughts suddenly felt scattered. They were there but somewhere out of reach.
"Mulder, he'll understand. Probably not today, but I think he will," she went on as if somehow making it truer by speaking it aloud.
He tried to shake off the strange mental haze, but that didn't seem to do any good. What had she said? He wasn't sure. At the moment, he was more preoccupied with his difficulty breathing. Somehow it had become a task. His heart began having the same struggle-- it pounded wildly in his ears as the tightness in his chest overwhelmed him.
"Mulder? Mulder, what is it?" He didn't answer, but stared at her pale and glassy eyed, as sweat beaded about his face. Staggering a few steps, he reached out a hand to steady himself with the wall but it wasn't enough, and he began to crumble to the floor.
If Bill hadn't been there, Scully wasn't sure what she would have done. He got Mulder to their bed where she could care for him and had taken Melissa out of the house without raising her suspicions. Their daughter didn't need to see her father in such a state.
Now, as she sat in the hospital with her husband, she looked back on how they had gotten to this point. He had been awake, still shaky and short of breath when the ambulance arrived but awake. That was a good sign. It had been so many years since they had been through something like that. It seemed odd to think that sort of scene--with on of thee other of them getting injured-- had happened fairly routinely at one time in their lives. How in the world had they done it? Such thoughts would have to wait. At that moment, she could only think of the man lying in the hospital bed beside her. Taking his hand in hers, she stoked his face and smiled when his eyes opened to find her. "Hey. You gave us a little scare," she said.
Those eyes blinked slowly as he gave her hand a squeeze. "I scared the hell out of myself," he managed, though his words were slow and muddled from medication.
"You were lucky. You're heart looks fine, but stress has taken its toll on your body. In layman's terms, you have quite literally worried yourself sick," she softly scolded. "They want to keep an eye on you for a while, just to be safe." That earned a comprehending yet groggy "Mm" from her husband.
"She's with Bill," she assured him. "The doctor's have given you something to help you relax, just close your eyes and rest. I know you haven't for a long while." Had he been himself, he might have resisted, but the medication was beginning to pull him under again. Even now, he was still the Fox Mulder she had met twenty years before-- still taking the world on his shoulders; still punishing himself for not having all the right answers, and damned if Scully was going to see that happen. So, when sure he was asleep, she stepped outside with her cell phone and told the Van De Kamps exactly what she thought of their decision.
William sat on his bed, door locked, head phones on, music turned up-- his usual ritual of escape. He hadn't spoken to anyone since leaving the Mulder home hours before and hadn't cared to. What was the point? No one was listening to what he had to say. Everyone was making decisions for him without regard to his feelings, so what difference did it make? They could all do as they pleased, but he didn't have to pretend he was happy about it. In fact, at the moment, he decided he was going to walk right by his parents to make a sandwich while *not* talking to them to show just how unhappy he was. Headphones were tossed absently on the bed, then he sighed and sat back down. That wouldn't help. What really bothered him were the things he had said to his father before he had left. None of what he had implied was true, and he needed Mulder to know that. William looked at the phone on his dresser and made a decision. Visits may not be allowed, but no one said anything about phone calls. Only just then the phone rang. Leave it to fate to thwart his plans or so he thought-- William picked up the phone, but before he had a chance to say "Hello" he heard his mother's voice.
"Mrs. Van De Kamp, this is Dana Mulder."
The young boy's breath caught in his throat at the greeting. He shouldn't listen, he thought. He definitely should *not* listen. This was a bad idea, very bad. And yet for all the mental protestation, the phone seemed to be sutured to his ear. Had they changed their minds?
"Yes, Mrs. Mulder, what can I do for you?"
"Actually, that's an interesting choice of words."
A pause. "I understand how you feel. I do, and I wish I could tell you that our feelings have changed, but you have to understand..."
"What I understand is that my husband is in the hospital. Now, I don't care what issues you may have with my husband or myself..."
William might have heard more but his mind was caught in playback, repeating 'hospital' over and over again until it finally sank in with a stomach-turning thud. His father was in the hospital? No. It couldn't be. He had said such hurtful things before, had wanted to push the man, push whatever button it took to get what he wanted and now...William felt sick. Even as panic weighed mercilessly on him, his sharp mind was already forming a plan. He knew then what he had to do and didn't need *anyone's* permission to do it-- he was getting out of there.
First things first after clicking the phone off, he locked his bedroom door. That would by him some time. His parents would assume he was simply ignoring them. Next, he grabbed a small book bag and, slinging it over his shoulder, kicked the screen from his window. That wasn't so hard. First stop: A visit to forbidden territory, and it wouldn't take him long to get there. When he did, part of him had actually held out hope that he would find he had made a mistake. His father would answer the door wanting to know just what he thought he was doing, but as he approached the house, those hopes were crushed. No one was there.
Without missing a step, William dropped his bike, dashed around to the side of the house and climbed through the window that he had hoped would be open. "Thanks Melissa," he whispered. So far so good, he thought as he stood inside the office looking about. Now he had another problem: What he had come for was nowhere to be seen. Quickly, he began opening drawers, tossing about this and that, only to slam them shut again empty handed. Where could it be?
The closet. He searched through it with unerring speed and precision, focused only on his goal. It had to be there. They couldn't have gotten rid of it. Then, something about where he had seen it before told him to look up. There it was, on the top shelf of the closet. After pulling a chair from the desk, the box was in his hands and soon unlocked--well, if banging the lock on the floor until it popped open could be considered 'unlocked' and not 'smashed to hell.' Hesitating only a moment before stuffing it, contents and all, into his bag, William was on his way. He had somewhere very important to be
"Dad," he whispered, as though anything louder and the man may vanish. "I have to tell you... I didn't mean it." His voice cracked. "I didn't mean to hurt you. And... I can make everything all right again. I can. I got it." The book bag was hurriedly opened,the box removed. "See?" he started happily, "I remembered what you said: 'Healers.' I...I brought it for you. You'll be all right now. You have to be." William opened the box, but faltered for a moment. The artifact wasn't causing the pain it had before, but he had yet to actually touch it. One deep breath and, like pulling off a band-aid, he grabbed the object from the box to find an odd sensation that wasn't all too unpleasant, a slight tingling through out his body. Good. He supposed that meant it was on... or...something.
With supreme care, he took his father's hand and turned it palm-up on the bed, then placed the metal fragment there. It was such a simple act, but the very moment all three were connected-- William, Mulder and the artifact, skin to metal, the tingle became a powerful jolt as a bright, white light flashed behind the child's eyes. When he looked up again at his father's face, his eyes were full of an understanding and sorrow that seemed misplaced in the gaze of such a young person. "You've still got it, you and me" he whispered. He would stay right there, no matter who tried to force him away, he decided. So he settled in a chair next to the bed, resting his head on his father's stomach, with an arm resting protectively over him. No one would hurt this man again.
"What do you mean you can't find him?" Scully said to her cell phone. "No, I haven't been home since...Oh my..." Against all odds, the boy who had been missing from his home for no one-was-sure-how-long sat right in front of her, his arms around his father. Yes, William was indeed Mulder's son. Full of surprises and always a step or two ahead of everyone else. "You can stop looking," she announced. "I suggest you get down here. Don't bring your baggage with you," she warned. She wasn't talking about luggage. Not having the heart to disturb them, she left father and son just as they were and prepared for whatever confrontation might be on its way.
William wasn't sure when he had fallen asleep, which had been quite easy given his lack of sleep the previous night, but he knew what had awakened him. Something shifted underneath him, or rather, someone then a hand rested on his head. "William? What are you doing here?" Mulder rasped, sounding confused. The boy sat up quickly, ready to explain himself.
"Taxi's are a boy's best friend when you have somewhere you have to be," William admitted sheepishly.
The man was definitely more awake now and sat up on his elbows. "You-- you took a taxi from your house to get here?"
Now William looked downright shamefaced, "Um, actually from your house. It's okay, I had money."
Mulder pinched the bridge of his nose and closed his eyes. For a moment, William thought he was in for the verbal thrashing of his life. He had technically run away. Again. And had done exactly what he had been told not to do. Again.
"Wouldn't you have done the same if it were me?" he asked timidly.
Lucky for him, his father's eyes faded from troubled to yielding. "Christ," he muttered helplessly. "What are we going to do with you? I'm not going too even ask how you found out about this. "
The boy let out a sigh of relief at his father's resigned tone. "What can I say, like father like son. Are you okay? I mean, you're better now, right? " he added worriedly.
"I'm fine," Mulder assured him "In fact, at the moment, I feel better than fine. When you get to be an old guy like me, people overreact to the least little thing," he tried to kid.
William wasn't entirely convinced it had been a 'little thing' yet. "You swear you're okay?"
Mulder raised two fingers. "Scout's honor."
"You were never a...uh, I'm just really glad you're all right. You know, I didn't mean those things I said before. I was just mad at you," he meekly confessed.
The boy eyed him skeptically. "No, I don't think you do. Why didn't you tell me the whole thing was their idea?"
"I'm sorry. We just didn't want to put you in that position. It was best that you didn't know. You've been through enough already."
"Dad, I'm twelve. I'm practically grown up. You don't have to protect me like that."
Mulder smiled at the seriousness of the comment. "It's hard not to try. Your mom and I understand how hard this must be for you-- us suddenly being in your life, finding out about your past like this. "
William settled himself on the edge of Mulder's bed and sighed. "I'm not like everyone else. I'm different. I know that. But you know what? I've been thinking about it, and I think it's okay. I'm still the same person. My parents were conspiracy-chasing FBI agents, out to save the world. That's pretty cool, by the way, even if I can't ever tell any of my friends. But my dad is smart, funny, and good. My mom knows more about science than my science teacher. She's thoughtful and kind. Both worry about me a whole lot, and I have a cool little sister. My nightmares were about how I lost you. I don't ever want to know what it's like for you to not be in my life again. There's a lot I still need to understand but I'm part of you and mom and,to me, that's a good thing no matter what else it means. I love you guys, and I'm proud to be your son. I don't care what anyone else says about it. "
After heading the Van De Kamps off at the pass, as it were, Scully left no question that if anyone caused trouble, she would escort them out herself, and they assured her they only wanted to see William. Both followed closely as she rounded the corner into Mulder's room where she was surprised to find Mulder up and nearly dressed, buttoning the top of his shirt while conversing with William.
"My two favorite young men," she announced, once she got over her surprise .
Both looked up with a smile only to have it fade when they saw her company. "We were just talking about you," Mulder said, nodding to the Van De Kamps.
"I'll bet," Mr. Van De Kamp muttered under his breath only to get a sharp stare from his wife that shut him up. "William, son, we understand that you were worried about your, uh," he waved his hand as if that would help him find the word, "...him. But you should never have run off like that."
"My dad. He's my dad, just like you. I'm sorry if that hurts you, but it's how I feel."
"Whatever he's been telling..."
"He's been reminding me to give you a chance, not to be angry with you, that loving someone, worrying about them, wanting the best for them makes a father and that that's what you want. Is he wrong?"
The man looked at Mulder, apparently at a loss for words. "No" was all he could come up with for a moment and then "I just don't understand this loyalty you have to them. You don't know them."
"Yes, I do. You don't know *me*," he said with an eerie calm as a look of decision came over his steely blue eyes. Quietly, he walked over to stand by Mulder, regarding him with a knowing yet sympathetic glance. All the adults watched with curiosity as he placed Mulder's hand on the rail of the bed, then next placed a strap which hung down its side around his wrist, binding him to the cold metal-- and tightened it. Mulder instantly jerked his hand back, and William let go that second, allowing him to free himself.
"It still bothers you. Even now. To feel like you're being held down," the boy began, slowly and deliberately, revealing one of the secrets a little piece of metal whispered in his ear just a short time ago.
Though shocked at both his son's actions and words, rubbing subconsciously at his wrist, Mulder seemed to know what William was about to do. "William, you don't have to do this."
"Yes, I do," he said evenly. "At least then they'll know the truth. They'll either accept it or they won't, but I won't have to hide it from them anymore."
"Hide what? What's going on here?" Mrs. Van De Kamp demanded.
"You said I don't know them, but I do. "
"You know what they've told you, honey--"
"No, you don't understand. I saw it! I saw my father in agony screaming for my mother! But he couldn't move!"
"Calm down, honey. I think you're just getting a little carried away. You have quite an imagination."
"How can you not believe?? You saw it. You saw what happened just now."
"I don't know what just happened," the woman stumbled to say.
For a moment the boy said nothing. Then "Maybe it could work with you, too." He left Mulder's side to reach into his chair and grab the artifact he had left there. He then handed it to his other father. Through it all, the man had remained unusually quiet. "Here, take this," William told him, but nothing happened. Or so he thought until he chanced a look at the man's face. He couldn't seem to pull his eyes away from the fragment.
"What is this?" the man asked, wide-eyed.
"It's part of who I am," William said, "what I have to tell you about."
"It can't be," he mumbled. "Not you."
Heavy silence filled the room until Scully asked, "Mr. Van De Kamp, do you know what that is?" hardly able to believe what she was seeing.
"N-no, I don't. William, get your things. We'll talk about this at home. "
Now it was Mulder's turn. "I think you do. I think you know exactly what it is."
"I don't owe you any explanations," he said hurriedly. "Beth, I'll be waiting in the car."
"Dad, wait!" William pleaded.
"You were taken, weren't you?" Mulder charged.
That stopped the man in his tracks. He put a hand over his eyes but didn't turn around. "Look, I don't know what's going on here, but you are way out of line. I'm not one of those UFO chasing freaks, okay?" his voice trembled.
"I never said 'UFO,' but you just did. How many times?" Mulder's voice was even and controlled.
"What, are you deaf?!"
"How many times?" Mulder asked again, his tone the same.
"Joe, what are they talking about?" Mrs. Van De Kamp, pleaded.
William was following everything a lot faster than she. True, he only recently learned of aliens himself, but it had been something he'd known deep inside. Somehow, it never really hit him as terrifying or shocking, really. It just simply was. His only fear was what they had done to destroy his family. But the fact that both his fathers had been through terrible ordeals did make him very angry. "It's all right, dad. They understand," William prodded. "They do. They know a lot more than you think. You can trust them. If you don't trust them, trust me. Please."
The man's fist tightened and released as he stood for a long moment, trying to decide what to do, how much to say. Then, he closed the door. "Once. Afterwards, a man came to me- said it had been a 'mistake.' It wasn't supposed to be me. He said to change my name, stay out of the cities, move somewhere quiet, and I wouldn't be bothered again as long as I kept my mouth shut about what had happened. They would forget about me. I didn't question it. I just picked up and moved. Disappeared. It was easy. This area was much less developed then, nothing around the house for miles. If a stranger showed up, I knew it wasn't by accident. It just felt like a safe place to be. Then later, when I met Beth, we found we couldn't have children. We tried for years. Doctor's said it was me. I knew why." It all came pouring out, the secret he had kept from the world for so many years. He was obviously using all his strength to hold himself together. For the first time, he wasn't bitter, demanding, or spiteful. He was vulnerable.
"You and your wife decided to adopt," Scully added carefully.
"I tried to forget it all, and then, I know it sounds crazy but when he showed up in those little space print pajamas, I thought it was a sign that God wanted us to have him--to make up for what we had lost."
Mulder, who had been listening scrupulously, had some questions of his own that needed answering, "What was your name--before it was changed?"
"What? uh, Frank... Mulder," he answered hesitantly.
"F. Mulder. And I'm guessing you once lived in D.C."
"Yeah," he answered quietly. "Eighteen years ago. You have my name and now you have my son. All right. You win. You've lived your life with no worries, had your kids and now you have it all."
"But dad, he..."
Mulder put a hand up to stop William from saying too much. Unlike three of the five people in the room, Mr. Van De Kamp hadn't quite put all the pieces together yet. "Frank--you're not the only one here who's suffered, I assure you. We have more in common than you could possibly imagine." A moment of consideration passed before "I'm not an F. Mulder. I'm *the* F. Mulder," undoing a couple of the buttons he had fastened as they had come walking in, Mulder revealed part of the light scar that ran down the center of his chest. "They got their man, eventually."
"Yeah, I did."
"Well I'm glad someone knows something because I sure don't," Mrs. Van De Kamp cut in shakily.
An opening door and cheerful "Mr. Mulder" turned everyone's attention to a young male doctor entering the room. "You're looking well, certainly better than when we first met.I was just coming to let you know that you'll be free to go very shortly, but you seem to be ready right now. Just let me go over this information with you and then we can get you signed out."
"Look, huh, my wife and I have some things to discuss. Why don't we meet up with you downstairs," Mr. Van De Kamp suggested cautiously. After all, looking at the boy, it was clear he didn't plan on going anywhere until he heard for himself that Mulder was officially fine, which was probably a good idea considering what he and his wife needed to talk about. If he had had time to think, he might have realized a hospital was not the best place to have blurted everything out, but there was no changing that now and knowing his wife, there was no way they were waiting until they got home to talk about it. Who could blame her?
"William, why don't you come down with them?" He got no argument, and to her credit,Mrs. Van De Kamp was the picture of calm as she exited into the hall.
"Well, Mr. Mulder, as I'm sure your wife has told you, your tests look good. You appear to be in fine physical health. I would, however, advise that you lower your stress level a great deal. I have a list of relaxation exercises that you may find useful, but the bottom line is that you need to find a healthy release when under an unusually high amount of strain, something to help you to cope. Some doctors would prescribe medication but I try not to do that unless absolutely necessary. Do you have any questions?"
"So he shouldn't be worrying a lot?" William piped in.
"That's the general idea. Try not to give your dad too much trouble," he said with a wink.
"Thank you for your time, doctor. It was nice to meet you, but I'll do my best not to see you again soon," Mulder answered glibly.
The doctor smiled at the turn of phrase. "All right, well, that sounds like a plan to me. It was nice meeting you folks."
"Thank you again," Scully added with a hand at Mulder's shoulder.
Once the doctor left, William turned to his parents, determination in his eyes reminiscent of each at their most resolved. "I'll be down stairs. I have something I have to do," and with that he walked out with what seemed to be a clear purpose in mind. Both Mulder and Scully raised an eyebrow at the take charge attitude as they watched him go and added they'd be down soon.
"The doctor's right, Mulder. We have to do something."
Mulder glanced at the paper the doctor had handed him. "We could take Yoga together.I hear the exercises are good for more than just sex...stress." That, of course, earned him the 'Damn it Mulder, I'm serious' eye roll.
"Damn it Mulder, this is serious. Things just got much more complicated. What do you think?"
"I think they took it pretty well, all things considered."
"That's not what I was referring to. What do you think about his story? Eighteen years ago, Mulder. That was around the time of my abduction."
A sober "I know" was all he could muster.
Mulder could hear Spender's words as clearly then as the day they had been spoken to him. 'Why her and not me', he had asked. 'Because I like you' had been Spender's answer. Mulder's mind could easily imagine the rest of what the man might have said back then. 'Mistakes can be made, Agent Mulder. Misinformation is unfortunate, but sometimes fortuitous. How fortunate for you that you were able to continue your work.'In truth, he was sure Spender had known, even then, what a greater hell it would be tosearch for Scully all those months.
"I think Old Smokey would appreciate the irony. The man he arranged to have take my place was the man whose experience probably helped to keep William hidden."
"How can you be so sure Spender had anything to do with it?"
"How can you not be? You know as well as I do that those people didn't make mistakes."
"I suppose, it's just hard to believe he could still affect our lives, even from beyond the grave," she sighed.
"Hopefully for the last time," he finished, putting his hand over hers. "The question is, what happens now?"
William spotted the Van De Kamps standing off to the side of the hospital exit. here was a lot of pointing and gestures, mostly from his father, definitely not friendly territory,he could tell. He began to question the wisdom of facing them alone as he approached, catching bits of accusation and questions of honesty. Secrets and deception seem to be running rampant lately. But one thing was clear-- this had to come to an end.
"Just stop it!" The two, turned in surprise, obviously not expecting him to be there."Haven't you done enough already? Stop it!"
"William, we were just..."
"I know what you were doing, and I'm sick of it. Why don't you guys grow up?" he growled.
"Hey, mister, don't you speak to your mother that way."
'Good idea, dad,' he thought. It was a mistake to think he could change anything so he turned and walked away.
"Hey! Don't you walk away!" Do you hear me!"
Who needed this? He had tried to share something with them before, to be honest and what did he get for his trouble?: Any questions? Any understanding? No, schooling in good manners, that's what he got. Well, he was through with good manners. His father would never change-- as always. 'Don't talk about it and it will all go away.' Why did he think now would be any different? Well, if his father wanted everything to go away, he would be happy to oblige him-- he kept walking.
"Damn it, are you listening to me!?"
The next thing William knew, however, he'd been jerked back hard. When he recovered his footing, for the first time in his life, he looked at his father and was actually afraid. It must have shown on his face, too, because the man seemed as horrified as his son and let go. Ignoring his mother's calls, William had to get away, but he didn't get very far.He had barely made it across the lobby before a strong hand grabbed him by the shoulder. "Leave me alone!"
"Whoa, hey." The voice of his dad hadn't registered before he jerked away, and he turned, startled to find Mulder and Scully. "What the matter? Where are you going?"
"I don't know," he shrugged, doing his best to appear calm. "I was just going for a walk." For a moment he honestly thought they would let it go at that, until he followed their gaze to his arm and saw what was only too obvious to them-- large, red finger marks. His fair skin had made them appear much worse than they were.
He was only able to focus on one person when he looked up again. There was a subtle change in Mulder's face, something William couldn't quite place, as though something precious had been defiled. Without explanation, the man reached into his jeans and pulled out a handful of change. "Here. You're mom will take you to get a soda, okay?"
"Mulder, what are you doing?" Scully hadn't bothered to hide the uneasy concern in her voice. True, William was still learning the intricacies of the two's unique dynamic but even he hadn't missed that.
"Nothing," he answered innocently. "Bring me back a Coke."
Oh, no. "Dad, everything's fine, really." Maybe he wouldn't get upset. Maybe everything would be fine.
A deep-voiced, "William" came from behind them, approaching the boy.
"Frank. Just the man I wanted to see." Mulder's was voice smooth and easy going as he put an arm about the man's shoulders, but the look in his eyes didn't match the warmth in his voice. "They're getting a soda. Does your wife like Pepsi or Coke?"
"I...uh" the man stammered, caught off guard.
"Coke it is," Mulder finished. "Scully, why don't you bring Mrs. Van De Kamp a nice, cold drink. I'm sure she could use one."
"Mulder, you heard what the..."
"It's all right. Take William, will you, please? We'll be right back." He looked to Mr. Van De Kamp again. "Frank. Walk with me. Talk with me." The man didn't have time to respond before Mulder's grip tightened in not so subtle warning. Mr. Van De Kamp conceded, but as soon as they were outside that arm was tossed unceremoniously off.
"Just get off me, and quit calling me Frank," the man warned.
"Oh, I'm sorry, did that bother you?" There was no apology in the tone.
The man moved away. "Just...just stay away from me, okay? What do you want?"
"You hate me, don't you, Frank?" It was posed as a question with a reasonably certain reply, such as 'You like corn flakes, right?'
"N-No, no I don't. I'm just... I just..."
"Sure you do. You said it yourself. I have it all. Your name. Your son. Everything was fine until I came along, right? I ruined it all. It's all my fault, isn't it? I was the reason you were taken. I made you remember. 'Mulder,' " he prodded low and gritty. "You have to think about them, about what they did to you, everything they took from you."
"I don't have to listen to this," the man spat as he tried to shove past, but was surprised at the force of the push that sent him stumbling a few steps back.
"When you look at William, you hate yourself because you see my face and with it everything you wish you could forget. Now that you know who I am, he's really going to pay. "
"That's not true."
"When was the last time you hugged him, told him you loved him?"
"Go to hell."
"No thanks, I've been there. Didn't care for it much."
"Get out of my way!" But anywhere he moved, Mulder blocked his path.
"You felt helpless, violated. You didn't want to scream but you couldn't stop. They didn't just violate you, they took your self- respect and replaced it with self-loathing and fear..."
"Shut up!" the man demanded as he made a fist, readied and flexing his fingers.
"Hit me!" Mulder shouted, throwing his hands up, offering himself as an easy target. "Hit me," he growled lower. "I know what it's like, I know all about feeling angry and out of control, like the world has some all-pervading grudge against you and the only thing you want is that fair deal that everyone but you seems to get in life. Come on, hit me," he hissed. "It felt good the first time, didn't it? That's what you *really* want, isn't it?"
"You wouldn't be the first to think so."
"You don't know what it's like not to be able to give your wife the one thing she ever wanted! All that they took away! I love William. I could never... "
"Thousands of dollars in medical bills just for the slimmest of chances that it bought. Trying to prepare for the worst, but unable to stop hoping that this time might be the one. This time might be worth all the failures, the pain, the little bit of faith you lost every time the woman you would die for said 'Next time,' only next time never came."
Mulder might as well have been Christ spouting the holy gospel, but then, that might have had a lesser impact. The passion, the agony-- each confession was something the other man had been wholly unprepared for. He shifted rapidly from livid to thoroughly confused. If this man and his wife had been through so much, tried so hard to have children, why would they give their first and possibly only child to strangers? He had to sit down.
Mulder moved closer, his size and dark scrutiny imposing on the seated man. There suddenly didn't seem to be enough air for the both of them to breathe. "You presume too much, sir. And love? 'Love' doesn't begin to describe what I feel for my children, Mr. Van De Kamp, which is, quite frankly, the only reason I am trying to help you instead of doing what every fiber in my being tells me to do: pound you into an unidentifiable substance to be left on the bottom of a passerby's shoes. That would relieve a great *deal* of my stress as we speak. "Don't ever touch my son again," was matter-of-fact yet there was no mistaking the words that were not said.
Had he hurt William? Van De Kamp wasn't sure now. "I...I didn't mean to hurt him. I don't know what happened," he stuttered, sounding as distraught as he felt. William had been angry and had said something but, at the moment, he had no idea what, and the next thing he had known, he had grabbed him, just grabbed him. The boy had looked absolutely terrified. What the hell had he been thinking? His hands began to tremble as he looked down on them. Was this 'Mulder,' right? Was he making William suffer for being his father's son? Had it ever been completely about birth parents versus adoptive parents for him? What would he have done to the boy if they hadn't been in a public place? Hit him? He didn't believe that, but then he would never have believed he could behave the way he had just a few moments ago.
"I can't give you all the answers you need, but I do know that William isn't going back home with you today. You have a lot to think about."
Mr. Van De Kamp nodded numbly and said nothing as he stood and moved past Mulder back through the hospital doors.
"He's fine sweetie," Scully promised, assuming that from a child's point of view, hearing what Bill and she herself had told the little girl dozens of times over the phone would somehow only be true if Missy heard it in person from one of her parents. Still, Melissa was not easily satisfied.
"Well, you're a doctor," she nudged, as if the notion that anybody but her mother would take care of her father was unconscionable.
"I know, Missy, but you know a hospital has more things that can tell us how daddy's feeling, and mommy was there the whole time. The doctor said he's very healthy." "Aaannd," Mulder cut in, "we brought back a surprise," he said with a grin as he swooped her up in his arms, which she knew could only mean something very good.
"Really? What'd you bring me?" she asked happily, dropping her earlier line of questioning fairly quickly, looking about. At that moment, William came through the front door with a duffle bag over his shoulder. "William! You're back!"she exclaimed, scrambling away from her dad and running to greet her brother. "Is he staying?"
"For a little while," Scully smiled.
"Honest?! Come on, William. Let's take your things to your room! You can tell me everything."
William glanced back to find his mother whispering something to his father, a warning to take it easy he guessed by the innocent shrug and wink she got in return, then he followed Melissa who bounded happily down the hall into what he still thought of as 'the guestroom.' He wasn't a guest, he knew that, but yet it still wasn't *his* room. His sister leapt up on the bed and sat bouncing as he put his bag away in the closet. "So what happened? I was sure you wouldn't be allowed to come home for a long, long time."
William looked up at that. 'Home.' He should be at ease but as silly as it seemed, he was actually nervous. Of course, he felt welcome but, so far, nothing felt...settled in. He had stayed there but he didn't really live there. Another child in the house to take care of could definitely be stressful, just what the doctor said his dad didn't need right now. What if he did something wrong? He hadn't thought of that before.
"My mom and dad, my adopted mom and dad...they need some time to themselves," he said quietly. There was no need to mention that his adoptive father had almost gone too far this time, had almost hurt him. He was sure Mulder and Mr. Van De Kamp had done more than have a little talk when they'd gone outside, leaving the two women to themselves. When the men had returned, something had definitely changed. The balance of power seemed to have shifted to his biological family somehow. Their wishes were honored--William would spend a few days with them. Not that he had minded at the time. He needed time to himself and lately there was more peace in the Mulder home than elsewhere. And yet now he was nervous. He could only wonder, what was going to happen next?
"Did they get into a fight?"
"Sort of," he mumbled.
"And they really said it was okay for you to stay?"
"Yeah," he muttered absently.
Her brow wrinkled with concern at his melancholy. "Aren't you happy?"
Ever the good older brother, William forced a small smile over his worry. "Sure I am."
"Melissa," interrupted their conversation, "we know you want to visit with your brother but we need a minute to speak with him, all right? Why don't you go say good-bye to Uncle Bill. He has to get back to Matt and get ready to go home. Then you'll have plenty of time to spend with William."
Melissa wore an 'Aww mom, do I have to' pout then apparently decided the sacrifice wasn't too great. "All right, but I'm coming right back, though," she advised, and her father, standing beside her mother, scruffed her hair as she passed.
His parents' presence was much as it had been the first time he had met them, both comforting and unsettling. What were they going to say? He wasn't entirely sure of anything at the moment. Were there rules he didn't know about? Is that what they wanted to talk about?
"William," his father began, "we just wanted to be sure you were still feeling all right about all of this."
"Yeah. Yeah, I'm fine."
"Are you sure?" It seemed Scully wasn't completely convinced as she took a seat on the bed next to her son.
William looked to her and then his father, his eyes searching Mulder's for an answer he didn't seem to have within himself. "Are you sure it's okay? I mean, you're okay with having me around all the time for a while? That's different, you know? I...I don't want to be a bother."
If he had to guess, he would say he had actually rendered them both not only speechless but stupefied "Oh, sweetie, you could never be a bother to a us."
"Well...it's just...you don't have to worry about me. I can do a lot of things for myself. I can make my own breakfast. I can even wash my own clothes."
"I'm sure you can, but you're not a guest here."
"In fact, we, uh, wondered if you might want to, um, make things more official. How would you feel about this actually being your room?"
Maybe he had misunderstood what his dad had just said. "My room?"
"You need your own space here and a person's space needs their own personal touch, right? You could have it any way you want it, provided it's approved boy's room material," Mulder added with all the seriousness of a child left guarding the cookie jar.
"If you're comfortable with the idea. We don't want you to do something that doesn't feel right to you." He could tell his mother still worried about his feeling at ease, but honestly, their offer couldn't have come at a better time. His own personal room. His room, with his things. He wouldn't be just visiting anymore, he would be at home.
"Well, I've got some work to do in the morning, but we can start picking up some things in the afternoon," Mulder offered, barely containing his own enthusiasm.
His own room. He still sat mulling over the idea when his parents excused themselves, and Melissa dashed back in with the deck of cardsthey had been playing with whenever he came over. A game of cards was quiet. Just the thing he needed.
The rest of the night passed fairly normally, considering recent events. "Goodbye's" and "thank you's" were given to his Uncle Bill. It was funny, William thought, how his uncle had softened since he had first met him--not a grand transformation, but something in the man's eyes had changed, he was sure. He would have liked to think he had had something to do with that. Maybe he did.
"I know we've had our differences, Mulder, but I have to admit, as many times as I've wished you gone from my sister's life, it was good to see you come through that door." It wasn't exactly a gushing sentiment, but it sounded good to William. "William, I'm sorry about Matt's behavior. I never got a chance to tell you that." Hands were shook and he was gone, though not before an 'I hope we can let everyone else know about this. You know I hate keeping secrets' look and a good-bye hug for his sister.
The next afternoon William and Mulder headed off to the store while Melissa went to play at a friend's house and Scully went in to work. This was one-on-one time with him and her brother Mulder had explained to Melissa and he had promised her that they would have their own time soon to do just as she desired. This was apparently a concept Missy didn't fully appreciate since of all things, what she said she wanted was to play chess, not that William knew how to play. Perhaps he should learn.
Father and son were soon busy looking over what they deemed 'manly' style bedding, which both agreed was a must-have change from the more feminine peach theme that ran rampant in the room at present. "Hmm," Mulder stroked his chin in consternation, "you know, your mother might have been the better person for this job. I'm not that good with colors. Do you see anything you like?"
William looked thoughtfully over purples, greens, and blues and considered each carefully then suddenly stopped. "Dad? Do you think it was a mistake to tell them about...you know."
There. He had finally said what he had been worried about all morning. He hadn't said much about what happened yesterday and no one had pressed him on the subject. They simply said they were there to listen. Perhaps a store wasn't the best place for it, but he wanted to talk now, and the boy was surprised when Mulder didn't miss a step, as though he had been expecting the question all along. "I've always been a proponent of the truth. I've found it always comes out, one way or another. "
"But if I hadn't told them..."
"This would still have happened, William. Things like that can't be hidden forever. At least now, everything's out in the open. They can start to deal with it together."
"How can you be so sure?"
Mulder was quiet for a moment, gripping the cart handle as if it were somehow connected to his ability to speak. "Let's just say your mother and I know a thing or two about the dangers of hiding something from the people you love--a lot, actually. Good intentions aside, secrets, whether good or bad, have a way of struggling their to way to the light."
"I like the green," William replied as he pulled the bedding from the shelf. He wasn't sure he should ask what he had wanted to but after a moment's hesitation he went ahead, "What's the worst thing you ever kept from mom?"
That gave his father pause. "I guess that's a somewhat subjective question. I suppose she would say the worst thing I ever kept from her was... something that belonged to her. Something she wanted very much. The only thing I could say in my defense at the time was that I hadn't wanted her to be disappointed when things didn't turn out the way she would have hoped."
"But you did tell her and everything turned out okay?" he pressed.
Mulder studied his son with a knowing look, "Yeah, everything turned out."
A beat passed before William turned back to looking through the selection of sheets. "These are cool," he commented and tossed the sheets into the shopping basket.
"Very cool," Mulder echoed as they went on their way.
"He listened to you," was tossed out casually.
"Yes, he did," Mulder answered just as nonchalantly, catching on to the switch in subject.
"I don't think he really hates you. Or me, " the boy continued, pretending to be interested in items on shelves that they passed. "I think he just gets confused, you know? About who he's really mad at."
Continually fascinated with his son's insight, Mulder stopped and prodded him on, "And who do you think that is?"
William considered the question, then reached a possible answer and turned to his father. "God maybe?"
An interested "Hmm" was all Mulder offered, hoping his son would continue as they began to walk again.
"He believes in God, I know. He always says even if you think you got away with something, you didn't really get away with it because God knows what you did. Maybe he's mad because God let these things happen?"
"Do you think that's true? That God is responsible?"
"Just for bringing both my dads home," the boy said simply, as if there were no other answer. Now it was Mulder's turn to be contemplative and ask some questions. "William, you never explained what exactly happened in the hospital. I'm not sure I understand how you could have known...what you knew."
"I don't think I should talk about it right now," he hesitated, not because he wasn't comfortable sharing that with his dad but because he himself hadn't really gotten a grip on everything he had seen. He knew someone was bound to ask about it, since he had never really gotten a chance to say more that day. Truthfully, he hadn't really had a plan then, either. He just wanted the truth out once and for all.
"All right," the man said quietly, "but...but you didn't, um, you didn't feel...'
William knew what his father was getting at. Mulder was worried that he had experienced the emotions associated with those memories as he had with his own personal recollections. "No, dad. Those are your memories not, mine. I don't think it works that way," he answered honestly. But, honestly, feeling the emotions themselves wasn't necessary, though he didn't say as much.
"What about nightmares?" Mulder prodded, concerned but trying to appear merely curious.
"None last night."
His father's "I'm glad" was filled with relief.
Some sports nick-knacks, a desk for homework, book shelves, and two cans of hand-picked blue wall paint later, and the two were at home working hard on making a flowery guest room into a rugged boy's room. After basketball practice, Melissa changed and was only too happy to dive into painting as well. It was fun, William thought beyond his more serious contemplations of the day, something to put his energy into. Then a light, spatter of paint fell across his cheek, interrupting his reflections.
"Oops. I am so sorry. But you know, it's a good color for you." His father's mischievous smirk and chuckle told a different story than his words. Oh, is that how is was? Two could play at that game. William casually took his brush in hand, bent the bristles, and took aim.
"Oooohhh, no, no, no. You wouldn't dare," Mulder challenged, backing away.
"Oh, I would dare. I would," the boy taunted with a devilish grin.
"Don't you da..." the rest of what Mulder might have said was cut off by a gasp when paint splattered across the front of his old white T-shirt.
By this time Melissa caught on to their little paint war. "You guys are going to be in such big trouble," she warned. That earned her a smudge of paint across the nose, courtesy of her dad. "Hey!" After a while there was more paint on their clothes than the walls. The screeches and laughter brought a just-home-from-work Scully to the bedroom doorway, complete with raised eyebrow, crossed arms, and pouty lips. Melissa spotted her mother first and froze. "He started it," she blurted out, pointing to her father.
"I'm sure he did," Scully smirked with a mock glare at her husband. "Mulder, you better get changed. The Van De Kamps will be here at six,"she said as she leaned against the doorframe. "Blue. " she said to herself, scrutinizing the walls and smiled at her young son.
Oh my gosh. What time was it? His parents were supposed to come by tonight, as sort of a bid for peace. And they had their own questions, no doubt, now that they'd had some time to talk. His worries began all over again. How much would they want to know? How much did they really know already? He rushed to clean up, but before he knew it, 6 O'clock had arrived. It all seemed so surreal. They were there to talk about, well, everything. No secrets. Was he ready for that? Was he ready for them to know everything about him? He thought he was, but now, after all that had happened, he wasn't sure. So he chose to hang back, just out of sight until he had something to add.
"It's good of you to have us over--after everything," Mrs. Van De Kamp began nervously.
"Well, we're glad to finally have this chance to speak frankly," Scully assured her.
"I know what you must think of me," Mr. Van De Kamp confessed.
"We're not here to find fault."
"I know. I know," the woman answered for her husband, her voice already tainted by unshed tears. "We just can't quite believe all of this, you know? My husband and I have talked," Beth explained, determined yet unsteady. "He's not one to spin tales. He's an honest, God-fearing man so if he says he was abducted by..." But the word 'aliens' wouldn't quite come out. "...well, then I have to believe he was. But we both need to know what you know. About William, about everything. Please. The man I've seen since all this began has not been the loving husband and father I know, and William, he just hasn't been the same either." It seemed to be a speech she must have rehearsed at least a dozen times just to be able to say the words out loud.
"Well, firstly, William is fine," Scully told them.
"Why won't he talk to us?"
"He's been afraid that you wouldn't be able to handle the reality this situation."
"What about it?" Mr. Van De Kamp insisted.
This was it. William listened carefully as his parents started from the beginning. He listened again about their work on the X-files, their partnership, about aliens, conspiracies, abductions and learned that his mother, too, had been abducted, something about a chip. He listened as they told about viruses and vaccines.
"My God," was all either of the Van De Kamps said for a moment. "I remember the building in Dallas. It was on the news everywhere. They're gone, the ones who did all of this. You're sure?" Well, William thought, so far they hadn't mentioned anything about him, though he was straining to hear. What about Dallas?
"Why don't you just go in there?"
The boy jumped at the sound of his sister's voice and put a finger to his lips, whispering, "I want to see what's happening first."
"Do you think they've changed their minds about you staying?"
"No," he whispered back. "Not yet. Ssssshhhh. You're not supposed to be here. Go back upstairs."
"You're not the boss of me."
Of course, she would pick then to act like a typical little sister. "Go upstairs now," he ordered, "or you're not allowed in my room for a week."
Lips pursed, an eyebrow raised. "You're bluffing. You wouldn't do that."
Of course he was but he couldn't let her know that. "I would, too, now go before it's two weeks," he huffed, but Melissa stood her ground, appraising her older brother. "Please," he added nicely.
"Since you asked nicely. But I still say you should just go in there." With that she crept up the stairs once more.
"If they weren't, we wouldn't all be sitting here right now, I assure you," he heard Mulder say. Had he missed anything?
"We never intended to give William up," he heard Scully say. "My husband wasn't aware of my decision. But with the new danger to both Mulder and William, I had to know he would be free from the life both Mulder and I had in front of us. That he would have a normal childhood, be safe and loved while we did everything to ensure the world would be a safe place for him."
"And William, he's not...he's all right." Beth said, more affirming her belief than asking.
"Yes, but you have to understand that we, my wife and I, were changed by our experiences. Physically. That is part of him and always will be. You saw that for yourselves in the hospital. He wants to be honest with you, but at the same time he'll still have questions for us. We can answer those questions just as we have answered yours."
"He's always been a good boy. He's had a hard time, struggling to find himself, but he's been such a joy to us. We're so grateful for that."
William thought he might feel some relief but for the odd tone in his mother's voice. There was a finality to it that he hadn't expected. What was going on?
"Well, he's a had a wonderful example, I'm sure," he heard Scully's voice say.
It was then that William decided to speak up. "You've been good parents," he said, stepping into view.
"William, honey, we're glad you're here." The woman took a moment to compose herself before going on. What was the matter, the boy wondered. "Before coming here tonight, your father and I, we talked about what happened, honey." What happened. That was a nicer way of saying that the man had scared the life out of him, grabbing him and nearly jerking him off his feet. "Your...your father was right." Mr. Van de Kamp faltered on the word father but forced himself to say it as his voice trembled forward, "when he said it was best for you to be here for a while."
Mrs. Van De Kamp turned to the couple in front of her, "We can see you love William very much. And this--this is a lot for us right now. We're afraid of what it would do to him, to William...my husband needs to work through what happened to him. He's agreed to get help. But we don't believe it wouldn't be good for William to have to be around that just now." 'Around him,' the boy thought to himself. "We were wondering if..." the woman's eyes filled with tears. "We have no right to ask after all that's happened, but we wondered if it would be all right if he...if you could look after him while we work things out. For a while."
Wait a minute. "That's what you came over hear to say? You don't want me around anymore? First, I'm property and now I'm pushed out? Why don't you just leave now and get it over with," the child sniped.
"Honey, we just don't want you to be hurt again." But before Mrs. Van Da Kamp could say more, William turned and walked away.
"William, wait," Mr. Van De Kamp called.
"I'll talk to him." Mulder rose and followed after William.
"Your mom's cooking isn't that bad is it?" Mulder tried to kid but got no smile in return. The boy just sat in his usual defensive posture: arms wrapped around a pillow, legs crisscrossed. "William..."
The smell of fresh paint mixed with the warmth of his father's voice. The old and the new swirling about his senses. "They're afraid of me, just like I thought they would be," he murmured. "You're not afraid of me," he said, as if that was the comparison by which he judged any reaction that others may have.
"Of course not. But neither are they. Walking away doesn't solve anything, son."
"That's what I was always taught to do. If you can't agree and you might say something you'll regret, you should walk away," he countered in distant, dutiful reflection.
"Well," Mulder started to explain, careful to keep his tone light yet sincere, "that works for a while, but as you get older, you've got to adjust your approach. You have to listen, even if you may not agree. You can't always walk away," he said, then added he peered off aimlessly, "My God, if your mother and I did that, we wouldn't have lasted past 'Hello.'"
The look on the man's face finally coaxed a smile from the boy. "Maybe it's just that I don't want to know for sure," he admitted, his face falling a bit.
"I don't think you have anything to worry about."
"No, you don't understand... when I'm here-- with you and mom and Melissa-- it feels...good. When I'm with them... I feel...lost. Shouldn't that be the other way around? Maybe it's easier to believe they're afraid," he said quietly.
"Than to feel that you've betrayed them," Mulder finished solemnly. The boy nodded. "I think the only way you could ever do that is by not being the good person I know they've raised you to be."
"But I'm not good," the boy choked, ducking his head down.
"What are you talking about?"
"When you got sick I...I didn't care about anything else. I didn't care about what they wanted. I just knew what I had to do. If they had caught me, they wouldn't have stopped me. Nothing else mattered.... It wasn't until I had to make a choice that I realized what that choice would be. How can I face them? What's wrong with me? Why can't I be happy just being their son?" he whimpered. "He wouldn't have laid a hand on me if I had just done what he wanted, if I had just been a better son--the son he wanted."
William felt his father's hand on his shoulder. "You have nothing to be ashamed of. I think he would say the same, and trying to be someone you're not just to please someone else is never the right thing to do." William simply shrugged and rested his chin on the pillow he still clutched tightly to himself. "You stood up for what you believed was right. It takes a lot of courage to do that, but it doesn't mean you love them any less."
"But...I think I need them less," was a quiet, guilt ridden whisper of an answer, "and maybe that's just as bad. " He finally looked up then, his eyes begging forgiveness for the wrong he believed he had committed.
"You are *not* bad, do you hear me?" William knew that tone well by now. It was the deep, caring timbre that could usually cut through the darkest of his moods.
"I don't know."
Mrs. Van De Kamp worried over the cup of tea Scully had brought her. "He's been so...different lately. There's a look in his eyes I've never seen before, you know? And it's not when he looks at us," her voice trembled, "It's when he's with you. When he first said he wanted to look for his natural parents, there was so little to go on, we never thought it would happen so soon. We thought he would try and fail and our lives would move on. Then he found you, and I thought it was just a curiosity that needed to be satisfied. He'd get over it... You hear it all the time, the stories. These children never form a real attachment to parents they've never known. It's just a need to know about their past. But he's not just curious. It's almost as if he never left you. I'm his mother, too, you see. I know him. I know when... " but she couldn't continue.
"What are you saying?"
Mr. Van De Kamp, who had been fairly quiet, cleared his throat. "We're saying that we're his parents and parents do what is best for their children--even when it means sharing him with someone else. I tried to tell myself if it was about him, that he didn't need you coming around and confusing his life. He had the only parents he needed." He stopped for a moment, composing himself. "The other day, when he looked at me, he was afraid of me. My son has never been afraid of me. The blame for this is mine. I know that now. William shouldn't have to suffer for my past. If letting him go gives him peace, that's what I have to do. I won't stand in the way of his happiness."
Scully picked up her glass of tea and handled it thoughtfully, "It's a difficult decision to come to, I know," she told them, blinking away her own tears as she recognized the pain she saw in their troubled eyes. "Oh, goodness, listen to us-- going on like this when you've known so much worse. You must think we're being ridiculous," Mrs. Van De Kamp stammered.
"No, of course not. I know this must be very difficult for you," Scully said, hoping to sound more collected.
"It's William that matters, and if you and your husband can offer him the peace of mind he's been needing for all these years, then you do just that. You... are his parents, too. You've sacrificed a lot to save much more than a marriage. The least we can do is understand that William needs you as much as you need him. Joseph and I will be all right." "You really mean that?" The three turned to find William, with Mulder just behind him, hands resting protectively on the boy's shoulders, a sturdy pillar protecting the child against the winds of scrutiny that may blow his way.
Mr. Van De Kamp stood and raked his fingers through his hair, the picture of a little boy confessing his wrongs. "Yes. William, I'm--I'm sorry for not listening, for not being the father you needed me to be."
"It's okay," the boy shrugged, his voice low and lacking in conviction.
"No--it's not. I should have realized what was happening--to you, to me--and I didn't. I let you down."
"Everybody makes mistakes," was a timid yet genuine answer, as though hopeful but waiting for the other shoe to drop.
"I'd like the chance to try to make things right. When I'm better, I promise you, things will be different."
William glanced back over his shoulder at Mulder then back at his adoptive father as if hoping for something. An awkward silence passed before, "I'm Fox Mulder. Nice to meet you."
Mr. Van De Kamp blinked uncomprehendingly at the introduction but recovered, taking the man's outstretched hand and giving it a shake. "Frank Mulder, but my friends call me 'Joe.' "
"Well, Joe, I don't tell many people this but...I was abducted by aliens," the man told him, leaning in secretively. Joseph just stared for a moment, still unsure of what exactly to do or say, but even through the strange confusion he had to admit, the man had an interesting way of stating the known facts. For the first time weeks, he had the urge to laugh and before he could stop himself, he did.
"What do you know? It seems we have a lot in common."
William smiled and the room seemed to take a breath. Being different didn't matter to the Van De Kamps, and they loved him. They loved him enough to give him a choice, to try again. It was a start.
He could hear them, though he was sure they thought he was sleeping, knew if he turned over, they would be there, watching from the doorway, just as they had that first night, but this time was different. This time they weren't his mother and father, they were his mom and dad, and he loved them.
"You were quite the hero today, Mulder. What you did for him, I don't think he'll ever forget it. I don't believe I've ever told you what a wonderful father you are," he heard his mom remark.
"You're not so bad yourself, woman," his dad teased.
"No, I mean it. When we first started out, I wasn't entirely sure you were ready. You were so driven, so focused on chasing the next adventure. I wasn't completely convinced you'd be able to handle the realities of parenthood, but as it turns out I was the one who wasn't ready."
"No one's ever really ready, Scully, but if the X-Files prepared us for anything, they prepared us for the rigors of parenting."
"Come on, after abductions, mothmen, and villains of all shapes and sizes, human and otherwise? I think we can manage homework, teenage dating, and driving. None of the afore mentioned will cause our untimely departure from this earthly plain--well, maybe the driving."
"We certainly learned to expected the unexpected. I'll grant you that." It was quiet for a time and then, "Even now I can't quite believe he's really here, you know?"
It grew still once more before, "We should call mom tomorrow."
"I'm sure William would like that."
She must have nodded because William didn't hear her answer. And then they were gone, probably to check in Melissa. Try as he might to beckon sleep, William found, once again, that he couldn't relax. He sat up, tossed the bed sheets aside and, rubbing his eyes, padded down the dark hallway only to be surprised at the sound of music coming from the kitchen. He didn't recognize the tune, though it was very soothing. He stopped just outside the kitchen. His mom was there, straightening odds and ends which he now knew was her way of keeping busy when things were on her mind. He had insomnia. His mom cleaned--in rhythm to the soft music no less. He thought he should say something, not sure what was stopping him really, except, that it was such a hushed time in the home. Not a sound in the house and his mother was standing at the kitchen sink enjoying the soft melody that floated about the room. No, he wouldn't speak now, he'd just watch, more than content to simply observe the new and yet strangely familiar sight before him.
The scene all of the sudden changed, though, when his father appeared,snuggling up behind his mother, whispering something in her ear. It must have been something nice because she relaxed and smiled slightly but didn't turn around. They seemed so peaceful. What were they...
Arms wrapped seductively around a small frame, as two bodies swayed in time to the music as Mulder rested his cheek on Scully's head.
"Mulder, what are you doing?" she murmured.
"I'm finding a more positive outlet for my stress," he whispered as they swayed easily to the music.
" 'Outlet.' That's an interesting name for it. My being the outlet, I suppose that would make you the plug."
He chuckled softly into her hair, "You know I love it when you talk in dirty metaphors." Now it was her turn to laugh, but something in her mood changed when she turned and looked up into his eyes, William noticed. Though his dad's back was to him, he could tell whatever she saw in that gaze of his was far from playful.
Maybe he shouldn't be watching after all.
They kissed then -- and not at all the peck on the lips he was used to seeing from parents while growing up. No, this wasn't even reminiscent of the kind of kissing that happened in romance movies. This was, he could only imagine, what an honest lover's kiss looked like. 'Lovers' as he was sure the word was intended to be used, in its most elemental terms--and at twelve, he found himself incredibly embarrassed to be witnessing it, but he couldn't seem to look away. Parents really still did that? The longer he stood there, the redder his cheeks burned with the guilt of seeing something meant to be private, until an entirely reflexive cough escaped him.
The two turned to the sound and stepped slightly apart but neither pulled completely away, which surprised him. His adoptive parents would have been mortified to be caught like that; probably would have leapt like frightened cats to separate corners of the kitchen and pretended that nothing had happened. But they didn't seem embarrassed at all.
"William, sweetie, is everything all right? What are you doing up?" his mother asked, concerned.
"I was, uh, I was just coming to get, um, some water." Okay, so his mind worked a little slower at night. What else could he say he was doing standing there at that hour? He could never admit to simply watching them. That wouldn't sound right, even if it was completely innocent. By the looks of it, though, they saw right through his feeble explanation and were apparently unfazed by his little indiscretion. Honestly, how could they not know? His fair complexion only made his face all the redder. It practically screamed 'I saw my mom and dad making out.' "I'll just, um, get it," he muttered awkwardly as he made his way to the sink.
"What's on your mind?" Mulder asked, as if his answer had been something completely different than some offhanded remark about water.
"Nothing. Really," he insisted, not looking them in the eye. Oh yeah, that would convince them. "I just have trouble sleeping sometimes, you know." Neither looked convinced when he did chance a glance their way. "I'll just take my water and, um, go...out there. And you guys can be alone." That was subtle.
"You don't have to go anywhere. Come talk to us," his mother offered. They both took a seat at the kitchen table and appeared perfectly at ease. He shrugged inwardly. If they didn't mind that they still had sex then he supposed he didn't either, and he decided to take a seat.
Now what? Well, he could talk about one of the things that had been on his mind-- "Umm...you know, I was just thinking, I'm really a 'Mulder' any way you look at it. I mean, technically. "
"That's true," Scully agreed.
"That's kind of cool, and if I wanted to...change things when I got older, that would be like putting both my families together, I think ," he started to ramble.
"That would be up to you," his father said and though he never hinted at it, William guessed that since he was the only son, it would make Mulder happy to have the family name continue. And the truth was, the Mulder name seemed more honest him, more truthful as to who he really was. He was the son of two families but the one name would honor them both. It was definitely something to think about. He nodded, quietly sipping his water. Okay so that was one thing to check off the conversation list, but there was still something else on his mind.
"So--where is it now? The, uh," he made a shape with his hands he hoped resembled the piece of metal, "I'm not sure what to call it."
"It's back in your dad's office."
A beat passed.
"Can I see it?" The looks on their faces would have made him laugh if he didn't understand the worry behind it. It was almost as if he had asked to take a swig from a can of beer. "It's all right. I just want to look at it. It doesn't hurt me anymore, remember?"
"You're not having bad dreams again are you? Is that why you're having trouble sleeping?" His mom was obviously worried, as was his dad. He didn't mean for that to happen.
"No. No, nothing like that. I just want to see it again," he said, as his finger circled the rim of his glass. He paused again. "So can I?"
His parents looked to one another, exchanging opinions with the blink of an eye. "I suppose it's all right," his mother finally answered, though still not entirely happy with the idea.
"Is it all right if dad comes with me?" He could tell by the hurt in her eyes that she had misunderstood his request.
"Sure. You two go ahead." She wasn't succeeding very well in covering her feelings. As hard as she tried, she sounded just as wounded as she obviously felt. That wouldn't do.
"Don't worry, mom," he said, as he stood and hugged around her neck from behind, "It's just a father-son thing. You're my hero, too." The beginnings of a smile graced her lips as he walked toward his father's office, glancing back briefly just to be sure that his message had had hit home. Had he looked at the opposite chair he might have seen the amused twinkle in his dad's eyes as the man stood and fell in step behind him.
His eyes grew wide. "These." He pointed to the strangle symbols. "These are part of the Bible: 'Whosoever sheds man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed.' " The question was clear in his eyes. Mulder offered his best theory, taking the boy's awareness in stride.
"Fear and hopelessness will win half the battle, William. If people's most fundamental faith in a power greater than themselves turned out to be a lie, only alien in origin, there would be nothing for many to believe in. No reason to resist. No hope for victory."
"They didn't believe," William said simply as he moved his fingers lightly over the unusual patterns.
Mulder cast a glance at the ominous sheet of otherworldly metal, it's message, put an arm around his sweet boy and said what he knew to be true. "They should have."
Both sat silent for a moment before "Dad? I wanna show you something."
The nervous words formed a worried crease in Mulder's brow. "What is it?"
"Here," William said, placing Mulder's hand on the fragment, then tracing his own fingers along the edge of it. "Close your eyes."
The man smiled as he did so. "I don't think much more could surprise me these days, buddy."
Mulder straightened, his face fading from amused to serious. "Right."
After a quiet moment, "All right...you can open them now."
Mulder opened his eyes and looked where the table should have been but was met with an entirely different sight--the beach. He was outside. At the beach. Blazing sun. Crashing waves. Soft sand. As his mind struggled to rationalize this turn of events, his eyes raced about searching for his son. "William?"
"I'm right here," came from behind him. He turned to see his boy, smiling, hair tousled by a light breeze.
"I don't understand. What is this?" he asked.
"You tell me. This is your place. You brought me here not the other way around." Mulder looked about again. This was very familiar but...
"This isn't real."
"It is to you."
Then the man asked the only question he could: "How?"
William tapped his temple. "It's not just me, it's us. You and me. You asked how I knew those things before. I wanted you to see." Both turn to watch a scene Mulder had observed so many years ago: a couple watching their baby toddle along the beach, taking his first early steps. As before, Mulder sat and looked on from a distance.
"What is this place?"
"I don't know what brought me here to this place back then. I just know it was the only place that it felt right to be," his dad murmured as he lifted the grainy sand and let it slip through his fingers.
"Your away place," the boy thought out loud. "I have a place like that," he said, turning to the domestic scene. "Is that your mom and dad? Do you miss them? Is that why you came here?"
"No," Mulder sighed. "It's nobody. I was just thinking, that's all." After a quiet moment, he continued. "About family and responsibility and how that fit into my life at the time. It was a nice idea, but not possible, not for me. I was the outsider looking in and always would be. Or, so I thought. I had spent my life trying to save a world that didn't seem to want me--but there was a greater good at stake. Giving up the fight was tempting at times but just not something I could allow myself to do. I thought that meant giving up the simple things, the everyday, but as it turns out, it just meant postponing it for a while, " he smiled wistfully.
"Do you ever miss it? Things must seem pretty boring now, just having a regular job and just being, well, regular."
"Oh son, when you've lived more days than you have left in front of you, when you see the things I've seen, you realize that life, in any form, is a Godsend and you appreciate each moment you're given. I used to measure my life solely by what I deemed as acceptable losses. If what I lost was less than the truth or justice I'd gained, for myself and for others, then I had been successful in life. That attitude worked for a long time. After all, I didn't have all that much to lose, not until your mother came along. She became what I was not willing to lose, a weakness, I thought. But, you see, if you having nothing to lose, then you have nothing or no one to love, and love gives a man more strength than any one person could ever have alone. It took some time for me to realize that. Then, when you came along, that love grew to something I never thought possible and nothing was more important to me than making sure you had a chance to learn that lesson for yourself."
"So you're not sorry you don't chase down the bad guys anymore?"
"I still chase down the bad guys. I still make the world a better place. I just do it in a different way. I'm thankful I have the chance to have what other people take for granted." William nodded, then chuckled to himself and Mulder looked at him, a little surprised.
"I'm not laughing at you. Well, I guess...I guess I am. I mean, I was just thinking only you wouldn't be the least surprised at this," he said, gesturing around him.
"I told you I'm not that easily surprised," his dad remarked easily, "You're special, William. You have a gift. I suspect, one on which you've barely scratched the surface."
"What am I supposed to do with it?"
His father regarded him thoughtfully, "That's the beauty of free will, son--anything you'd like. But something tells me, you won't let it go to waste. You have a good heart and a sharp mind and you have plenty of time to decide where that will lead you. Don't be in a hurry to grow up. Promise me you'll enjoy this time in your life and every moment after."
"I will," the boy said with a meek smile.
With that, the world around them melted away into the office they had been sitting in all along, and William stood to go to bed. But before he went, he wanted to get something he had seen just the day before while rummaging for the little wooden box . "Hey dad?" he questioned as he moved toward the office closet and opened it pulling out something that had been left in a frame but curiously not hung on the wall. "If you're not using this, can I hang it in my room? I like it." My room. It felt good to say that.
"Sure," Mulder encouraged, "Go ahead. I don't need it anymore. Here," he scrambled in his desk drawer and pulled out a small, adhesive frame-hook, handing it to the boy, then picked up the metal fragment that still laid on the table . "I'm glad we could, uh...talk," he finished with the slightest smile.
"Me, too. G'night, dad. I love you."
"Love you, too."
"Oh, and dad? Don't forget you're special too."
The frame was fairly large. He made his back to his room with it, and picked the perfect spot, putting the small hook in place and hanging the image on his new bedroom wall. He stepped back to admire his work then flopped back onto his bed, hands behind his head, contemplating the poster's message: ' I Want To Believe.' Then pulling out the family photo which he now always carried with him, he stared at it once again.
Faith. It had brought him so far. It had brought him home. But this was not the end, it was only the beginning.
Special note: Best wishes to sallie for a very speedy recovery! And thanks to Nancy and Lee for taking over beta duty :)
Thank you to all who helped this fic come as far as it did. An especially big double thank you to sallie and Nancy. Also thank you to Xandria, Mary, and, Lee who pitched in when an extra pair of hands was needed along the way. And a big thank you to those who have stayed with us through this long journey!