HTML> The Precious Hope Series

Title: The Precious Hope Series
Author: Nicole Berman
Category: X-Files
Genre: Romance/Adventure

Summary: If I cannot bring you comfort, then at least I bring you hope, for nothing is more precious than the time we haven't sold. We all must learn from small misfortune, count the blessings that are real.  

I. Precious Hope

The way he looked at me made me want to cry. Knowing that I couldn't take away his pain or lessen it at all drove me crazy. He opened the box and I saw Luke Doggett's ashes scatter in the breeze across the Atlantic. I could feel my partner's anguish from where I watched, high up on the shore. His son's murder was finally solved, but the answer had been nearly as unbearable as the question. How hard must it be for a parent to accept that the death of their child had no 'silver lining', no salvageable meaning at all? Now instead of seeking out the killer, John had to face the reality that his son was in the wrong place at the wrong time and fell victim to a Mob minion afraid of being identified.

I watched him hug Barbara, and he and his ex-wife parted ways. She went to her car and John trudged up the sandy grade toward the Blazer, where I waited my turn. The look in his eyes was unbearable, but there was an odd tilt to his head. If we had been any place other than where we were, I would've sworn John wanted to kiss me, and I would've given in easily. I knew, though, it wasn't the time or the place, so I slid my arms around his waist and leaned my head on his shoulder. I held him tightly, trying to convey my sympathy through the hug. We stood there for a few moments, and I listened to his breathing, soft and hitched as he tried to hold back tears. Wordlessly, I pulled away and offered a gentle smile. Tugging at his hand, I opened the passenger side door and walked around the driver's side. We climbed in and rode in silence back to my apartment. I knew John would want to be alone tonight but also knew he shouldn't be. Grief does terrible things to people and no one should suffer alone.

I let us in to my apartment, the silence clinging to us in the car following us in. John immediately sank to the couch and leaned his elbows on his knees. Resting his head on his palms, he stared at the wall, his blank expression making it near impossible to read his face as I usually could. Lowering myself to the couch next to him, I laid a hand on his back. "John, it's okay," I said softly. "You put your son to rest today, it's all right to cry."

He didn't move for a minute, but he finally turned his face toward me and I saw the tears forming in the depths of his blue eyes. Moving closer, I wrapped my arm around his waist and squeezed gently. "John," I murmured sympathetically, unable to do more than be a shoulder for him to cry on.

All of a sudden, John turned and his arms went around my neck. I felt his body start to shake as he cried quietly with his face pressed into my shoulder. I fought my own tears and lost; my heart was breaking for him. "It's okay," I repeated softly. "You can let it go. That's it." John cried for a few more minutes, hardly making a sound, and I kept holding him. Then he pulled away and covered his face, scrubbing at the tear-streaks on his cheeks. My hand returned to his back and I patted it gently, unsure again. "Are you all right?" Nodding, John looked up at me again from his hunched position. I offered another reassuring little smile. "Do you want some lunch?"

"No, thanks. I should go."

"You're not leaving," I said firmly.


"Don't 'Monica' me. You're staying here and we're getting drunk."

Two hours and a bottle of good Scotch later, we were both adequately numbed as "Free Bird" played quietly. The guitar crying forlornly in the background was an appropriate soundtrack to our cathartic slumber party.

He hadn't smiled all night, but I was still working at it. "Come on, that was funny," I protested. "The nun and the bartender is my best joke."

"Don't quit your day job," John teased me, the beginning of a smile curling the corners of his mouth.

"There we go!" I smiled broadly, standing up. "That's the John Doggett I know and love." I turned toward the kitchen. "I'm starving. You still like meatloaf, right?"


I glanced back over my shoulder, confused. "You love meatloaf?"

"You said love. You called me 'the John Doggett you love'."

Taking a deep breath, I smiled. "It's an expression, John."

"You've never used it before, Monica." He put his glass down and stood in the middle of my living room, those passionate blue eyes boring into me. "Are you trying to tell me something?"

"Where is this coming from?" I asked, waving one hand to indicate the conversation, as if it were a physical entity. "It's just a slang phrase."

John took a step toward me, his eyes darkening imperceptibly. Imperceptibly, that is, unless you spent every day looking into them and every night dreaming about them. "Every morning for the past nine years, I got out of bed with the hope - no, the certainty - that *this* day would be the one that led me to Luke's killer. Now, in less than three days, I found the guy who did it, got the story behind what happened the day he died, and lost the chance to see justice done because Brad Fulmer took it from me." His voice was fraught with rage at the mention of the Assistant Director who'd shot his son's murderer mere moments after John had learned the truth. "So now," his voice softened as he went on, "I need something else to keep me going, Mon."

"You have your work," I offered, suddenly afraid of where this was going.

"And I love working on the X-Files, but it's not enough. I need to know that something good will come out of the past nine years. I need to know that I didn't waste all that time." He was inching toward me. "Did you mean what you said?"

"Of course I meant it." I walked around the coffee table and sat back on the couch, putting myself as far from John as possible. "You know I care about you, you're my partner and my friend."

I watched as a change swept over John's face. He had turned to face me again but made no move toward the couch. "Do you love me?" I was able to see his thoughts in his eyes, more easily now than ever before. It was like watching the steam on a mirror suddenly dissipate, leaving in its place a perfectly clear image.


"Do you love me?" he asked again. "Because I love you." I sat in stunned silence as he continued. In classic Doggett style, John's body language was unreadable and at odds with his words. His arms were at his sides, his mouth unsmiling. "That night, when you dropped me off, I hesitated, just for a second. I thought how perfect that moment was to kiss you. Then I figured I should think about it some more, think about the implications to our careers and everythin'." John's New York accent grew thicker as he struggled with the unfamiliar territory of his emotions. "I told myself there would be another perfect time." His voice lowered to a gravelly near-whisper. "And then I got the call that you'd been in an accident and the thought flashed through my mind that there might never be another time. I sat in the hallway in the hospital, and all I could think about was why I didn't kiss you, why had I been such an asshole, why I couldn't let you in." He took a breath, and I could tell he was trying to compose himself. "That whole time you were in the hospital, I kept thinkin' what I'd do if...if you died. I still don't know what I would've done. You're my sanity."

I couldn't help the smile that brushed my lips at the sight of my stoic friend pouring out his heart to me. My hand went to my mouth to try to hide my grin. "You're mine," I said, so softly that I thought John must've missed it. Now I couldn't have moved from that couch if I had tried. My mind was reeling with thoughts and my heart was clenched in anticipation. "But John, that was three months ago. Why didn't you say something before now?"

"I couldn't," he replied simply, his baby blues never wavering from my face. "All my energy was still focused on Luke then, I had nothing left to give you, no matter how I felt. But now, maybe I do."

"Maybe you do," I echoed.

John moved for the first time since he'd started to speak. Crossing the room, he settled on the edge of the coffee table, letting just our knees touch. "Monica," he said softly, and I looked up at him, "if you don't feel the same way I do, tell me and I'll drop it." His face was steeled against my answer.

"I do."


I laughed, grinning widely. "Yeah. I love you, okay?"

"Okay." John folded his hands, and our eyes were locked, but he didn't move.



"I think we've waited long enough. You can kiss me now."

John smiled, a real smile I had never really seen before. He leaned forward and I closed my eyes as I felt his lips touch mine. Warm and tender, I recognized his kiss from thousands of daydreams, and his hand on my cheek made me light-headed. When I felt John's other hand on my knee, I couldn't stifle the tiny moan that slipped through my parted lips and shivered against his mouth. I heard my own voice, unfamiliar and husky, murmuring his name as my arms went around his neck. He devoured me slowly, heart and soul, in a delicious waltz of kisses and gentle touching that fulfilled my every fantasy and surpassed them all. Afterwards, we lay together in my bed, my head on his shoulder and his breath ruffling my hair. It was the most peaceful moment I'd had in years.

We didn't make love that night, or any night for a long time. After having wasted so much time being apart, I think we are both determined to fill every spare moment with long-deserved kisses, hugs and murmured endearments. John is and always will be my safe place. Now, I am his.


II: New Game Begun

"Run, Monica. Get outta here!" John Doggett's blue eyes were steely cold and his strong jaw set tight as he held the gun steadily on the advancing Super Soldier. Knowle Rohrer, a man he'd called 'friend' in wartime, was now a human-alien hybrid, invincible against human weaponry, who had been ordered to kill them both.

Monica Reyes' eyes reflected her panic, but the spark of determination never left them. Her gun was also trained on the man they faced, steady as a rock. "No!" 'I'm not leaving without you,' was the unspoken addendum. The agents stood together, trapped between the approaching hulk of a man and the dark copper canyon wall.

Doggett knew the end was imminent, and the only calming thought was that he'd die as he'd lived most of the past two years - with Reyes. He glanced at her once, his eyes imploring her, 'Go'. She shook her head almost imperceptibly, and Doggett was torn between admiring her steadfast spirit and desperately wanting to get her out of harm's way. "Knowle Rohrer, that's far enough!" he shouted, feigning a bravado he wished he felt.

"Shoot me, Agent Doggett, if you think it'll make a difference this time." Knowle Rohrer teased him with a cold glare, coming closer.

The report of Doggett's gun was his only reply, and Monica's eyes widened as she saw a spatter of blood appear around the entrance wound in Knowle Rohrer's chest. He looked down at it with a disdainful glance and, raising his head, continued toward them.

Their backs were pressed against the deep red rock as the pair faced the alien-man resolutely, determined to go down fighting. Suddenly, Rohrer stopped, a look of confusion and disbelief washing over his features as the magnetite buried deep within the canyon walls began to exert its carnivorous effect on his flesh. Staring in horror as his body melted before him, the man raised his eyes. They begged Doggett for help, his human soul crying for mercy the agent could not deliver. Doggett lowered his gun, frozen and powerless. Rohrer could barely manage a strangled cry when the metal's draw yanked him into the rock.

Doggett dove to cover Monica's body with his own. Knowle Rohrer slammed into the canyon wall with such force that his entire body disappeared in a shower of pebbles and dust. "Monica..." Doggett said quietly, about to say more when Mulder called out to him from the ledge above.

"Agent Doggett!"

"Mulder, get outta there!" Doggett shouted back, in a voice that left no room for argument.

"They know where you are!" Reyes added, her voice strained. 'Run,' she pleaded with her friend silently. 'Get out of here and take Mulder with you, Dana.'

The throbbing of the helicopters' rotors interrupted the foursome. By unspoken agreement, they made a dash for the white Blazer that had brought Mulder and Scully from D.C. to New Mexico.

"Get out of here." Mulder waved them away, spotting Knowle Rohrer's abandoned black Suburban. 'We have unfinished business, Scully and I,' he thought. 'It's not your fight.'

But, of course, he was wrong. It had become their fight over a year ago, before the birth of little William. Doggett frowned, replying immediately, "Get in the car."

"No, go. Go!" Mulder yelled, following Scully toward the other SUV.

Hating himself for it, Doggett jerked the steering wheel, and the Blazer squealed as dust flew up beneath the tires. They headed west, the most direct route out of the valley. Doggett allowed the car to slow momentarily as he and Reyes stared out the back windshield, watching Mulder and Scully's car disappear behind a stone cliff, going in the opposite direction. He cast Reyes a look and she shook her head slightly, worry creasing both their foreheads.

Mulder peered out the window at the fast-approaching helicopters. It wasn't until he heard the explosion of the first bomb that he sighed in relief. "They're not after us," he told Scully. "I don't know who it is, but they're after *him*." Mulder emphasized the pronoun, still seething. He was unable to speak the name of the man they'd just left, the man who'd admitted to letting Scully and him dangle like worms on a hook for nine years just to watch Mulder suffer: his biological father. He pointed the car east, ending up on a route parallel to Doggett's that would take them out of the canyon.

When he felt they were a safe distance from the canyon, Doggett pulled into a Motel Six and checked himself and Reyes in for the night. They had no way of knowing that less than fifteen miles away, in a very similar motel room, the original X-Files agents were decompressing after their adventure, too. While Mulder and Scully were comforting each other and trying to reconcile themselves with the past, it was the first chance Reyes had had to tell Doggett what had transpired during her testimony in Mulder's trial, sham that it was. She perched on the edge of the bed, facing John, who sat in the desk chair. Her face was animated by a strange kind of excitement as she spoke. "I think I lost my mind, John," Reyes said, biting her lip to hide a proud smile. "I basically told Kersch to stuff it. And I wanted to tell him we'd bring him down. I was just too mad to think anymore." Her eyes blazed with keen determination. "We are going to, right?"

Doggett nodded. "Hell, yeah. They can't do that, just take the X-Files and think that'll scare us off. We just have to wait until Mulder an' Scully contact us to figure out how we're gonna do it," he said, his accent thickening slightly.

Reyes tilted her head to one side, the stress of the day slipping away as she admired the proud set of Doggett's jaw and his strong features, and a smile graced her face.


"I'm just glad we're both okay," Reyes smiled softly.

"Me, too." Doggett's tone was serious and thoughtful. "It coulda gone down real different than it did."

Shaking her head, Reyes scooted forward on the bed, reaching out to cover Doggett's hand with hers. "No, it couldn't." She was still smiling faintly as she added, "You wouldn't have let me get hurt." She felt a familiar warmth inside, that feeling of security that came with being John Doggett's  -  *well,* she wondered, *what exactly am I? His girlfriend? We're not lovers yet, technically, even though we're living together.*

Doggett shook his head and had to clear his throat before he could reply quietly, "No, never."

It was at that moment that Monica Reyes decided that whatever they were to each other didn't matter. Tomorrow morning, John Doggett would, without question, be her lover. Their latest brush with death had solidified in her the need to be his, completely, despite any lingering doubt either of them might have. Together, they were stronger than doubt and fear could ever be. Rising from the bed, Monica stood in front of John, looking down at him, her hands resting lightly on his shoulders. As she had so many times in the past six months, Monica brought her lips to his for a kiss.

John accepted it without hesitation, the warm pressure of her lips against his making it almost possible for him to forget the events of the day. Grateful to be alive and able to hold her, John's arms slid around Monica's waist, guiding her closer. Her head was bent, her hands traveling up the sides of John's neck to cup his face. He felt Monica's ring, cool against his flushed skin. Her tongue traced the outline of his lips and John's breathing quickened.

They took their time that night, as they had with everything until that point. Their tender blending of hearts and bodies was a sweet echo of the reunion of Mulder and Scully taking place across town. They were four people fighting against deception and the encroaching darkness with the greatest weapons in their arsenal: love and hope.


III: O Mexico

I heard her breathing change and turned my head. She had kicked the covers off some time during the night and was completely exposed to my hungry eyes. Fighting the urge to attack her with kisses, I stood at the window until Monica opened her eyes, blinking against the sun.

"John," she murmured, her voice still husky from the workout she'd given her throat the night before. "You're up early."

"It's almost 0800. Something funny?" I asked when she grinned.

"You still use military time," she said, stretching out on the bed. Her eyes never left me. "It's just cute."

"Never been called 'cute' before," I said, unable to hide my smile.

Monica laughed, sitting up against the headboard. She seemed not to notice, or not to care, that she was naked. I had always admired that about her. "Well, you are. You have a face that just begs to be kissed." She laughed harder when I took to staring at my feet. "John Doggett! Turns out you're just a big old marshmallow at heart." She slid off the bed and came up to me, wrapping her arms around my waist.

I was about to reply when my cell phone rang, interrupting the dreamlike mood in the room. "While you get that, I'm gonna hop in the shower," Monica said.


She pulled away and smiled at me as she headed into the bathroom. I flipped the phone open. "Yeah?"

"Agent Doggett." Scully's voice was marred by static. "Have you and Agent Reyes enjoyed your long weekend?"

"Yeah, we're great. What was the deal with the helicopters back at the canyon?" I queried her, in investigator mode immediately.

There was a moment of loud crackling, then I heard, "---everything later. Here's what you need to do. Get on 285 and head west." Scully rattled off a set of directions and I scribbled as best I could on the back of my receipt from the previous night's dinner.

"Okay," I said. "We should be there sometime tonight." I paused to listen to her. "I'll be looking for it." Hanging up, I strode over and poked my head around the door. Raising my voice over the rush of the shower, I said, "Monica, hurry up! We're goin' to Mexico."

Ciudad Juarez was like any other border town in Mexico or the U.S. High rises in downtown gave way to shanties and peddlers in the more rural areas. The fate of little tourist pueblo's economy rested with the droves of Americans crossing the border from El Paso, on their way to Tijuana, Cancun or one of the other high-profile travel destinations in Mexico.

The sun was sinking against the desert backdrop, shading the sky in a thousand different hues. While dark reds dominated, the fading orange light in the sky would be enough to see by for another hour, at least. Monica and I strolled through the lines of vendors like any couple, dressed casually in jeans and t-shirts. My spare gun was strapped to my ankle and my hand was on the small of Monica's back. I kept her near my side for the feeling it gave me, more than to protect her. Several times as we passed the huts, I caught whispered Spanish words I understood: "amor", "hermana", "esposa". Packed in tight rows, each of the ladies in their tiny straw-topped kiosks speculated on whether the senorita was my sister, my wife or my illicit lover. I fought a slight grin, wondering what they'd think if they knew the little senorita could kick my ass in ten different ways and was packing heat.

"John," Monica gasped softly, seeming to forget why we were there. "Isn't this beautiful? You just don't see workmanship like this in the States." She was grasping the edge of a peasant blouse, made with an array of vibrant colors. The owner of the small store was wearing one herself, and when she saw Monica rubbing the fabric between her fingertips, her eyes lit up. "You like, yes?" she asked in broken English. "You like, I make good deal to you."

"Sí, eso me gusta mucho," Monica said, Spanish flying off her practiced tongue. It was then that I remembered she'd been raised near Puerto Vallarta. She admired the blouse and didn't even glance at me as she said, "Cuanto?"

The Mexican's face crinkled in thought. "For you, senorita, twenty-five dolla'. But just for you, good deal, yes?"

"Monica," I said, shaking my head as she looked up at me. "It's too much," I murmured.

The old woman's face fell but she countered quickly, "No? Twenty!"
she declared.
"Still too much. We can find a nicer one than this for less."

Monica was about to tell me where to put my argument when we heard the loud rumbling of the approaching freight trucks. "Those are the trucks Mulder told us to watch for," she said, dropping the blouse on top of the stack. "Sorry," she called back to the woman as we hurried toward the square.

We were standing there in puzzlement, watching the cargo being unloaded from the trucks as instructed, when our confusion was cleared up. "Agent Doggett!" Mulder bounded down the gangplank of a huge truck. "Good to see you," he said with a quick smile. "Agent Reyes, hello again."

"Agent Mulder," Monica replied with a smile, leaning over to hug him. "How are you? Where's Agent Scully?"

"You know," I broke in, "we really oughta start using first names or something. 'Cause considering the crap we're in, I don't think any of us will be 'Agent' anythin' for long."

Mulder shook his head, dismissing me with, "Maybe us, not you two." I was about to ask for an explanation when I saw a dark-haired woman stand up behind a large stack of crates. She easily negotiated around them, carrying a small bundle. Monica and I shared a look of amazement. "Scully," I said by way of greeting, "is that..."

As Mulder helped her off the truck, Scully's face shone with a smile. "John, Monica," she said softly, turning the bundle to face us, "you remember your godson."

The others were seated by the time I joined them, setting Monica's backpack, with all our stuff in it, under the table. "So are you gonna tell us what happened?" I asked, gesturing to William, sitting on his mother's lap, chewing on a corn tortilla.

"John," Monica reprimanded. "Give them a minute to get their bearings."

Mulder shrugged, meeting my eyes. "It's time we got down to business, anyway." He laid his arm across the back of Scully's chair and began the story. He told us how he and Scully had gone east from New Mexico after we split with them and with a little help from Skinner, found out where William had been placed. Fortunately for them, he was adopted under D.C. law, which allows for a six-month window after a child is given up, in which the natural parents can change their minds.

Taking the baby, they booked a hotel room nearby and checked in, making sure they were seen by several people. Then in the middle of the night, they slipped out. They rented a car, paid in cash, and drove to California. In San Jose, they found a boat owner who was taking his freighter out on a run to Ciudad Obregon the following day.

"From there, it was simple," Mulder explained. "We disguised ourselves and took separate buses to the edge of the peninsula. We took the ferry across, again separately." Monica nodded, apparently familiar with the area he was referring to. "I took William, 'cause we were pretty sure they'd be looking for all three of us, or for Scully and William to be together. We stayed apart until we reached the halfway mark between Hermosillo and Chihuahua. Scully and I met there and I passed William off to her. That's when she called you, Agent Doggett. She came straight here, and I waited a day, then followed her. Then we hitched into town on the truck you saw us in."

"So what now?"

Scully answered, never taking her eyes off the baby. Her tone was full of rage, tempered by anger. "Now we finish the work that began nine years ago. We're going to find concrete, *scientific* proof of the conspiracy," she kept her voice low, "and we're going to the media with it."

"We need your help," Mulder admitted in an even softer tone. "We can't get back into the FBI now. We're fugitives. And I don't care if A.D. Kersch did help me escape, there was something fishy about it, and I'm not risking my family." A protective edge crept into his quiet monotone.

"I hear ya." I nodded, feeling Monica's hand slip into mine under the table. She and Scully shared one of the looks that women give that carries on an entire conversation without a word. Scully's eyes turned to me and she smiled gently, nodding slightly as if to say she knew. For some reason, I believe she did. "So you want us on the inside?" I surmised. "We're supposed to go back to the FBI and what, eat crow, for you?"

"We'll do it." Monica's eyes found mine and she said quietly, "John..." in a tone that was pleading with me to see her point of view. I did, but I wasn't about to watch her go crawling back to Brad Fulmer and put us both in the path of the tornado again until we had a solid plan. And I told them all just that.

Scully nodded slowly, glancing at Mulder. "We do need a little more of a plan than we've got," she admitted. "What do you think we do next, Agent Doggett?" she asked, turning to me.

"I've got a few ideas."

And I did. We talked for nearly two hours, until well past William's bedtime. Rather than risk a hotel, we had Monica convince a local that we were tourists whose wallets had been stolen. Our sob story earned us the hospitality of the local well-to-dos, who put us up in their pueblo for 'as long as you need, Senor.' Scully got the baby settled, then she and Mulder decided to join him, tired from three days of constant traveling.

"Are you tired?" I asked Monica as we stood in the hallway, soaking up the
She shook her head, smiling at me. "Not in the least. You?"

"Nah. Wanna take a walk?" I suggested.


"Okay. Listen, I wanna talk to Mulder for a sec, so you can go freshen up, or whatever it is you women do that takes you an hour in the bathroom."

Monica laughed, leaning over to kiss my cheek. "'Kay. Meet you in five." She disappeared into the room.

I didn't move from the hallway, counting the seconds until she came back. I heard the door open and close, and Monica came around the corner, tears in her eyes. "What's wrong?" I asked, instantly concerned.

"Nothing," she said, throwing her arms around my neck. "You're just the sweetest man."

I pushed her away from me gently, letting my eyes travel her body. "I didn't do it for you," I teased. "You're gorgeous."

Monica pulled away and threw her arms out, spinning in a circle. "You like it?" The multicolored peasant blouse she'd admired that afternoon was pulled off her shoulders, exposing her delicate olive skin. A sarong skirt of bright red fabric complemented her shapely legs. I loved her in the outfit, but couldn't wait to see her out of it again.

"Love it," I said quietly. "Lista para irse, Senorita Reyes?"

"John," she laughed softly, taking my hand, "you're learning Spanish?"

"I'm pickin' up a little." We started to walk, down the hall and out of the pueblo into the warm desert night. "Wanna hear what I've learned so far?"

"Of course." Her velvet voice made my heart jump with even the simplest of words.

I stopped in the middle of the deserted square. The only sounds I heard were the songs of the night birds. Staring at the stars for a minute, I looked back to see Monica scrutinizing me. This was nearly as hard as the first time. "Te quiero, Monica."

"John," Monica murmured, smiling. "I want you, too."

I struggled with the unfamiliar words. "Te amo. Quiero que seas mia." I felt like I was quoting one of those chalky little Valentine's Day candy hearts. *'I love you and I want you to be mine.' You're going soft, John Doggett.*

"Tambien te amo y ya soy tuya."

"Mon," I grinned, "what the hell did you just say? I'm not that good."

Laughing, Monica slid her hands up my arms and rested them on my shoulders. Tilting her head up, she whispered, "I said that I love you, too, and I am already yours." Her eyes were watering again. Neither of us was much for declarations of love. Sometimes weeks went by without one of us saying 'I love you', but it was always clear, in everything we did. I guess my saying it out loud reassured Monica in some way. I know that hearing her say it reassured me.

I shrugged. "I'm still learning," I said with a heartfelt squeeze of her hand. "Give me a little more time." I wasn't just talking about the language, but about emotional walls I still had to break down.

"Mi corazon," Monica whispered as we started to walk again. 'My heart.' I recognized that. I had no reply, except to tug her closer.


IV: Defenses Down

"Sólo sé que nunca sabre nada, de lo que hay oculto en tu mirada!"

I stood in the kitchen doorway, watching her and fighting a smile. It seemed like I was always laughing or grinning around Monica - not that I'm complaining. It's just...different. Monica moved from the sink to the stove, while I admired the way her khaki shorts fit. "Nice outfit," I said, crossing the room to rest my hand on her back.

Monica leaned back against my hand, turning her head to grin at me. "Sorry I missed you this morning. Scully and I left early to buy clothes," she said, glancing at my new outfit. I'd found it that morning on the bed when I got back from my run. "I guess by the time you got back, I was already down here."

"Yeah, I missed you in the shower," I deadpanned.

"You did not," Monica laughed. "You hate sharing the hot water."

The CD player in the corner turned to a new song and graced us with an upbeat rhythm. As Monica worked her magic on the ancient stove, she began to sing to me, dancing in my embrace as best she could. "Puede que me esté volviendo loco, pero es que no entiendo qué te pasa. Puede que me esté volviendo loco, pero es que no entiendo qué te pasa."

I could get used to this Spanish thing. When Monica speaks her native language, her entire demeanor changes. Her voice takes on this airy quality, and her body relaxes. I could tell by the way she was leaning against me that she was kind of lost in the music. I wrapped my arms around her waist to support her better, and kissed the back of her neck. She laughed softly, the laugh that told me if we weren't in a public place, I'd be repaid for that kiss. Instead, she kept singing, as she worked on our breakfast. "Puede que me esté volviendo loco, pero es que no entiendo qué te pasa. Puse mi mundo en tus manos; Si te mueves yo me caigo. Mi mundo en tu mano, mi mundo en tu mano."

I allowed myself to think for just a second how much I loved her; how she took care of me and let me protect her, how beautiful she was, inside and out. If I dwelled on it, I'd disappear in the thoughts and never get anything accomplished, ever. As it was, I was starting to get antsy. "What's that song about?" I asked, to make conversation.

"It's about how this man put his world in his lover's hands. Now he's saying, 'I will never know anything about what's hidden in the way you look at me. I might be going mad, but I just don't understand what is happening to you.' I know how he feels," Monica teased. "I can tell you're distracted by something. What's wrong, John?" she asked, her tone growing serious.

I shrugged, holding Monica a little closer to me. I couldn't put words to the feeling, it was just a persistent nagging doubt about...something. I wasn't even sure what it was about. "I'm just itching to do somethin'. I can't stand sittin' around."

"Me, either," Mulder said from the doorway. He had a grin that said he caught my hand in the cookie jar.

Pulling away from Monica reluctantly, I strode over to the table and sank down. "I know we've gotta wait, I just don't like it."

Monica turned from the stove, a sizzling pan in her hand. "Well let me distract you, Agent Doggett." She heaped the food onto four plates and put the skillet in the sink. Going to the doorway, she called, "Dana! Breakfast is ready!"

When Scully entered the kitchen with William on her hip, I was struck by the thought that the five of us were somehow a family. We were an odd family, to be sure, but there it was. We trusted each other with our lives, and loved each other - even Mulder and I shared a deep respect based on shared experiences.

Peering at the food in front of me, I tried to sound lighthearted as I asked, "What'sa matter, Monica, they don't make omelets down here?" I was rewarded with a playful smack on the arm.

"John, where's your adventurous spirit?" Monica grinned, slipping into the seat beside me. "They're called Huevos Rancheros. My mother taught me her recipe when I was tiny," she said, using her fork to point to my plate. "It's just a flour tortilla with sauce, fried eggs and cheese, and I went easy on the jalapenos for you and William. C'mon, I know you love fried eggs," she added.

"Try it, John," Scully said, offering a forkful of the stuff to William. "See, even William likes it."

"Okay, okay," I said, giving in with a grin. "You win."

"I always do. I got you, didn't I?" Monica whispered, before digging in to her breakfast.

I shook my head as I grinned again. I had never smiled as much in my life as I had since I first kissed Monica Reyes. I'd never before felt as happy as I did just being in the same room with her. For the moment, I felt like a normal guy, in a normal relationship, with normal friends, living a normal life.

I should've recognized that feeling as the harbinger of doom.
We made our plans over the next few days, solidifying the details. I came to realize, despite my initial resistance, that Mulder was right: Monica and I had to be their inside contacts, there were no two ways about it.

The wretched feeling in my gut wasn't going away. Something just didn't fit; there was a tiny piece of the puzzle somewhere that I was missing. I put my instinct to the side, promising myself I'd address it later. That was my first mistake.

Sitting at the kitchen table, we discussed the plans quietly and I watched Monica write quickly on her ever-present pad. Skeptical, I told her quietly that writing this down might not be a good idea. Turning the pad toward me with a wry smile, Monica let me read the list. I kicked myself mentally, murmuring, "Sorry." *Of course, she's not dumb.* She'd jotted what appeared to be fake notes about times and places, modes of transportation and thrown in a couple of phony bank account numbers for good measure.

"It's okay." Monica smiled and handed Mulder her list. "I had a thought. We do kind of stand out, and they're eventually going to find out we are, or were, here. So when we leave, we need to leave a paper trail, and make it look like we tried to disguise it." She rushed on as Scully started to interrupt her. "You two are buying plane tickets to Switzerland. You'll have a contact set up there, as well as a bank account," she pointed to the row of numbers. "Everything will be done via a secure connection on the Internet."

"Nothing's secure," Mulder protested, his face drawn in lines of confusion.

"Exactly. I want them to find out you bought tickets on SwissAir for Friday night. I want them to find the bank account the funds were drawn from, and who you're meeting in Zurich."

I began to understand and nodded my approval. "She's right. That way you can slip out of Mexico under the radar. While they're searching planes to Switzerland, you'll be under assumed names on another flight."

"To Italy," Monica supplied, casting me an appreciative look.

"Why Italy?" Scully asked.

"Non-extradition country," Mulder supplied immediately. "I'm wanted for murder," he reminded us, though we couldn't forget. "If they find us, we need to be someplace safe. Italy won't send me back to the US unless they agree to waive the death penalty."

Scully nodded, then asked, "But what about you?" She gestured to Monica and me. "How are you going to get back to DC?" We'd discussed what to do when we got there, but it seemed that was putting the cart before the horse.

"I thought about that, and I think the best way is to get caught."

"Reyes, are you insane?" I turned to Monica, stunned momentarily. She'd had great ideas this far, though, so I figured she must have something up her sleeve.

"No," Monica said firmly. "I think the only way we're going to convince Fulmer and the others that we regret helping Mulder and Scully escape is if think they've caught us in the act. In fact, a public arrest would be best. In an airport, maybe, or as we try to cross the border. They'll take us back to DC, interrogate us, and we'll 'crack' under the pressure."

"And they're not going to kill you on sight because..." Scully trailed off, a question in her jaded tone.

Monica smiled. "Because we're going to have William with us."

Scully's response was a reverberating "No!"

Mulder took the time to hear her out, albeit with a dubious tone. "Why's that gonna stop them? Scully said the Consortium tried to have him killed twice already."

Monica seemed to be thinking of this part as we went, her tone thoughtful. "Well, that's when they thought you and Scully were going to expose them." Turning to Scully, she emphasized, "They *want* him now, Dana. He's the miracle child they've been striving for, and if they think you and Mulder have abandoned him to save yourselves, and we're his guardians, they'll welcome us with open arms."

Scully seemed a little less doubtful when she said, "I still want more details. This is my son, and I refuse to put him in any more danger than we already have. I need to know you and Agent Doggett can protect him." Her arms closed around her chest as if she were holding her son, who was upstairs asleep.

"We can," I promised. "And we're gonna get him to you as soon as we can, right Monica?" She nodded, reaching for my hand. "By this time Saturday, you'll be free," I told Mulder and Scully. I still felt a vague trepidation in the back of my mind, but convinced myself it was just pessimism. *Everything will work out if we follow the plan*, I told myself.


V: Doggett and Reyes Ride Again

The plans were set and the plane tickets purchased. Courtesy of the FBI, former Agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, wanted for connection with murder and accessory, were booked on Continental Airlines flight 174, which left from Monterrey, Mexico, traveling nonstop to Zurich, Switzerland. Meanwhile, Mr. and Mrs. James List were traveling first class from Saltillo to Florence, Italy that same day.

"How'd you do all this?" John asked as I handed him the printouts.

"Maria," I said, referring to our host's sixteen year old daughter, "has a laptop and a cable modem." I smiled broadly. "Amazing how technology can reach into the smallest pueblo."

"Yeah," John said, flipping through the passports, driver's licenses and birth certificates, all fraudulent. "But how'd you manage it?"

"John," I murmured, reaching out to stroke my finger down his cheek. "You wouldn't want me to reveal my magic, would you?" I teased. Grinning, John shook his head and handed the paperwork back. "I will tell you, though, I had a little help," I admitted. "I don't know if you heard about this guy, but the Lone Gunmen had a, well, kind of an intern. Jimmy and Lois are the only ones left of the group, and when I called and told him what I needed, he was more than happy to help."

"Won't they trace the call?" John prodded.

But I had thought of nearly everything. "Sure, back to the American Embassy in Zurich."

John laughed, shaking his head at me. "Nice work."

I did my best Sean Connery when I said, "Not me. Bond, Jimmy Bond." On impulse, I leaned over and kissed his lips. "That's for backing me up," I said, before he could ask. I stood, gathering the papers. "I'm going to go give these to Mulder and then I've got to get dinner started. We're having quesadillas and ceviches." At his look, I just laughed softly. "I told you I'd take you new places, didn't I?"

"But I thought you mean sexually." John's little pout made me burst out laughing.

"That, too." I disappeared up the stairs toward Mulder and Scully's room.

All that week, something was still bothering John, I just couldn't tell what. Chalking it up to the entire situation, I didn't press him to tell me. *They're leaving tomorrow,* I thought. *If we can just make it until then, everything will be fine.* Famous last words.

Trying to cheer him up, I offered to take him out to dinner. Maria told me about this little hole-in-the-wall, too out of the way to attract tourists. I thought it was perfect. I could get some real food, *not* cooked by me for once, and John and I could have a little privacy.

The restaurant was just as Maria had described  -  three little tables and an open stove sitting in the middle of a tiny brick home. The owners probably lived in the back, I guessed. A small TV hung just to the left of the stove, tuned to the afternoon news. As soon as we walked in, a young man approached us, introducing himself as Juan Manuel and asking what he could do for us. I replied that we had heard his food was the best in the Ciudad, and he began to beam. "Si, senorita," Juan Manuel replied with a vigorous nod. He offered us a table and a menu. We took the seats, and I told him to surprise us with the food.

'But not too many jalapenos,' I added regretfully in Spanish. 'My friend is a gringo,' I said, patting John's hand. The waiter laughed and nodded, heading to the stove.

"Are you talkin' about me?" John asked warily.

"Yeah," I grinned. "I told him to go easy on the peppers 'cause you're a wimpy white man."

"I'm a man who wants to keep the lining of his throat intact," John bantered back. I could tell by his expression that he was finally relaxing.

"Wuss," I challenged lightly.

John shook his head with a wry grin. "Pragmatist."

I clapped softly. "Word of the day toilet paper?" He was about to reply when I caught sight of the television out of the corner of my eye. Twisting in my seat, I motioned for him to be quiet. After a moment, I murmured, "John, look." The screen was filled with a huge picture of a man, 'Fugitivo de la Justicia' splashed across the screen underneath. "Is that Mulder?" I asked, dreading his answer. The newscaster disappeared and I turned toward him.

"Oh, hell," John swore, his eyes darkening as he looked at me. "They know where we are."

"Senorita!" Juan Manuel called from across the room. "Conoce a ese hombre?" He craned his neck to look at the television, then gestured toward me, speaking rapidly.

I replied, then turned to John, my heart was caught in my throat. I couldn't speak for a second, feeling everything explode around us.

"Monica," John's forehead was furrowed, "what'd he say? What is it?"

I reached for John's hand, gripping it tightly. "He says if we know that man, we should get him out of Mexico, and fast. There's a bounty of one million pesos on his head."

*They found us.* My mind whirled as I raced out of the restaurant right behind John, tossing apologies to Juan Manuel over my shoulder.

*They found us.* We had to get Mulder to safety until he could board his flight - *Oh, God.* "John, they can't get on that plane." I raised my voice over the traffic as we hailed a taxi.

"They have to," he argued as we climbed in.

"They'll never be allowed to board," I murmured, eyeing the driver for any sign he was listening to our conversation. "They'll be recognized the minute they try."

John nodded, and I could practically see the thoughts whirling. The cab stopped at the house and I tossed the driver a hundred pesos. We entered the house and I ran upstairs to tell Scully the news. Ten minutes later, everyone was at the kitchen table except John, who was pacing the room. "John," I said, and he turned toward me. "You looked like you might have an idea earlier."

"I did, but I don't like it." We waited expectantly for him to continue. "They think we're gonna run now that they found us. Monica, I think you and I have to be the distraction, instead of the plane tickets to Switzerland. We've gotta pretend to be Mulder and Scully. We'll alert the local P.D. with an anonymous tip and let them chase us to the border. By the time they figure out who we are, you guys," he gestured to our friends, "will be airborne."

I was torn between fear and a swell of pride that he wasn't trying to protect me from what we needed to do. I was struck with an idea. "Not the border," I corrected, "the Embassy in Hermosillo. If we try to cross the border in a hurry, we might..." I trailed off, not wanting to say it. "But once we're on embassy grounds, it's American soil."

"And they'll send you back to DC, which is what we want," Mulder agreed. "Just don't take too many chances." He glanced at his infant son, cradled in his mother's arms.

"We won't," I promised, my gaze locking on baby William. I stood, determined to do what had to be done. "We'll find a way to contact you as soon as it's safe."

Scully rose and handed her son to me. I was reminded of another time we'd done this  -  the failed attempt to keep him safe would not be repeated, I swore to her silently. She cradled his hand with her hand, tears in her eyes. "Protect him," Scully told me simply.

"I will, Dana. I promise." I fought my own tears as I lifted the baby to my shoulder.

Mulder wrapped his arm around Scully's shoulder as he and John exchanged a quick farewell. I felt John's strong hand on my back as we turned to leave the pueblo, with only the baby and a backpack full of supplies. I stopped at the door, glancing back. "Vaya con Dios," I murmured.

The next in a long line of challenges was transportation. We caught a cab to downtown Ciudad Juarez, and I asked the driver about car dealerships. There were two, we found, both open today. We chose one and he dropped us off. Standing in front, John looked at me with a gleam in his eyes. "Mon," he said, "we want them to find us, right?"

"Yeah," I said, shifting William to my other arm. "Why?"

"So let's go all out. What the hell," he grinned, pointing to the Harley on display next door. "I've always wanted a Hog."

I laughed softly. "Find one with room for a baby and it's ours."

He did, and it was settled, charged on the FBI's American Express. We set out through the streets, John and I strapped tightly to the roaring machine, William swaddled tightly and belted in my lap. He guided us out on the one-lane highway, heading southwest toward Hermosillo.

I lowered the tinted visor in my new helmet against the setting sun, giggling to myself.

"What's so funny?" John asked through the little microphone in his helmet.

"I just never pictured us on a Harley, with a baby, driving us off into the desert sunset," I said tenderly.

"I did."

I laughed louder, stroking William's arms, though he seemed to take to the motorcycle's rhythm, falling asleep soon after we set out.

The sun radiated an array of colors as it sank toward the horizon ahead of us. We drove on into the night, stopping only long enough to change William's diaper and use the bathroom. When we felt we were close enough to our destination, we called the Ciudad Juarez police. They were informed that we'd seen the fugitive and his lady friend with the baby heading southwest. We hung up before they could ask anything else. As we approached Hermosillo's city limits, I inhaled sharply. A blockade of Hermosillo police were crouched behind open car doors, guns poised. Spanish words blared through the bullhorn, ordering us to stop or be targeted. "They're here," I called to John, hearing my voice waver slightly.

"I know." His voice echoed in my helmet, warm but decisive. "Ready?"

"Ready," I replied, cradling William to my chest. I knew that back in Saltillo, Mulder and Scully were boarding a plane to safety.

John killed the engine and lowered the kickstand, moving in slow motion. I slid off, hefting William to my hip. "Nos entregamos!" I yelled. 'We surrender.'

John stood next to me, his bearing proud. I barely heard his muttered epithet, but it made my heart soar. "Come and get us, motherfuckers."


VI: Love At All Costs

Reyes stood next to Doggett, longing to take his hand. She held William in one arm, repeating "Nos entregamos!" at the top of her voice.

"Agent Scully," the voice boomed over the bullhorn, speaking English with a thick accent. "You and Agent Mulder, get on the knees now!" Glancing at Doggett once, Reyes did as she was told, struggling to kneel while holding onto the squirming baby.

Doggett dropped to his knees beside her. His only murmured comment was, "It'll be okay."

Reyes did not reply, taking comfort in the simple words. She held onto William as a man approached. Glancing at his nametag, she said loudly in Spanish, "Captain. My friend and I surrender. We give up."

He leered down at her with a glare that made Reyes shudder inside. She blanched as she wondered if she'd miscalculated the conspiracy's interest in obtaining William unharmed. Her eyes widened as the police captain slid his gun out of its holster. Reyes opened her mouth to speak, catching Doggett's eye. Before the words made it out, she heard a thunderous crack. She couldn't help wondering where the thunder was coming from - the sky was cerulean blue. The next thing Reyes felt was a tingling in her arm and a growing warmth across her abdomen. Glancing down, her stomach heaved and she fought the wave of nausea. The blood spurted from her in jagged waves, soaking little William's clothes. *William,* Reyes cried, but couldn't hear her own words. She felt a little lightheaded and the last thing she saw was John's chalk-white face above her, catching her as she fell to the side.

"Monica!" John's voice cracked even as his arms caught his bleeding partner. He barely noticed as the throng of police cars began to dissipate. "Mon, it's okay," he murmured. William sat off to one side, stunned into silence. His tiny fingers played absently with the ragged hole in his jumper.

"It's okay," John kept repeating to himself. His thoughts flashed back to Monica's car accident and the helplessness he'd felt when he learned she was hurt. Watching it happen, being unable to stop it, was a thousand times worse. Laying her on the ground gently, John rushed to pull off his leather jacket and tug his t-shirt over his head. Ripping it into three pieces, he risked another glance at William, who was watching ants in fascination, oblivious to the life-and-death battle going on in front of his tiny eyes. John pressed one of the strips of cotton over Monica's wound, frantically trying to stem the tide of blood. Reaching for his cell phone, he thought, *Plans be damned*. Dialing the only number he knew he could trust in this country, he prayed someone would answer.

"American Embassy, how can I help you?"

John explained the situation in a rush, telling the receptionist he didn't know how to get an ambulance. She promised to get one out to him, and he told her where they were as best he could. John hung up, and lifted Monica into his arms again, covering the entrance wound with a fresh piece of cloth. "It'll be okay," he repeated. *It has to be okay,* he thought. *I can't lose you. I can't.*

It was only a few minutes before the wailing sirens approached. Reflexively, John reached out, lifting William with his free arm. His throat tightened as he watched Monica's bright red blood soaking through the last piece of his t-shirt. "Dammit," he muttered. "Hang on, Reyes. Don't you dare give up on me, I need you." Later, he might able to look back and cringe at how cliched his thoughts were at this time. For the moment, though, he meant every word.

The medics jumped out of the ambulance and John gave Monica over to them, telling them in very broken Spanish that she was hurt by a weapon about ten minutes prior. Nodding, the medic pointed to the ambulance. "You, in truck?" he said in English.

"No," John managed to point to the motorcycle. "I'll follow you. Behind," he said, gesturing up the road they had been on. The other man finally nodded his understanding, and he climbed into the cab. They took off down the road, and John was right behind them, William belted in his lap. An old song he'd loved in college came to mind. 'Everything can change, in a New York minute.' Half an hour ago, Monica had been alive and well and on the bike with them. *Stop it!* John ordered himself. *She ain't dead, stop thinkin' like she is, goddamit.* He berated himself for not challenging Monica's plans, but how could either of them known how wrong they were?

Five minutes later, they pulled into the hospital. Doggett threw the motorcycle into a spot, not caring now what happened to it. Hefting William up, he strode into the emergency room, watching as they rolled Monica away down a hall. John went to the desk and asked the nurses, "Habla Ingles?" When he found one that did, he told her who he was, that his girlfriend had been shot.

"I'll make sure someone comes to talk to you as soon as I have any information," she promised with a sympathetic expression.

Realizing he couldn't do anything for her now, John nodded his thanks and made his way to a waiting area. William struggled against his hold, so he set the baby down on the floor, watching him carefully.

It seemed an eternity later when the nurse finally came and found him. "Mr. Doggett?" she said, drawing his attention away from William.

His head snapped up. "How is she?"

"The doctor wants to talk to you."

John's heart was in his throat as he scooped up the baby and followed the nurse down the hall. They stepped into a small room and John fought a wave of panic. Monica was hooked up to a tangle of wires and looked absolutely ghastly. The doctor stood over her, making notes on a chart and John eyed him until he looked up. "Senor Doggett?" he said, and the nurse spoke rapid Spanish. He nodded, firing back a long response. The nurse turned to John and translated. "Dr. Espera says your friend is hurt badly, but she will be fine. They took out the bullet and fixed the wound. She is not in a coma, he says to thank God for that. She is under drugs right now." The nurse stumbled over the translation for 'anesthesia'. "But she should wake up soon."

John muttered a prayer of thanks, then extended his free hand to Dr. Espera. "Gracias," was all he managed, turning back to the nurse and asking, "Can I stay with her?"

The nurse asked the doctor, then turned to John and nodded. "As long as you like." She reached out to caress William's tiny hand. "Does your son need milk?" she asked, noticing that John had no bag that could hold baby food.

"Oh, god, yeah." John sighed, not bothering to correct her. None of this was supposed to happen. They were supposed to be on their way back to DC by now. Even if they would've been in handcuffs, it still would've been better. Anything would be better than this. "I don't have a bottle," he said, kicking himself for leaving the backpack in his haste. *Some godfather I make.*

The nurse smiled. "Don't worry." She held out her arms and John hesitated a moment before handing William to her. "You stay with your friend, I will feed him and find him a crib for a nap," she said as the baby yawned.

"Thank you," John said, his attention on Monica now. The nurse walked away, speaking quiet baby talk to William. When they were gone, John sank into the only chair in the room. He sat silently for about fifteen minutes, letting the adrenaline seep out of his system. Then he brought the chair to the edge of the bed and stared at his best friend, lying there so silently. John's fingers went up to brush Monica's hair off her face and his gentle touch fluttered over her temple and down her cheek.

"Monica," he said quietly, hoping she could hear him like she could the last time she'd been unconscious. "I'm here, honey. The doctor says you're going to be fine. You hear that? You'll be fine. So just go ahead and get better. Rest a little, then open your eyes and tell me you love me." His throat tightened with unshed tears. "'Cause I love you," John said in a soft, conversational tone, trying to keep a positive energy.

*Positive energy.* He nearly laughed at himself. He never would've thought about sending anyone good vibrations before Monica came into his life. "I do love you, ya know," John told Monica's still form. He took her hand in his, stroking her palm with his thumb, in the way he knew she liked so much. "I even called you 'baby' back there," John teased softly, his tears finally breaking through his reserve. "I don't do that for just anybody. Never called Barbara 'baby'." He scrubbed at the tear tracks, continuing his gentle rhythm on her palm. "But you're something else." John paused, trying to gather his thoughts and express them well. "I mean...what do I mean?" He sighed softly.

"You probably don't remember when you told me about cat people versus dog people. It was a silly little conversation, right before your car accident." John thought idly that she probably did remember -- Monica remembered everything, it seemed, and that accident had changed their relationship so much. It was the beginning of the demolition of the walls around his heart. "You rattled off a list of qualities you thought I had. You called me loyal, I think, faithful and dependable. And you told me you couldn't see me disappointin' anyone. Monica," he broke off, composing himself again. "Monica, that meant so much to me. 'Cause I don't think I'd be half of the wonderful things you think I am, if you weren't here to make me wanna be 'em for ya. I don't ever wanna disappoint you." He fought a wave of tears, chiding himself for being such a crybaby.

John kept talking to Monica off and on for hours, stopping only to find the nurse and check on William, or get a cup of coffee. The nurse took to bringing him a fresh mug and a report on the baby every hour, so he wouldn't have to leave her side. His eyes stole to the clock whenever the nurse left, praying that Monica would wake up before her next visit. It seemed like no time at all had passed when John saw the hands inching toward midnight and felt fatigue overcoming him. When the nurse came in and told him that her shift was ending, he thanked her profusely.

Before she left, she managed to find him a cot and he settled down with a very cranky William. Scooting the cot over so it was flush against the hospital bed, John put William on the side closest to Monica, hoping her bond with him would somehow calm the baby even now. Then he settled himself on the other side. His arm instinctually went around William's tiny body, his firm hand rubbing the baby's back. "Come on, William," he said softly as the baby flailed against his grip. "Time for bed."

His mind flashed back almost eighteen years, to his son's infancy. He remembered sleepless nights, lying next to Luke's crib, keeping up a constant soothing monotone with his hand through the bars, rubbing the same way he was now, until his tiny son fell asleep.

As William fought sleep, yawning and whining, John made his voice more firm, but kept it low and monotone. "Time for sleep, son." He winced at the word even as it slipped out. "We've had a long day, and tomorrow's gonna be even longer. Let's catch some shut-eye while we can." John spoke to the baby as if he were a friend instead of a ten month old. William stopped struggling but still protested with a tiny whine. "Come on, kid, it's bedtime. Tomorrow, Mo--" He stopped himself, wondering why he'd almost slipped 'Mommy' in there. "Monica's gonna wake up," John corrected himself, "and we're gonna have to figure out what to do. We need our rest."

The baby finally stopped whining, his little blue eyes closing as John's soothing voice took hold and lulled him to sleep. John allowed himself to drift off soon after, whispering, "'Night, Monica."

*Goodnight, my love.*


From Celine Dion's "Aun Existe Amor", translated into English for me by Maria. The line "to love you at all costs" inspired the title.

The indecision within me
I would send to the moon
To be able to live with you
To love you at all costs
To love you at every moment
Even though there's so much evil
Surrounding us.
Beyond the violence
Beyond the insanity
Even though there's so much evil
That will never end.

VII: Beyond the Darkness

I felt her hand on mine, warm against my cool skin. I smiled automatically, the grin dimming only when I opened my eyes and remembered the previous day's events. "Monica," I kept my voice low to avoid waking William. Sitting up slowly, I managed another smile for her. "How do you feel?"

"Is William all right?" she asked, ignoring my question.

"He's fine," I said, pointing to the cot. "He's right next to you."

She turned her head with a relieved sigh. "I thought he'd been hurt."

"No," I said. "Nothin' short of a miracle, the bullet missin' him like it did."

Nodding, Monica's eyes slipped shut. "Mon?" I murmured, climbing off the cot and darting around the hospital bed. I sank down next to her, covering her cheek with my hand. "Monica," I said more firmly. She opened her eyes again and I saw in them how tired she was. "You had me worried for a second," I told her. "I thought you were gonna go back under."

"Nah," she reassured me in a weak voice. "I'm just gonna go to sleep, okay?"

"Okay," I said, caressing her cheek again. I leaned over, brushing a kiss against her temple. Soon I heard her breathing even out and I knew she was asleep. I gathered William up and carried him off to the nurse's station, looking around for the nurse who'd been so helpful the day before, Isabel. When I saw her, I gave my best smile. "She's awake," I said, hearing the relief in my own voice.

Isabel grinned. "I told you to have hope, didn't I?"

"Yes, you did," I acknowledged, before getting to the business at hand. "I was hoping you could help me with William like you did yesterday." The sleepy baby brightened as he saw his playmate.

"I can do better than that." Isabel turned toward the waiting area. "Blanca!" A young girl of about fifteen came bounding up. "Blanca, this is Mr. Doggett. Mr. Doggett, my daughter Blanca. It is Saturday, so she has no school today. If you like, she can watch your son. She has three little brothers, so she knows what to do."

"My godson," I finally corrected her mistake. "And that would be wonderful. Thank you, Blanca," I said, putting the baby on the floor. The girl smiled up at me and for a second, I was floored. She had the same hazel eyes as Monica, and the same young features she'd had when I first met her. "Thank you," I said again, waving at William as I headed down the hall toward Monica's room.

Slipping in, I stood behind the closed door for a moment. I watched her sleep, thanking whoever was watching out for us for her safe return. Settling in the chair by the bed, I ran my hand over Monica's side lightly. I wanted to make sure I hadn't been dreaming, that she really was going to be all right. Monica stirred slightly and I jerked my hand away. I didn't want to wake her, just to reassure myself. When I was sure she was still sleeping, I leaned over, sliding my hand under the gentle weight of Monica's. "Mon," I said softly. "I meant what I said last night. I am what I am 'cause of you. I don't know what I'd do without you." I felt my resolve start to crumble. Now that I knew Monica would live, I let all my fear and guilt pour out in a stream of tears coursing down my face. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I remembered crying like this. Yeah, the day I scattered Luke's ashes. Only a few months ago, it seemed like years. So much had happened since. Monica had held me that night and let me cry, and she never thought me less of a man for doing it. I laid my head on the bed next to her, crying quietly for a minute.

I had just admonished myself, *That's enough, stop it,* when I felt her hand on my shoulder, and I looked up. Monica had rolled over to face me and she smiled sleepily. "It's okay," she said. "Cry if you want to."

I raised my head, shaking it firmly. "No. I was just tired."

"It's okay," Monica reiterated. "I heard what you said, and you know I love you. It's okay to be scared of losing me. It's actually kind of sweet." Her smiled faded as she added, "I'm terrified to even think about losing you."

"I failed you," I muttered miserably, scrubbing at my eyes. "I never wanted to disappoint you and that's all I've done."

"No way!" Monica's voice rang out firmly in the small hospital room. "John," she said, in a voice that forced me to meet her eyes, "you have *never* disappointed me. You had no way of protecting me in March." *How'd you know I was thinkin' about your accident again?* She always could read my mind. "And you had no way of stopping what happened yesterday," Monica chided me. "You're only going to drive yourself crazy with guilt, so can it, buster."

I almost laughed at the way she simplified everything. "Okay," I said, "I'll try."

"I said stop it. Which part of that don't you understand, Agent Doggett?" Now she was teasing me.

"All of it," I teased back. "Maybe you better find another way of explaining it, Agent Reyes."

She crooked her finger playfully. "Come closer and I will." Our lips met in a long, tender kiss. As I drew away, I brushed my hand over her face. "I'm glad you're okay."

"Me, too."

"You feelin' well enough to talk about what we're gonna do?" I ventured.

"Yeah." Monica shifted again, getting comfortable despite her newly-stitched wound. "Any ideas? We can't go back to DC now. Everyone'll be looking for us."

"I've been thinkin' about that. Monica, why do you suppose they shot you and not me? I mean, if they thought we were Mulder and Scully, what's the point of killing her and not him?"

Monica thought a moment, then offered, "Maybe they thought he'd give up if she were dead?"

I shook my head. "Maybe, but what if they were trying to get 'im to cook his own goose?"

"How do you mean?" Monica queried.

"Maybe they thought they'd kill Scully and the baby, that way Mulder'd hafta go back to DC and confront them, walkin' right into a trap. He'd serve himself up on a platter to 'em."

"You could be right," Monica agreed. "So what do we do?"

We decided to wait a few days for everything to settle down before we made our move. By that time, Monica was almost back to her old self and ready to be released from the hospital. Thanking Isabel and her daughter again for all their help, we took William and headed out, though we had no destination in mind yet, other than some place innocuous.

We made a stop at a grocery store and stocked up on the necessities: nonperishable food, extra clothes for all three of us, baby supplies and a few toys for William. I checked us into a motel and Monica got to work. I'd forgotten about the laptop she'd bought from Maria, the daughter of our host family back in Ciudad Juarez. Monica had tucked it in one of the saddlebags on the bike and it completely slipped my mind. I don't know where she picked up the skill, but I swear that woman's a whiz on a computer. *She probably took lessons from that nut, Langley,* I thought.

I was sitting on the floor, rolling a ball to the baby, marveling again at our odd roles. We were his godparents, his guardians and yet, we were essentially using the kid as bait.

"No frickin' way!" Monica was looking down at me, an expression of surprise matching her exclamation. "Jimmy found a way to e-mail us without being traced. I mean, supposedly it's not that hard for a real hacker to do, but he was never able to do it until now. He encoded it, anyway, of course, but ---"

"Monica," I cut her off, "point, please?" Sometimes she needed me to stop her from rambling. And sometimes I needed her to figuratively smack me upside the head to get me to talk. It all sifts out in the end.

"Yeah, sorry. He says Mulder and Scully got to Florence without any trouble. They headed off to Brindisi, they ought to be there now, judging by the date on Jimmy's e-mail."

"Good. Now how do we get in touch with them?" I asked. William started to whine because I'd abandoned our game. "In a sec," I told him firmly, not taking my eyes off Monica, and he quieted down.

"I'll reply to Jimmy and have him forward the details on to them." Monica smiled down at William, who'd started fussing again. "I'll come play with you in a second." She shifted in the chair, facing the computer again and typed a mile a minute. I watched Monica as she worked, amazed at yet another of her talents. The woman had no end to what she could do, it seemed. William began to whine again but I paid no attention. Never worked for Luke, sure wouldn't work for Junior Mulder here. I bit back a comment. Knowing Monica's fondness for the guy, I don't think she'd have appreciated my comparison between him and his infant son. She clicked a few things and abandoned the computer, turning back to us. "Okay, William," she said, sliding off the chair and onto the floor. "Play ball!"

He giggled at Monica's expression, wide eyes, a silly grin and hands upraised as if she were trying to catch the ball. I was grinning at her myself, until I heard his little voice call out, "Dada!"

My heart ached even as I turned to grin at the little boy. I shook my head and pointed to myself, knowing full well he didn't understand the word he was saying. "John," I said simply. "Not dada, John."

"I don't know, I think it's kind of cute."

I scooted back so we were in a triangle and rolled the rubber ball to William. He missed, catching it by accident between his chubby thighs. I glanced at Monica, raising an eyebrow. "Whaddya mean, it's cute?"

"You, being called 'dada'. I think it's sweet. I know he doesn't mean it," Monica laughed, as William held the ball in front of his face and studiously addressed it as 'dada', too. "But it's nice." Her voice had softened and she was giving me that 'I'm sorry your son is dead' look. I'd seen it so many times over the years, I'd learned to recognize it easily.

"Yeah," I shrugged noncommittally, continuing the game with William.

"Have you thought about kids?" Monica asked quietly. "Since Luke, I mean."

I nodded slowly. William finally caught the ball between his little hands and I cheered automatically. "Good boy!" I applauded lightly. "That's right." He beamed at me, so proud of himself. "Now, roll it back to me," I told the baby, completely involved in the game now. I had my legs wide, giving him plenty of room to aim in. I leaned over, taking William's hands in mine. "See, roll it." I pushed the ball from between his fingers so it bounced and rolled in my general direction. "There ya go."

William just whined, reaching for the ball again, hugging it to his chest. I shrugged, turning back to Monica. "Maybe he's a little young for sharing," I said. Standing, I stretched, working out the kinks in my back. No matter how much you work out, at some point your body reminds you that it's spent more than forty years on this planet. Settling on the edge of the bed, I watched William, and saw Monica out of the corner of my eye.

I saw her stand and come over to me, her hand resting on my shoulder. "John," she said gently. "You didn't answer my question."

"I don't have a good answer," I replied, glancing up at Monica. "Yeah, I've thought about it. And yeah, it hurts to think about it. I feel like I'm betrayin' my son, thinkin' about replacin' 'im." I let the words tumble out without thinking them through, something I was becoming adept at, thanks to her.

"You wouldn't be," Monica offered logically. "I can understand how it would feel that way, though." I didn't like where this was going at all, but I had no choice than to let it roll. "Have you...have you thought about us?"

I knew exactly what she meant and I couldn't bear to talk about it right then. "Yeah," I said, glancing at the clock. "It's gettin' close to suppertime. Do you want to go out?" I asked.

Monica accepted the change of topic, knowing me and my moods better than anyone. "Sure," she said. "Let me change William and we'll go."


When we got back from dinner, there was an e-mail from Jimmy. He'd contacted Mulder, and received a reply almost instantly. He and Scully were thrilled at our plans but warned us to continue being careful. Jimmy's friend Lois, or Yves as I'd been instructed to call her, should we meet, had news for us. She had a contact in Mexico City who could give us new passports. Jimmy arranged everything for us and told Monica where we could pick them up locally.

Then Monica sent an unencoded, very traceable e-mail from her work account to A.D. Skinner. She told him we were fine, and promised to explain everything when we returned to DC. Asking for an official leave of absence on both our parts, Monica told him we had 'unfinished business' and we'd be back as soon as humanly possible.

"I guess that's it," I said, surveying the room one last time to make sure we'd gotten everything. "We just have to get our papers and it's 'Adios, Mexico'."

Monica nodded, cradling William against her shoulder. "And 'Bonjourno, Italy'."


VIII: Not Clocking Out

"A cop I know, a man I respect deeply, told me one time, 'You don't clock out at the end of your shift unless you know you did everything you could.' That's what this is about - me not clockin' out." - Agent Doggett, in "Underneath"

"Well I got another lesson for ya, huh? Keep after this thing, it's gonna bite you in ya ass." - Duke Thomasek, in "Underneath"

"You didn't tell them?"

"No." I tried to focus on John's question, while at the same time trying to calm William down. Sitting in an airport for three hours does nothing for an already squirming baby's temperament.

John reached for the baby, placing William on his lap. He settled down immediately and I held back a smile. "Monica," his voice was low, "how could you not tell Mulder and Scully what happened?"

"William's fine," I argued, staring John down. "There was no reason to tell them, they'd just worry."

Shaking his head, John growled softly, "They have a reason to worry. Their kid was shot at. I think, as their friends, we owe it to them to tell them the truth."

I smiled reassuringly. "We will, once we get to Italy. There's no way to contact them now, anyway." John cocked his head silently and I followed his gaze to the bank of computer terminals. "It's not safe," I frowned. "I can't work Jimmy Bond's magic on a public computer, I'm not *him*."

"Fine," John agreed reluctantly, but I could tell it was still bothering him.

I reached over William's head, rubbing John's arm gently. "I promise, I'll tell them everything when we get there."

"That's not it." John sighed in obvious frustration.

"What is it, then?" I asked, concerned.

John shook his head quickly. "I don't know, I jus' don't like this. There's a piece missing. I knew it back in Ciudad Juarez, I jus' can't figure out where or what it is."

I nodded, understanding completely. "I've felt the same way. But, John, we've done everything right, covered our tracks, even planted fake clues to throw anybody who's looking for us off our scent. What else can we do?"

"I don't know." It seemed the hardest part of all this, for him, was not knowing. John's instinct was for 'meat and potatoes police work' as he'd described it once to me. I think all the intrigue and double-crossing was starting to take its toll. John liked to stand and fight, not run with his head covered. That was one of the reasons I had fallen in love with him.

Unable to respond in any way that mattered, I decided to play devil's advocate. "Okay, let's assume you're right," I began. "There's something we're overlooking, and we've been missing this thing, whatever it is, since we got to Mexico. How do we find it now?"

John thought a moment, as he handed William his keys to keep the infant happy. "It's something out of place, some little detail we explained away but it ain't the right explanation."

*Something we explained away...* I stood and stretched languidly, twisting first to the left, then to the right. I used the time to take a long, surveying look around the airport terminal. We were essentially alone, a few other passengers scattered around - no one suspicious, just average, ordinary Mexican citizens. A few feet away sat a mother with her four-year-old, reading 'Goodnight, Moon' in Spanish. Further back in the waiting area there were a few people traveling alone, reading newspapers or magazines. My eyes scanned each face carefully, searching for the elusive clue that was troubling John so much.

"I'm sorry," I said softly as I sat back down. "I just don't know where we could've overlooked anything. We planned all this so carefully - from Ciudad Juarez all the way to Brindisi. The only snag was being found out in Juarez, but we even accommodated that."

John was silent for a long moment, staring off into space.

"John?" I said, finally. "Earth to John. What is it?"

"They found us."

I nodded slowly, not understanding where he was going with this train of conversation. "Yeah, they found us in Ciudad Juarez."

"Who?" A very good question, one for which I had no answer. "It can't be the cigarette guy, he's dead." John scratched his head, and I could almost hear the wheels spinning. I decided not to interrupt, letting him brainstorm. "An' it's not that Krycek fella. He's sposta be dead, but even if he wasn't, he doesn't have the connections to track us down out in the middle a' nowhere like we were." *Then who?* I thought, playing hide-the-keys with William as John continued to think aloud. "It's not Jeff Spender or that blonde from the UN, 'cause they were tryin' to help Mulder at his trial," he said. "There's someone else. There's *gotta* be someone else," John nodded vigorously. "Jus' don't know who."

"John," I began slowly, "what about Kersch?"

There was a pause as John digested my suggestion. "He helped Mulder escape," he argued, but I could tell the thought was taking root. "But we still don't know why he had such a sudden change a' heart."

"Seems kind of odd that after fighting the four of us for so long, Kersch decided to risk his career, not to mention his life, just to help us," I confirmed. An idea began to dawn, and I lowered my voice to a whisper. "What if Kersch helped Mulder escape because he's got something Kersch wants?"

John tossed the idea around in his head. "Like what?" he asked after a moment. "Like an X-File or somethin'? They took all of 'em."

"Like information. What if Mulder *did* find something at the government facility in New Mexico, something he's hiding from us?"

John's frustrated expression deepened. "Why would he hide it from us? We're on his team."

"Maybe he didn't think we needed to know, or he's just scared. Either way, it doesn't matter. Maybe that's why Kersch helped him escape. Maybe he was *ordered* to let Mulder get away," I offered in a furious whisper, "so he could lead Kersch and his higher-ups to whatever it is they want."

"But if it's information they want, then why didn't they just torture it outta him while they had 'im in custody?" John asked.

"Maybe they tried and failed, or maybe they think it's a physical entity they're after, like a disk." I sighed softly. "I don't know, I'm just throwing out ideas."

Backtracking, John said, "Okay, let's assume we're right so far. They tracked us to Ciudad Juarez - why didn't they come after us right then? Kersch's got the resources of the entire FBI. They coulda got us, easy."

"I don't think they had what they wanted yet," I surmised. "They had to wait and see if Mulder would lead them to it."

"Good thinkin'. So what, they were watchin' us in Juarez?"

"It makes sense. How else could they get a bulletin on the local news with Mulder's picture, yet not be able to find the four of us in the middle of a tiny Mexican village?" I was beginning to get the entire picture now. "If they've been watching us this whole time, you think they knew Mulder and Scully didn't get on that flight to Switzerland?"

"No. They might've had us surveilled, but you and Jimmy were real careful. I don't know why they let 'em go, but they did." John looked more confused than ever.

My mind was stumbling around the facts as we'd re-established them. So we hadn't been as tricky or as safe as we'd thought. In fact, if John and I were right about this, we'd been playing right into their hands the entire time.

"They let Mulder and Scully go to Switzerland," I mused softly. "And they had to know where we were headed." I felt all the blood drain out of my face as another realization hit me. "John," I said, meeting his eyes warily, "they knew it was me."


"In Hermosillo. Whoever hired those cops knew it was me they would shoot, not Scully." My hands were trembling with the idea of being a walking target.

"Holy shit." John's face lost its color as the reality of our situation
sunk in.
I was the first to recover enough to speak. "I just don't understand why they'd shoot me and not kill us both." I couldn't believe I was saying those words. "I thought you were right, that they were trying to get Mulder to..." I trailed off, the little light bulb going on above my head. "That's it!" I exclaimed quietly. "They've been trying to get Mulder to come out in the open the entire time."

John caught on quickly and voiced his agreement. "If they had killed us back there, Mulder and Scully wouldn't have heard for weeks. But they weren't aimin' at *you*, Mon."

I finished his thought for him. "They were aiming for William. I must've shifted him out of range at the last minute. What a miracle." I shook my head, staring at the innocent child in John's arms. I thought about how a few inches might've meant a world of difference.

"They figured if he got hurt or killed, we'd have to contact Mulder and Scully, and they'd come runnin' back. Guess we're lucky the cops didn't stick around to see if they'd done their job." In an uncharacteristic display, John cupped my cheek with his hand, offering me a tentative smile.

I smiled back, my heart racing at his gentle caress. My brain quickly shifted back to the situation at hand. "Okay, so it's probably Kersch, they've been following us from a distance since we left New Mexico and they're watching us now." I tamped down my fear in favor of a solution to the problem. "So they probably know where we're going, and now we've led them to Mulder and Scully." I wanted to scream in frustration. "John, we're screwed. How the hell are we going to dodge this one?"

Shaking his head slightly, John looked at me. "Is there *any* way to contact Jimmy? Maybe he can figure out a way to get us to Italy under the radar."

I thought quickly. "Maybe I can try calling," I offered lamely. "They can't trace a call that doesn't connect, and Jimmy won't let it connect if he can't disguise the origin." John looked thoroughly confused and I smiled reassuringly. "I'll just get the calling card." I grabbed our carry-on and dug out the yellow plastic sleeve labeled 'Ladatel', heading over to the phone. I dailed the familiar number, listening to it ring - once, twice, three times. I prayed Jimmy could cover our asses yet again. He'd been great so far - getting us fake papers, arranging flights and even helping us find a safehouse in Brindisi.

"Hey." Jimmy's voice sounded odd, and I was immediately concerned.

"Jimmy," I said softly, "it's Monica. Is everything okay?"

"Yup," he replied shortly.

"Listen, we've had another change of plans. I can't explain everything right now, but John and I are worried we might --"

"Miss your flight?" Jimmy filled in quickly. Before I could answer, he rushed on. "Well, there are three flights a day to Geneva, we'll get you on another one."

"Jimmy --" I tried to correct him.

His voice was sweet and casual as he cut me off. "It's okay, Agent Reyes. I don't mind the extra trouble, really."

Something was prickling at the back of my mind. The whole tone of the conversation was off-key for Jimmy; he wasn't usually so conversational, and he hadn't called me Agent Reyes since the day we'd met. Suddenly, it clicked in my head. *FUCK.* I tried to keep my voice level when I replied, "Listen, Jimmy, I really appreciate your help. With everything that's happened, I really think we need to get William back to his parents and I can't do it without you." I hoped he could hear through the chatter to my coded plea. I knew if anyone could, it was Jimmy Bond.

"I understand." He paused for a second, as if listening to someone. "But I gotta get going now. Yves is making dinner, and it oughta be a crime to miss her Italian night."

"Okay, Jimmy, enjoy your dinner. E-mail me later about that flight," I added for whoever was listening. Hanging up, I darted back to John and William. "We have to get out of here, now!"

"Monica, what'd Jimmy say?" John's face was drawn and harried.

I grabbed the bag and slung it over my shoulder, whispering to John as I tugged at his arm. "The entire plan's been compromised. Someone set a trap for Mulder and Scully and we let them walk right into it."


IX: Family Reunion

"Calm down." John didn't move from his seat as Monica yanked his arm. "If they're watching us and you keep jumpin' around like that," he said quietly, "they're gonna figure out we're on to 'em." Realizing he was right, Monica lowered the bag and sank into the chair beside John. "Now, you wanna tell me what Jimmy said?" John asked. Monica proceeded to spill out the entire story in a hushed voice. When she was done, John queried disbelievingly, "You got all this from somethin' about his girlfriend's cookin'?"

"She can't cook, but that's not the point. Jimmy was trying to get me to connect Italy and a crime. Mulder and Scully are on the FBI's hit list. Another couple of days away from DC, and we will be, too."

John was fuming at the possibility that they'd failed at everything they'd tried to do for Mulder and Scully. "Okay, so...crime and Italy. What the hell is the connection?" he persisted.

"I think he was trying to tell me that we'd be arrested if we went to Italy," Monica theorized. "Or that Mulder and Scully are in danger of being caught."

"But Jimmy chose the place for us to meet up," John argued. "Don'tcha think he checked it out?"

"Yeah..." Monica trailed off, sighing inwardly at the latest turn of events. "I don't know *what* to think anymore." She lowered her eyes, trying to collect her scattered thoughts.

"Mon." John tried to get her attention. "Monica?" She looked up, fear and doubt clouding her eyes. Monica let him see it for the first time since they'd escaped New Mexico. John continued, in a softer tone. "It's gonna be all right. We're gonna get on that plane," he said firmly, "an' once we get to Italy, we'll play it by ear. We've made it this far, and we didn't know half a' what we know now. It'll be okay," he promised her.

"Mi roca," Monica murmured. The stress of the past few weeks combined with John's uncharacteristic sweetness to make her choke up. She found herself fighting the rush of tears threatening to attack her cheeks. "My rock." She reached over, squeezing John's hand in gentle appreciation.

"Mi mundo," John replied, his voice barely audible. He cleared his throat and broke the tender moment. "Okay, let's just be cool, all right? Let them see us get on that plane lookin' like we don't got a care in the world."

Monica agreed in a murmur. "Okay." Forcing a smile onto her face, she reached for William. "I think somebody needs a new diaper." She brushed a kiss across John's lips before lifting the baby out of his lap and grabbing the diaper bag.

John watched Monica walk away, asking himself the same questions she had just asked. He wondered how were they going to get out of the situation in one piece, and what would become of Mulder, Scully and William. John doubted that he and Monica would be able to get back into the U.S. without a heap of trouble. But one question bothered him more than the rest. Who was after them and what did they really want?

To that, he had no answer.

The next twenty-four hours could only be described as a vicious hazing. The fifteen-hours of traveling, the connecting flight in Germany and the mounting tension as they neared Italy compounded each other to push John and Monica's stress levels to their limits.

'Benvenuti a Verona!' The sign greeted them cheerily as they disembarked. John lugged William over to the information booth to exchange American dollars for Euros; Monica made a beeline for the ladies' room. They met up and headed for the ubiquitous bank of telephones outside the airport terminal, where John handed her the international calling card they'd purchased before fleeing Mexico. Monica dialed quickly, praying for good luck to come their way. She thought they were about due for some - and they were. Jimmy picked up on the second ring.

"Jimmy, it's Agent Reyes."

"Monica!" he breathed a sigh of relief. "I got rid of the eavesdroppers last night, we're secure. Where are you?"


"Whatever you do, don't go to Brindisi!" Jimmy's yelp startled Monica.

"Why not?"

"It's a long story that I'll explain sometime, but I --" he faltered in embarrassment. "I got caught with my pants down. Brindisi's a port, and according to our Italian contact, it's the most popular place for immigrants trying to enter Italy illegally. You'd be spotted immediately by about a hundred cops."

"Damn, Jimmy. Thanks," Monica murmured sincerely. "So if not Brindisi, where do we go?"

Jimmy was silent for a second and Monica heard the clattering of his keyboard. "There's a shop about three blocks south of the airport, a little tourist trap. Go in there and pick up a book that's right in the front display. It's called 'Conversational Italian for the Tourist'. When you go up to the counter to buy it, your contact's gonna approach your partner, so tell him so he doesn't freak. Got it?"

"Got it. Thanks again, Jimmy." Monica hung up and turned to John. She checked their mini-map and figured out which way was south. Monica led him down the street while explaining her conversation with Jimmy. When they reached the store, Monica tried not to show her fear. Everything was in this contact's hands now. *Can we trust him?* she wondered. *Can we trust anyone now?* Regardless, Monica knew they had no choice, so she entered the store and walked up to the display, John and William in tow. Reaching for the book, she spoke in hushed tones to John. "Here goes nothing." Raising her voice a little, Monica said, "This looks like it'll do. I'm gonna go pay for it, be right back." She dug her wallet out of the diaper bag, kissing John's cheek for the benefit of anyone watching, and approached the sales clerk.

"Buon pomeriggio." Monica used the little Italian she knew to greet the young woman.

"Buon pomeriggio," the woman echoed, reaching for the book and running it under the scanner. "Seven twenty-two, please,"

As Monica paid for the book, a girl of no more than twenty approached John. "Che bel bambino!" she exclaimed softly.

John glanced down at her, wondering for a moment what she was saying. He figured it out by the expression on her face as she brushed her fingers over William's pudgy cheek. "Sorry, I don't speak Italian," he said simply.

Pretending to coo over the baby again, the woman spoke to John without meeting his eyes. "I speak English, Agent Doggett." Her voice was low and cool, her words heavily-accented but perfectly spoken.

"How do you --" John caught himself. "You're our contact?" he asked in surprise. She looked barely old enough to be his daughter, never mind a covert agent.

"Si, signore. Giorgia Cordioli, at your service." She finally looked up and John was struck by her eyes; as green as sea-water and flecked with hints of gray, they spoke of many secrets.

"Signorina Cordioli --"

"Giorgia," she corrected him.

"Giorgia...any chance we can get out of here?" John exchanged a glance with Monica as she approached. Her face lit up as she saw their contact, but she didn't say a word.

"Of course. Come with me." Giorgia led them quickly out of the store, chattering a mile a minute in Italian. She told them how good it was to see them after all this time, and mused on how much they must have missed Italy while they were traveling in the States.

Monica caught a word or two she understood, and Giorgia murmured comments in English to keep up the cover. "Laugh," she said once. "I just told you a joke about a pig and a lawyer." Monica couldn't help truly giggling, despite John's stony countenance. They finally reached Giorgia's car and climbed in. "Hold on tight," she said as she pulled out into Verona's midday traffic.

Hitting the gas, Giorgia took off, weaving and darting through the lines of cars. Monica held tight to William, saying a silent prayer, and John kept his arm around her for balance. After five minutes of daredevil driving, Giorgia slowed down and risked a glance at her passengers in the rearview. "Welcome to Italy," she teased. "I am sorry about that, but I had to lose the people following you before they had a chance to pick up on our presence."

"It's okay," Monica assured her. "We understand." John muttered a remark that neither woman could hear. "Where are we going?" she continued, unfazed.

Giorgia grinned at them in the rearview mirror, turning right onto a tiny brick street. "My apartment. You'll be staying with me while you're here." After about a mile, the road narrowed to a one-way alley, and she pulled up in front of a building that looked nearly a century old. "Here we are." Climbing out of the car and grabbing their bags, she didn't wait as her passengers followed suit. By the time Monica and John reached the door, Giorgia was halfway up the staircase. "Hurry!" she encouraged them. They didn't question it, trudging wearily up the stairs as fast as they could. Giorgia burst into the apartment, declaring "Siamo a casa!"

Scully was up off the couch in a flash and before Monica could grin in surprise, William was out of her arms and back in his mother's.


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