- artwork found here
Rating/Pairing: PG-13, M&S (w/William)
Summary: In the fall of 2012, William Van de Kamp shows up on Mulder and Scully's doorstep. As they learn about the circumstances that brought him to them, they must learn to be a family together while also protecting William from the conspiracy that still seeks to use him for their own purposes.
Warnings: Mild violence/violent imagery, mild bad language, William-centric (not baby-fic); Post-IWTB, mytharc-ish.
Author’s Notes: Written for XF Big Bang 2010. Thanks to all who helped me—my sister, my great beta, Anubis (whose knowledge of guns and ammo came in very handy!) and my great artist, Fidella!
The boy stepped off the rumbling Greyhound bus, his heart pounding as he glanced over his shoulder. Over the last few days he’d learned the true meaning of paranoia. The dictionary description was nothing compared to the actual feeling.
He took a slow look around the big terminal to be sure that none of the people from the bus were looking at him. He’d kept to himself as much as possible, but when his seat-mate had questioned him directly he’d said that he was on his way to visit relatives. It was a convincing half-truth, and enough to answer the question.
Though no one seemed to be watching him, he couldn’t shake the prickly feeling on the back of his neck that had started the day he’d left home. It was the feeling he always got at school when he knew the teacher was watching, or when he knew Jeff Jacobs was trying to cheat off of his test paper. After what had happened at home he felt sure he was being followed.
There was a sudden burst of noise as the street doors opened and a large group of teenagers began streaming in, carrying instrument cases. The boy saw his chance and pushed his way between the larger kids and their harried adult chaperones, working his way through them and out the door, hoping that anyone who might be following him wouldn’t realize he’d slipped out.
Settling his heavy backpack on his shoulders, he set off down the block toward a gas station. He had an address, but no idea if it was near or far and he was wary of asking directions. He hadn’t had time to print a map off the internet before he left, so he needed to buy one of the local area.
The gas station had a convenience store with some burger chain he’d never heard of attached to it. As he stood in line to buy the map, the smell of grilling hamburgers set his empty stomach growling. It had been a long time since he’d eaten, so he took his map and went into the restaurant to eat while he studied the area.
His father had taught him how to read a map just last year so he quickly located the road he needed, but was dismayed to see that it was on the outskirts of town. It certainly seemed too far to walk from downtown.
He looked out the window at the busy streets and wondered if it would be possible to take a cab. People in the movies did that all the time, but he’d never done it before and had no idea how much it would cost. He dug in his pockets and brought out all of his money, straightening the crumpled bills and counting his coins into one-dollar stacks.
Twenty dollars and forty-three cents would normally have seemed like a lot of money to him, but it was all he had left after his cross-country bus ticket and several meals. A cold knot suddenly formed in his stomach. What if he had to go back? What if they made him go back and wouldn’t help him with bus fare? How would he come up with more money? A tear suddenly sprang up in one eye and he ground it away, crammed his money back in his pockets and turned back to the map. He would figure that out if and when it happened. It was getting late and he needed to get going. If he started right now maybe he’d find the place before it got dark.
With a sigh he gathered up his things and swept his eyes across the room. It was becoming a habit now. He refilled his soda at the self-serve drink station, threw away the trash from his meal, and made his way toward the door.
A nice woman shepherding a trio of kids close to his own age gave him a friendly smile. He almost asked her for a ride, but that prickly feeling rose up on his neck again. She might be a perfectly nice woman who would be happy to help him, but then she would be someone who knew where he was going. No, he didn’t dare let anyone know any part of his plan. Trust no one—that was his motto.
A city bus drove by and he made his decision. He didn’t like the idea of more people knowing where he was going, but it was the sensible choice. He slipped back into the gas station and asked for a bus schedule. He compared the bus routes to the route on the map that he’d traced with his finger, already memorized and burning in his mind. He’d come so far and now had only a few miles to go.
He found his stop and waited for the correct bus, climbing into it with his head down. He looked around just enough to find an empty seat near the door and not near the other passengers. The seats were different than on the Greyhound, made of hard slippery plastic, some facing forward, his seat facing the side windows, and he found himself gripping a support pole as the wheezing bus jostled through traffic, stopping every few blocks. He was relieved each time more people got off and fewer people got on as they went further away from the city center. Trust no one, trust no one, trust no one. The mantra whispered in his head in rhythm with the rumbling of the bus’s tires.
He got off at the furthest stop and waited for the bus to round a bend before he started walking. As he reached the edge of town he slipped off the road and behind a tree to relieve himself. His mother would never have let him drink two cups of soda and it was catching up to him. He hadn’t thought to go before he boarded the bus.
The sky was full of heavy clouds and the sun was low on the horizon. He fished a flashlight out of his backpack and took a moment to take another look at his map. He paused to stretch and flex his tired feet, trying not to think about how exhausted he was. At last he shouldered his pack and trudged onward.
Outside of Richmond
Mulder knelt in front of the fireplace, poking at the logs to encourage them. The night had turned wet and blustery, rain slapping against the house as the wind moaned around the corners. He hated that cold, lonely sound and the fire was his remedy against it.
Scully came into the living room with two big mugs of coffee. She set them down on the coffee table and picked up a quilt from the back of the sofa.
“How’s the fire?”
He glanced over his shoulder at her and smiled. “It’s coming along. The coffee smells great.”
“Come and sit with me,” she said, settling down with the blanket across her lap.
He stood and turned toward her, but stopped and looked toward the door. There was something, or someone out there.
Scully rose and moved toward her purse on the table by the door. Though they had other weapons in the house, the gun in her purse was the nearest at hand. They rarely had visitors unless they knew ahead of time to expect them, and with the locked gate at the near end of the driveway strangers usually resorted to honking a car horn. Having someone come directly to the door was unusual enough to make them wary. She pulled the gun from her purse and handed it to Mulder as he stepped quietly toward the door.
There was a knock, light and tentative, hard to hear against the rain pounding on the roof.
“Who’s there?” Mulder asked, standing to one side of the door, half-expecting someone to burst in.
Scully remained near the stairs, all her senses straining to discern some clue as to who might be out there. If someone were coming to harm them, would they have knocked so politely?
There was another knock, followed by a voice. “Please, may I speak to you?”
The voice was high-pitched and youthful, throwing them both off their guard.
Mulder gave Scully a look and slipped the gun into the back of his waistband. He opened the door a crack at first, and then at the sight of the boy on the porch he opened it more fully.
“Can I help you?” Mulder glanced back at Scully and she moved a little closer.
“Um…” the boy began, shivering in his dripping clothes. “My name is…William. I think…I think…my mother lives here.”
Mulder’s mouth fell open and he stared at the boy until he heard a gasp behind him.
He turned just in time to see Scully crumple to the floor.
William huddled in the armchair close to the fireplace, his cold fingers pressed around a mug of hot chocolate. They’d been really nice to him, but he could tell they didn’t know what to say to him. Pointed looks passed between them, but very few words. They’d spoken to him, once the man had helped the woman to the sofa and brought her around, but just to help him get cleaned up and warm. They hadn’t asked him any questions about what he’d said and he was becoming more and more convinced that he’d made a mistake.
He cleared his throat to get their attention.
“I, um, I think I should probably go. The rain seems to have lightened up. I’m sorry…I…I guess I’m at the wrong house.”
“Where did you come from?” the woman asked quietly, squeezing the man’s hand in her own.
William eyed her pale face, the wrinkle between her eyes as she stared at him. He turned to the man, whose face remained neutral though his eyes carried a certain hardness. William had seen the gun in the man’s waistband when he’d turned to help the woman up. Could he trust them? If he was at the wrong house, if these were the wrong people, should he tell them anything? They were as wary of him as he was of them.
He noticed that she had tears in her eyes, her lips pressed together tightly, but with a hint of a smile.
“Wyoming,” he blurted out. He watched their faces as they exchanged looks again, the man turning to stare at him with his unnerving, penetrating eyes. It was as if the man suddenly knew all about him.
“I’m going to go,” William said again and he stood to put his mug on the coffee table.
The man took his wrist. “Is your last name Van de Kamp?”
“Yes,” William whispered, fear prickling up on his neck again. “How did you know?”
“What happened? How did you find us?”
“Sit down, William,” the woman said gently as the man let go of his wrist.
William stepped back toward his chair and sat on the edge, his heartbeat loud in his ears. “Are you my mother?”
She stared at him for what seemed like forever.
Her simple answer was so quiet that William wasn’t sure he’d actually heard it.
“You didn’t answer my question,” the man said evenly.
William was surprised by the tears that suddenly filled his eyes.
“My par…parents—the Van de Kamps—are dead.” He clamped his hands over his eyes and turned away from the strangers as a sob nearly strangled him.
The man quickly came to his side, a large hand gentle on his back.
“It’s okay,” he said quietly. “You’ll be safe here. But when you can, I need to know what happened and how you found us.”
William nodded, sniffling loudly as he ground the tears away. He swallowed and calmed himself, cleared his throat and began to speak.
“I always knew I was adopted, but my parents didn’t know—or wouldn’t tell me—anything about my birth parents. At school we were learning about genealogy and making our family trees and I wanted to include something about my biological family. I looked through the papers in my dad’s desk and found the name of the local adoption agency they went through and…um…” He paused and looked away.
“What is it?” the man prompted.
“Well, I don’t want to get in trouble…” William looked from one to the other.
“Did you do something illegal?” the woman asked.
“I…um…accessed some records with my computer,” he answered, ducking his head a little. “They had the name of my birth mother, Dana Scully, on file and there was some paperwork about a plane ticket from Washington, DC.”
“You hacked into their system?” the man asked, with what seemed to be a smile.
“Mulder!” the woman scolded gently.
“Mulder?” William asked abruptly, looking more closely at the man. “Are you Agent Fox Mulder?”
“I used to be an FBI agent, yes,” Mulder replied slowly, unsure of what the boy might know.
“I read about you,” William said. “When I found my information, I went on Google… There’s a lot of information about the two of you and your work in the FBI.”
“My name wasn’t supposed to be on the adoption papers,” Scully said quietly. Her face had taken on that pinched look again.
“It wasn’t on the papers my parents had. I had to kind of…dig deeper. But I found it. And then I found out that you were living in the Richmond area.”
“William,” Mulder said gently, “can you tell us what happened to your parents?”
William turned to stare at the fire, trying not to see the horrific images in his mind.
“I’d ridden my bike into town that day, to go to the library,” he began. “I ended up staying longer than I was supposed to, but when I tried to call home there was no answer…”
The answering machine wouldn’t pick up and the phone rang and rang. William knew something was wrong. A strange urge inside him seemed to warn him to be careful going home.
Instead of riding along the main road he took his secret trail through the woods. The trail came out of the woods atop a hill overlooking the back of the house. He observed the house from the cover of the trees, wiping sweat from his face and readjusting his backpack. His father’s truck and the family van were still in the yard, along with a dark sedan he didn’t recognize. The back door was standing open, the screen door banging a little against the frame as the breeze moved it.
It was getting dark but there were no lights on in the house, no movement inside that he could tell. He got off his bike and hid it behind a tree at the edge of the woods and walked down the hill quietly, resisting the urge to call out to his parents.
The back of his neck prickled into gooseflesh and a shiver ran down his back as he crouched below the porch rail. Something told him not to go in the door, so he slipped around to the side of the house, pulled a key from a chain around his neck, and unlocked the door to the storm cellar, pulling it closed silently behind him.
He tiptoed through the cellar and up the stairs, pausing at the door. He could hear a man’s voice, apparently talking to someone on a cell phone as he paced through the kitchen.
“He’s not here. I was searching the house when the parents came home so I had to eliminate them. They wouldn’t say where he had gone. The phone rang while I was doing it, which might have been him trying to call home, so I’m sure he’s somewhere nearby. I’m going to head into town and see if I can track him down. If I don’t find him there I’ll come back here. He’ll have to come home sooner or later. I’ll get him then. I’ve got a scanner on so I’ll be able to tell if he calls the police.”
William crammed a fist into his mouth to keep from crying out as he realized what the man was saying. “Eliminate”? He could guess what that meant.
He felt a fluttering of panic deep in his belly. What should he do? Where could he go for help? If this man had killed his parents would the man kill him, too? Would they go after anyone who might help him? If he tried to go to the police would he be safe?
Tears filled his eyes, but he wouldn’t allow himself to cry aloud. That man was still in the house, walking around upstairs.
William’s mind was racing, trying to think of what to do. He was just a kid. What could he do?
He had to get away—as far and as fast as he could. He would need money and other supplies. But he had to cover his tracks. If he could get some place safe then he could think of what to do next, but he had to make sure this man couldn’t follow him—at least not right away.
Suddenly the man’s footsteps seemed very near and William froze and held his breath. He heard the man make one last circuit of the kitchen, then heard the front door open and slam closed. A car engine, then tires crunching through the gravel drive.
William waited as long as he could stand it, listening so hard that his head hurt. When he was sure there was no one upstairs he peeked out the door that opened under the back stairs into the kitchen. The house was cold and dark, but he didn’t dare turn on any lights.
He couldn’t bring himself to call out, his heart hammering as he tiptoed through the dining room and into the front room.
His backpack slid from his slumped shoulders and thumped onto the floor.
His father lay sprawled on the floor, half-covering his mother’s body. Blood spread away from their bodies in a horrible, black pool.
He clamped a hand over his mouth and ran to the kitchen, vomiting into the sink until he thought he would pass out. He stood there sobbing over the sink, his face hot and burning.
“Mommy! Daddy!” he wailed. He wanted to go to them, to shake them awake, to deny what he had seen with his own eyes, but he knew it was no use. They were dead and the man who had killed them was looking for him.
Why? What did he want with him? William could make no sense of it.
He forced himself to stop crying. The man would be back and he had to be gone without a trace. He looked at the mess in the sink and turned on the faucet to rinse away the evidence. He caught some water in his hand and scrubbed at his face, rinsing his mouth and sluicing it over his burning neck.
He grabbed a dishtowel to dry himself off, then realized that a damp towel would be a hint that he’d been in the house. He used the towel to wipe the sink dry then took it with him back into the front room where he grabbed his backpack, trying not to look at his parents again. He stuffed the damp towel into the bottom of the backpack beneath his laptop and hurried out of the room.
He went into his father’s study and fired up his dad’s computer, stuck a USB drive into it and worked quickly. While the computer chugged away, he grabbed a file from the bottom drawer and pushed it into his backpack. At last he shut down the computer, snatching up the USB drive, and grabbed a couple of CDs and more USBs from the upper drawer, putting them all in his backpack.
He ducked into the kitchen and grabbed a couple of magnets from the fridge and went back to the study, placing the magnets under the computer’s hard drive.
He hurried upstairs into his room and dug a large jar out of his bottom dresser drawer, cramming the money from the jar into the pockets of his jeans. He grabbed a few clothes and other items from the dresser, trying to think of what his mother would tell him to pack, but the thought only made him start crying again.
He fisted the tears away and grabbed his hoodie from where it hung on his bedpost, shrugging it on as he hustled down the stairs again.
He paused at the foot of the stairs, tearfully whispering a goodbye to his parents, not daring to look at them again. He edged his way back into the kitchen and peeked out the back door. He didn’t close it behind him, hoping it wouldn’t be obvious that he’d been in the house.
At last he hurried back up the hill and mounted his bike, heading back toward town, thinking through the plan that had begun to form in his head.
“I rode back into town, left my bike behind the school, walked to the bus station and bought a ticket for Richmond.” He leaned back into the chair, his arms hanging limply over the armrests, and began to cry uncontrollably, sobs wracking his body.
Mulder lifted him from the chair and brought him to Scully’s side on the sofa.
“I just left them there,” William gasped. “I left them there and didn’t even call the police. I ran away and left my parents there.”
“You did the right thing, William,” Mulder said reassuringly. “I know it was hard, but it was the safest thing to do.”
Scully pulled the sobbing boy into her arms. “It’s okay, honey,” she managed to say before the lump in her throat stopped her.
Soon all three of them were crying.
Scully got up from the sofa and took a tissue from the box on the coffee table to wipe her eyes and nose.
“William, do you have any dry clothes to change into?”
The boy dragged the back of his hand under his sniffly nose. “Just what’s in my backpack. I didn’t have time to grab much. I don’t know if any of it is still dry.”
Scully handed him a tissue and picked up the pack. She felt a little awkward rooting through his things, but it didn’t take long to tell that most of it was as wet as what he was wearing. She did manage to find a dry pair of underwear. Having grown up with brothers, she was surprised he’d thought to pack an extra pair.
“Are these clean?” she asked, hoping she wasn’t holding dirty underwear in her hands.
William nodded, his face reddening a little. “I haven’t changed clothes since I left home. I didn’t like the bathrooms at the bus stations.”
“Well, these are dry anyway. We can probably find you something to wear for now and I’ll get the rest of your clothes cleaned up.”
“Let’s go upstairs,” Mulder said, rising and helping William up. “We’ll get the guest room set up while you change.”
William followed Scully up the stairs and into the bathroom, suddenly feeling like his body was made of lead.
“If you’d like to take a bath or shower, there are clean towels in this cabinet. You can just leave your wet things on the floor and I’ll get them in the wash.”
William nodded, wrapping his arms around his body, suddenly self-conscious and nervous in the small room with these strangers.
“Mulder,” Scully went on, stepping back out into the hallway, “can you get the blue sweats on the top of the laundry basket downstairs? I think they’ll fit him.” She didn’t want to embarrass the boy by mentioning that they were hers, but anything of Mulder’s would have been too large.
Mulder ducked down the staircase and Scully turned back to William.
“Do you need anything else?”
He shrugged minutely. “I don’t think so.”
Scully stood there for a moment more, looking at this little stranger who was her son. She desperately wanted to hug and kiss him, but didn’t want to impose on his emotions any further.
“Okay,” she said at last. “Mulder will bring you those sweats.” She closed the door and went down the hall to her bedroom and sat on the bed.
Mulder came into the bedroom a moment later. He sat beside Scully and put his arm around her shoulder.
“Oh, my God, Mulder,” she whispered. Her mind was spinning.
Of all the dreams she’d had over the years of how she might catch a glimpse of her son, by accident or contrivance or miracle, this scenario had never occurred to her. She’d wondered if some day his new family might take a vacation to DC, to do the tourist thing and see all the monuments, if she might pass them walking on the Mall.
Once they’d left the FBI and she and Mulder had begun to form their new life together, she wondered if he was this boy at the park or that boy at the shopping mall. However far away he was, it wasn’t impossible that his new family might somehow cross paths with her.
But she’d never dreamed that he would walk up and knock on their door.
Mulder held her and felt her trembling. As he ran his hands over Scully’s back, he fought his own surging emotions.
This boy, William, was his son—the son he’d spent so little time with, the son he hadn’t had a chance to say goodbye to, the son he hadn’t chosen to give up. He had resigned himself to the idea that he’d never see him again and thought that he and Scully had come to terms with his loss, as if he had died as an infant, a lost child they almost never mentioned.
But here he was, knocking on their door, sitting in their living room, showering in their bathroom.
It almost seemed like a miracle, but Mulder knew better. It was possibly the beginning of the end.
“Scully,” Mulder said intensely, “we need to talk before he gets out of the shower.”
William turned the hot water up as high as he could stand it. He had warmed up some since he’d been in the house, but suddenly he was freezing and the hot water pounding on his body didn’t seem to help. He shampooed his hair and scrubbed at his skin, trying to get his blood circulating again.
At last he rinsed off and stepped out into the steamy bathroom. As he toweled his hair he heard their voices, not too loud, but earnest and strained, the way his parents sometimes sounded when they were trying not to fight.
He didn’t want to eavesdrop, but he heard his name and heard Mulder say, “that couple was killed.”
He froze for a moment, but their voices dropped again. He started to dress and heard a few more words that made him curious and uneasy. “Invasion” and “conspiracy” and “I think it’s starting.” He understood the words, but not what they meant in relation to him or to why his parents were killed.
He pulled on the sweats and cleared his throat loudly, hoping that they’d notice that he was out of the shower.
“Will?” Mulder knocked on the door and opened it a crack. “Are you dressed?”
“Yes, sir,” the boy answered.
“There’s a blow dryer on the hook there, if you want to dry your hair. Um…your room’s not quite ready, but it will be in just a minute.”
“I need my toothbrush and toothpaste from my backpack,” William said.
Mulder had to smile at that. He didn’t remember being all that concerned about his teeth when he was the boy’s age. “I’ll bring them.”
After giving William what he needed, Mulder took the backpack to Scully so she could get the boy’s clothes in the washer while he got started on the guest room. They had gotten caught up in their conversation about William and hadn’t gotten the room ready. He began clearing the bed, shaking out the slightly dusty comforter.
On the one hand it was kind of like playing house, he thought, as if they’d always had a son, but on the other hand it was strange and a little frightening, and not just because of the circumstances which had brought the boy to them.
Would William come to trust them? Would they be able to protect him from what was inevitably coming? Mulder wondered if he would be a good father. Would he even have a chance to find out?
Scully stood at the counter in her little laundry room, pulling William’s clothes from his backpack, checking pockets and counting socks. He hadn’t packed much—an extra pair of jeans, two t-shirts, a couple of pairs of socks, plus the underwear he was now wearing, and, inexplicably, a kitchen dishtowel. She set aside the money she’d pulled from the jeans he had been wearing and started the load.
She had a cord strung above the machines with a hanger or two for things that didn’t go in the dryer and she hung William’s sneakers there.
She went ahead and emptied the other compartments of the backpack so that everything could dry out, but also because she had to admit she was just paranoid enough to want to make sure no one had planted a bug on him.
He had brought a laptop, well-protected in a neoprene sleeve, as well as a manila folder labeled “William”. The pages inside were slightly damp so she spread them out on the table, a quick glance confirming her assumption that they were his adoption papers.
In the other compartments she found a picture of a couple she assumed were the Van de Kamps, a pocketknife, flashlight and compass, a map of the Richmond area, a couple of granola bar wrappers and some other trash, including a squashed soda cup. There was also a key ring with a few keys and three or four flash drives, some CDs and an address book.
At the very bottom of the front pocket she found a Matchbox car and a small stuffed dog, which brought tears to her eyes.
After all the precautions he had taken, all that he had done to find his way to Virginia all by himself, he was still just a boy who had brought along some favorite toys.
She clipped the dog to the clothesline to dry, hung the backpack up as well, and went upstairs.
When his hair was dry, William stepped out into the hallway and walked down toward the bedroom door.
Scully was folding back the covers on the bed while Mulder moved some boxes to a far corner.
“All ready,” she said, with an attempt at a smile.
Mulder gave the boy’s shoulder a squeeze and said, “Goodnight, William. We’re just down the hall if you need anything.”
“I just wanted to help you get settled,” Scully said quietly, leading him to the bed. She held the covers up as he slipped in, then sat on the edge of the bed.
“How are you?”
William cast his eyes around the room and then back to Scully’s face. His mother—the only one he’d known until today—would often sit on his bed at night and talk through the day with him before listening to his prayers and kissing him goodnight.
He burst into tears.
“Oh, honey,” Scully said, her voice trembling as her own eyes welled up.
“I want my mom…” he sobbed, flinging his arm over his face. He let her pull him up into her arms and he wept into her shoulder until his throat ached.
She rocked him and patted his back, her own tears falling onto his shoulder.
“I’m so sorry, honey. I’m so sorry,” she repeated over and over, not knowing what else to say.
At last he fell asleep in her arms and she laid him back on the bed, kissed his forehead and tucked him in. She left the door open and left the hall light on in case he woke in the night.
Mulder was waiting for her in their bed, his eyes soft with sympathy as she joined him.
“Is he asleep?” he asked gently.
Scully nodded and rolled into Mulder’s arms.
“Poor thing,” she said, her voice muffled by Mulder’s t-shirt. “He’s traumatized, Mulder, and probably hasn’t had a chance to process everything. I mean, think of all he’s been through—not only did he see his parents lying there, but he thought of all those things to do to get out of town unseen. He spent who knows how long on a bus trip and then hiked all the way out here. He hasn’t had any downtime to let it all sink in.”
“And there’s no guarantee things will get any better in the days or weeks to come,” Mulder added. He still couldn’t believe what was happening—that what they’d silently hoped for and actively dreaded had actually begun. “Something has been set in motion. We need to find out if there’s a trail that leads back here. If he was able to find us, whoever came after his parents could be following him. They were obviously able to find his home in Wyoming. If they were there looking for him and were willing to kill, they won’t give up.”
“If my name was attached to those adoption papers…”
“I think we need to talk to Skinner.”
“Mulder…” Scully’s voice was suddenly quiet and small.
“What?” he asked gently, caressing her shoulder.
“Our son…our son is home.”
He pressed her to his heart, letting slip his own tears of sorrow and joy.
His father lay sprawled on the floor, a dark halo of blood spreading around his head.
He ran to try to help him, but he heard his mother scream and turned just in time to see her fall, blood pouring from her head.
He spun around but couldn’t see where the shots were coming from. He heard another shot and tried to run, but his legs felt like lead and he couldn’t seem to move.
“Help me!” he screamed, though he couldn’t see anyone nearby. “Somebody help me! Help me!”
Mulder launched himself across the bed, dragging the comforter halfway off the bed before he could untangle himself.
Mulder stumbled into the second bedroom, slapping on the light. In his sleep-addled state, he half-expected to see someone attacking the boy.
“William! William, come on, wake up,” he said, catching the boy’s flailing arms. He gave him a gentle shake and William awoke with a gasp.
“It’s okay,” Mulder began. “You were just having a bad dream.”
By now Scully was standing in the doorway, her hand at her throat as she willed her heart to slow down.
William looked around wildly for a moment, then seemed to realize where he was. Suddenly he sat up and kicked the covers away.
“What…” Mulder began.
“I need to pee,” William said abruptly, pushing past Scully to the bathroom.
“How is he?” Scully asked as they stood in the hallway.
Mulder shook his head.
“I don’t know. Go ahead and go back to bed. I’ll get him settled again.”
Scully nodded and stretched up for a kiss. “I’m going to go put his laundry in the dryer first.”
Mulder heard the toilet flush, but William didn’t come out right away. Just as Mulder was about to knock, he heard William throwing up. Mulder entered to find the boy kneeling in front of the toilet.
“Oh, son,” he said, stepping up to support William’s forehead until he was finally able to sit back on his heels.
Mulder handed him a glass of water.
“Are you okay, now?” Mulder studied the boy’s pale face, noting how much he looked like Scully—his eyes and nose, the point of his chin. He’d called him “son” a moment ago, the word slipping so easily from his mouth. He took the glass when William passed it to him and helped him to his feet.
“I’m cold,” William muttered as they walked back to his room. He wrapped his arms around his trembling body.
Mulder settled him back into bed and sat beside him.
“Do you want to talk about your dream?”
William chewed his lower lip for a minute.
“I saw my parents…I saw it happening and I couldn’t…I couldn’t help them…and…and… then someone was trying to kill me…and I couldn’t run…” He pressed his fingers against his eyes and tried not to cry again.
Mulder nodded sympathetically and ran a hand over William’s damp hair.
“It’s gonna be okay,” he whispered, hoping it was true.
“I’m sorry,” William said. “I’m sorry I woke you up.”
“Hey,” Mulder said with a smile, “it’s okay. When I was a kid I went through a time where I had nightmares every night. Only I would sometimes wet the bed and barf all over myself.” His face reddened with his admission. He’d never really told anyone those details, not even Scully, but it seemed right to tell his son.
William stared at him, his own fears forgotten for a moment. “Why were you having nightmares?”
Mulder swallowed hard. Even now the memory could choke him up.
“When I was twelve, my little sister Samantha was…taken. She and I were home alone and…someone…took her. At the time I was so traumatized that I couldn’t really remember what had happened, but the bad dreams would come every night.”
“Every night?” William clutched at the blankets.
“For a little while,” Mulder fudged. “But it got better.”
“I don’t want to go back to sleep,” William said, scrubbing at his tired eyes. “I don’t…I don’ t…I’m…I’m afraid,” he finally admitted. He covered his face again, feeling like a crybaby.
Mulder nodded, blinking back tears.
“Grab your pillow,” he said, gathering up the comforter and lifting William easily in his arms. He carried him into the master bedroom where Scully was lying awake on her side of the bed.
“William’s going to stay with us tonight,” he said, settling the boy in the middle of the bed on top of the covers. He helped get William’s pillow and blanket straightened out and climbed under his own covers on the other side.
As the three of them got comfortable, William snuggled down under his blanket, finally feeling at ease. From what he’d heard them discussing, his earlier sense of danger had been justified, but for now he felt safe. He’d been alone and afraid since he left his home, not knowing if he was making a mistake. But now, with these people, at this house—he knew that somehow he belonged here and that if anyone could help and protect him, it was Mulder and Scully.
Crystal City, VA Monday, October 8, 5:55 am
Skinner’s phone rang in the dark, startling him awake. He groped blindly for the phone with one hand and for his glasses with the other.
“Skinner,” he rasped into the phone, his voice gruff with sleep.
“It’s me,” Mulder said simply. “We need to talk somewhere safe.”
“What is it?” Skinner asked, his head instantly clear.
“Not on the phone. Meet me.”
“I’ll have to make it later today—this afternoon. I’ll call you.”
“That’ll work. See you then.”
Skinner glanced at the clock just as the alarm began to buzz. His heart was already pounding. Something was terribly wrong or was about to go wrong. He rubbed his head as he untangled his feet from the covers. He had hoped the bad times were finally behind them.
He grabbed his bathrobe and headed for the shower.
Outside of Richmond 8:15 am
The smell of bacon and coffee wafted up the stairs as William slowly opened his eyes. He was alone in the big bed, sunlight streaming into the room. He heard the shower running in the bathroom and he shifted uncomfortably on the bed. He really needed to pee. Was there another bathroom in the house?
He got up and slipped downstairs, following his nose toward the kitchen.
To his surprise it was Mulder tending the stove, still in the pajamas he’d worn last night.
“Will!” Mulder said with a smile. “Ready for some breakfast?”
“Um…” William squirmed a little. “I need to use the restroom, but…”
“Right through there, just under the stairs,” Mulder said, pointing with his spatula.
“Thanks.” William hurried along, his bare feet chilled by the cold tile floor. When he came back into the kitchen, Scully was there, already dressed, her damp hair pulled back into a ponytail. Mulder had set the table and waved him over.
“Come and eat…Will,” Mulder said, biting back the urge to call him “son” again. “Um…do you mind if I call you Will?”
William shook his head. For some reason his adoptive parents had always used his full name, but he liked the way Mulder treated him and liked the way his shortened name sounded coming from this man.
Scully poured each of them a glass of orange juice as Mulder poured two cups of coffee and set a plate of toast on the table.
“I hope you like eggs and bacon,” Mulder said, bringing over a plate of scrambled eggs and a small pile of bacon.
“You did the cooking?” William asked. He knew that some men cooked, but in his house his mom had done all the cooking. His dad could grill a steak out on the barbecue, but he’d never cooked in the kitchen.
Mulder shrugged and smiled. “I’ve had time to learn. I…work from home…and Scully works at a hospital, so it’s usually easier for me to cook.”
William looked at Scully. “Are you going to work?” He didn’t know why, but he didn’t want her to leave.
“Not today,” she answered as she served him some eggs. She noticed the subtle wave of relief that moved over his face. “I’m off for a couple of days.”
“I do have to run an errand later today,” Mulder said, looking briefly at Scully. “But there’s no hurry this morning.”
William nodded and tucked into his breakfast.
He’d missed him. His ass was on the line now if he didn’t figure out how the kid had slipped away, or, more importantly, where he’d gone. The kid traveling on his own—how far could he get?
He couldn’t snoop at the school or stay near the house much longer without arousing suspicion. The last thing he wanted to do was to get himself arrested. The local authorities were already searching the area and interviewing friends and neighbors now that the boy’s teacher had reported him missing. The parents’ bodies had been found and the forensics team was scouring the home for evidence.
Being a stranger in this little town would be enough to draw attention his way and he couldn’t afford that. The dark-haired man knew that the people who had sent him out here would find a way to have him killed rather than let the local police find any connections to his “employers.”
The kid had done something smart and at this point he couldn’t find any trace of him. He’d have to get back to his handlers and see if there was something other than a physical trail.
Outside of Richmond 9:05 am
“May I be excused?” William asked politely, wiping his face with his napkin. “I think I’m finished.”
“Sure,” Mulder replied. “You can go ahead and put your plate in the sink.”
“Yes, sir,” the boy replied, rising from his chair. “If it’s okay, I think I’m going to go upstairs and lie down. I’m still kind of tired.”
“I’m sure you are,” Scully said with a smile. “Let me know if you need anything. I’ll bring your clothes up from the laundry room in a little while, okay?”
William nodded and was barely able to cover his mouth in time as a huge yawn escaped him. He put his things in the sink and headed back to his room.
“Mulder,” Scully began quietly once the boy had left, “I want to run some tests on William.”
Mulder looked at her over his coffee cup for a long silent moment.
“What kind of tests?”
“Blood tests, mostly. Though it wouldn’t hurt to give him a quick, general once-over,” she replied. “He felt a little feverish last night, and he was out in the rain for who knows how long.” She tried to sound casual, but she knew that Mulder suspected what she was getting at.
“What else are you concerned about?” he pressed. He looked toward the doorway to make sure William had gone on upstairs.
“Magnetite,” she said bluntly. “Before we start handling it here in the house with William around, I want to make sure he doesn’t have any kind of adverse reaction to it.” Her hands were suddenly cold and she pressed them together, studying the tabletop as she continued.
“I never did know exactly what was going on with him in those early days, but then Spender gave him that…that…injection. He said that it was a form of magnetite and that it would…cure him.”
She looked up at Mulder. “We don’t know exactly what he was injected with, how that injection might have differed from the magnetite we’ve been studying, or if anything changed as he got older. He’s on the verge of puberty now and that could be a factor. There are just too many variables. What if magnetite affects him the same way it does those replicants?”
Mulder opened his mouth but found nothing to say. He shook his head because he didn’t want it to be true, but he knew he had no sure footing on this particular issue.
As they had begun to develop their plans for fighting against the replicants, he hadn’t even considered William—he had been out of their lives for so long—or that one thing had anything to do with the other.
“And there’s also the black oil virus,” Scully continued. “We don’t know whether or not the virus might be a factor in the invasion plans, but we have to assume it will be. It seems that exposure to the virus or the vaccine creates antibodies that seem to provide immunity. We know that William was considered special, by all those people—the syndicate, the aliens. But I never tested him for immunity to the black oil virus.”
By now Mulder had put his coffee cup down on the table and his breakfast sat heavily in his stomach. He hadn’t really wanted to think about these things in regard to William. He had found himself a little giddy this morning, making breakfast for his son, feeling more hopeful than worried, at least for the moment. But Scully was right. They had to be sure.
He nodded as he looked up at her. “You’re right. You should go ahead and run the tests. I don’t want to worry him any more just now, unless there’s something to worry about.”
He extended his hand across the table to her and she slipped her hand into his.
“I’m sure he’ll be fine,” she said hopefully.
FBI Headquarters Washington, DC
Skinner walked into his office, nodding at his assistant.
“Good morning, sir,” she said with a smile, handing him a small pile of paperwork from his inbox.
“Good morning, Kim,” he replied, briefly catching her pretty eye. “Hold my calls today, please, and cancel my afternoon appointments. I won’t be coming back after lunch today.”
“Yes, sir,” she said, trying to hide her surprise.
He paused at his inner office door, absently looking through the papers she’d given him.
“Kim, if you have anything you’d like to do this afternoon, feel free to take off after lunch.”
“Thank you, sir,” she replied, staring after him as he disappeared into his office. It had been a while since she’d seen him like this and it made her a little uneasy. But she had work to do, so she set her worry aside and began making calls to clear his afternoon schedule.
Skinner sat at his desk and started up his computer, his breakfast churning in his stomach as he turned Mulder’s brief words over and over in his mind. Something was up, probably something Not Good, if Mulder wouldn’t talk about it over the phone. No simple mysterious occurrence would make Mulder that paranoid.
It had to be something to do with what remained of the alien invasion plan. They had all done their best to clean house years ago, but they knew that some people had fallen through the cracks. Still, there hadn’t been any news on this front in years.
Skinner entered Kersh’s office with a knot of cold fear radiating out from his belly. The hairs on the back of his neck prickled up as he spied Kersh sprawled on the floor, blood seeping from the corner of his mouth.
Without thinking, Skinner pulled his weapon and put a bullet in the head of the man who had opened the door for him, then two more in the chest of the other man in the room. Soon the room would be swarming with agents and he had only a moment to get away.
But first he knelt at Kersh’s side.
“Are you okay? Where are you hurt?”
“Go!” Kersh grated through clenched teeth. “You have to get out of here before they get up again. I already tried to kill them…” He took a deep shuddering breath and pressed on. “If you can get away, you can fight them. Go, before they come back to life!” He pressed something into Skinner’s palm. “Take it. Use it. Kill them!”
Kersh wasn’t dead yet, but there was nothing Skinner could do for him if he wanted to get out alive. Even now the man with the bloody chest wound was stirring and Skinner knew the other man wouldn’t be far behind.
“Play dead,” Skinner whispered to Kersh. “I’ll send help if I can.”
With that he fled the room pressing past the other agents. “Send for an ambulance for Director Kersh!” he barked at the first man he saw, hoping that the two Replicants wouldn’t kill everyone in their path to preserve their secret.
Skinner had never questioned where the vial of magnetite had come from, but he put it to use in the days and weeks following that ugly day.
Mulder and Scully had returned from their initial escape to the west and had joined forces with Skinner, Agents Doggett and Reyes, and a few trusted others, to flush the infiltrating alien replicants from within the FBI, but they were never completely sure they’d gotten to them all.
There had been some injuries and even some deaths among their colleagues, but in the end they felt they had achieved a sort of victory. Mulder and Scully chose to lay low, keeping Mulder away from those in the Bureau who still wanted to blame him for what had happened, while Doggett and Reyes had decided to take an assignment in California. It was a way to keep their careers intact, but it also allowed them to help keep an ear to the ground on that side of the country.
Skinner had sincerely hoped that somehow they had put a big enough monkey wrench in the aliens’ invasion plans that they would move on or give up and decide that this small planet wasn’t worth their efforts. But Mulder’s cryptic phone call this morning cast doubt on all of their achievements.
With a deep sigh, Skinner began sorting through his morning’s work, clearing his paperwork as much as possible. He had a feeling he was going to need an open schedule for the next few days at least.
Outside of Richmond
She jumped a little at the sound of his voice. Though she had thought of little else besides her son’s return, she was still surprised at the reality of him.
“William!” she began as she turned to him. “You startled me a little. Did you have good nap?”
“Yes, ma’am,” he answered, nodding. “I’m sorry I scared you. I just wanted to ask if I could have something to drink.”
She smiled at him.
“Sure, honey, of course you can.” She wanted to tell him that he didn’t have to call her “Miss Scully”, but she didn’t know what to offer him as an alternative. She couldn’t quite bring herself to suggest he call her “Mom” and she didn’t feel it was right for him to call her “Dana”.
She turned and indicated his things spread out on the counter. “I…uh…I’m sorry—I didn’t mean to pry. Last night I was making sure I hadn’t missed any of your laundry. I had laid everything out so your things could dry and I was about to put it all back in your pack.”
“It’s okay,” he replied, looking over his belongings. “Sorry about all that trash.” He gathered up the wrappers and the soda cup. “I didn’t want to drop it on the ground. I don’t believe in littering.”
She smiled even wider at his earnestness.
“That’s good. I don’t either.” She picked up the picture. “Would you like for me to find a frame for this? It’ll be better protected and you can put it beside your bed.”
He nodded, pressing his lips together as he thought about what she was saying.
“So, I can stay with you for a while?”
Her smile faded a little as she realized that he was afraid he wasn’t welcome.
“Of course you can,” she said warmly. “Whatever has happened, whatever will happen, you’re with us now. You’ll be safe here.” She ran a hand over his head, resting it on his shoulder. “It’s going to be okay, William. Now, what did you want to drink? Orange juice?”
“Do you have any soda?” he asked hopefully.
Scully served William a glass of juice and brought a plate of gingersnaps to the table.
“Thank you,” William said politely, taking an experimental sip of juice. He liked orange juice, but he wondered if Scully and Mulder bought the kind with pulp or without. He felt he had to be on his best behavior, using his “company” manners. Even though Scully had just assured him that he was welcome, he knew he was a surprise and an intrusion.
He helped himself to one cookie and was suddenly reminded of home. He paused with the cookie held up to his nose.
“What is it?” Scully asked, puzzled.
“Gingersnaps,” William said simply. He inhaled the fragrant spice again. “My grandmother used to give me gingersnaps.”
Scully smiled at him.
“Mine, too.” A worried thought crossed her mind. “Where does your grandmother live?”
“She passed away when I was eight,” he said, his eyes lowered. He bit the cookie and chewed quietly, not meeting Scully’s eyes, trying not to cry.
“Grandmothers always have the best cookies,” Scully said, trying to lighten the conversation, helping herself to a cookie. She studied his face for a moment, satisfied that his little mood had passed. She had some business to get down to with him and now seemed like a good time.
“William,” she began, “you know that I’m a doctor.”
“Yes, ma’am,” he replied around a mouthful of cookie.
“Well, I thought it would be a good idea to give you a quick check-up. After all you’ve been through and that walk in the rain last night, I just want to make sure everything’s okay.”
At his understanding nod, she continued.
“After you’re finished with your snack I’ll do the exam and get some blood samples. I’m going to gather the things I need while you eat and we’ll do it upstairs in your room. You come and meet me up there whenever you’re done.”
“Yes, ma’am,” he said as she rose from the table. He ate another cookie and finished his juice. No pulp—just the way he liked it.
Up in William’s bedroom Scully had laid out her black medical bag, the bathroom scale, a measuring tape and a few other items on the small desk in the room. She was just taking out her stethoscope when William entered.
“Are you ready?” she asked with a smile. “I brought one of Mulder’s undershirts for you to wear while I do your exam. Just take the sweats off and lay them on the bed.”
He looked at the t-shirt, lying on the bed, and looked back at her, his face reddening as he wrapped his arms around his body.
“I’ll turn my back while you change,” she offered, giving him a little privacy.
He quickly changed into the oversized t-shirt, which thankfully hung down below his underwear. He had begun to get a little self-conscious about his body, even at home with his mother, let alone here in front of a stranger.
“Okay,” he said, tugging at the hem of the t-shirt.
“Come over here and step on the scale for me.” She noted his weight in the chart she’d prepared, then used a pencil to mark his height against the doorjamb, using the tape to measure it. She then had him sit in the chair at the desk to continue his exam, picking up an aural thermometer.
At last Scully put away her stethoscope as she made a note of William’s heart rate and blood pressure. His basic health was fine so far with no fever this morning, despite his having gotten soaked last night. Just one more thing left.
“William,” Scully began, using the tone of voice she reserved for her young patients at the hospital, “have you ever had blood drawn before?”
William furrowed his brow. “I don’t think so.”
“It’s kind of like getting a shot,” Scully continued. “Just a little prick in a vein and then it only takes a minute.”
William watched closely as she assembled a few items on a tray, set it on the desk beside him and donned a pair of latex gloves.
“Let me have your left arm, honey,” she said gently, straightening it as she placed his hand under her arm to hold it in place. She tied a rubber tourniquet around his upper arm and wiped the inside of his elbow with an alcohol swab.
She released his arm and placed a soft rubber ball in his left hand. “I want you to squeeze the ball for me for a moment.”
“This thing kind of hurts my arm,” William said, touching the tourniquet.
“It’ll just be a minute. It needs to be tight to help me find your vein.”
She took the little needle in one hand as she probed for a vein with her finger.
“Okay, just a little pinch. You can look away if you want.”
William shook his head and pressed his lips together as the needle pierced his skin. He was fascinated to see his blood filling the three little vials Scully had prepared.
Just when he was about to complain again about the pain, she removed the needle, pressing a cotton ball firmly against the spot.
“Fold your arm up for a second,” she said lifting his forearm to squeeze the cotton ball in place as she removed the tourniquet and took the rubber ball from him. She put the items on the tray and turned back with a Band-Aid in her hand.
She lowered William’s arm, removed the cotton ball and replaced it with the Band-Aid.
“Star Wars?” William asked, amused at the illustrations on the bandage.
“I bought them for Mulder,” Scully said with a smile.
Scully stepped into Mulder’s office and laid a hand on his shoulder as she glanced idly at the computer screen where Mulder was working.
“What’s up, doc?” he said, turning his face up toward hers for a kiss. “How’s Will?”
She kissed him lightly.
“He’s fine,” she replied. “Listen, do you think you could take him outside for a while, until lunchtime? I think he could use some fresh air and a little exercise to get his mind off of everything, and I want to get started on his blood tests. Maybe you could play a little basketball or have a game of catch or something.”
Mulder smiled broadly, feeling a surprising surge of warmth in his heart.
“That sounds like a good idea.” He rose and grabbed his old basketball from a messy table in the corner. He kissed her one more time and made his way out into the living room and up the stairs.
“Hey, Will,” Mulder said casually, knocking on the wall just beside the doorjamb to William’s room. “I was wondering if you’d like to get dressed and come outside and shoot some hoops. I’ve got a goal set up in the back yard.”
William had pulled on the jeans Scully had brought up to his room, but still wore the oversized t-shirt. He nodded at Mulder’s suggestion.
“I’m not very good at basketball. I just started playing over the summer,” he said with a shrug.
“That’s okay. I can give you some pointers and we’ll just have some fun.”
“Okay,” William agreed. “I’ll be down in just a minute.”
Mulder was already working the little half-court he had in the back yard when William appeared at the back door. Mulder had long ago had a permanent basketball goal installed on one end of a small slab of cement just off the back patio, just far enough to hopefully keep any wayward shots from breaking a window in the house.
“Hey!” Mulder called when he spotted William coming out. “Come on over. Show me what you got.” He smiled and beckoned the boy over, dribbling the ball with his right hand.
William shrugged as he walked onto the court.
Mulder passed the ball to him and William caught it easily, bouncing it slowly as he neared the basket. He took a simple shot at the basket, but the ball hit the rim and bounced down.
Mulder caught the rebound and bounced it back toward William.
“Try it again,” he said in an encouraging tone.
Soon the two of them were taking turns shooting the ball, Mulder giving William gentle advice on his form and movements, then playing an easy game of one-on-one.
After a while Mulder stepped aside to take a little breather, so he stayed near the goal and watched William’s movements. The boy was athletically graceful and yet still a little hampered by the awkwardness of his adolescent body. One minute he’d move with assurance and agility, and the next he’d be all knees and elbows, tripping over his own feet.
He could see himself in the boy. William had Mulder’s dark hair and long body, his inherent athletic prowess. He was moody, but thoughtful and intelligent, the way Mulder had been all his life.
Mulder remembered the too-brief moments he’d had with William before circumstances had forced him away. Holding his infant son, the world had seemed brighter, more hopeful, and at the same time, more frightening.
He had sometimes imagined what it would be like to be a father, wondering if and when it might happen for him. Once his relationship with Scully had begun to evolve into something more personal and he began imagining a life with her outside of work, he had occasionally allowed himself to dream of having a family with her, even after finding out that she could no longer conceive because of what had been done to her by their enemies.
But William’s birth had been a miracle for both of them. Though he hardly dared to believe in God, he found himself thinking of William as a blessing, as an answer to prayer—a prayer he’d barely been able to perceive in his heart. William was the restoration of the family Mulder had lost, the reward for all the sacrifices he and Scully had been forced to make in fighting to save the rest of the world.
While Mulder was away, after being with William for such a short time, he would comfort himself by imagining all the things he would do with his son once he was able to return.
He would teach him to play baseball and basketball, teach him to ride a bike and swim. He would teach him how to shave, how to treat women, how to respect his mother. Maybe they would be in Scouts together and Mulder would help William earn his merit badges, help him become an Eagle Scout. He would help him with his schoolwork and go to all his games.
All of that was shattered when he returned and found that Scully had felt that sending their son away was the best thing to do, the only thing to do to keep him safe.
Mulder had struggled with his feelings, with anger and sorrow and grief. Part of him had wanted to blame Scully for not being strong enough, but he knew that he hadn’t been there to help her be strong, that she had no way of knowing when he would return or what new dangers would arise to threaten their son in the meantime. How could he blame her when he hadn’t been there with her?
He had forgiven her, though the pain and anger lurked in the deepest, darkest corners of his heart. When they had occasion to argue, to be angry with each other, he felt his inner demon telling him to throw her actions back in her face, to use it against her. But he knew that Scully had forgiven him for many things over the years and that they both had to make the best of their life as it was now, without their son. He knew she was as heartbroken as he.
He had not quite given up on hoping for another miracle. He’d never dared to voice it, but he’d always dreamed that some day he would see his son again, that all of his earlier dreams of fatherhood would come true.
William dribbled the ball out past the free-throw line and turned to shoot the ball. It arced perfectly through the air and swished cleanly through the net.
“Did you see that?” he cried, his face the picture of purest joy.
Mulder could only nod as his throat was too tight for words. He caught the ball as it bounced under the net, tossing it back to William, finally finding his voice.
“It was beautiful, son.”
Scully watched them briefly from the back door just before calling them in for lunch. If circumstances had been different it would have been such a natural scene—father and son playing basketball together. She hoped that somehow they could eventually have that normal life.
“William! Mulder! Lunch is ready! Come on in and wash up,” she called from the doorway.
They came in, smiling and panting, both of them a little sweaty from their exertions.
“This boy’s got some skills, Scully,” Mulder said, with a grin. He had recovered his casual, light tone, but Scully could see the shine of unshed tears in his eyes.
After lunch, Scully began to clear the table.
“William, I was wondering if you’d maybe like to watch a little TV this afternoon,” she began. “I’ve got to do a little more work downstairs and Mulder needs to leave in a little while to run his errand.”
William nodded agreeably, but he was a little disappointed to learn that Mulder was leaving.
“I’ll be back soon,” Mulder said, catching the look on William’s face. “If there’s nothing interesting on TV, we’ve got a lot of DVDs you can choose from.”
Scully raised an eyebrow at Mulder.
“Um…you’ll have to check the ratings on a few of them,” he quickly added. “Some of them might not really be appropriate for someone your age.” He winked at William and rose from the table.
“Come on out to the living room and I’ll show you how the cable is set up.”
Scully watched them leave together, happy that they were already forming a bond, then made her way downstairs to the basement to finish working with William’s blood samples.
Somewhere Between Richmond, VA and Washington, DC 6:00 pm
Mulder stood in the dimming sunlight, shifting his weight from foot to foot, eyes scanning all around, more out of habit than anything else, since he’d already scouted the field and was as sure as he could be that he hadn’t been followed. He had been chewing the same piece of gum for more than an hour and his jaw was beginning to ache. He had decided to forego his sunflower seeds this evening because he couldn’t help thinking that someone might stumble across his discarded shells and somehow figure everything out.
The sight and sound of an approaching vehicle made his heart pound until he recognized Skinner’s face behind the wheel of the black SUV. He exhaled a plume of fog into the cold air as he finally allowed himself to relax just a bit.
“What’s up, Mulder?” Skinner said, without preamble as he stepped out of the vehicle. He scanned the area just as Mulder had done, his face pinched and tense.
“William is at the house,” Mulder blurted out. He had thought of a million different ways to break the news, but the words were out of his mouth before he knew it.
Skinner actually stepped back, his mouth agape, struggling to keep his footing as his knees suddenly turned to Jell-O. “What did you say?”
“William,” Mulder repeated more slowly, “is at the house.”
“How is that possible?” Skinner found himself leaning against the SUV for support, his mind racing through a number of scenarios. “Who brought him?”
“No one. He made it out here on his own.” Mulder leaned against his own vehicle as he related William’s story about figuring out his true parentage and what had happened to the Van de Kamps.
“Are you sure he wasn’t followed?”
“We haven’t seen or heard anything suspicious, but it might be too soon to tell.”
“Are you all secure?”
“We’re fine for now, but Scully’s going to pick up some things tomorrow. We needed groceries anyway, and William needs a few things, so she’s headed out to Lynchburg tomorrow. Scully was already off for the next few day, so no one should be suspicious that she’s not at work. From what the kid said, I think he was smart about staying low and avoiding notice.”
“A chip off the old block?” Skinner’s rough grunt was as close to a chuckle as he could manage. “So, what do you want to do?”
“I don’t know what to do,” Mulder admitted with a confused smile. “I guess I need you to keep an ear to the ground, see if there’s any sign that anyone is looking our direction. See if there are any reports out of Wyoming…anyone looking for William, Amber Alerts, whatever.”
“What are you going to do with him?”
Skinner’s question stopped Mulder’s brain from functioning. He had avoided asking himself or Scully this very thing.
He caught Skinner’s eye and opened his mouth, but found nothing to say.
“You can’t just start playing house with him, Mulder.” Skinner pressed forward with the hard issues that needed to be addressed. “It’s not as if you can just enroll him in school and act like everything’s normal.”
“What do you think our options are?”
“I’m guessing you don’t want to go underground again,” Skinner said with a shrug. “You can move and start over, I guess, but again, if you want to have a normal life, if you want William to have a normal life, there are all kinds of legalities and paperwork involved, and that leaves a trail. We could come up with something, I suppose, but the three of you together…they find one of you, they find all of you.”
“So, we can be found here or we can be found somewhere else.” Mulder made a decision, turned his head to one side and spit his stale gum as far as he could. Let them find his DNA if they came looking. “We have the home advantage here. If we’re going to be targeted, I say we stand and fight.”
“With William? You gonna train him to shoot a gun or something?” Skinner studied Mulder’s face as the other man shifted from foot to foot.
“Look, they already came after the Van de Kamps. They made the first move. If he’d been there they would have taken him.” Mulder felt his face begin to burn, surprised at how angry he was about what had happened.
“William is our son—my son,” he continued, pounding a finger into his chest. “My fate is his fate, my actions affect his life, have already affected it. He figured out how to make it all the way out here on his own, how to avoid being caught. He probably bought us all some extra time. I don’t think we need to hide him under a rock. Hiding him in Wyoming didn’t keep them from tracking him down.”
Skinner felt his own face flush at that. Though it hadn’t been his idea to send William away, he felt guilty that they hadn’t been able to keep his location truly hidden.
“Look,” Mulder said with less heat, “I think we’re ready. Scully has a formula for the vaccine and has been able to produce several doses, plus we’ve got a sizable stash of magnetite- tipped bullets. We may not be able to fend off the full invasion yet, but we can protect William and let those bastards know that we’re on to them and that we’ve got the means to destroy them.”
“But again, what about William?” Skinner urged. “What is he supposed to do while you’re hunting for replicants and aliens?”
Mulder shook his head, digging in the dirt with the toe of his shoe.
“It’s not as if we can just hire a babysitter.” He looked up and met Skinner’s eye. “We’re the only ones who can truly keep him safe. He’s got to be with one of us at all times.”
“I hope you’re including me in that ‘us’, Mulder.” Skinner took a deep breath as he considered all that it might entail.
“Uncle Walter?” Mulder said with a tight smile.
Skinner couldn’t quite bring himself to smile in return.
“How do we get started?” Skinner asked.
“I think you need to come out to the house and meet him.”
William and Scully sat on the sofa, his adoption papers spread across the coffee table. She was looking through the information while he studied her face, wondering if he looked like her. He’d stared at himself in the mirror this morning and had been stealing looks at her all day.
Both their thoughts were interrupted when they heard the sound of more than one car approaching the house.
“William, stay here,” she said in a firm steady tone that forced him to obey.
She stood and peeked out the window, then relaxed. “It’s okay. It’s just Mulder…and a friend.”
A few minutes later Mulder came in, followed by a large balding man wearing a trench coat and round glasses that didn’t hide the tension that creased his eyes.
The bald man stared at him until William felt like squirming.
“William, this is a friend of ours,” Scully began. She sat next to him again, putting a reassuring hand on his shoulder. “His name is Walter Skinner. He used to be our boss at the FBI.”
“Hello, young man,” Skinner said, stepping forward to offer William a handshake. He exchanged looks with his two former agents then slipped off his coat and sat in the armchair near the couch.
Mulder sat on the coffee table.
“Will,” Mulder began, “there are a lot of things we’re all going to have to talk about. I don’t want to treat you like a little kid because you know almost as much about what’s going on as we do, and because you figured out how to find us and get all the way out here all by yourself. You’re a smart kid, a resourceful kid, and you need to know some things.”
“Mulder…” Scully slipped her arm around the boy and pulled him close, as if she could protect him from the truth of all of their lives.
“Scully, you know we need to tell him. He deserves to know.”
“Tell me,” William said simply.
Skinner couldn’t stop staring at him. He looked like such a perfect combination of the two of them. As the boy anticipated Mulder’s words, his frown looked just like the one on Scully’s face—the little crease between the brows—and though his eyes were blue like hers, their shape and expression was more like Mulder’s, and there was something… Mulderish…about his mouth.
Silence hung in the air between them and Skinner felt he knew how to make it all easier.
“Why don’t we wait and talk about this over dinner?” he suggested, standing up. “I’ll even help you cook, Scully.”
Mulder nodded. “That sounds like a good idea.”
Scully pressed her lips together as she considered it, at last nodding her agreement. At least it would give her something to do with her nervous hands. She’d already thawed some hamburger for Sloppy Joes, hoping that kid-friendly food would help William feel more comfortable in a strange home.
As Scully and Skinner went into the kitchen, Mulder helped William gather up the adoption papers and put them back in the file.
“Will,” Mulder began, “you said you looked up some of your adoption information online.”
“Did you do that at home? On your family’s home computer?”
“On my laptop, while I was at the library. I didn’t want my parents to know I was trying to…access…some of that information.”
“Did your parents have a computer? Was there any information about your adoption on that computer?”
William nodded and took a deep breath, not wanting to think about all that he’d done the night he left.
“My dad kept everything backed up on flash drives and CDs. I took all that stuff and wiped his hard drive.”
“You know how to do that?” Mulder wondered just how smart the boy was.
“I read about it somewhere, about how to do it,” William said with a shrug. “I read a lot of stuff.”
“That’s good,” Mulder said. “You did the right thing.” He thought for a moment and continued.
“How did you buy the bus ticket from Wyoming?”
“I knew I was too young to buy it myself because my friend Danny tried that once and got into trouble. So I asked someone to buy it for me.”
“Someone?” Mulder was afraid this would be where William’s trail might be visible.
“Another kid—an older kid,” William answered. “He was 17, I think he said. He was traveling by himself to Texas.”
“And he just agreed to buy the ticket for you?”
William shrugged. “I bribed him with my iPod.”
“And you don’t think he told anyone?”
William shook his head. “He didn’t look like the kind of kid who would talk to grown-ups.”
Mulder was impressed by the boy’s thought process. As Scully had pointed out last night, he had somehow set aside whatever fear or panic his parents’ deaths may have caused him and was able to think clearly about what needed to be done and how to keep from being followed. It was uncanny for an eleven-year-old boy. And yet, he was still just a boy—frightened and vulnerable.
“Can I ask you something?” William’s voice was quiet as he leaned closer to Mulder.
“What should I call you…and...her?” His face flushed a little. He’d always been taught to address adults respectfully, but he was unsure of himself in this situation. They were strangers to him, but they were his biological parents—and the only relatives he had now. But even they called each other by their last names. Were they married? In his experience he would have assumed she was Mrs. Mulder, but…it was all so confusing.
Mulder was thrown off a little. Normally he would have just suggested the boy call him Mulder like almost everyone else did, but this boy was his son. Was he prepared to have William call him Dad? Would William even want to do that? The boy had had a father until just a few days ago. That was the man he’d called Dad.
“Well…what would make you comfortable?” he said at last. “You can call me Mulder, if you want to, or…or…well…”
“Are you my father?”
Mulder half-gasped, half-chuckled at the boy’s direct question. He’d been wondering if and when they’d talk about this subject, but hadn’t expected it to come up so soon. He nodded…and kept nodding because his mouth was suddenly dry. At last, he swallowed and found his voice.
“Yes, William. I’m…I’m your father.”
They stared at each other for a moment, each unsure of what to say next.
“William! Mulder!” Scully’s voice came from the kitchen, breaking the spell between father and son.
“I guess dinner’s almost ready.” Mulder stood and, putting an easy hand on William’s shoulder, led him to the downstairs restroom. “Let’s get washed up.”
At the dinner table, after they’d all eaten and wiped the Sloppy Joe sauce from their hands and faces, Mulder cleared his throat.
“I think we’re ready to go through this.” He cast his gaze around the table, holding each person’s eye for a moment.
He looked primarily at William as he ran through a condensed accounting of how he’d found the X-Files, how Scully had joined and helped him in his work, what they had finally come to understand about the international conspiracy and their involvement with the planned alien invasion. Scully explained the threat of the alien black oil virus, the work toward developing a vaccine against it, and the more recent development of the alien replicants or “SuperSoldiers”, the alien infiltration of the military, the FBI and other divisions of the government and how Scully had learned of their vulnerability to magnetite.
“Aliens?” William blurted out. “Like in ‘Independence Day’? I don’t believe in aliens.” He shook his head and took a drink from his glass of tea.
Skinner had to chuckle. “I never did, either, William…until I saw your father taken away in an alien ship.”
William’s eyes widened as he looked from one adult to another. Then his eyes narrowed again.
“You’re just teasing me…” he said suspiciously.
Skinner shook his head. “Nope. I saw it with my own eyes. Mulder was taken aboard an alien ship and was missing for several months. When he came back…” His voice faded away as he realized he was getting into complicated territory. “Anyway, it’s all true.”
Suddenly the adults were all studying the tabletop and William knew that not only was the story about the alien ship true, but that whatever happened afterward was not something they wanted to tell a kid.
“So, what happened after that?” he said, still not sure how much of the story he could believe.
“Well, Scully was pregnant with you at the time I was abducted. I was returned just before you were born.”
Mulder stole a glance at Scully and squeezed her hand briefly as he continued.
“Just before you were born we learned of a plot against us—people who wanted to interfere with your birth, with my recovery… After you were born, I was forced to leave, because of these threats, but there were several attempts to kidnap you.”
“It was made clear to me that you would never be safe as long as you were with me,” Scully said quietly. “I wanted so badly to take care of you, to protect you, but…but…”
“She was alone,” Mulder continued, keeping Scully’s hand in his. “In the end she felt that sending you away was the best way to keep you safe. You have to understand that we loved you very much. You were a miracle—a child we never thought we could have. We never wanted to give you up.”
William looked back and forth between the two of them, trying to understand what they were telling him.
“So, my parents…they didn’t know anything about all of this?” William asked quietly.
Scully shook her head. “And we knew very little about them—just a name and the state where you’d been sent.”
“It was handled through a string of agencies. It was supposed to hide both ends of the connection from anyone who might go looking…” Skinner faltered again. He couldn’t look the boy in the eye and felt responsible for the deaths of that innocent couple.
“Anyway,” Mulder took up again, “what it comes down to now, Will, is that someone has made a move. We knew the date was approaching, but we weren’t sure how or where it would start.”
“But why did they come after me?” William asked. “What do they want from me?”
“They want you because you’re our son,” Scully said. “Perhaps because of what your father and I both experienced…things…that were done to us…things we were exposed to. They feel that you’re special, somehow.”
“Am I?” William held her gaze steadily.
Mulder admired the boy’s ability to get to the point and decided to be just as frank.
“Maybe you are.”
“But…but, I’m not. I’m not special.” William turned his firm gaze on Mulder, but he couldn’t keep a hint of fear out of his voice.
“Maybe not in an obvious way,” Mulder continued, trying to make his tone as gentle as possible. “Maybe in a way even they themselves aren’t sure of. But whatever it is they want we’re not going to let them have it.”
William rolled his lower lip in between his teeth to keep it from trembling. They were starting to scare him and he didn’t want to cry in front of everybody.
“William,” Scully said quietly, tears pooling in her own eyes. “Come here.” She held her arms open to him, scooting her chair back from the table as he came around to climb into her lap.
“Guys,” she said, looking Mulder in the eye, “I think we’re done with this conversation for now.”
William slipped into the bed in what had become his room. Scully had put his things in here for him—hung his few clothes in the closet, arranged his other belongings on the small desk, including the picture of his parents. His stuffed dog was beside his pillow.
She came in a few minutes later.
“Are you feeling better?” she asked, sitting beside him on the edge of the bed.
“I’m okay, I guess.” He studied her face for a moment. “I’m sorry I got upset earlier.”
“It’s okay. You don’t need to apologize.” She smoothed his hair and tucked the blankets around him. “We’re all a little upset by all of this. We’ve all had some surprising events, especially you.”
He could hear the two men still talking downstairs, though he couldn’t make out what they were saying. Their voices rose and fell, sometimes sounding angry or anxious, then falling away to a calmer level.
“What’s going to happen? I mean…is it going to be soon?” He clutched at the blankets, fear creeping back to flutter in his stomach. Suddenly he wanted very much to be back home, to turn back the clock and undo all that had happened in the last few days.
Scully pulled him up into her arms.
“It’s okay, honey. It’s going to be all right.” She rubbed his back and kissed his forehead, rocking him a little. “Nothing’s going to happen right away. You’re safe right now and it’s all right.”
“But it’s scary,” he murmured into her shoulder. “And I don’t think I understand what’s happening.”
“Well, you don’t have to understand it all tonight. We can talk about it tomorrow as much as you need to.” She eased him back onto his pillow. “Tonight you just need to try to rest. Do you want me to stay with you for a while?”
“I want to go back downstairs and stay with you guys. I don’t want to be up here all by myself.” He looked out the window at the black night. The wind had risen again and was moaning around the corners of the house. “Can’t I stay downstairs until you come up to bed?” He clutched at her arm, his blue eyes pleading with her.
“Oh, honey, it’s so late.” Scully put her hand to his cheek. “How about if I sit up here with you until you fall asleep? Mulder and I will be up before too long and I promise we’ll come and look in on you before we go to bed.”
William fought against the tears that made him feel like a baby, but he allowed himself the indulgence of clutching at his stuffed dog. He nodded his head at her proposal. “Please stay with me for a while.” He rolled over on his side, facing her, and pulled the covers up to his chin.
She wanted to pet his hair, to caress his cheek, to kiss and embrace him and feel the solid reality of him. She didn’t want to embarrass him or make him feel uncomfortable, but, oh, how she longed to hold him, how her body ached at the memory of carrying him.
He was her baby, her son, the child she’d carried in her womb. She’d nursed him, bathed him, changed his diapers, known his little body from head to foot.
But he was a stranger now, both familiar and completely unknown. He had developed tastes and preferences that she knew nothing about. What books had he read? What television shows did he like? What kind of music did he listen to? Did he like sports or did he prefer indoor activities?
She didn’t know the answers to these questions, but she longed to know them, longed to know her son. Her son.
She’d made the most difficult decision of her life in giving him up, and she was never quite sure if it had been the right thing to do. She’d felt guilty, but also hopeful that he had had a better childhood than she might have been able to provide for him. But it had never settled well in her mind, let alone her heart, especially after Mulder returned. He had been so heartbroken, though he did his best not to let on.
She knew he’d resented her decision at his lowest moments, but to his credit he’d never used it against her.
But now William was back and she was determined that she would never let anyone take him again. She knew they faced a daunting enemy, but she knew how to kill when she had to. And when it was all over, she would learn this boy inside and out once again.
She allowed herself the indulgence of running a hand through his hair, committing its silkiness to memory. She moved her hand over his cheek then down along his right shoulder as she bent to kiss his forehead.
He looked up at her with trusting, gentle eyes, not as frightened as he’d been just a moment ago.
Tears welled up in her eyes as she bent to kiss him again, on his downy-fuzzed cheek. She felt his arms wrap around her and she pulled him up into her arms once more. Perhaps he longed for her as much as she for him.
“I love you, honey,” she whispered in his ear. “I love you.”
She continued to rub his back, wishing he was once again the infant she had held and rocked. She could feel the tension in his back come and go, the occasional slight shudder of the quiet tears he tried to hide from her.
Would he ever feel safe and happy again? Would any of them?
After Skinner had left for the night, Mulder joined Scully in their bedroom.
“How’s Will?” he asked as he pulled his sweater off over his head and kicked off his shoes.
“I told him we’d look in on him,” Scully began, “but I hope he’s still asleep. He was a little upset.”
“I can imagine,” Mulder said, changing into his pajama pants. “I’m sorry about all that tonight, but I think we had to tell him as much as possible.”
Scully nodded grimly. “I know, but it was hard on him.”
Mulder took her hand and led her down the hall to their son’s room. They slipped in quietly and gazed down on his slumbering form.
Mulder couldn’t resist running his hand gently across the boy’s shoulders, wincing a little as William sighed and shifted on the bed.
He bent to kiss the boy’s cheek.
“Shhh,” he whispered, quieting him again. “Goodnight, son,” he murmured close to his ear. “I love you.” He stepped away, taking a deep breath to quell the tears that pressed against his heart.
Scully kissed William as well and they stepped out before they woke him.
Back in their room, Mulder took Scully in his arms and kissed her for a long moment, his heart full to overflowing.
“I’m sorry about the circumstances,” he whispered into her hair, “but I’m so happy he’s here.”
Scully led him to the bed and pulled him down on top of her, kissing him, inviting him.
They made love with the moon peeking in on them.
Outside of Richmond Tuesday, October 9
The kitchen was flooded with sunlight as they sat down to breakfast, William more at ease this morning and Mulder and Scully happy that he seemed more natural and less formal with them.
Scully had made pancakes and William ate them enthusiastically.
“You didn’t cook this morning?” William asked as he helped himself to another pancake.
Mulder smiled and shook his head.
“I don’t do pancakes—too complicated. I’m good with frozen waffles in the toaster, though.”
William smiled widely, syrup smeared on his mouth. He licked his lips and turned to Scully.
“They’re really good.”
“Thanks, honey,” she said, returning his smile. She patted his arm and handed him a napkin.
As they finished breakfast, Mulder stood to excuse himself.
“I’ll be in my office,” he said, pausing to ruffle William’s hair.
“William, I think you and I need to do some shopping today.” Scully stood to clear away the breakfast dishes.
At William’s mildly confused expression, Scully continued.
“You need some clothes—underwear in particular. You could use some pajamas and another pair of shoes, for instance. Anyway, we’ll get you all equipped, and maybe get you some books or video games just for fun. And we could use some groceries, too. We can pick out a few things that you especially like.”
William nodded at first, but then stopped, a worried frown touching his face. “Is it safe?”
Scully took a moment to clear her throat as she tried to think of exactly what to say. She understood his concern but didn’t want him to worry.
“We’ll be fine, I think,” she answered with a confident nod for his benefit. “We’re going to a different town—not into Richmond—and I’ll be paying in cash, just to be sure. But I think we’re still okay.”
William nodded, studying her face. “Are we all going?”
Scully shrugged, doing her best to sound casual.
“Mulder’s going to stay here and do some work in his office. You and I can manage.” She smiled and put her hand on his shoulder. “Go on up and get your jacket.”
Like the good former FBI agent that she was, Scully had done a little investigating among William’s few things and had made some observations. His jeans were fairly worn and seemed to be fitting him a little tight and a little short. She was afraid he’d outgrow them right before her eyes. She’d checked his sizes and had made a list of things she felt he especially needed. She hadn’t shopped for clothes for him since he was a baby, when what he wore was entirely up to her. Would the two of them see eye-to-eye about clothing choices now? Would he care at all? She wasn’t sure she knew what pre-teen boys were wearing these days. She hoped they could just stick to the basics.
Mulder kissed Scully lightly and gave William a quick hug as they were leaving.
“Be good, son,” he said with a wink as they stepped through the door.
William looked back at him, but couldn’t smile back as he nodded. He took Scully’s hand for the short walk to the car.
As they drove away from the house she noticed that William kept looking back and his hands were clenched into fists in his lap.
“He’ll be fine, honey,” she said softly, turning to catch his eye as he looked up at her. “And so will we.” She extended her hand toward him and he took it, but he continued to steal glances in the side mirror.
FBI Headquarters Washington, DC
“I think we’re ready to move forward.”
The younger man looked up from his computer screen, his brow creasing into a mild frown as he eyed his superior.
“Already?” he asked. He sat back in his chair. “I thought we were going to wait until we had the boy.”
“Well, that looks like it’s going to take longer than we’d planned.” The older gentleman pursed his lips as he scanned the report on his computer.
“They lost him?”
“For now, it seems. But it’s not impossible to guess where he might be headed.”
“Does he know anything about them? Would he know how to find them?”
“I don’t know, but I think we need to cover that possibility.”
“Has someone been sent?”
“Yes. We should have a man in place by tomorrow. It might take a day or two to determine if he’s with them. We don’t want to get too close and tip them off.”
“And in the meantime you want to proceed with the first test?”
“Yes.” The older man’s fingers moved deftly over the computer keyboard for a moment.
The younger man’s computer emitted a soft ding signaling the receipt of an email. He turned to his screen and read the brief message sent out to several recipients.
“Proceed item 2-A, standard protocol.”
As he had anticipated, Skinner received notification of a nationwide Amber Alert being issued out of Wyoming for an eleven-year-old boy named William Samuel Van de Kamp who was thought to be in immediate danger.
The accompanying photo was William’s school photo taken just a month or so ago when the school year started.
Skinner stared at William’s wide, carefree smile. The boy’s eyes were clear and bright. Skinner hadn’t yet seen this sunny version of the boy.
He picked up the phone and called the field office in Cheyenne and explained to the director there that the Amber Alert for William had to be cancelled immediately.
“The boy is in protective custody and I cannot reveal his whereabouts,” Skinner said emphatically. “You can explain to local law enforcement that he has been found and is safe, but you must not under any circumstances reveal how you came to know this. Do I make myself clear?”
“Yes, sir,” Agent Charleson answered.
“There may come a time when we can provide more information, but at this time his life depends on your utmost efforts at security. Do you understand me, Agent Charleson?”
“Absolutely, sir,” Charleson responded. “I understand.”
“Thank you,” Skinner said, ending the conversation. He hoped Charleson was as competent as he sounded. The last thing they needed was some well-meaning person on the street calling the hotline to say that they’d seen William, inadvertently leading the conspirators right to Mulder and Scully’s doorstep.
After hanging up the phone, Skinner went back to the paperwork he was finalizing. He had a lot of details to chase down to prepare to bring Mulder and Scully back into the Bureau, even on a limited basis.
They had already begun the long process of recertification and reinstatement following the Joe Crissman case that Mulder and Scully had consulted on. Skinner had pulled every string he could find to get the approval needed to bring them back aboard, but now he had to speed up the last of the formalities in order to get it done before all hell broke loose.
They needed the authority to fight against whatever corrupt personnel still remained in the Bureau and other government agencies and Skinner needed them on his team. He had long ago cleared a team of trusted agents and he was going to have to call on all of them when the time came, but he trusted no one as he did these two.
They had already agreed that they needed to be in the DC area so Skinner was arranging a safe house and whatever equipment he could discreetly pull together.
William held Scully’s hand and walked close to her as they entered the big Wal-Mart Supercenter. He finally relinquished her hand when she got a shopping cart, but he walked beside her with one hand on the cart handle.
“Will,” Scully began as they got to the boys’ clothing department, “why don’t you look for some shirts that you like while I find you some jeans to try on.”
He looked at her with his mouth open, as if he wanted to say something, his eyes a little wide.
“It’s okay,” Scully insisted. “I’ll be right here.”
He looked at her a moment longer, his fingers rubbing at a spot on the corner of the cart, then he looked all around the store before finally nodding minutely and moving to a nearby rack of shirts.
William found it hard to care about the clothes he was looking through. Being out among so many people was making him nervous. He’d been worried about being followed when he had left Wyoming, but after all he’d been told about aliens and conspiracies and dangerous men, he found himself afraid of everyone. There were too many people to keep track of in this big store. He couldn’t keep from looking all around him every few minutes, then checking for Scully again.
At last she pushed the cart over toward him, a few pairs of jeans and khakis draped over the side.
“Find anything you like?” she asked with a smile.
He looked stupidly at the rack and shrugged. She was studying him with that little frown between her eyes so he started working through the rack again, still not really seeing the shirts.
She laid a hand over his to stop him.
“What is it, honey?”
He looked down at their hands, and turned his over to grip hers. “I’m sorry…I can’t…I can’ t…” He looked up at her and again couldn’t help casting his eyes all around the store.
She squeezed his hand and silently chose a few shirts she thought would work for him, then led him to the dressing rooms.
She took the clothes and explained to the clerk that she needed to go in with him.
Once inside a dressing room she sat him on the little bench and sat down beside him.
“Are you scared, son?” she asked simply, slipping an arm around his shoulders and taking one of his hands in hers.
“There are so many people,” he whispered, looking down at their hands. “If that man is looking for me, what if he’s out there somewhere right now? What if he comes to the house while we’re gone? What if he followed us to this store and he’s waiting for a chance to grab me?” His voice rose into a strangled squeak as he tried not to cry.
Scully held him a little tighter as she tried to reassure him.
“I know it must seem as though everything is a threat right now, especially after all we talked about last night. But I really believe we’re okay. It’s understandable that you might feel frightened or nervous, and you don’t have to be afraid to say so. Okay?”
He nodded, sinking a little more into her, taking assurance from her solid embrace.
“Do you think you can go ahead and try on some things now?” Scully asked gently. At his quiet nod, she stood and chose a shirt and a pair of jeans.
“Start with these and let me know how they fit. I’ll be right outside the door, okay?”
“Okay,” he replied, sniffling a little as he toed off his sneakers.
Scully slipped out the door and stood in front of the room so he could see her feet below the door.
After finishing in the clothing and shoe departments, Scully worked her way through the pharmacy department, picking up some extra first-aid supplies in anticipation of whatever lay ahead.
William tugged at her sleeve.
“Um…I need…I need some deodorant,” William whispered shyly. “I forgot to pack mine at home.” He’d just started using it, at his mother’s insistence, and he still had trouble remembering to use it every day.
Scully smiled and pushed the cart over to the appropriate aisle. “Go ahead and pick out the kind you like. Is there anything else you need—shampoo or shower gel? If there’s a certain brand you’re used to, we can get that for you, too.”
By the time they’d finished going through the grocery aisles, the cart was brimming. Scully had been a little indulgent of him and had allowed him to pick out some DVDs, video games and his favorite cereals and cookies, but she found she wasn’t quite sure what amount of indulgence was normal and what was overindulgent.
She hadn’t had the chance to make such decisions as a mother and she was suddenly faced with a half-grown child. She knew that their situation right now wasn’t normal and she was reluctant to ask him what his parents had or had not allowed him to do. There would be time later to discuss such things and she didn’t want to make him dwell on the loss of his previous normal life. They had to create a new sense of normal for him now; everything else could wait.
They bought lunch at a McDonalds not far from the house, picking something up for Mulder as well. As they neared the house, William was more relaxed, snagging fries from his bag and sipping his soda. Scully had helped him relax at the store and he had tried not to be greedy as she offered to buy him things just for fun. But now they were headed back to the house and he found himself thinking of it as home and he knew he’d feel safe as soon as he walked in the door.
At the house, Scully handed William a couple of bags to carry in as she found the bags with freezer items.
“We’re home!” she called out as they entered, turning in to the kitchen with her bags. “Mulder! Can you come help bring the things in?”
“Coming,” Mulder sang out as he came out of his office. He passed William who was taking his bags of clothes to his room.
“Looks like you hit the jackpot, Will,” he said with a smile, gently ruffling William’s hair.
William smiled shyly and continued on upstairs.
They brought in the remaining bags then sat down to eat their hamburgers, William smiling at the way Mulder stole Scully’s fries and how Scully delicately removed the onions from her burger.
After lunch Scully helped William put his new clothes and things away, then left him in his room exploring his new video games.
She made her way down to the basement to go over the results of William’s blood tests.
William left his games on the desk and stretched out on his bed, a little tired from the long shopping trip. He was a little surprised at how frightened he had felt and again how safe he felt here. And yet, this was still the home of strangers, people he didn’t really know. It seemed strange to him that he was beginning to feel at home here even as he missed his own home and the parents who had raised him. He was still confused about everything he’d been told.
He rolled over and took his little dog from where he’d tucked it under his pillow, holding it to his face, inhaling its familiar smell. It was the only thing he had that still smelled like home. All of his clothes had been washed in whatever detergent Scully used, the bed linens smelled different than his bed at home and even his own skin smelled different.
But the little dog still smelled the same and it comforted him.
“Mulder, I need to talk to you.” Scully spoke quietly, but in what she hoped was a normal tone.
Mulder looked up from his desk, immediately knowing that Scully had something less than pleasant to tell him.
“Come downstairs, please,” she said, turning from the doorway.
“What is it, Scully?” Mulder asked after she had led him all the way down to the basement.
“It’s William’s blood test,” she said abruptly. She opened a folder that was lying on her workbench.
“Is there something wrong with him?” Mulder looked at the paper she now held out toward him, but the information on it meant nothing to him. He struggled to keep his breathing even, though inside he was beginning to panic.
“I checked him for immunity to the black oil virus. He does show some antibodies for it, but I don’t think his count is high enough to make him fully immune. It’s hard to say because we’ve seen so little evidence of immunity. But I checked the records I have from that oil rig worker and from your tests, my tests, Marita Covarrubias’s tests. We all have significantly higher antibody counts than he does, but apart from the oil worker, we were all directly exposed to the virus and the vaccine. I wasn’t sure if it was possible for him to inherit any immunity from us, since it would require a genetic alteration. There’s a little evidence that that might have happened on some level, but I’m afraid that he’d be vulnerable to the virus after all.”
Mulder shook his head in denial. They had long ago discussed the idea that William might be naturally immune, because of all they’d been told about how special he was supposed to be, but it was more speculation than solid theory. They’d hoped that he would somehow be spared if they couldn’t get to him when the time came, if the aliens chose to use the virus on the populace. But he’d never seriously considered what to do if it wasn’t true.
“What are you going to do, Scully?”
“I think that I’ll have to give him the vaccine.” She looked into his eyes for a long moment, then the words began to spill out of her in a rush.
“I don’t know how it will affect him, though. We’ve only done basic tests on the vaccine and what it’s supposed to do, since we don’t have any samples of the black oil virus. William has never been exposed to the virus itself, but whatever elements of the virus are in the vaccine, though they’re synthesized, could actually make him sick—even give him a real infection—if he has some kind of adverse reaction. And since he does have a certain level of magnetite in his system, I’m not sure how the two will interact. I’m going to run some more lab tests before I actually give him the injection, but in the end, Mulder, I think it’s the only answer.”
She chewed her lip as she waited to hear Mulder’s reaction. She was about to risk the life of the son they had only just reclaimed by exposing him to the very thing she had sought to protect him from.
“If the vaccine makes him sick, will it be possible to treat him?” Mulder asked in a tight, quiet voice. He tried to block out what he remembered of having the black oil poured onto his face as he lay helplessly bound on a cold, hard table in a Russian gulag. He’d been given the vaccine beforehand, but it had still been a horrible experience.
“A dose of the antiviral you were given when you were returned should work, if it comes to that.” She looked down at her hand to see that she’d begun to crumple the paper she still held. She set it back in the folder and wrapped her arms around herself. “I just hope he still trusts us afterward.”
Mulder took her into his arms, as worried and apprehensive as she.
“When do you want to do this?” Mulder asked, casting his gaze around the room as if he would find some reassurance in Scully’s equipment.
“Soon…today,” she said simply. “I need some of the files you have upstairs and then I’m going to double check these results. Give me about an hour or so.”
Mulder nodded, finally stepping back to look into her eyes.
Mulder knocked on the doorjamb of William’s room.
“Hey, Will, can you come and give me a hand?”
“Yes, sir,” William replied, trying to hide his stuffed dog on the far side of his pillow.
“I need some help getting some things set up in the basement,” Mulder explained as they headed downstairs. “I’ve got some files we’ll need to move down there and then there’s some equipment to put together.”
Mulder opened the door to his office and led William in.
William’s eyes widened as they swept the cluttered room, taking in the many clippings tacked up on the walls, the row of filing cabinets, bookcases and strange artifacts, finally coming to rest on the large poster on one wall.
“Do you really believe in aliens and spaceships?” William turned to look at Mulder, one brow raised in an unknowingly fine imitation of his mother.
Mulder was transfixed for a moment, remembering the day a young, fresh-faced Dana Scully had walked into his messy basement office.
“What?” William said with an amused frown.
“You look just like your mother,” Mulder said quietly, smiling at his son.
“Really?” William asked, the poster forgotten for a moment. “How?”
“Your face, your expression just now.” He chuffed out a laugh. “Even the question you just asked.”
William looked back at the poster.
“I want to believe,” he read.
“I do believe,” Mulder replied quietly.
William turned to stare at him, trying to read the man’s face. He didn’t yet know how to tell if he was joking or telling the truth. It felt like the truth.
“And that’s why we have work to do,” Mulder added. He reached past William and retrieved a flattened cardboard file box from a small stack.
“Can you put this together for me?” he asked. “The instructions are on the side. I think we’ll need about three of them.”
William nodded, reading the illustrated instructions as he popped the box open and began to fold the flaps into position.
Mulder pulled open a file drawer labeled “Project”, and began to select bundles of files separated into hanging folders. “Ready?” he asked, handing the hanging files to William one at a time. “Put these in the first box.”
William settled the hanging files onto the sides of the box, noticing that the tabs on the folders said, “Immunity”, “Magnetite” and “Vaccine”. He wanted to ask what they were all about, but Mulder was handing him sets of folders as fast as he could settle them into the box.
Soon they had all three boxes loaded and had assembled the box lids.
“Can you carry this one?” Mulder asked, handing William the lightest of the three.
William nodded, pressing his lips together as he took the heavy box.
Mulder took the other two boxes and led the way through the kitchen down to the basement.
“Be careful on the stairs,” he warned as he flicked on the light with his elbow.
The basement had finished walls and a cement floor, work tables along the walls with a sink, refrigerator, and various machines set up on one side.
“What is this?” William asked, setting his box down on a table that Mulder indicated.
“Your mom’s lab,” Mulder replied. “Ever since we left the FBI, Scully and I have been working through some research to prepare for the day that the invasion begins in earnest. We didn’t have direct access to the existing vaccine, so we’ve had to come up with our own formula. We’ve also been working on ways to incorporate magnetite into regular ammunition.”
“This is all real?” William whispered with a frown. He was still trying to sort out whether or not he believed everything he had heard the other night.
“I’m afraid so,” Mulder said gently. “I’m afraid that…what happened out in Wyoming is only the beginning of the process.”
“The process of preparing the human population to be invaded and enslaved by the aliens.”
Father and son looked at each other for a long moment, William again trying to assess the truth of Mulder’s words, Mulder hoping that his frank reply wouldn’t be more than William could accept.
“Is it going to be bad?” William asked at last, trusting that this man seemed as truthful and sane as the man who had raised him.
“It isn’t going to be easy,” Mulder began, “and I’m not going to lie to you. It will be dangerous and frightening.” He put his hands on William’s shoulders and gave him a gentle squeeze to emphasize his words. “Your mother and I will do everything we can to protect you, to keep you safe.”
William nodded, his mouth too dry to speak.
Mulder nodded in return and pulled the boy into a quick hug.
“Let’s get to work. Scully had to take a little break and she asked me if we’d get some of this equipment put together for her.”
Mulder led him to one counter that held a box of lab equipment, beakers, Bunsen burners, and other items.
They set up what seemed to William to be a maze of tubing and clamps. He figured his mother must know what to make of it.
Scully joined them downstairs just as they were finishing up.
“Hey, Scully,” Mulder said. “I think we got this set up the way you said. Are you sure you’re not making moonshine down here?” He smiled at her and offered William a wink.
Scully smiled indulgently and turned to the boy.
“William, I’d like you to stay down here with me for a minute,” she said. She glanced up at Mulder.
“Your mother needs to talk to you, Will. I’ll be upstairs.” Mulder patted him on the shoulder and left the two of them alone.
“Will,” Scully began, sitting on a stool beside her workbench, “do you remember some of the things we were telling you about the aliens and the invasion?”
“We were just talking about it.” William nodded slowly, a little wary of what she might be planning to tell him now.
“As we mentioned, one of the initial threats was a type of virus, carried in a certain kind of black oil.” She searched his face as he met her eyes, wondering how he would receive what she had to tell him. “Your father and I were both exposed to this virus at different points, but each of us received a sort of vaccine against it, so we weren’t completely affected by it. Because of that exposure to the virus and vaccine, he and I are now immune to the virus.”
His brow furrowed just a bit as he considered her words.
“What about me?” he asked at last.
She took his hand and tried to keep her tone light. “In my research, I’ve been trying to determine exactly how the vaccine worked, how long-lasting the immunity might be, or if it could be passed on to offspring. One of the reasons I drew your blood the other day was to check you for that immunity.”
“I’m not immune, am I?” he asked, closing his hand around hers a little more tightly.
“Well, you seem to have some antibodies, but I would feel better if you had a higher level.”
“So, I have to have the vaccine—like getting a flu shot?”
“Exactly,” Scully said with a smile. “It’s pretty simple.”
“And then I’ll be okay?”
Scully ducked her head for a moment before she continued.
“The only thing I’m not sure about is how you might feel afterward. Sometimes when people get a flu shot, for instance, they get a little fever as their body reacts to the vaccine.”
“You mean I might get sick,” William replied.
“It’s possible,” she said, trying for that lighter tone again, “but you don’t have to worry about that. If you have a little reaction, I’ll take care of you. You’ll be fine.”
“Okay,” he said. “When do I have to have the shot?”
“Right now, honey.” She ran a gentle hand over his back as she stood.
He watched her as she retrieved a tray of items from another area of the lab. Despite her reassuring words, he felt it wasn’t going to be as simple as it sounded.
She set the tray on the workbench and began to prepare a hypodermic needle.
He began to push up his sleeve, but she laid a hand on his arm.
“Sorry, honey, but this has to go in your hip. I need you to lower your pants.”
He screwed up his face in reluctance, looking just like Mulder for a moment. Scully smiled behind his back as he turned to undo his jeans. She’d seen that face whenever Mulder had found something distasteful but necessary.
She prepared the syringe then swabbed a spot on his hip with an alcohol pad.
“Just a little pinch at first, but it may hurt a bit as it goes in. I want you to take a deep breath and let it out slowly, and try to relax. Ready?”
He nodded rapidly as he braced his hands on the workbench.
He winced at the initial jab and took a breath as she had told him to, but as he tried to exhale slowly, he felt a burning pressure as the fluid went in. He finally couldn’t help the whine of pain that escaped him.
“Almost done,” Scully said. “I’m sorry it hurts, honey.”
When she removed the needle, she gave the site another quick wipe with the alcohol swab and reached in her pocket for another of the Star Wars bandages.
“Okay, honey. You can pull up your pants.”
He fastened his jeans and wiped at his eyes before turning around to face her.
She hugged him close for a moment and kissed his head. “It’s almost dinner time, Will. Do you want to go back up to your room and rest, or maybe go watch a little TV?”
“I think I’ll watch TV,” he said, taking a deep breath. He hadn’t expected it to hurt as much as it had, but he wasn’t going to lie in bed and cry about it.
He made his way up the stairs to the living room, wincing a little at the soreness in his bottom that he felt with every step.
He sat gingerly on the couch and flipped through the TV channels with the remote, finally settling on some sitcom rerun that was mildly interesting. Soon he stretched out full length, rolled over on his side off of his sore hip, and dozed off.
He awoke to Scully’s gentle hand on his cheek and her voice calling softly to him.
“Honey, dinner’s ready. Go wash up and come into the kitchen.”
He pushed himself up from the couch, feeling achy and tired, but he made his way to the bathroom and then to the kitchen.
“Are you feeling okay, son?” Mulder asked, taking in the boy’s sleep-rumpled face.
William nodded as he lowered himself onto the hard wooden chair. “I guess I was more tired than I thought,” he answered.
“You may be feeling some effects from the vaccine injection,” Scully said. “Let me know if you start to feel feverish or otherwise uncomfortable, okay?”
She began to pass the food around the table and they began to eat.
William tried his best to eat his dinner. There wasn’t anything wrong with it and it was food he normally enjoyed—spaghetti and meatballs, garlic bread and salad—but he found he had no appetite. Everything tasted kind of bland, though the aroma seemed overly strong. And he just didn’t seem to have much energy. Even the act of chewing a bite of bread seemed to exhaust him.
He managed to get through about half his food and finished his glass of milk before he finally gave up.
“May I please be excused?” he asked, wiping his mouth with his napkin and looking from Mulder to Scully. “I’m just not very hungry, I guess.”
Scully frowned mildly at him, and waved him over to her chair as she finished chewing a mouthful of food.
When he stepped up beside her she pressed her hand to his forehead and then to the back of his neck.
“I think you might have a little fever after all,” she said. “Do you feel sick?”
“Not really,” he answered. “Just really tired. I really want to go lie down.”
Scully nodded and glanced pointedly at Mulder, not quite able to hide the wince that passed over her eyes.
“You go on up to bed and I’ll be in to check on you in a few minutes, okay?”
William nodded and bent to kiss her cheek, then made his way over to Mulder and shyly kissed him goodnight as well.
When he was out of the room, Scully turned to look at Mulder.
“What do you think?” he asked her.
She shook her head and tried to sound hopeful and optimistic.
“A reaction to the vaccine isn’t necessarily indicative of anything really bad. People often react to vaccines. I just worry that we’ve never really seen much evidence of what might be a normal reaction to this particular vaccine.”
“Skinner didn’t have any kind of reaction when you injected him, did he?” Mulder asked, remembering how they all had seemed to hold their breath for a few days when Skinner had volunteered to receive the vaccine—both to test its effect on an uninfected individual and to inoculate him against the black oil should he become a target.
“No, but he’s an adult and he has never been injected with magnetite like William was, and…and…I just don’t know,” Scully replied, running out of words and thoughts at the same time. She was experimenting on her own child and she didn’t want to think about what might go wrong.
William dragged his leaden body up the stairs, too tired to bother with brushing his teeth or even changing into his new pajamas.
He toed off his shoes and climbed onto the bed, lying on top of the covers, telling himself that he’d just rest for a minute and then get up to properly get ready for bed.
He pulled his stuffed dog from its place beneath his pillow and held it to his face as he let himself drift into sleep.
Scully pushed her food around on her plate for a few more minutes, then got up and scraped it into the disposal. She worked at clearing the table while Mulder managed to finish his dinner.
As she fussed at the sink, Mulder came up behind her and wrapped himself around her. He kissed her gently on the neck and said, “I’ll finish here. Go ahead and go check on him.”
She turned and sought strength from his embrace for a moment more, then made her way upstairs, pausing to collect her medical bag on the way.
She slipped quietly into William’s room, not wanting to disturb him, but concerned that he hadn’t changed or gotten under the covers.
“William, honey,” she said softly, running the backs of her fingers over his cheek. He was hot and clammy with fever.
He moaned softly and scrubbed his face into the pillow, repositioning himself to sink back down into sleep, away from her waking touch.
She frowned and took the aural thermometer from her medical bag and gently placed it in his ear. His temperature had risen to 103, which was higher than she had expected.
She rolled him over and began undressing him, noting that he seemed pale.
He was still half asleep as she lifted his hips to pull his jeans down, but as she slipped them off his legs he suddenly sat up.
“I’m gonna throw up,” he said hoarsely, then vomited into his lap.
Scully quickly grabbed the plastic trashcan from its place by the desk and held it up to him as he continued to retch.
He started crying, upset at the mess in his lap, but wanting desperately to lie down again.
“Hang on just a minute, honey,” Scully said gently. She stepped out to the top of the stairs.
“Mulder, can you give me a hand here?” she called down.
She slipped into the bathroom and returned to William’s room with a washcloth and towel.
She stripped William’s shirt off and wiped his face with the washcloth.
When Mulder came to the bedroom, he stopped short at the smell of vomit in the room.
“Will?” he asked, coming around Scully to see what was going on.
“Give me a hand here, please,” Scully said without looking up.
Mulder helped William remove his underwear, trying not to make more of a mess than they already had as Scully used the washcloth to clean his legs a bit.
They wrapped him in the towel and Scully went to run a tepid bath as Mulder carried William into the bathroom.
“It’s cold,” William moaned as Mulder lowered him into the water.
“I’m sorry, honey,” Scully said. “We need to bring your fever down so we don’t want the water to be too hot.”
William pulled his arms and legs up against his body to try to stay warm as Mulder gently bathed him.
Scully went back to the bedroom to strip the bed and take the soiled linens and clothes down to the laundry room, the simple chore giving her a moment to think through her research and William’s symptoms, hoping she hadn’t overlooked any possibilities. This was an alien virus they were dealing with, not just a simple case of the flu.
She returned to the bathroom just as Mulder leaned William forward in his arms in order to wash the boy’s back.
“Scully, take a look at this,” he said. As she stepped up near the tub he pushed William further forward, revealing what looked like a large bruise on the boy’s bottom.
“That’s the injection site,” Scully said. “Lift him up a little.”
The area wasn’t really a bruise, but a black discoloration surrounding the needle puncture.
“What is that?” Mulder didn’t like the look of it and remembered all too well the way the black oil “worms” had crawled under his skin when he’d been exposed to it.
“Let me see his eyes,” Scully said breathlessly.
They leaned him back and he moaned as Scully pried his eyes open one at a time.
“Oh, God, Scully.” Mulder’s voice caught in his throat.
Black swirls swam across William’s blue eyes.
“I’ll be right back,” Scully said, her voice shaking. She flew down the stairs and on down to the basement. She opened the small refrigerator, retrieved a vial and a syringe, and practically sprinted back upstairs.
“What is that?” Mulder asked as Scully prepared the syringe, trying to keep her hands steady.
“Antiviral,” she said, the syringe cap between her teeth. “Lift him up—I need his hip.”
Without bothering to swab the site, she injected the drug into his other hip, wincing as he cried out.
“Shh, shh,” Mulder soothed. “It’s okay, son.”
“It hurts,” William whined, clutching at Mulder’s arm. “I’m cold. I want to get out.”
Mulder looked at Scully, questioning her with his eyes.
“Just a few more minutes, honey,” she said gently, rubbing a soothing hand over the new injection site.
Mulder laid the boy back in the water, cradling and supporting him as William began to cry again.
After a time, Scully checked William’s temperature again and nodded at Mulder. She held out a large towel as Mulder lifted him from the water and together they worked at drying him off while Mulder held his limp form.
Scully brought clean underwear and a t-shirt for him and they took him to their bed, climbing in on either side of him.
“Scully,” Mulder began in a small voice, staring at the ceiling, “is he going to be all right?”
Scully was gazing at her son, trying to think past her maternal panic to assess him medically.
“Scully?” Mulder turned to her when she didn’t answer right away.
“I’m not sure,” she whispered, reaching across to take Mulder’s hand.
“His eyes…” Mulder blinked slowly, trying not to see that image again. He knew that it meant that the black oil virus had taken hold to some degree, but he didn’t want to contemplate the idea of his son being permanently affected. Surely between the vaccine and the second drug Scully had given him, William would be okay. Surely.
“With the antiviral I gave him, that should clear up,” she said in a steady, distant voice. “I’ll check him again in about an hour. I hadn’t expected that reaction, but I think he’ll be okay.”
She ran her hand over William’s chest and stomach, feeling the steady rise and fall of his breathing, noting that he no longer felt overly warm.
Mulder studied her face, seeking assurance that she was confident in her prognosis for the boy. He turned his eyes on his son, cupping his cheek, mentally comparing his young face with the infant face he remembered less and less clearly.
Mulder’s eyes filled with tears as he leaned in to kiss William’s temple.
What were they doing to him? What were they putting their son through? Though it was necessary and was supposed to protect him from something worse, still, they had done this to him, making him suffer a strange and alien virus. It was a difficult and frightening price to make the boy pay.
The world was full of terrible people who did terrible things to children for despicable reasons. Mulder had seen too much of that kind of ordinary horror. Yet for all the sorrow that human beings inflicted on each other, humanity now faced the possibility of an even worse fate, a greater horror.
Those bastards had done this, had forced Mulder and Scully to do this to their child. Would they be able to protect him? To save the world when the time came? Why did they have to be the ones to do it? Why couldn’t they have had the normal life that so many others were able to have? Why couldn’t they have lived and loved and raised their son in happy oblivion like everyone else? Why had they been called upon to pay such a price? Hadn’t they already suffered enough?
Not his son. They could not have his son, could not take him, could not touch him. Not his son.
He drew the boy closer and wept his frustration into the pillow as Scully reached across to embrace them both.
Mulder tried to run, but his legs were heavy and sluggish. Up ahead he could see William, helplessly trapped, surrounded by alien replicants.
“No! No!” Mulder cried out, reaching uselessly toward his son. “William! No! Let him go!”
William turned toward him, but one of the replicants pressed something into the boy’s neck.
William collapsed at the alien’s feet, but turned his head toward his father.
The boy’s eyes swam with the black oil.
“Nooooo!!” Mulder screamed. “Will! My son! My son!”
Mulder moaned in his sleep, moving restlessly.
“Will…my son…my son,” he murmured.
William moved beside him, rolling his head from Scully to Mulder, almost waking. He slipped back down into sleep, casting his sleep-heavy arm across Mulder’s chest, murmuring in response.
Social Security Administration Building Richmond, VA Wednesday, October 10
Curtis Clendenin stood in front of the bank of elevators, idly glancing over the flyers on the bulletin board as he waited to go up to his office and start the day.
One flyer caught his eye.
“Don’t get the Flu this season! Get a Flu Shot instead! FREE FLU SHOTS TODAY! When: 9:00 am to 2:00 pm Where: Potomac Conference Room on the 10th floor. Don’t forget to print and sign your consent form and bring it with you. Have a healthy Flu Season this year!”
An elevator dinged its arrival and he got onboard. There was another copy of the flyer posted inside the elevator.
“Hold the elevator, please!”
“Hey, Steve, how’s it going?” Curtis pressed the Open Door button to let the other man enter.
“Hey, Curtis. How’re you?”
“I’m good. Hey, are you gonna get that flu shot today? I’d almost forgotten about it.”
“Yeah, I figure it’s easier than making an appointment at our doc’s office—and it’s free. Of course, my wife and kids are still going to have to get theirs at the clinic, but it’s easier for her to take them in than it is for me to find the time, you know?”
“I know what you mean. I’ve got back to back meetings after lunch. Who has time to go to the doctor? I’m going to try to get my shot right around 9:00 and try to avoid having to wait in line. I put it off last year and ended up forgetting to get a shot. I ended up with the flu and I was sick as a dog. Not this year, man.”
The elevator bumped to a halt on the 5th floor.
“Well, this is me—have a good day, Curtis. Maybe I’ll see you up on 10 later on.”
“Have a good day, man.”
Outside of Richmond
The sun was warming the bedroom by the time William began to stir. Scully was awake in an instant, untangling herself from Mulder’s embrace, touching William’s forehead to check for fever. His temperature felt normal and she turned her touch into a caress.
He opened his eyes slowly and searched her face.
“Momma,” he whispered, reaching up to touch her cheek.
She smiled at him through her tears, noting that his blue eyes were completely clear of the evidence of the virus.
“How do you feel, baby?” she asked softly, kissing his forehead.
He took a deep breath, relishing her tender nearness. “I’m okay, but I’m thirsty. And hungry.”
“That’s good,” she said. “What would you like for breakfast? I think you should eat something light and see how that settles.”
“I’d like some cereal, I think,” he said, taking her hand and holding it to his cheek.
“Momma,” he began, shyly looking away from her gaze for a moment. “When I was born, you were the first one to hold me, weren’t you?”
“Yes,” she whispered, barely able to speak past her tightened throat. “Yes, my baby.”
He gazed into her eyes again, quiet for a long moment.
“I love you, Momma.” He leaned into her arms, listening to her heart as they nestled together.
Mulder turned his head to watch them but didn’t say anything, unwilling to intrude on their moment.
Scully felt his gaze and looked up at him.
“Good morning, Mulder,” she said softly, reaching out to take his hand.
William turned toward Mulder, laying a hand on his father’s chest.
“Good morning, Daddy,” he said quietly, rolling his bottom lip in between his teeth.
“Good morning, son,” Mulder replied gently. “Are you ready to get up, or do you want to sleep some more?”
“I need to go to the bathroom,” William answered. “And I want to eat breakfast.”
“Good deal,” Mulder said with a smile, beginning to pull the covers back so they could all get up.
William came downstairs a few minutes later, dressed in his new pajamas, looking a little pale and weak.
“What kind of cereal do you want, son?” Mulder asked from the pantry.
“Um, Cinnamon Life, I guess,” he replied, easing his sore bottom down onto a chair.
Mulder brought the box and the jug of milk to the table as Scully set a bowl and spoon in front of each chair.
William shook some cereal into his bowl, but found that he was too weak to lift the milk jug.
Mulder stepped around the table and poured it for him, not saying anything to draw attention to the boy’s state.
“Thanks, Dad,” William offered quietly, looking up at Mulder.
“Sure,” Mulder replied, patting his shoulder softly before returning to his seat.
“After you eat, I’d like you to go back up to your room and rest,” Scully said easily.
“Yeah,” William said between bites. “I’m still pretty tired.”
“You let me know right away if you start to feel bad in any way at all, okay?” Scully continued.
“Do you think I’ll get sick again?” William asked, his eyes going wide.
“No,” Scully said quickly. “I just think you might need more rest than you realize. I don’t want you to overdo it.”
“Yes, ma’am,” William agreed as the three of them continued their breakfast in the sunny kitchen.
After breakfast, William went to lie down as his parents returned to their room to dress for the day. He could hear their voices as they moved around in the other room.
His mother and father—he wasn’t quite sure exactly when he’d finally really began to think of them that way. He knew in his head that they were his birth parents, but he’d found himself feeling it in his heart, wanting to call them mom and dad. They had told him they loved him and he believed it, and he felt love for them blossoming in his own heart. They loved him, they wanted him, they would take care of him, had already taken care of him. They loved him.
He snuggled down under the covers, pulled his stuffed dog closer to his face and dozed off.
Mulder followed Scully back downstairs, knowing that she wasn’t going to be happy about what he wanted to say to her.
“Scully,” he began. “Skinner and I were talking the other night about how things might play out, once they figure out that William is here with us.”
Scully stopped and turned to look at him, apprehension furrowing her brow.
“What are you trying to say, Mulder?”
“William needs to be able to defend himself.”
“You mean, like hand-to-hand combat or something?” Scully’s brow wrinkled even further.
“No,” Mulder said, already squinting as if he expected Scully to hit him when he finally said it. “I think William needs to learn how to shoot a gun.”
“What?!” Scully almost shouted. She collected herself and continued in a normal tone. “He’s just a boy. Why does he need to be shooting a gun?”
“Scully, I don’t want anyone touching him,” Mulder insisted. “If something happens to either of us, if we get separated or can’t defend him, he needs to be able to take care of himself, at least long enough for us to get back to him.”
Scully folded her arms across her chest as she looked away from Mulder and thought through his words. She shook her head even as she knew the truth of his reasoning.
“I just wish he could be spared this sort of thing,” she said, easing her arms down. She looked up at him again. “I wish we could just give him a normal life, or as normal as possible.”
“I know,” Mulder replied, gently running his hands over her arms. “I want the same thing, but we have to prepare for the worst.”
Scully nodded at last, turning away.
“Just be careful,” she whispered.
Social Security Administration Building Richmond, VA
Curtis was back at this desk, a small bandage on his upper arm. He had indeed beaten the crowd and gotten his shot in quick order. But now he felt a little strange. He’d felt a little feverish when he first got back to his desk, which he figured was a reaction to the vaccine, but now he was feeling worse and worse as the morning went on. He had taken some Advil to try to take the fever down, but it didn’t seem to be working.
He was frustrated that the flu vaccine was going to end up making him sick, but he had to admit he needed to go home. He made a couple of phone calls and sent some emails, cancelling the meetings he had called and excusing himself from the others.
At last he went to see his supervisor.
“Al, I’m heading home for the day. I’m not feeling well.”
“I’m sorry to hear that, Curtis. Do you think you’ll be in tomorrow? We have that conference call scheduled for tomorrow morning.”
“I’m sure I’ll be back. I got the flu shot this morning and I think I’m just having a reaction to it. I’m sure I’ll be fine tomorrow after I get some rest.”
“Go ahead and go home. Feel better, my friend.”
“I’ll see you tomorrow, I’m sure.”
Curtis headed for the elevators feeling worse than he had just half an hour before. He just wanted to get home and crawl into bed.
Outside of Richmond
Mulder sat on William’s bed and gently squeezed his shoulder.
“Hey, buddy,” he said as William rolled over and took a deep breath.
William blinked up at him and yawned, stretching his body and scrubbing at his eyes.
“You ready for some lunch? Your mom has some sandwiches made and if you play your cards right I bet she’ll let you have a soda.” He smiled warmly at his sleepy son. “Go ahead and get dressed and wash up, okay?” He stood and turned the covers back.
William nodded and swung his feet over the side of the bed, taking a moment to tuck his dog back under his pillow.
William walked into the kitchen and Scully’s breath caught in her throat. He looked like a miniature version of Mulder. Warm brown hair, dark blue Henley, jeans and sneakers— how many times had Scully seen Mulder dressed the same way? William’s face looked so much like the pictures of Mulder as a boy, it was like peeking into Mulder’s childhood.
William caught her staring at him and he stopped and questioned her with his eyes, making her smile even wider.
“What?” he asked, looking down to make sure his fly was zipped.
“You look just like your father,” Scully said, reaching out to smooth his hair. “Come and sit down.”
Mulder joined them at the table a few minutes later, wearing a moss-green Henley and jeans, wondering why Scully was smiling to herself.
As they began to eat, Mulder looked pointedly at Scully, then turned to William.
“Son, you and I have something we need to do this afternoon.”
“Oh?” William looked at him, then noticed the way his mother was pressing her lips together. “What is it?”
Mulder cleared his throat and wiped his mouth.
“I’m going to teach you how to shoot a gun.”
“A gun?” William squeaked. “A real gun?”
“Yes, a real gun,” Scully said tightly. She softened her tone and looked at William. “It’s very important that you pay attention and follow all of Mulder’s instructions carefully, especially about how to safely handle a weapon.”
“Yes, ma’am.” William nodded somberly, considering her serious tone.
“Have you ever handled any kind of weapon before, Will?” Mulder asked him.
“My father let me shoot his rifle once, and one of my friends had a BB-gun that I shot a few times.”
Mulder nodded. He’d wondered if William had learned to hunt or fire a rifle, growing up in Wyoming.
“There are some important rules we need to go over before you even look at a weapon, and I need you to really understand and remember them at all times.”
“I’m going to ask you to repeat them to me as I explain them to you, and then when we get outside I’m going to ask you again.”
“First—all guns are always loaded. No ‘ifs’ or ‘maybes’, and you don’t take anyone else’s word for it. You always assume that any gun is loaded. No exceptions. Period. Do you understand, William?”
“Yes, sir,” William answered. He repeated the rule back to Mulder, explaining his understanding of it as Mulder questioned him.
“Second,” Mulder continued, “never—and I mean NEVER—point the muzzle of the gun at anything you don’t intend to destroy, including any part of your body. What’s the second rule, William?”
“Never point it at anything you don’t intend to destroy,” William repeated.
“Because every gun is always loaded.”
“Very good. Third—keep your finger OFF the trigger until your sights are on the target. NEVER stand or walk around with your finger on the trigger. Repeat the third rule to me, William.”
The boy repeated it soberly.
“And finally, be absolutely certain of your target, William, because you do NOT want to accidentally shoot the wrong person. This is not a game and it’s not the movies. Do you understand me, son?”
William’s mouth went dry at the mention of shooting a person, but he dutifully repeated the rule back to his father.
Scully had sat silently during the lesson, sipping her tea and willing herself not to interfere. Yet, as much as she disliked the idea, she knew Mulder was right and she was glad he was being so serious and cautious in his approach. The last thing either of them wanted was to glamorize or trivialize the use of gun.
“You’re doing very well, honey,” she said, rising from the table and picking up their dishes. “I’ve got more work to do downstairs. Please, both of you, please be careful.”
“I will, mom,” William said. “I promise.”
Mulder stood to kiss her lightly. “We’ll be careful.”
Mulder led William into his office to a locked cabinet in the corner.
“William, you are never to touch this cabinet unless your mother or I tell you to, do you understand?” Mulder looked at William and waited for his answer.
“Yes, sir,” William answered obediently. “We had a locked cabinet for my dad’s hunting rifles back home. I wasn’t allowed to touch it. I know the rule.”
“Good,” Mulder said, turning his attention back to the small key he turned in the lock. He carefully chose a gun, a couple of boxes of ammunition, and an ammunition clip and locked the cabinet again. “Let’s go outside and I’ll show you how to load the clip.”
Mulder took the small pistol from the holster on his belt, gave it a quick once-over and took a deep breath, exhaling slowly as he turned his gaze to William’s small form. He couldn’t believe what he was about to do.
The boy looked about as scared as Mulder felt, with his blue eyes wide and staring, focused on the weapon. Though he and his adoptive father had talked about maybe getting him his own rifle this Christmas, he’d never held a handgun. Rifles were for hunting animals. Handguns were only used for one thing.
“Okay,” Mulder finally began. “Safety first. Tell me the rules.”
“Yes, sir,” William gulped, both eager and afraid to touch the gun. He dutifully repeated the four rules he had just learned.
“You keep it pointed at the ground until you’re ready to aim, finger away from the trigger, and keep the safety on until you’re ready to fire.” Mulder waited until the boy looked him in the eye. “Got that?”
“Now, this is the smallest weapon we have here at the house. It’s a .22 caliber, but it’s still going to be a little big for your hands.” Mulder moved to stand behind his son, wrapping his arms around William’s as he put the gun in the boy’s hands.
“You’re going to hold it with both hands anyway,” he directed, pressing the boys hands in the proper position, one gripping the pistol, the other bracing it underneath. “Spread your feet about shoulder width apart to give you a better stance and more upper body stability. And now, we’re going to take the safety off…right here. Did you see how I did that?”
William nodded quickly, putting the safety back on, then taking it off again.
“Good. Now I want you to just dry-fire it a few times. I took the clip out, but…”
“Always assume it’s loaded,” William said automatically.
“Okay, go ahead and squeeze the trigger, nice and smooth. Practice your aim, feel the weight of it.”
William practiced squeezing the trigger, tensing up as he felt it move beneath his finger, expecting a shot, even though the gun was empty. He’d already learned the first lesson.
“Got the feel of it?”
“Yeah,” William said breathlessly.
“Okay, here we go.” Mulder took the gun from William and showed him once again how to reload, then let William remove the clip and load the weapon on his own. “Now you know for sure that it’s loaded, so we’re going to make sure the safety is on until we’re ready. Get back in position.”
Mulder had to bend down to get his head at William’s eye-level, even though the boy was tall for his age. He helped him aim at the cans and bottles they had lined up along the old stone wall at the far edge of their property.
“Okay, take the safety off and now we’re going to aim—since you’re right-handed, look down the sight on the end of the barrel with your right eye and close your left eye. Center it on your target, and when you’re ready, hold your breath, and then just squeeze the trigger, nice and smooth.”
William stood with his feet braced as Mulder had said; his arms stretched forward, the gun heavy in his hands even with Mulder’s support.
“I’m ready,” he said, taking a long, slow breath, carefully sighting the target the way Mulder had explained.
He squeezed his forefinger for what seemed like forever. Just when he had begun to think that he’d forgotten to take the safety off, the gun went off with a bang, knocking him back a little, against Mulder’s firm strength. Mulder’s grip over his own kept the pistol from recoiling too much in his hands, but William knew it would have been hard for him to control it by himself. It was a lot stronger than he’d expected it to be.
None of the targets were disturbed.
“I missed,” William said, taking a moment to wipe first one sweaty palm, then the other, on his jeans, pointing the gun toward the ground as he did so.
“Most people miss the first time,” Mulder said kindly. “Sometimes quite a few times. How did it feel?”
“It has a kick,” William admitted.
“Yeah, but not a bad one. You’ll get used to it.” Mulder stepped back and watched William resume the stance he had shown him.
William hesitated, then lowered the gun and turned toward Mulder.
“Do you really think I’ll have to use this?”
Mulder considered for a moment. There was no use in being anything but honest. The boy had already witnessed a horrific example of what they were up against.
“I hope it doesn’t come to that,” he began, “but I think you know something about what’s at stake. Whatever happens, I don’t want you to be helpless. And if it comes to that, I don’t want you to be afraid to do what you have to do.”
William’s mouth went dry. He saw again the view of his home in Wyoming, his adoptive parents lying dead. He met Mulder’s steady gaze, then turned and raised the gun again. Bracing his whole body, he took careful aim, took a deep breath and squeezed the trigger, sending a can flying off the fence.
Scully heard the back door creak as the boys came in. She smiled as she caught herself already thinking of them that way. That was how her mom had often referred to her dad and brothers whenever they were out doing something together—playing football, getting the grill going, watching the Superbowl.
Her boys were hanging up their jackets and coming into the kitchen and she knew they’d be hungry. She was already working on stir-frying meat and vegetables in a wok.
As they approached she could smell the gunpowder on them and she felt her smile fade a little.
“Hi, honey, we’re home!” Mulder teased, coming up behind Scully to kiss her cheek. “Mmm… What’s for supper?”
“Nothing, until you two get washed up,” she answered, willing her smile back into place. She returned Mulder’s kiss and paused to cup William’s cheek.
“It smells good, Mom,” William said.
Scully felt her heart flutter a little at how normal and natural his words sounded. She had to fight back a tear as she smiled at him. “Go wash up, honey.”
“It does smell good, Mom,” Mulder whispered in her ear, after William had left for the bathroom. He wrapped his arms around her and gave her a squeeze, knowing what it meant to hear the boy call her that.
They stood that way for a moment, each lost in their own thoughts and feelings, each marveling at what they had missed out on in the past eleven years, as well as what they had just regained.
Our Lady of Sorrows Hospital Richmond, VA
Amy Clendenin hurried through the emergency entrance of the small hospital, searching for a nurse or orderly.
“Please, someone help me!” she said, hurrying toward the nurse at the reception desk. “It’s my husband—he’s very sick!”
“Where is he?” the nurse began.
“In the car,” Amy said. “He passed out on the way here and I can’t wake him up.” She fought her growing panic. “There’s something wrong with his eyes…”
Soon they had her husband on a gurney and had rolled him into a treatment area. His temperature was very high and he was unresponsive. She had been pushed aside by the medical team, but she heard the doctor speak to one of the nurses.
“I’ve never seen anything like this. His eyes are completely black.”
Outside of Richmond
After dinner, William wandered into Mulder’s office, not sure if he was allowed in uninvited, but too curious to stay out. He’d only glanced at the pinned up articles before, but this time he stood and read through the shorter ones. He noticed that there were more clippings tacked up on the back of the door, so he pushed it partly closed, only to find himself looking into the eyes of a dark-haired girl only a few years younger than himself.
“Samantha,” he said aloud, reaching out to touch her image. He could see the resemblance to Mulder and wondered what she had been like. She looked bright and sweet and he thought about some of the girls he’d known at school.
He didn’t have any siblings, but he knew boys his age who had little sisters that they both despised and loved. He’d seen his friend Jackson beat up another boy for teasing the little sister he constantly complained about. Mulder said he had been about the same age as William was now when Samantha had gone missing. Suddenly, he had to turn away from her smiling face.
He walked over to Mulder’s desk and helped himself to a couple of sunflower seeds from the heaping bowl that stood there. An iPod sat in the middle of a cleared space, the earphones wrapped neatly around it.
William startled at Mulder’s voice from the doorway.
“Um…sorry,” William began. “I didn’t mean to be nosy. I was just curious…”
“That’s okay,” Mulder answered. “I was just wondering where you’d gotten to.”
William shrugged. “I didn’t feel like watching TV.”
Mulder pointed at the iPod. “Is that like the one you had?”
“I think so,” William answered. “Is it yours?”
Mulder nodded and stepped up to unwind the earphone cord from the device.
“What kind of music do you listen to?” William asked, finding it impossible to imagine. His adoptive parents had listened to a lot of country music and Christian music, but he was sure Mulder’s tastes were different.
“Oh, probably a lot of stuff you’re too young to have ever heard of,” Mulder replied with a chuckle. “I’m an old fogey, remember?” He smiled at William and handed the iPod to him. “Want to check it out?”
“Sure.” William took it, donned the earphones, and turned the device on. He listened for a moment, a bemused smile on his face.
“Is that something by the Beatles?” he asked. “Two of us, riding nowhere…” he sang shyly.
“Yeah,” Mulder said, his grin growing wide. “Do you know it?”
William shrugged. “I’ve heard it before.” He turned his attention back to the player and clicked through a few more songs, listening briefly before moving on to the next one.
Mulder couldn’t tell from his face whether or not he recognized or liked any of the other songs he’d uploaded. At last the boy turned it off and looked up at him.
“What do you think?” Mulder found himself embarrassingly worried that his son would think he was completely uncool.
“I don’t think I know the rest of the songs, but they’re not bad,” William answered. He pulled the earphones out of his ears and handed the player back to Mulder. “Thanks,” he said politely.
“Keep it,” Mulder said, closing William’s hand around it. “Later on we’ll upload some new songs for you.”
“Really?” William looked down at it for a moment, feeling silly about the tears that threatened to spring up in his eyes.
“Well, I figured you’d be missing the one you gave away,” Mulder said gently.
William looked back up at Mulder and smiled.
FBI Headquarters Washington, DC Thursday, October 11
Peter Clark made his way to his superior’s office, a knot of dread tightening in his belly with each step.
Mistakes were not tolerated and could earn you some creative punishments.
Failure could get you killed.
Fortunately for Peter, he was simply the messenger, but even reporting the bad news could be uncomfortable.
Peter hadn’t been in the FBI very long. He had dreamed of being an agent all through high school and college. He’d wanted to be one of the good guys.
So how had he ended up here? How had he ended up working for these men? He thought he was being recruited for a grand cause—a way to make his country and the world a better place. It took a while for him to realize what was really going on, but by then he was in too deep, knew too much and would surely have been killed if he’d tried to back out.
By now he was at the door to the outer office where a pretty blond receptionist sat.
She smiled as she greeted him.
“What can I do for you, Peter?”
He couldn’t return her smile as he wondered if she knew who—or what—she worked for.
“I need to see him. Now.”
Her smile slipped away as she picked up the phone and spoke to her boss.
“Go on in,” she said, waving him toward the door.
“We have a problem,” Peter said as soon as he’d closed the door behind him.
Rex Horne simply blinked at him with his dangerous, passive face.
Peter took a deep breath and plunged in.
“There have been some bad reactions. At least eight subjects went to their local emergency rooms, so we have exposure.”
“Has anyone outside the test group been affected—doctors or nurses or family members?”
“Not yet, as far as I’ve heard. But the symptoms have been seen and blood samples have been taken.”
“The subjects will have to be eliminated,” Horne said indifferently. “We need to keep it contained. Make sure we acquire any and all samples from each subject.”
Peter swallowed hard but tried not to betray the sick roiling that had begun in his stomach. This was the reaction he had feared. He hoped it was just the eight. Eight people.
“What about the medical personnel—is there an official line about what they may have seen?”
“We’ll have to put together some kind of statement about a new flu strain or something. I’ll leave that to the men in our medical division. Just make sure it stays out of the news.”
“Yes, sir,” Peter replied, recognizing his dismissal. He escaped the office and headed for the elevator.
Outside of Richmond
“Okay, boys,” Scully said, putting on her coat and looking for her keys.
William and Mulder looked up from the video game they were playing.
“I’m leaving for the hospital, but I should be back in time for lunch.” She stepped over to the sofa and kissed each of them in turn.
“Mulder, today’s trash day,” she continued. “Don’t forget.”
“You’ll be back soon?” William said, seeking reassurance, unwilling to see her leave.
“Yes, honey,” she said, kissing him again. “Soon.”
She picked up her valise and paused at the door.
“Mulder, please don’t spend all morning playing that game.” She quirked an eyebrow at him, wondering which of them would find it harder to put the controllers down.
Mulder nodded at her with a guilty smile. “See you later, Scully.”
Our Lady of Sorrows Hospital
Scully made her way to her office at the hospital. She had to check in and wanted to clear her calendar and see that someone could cover for her for the next several days. She wasn’t sure how things were going to play out and she needed to focus on William and on preparing for what might be coming. Fortunately, she didn’t have any critical patients at the moment.
She had been regularly placing online orders for the drugs and chemicals and other medical supplies she had been using to create a stock of the vaccine, having them delivered to her office as a precaution. After William’s reaction to the vaccine she was a little concerned and wanted to be sure she had enough supplies at the house.
She was in her office, checking the shipment that had been set inside for her when her phone rang.
“Scully,” she said, wedging the receiver in the crook of her neck as she pulled patient folders and turned on her computer.
“Dr. Scully, I’m glad I caught you,” the voice on the other side began breathlessly. “They told me you’d been out of the office.”
“Yes,” she answered, still multi-tasking her way through making notes on her scheduling calendar. “And I’m actually preparing to take several more days off. How can I help you… what did you say your name was?”
“I’m sorry,” the man on the line said. “I’m Dr. Forga. I’m in the ICU.”
“What can I do for you, Dr. Forga?”
“Well, I hope I’m not speaking out of turn, but someone told me that you used to work for the FBI as a pathologist…” His voice was tentative and hurried, nervous, but urgent.
“Yes…” Scully drew the word out as she stopped what she was doing. This doctor she couldn’t recall meeting now had her full attention.
“I was told you had a lot of experience with…unusual findings…”
“What do you want, Dr. Forga?” Scully’s hands were suddenly cold as her mind raced. Had someone found out about William? Had someone come looking for her or the boy? Who was this Dr. Forga?
“I have a patient here, Dr. Scully,” Forga continued. “He was admitted through the ER last night. No one knows what’s wrong with him. I was hoping you could come and take a look at him.”
Scully rose to her feet and went to the small refrigerator in her office, her heart quickening as she already began to suspect what might be happening.
“What are his symptoms?”
Outside of Richmond
“Ohhh!” Mulder groaned as his fighter died for the last time.
“Got you again!” William laughed in triumph.
“Okay, okay,” Mulder said, clapping William on the thigh. “We’d better stop for now. Come and help me with the trash.”
“Sure,” William said, turning off the game and following Mulder out of the living room.
“Bring the trashcans from my office and the downstairs restroom into the kitchen,” Mulder directed. He climbed the stairs to gather trash from the upstairs rooms.
They bagged the trash and carried the bags out to the far end of the drive. As they returned to the house, William spoke up.
“Yes, son?” Mulder replied, squinting at his boy in the chilly morning sun.
“Um…do you think we could practice some more with the gun?” He looked up at Mulder, biting his lip nervously, unsure how his father would react to the request.
Mulder stopped and looked at him, considering the question. He knew that one session wasn’t enough to give William the confidence and skills he might need. Scully wouldn’t like it, but it was necessary and it really couldn’t wait.
“Yeah,” Mulder said at last, putting his arm around William’s shoulders. “I think we can do that. Go upstairs and get your jacket—it’s pretty cold out here. I’ll meet you out back.”
“Yes, sir,” William said, trotting ahead and hurrying up the stairs.
Our Lady of Sorrows Hospital
Scully entered the ICU area and was met by Forga, a middle-aged doctor whose kind face was drawn into a frown.
“He’s over here, Dr. Scully,” he said, directing her to one of the isolation units.
They donned masks, gloves and gowns and entered the unit where Clendenin lay, hooked up to several machines.
Scully glanced at his chart, noting the high fever as well as the notation about his eyes.
“Tell me again what his wife said about how he got sick,” Scully said, moving up to the bed to examine him herself.
“She said he was fine in the morning when he left for work,” Forga began, watching Scully from the other side of the bed. “He got a flu shot at work, started feeling bad and went home. They both thought he had the flu, but he got very sick. By the time she got him here he was unconscious. We got his fever down somewhat, but…”
Scully pried open first one eye, then the other, a chill running down her spine as she saw the thick swirls of the black oil.
“What is with his eyes? Nobody knows what that is.” Forga leaned forward to get a look as Scully continued.
“And did you see this?” He rolled Clendenin’s arm a little to reveal an ugly black mark.
“What is that?” Scully asked, though she suspected she knew the answer.
“The injection site for the flu shot,” Forga said. “You can see the needle mark. Do you think it was the vaccine?”
“What?” Scully asked sharply.
“The flu vaccine,” Forga said, blinking at her tone. “Do you think it could be a contamination in the flu vaccine or something?”
“No,” Scully replied, taking a deep breath to calm herself. “Not exactly.
“Dr. Forga,” she continued, “have you heard of anyone else showing up with these symptoms at any other hospitals or clinics here in town?” Scully reached into her pocket and fingered the vial of vaccine she had taken from her office.
“No,” he replied. “Not yet. But if he got his shot at work, I wonder how many others could end up like this.”
“Where does he work?” Scully asked, checking Clendenin’s chart to find his weight.
“At the Social Security Administration,” Forga replied. “We’ve already put in a call to their HR department.”
“In DC?” Scully asked pointedly. “Did he work in DC?”
“No,” Forga said, a little confused at Scully’s question. “He worked in their offices here in Richmond.”
“Oh,” Scully replied, her head spinning with the memory of the way the conspirators had infiltrated the Social Security offices in DC in order to gain access to information on every citizen in the US who had had a smallpox vaccination.
“Dr. Forga,” Scully began, “I’m going to treat this man, but I can’t tell you if he’s going to recover.”
“Do you know what this is?”
“Yes,” Scully said, pulling the vial of vaccine from her pocket. She prepared a syringe and injected the vaccine into Clendenin’s IV port.
“Well…what is it?” Forga asked.
Scully looked at Forga for a long time before she answered. How much should she tell him? How much did he need to know? How much would he believe?
“It’s a…rare…virus,” she fudged. “I’m not sure exactly what’s going on, but I have reason to believe that this man was purposefully exposed to this virus, injected with it, as part of some kind of plan or experiment.”
Forga stared at her, his dark eyes steady and measuring over the protective mask he wore, his brows drawing together as he weighed her words.
“Are you kidding?” he said at last.
“No,” Scully said firmly. “I’m not kidding.”
“Is it contagious?” Forga asked. “Will his wife come down with it? What about the other people at his office who got the flu shot?”
“It’s not contagious in a conventional sense,” Scully answered, trying to calm Forga even as she herself tried not to panic. “If his wife is healthy right now she’s not likely to get sick, but you must keep this man completely isolated for now. No direct contact with anyone until you hear further from me.”
“What was that you injected into his IV?” Forga picked up Clendenin’s chart to make a notation.
“Listen, Dr. Forga,” Scully said, laying a hand on his arm, speaking quietly but firmly. “I need to make a call and we need to get this man and his wife to a safe location until we can get to the bottom of this. Right now I don’t want anyone else knowing that I’ve treated him. Is that clear?”
Forga stared at her, his mask hiding his gaping mouth.
Outside of Richmond
Mulder and William came in from the backyard, tired and hungry. Mulder poked around in the kitchen to scrounge up a meal while William got glasses and plates from the cabinets.
“Can I have a soda?” he asked.
Mulder considered for a moment.
“I guess a root beer won’t hurt you.” He reached into the fridge and got a can for each of them.
“Thanks,” William said politely, putting the cans on the table.
Mulder made sandwiches and they ate quietly together.
William could smell the gunpowder on his clothes and he realized with some shame that he had enjoyed practicing with the gun and was proud that his control and aim were getting better. Was that wrong? The point of teaching him how to use the gun was that they figured he’d have to use it. To shoot someone.
His thoughts ran to all that he’d been told. Even though his parents were sincere about everything they’d said, he still had trouble understanding the more fantastic aspects of it.
He knew that things like murder and kidnapping happened in the world. Though he would never have thought that he would be caught up in such events, he understood that such things happened. But the rest of the story—conspiracies, aliens, invasion plans, alien viruses—were beyond his grasp.
His mother had given him that strange injection that had made him sick. He trusted her and knew that she’d taken care of him while he was ill, but he’d never heard of any kind of alien virus and couldn’t imagine what it had to do with these invasion plans.
He stole a glance at his father. He admired this man and felt that he wasn’t crazy, but it was all so different from what he’d known.
“Will,” Mulder began as he finished his meal, “There’s a lot of work to be done downstairs, if you’d like to help me.”
For the first time since he’d come to this place, William hesitated at the thought of what he might be asked to do.
When William didn’t respond right away, Mulder went on to explain.
“I’m working on packing magnetite into the tips of hollow point ammunition. I’m almost finished, but all that ammo needs to be loaded into clips for each of our weapons and I could use some help with that.”
At last William nodded. “Okay.” He was a little tired, but he wanted to be helpful and useful even if he didn’t understand it.
Our Lady of Sorrows Hospital
Scully pressed one of the speed dials on her phone and Skinner picked up immediately.
“Sir, we have a problem,” she said bluntly. She went on to give Skinner the information on Curtis Clendenin and his wife and urged him to get the couple to a safe location.
“What do think this means?” Skinner asked.
“Well, it wouldn’t make much sense for them to just randomly infect someone,” Scully said, making her way back to her office. “My guess is that they were trying to give these people just enough of the virus to bring them under control, but Clendenin must have been more vulnerable to its effects, giving him a full-blown infection like we’ve seen in the past.”
“But no one else there in Richmond has gotten sick?”
“Not that I know of, but others might have not come in to a hospital or clinic just yet. I guess it depends on how the virus affects them.”
“I’m sending one of my men and his team out there right now,” Skinner said, sending an email to one of his trusted agents, summoning him to his office for instructions.
“I think we have to assume that these…controlled…people are going to be put to use soon,” Scully said, trying to think ahead. “We don’t know if everyone who got the flu shot got a dose of the virus or if it was given only to a certain number of individuals, so we don’t know how many we might be up against, or in how many SSA offices this procedure was carried out.
“We’ve got to keep an ear out for any reports of any other reactions like Clendenin’s, or…I don’t know…strange behavior?”
“I’ll put some feelers out,” Skinner responded.
“Listen,” Scully said, entering her office and gathering her things. “I’d like to stay until your team gets here to get this couple, but I want to get home. If this is really coming down this way, we have more work to do at home to prepare.”
“I understand,” Skinner said. “Scully, I assume Mulder told you that I want you all to come into DC so we can operate from here. I think maybe we should move on it right away. Can you all come in tomorrow morning? Be prepared to stay.”
“Yes, sir,” Scully answered, her mind already running through a list of what needed to be done. “We’ll call later to confirm.”
“Take care, Scully.” Skinner ended the call and pulled off his glasses to scrub at his face. “Shit.”
FBI Headquarters Washington, DC
Peter Clark answered his phone before the first ring had finished.
“They’re gone,” the operative on the line said.
“You took care of them?”
“No,” the man said spat. “I mean they’re gone. They were here at the hospital, but they’re gone. No one seems to have any information on where they went or how they left.”
“Did you check at their address?” Clark was desperate.
“This isn’t my first job, Clark,” the dark-haired man sneered. For all his hardened attitude, he was nervous. First he’d missed the kid out in Wyoming and now he had missed this couple. He couldn’t afford to screw this up.
“Dana Scully works at this hospital,” the dark-haired man continued. “If she saw Clendenin I’m sure she told Skinner. I think he had these people moved.”
Clark sighed in exasperation, already dreading what he had to do. Clendenin was the last name on his list of those his boss had told him to eliminate. The others had been…taken care of, but he couldn’t allow anyone to slip through.
“I’ll let Horne know.”
Outside of Richmond
“Tell me again why you have to fix these bullets?” William asked as he loaded the magnetite-tipped bullets Mulder had finished into clips and magazines according to their caliber. He wore surgical gloves and a mask over his nose and mouth as a precaution while he worked.
“There are aliens and there are replicants, or SuperSoldiers, as some call them.” Mulder worked on the last large batch of ammunition.
“The aliens are using the humans and these replicants to instigate the beginning of the invasion. The only real weakness the replicants have is their vulnerability to magnetite.”
“What is magnetite?” William asked. “How did you figure out how it worked?”
“Well, we discovered their vulnerability kind of by accident, but magnetite is the most magnetic of all the naturally occurring minerals on the Earth. Fortunately, you can create it in the lab, which is what your mother has been doing for some time—although in a highly concentrated form.
“It’s been impossible to get our hands on a dead replicant, for an autopsy or other in-depth study of their make-up, since the magnetite completely destroys them. We just know that it works—it somehow reacts to what are apparently metallic aspects of their bodies. It doesn’t seem to take much of it to destroy them from the inside, so we figured that altering the ammunition was the easiest way. You don’t have to get up close to them and you don’t have to look for naturally occurring mineral deposits.”
William was again struck by the idea that he’d be using these bullets to shoot at others, that the point of using them was to kill and destroy. Would he be able to tell the difference between a regular person and one of these replicants?
“What does magnetite do to normal people?” he asked in a small voice.
Mulder looked at him steadily. “Nothing, by itself. One of these magnetite bullets will injure or kill a normal person the way any other bullet will.”
William nodded and turned back to his work, trying not to think too much.
After a while Mulder straightened up from where he had been hunched over the workbench. He looked over at William, who was moving more slowly than he had been when they’d started.
“Will, why don’t we take a break,” Mulder said, stripping off his mask and gloves. “Would you like something to drink? Maybe a snack?”
William finished the clip he’d been loading and nodded, removing his mask and gloves as well.
They climbed the stairs to the kitchen and Mulder got them each a bottle of water from fridge.
“Um, Dad,” William began, leaning against the kitchen counter as he drank. He kept his eyes on the toes of his new sneakers. “Would it be okay if I just went up to my room now?”
Mulder’s brow furrowed as he looked at William. There was definitely something different about the boy’s mood.
“I guess that would be all right,” Mulder answered. “Are you feeling okay? You’re not feeling sick or anything, are you?”
William shook his head. “I just want to go upstairs,” he said, unable to articulate what he was feeling.
“Okay,” Mulder said gently. “I’ll be downstairs if you need anything.” He gave William a quick hug, but felt the boy’s shoulder’s tense at the gesture.
“Thanks,” William said, putting his water bottle on the counter as he left the room.
Mulder stared after him.
Alone in his room, William had his laptop open on the desk. He slumped over it, idly tapping through a game of solitaire, mostly because it didn’t really require any thinking. He had tried to lie down, but found he wasn’t really tired or sleepy. He was oddly restless and couldn’t quite understand exactly what was bothering him.
As he finished the game and sat up to stretch his back and shoulders, his gaze fell on the picture of his parents. It was now in a nice wooden frame, looking like it had always been on the desk.
He turned back to his laptop and opened the family tree document he had been preparing for school. Could it really have been a matter of only a few days since he’d last worked on it? It seemed like a lifetime ago.
In a way, it was a lifetime. The life he’d known was gone. He looked around the room. Was this his new life? This house, this room, these people. Did he belong here? Really belong?
The room was full of things that didn’t belong to him. The few things he had brought with him had been put in place, like the picture of his parents, as if they belonged. His clothes were in the closet and dresser, now mixed in with the things Scully had bought for him. His backpack hung on the bedpost at the foot of the bed. His stuffed dog was on the bed, tucked under the pillow.
Suddenly he felt oddly scattered, as if he himself had been spread around into the corners of this new room, trying to make himself fit in.
He stared dumbly at his family tree—his adoptive parents and their parents, as well as a few other relatives. None of these people existed now. What few extended family members had once lived had since died, most of them before he was born. He’d known one set of grandparents when he was younger, but they had also passed away. With his parents gone, he had no one else.
Except Fox Mulder and Dana Scully. He had begun to call them mom and dad, begun to feel like their son, to love them, but looking at his adoptive parents’ picture, his face burned with shame and confusion. Was it wrong to think of Mulder and Scully as his mom and dad? It had felt right yesterday morning, but now he felt like a traitor, as if he’d abandoned his parents, forgotten where he came from.
Since he’d been here, he’d done things he’d never done at home. He’d watched a DVD that he knew his mother wouldn’t have approved of, stayed up later than his usual bedtime, played video games longer than his parents would have allowed. He hadn’t been saying his prayers. And worst of all, he’d shot that gun.
His parents would never have let him do that.
He closed the document and shut off his computer, barely resisting the urge to slam the laptop shut. Almost before he knew what he was doing, he had gathered his belongings from the desk and taken them over to the bed. He took up his backpack and started stuffing the items he’d brought from home back into it. He felt he needed to keep everything together. He was suddenly afraid that he would lose something, and by losing his things, lose his memory of his home, lose some part of himself.
Part of him wanted to take his backpack and just go back the way he had come, to go back to Wyoming where he belonged, where things were familiar. He wanted to just turn back the clock and make things go back to the way they were before.
But he knew that was impossible. And dangerous. As much as he wanted to go home, he knew he couldn’t do it. He remembered what he’d seen and heard. And there was no one there for him. He felt trapped—not able to go home, but not feeling that he really belonged here, either.
As he stood at the side of the bed, he looked out the window at the field beyond the backyard. Back home he had been very active, riding his bike almost every day, playing in the woods behind his house. He’d even started running to prepare to try out for the track team now that he was in middle school. But he hadn’t been out of the house much since he’d arrived here.
Suddenly he needed to get outside. He needed to move, to clear his head, or to just push his body and not think at all.
He stepped to the door and listened for a moment. He didn’t want to try to explain how he felt or what he needed to do. He didn’t hear anyone or anything, so he slipped down the stairs and through the kitchen to the back door and out.
Scully entered the house, surprised to find it quiet. She checked Mulder’s office first, then went through the kitchen to the basement stairs.
“Mulder, are you down here?” she called as she took a few steps down. “Where’s William?”
“He’s up in his room,” Mulder replied, concentrating on his work. “I think he’s a little tired.”
“I need to talk to you,” Scully began, “but I’m going to go check on William first.”
“I’ll be here,” he answered as he heard her go back up the steps.
Scully looked into William’s room, a little surprised that he wasn’t there or in the bathroom. She then checked through the rest of the upper floor before heading back downstairs. After walking through the ground floor twice, checking Mulder’s office again, even though she already knew he wasn’t in there, and looking out the windows, she went down to the basement again.
“Did William just come down here?” she asked, knowing she couldn’t possibly have missed him.
“He’s not upstairs?” Mulder asked without turning from the rack of ammunition he was working on.
“No,” Scully answered, a hint of alarm coloring her voice. “I looked through the whole house and didn’t see him in the yard, either.”
Mulder looked at her as his heart rate began to quicken. He didn’t know what to think, but he pushed up from his chair.
“I’ll go look for him. Get on the phone to Skinner just in case we need to call him in.”
“Do you think he’s in trouble?” Scully followed him up the stairs, hoping they were both overreacting.
“I don’t know,” Mulder answered grimly, grabbing his weapon and clipping it to the back of his jeans. “Hopefully I’ll find him right away. He may have just gone for a walk. But we don’t know if they’ve finally figured out where he is. They could be watching the house and if he went outside… Anything could be happening.” He paused to kiss Scully, hoping to reassure her and himself. “Call Skinner.”
William kept pushing himself further into the empty field. He looked back over his shoulder and could no longer see the stone wall, let alone the house. He didn’t know where he was going or what he wanted. He just had to move. The cold air felt good as it burned his lungs. The more he felt his body, the less he focused on his confused thoughts and feelings. There were trees up ahead and he headed for the shadows at their feet.
Mulder circled the house, looking for any sign of William, when he saw a few footprints heading toward the back of the property. The tall grasses were still slightly pressed down where the boy had passed. He hadn’t seen any sign of larger footprints, but he hurried forward anyway.
The boy’s trail led to the stone wall where he and William had practiced with the gun, and on the other side he saw the boy’s footprints in the slightly muddy ground there.
He jumped the low wall easily and continued quickly until he spotted his son just at the edge of the field where a small stand of pines began.
“William!” Mulder barked. “Where are you going? We’ve been looking all over for you!” He tried to take some of the anger out of his voice, but his heart was still pounding.
“I wanted to get out of the house,” William answered, his brow furrowed in annoyance, though his voice seemed to falter.
“You can’t just walk out here by yourself!” Mulder pressed as he neared the boy. “It’s not safe. You know that.”
“No, I don’t know that,” William answered, turning away from Mulder and taking a few steps further from him. “I don’t understand any of this stuff you’re always talking about.”
“What?” Mulder asked. He closed the distance between them and took William’s arm to turn him around. “What do you mean?”
“I mean, I don’t know what’s going on!” William shouted, yanking his arm free. “My name is William Van de Kamp, but that’s not who I really am, is it? My parents are dead and I don’t have a home anymore. I don’t understand why they were killed or why these people are supposed to be after me. I miss my friends, my school, my stuff, my room, my bed. I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t know who I am anymore. I don’t even know why I came here.” His hands were balled up into fists and he started to pound them against his head.
“Hey, hey,” Mulder said gently, taking William’s hands, pulling him close and wrapping his arms around him. “I’m sorry.”
William struggled against Mulder’s embrace at first, but as his anger subsided into tears he pressed his face into Mulder’s shirt.
“I’m sorry if we’ve confused you or frightened you,” Mulder began, “and that there’s nothing I can do to give you back your life. But this is where we are now. Scully and I…we can’t ever replace what you had with your parents, but…we…” His heart was full of such a mix of emotions—sorrow, grief, pain, joy, fear, hope—all these jumbled together, warring in his heart, overwhelming his ability to articulate his feelings. He could do nothing but join William in tears.
“I’m tired of being afraid,” William murmured into Mulder’s shoulder. “I just want to go back to being normal.”
“Oh, God, I want that for you, Will,” Mulder said, his voice husky as he spoke past the lump in his throat. “That’s what Scully and I are hoping to accomplish at the end of all this. But it’s going to get harder before then.”
“No!” William sobbed. “Please! Please just let it be over. Can’t we just get away? Can’t we just leave and go somewhere else?”
“There’s no place safe until we end it,” Mulder said, trying to soothe the boy even as he fought in his own heart against the same fears and the desire to escape.
William suddenly twisted away, pushing angrily at Mulder’s arms.
“I don’t believe any of it, anyway!” he shouted, stepping back. “You’re crazy! There’s no such thing as aliens and secret plans to take over the world. That stuff only happens in the movies, not in real life.” He was shouting, tears and snot making a mess of his face.
“Son…” Mulder took a step forward, but William moved further away.
“Don’t call me that!” he bellowed, pointing an accusatory finger at Mulder, jabbing the air as he continued. “You’re not my father! My father is dead! If you know so much, why don’t you find out who killed him and my mother! I don’t want this…this… I want to go home! I want to go home!”
He collapsed onto the damp grass and folded himself onto his knees, sobbing so deeply that he could barely breathe.
Mulder stood still, his arms wrapped around his own body, his heart burning from William’s angry words. Even as the boy’s biological parents, what right did he and Scully have to put him through this?
William was right. They weren’t the parents he knew. He’d been raised in a quiet, comfortable home, in a world where he only had to worry about not talking to strangers and getting his homework and chores done. And suddenly he was thrust into a world of chaos and fear, murder and destruction—of outlandish stories of conspiracy and aliens.
And yet, he and Scully were indeed his parents. And only they knew the reality of the strange world they all found themselves in.
He’d never wanted to think of himself as any kind of hero. But he knew too much to sit by and watch the world end in subjugation and destruction. As much as he would have loved to take Scully and William and try to find some peaceful corner of the world, he knew there was no such thing.
“William,” Mulder said quietly, finally bending down to gently touch the boy’s shoulder.
“Go away,” William moaned miserably, his voice still thick and hoarse.
“Get up,” Mulder said more forcefully, taking the boy’s arms and lifting him to his feet.
William tried to pull free, but Mulder wouldn’t let go.
“Look at me,” Mulder said firmly. “Look at me, William.”
William finally dragged his red, puffy eyes up to meet Mulder’s gaze, but his face was still closed off and defiant.
“I know this is hard for you to accept and I know that it’s overwhelming and painful.” Mulder eased his grip a little, but a tinge of anger hardened his voice. “I would spare you from it all if I thought there was a way. I’m sorry, but you’re going to have to trust me and Scully. We’ve been up against this fight for years now. We’ve both lost family members to it—my sister, my father, Scully’s sister…and we lost you, too.”
William’s breath caught a little at that and he felt his fury begin to subside.
“If it hadn’t been for this fight, you would have known only me and Scully as your parents. She and I would have taught you to walk and talk. I…would have taken you to your first day of school and taught you how to throw a baseball. All of that would have been mine.” Mulder looked away for a moment and swallowed the anger and tears that rose up in him.
“I know you loved your parents,” he said more quietly, unable to meet William’s gaze, “but part of me hates them. I hate that they had all of that with you when I should have had it. But none of that was your parents’ fault, and they never should have died because of what I’ve done. It’s the fault of the bastards behind this whole thing.”
He sought William’s face again, squeezing the boy’s arms gently to emphasize his point.
“William, you are my son. I am your father. I didn’t get to raise you and we don’t quite know each other yet, but still, I love you and I would never wish you pain or fear or danger. I would spare you this knowledge if I could, but we’re all in the middle of it. Please, please try to understand and let me and Scully help you.”
Again, Mulder looked away. “I understand if you don’t want me to call you son. I’m sorry about that…”
“No.” William’s voice was quiet and small.
“What?” Mulder touched William’s chin to turn the boy’s face up toward his own.
“It’s okay…to call me son. It’s okay.” William dragged his sleeve under his nose and sniffed loudly. “I don’t know…why I said that, why I feel like this. You’ve both been good to me. You let me stay with you and you’ve taken care of me.”
“Here,” Mulder said, fishing a hanky out of his pocket and pressing it into the boy’s hand. “Use this so Scully won’t scold both of us. We love you, Will. Of course we want you to be here with us.
“There are all kinds of explanations for what you’re going through, Will, believe me. It’s only natural that you’re going to feel confused, hurt, angry, after what you’ve seen so far, even if we hadn’t been telling you about aliens and government conspiracies. Feeling more comfortable with us doesn’t mean that you’re betraying your parents or that you don’t love them anymore…or that you’re ever going to forget them; you won’t, Will. I promise you. Just, please, try to trust us and tell us when you’re feeling upset. Please don’t run off like this ever again.”
William nodded as he tried to clean up his face, but the tears began again and he simply pressed himself into Mulder’s arms.
They entered the house to find Scully waiting anxiously by the back door.
“Is everything okay?” she asked as she saw William’s red eyes and dirty face.
“I think we’re fine,” Mulder said, diplomatically, guiding William through the kitchen with a hand on his shoulder. He led him to the foot of the stairs.
“Will, I want you to go on upstairs and get cleaned up, then I want you to stay in your room and lie down until we call you.”
William’s brow furrowed as he looked up at Mulder.
“Are you making me take a nap? I don’t…”
Mulder shook his head and interrupted William’s protest.
“I don’t care whether or not you sleep, but I want you to lie down and rest. We’re all tired and you’ve only just gotten over that fever. Go on up, now.”
“I don’t want…”
“William,” Mulder repeated more sternly, “do as I say.”
William blinked at the commanding tone, weighing how it made him feel. Even as he objected to being sent to his room, there was something in Mulder’s voice that seemed to ground him. And if he was honest with himself, he had to admit he was exhausted.
“Yes, sir,” he finally replied and started up the stairs.
Scully slipped an arm around Mulder’s waist, wondering what had transpired between the two of them.
“Are you okay?”
Mulder nodded and offered Scully a bemused smile.
“I sounded just like my dad,” he said, shaking his head.
Scully poured them each a cup of coffee while their frozen lasagna dinner baked in the oven.
“So, Skinner got that couple out of Richmond?” Mulder asked as she joined him at the table.
“Yeah,” Scully answered. “When I called him just now about William he updated me. He’s got them holed up closer to DC. There’s a nurse staying with Mr. Clendenin, but he should be recovering from the infection soon.
“Skinner wants us to come in tomorrow morning, to set up at the safe house and…”
“Get ready for a showdown,” Mulder put in.
“Are we ready?” Scully asked quietly.
“We can be. I’ve got the last of the ammo done. We can pack and load up tonight and leave first thing in the morning.”
“What about William?” Scully asked. “What was that all about? He’d been crying.”
“I think it’s finally all hitting him—the grief that he hasn’t had time for. Now that he’s settling in here, he’s feeling the loss and I think he’s struggling with transferring his familial feelings onto us.”
“Do you think he’ll be okay going into DC? With all…that might happen?” She didn’t mention it, but she still hated the idea that they planned to arm an eleven-year-old boy.
“I was thinking that if we have the time we can let him do a little sight-seeing, since the Hoover building is just off the Mall. Hopefully that will give him a chance to feel a little more normal.”
Scully nodded her agreement. She rose and pulled a sheet from the shopping list notepad that hung on the refrigerator door, took a pen from the kitchen junk drawer and sat down to start making a list of what they needed to pack and do before the night was over.
Mulder went up to call William down for dinner and found the boy dozing in bed, the little dog pressed against his face.
As he sat on the bed William awoke and turned to look up at him.
“I’m sorry, Daddy,” he said, reaching up to touch Mulder’s stubbly cheek.
Mulder took the boy’s hand and kissed his palm.
“It’s okay, son.”
William sat up and wrapped his arms around his father, unable to say all that he felt.
Mulder relished the feeling, the smell of William’s slightly damp hair, even the smell of his sweat. He kissed his son’s cheek.
“Dinner’s ready, if you’re hungry.” Mulder didn’t care if they ever went downstairs.
William’s grumbling stomach broke the spell and they both chuckled.
“I guess I am hungry,” William said with a smile.
After dinner Mulder pulled the car around behind the house and began loading cases of ammunition, three Kevlar vests, and a case of extra weapons from the storage shed out back, then brought up some boxes of medical equipment from the basement.
Meanwhile, Scully took William upstairs to help him pack some things for the next few days, making sure he packed extra underwear and setting out an outfit to wear in the morning.
William had been quiet through dinner and she didn’t want to press him about what had happened outside or how he had felt. But as she took up his backpack she realized it was full. Only then did she notice that his laptop and the picture of the Van de Kamps were no longer on the desk.
She didn’t say anything, but simply set the backpack by the door along with his suitcase.
“Mom,” William stepped up beside her and touched her arm.
“Yes, honey?” She turned to him.
“I guess I scared you this afternoon. I’m sorry about that.” He looked down at his feet as he spoke.
“I was scared,” Scully admitted, touching his cheek to bring his gaze up to meet hers. “But it’s okay now. I think I understand what you were feeling and why.”
“I’m fine now,” William said, hugging her to assure himself.
“That’s good, honey,” Scully whispered. “You know you can trust us with whatever you’re going through, right?”
William nodded into her shoulder.
After everything was loaded and their suitcases packed, Scully and Mulder came into William’s room in their pajamas.
William looked up in surprise, but smiled when they came and climbed into his bed. Scully had a scrapbook that she settled across William’s lap as they all sat up against the headboard.
“What’s this?” he asked, opening the beautiful leather book.
“My mother—your grandmother—put this together a couple of years ago,” Scully began, turning the first page to reveal pictures of herself and Mulder as children.
“Oh, man, look at that geeky kid!” Mulder laughed, pointing at himself at age ten.
“I think you were kind of cute,” Scully said, running her finger along the picture.
William was fascinated as Scully slowly paged through the book. There were a few more school pictures of his parents as teenagers, some candid family pictures, mostly of Scully’s family.
“Who are these kids?” William asked, pointing to a picture of Scully and her sister and brothers.
“That’s my sister Melissa,” Scully said softly. “She…passed away several years ago. And these are your uncles—my brothers Charlie and Bill.”
“Are they…still alive?” William asked, looking up at Scully.
“Yes,” Scully said, smiling down at him. “Your uncles are both in the Navy, so I don’t get to see them often.”
“And I have a grandmother?”
“Yes,” Mulder put in. “I’m sure you’ll get to see her soon. She’ll be so happy to see you.”
“You also have a cousin named Matthew,” Scully put in, petting his hair. “He’s your Uncle Bill and Aunt Tara’s son and he’s just a few years older than you.”
William turned the idea over in his head. He had family. He thought back to the family tree he had on his laptop. This was his family, too.
Scully turned a page to reveal small reproductions of her and Mulder’s official FBI Academy graduation photos.
Mulder groaned in embarrassment at the earnest expression on his young face and they all began to laugh.
Mulder and Scully told William funny stories about how they met and argued good- naturedly about how and when they’d fallen in love, finally getting to the pages where there were photos of a very pregnant Scully and then a little card with William’s tiny footprints in ink.
His first baby picture was the last thing in the scrapbook and they fell into a happy silence as they looked at it.
“Our baby,” Scully whispered, kissing William’s head.
They lay there together talking quietly until William’s eyes began to close, and then stayed together a moment longer.
Washington, DC Friday, October 12
“Have you ever been to Washington before?” Scully asked William as Mulder negotiated the Beltway. Fortunately, it was midday and traffic was fairly reasonable.
“No,” William replied, looking out the windows on both sides of the car, trying to catch a glimpse of any famous landmark or recognizable structure from his social studies classes. “My parents talked about someday taking a vacation on the east coast, going to see some of the famous battlefields and coming to the Smithsonian. But we went to Yosemite one year and to Yellowstone last year.”
“Now, see,” Mulder joined in, “I’ve never been to either Yellowstone or Yosemite.” He caught William’s eye in the rearview mirror.
“Neither have I,” Scully said.
“You know, after this is all over,” Mulder said, striving for a casual, hopeful tone, “maybe we can take a trip out there. You could show us around, Will.” He looked into the rearview mirror again, but the boy was looking out the window, a frown clouding his face.
Scully turned around to look at him.
William looked at her briefly, then swallowed hard against the lump in his throat as he turned back toward the window. Why did everything end up making him cry?
Scully turned back to look out her own window to allow William some privacy. She knew he was still struggling with his emotions. Just when she thought he had made it past this particular bump, she heard a muffled whimper from the back seat. She fished a tissue from the package in the glove box and passed it back to William without a comment.
William took the tissue and wiped his eyes and nose, grateful that no one had made a fuss. He hated being such a crybaby, but he couldn’t seem to help himself. He was determined to pull himself together before they got to the Hoover building. He didn’t want anyone at the FBI to think he was a baby, especially Mr. Skinner.
At last they were pulling into the parking garage. William was suitably impressed by the security guards and how they recognized his parents and greeted them by name, though they had to mention Skinner’s name to be allowed admittance.
Once inside the building they signed in and got Visitors’ badges—William thrilled to have his own official badge to wear. They waited for an agent that had been sent to escort them and followed him to Skinner’s office.
William felt like his eyes would pop out of his head as he stared at agents with guns on their hips, maps and charts on walls, official seals here and there, including the huge FBI seal they’d walked across when they first entered. They passed other agents and workers in the hallways, William turning his head to look at almost everyone.
They entered Skinner’s outer office and were greeted by his assistant, who smiled warmly at them.
“Agent Mulder, Agent Scully…I mean…” Kim realized her mistake, but couldn’t think of them any other way.
“Hi, Kim,” Scully said with a smile, giving her a quick hug as Kim came around the desk.
Kim stopped to look at William, who stood close to Mulder.
“Kim,” Mulder began, “This is our son, William.”
“Hello, William,” Kim said, offering a handshake to the boy, marveling that he’d been an infant the last time she saw him.
“Will, this is Kim Cook,” Mulder said as William shook her hand. “She’s AD Skinner’s assistant.”
“He’s expecting you,” Kim said as she knocked once on the inner door and opened it.
“They’re here, sir,” She said, pushing the door fully open and standing aside.
“Come in. Have a seat,” Skinner said, standing to usher them in. He indicated the chairs around the conference table in his office. “Kim, please hold my calls. We’ll be leaving in a few minutes.”
On the table were two thick, well-worn folders bursting with papers, and one plain manila folder.
“Check it out, Scully,” Mulder said with a low whistle. He opened the file with his name on it—the thicker of the two—and skimmed through a few pages.
“And that’s just for the last few years you were on the job,” Skinner put in with a wry smile.
“What is it?” William asked, taking a seat next to Mulder.
“My FBI personnel file,” Mulder said. “Annual performance evaluations, disciplinary actions…” He winked at Scully over William’s head.
Skinner had taken the seat at the head of the table and now opened the manila folder. He handed Mulder and Scully each a small sheaf of papers.
“These are the reinstatement documents,” he said, handing each of them a pen. “Sign on each of the flagged lines. The director and I have already signed off on everything, so as soon as you’re finished here we’ll go downstairs and get your credentials.”
William noticed that his parents had suddenly become very solemn as they worked their way through the papers. He looked at the Assistant Director, who seemed both more serious and more relaxed in these offices than he had when he’d been out to the house.
Skinner caught William’s eye and offered him a kind smile.
“How are you, William?” he asked. “I heard you were sick recently.”
William nodded. “I’m okay now.”
“Oh,” Skinner began, “I have something for you.” He went over to his desk, returning to put a slim vinyl wallet in front of the boy.
Skinner smiled at Mulder and Scully as William opened it.
“Junior Special Agent,” William read. The simple wallet contained a mock-up of an FBI ID card with a place for his signature and a plastic gold-colored shield attached to the other side. “Look, Dad, Mom!” he said, showing each of them in turn. “Cool!”
“What do you say, William?” Scully reminded him, smiling broadly at his enthusiasm.
“Thank you, Mr. Skinner,” the boy said with real joy. “Can I sign it?”
Mulder handed him the pen he’d been using.
“Here you go, Special Agent Will.”
As William pulled out the ID card and bent over it to sign his name with care, Mulder and Scully pushed their signed documents back to Skinner who tucked the papers into their respective files.
“That’s it for the paperwork.” He looked at the three of them in turn. “So, let’s go downstairs and then we can head out for lunch.”
Skinner took a moment to let Kim know they were leaving, then they exited his office through the doors that led directly to the hall.
They made their way down toward the elevator, William almost stumbling a couple of times as he studied his “Junior Special Agent” badge.
Agent Peter Clark stepped out of the elevator and saw the four of them approaching. He faked a small cough to cover his gasp of surprise and kept his expression neutral as he passed them, nodding at the Assistant Director as a normal courtesy to his superior.
Inside, his heart was pounding and he almost tripped over his own feet when the boy looked up at him. He heard them get on the elevator and he risked a look back, once again catching the boy’s eye just before the doors closed completely.
He almost ran to the stairwell, heading for his supervisor’s office.
“Here?” Horne spluttered. “In this building? Are you sure?”
“Yes, sir,” Clark answered, still trying to catch his breath. “Fox Mulder and Dana Scully and a boy I assume to be their son William were walking down the hall with Assistant Director Skinner.”
“Do you know what they were doing here?”
“I haven’t had a chance to ask around yet, sir. I came directly here just after I saw them. I do think I overheard them talking about where they might go for lunch.”
“Does Skinner have any reason to suspect you? To distrust you?”
“No, sir,” Clark replied. He had been a little unnerved by the boy’s direct stare, but Skinner had acknowledged him casually enough. He hadn’t had much interaction with the Assistant Director and hadn’t yet been assigned to the Hoover Building years ago during what the gossips referred to as “The Purge.”
“Well, we need to find out what’s going on, and I need to make some calls,” Horne said firmly. “Be discreet, but find out if they’re here on a social visit or if there’s more to it.”
“Yes, sir,” Clark replied, leaving the room as Horne picked up his phone and punched in a number.
William watched closely as Mulder and Scully each took their turn getting a new photo ID made, clipping on new laminated badges to replace their visitor badges, signing their official FBI wallet ID cards.
“Dad, can I see your badge?” he asked reaching out to touch the real gold shield of Mulder’s badge. He knew his own little badge was just a kid’s toy, but his father and mother had the real thing and he was fascinated.
They went on to other offices where they were issued new service weapons and finally new secured cell phones.
“William,” Skinner said, beckoning the boy up to the table where the cell phones had been laid out. “I have another surprise for you.”
He handed William a cell phone of his own.
“Really?” William squeaked. “My own cell phone?”
“It’s not issued by the Bureau,” Skinner replied, “but I thought you might need one and I wanted it to be a secure phone as well, so I bought it myself and brought it in to get it set up for you.”
“Thanks!” William gushed. He turned it on and started exploring the features.
Suddenly he stopped and looked up at Skinner. He stepped forward and hugged the big man around the waist. “Thanks, Uncle Walter,” he whispered.
Skinner smiled down at him, a little embarrassed, and ruffled his hair. “My pleasure, kiddo.”
As William stepped back, Skinner cleared his throat and resumed his usual stern expression, ignoring Mulder’s barely concealed chuckle. He knew Mulder had been the one to teach the boy to call him Uncle Walter.
“Let’s get some lunch.”
They took Mulder and Scully’s car out of the building and after a light lunch at a nearby sandwich shop, they made their way to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. While William stood on the steps, looking out over the reflecting pool toward the Washington Monument, taking pictures with Scully’s digital camera, the adults retreated up a few steps for a little privacy.
“I’ve got a safe house set up for the four of us,” Skinner began without preamble.
“All of us?” Scully asked mildly. She hadn’t thought about Skinner staying with them.
“Yeah,” he sighed. “I didn’t want to intrude on the three of you, especially since the only place I could get only has two bedrooms, but I think it’s going to be better if I’m not seen going back and forth from my place to this one.”
“It’s only for a couple of days,” Mulder conceded. “I guess we’ll manage.”
“I’ve already laid in some supplies and equipment, so hopefully we can avoid a log of coming and going.” Skinner looked down at William, who was still fascinated with his surroundings.
“How’s he doing?”
“He had a little…outburst…yesterday,” Mulder admitted. “But I think it’s a normal part of the adjustments he’s had to make. I think that the more he accepts us and his life with us, the more he has to let go of his previous life and it’s hard. He’s going to struggle with it for a while, I think.”
Skinner nodded and waved as William suddenly turned to look up at them.
“I’m going to go up there and look at Lincoln,” the boy called as he climbed the steps and continued past them to get a closer look at the monument.
“Stay where we can see you,” Scully called after him. It sounded like what any parent might say, but it meant so much more for all of them. She followed him with her eyes, smiling as he turned to wave back at them.
“So, what’s the plan for this afternoon?” Mulder asked.
“I’ll give you the address of the house and you can use your GPS to find it. I’ve got a few things to take care of and then I’ll meet you there.” Skinner looked over the milling tourists with a practiced eye, but saw no one that gave him reason to worry. Yet.
“I have no doubt that we’re going to be followed,” he continued, “if we’re not being followed already. Take precautions before you head for that address and I’ll see you there tonight.”
He shook hands with Mulder and Scully in turn and then went up the steps to where William was.
“Will,” he said kindly, “I’ve got to go for now.” He shook hands with the boy and patted his shoulder. “I’ll see you later tonight, okay?”
William nodded and watched the big man make his way down the steps, then went down to stand with his parents.
“Are we leaving?” He couldn’t keep a tinge of disappointment out of his voice.
Mulder and Scully exchanged looks and Mulder shrugged.
“No, not yet,” Scully said. “We still have time to look around some more. Do you want to go to the Jefferson Memorial?”
“Yeah,” William answered with a smile. “This is really cool. Can we go up to the top of the Washington Monument?”
“We’ll see,” Mulder said. “There’s usually a long line to get inside and we might not have time.”
The three of them walked down the steps, William walking between his parents, forgetting for the moment what might lie ahead, enjoying the beautiful fall afternoon like all the other families around them.
The older men sat around the conference table in Horne’s office, their team leaders stood in a loose line off to one side.
Peter Clark stood off to one side.
They had already discussed keeping tabs on AD Skinner who had been seen returning to the building without the others.
“We’re pretty sure they’re going to hole up somewhere in the DC area,” one of the older men said. “There isn’t really any other reason for them to risk coming here.”
“I’m sure they’re onto the test protocol,” Horne said. “Our man in Richmond confirmed that Scully saw one of the subjects who had an adverse reaction. They may be planning to try to expose the project.
“Whatever happens, we need the boy alive and uninjured,” Horne continued. “The others don’t matter. We need the boy. We must deliver him to our contacts in perfect condition in order for their experiments to be carried out.”
Clark’s mouth went dry at the mention of the boy’s fate. He had known for some time that the search for the boy had to do with experiments that were to be carried out on him, but as long as the boy was simply a theoretical goal on paper it hadn’t bothered him. But now that he’d seen the boy with his own eyes he found himself again doubting whether or not he had what it took to be part of this group of men.
He was smart, but he’d never been as cold-blooded as his boss. Having to eliminate the subjects who’d reacted to the injections had almost destroyed him. Though he knew he wouldn’t be among those who would go after the boy, he knew he had already played a part in the plan to capture him. He had reported the boy’s presence; he had helped set this in motion.
He couldn’t believe what he was about to do. Horne would have killed him with his own hands right in front of everyone else if he even suspected what Clark was thinking. He would have to wait for the right moment, but he had already made up his mind.
Somewhere in the Washington, DC area
Skinner’s car was already parked behind the small house when Mulder drove up, Scully and William drowsing in the car after their long day.
“We’re here,” he said softly, touching Scully’s cheek with a gentle hand.
She took a deep breath as she opened her eyes and took in their surroundings. The street was quiet and dark, but in a sleepy neighborhood kind of way. She didn’t want to wake William, but each of them had plenty of things to take into the house and he’d have to do his part.
“Wake up, honey,” she said as she gently shook his knee.
William lifted his head from where he had slumped against the door and wiped a bit of drool from his mouth, blinking at her with sleepy eyes.
“Come on out and get your suitcase, okay?” She unbuckled her seatbelt and got out herself, moving back toward the trunk of the car.
William soon followed, taking the small wheeled suitcase he had packed and his backpack from the trunk as Mulder and Scully unloaded their luggage and the cases containing their weapons, ammunition and other items.
“Go ahead and knock on the door, Will,” Mulder said, but before the boy could do so, Skinner was standing in the doorway.
“Come on in,” Skinner said, moving out to help Mulder with the cases. “We should get your car moved around back to the garage and do a quick perimeter check. I just got here myself a few minutes ago and haven’t had a chance to go over everything yet.”
The two men left the cases just inside the door and went to do their security check while Scully and William looked around inside the house.
The master bedroom had a large bed with an additional twin bed crammed into one corner. The other bedroom held a full sized bed. Skinner had already put his suitcase in that room.
“You’re staying in here with us, Will,” Scully said, entering the larger bedroom. “Go ahead and put your things on the bed for now and we’ll get settled after dinner. Can you help me with the other things?”
“Yes, ma’am,” he responded, dumping his suitcase and backpack on the smaller bed.
He went out to help her put the weapons cases and other equipment in a room off the living room that was set up as an office with a large desk and small table. He noticed that all the curtains in the house were drawn closed and only a few lights were on. The house smelled a little musty and strange, but the kitchen was warm and inviting, smelling of the coffee Skinner had already started.
The men came in through the back door, satisfied that everything was as it should be.
“What do we have in the way of groceries?” Scully asked, poking around in the cabinets.
“Nothing fancy, I’m afraid,” Skinner replied. “Just the basics. There’s some hamburger meat in the fridge.”
“Can I have something to drink?” William asked, coming into the kitchen.
“Serve yourself some water, please, son,” Scully said. “You’ve had plenty of soda today.”
“Yes, ma’am,” William responded. “Um…”
“The glasses are in that upper cabinet to your left,” Skinner said, pointing William in the right direction.
“Do you need any help, Scully?” Mulder asked.
“No,” Scully replied easily. “I’m just going to cook the meat with some potatoes.”
“I can help you, Mom,” William put in. “I used to…I…I know how to peel potatoes.”
Scully smiled at him and pulled him in for a quick hug. “The peeler should be in one of these drawers.”
He nodded at her and started rummaging through a drawer.
Mulder and Skinner went into the small office and Skinner unrolled a map, pinning it down on the desk with the phone and lamp and a paperweight.
“I think this is the area we need to draw them to,” Skinner said. “It’s far enough outside of town that we shouldn’t be having a shootout in anyone’s backyard.”
“If Scully and I can get them to follow us, through this area, you and your men can set up on the other side of this ridge,” Mulder said, tracing the area with a finger.
“Yes,” Skinner said grimly. “We can have some men come in behind you to seal off this end.”
They pored over the map and discussed strategies until Scully sent William in to call them for supper.
After dinner, the adults were gathered in the study while William offered to finish loading the dishwasher. He could hear them discussing the plans for the next day and he wondered what his role would be.
“We’re going to have to draw them out—make sure they bring all their forces. We don’t want them to leave any operatives behind.”
“How do we do that? What would make them think that they have to bring all their men, that it’s that urgent?”
“Me,” William said from the doorway. He had slipped down the hall and had stood just outside the open door, trying to understand what was going to be happening.
“What?” Scully asked sharply.
“Use me to convince them that it’s urgent,” William said, taking another step into the room. “I’m the one they want. Whatever their plans are, they still want to get their hands on me. They still think that I’m important for whatever they plan to do. If they think they can get me, they’ll come. And if they think it will be hard to get to me, they’ll send more men.”
“Absolutely not,” Scully said, getting to her feet. “We’re not going to put you in danger like a pawn on a chessboard.” She moved toward him, determined to take him back to his room.
William saw her heading toward him and he took a few quick steps, putting himself between Mulder and Skinner, closer to the strategy table.
“Come on, son,” Scully said, beckoning to him. “You should be in bed.”
“I’m not going to my room,” William said firmly. “This concerns my life. I want to know what’s going on.” He softened his voice and looked Scully in the eye. “I want to help, Mom.”
Scully shook her head and finally looked at Mulder and Skinner, neither of whom would look at her.
“Mulder,” she said at last, “aren’t you going to say something?” She crossed her arms, trying to hold in the anger and fear that were bubbling up inside her.
Mulder studied the table and the map and the notes he’d been scribbling on the pad in front of him. It made sense, as frightening and wrong as it was. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, then finally looked up at Scully.
“I think he’s right, Scully.”
Scully pressed her lips together and stared at Mulder long and hard, then turned and left the room without another word.
She went into her room and shut the door, hardly able to keep from slamming it, and sat on the bed, fuming.
She realized now that the dismay she had felt at the idea of William learning how to handle a gun, seeing him become more interested in the aliens and the conspiracy, was really a sort of panic. She had had to fight against different groups or individuals who had tried to take William from her when he was an infant, and it was the threat of him falling into the hands of the men behind these schemes that had forced her to make the most heartbreaking decision of her life.
Now that she finally had him back, now that she and Mulder had their family whole and restored, she was again confronted by people who wanted to take the boy from her, to tear her heart out again, and the very child she wanted to protect was offering himself up like a sacrifice. And Mulder, who had been at turns angry, heartbroken, and understanding about that terrible decision, who had felt the loss of their son in his own guilty way, was now agreeing that they should use their son as bait.
There were too many ways such a scheme could go wrong. They really didn’t know what weapons or resources these people had at their disposal. They didn’t really know the number of the enemy they might face. They didn’t quite know whether or not all the people on their own side were completely trustworthy. What if they were betrayed by one of the FBI agents Skinner had cleared?
She couldn’t even begin to think about what would happen to William if he were captured. The very thought of him being taken made her finally lose her composure. She grabbed a pillow and held it against her mouth as she screamed her rage into it.
She wanted to weep and scream and to beat senseless the men who had put this all in motion so many decades ago. How could they be so selfish and foolish and hateful? Why should their compromises cost her and Mulder their son? Why should her family be forced to pay the price after so many people had already paid?
How could they ever put a stop to it?
“She’s mad at me,” William said after Scully had left the room.
Mulder slipped his hand down William’s back and took the boy’s hand for a moment.
“I think she’s just angry about the situation. There’s no easy way out of this and she knows it.”
“But she’s still mad at me,” William insisted.
“No, son, she’s mad at me. But it’s okay. She gets mad at me all the time,” Mulder said, looking up at William. “She’ll be back out in a little while. She might still be mad, but she’ll come back and help us.”
Skinner had kept his mouth clamped tightly shut during the whole exchange, trying to pretend he wasn’t in the room. Maybe Mulder was used to sparring with Scully after so many years together, both on and off the job, but Skinner couldn’t always take the heat. He knew that Scully was right to be angry, and Mulder knew it, too. But Mulder and William were also right. There was no easy way out and William was, unfortunately, the best bait they had.
At last he cleared his throat and began.
“If they don’t already know that William is here in DC, they’ll know it soon enough.”
“Mom,” William called, knocking on the bedroom door. “Can I come in?”
“Yes, honey,” Scully answered, wiping at her eyes before he opened the door.
He stopped just inside the door, biting his lower lip and looking at her apologetically.
“I’m sorry if I made you mad,” he said at last, twisting the ends of his sleeves in his hands.
“I’m not mad at you, William,” she said, holding her hand out toward him to invite him in. “Come here.”
He stepped forward and took her hand, joining her on the bed.
“I’m just mad at the situation, honey,” she said, holding his hand in both of hers. “Do you understand the difference?”
“I think so,” he replied, leaning into her and resting his head on her shoulder.
“I understand that you want to help,” Scully said. “I just don’t want you to think that you have to be the hero.
“When you were a baby, there were all kinds of people trying to get at you because they thought you were somehow superhuman, some kind of hero or savior for them or their cause. I just wanted you to be a normal child, to have a normal life. That was why…” Her voice faltered for a moment and she squeezed his hand a little. “That was why I sent you away. And now that you’re back…I just don’t want…”
“I’m not a superhero, Mom,” William said firmly, “but maybe I am special after all. Not the way they want me to be, maybe, but if they think they can get to me, then we can use that against them. I’m scared, but it makes sense to me to do it this way.”
Scully looked at her son. How had he learned to be so brave? So foolish and brave, just like his father. She turned and kissed his head, then stood.
“I’m going to take a shower,” she said. “You should get ready for bed, honey.”
Mulder sat on the edge of the narrow little bed as William settled under the covers.
“How’s your mom?” Mulder asked, casting a glance toward the closed bathroom door.
“I guess she’s worried, but she’s not as mad as I thought she was,” William said, digging under his pillow for the little dog.
“She told me that she didn’t want me to be a hero, that she sent me away because there were people who wanted me to be their hero or whatever.” He frowned up at Mulder in confusion.
“You know, your mother just wants you to be safe,” Mulder reminded him. He wanted to be sure that William really understood why the adoption had taken place. “She was afraid that she would be unable to protect you. There were some powerful people who wanted you one way or another. After a while she just felt she couldn’t keep them all away from you. And now she’s worried again that we won’t be able to protect you.”
“I’m a little bit like Moses,” William said thoughtfully.
“Oh? How so?”
“Moses was in danger when he was a baby,” William began. “Pharaoh was killing all the Hebrew babies and when Moses’ mother couldn’t hide him anymore, she tried to save his life by sending him down the river in a basket. He was found and adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter and raised as her son. But in the end, Moses ended up back with his family and he was the one who had to save his people.”
William looked solemnly into Mulder’s eyes.
“So, mom sent me away when she thought she couldn’t keep me safe, and I was adopted and raised by another family. But now I’m back with my family and I have to help save my people.”
Mulder nodded as he squeezed William’s slim shoulder, smiling to keep tears at bay.
“I guess you’re right.”
“Daddy, do you believe in God?” William asked softly.
“I…want to believe…” Mulder answered, still not sure after all these years. He’d had more reason to believe lately than he’d ever had before.
“I do,” William said simply.
Washington, DC Saturday, October 13 6:00 am
Skinner made his way to a coffee shop not far from the Hoover building. He took his coffee to a table at the very back and sat facing the entrance.
Peter Clark slipped in and hurried to Skinner’s table.
“I don’t have much time,” Clark said abruptly. “What do you want me to tell them?”
“That they can find the boy today,” Skinner said. “He’ll be with Mulder and Scully at the Museum of Natural History at ten o’clock.”
“There’s too much security in that area,” Clark remarked.
“They’ll have to follow them away from the middle of the city.” Skinner couldn’t believe he was putting his trust in this kid, but even if Clark wasn’t completely trustworthy, giving him the information would help to draw out the enemy one way or another.
“Do you have the list I asked you about?” Skinner continued.
Clark pushed a folded piece of paper across the table to the AD and Skinner slipped it into his pocket.
“I’m a dead man after today, sir,” Clark said sadly. “But I can’t do this anymore.”
“I can protect you, Peter, if it comes to that,” Skinner offered. “With this information we can go after the men who are behind this part of the plan. And hopefully we’ll be able to re- inoculate the people who got the black oil injections.”
“I’ll be careful, but they may already suspect me.” Clark looked around the room. “I’ve got to go.”
Skinner watched him leave, sipping at his coffee without enjoying it. After waiting several minutes he made his way out, assuming he was being followed.
Museum of Natural History 10:13 am
William tried to enjoy looking at the displays, the massive dinosaur skeletons and other objects in the museum, but he was too distracted. Even though he had volunteered for this plan and had discussed it at length last night, he was antsy and nervous and tired of waiting.
“Here we go,” Mulder said quietly, touching Scully’s arm and leading William toward the door in as casual a manner as possible. Mulder kept a hand on William’s shoulder to keep the boy from looking back at the man who was following them. Mulder and Scully wore earpieces that kept them in touch with Skinner, who was monitoring from his command post position.
“It’s time to leave, son,” Mulder said in a casual tone, just loud enough to be heard by the man who stood near the entrance. The three of them walked down the street to their car and drove away from the Mall area.
“They’re following us,” Scully said, looking in the side mirror.
“Good,” Mulder remarked. “They won’t try anything here.”
As they drove out toward the countryside outside of Arlington, they noticed a few more vehicles joining them.
“It’s like a parade,” Mulder muttered, as a big SUV pulled onto the road behind them.
“Will, get started,” he said, catching the boy’s eye in the rearview mirror.
“Yes, sir,” William replied, unbuckling his seatbelt and slipping down to kneel on the floor. He pulled down the backrest of the other half of the rear seat to access the trunk and pulled their Kevlar vests and weapons case into the car. He passed two vests up to Scully and donned his own vest.
He opened the weapons case and passed Scully weapons and clips.
He took his own gun and clipped it to his waist, putting an extra clip in his pocket.
At last Mulder pulled a little ahead of the other vehicles and turned onto a dirt road. He pulled off the road and parked the car, taking his vest and weapon from Scully, and quickly suited up.
“Everyone ready?” he asked, turning around to look at William.
William nodded, unable to speak because his mouth was so dry.
They got out of the car and made their way forward through the park-like area. When they heard the other vehicles approaching, Mulder hung back a little and hid himself in the trees while Scully and William continued on ahead.
The team of operatives moved forward cautiously. They knew they had been played, but it didn’t matter. They boy was somewhere nearby and their goal was to capture him.
As they followed the path through the trees the area opened up to a field and they saw the boy standing alone, looking back at them.
“Go!” the lead man ordered. It couldn’t be this easy, but they had to make the move. A group of men went forward.
As the men neared him, a shot rang out from behind where William stood, making him flinch.
The first man went down, then began to scream as the magnetite-tipped bullet set off a terrible reaction in his body.
William ran, but the operatives ran faster. Scully took out another man, but not before a third man reached the boy.
William pulled his gun and barely had time to thumb off the safety before the replicant was grabbing his shoulder. He pressed the gun into the man’s stomach and pulled the trigger, screaming with the effort.
The man went down and William ran. He stumbled over the uneven ground and fell. He scrambled to his feet, seeing what seemed like an army of men coming at him. He could hear Scully firing from somewhere off to the side and he raised his gun to shoot as well. The men weren’t shooting at him, but they were shooting at Scully and he had to help her.
There was bit of a lull for a moment as the team seemed to be regrouping, shots coming from the distance, where Mulder must have been firing on them. Scully took that moment to run to William’s side.
Enough of this bait crap, she thought. She needed to get him to a safer spot. She knew that Mulder was trying to wait to come in behind the last of the replicants, but she was getting worried.
She tapped the earpiece and spoke.
“Mulder? Where are you?”
“I’ll be there soon,” he whispered. “Stick to the plan.”
Before she could respond, more men began to come at them. William was reloading his weapon with the extra clip he had put in his pocket. Scully was carrying extra clips for his weapon, as well as for her own, and had hoped they wouldn’t need them, but it was getting hard to keep enough space between the replicants and themselves long enough to draw them all into the field.
“Mom, look out!” William cried as a man came out of the woods to their right. She turned to fire and William took his stance at her back just as more men came from the left.
They continued to fire until the men fell back again.
“Come on, son,” she barked. “We’re going.”
They sprinted across the field of tall grass, Scully pulling William along with a hand fisted into the shoulder of his Kevlar vest. She risked a glance behind her and, with no one in sight, yanked William into a hollow beneath a dense bush and pushed him to the ground.
“You stay here,” she ordered, panting and looking around them in every direction. She squatted beside him. “Check your weapon—what’s left in your clip?”
He put the safety on and popped the clip out, breathing hard through his mouth. “I’ve got about three shots left,” he panted.
“Here,” Scully said, handing him the extra clip for his gun from her pocket. She grabbed his chin.
“Listen to me, son,” she held his gaze with her own, trying not to frighten him, but wanting to make sure he really heard her.
“Yes, ma’am,” he said, focusing on her wide blue eyes.
“You stay here. You keep quiet. You stay down!” She looked behind them once more, then met his eyes again. “Do you hear me?”
“I’m going over the hill, but I want you to stay here, no matter what you hear me say or do. You stay here.” She squeezed his chin to emphasize her words. “Do you understand, William?”
“Yes, ma’am,” he answered, fighting back the urge to cry.
“Mulder’s coming. You stay low and hidden until you see him close by.” Once more she asked him, “Do you understand me?”
“Yes,” he said, nodding, letting the tears fall. “Yes.”
“You use that gun if you have to—but try to wait. Don’t give away your position, but if you have to, don’t be afraid. Remember everything your dad taught you.” Tears slipped from her eyes as well, but she swiped them away as she checked her own remaining clip.
“Mom,” he whispered, grinding away his own tears.
“Be careful,” he said, holding her gaze bravely.
“I will,” she said, pulling him into an embrace. “You be careful, too, son,” she whispered in his ear.
After a quick kiss on his cheek, she looked around the edge of the bush to wait for the right moment. She looked William in the eye one last time, saw a rustle in the grass back along the trail they had just used, and ran out in a crouch.
“William, come on!” she shouted, trying to pretend she was still dragging him along.
The dark-haired man spotted her and shouted to the others behind him.
“There they are—come on!”
Scully hurried up the hill where she knew Skinner and his men were lying in wait.
“Run, son! Hurry!” she feigned, running in a sideways crouch as if she were shielding him.
William huddled under the bush, breathing quietly through his mouth, the gun heavy in his hand. He remembered seeing a television program where a fawn lay still and quiet on the forest floor, letting his dappled coat camouflage him in the shadows.
He kept still, hoping his clothing would blend in with the bush above him. He heard the men run after Scully, their voices fading a bit as they followed her up the hill.
Bursts of heavy rifle fire came from beyond the hill, many voices yelling and cursing.
He dared to look back toward where he expected Mulder to appear, but gasped when he found himself looking into the face of one of the replicants.
“He’s here!” the man shouted, rushing toward him and waving at others William couldn’t see. “The boy’s here!”
William crouched down low again, flicked the gun’s safety off, then took aim through the bush and squeezed the trigger.
The man howled in pain as the bullet tore into his leg, then stood shaking and screaming as the magnetite quickly destroyed him.
Soon more replicants were rushing toward his hiding place, and William had to fight his growing panic as he tried to wait for them to get near enough to make his aim count.
“Take him alive!” another man shouted, pointing directly at William’s hiding place.
William’s breath was coming in deep gasps as he aimed again and fired, then quickly took aim at a third man, firing the last bullet from his clip.
As the two aliens began to disintegrate he scrambled to eject the empty clip and fumble the new one into his gun. “Damn it!” he cursed as he struggled to get it in the right way. When he looked up, another replicant was only a yard away.
“Aaagghhh!” William screamed as he fired again, and turned to see more of them coming at him. He tried to make himself like a machine—breathe, aim, squeeze, turn, breathe, aim, squeeze, turn, again and again until the gun merely clicked fruitlessly in his hands and his finger was cramping.
Just then Mulder came sprinting across the field faster than William could have imagined possible.
“Get down! Get down!” Mulder bellowed, motioning with his left hand.
William flattened himself on the ground, hoping he was invisible, counting Mulder’s shots and hoping his father had enough bullets.
Mulder fired at the remaining aliens then swept his aim in a wide circle, looking for any more of the enemy. With his gun arm still extended, sweeping back and forth across the field, Mulder made his way to William’s hiding place.
“Will!” he barked, “Are you okay?”
William couldn’t answer. He was shaking all over and couldn’t catch his breath. He couldn’t let go of his gun and he couldn’t get up.
“William! Answer me!” Mulder’s voice was even more urgent. He holstered his weapon and turned the boy over, running his hands all over him, from his head down his body and along each arm and leg. “Are you hurt?”
William was finally able to shake his head, but couldn’t answer. He gasped for air and then began crying. “Daddy!” he gulped. “Daddy!”
Mulder snatched him up into his arms and held him close.
“You’re okay, you’re okay,” he whispered, fighting the squeeze of tears in his heart. He needed to keep an eye out. He was pretty sure they were safe, and a group of Skinner’s men were behind him, looking for any replicants that might have been left behind, but he had to get up over the hill to see if Scully and Skinner needed help.
William suddenly pushed away, falling to his knees to vomit in the dirt. He retched again and again, his back bowing up with the force.
His arms began to buckle under him and Mulder put an arm around his waist to lift him away from the mess.
William lowered his head to the ground and sobbed as Mulder rubbed soothing circles on his back.
“It’s okay, Will. It’s over for now.”
William finally pushed his way up, wiping snot and dirt from his face with his sleeve. He looked miserably into Mulder’s eyes, then looked away.
“What is it?” Mulder took his chin and turned his face back toward him.
“I…I…had an accident…” William said in a small tight voice.
Mulder suddenly understood and ran a gentle hand over William’s head.
“It’s okay, son.” He offered the boy a bit of a smile. “It happens to soldiers all the time.”
“I messed in my pants,” William admitted, blushing in humiliation.
Mulder blew out a sigh, trying to think of the best way to handle it.
“Let’s see what we can do,” he began, pulling off the Kevlar vest and unbuttoning William’s jeans. He pulled the boy’s pants down carefully just to his knees then used his pocket knife to cut the sides of his soiled underwear, carefully peeling it away and discarding it.
“Okay, get your pants up,” he said, trying not to make too big a deal of it. He busied himself with eyeing the terrain one more time to give William a moment of privacy before getting ready to rejoin the fight. There was still rifle fire coming from over the hill.
“All set?” he asked him.
William nodded as he swiped at his filthy face with his dirty hands, trying to fight the shivering that was beginning in his belly. He pulled the vest on again and fastened the Velcro straps.
“Get your weapon,” Mulder said, pointing at where the gun still lay under the bushes. “Do you have any ammo left?”
“No, sir,” William replied, releasing the clip to show him.
Mulder handed him another clip for his gun and replaced his own partially spent clip with a full one. “That’s the last of them, so if you need to shoot, make it count.”
William loaded his weapon, flicked the safety on, and took a deep breath to steady himself. He really hoped he didn’t have to fire the gun anymore.
“Stay low,” Mulder said with a grim smile, putting a firm hand on the boy’s shoulder as he crouched and began to move carefully toward the top of the ridge. “We want to make sure your mom knows we’re not the bad guys.”
They flattened themselves on the ground as they topped the hill, but the gunfire had stopped. Mulder scanned the field and the bluff toward which Skinner’s team had lured the replicants. He could see Skinner and his men shielded behind the doors of their vehicles, but it was a moment before he caught the flash of Scully’s red hair.
“Scully!” he yelled, risking his cover for a moment.
“Clear!” Skinner called out.
“Over here!” Scully yelled back. She held her breath, afraid to ask about William.
Mulder stood slowly, motioning with his hand for William to stay down until he was absolutely sure it was safe.
He turned and looked back the way they had come, but that field was also empty. “Okay, son,” he said quietly, helping William to his feet.
Scully ran out from the line of vehicles as Mulder ran toward her, pulling William along with him.
William felt another rush of energy fill his tired body when he saw her and he quickly pulled a little ahead of Mulder and reached her first.
“Mommy!” he cried, running headlong into her body.
The family stood in the middle of the field, the dust of the destroyed aliens at their feet, embracing fiercely, weeping into each other’s arms.
As the others began to pull themselves together, William tried to stop crying but found he couldn’t. The adults had stepped back from their embrace as Skinner joined them in the field, but William kept his hands fisted in Scully’s coat.
She kept an arm around him, squeezing his shoulder as she began to talk to Mulder and Skinner.
“Did we lose any agents? Do we have any injured?”
“Michaelson was wounded,” Skinner replied, looking back toward the line of SUVs and other vehicles. “I don’t know if everyone has reported in yet.”
“Will, are you okay?” Mulder asked, running a hand over William’s head and pulling him away from Scully’s side a little.
“I feel funny,” he said, his breath still hitching.
Scully touched his face and hands and found his skin cold and clammy.
“My legs feel weak and…and…I’m cold…”
“I think he’s in shock,” Scully said quietly, trying not to worry the boy.
Mulder picked William up and they made their way back to Skinner’s vehicle. Just as they got to the SUV Mulder felt the boy go limp in his arms.
“I think he passed out,” Mulder said, carefully laying William across the back seat as Scully climbed in on the opposite side.
She checked his pulse and pried open an eyelid to check his pupils.
“Let’s just get him to the hospital,” Skinner put in, climbing into the driver’s seat while Mulder hurried around to get in beside him.
As they bounced and jostled their way back to the main road, Scully set to work stripping off William’s Kevlar vest.
“Did he get injured?” she asked as she opened his shirt to check for herself.
“Not that I could tell,” Mulder answered turning in his seat. “I did a quick check in the field when the shooting stopped; there wasn’t any blood or obvious injury. He didn’t mention any pain.”
Scully stripped off her own vest and reached behind the seat for her medical bag and the blanket Skinner kept there. She covered the boy, propped his feet up to get them higher than his heart, then found her stethoscope and blood pressure cuff and began to examine him.
Several minutes later they were pulling into the emergency entrance at Arlington Hospital, Mulder jumping out of the vehicle before Skinner had quite put it in park. He opened the back door and gathered William in his arms as Scully ran inside to find an orderly to help them.
Virginia Hospital Center Arlington, VA 3:10 pm
William lay in the hospital bed, his right hand stippled with gunpowder, an IV line in the crook of his left elbow. He was lightly sedated and his hands were loosely restrained.
Scully sat at his side while Mulder restlessly paced the room.
Mulder hated to see him like this. It reminded him too much of his own ordeal after his sister’s disappearance, but he’d given in to Scully’s concerns. William had been through too much for a boy his age and his body and mind needed time to rest.
“Mulder,” Scully finally said, “why don’t you sit down, or maybe go get a cup of coffee?”
“Sorry,” Mulder said, running a hand through his hair and sitting in the chair on the other side of the bed.
“How long do you think he’ll be here?”
“I think he’ll be better in the morning,” Scully answered, smoothing her son’s hair and checking his cheek and forehead for fever. “If he has a quiet night we’ll probably be able to take him home some time tomorrow.”
“Do you think he’ll be permanently…damaged?” he asked with a wince, hoping she knew what he meant even though he couldn’t quite find the right words.
“He’s been through so much since the Van de Kamps were killed,” Scully said. “But he hasn’t had the time to really begin the grieving process for his…parents. I don’t know that it’s fully hit him yet.”
She looked at Mulder for a moment, then looked back at the boy.
“He’s very much like you in that way, you know.”
“What do you mean?” Mulder asked, a little afraid of her answer.
“He has your ability to focus,” she began, “to set everything aside in order to do what needs to be done. When the Van de Kamps were killed, he didn’t collapse in shock and panic, but started thinking about what he needed to do. He did all those things—covered his tracks, thought about what needed to be done, and figured out how to get out here to us. Only when he finally got out here did he begin to think about what he’d been through. And then when we pressed him into this fight, he did it again. He put aside the shock of finding out about the aliens and about what they wanted from him. He fought like a soldier and killed those…those…things.” A single tear rolled down her cheek as she tenderly rubbed William’s hand. “He’s still a baby.”
Mulder pressed a fist against his mouth to steady his trembling lips, looking at his son, who looked too much like himself.
“It’s over for now, Scully,” he said at last, through the tightness in his throat. “He’ll have time to go back to being a boy.” He saw again the sight of William squeezing off round after round, like a miniature soldier. Could he indeed go back to simple boyhood? “I hope.”
Scully stood up and stretched her neck and back, working out the kinks from her awkward position at the bedside. Mulder had stepped out to get them something to eat and Scully went to the window to look out at the evening.
The nation’s capital was a beautiful place in the fall twilight and it had been many years since she’d had the time or opportunity to enjoy it. When she and Mulder lived and worked in the area, she would often gaze out in the direction of her mother’s home in Baltimore.
Her mother... Scully turned and looked at William, her hand going to her mouth as a smile grew there.
She stepped over to the telephone and dialed the familiar number.
“Hello?” Margaret Scully’s voice was casual and warm, just the way Scully loved to hear it.
“Mom,” Scully began, “It’s me, Dana.”
“Oh, my goodness!” Maggie responded, her smile evident over the phone. “Dana, honey, how are you?”
“I’m fine, Mom,” Scully said with a quiet laugh, trying to keep her voice down, though she suddenly wanted to laugh out loud.
“Listen, Mom,” she went on, “I’m here in Arlington, at the hospital…”
“The hospital?” Maggie interrupted. “Is everything all right? Is Fox hurt?”
“No, no, we’re both fine,” Scully assured her. “I’ve got a little surprise for you and I’d like you to come out and see it, if you can. We’re in room 416.”
“A little surprise at the hospital?” Maggie asked. “Dana, did you and Fox…”
“Mom, I did not have a baby,” Scully said with a chuckle. “Um, not exactly… Just come out and see for yourself. I know you’ll be very excited.”
“Dana, why are you being so mysterious?”
Scully watched William sleeping.
“Come and see, Mom,” she said softly.
Maggie Scully knocked gently on the door of room 416. Visiting hours were technically over, but AD Skinner had ordered an FBI agent to wait at the entrance of the hospital to escort her upstairs.
Scully opened the door and smiled broadly at her mother and they shared a long, tight embrace.
Maggie kissed her daughter and paused a moment to just look at her face.
“Oh, honey, I haven’t seen you in so long,” she said, tears welling up in her eyes.
Mulder came up behind Scully and Maggie drew him into an embrace as well.
“How are you, Fox?” she asked, rubbing a maternal hand up and down his arm.
“I’m fine, Maggie,” he said, drawing her into the room.
“Mom,” Scully began, taking her mother’s hand as they moved to stand at the foot of the bed. “This is…”
“William!” Maggie gasped quietly. “Oh, my God!” She pressed a hand over her gaping mouth as the tears in her eyes began to roll down her cheeks.
She tore her gaze away from the boy to look at her daughter. “How…? Where…?” She couldn’t begin to imagine how he had come to be here.
“It’s a long story, Mom,” Scully said somberly, “and I promise to tell you everything soon, but I just thought you’d like to see your grandson.”
Maggie nodded, moving up to gaze at the boy’s face. Her smile faded as she at last took in his situation.
“What happened to him?” she asked, laying a gentle hand on his chest, not taking her eyes off of him.
“Soon,” Scully repeated. “I’ll tell you soon. He’s going to be fine, though. He’s fine.”
“Oh, my sweet grandbaby,” Maggie whispered.
William stirred slightly and opened his eyes, finding himself looking into the eyes of the woman he had seen in the scrapbook.
“I’m sorry, honey,” Maggie said gently. “I didn’t mean to wake you.”
“William,” Scully said, stepping up on the other side of the bed. “This is your grandmother.”
He gazed at her with sleepy eyes, a slight smile on his drowsy face.
“You go back to sleep, sweetie,” Maggie murmured, bending to kiss his cheek. “I’ll see you soon.”
Outside of Richmond Sunday, October 14 11:21 am
The sedan pulled up in front of the house.
Scully went to unlock the door as Mulder bent to lift William from the car. The boy had fallen asleep on the long drive home and Mulder didn’t want to wake him. They were all so exhausted.
William stirred just enough to wrap himself around Mulder as he was carried into the house and up the stairs.
As Mulder started to turn toward William’s room, Scully stopped him.
“Bring him in here,” she whispered, leading him into their bedroom. She stripped the drowsing boy down to t-shirt and underwear and then went to change into her own pajamas.
Mulder and Scully crawled into the bed on either side of William and Mulder drew them both into his arms. He left the bedside lamp on its lowest setting, leaving a warm glow in the room.
“Mulder,” Scully whispered.
“Is it really over?”
Mulder was quiet for a moment. Were the aliens still out there in space, in their ships, waiting to try again? Perhaps. But there was nothing to be done about that.
“I have to think so, for now.”
“That doesn’t sound very certain.”
“Nothing in life is certain, Scully. Except this,” he said, stretching over William to take her mouth with his. “And us—the three of us.”
“Do you think we can be good parents, Mulder?”
“We’ll have to be, I guess. I’m sure it will be a learning experience for all of us, Scully.”
William’s voice startled them a bit.
“Yes, son?” Scully replied.
William took her hand and pulled her arm around his body as he turned toward Mulder and threw his arm across Mulder’s back.
“I’m trying to sleep.”
Mulder looked at Scully over William’s head, a grin growing over his face, a chuckle escaping him.
He leaned his head forward until his forehead met Scully’s, letting the warmth of this moment soak in.
Whatever battles he had yet to fight, this was where he would gain the strength he would need. Their son had been restored to them. Their family was whole again and this, this was what their life was about now. This was now his Truth.